ED MAP: Insights Blog

2.23.15 Higher Ed Weekly Read: Articles Worth Reviewing
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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

e-Literate TV Case Study Preview: Middlebury College. “We really weren’t sure what we would find once we arrived on campus with the cameras. Some of what we found there was not surprising. In a school with a student/teacher ratio of 8.6 to 1, we found strong student/teacher relationships and empowered, creative students. Understandably, we heard concerns that introducing technology into this environment would depersonalize education. But we also heard great dialogues between students and teachers about what “personalized” really means to students who have grown up with the internet. And, somewhat unexpectedly, we saw some signs that the future of educational technology at places like Middlebury College may not be as different from what we’re seeing at public colleges and universities as you might think, as you’ll see in the interview excerpt below.”

Wanted – A Theory of Change. “…but it turns out to be useful in thinking about educational reform because just about everybody shares some blame in why change is hard, and nobody likes to admit that they are complicit in a situation that they find repugnant. Faculty hate to admit that some of them reinforce the worst tendencies of LMS and textbook vendors alike by choosing products that make their teaching easier rather than better. Administrators hate to admit that some of them are easily seduced by vendor pitches, or that they reflexively do whatever their peer institutions do without a lot of thought or analysis. Vendors hate to admit that their organizations often do whatever they have to in order close the sale, even if it’s bad for the students. And analysts and consultants…well…don’t get me started on those smug bastards.”

‘Merit, Not Marketing.’ “The educational-technology market is flooded with companies that say their products will “disrupt” or “revolutionize” how faculty and administrators work and students learn. To cut through the noise, the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is launching an ed-tech accelerator that will help start-ups bring their solutions to the market — if the product lives up to the company’s claims. And while the Jefferson Education Accelerator, which launches today, will initially only work with a handful of companies at a time, its founders say in the future it could expand to serve as an independent quality control organization – a Consumer Reports for all things ed tech.”

English 101 vs. English 102. “I’ve been struck for years that a two-semester composition sequence is virtually universal among community colleges, and yet there’s relatively little agreement about the content and structure of that sequence. Many selective four-year colleges require only one semester of composition, on the theory that students have been pre-screened for basic writing ability. Whether that’s accurate or not, I don’t know. But among open-admissions two-year colleges, the two-course sequence is widely accepted, even if often treated as a black box.”

NGDLE: The quest to eat your cake and have it too. “If you look at this new wave of learning environments, you’ll see that they are designed around the learner instead of the course and are focused on competencies or some other form of learning outcomes. In a sense, the market is working. Better usability for traditional LMS, greater interoperability, and new learning platforms designed around the learner. There is a risk for NGDLE in that you don’t want to screw up the market when it’s finally moving in the right direction.”

What Does Unizin Mean for Digital Learning? “As the LMS evolves into the hub of a larger ecosystem, it is putting increasing strain on IT department in everything from procurement to integration to ongoing support. Unizin could be a way of pooling resources across institutions to address those needs. If I were a CIO in a big university with lots of demands for LMS plug-in services, I would want this.”

Moving Ahead With Competency. “Soon four colleges in the state began offering short-term, competency-based certificates in business and I.T. As part of those programs, students take a pretest at the beginning of each course to identify their strengths and weaknesses. They can use those results to move faster through material they understand, earning credits when instructors deem them competent. The competency-based courses feature both course instructors and a navigator for students, who serves as a sort of advisor, providing support and helping them to select course sequences.”

Defending U. of Phoenix. “Before the general session began, the new president-elect of UPCEA, David Schejbal of the University of Wisconsin-Extension, stood to speak at the podium. He said, ‘We don’t typically talk to the for-profits,’ which was met with good-natured laughter that I took as acceptance, agreement or, at least, understanding. Then he said, ‘We have a lot to learn from the University of Phoenix. I think that for-profits are not what we think they are. I’ve spent a lot of time with Tim Slottow, and his team’s focus on meeting the needs of adult students is really something we need to listen to.’ I am grateful for Schejbal. We have found similar leaders with open minds throughout the country. We are working closely together with a growing number of researchers at top-tier research universities and foundations who are eager to develop insights into how, together, we can measurably raise learning outcomes for all adult students.”

Yes, And: A Response to “Community College Online.” “Fishman notes the demographics of community college students in setting the context. When educational policies have been established largely on the model of the eighteen year old, full time student, getting the student profile right matters. On my own campus, for example, the IPEDS cohort (first-time, full-time, degree-seeking) is less than twenty percent of the student body.  And that’s before accounting for the number who work twenty or more hours a week for pay.  When policies are made with that small cohort in mind, the great many who don’t fit the cohort often find themselves at a disadvantage.”

Information Literacy In the Wild. “So I’m pondering, yet again, what practical ways we might help students embrace the ideals of scholarship – that we make careful observations, examine the sources used to build an argument, handle data with integrity, and allow our minds to be changed if our initial questions lead us in an unexpected direction – so that our graduates can call on those values when they are reading the paper or watching a YouTube video or thinking about what a witness said during Congressional testimony. None of these articles had an easily identified literature review, a clearly-labeled methodology section, or footnotes, which is the case with most of what we encounter as we try to make sense of the world. Still, we need to be able to critically evaluate evidence, track down sources (which all of these articles referred to one way or another) and make up our minds so that we can bring our own informed ideas to the conversation. That’s information literacy at work.”

Tight-knit Posses Grow Across Nation’s Campuses. “As with Gladden, local students are nominated to the program by teachers or other community leaders. They are students who show leadership or talent in some way, but might otherwise be overlooked in the traditional application process due to a lack of guidance or other resources. Once nominated, they complete a series of interviews while also applying for a selected partner college. Colleges, in turn, are prepared to offer millions of dollars in merit-based leadership scholarships for each posse member. For institutions, the benefits of having a posse on campus extend far beyond upping their diversity score, says Mike Schoenfeld, senior vice president and chief philanthropic advisor at Middlebury College.”

Making Them Pay. “Community college students should be able to afford to take two courses every spring, summer and fall semester, a new policy paper from New America argues, but a number of barriers — especially surrounding financial aid – ‘impede the flexibility’ those students need to earn a degree. In ‘Community College Online,’ Rachel Fishman, a senior policy analyst with the foundation, suggests community college students would be able to speed up their time to degree completion if they could mix face-to-face, hybrid and fully online courses, courses that rely on seat time and courses that measure competencies. To achieve that kind of flexibility, Fishman present a wish list of federal- and state-level policy changes.”

I Shouldn’t Be Surprised By Now, And Yet… “When asked about skill gaps we could address, the top answer was… wait for it… Writing. Technical writing, specifically. They needed technicians who could document their procedures well enough for other employees to use them. Some variation on that happens at every employer advisory board. We hear about the specific skills or knowledge bases needed in a given field, and that varies widely from field to field. (The specific skills in, say, medical billing are different from the ones in Culinary.) But then the discussion turns to general communication skills, especially in writing, and the employers get really animated. That’s where they shift from a relatively dispassionate analysis of industry trends to really passionate stories of frustration with flaws they don’t know how to fix. They can train people around new pieces of hardware or new regulations, but they don’t know what to do with people who can’t write clearly enough to be understood.”

6 Emerging Trends Driving Technology in Education. “The proliferation of open educational resources was also identified as a mid-range trend. OER was defined in the report as ‘a broad variety of digital content, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, tests, software and any other means of conveying knowledge. OER uses Creative Commons and alternative licensing schemes to more easily distribute knowledge, media and educational resources, which guarantees that content is freely copyable, freely remixable and free of barriers to access, cultural sensitivities, sharing, and educational use.’ Unlike other technological solutions, OER is viewed in a positive light by faculty, though among faculty members, implementation of OER and deep knowledge of available resources seems to be not too terribly widespread.”

Evidence of Learning: The Case for an Integrated Competency Management System for Students, Higher Education, and Employers. “A shift in expectations is occurring among core postsecondary education stakeholders – students, employers, and institutional administrators and faculty – regarding the ‘evidence of learning’ required in today’s world and its effective validation and presentation. The ability of individuals to present their evidence of learning should be a hallmark of our society’s increasing orientation toward lifelong learning and transparency of capabilities. In practice, executing this vision requires a far-ranging systemic effort within individual institutions and across stakeholder communities.”

Who Is Being Political? “Jim Carmichael, a professor of library and information studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and president of the state conference of the American Association of University Professors, said Wednesday’s vote was an attack on academic freedom. ‘This is completely ideological,’ he said. ‘It sends a clear message to faculty members that our freedom of speech is endangered.’ Jim Holmes, the head of the board panel that recommended the closure of the poverty center, denied to North Carolina reporters Wednesday that politics had anything to do with the recommendations. He and other board members have said repeatedly that they are trying to be sure centers advance the university’s mission in a cost-effective way.”

Feedback on Ratings, Round 3. “But as the Obama administration charges ahead with the proposal — officials just last week said they’d have a first draft ready by summer — some higher education groups that had been critical of the plan are, to some extent, beginning to play ball with the Department of Education. Several prominent associations are now offering advice, albeit limited, for how the administration should structure a federal ratings system that they believe, and continue to stress, shouldn’t be built in the first place. That reluctant input on the ratings system is part of the feedback department officials have received over the past several weeks.”

What Was Your Proudest Teaching Moment? “My proudest moments may not have looked spectacular from the outside, but I remember them vividly. They were times when a student surprised herself in discovering how smart she was. In one case, I remember an entire class muttering ‘ooooh’ appreciatively after a usually-quiet student said something fabulously smart; after that, the student was off and running. In a few cases, secretly bright students started to flourish after getting permission to be smart. You’d think that would have been implied, but not for everybody.”

‘The New York Times’ to Offer Courses as Part of New Education Effort. “The New York Times is re-entering the world of education with a new effort called NYT EDUcation, the company announced on Wednesday, though officials revealed few details. The Times is collaborating with the CIG Education Group, which helps create branded academic institutions like Sotheby’s Institute of Art, to develop the program. Michael Greenspon, general manager of news services and international for the Times, said the effort had come from the business side rather than the newsroom.”

We Can’t Judge Community Colleges’ Success by the Numbers. “First, let’s reconsider the numbers. The federal standard ‘graduation rate’ counts how many first-time, full-time students complete a two-year degree in three years or less at the community college where they first enrolled. It’s an unreasonably limited sample of students with which to evaluate a multifaceted student body. According to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, two-thirds of community-college students attend part time, and more than half of students who transfer to complete a bachelor’s never officially ‘graduate’ from their two-year college (count this writer among them). Also, many students begin at one community college but graduate from another.”

Back to the Future of Higher Ed. “I believe that 2015 will be a year of pausing to finally stitch some things together better, if not correctly. Education has seen a ton of initiatives, experiments, and products / services that will “revolutionize” the industry over decades. Yet no real revolution has taken place. At least not yet. At the same time, people have seen some fantastic ideas come and go, not because the ideas weren’t solid, but because implementation was bad. Whether it’s politics (internal or external), technology limitations, or even a lack of appropriate experimentation options, some of the great education ideas of our time just languish in anonymity or make their amazing difference for only a handful of students.”

Lessons from Teaching with Games. “Here are a few of the takeaways that might inspire you with a new way to bring games into the classroom: Games offer space to explore historical action. Stephen Ortega suggests bringing games into the history classroom as a way to look not only at the representation of history but also at the impact of action: as Ortega explains, ‘games give the player the opportunity to explore historical possibilities and to consider the issue of historical contingency.’ It’s easy to dismiss games as flawed, oversimplified representations of history, and of course most games give players agency that makes it impossible to present history as a fixed narrative. In Ortega’s syllabus, however, that very lack of nuanced representation becomes a strength of using games to inspire discussion and research.”

What TechCrunch Got Wrong (and Right) About Instructure Entering Corporate Learning Market. “Given the self-paced nature of both Competency-Based Education (CBE) and corporate learning systems, I asked if Bridge is targeted to get Instructure into the CBE land grab. Coates replied that they are researching whether and how to get into CBE, but they are first exploring if this can be done with Canvas. In other words, Bridge truly is aimed at the corporate learning market. While Instructure has excelled on maintaining product focus and simplicity of user experience, this move outside of education raises the question about whether they can maintain company focus. The corporate market is very different than the education market – different product needs, fragmented vendor market, different buying patterns. Many companies have tried to cross over between education and corporate learning, but most have failed.”

Bend But Don’t Break Your Teaching Standards. “First and foremost, all of us have to recognize that we do not have a monopoly on our students’ time. I remember in my first years of teaching, back about the time when Aronowitz was forming his critique, I regularly thought to myself: ‘I devoted all of my time to college. Why can’t many of my students?’ Now that I have a child in college myself, the answer to that question is painfully self-evident. That said, the way to help college students survive the corporate university should not be to dumb down the curriculum. My philosophy: Bend but not break. Yes, I’ve started assigning shorter books than I once did, but that doesn’t mean those books are unsophisticated or can’t help me teach the skills that I want my students to learn. Maybe I’ll change some of the assignments that used to be homework and make them in-class exercises, but my students will still do everything it takes to learn what I want them to learn at some point during the semester.”

Faculty SOS. “Beyond suggesting that adjunct employment not only disadvantages adjuncts and the students they teach, due to the instructors’ lack of institutional support, the paper asserts that the trend hurts tenure-line faculty members, too — and institutions overall. The ‘bifurcated’ system of non-tenure-track versus tenure-track employment, the paper says, overburdens a shrinking number of tenure-line professors with the nonteaching tasks that keep an institution running: doing research, taking on leadership roles and performing other kinds of service.”

“To the Dark Side.” “All of that said, having a classroom perspective in mind can certainly help. The point of academic administration is to set the background conditions against which faculty and students can do their best work. Knowing what that looks like — what matters and what doesn’t — can only help. It’s a difficult job to do well, given resource constraints and the legacies of decisions made before in other circumstances, but which are still binding. Having a clear sense of the point of it all, and what that entails, can only help.”

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