ED MAP: Insights Blog

2.29.16 Higher Ed Weekly Read: Articles Worth Reviewing
By JoAnn Rollins

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

The non-Uberization of education. “I think there will be aspects of (really, really for want of a better phrase) Uberization of education. Indeed they’re already here, and are just part of the changing approach to workforce. … Similarly the online tutoring model which seems to be such a revelation to many, is already underway. I think this will expand, particularly in combination with OERs and MOOCs. But I suspect it will be largely in conjunction with higher education, not in competition to it.”

Small Grants, Big Impact. “Microgrants aren’t new. But a growing number of colleges — both community colleges and four-year institutions — have data to prove that this form of institutional aid improves student retention and can even save a college money by preventing dropouts.”

No Rush to ‘Go Digital.’ “Virtually every faculty member surveyed (97.1 percent) for ‘Going Digital,’ a report being presented today at the Independent College Bookstore Association retail conference in Orlando, Fla., said their own assessment of the quality of a textbook is an important or a very important factor influencing their course material selection process, followed by the cost (86.3 percent) and a near tie between comments from colleagues (71.2 percent) and students or teaching assistants (71.1 percent). Less than one-third of respondents (31.6 percent) said the availability of digital supplements played an important role in that process.”

The future of textbooks looks like this. “Faculty surveyed said that quality and cost were again the two top factors in their consideration of OER adoption; and perhaps because most had little exposure to OER, faculty said they expect the movement to primarily OER materials in their courses to be slower than digital. … An all-campus plan is critical, states the report, as failure to do so could fragment the student experience as content varies from course to course, and as untested courseware and services are adopted and discarded. It’s also critical because, unmanaged, students may become frustrated with the gap between digital courseware’s capabilities and the faculty’s use (or non-use) of it.”

Why It’s So Hard to Disrupt the Textbook Industry. ” But there are obstacles to instituting open source curricula. As the Associated Press’ Michael Melia writes, ‘hurdles include awareness among faculty members and the still-limited availability of material for courses that go beyond introductory levels.’ Melia also notes that going open-source creates more work for instructors. Part of the appeal of commercial textbooks is the ease of teaching the material for faculty members who are more focused on their research than their students.”

Open textbooks gain in push for college affordability. “The movement has made rapid gains over the past year, often driven by students, such as UConn activists who sparked a campaign that led to state legislation last year endorsing open-source materials. But commercial texts won’t go the way of chalkboards anytime soon. Proponents say hurdles include awareness among faculty members and the still-limited availability of material for courses that go beyond introductory levels.”

I’m Never Assigning an Essay Again. “Instead of assigning essays, in my course, I now feature ‘writing-related problems.’ Rather than allowing students to see their task as familiar – entirely too familiar – I want them to start each writing-related problem assignment from scratch. If the problem is unfamiliar, we cannot thoughtlessly employ the old ways, but must instead invent the new. The boundaries of the problem are defined by the rhetorical situation: audience, purpose, message, and for each writing-related problem we work a process that asks students to make choices in each of these dimensions.”

States’ Rights and Means Testing? Um, no thanks… “Decoupling college funding from enrollment levels could also lead to perverse incentives for campus administrators. California largely did that, and it led to five-figure waiting lists in certain districts (and therefore to unprecedented business opportunities for for-profits).  When a college has a plurality or majority of students on Pell, and Pell goes away, there had better be an offsetting surge of funding; if there isn’t, the college will collapse. If there is, but it’s decoupled from enrollment, I’d expect wait lists.”

Dear Blackboard, I am Confused. “It is possible that this crescendo of confusion is a sign that the company, having twice set public goals for itself that were unrealistic, is in the midst of retrenching and establishing a more realistic path forward. It is also possible that there is a sound product strategy in here somewhere that is just getting buried in the confused communications. And it is possible that their communication is a total train wreck because their product strategy is a total train wreck. I just don’t know. I am losing confidence in my own ability to separate the signal from the noise here.”

Computer Science as Liberal Arts ‘Enabler.’ “But colleges sometimes face an uphill climb to persuade faculty members to support programs that may fall outside the traditional liberal arts. Some, Bates included, have chosen an interdisciplinary approach, framing computer science as an “enabler” for other disciplines — a way to help faculty members in other departments introduce computing in their own courses.”

Experiencing Development Education. “Those reforms have taken various shapes across the country, but a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement explores what the typical community college student experiences in being assessed for remedial needs, being placed in the courses and taking them. Most students aren’t prepared for college-level work, the report found. And they aren’t successful in developmental courses, either. Students’ perceptions of where they stand academically also are askew, with many believing they are prepared for college-level work when they’re not.”

Transfer IS Workforce. “Most of the higher-paying jobs in this economy require a bachelor’s degree or higher. For many students, community colleges are the most reasonable on-ramp to those degrees’ The first two years of most bachelor’s degrees contain the ‘general education” courses that students take before specializing. Those include the liberal arts fields that external critics often disparage. … They help develop the skills of analysis and communication that employers consistently complain they can’t find. At the community college level, pre-transfer degrees can look unfocused. But that’s because they’re being taken out of context. They aren’t really meant to stand on their own; they’re meant to be part of a larger whole. “

Some Notable Nordic News. “The lesson here for those interested in free tuition is that total reliance on government funding looks pretty good while government spending is on the rise but it looks much less friendly on the way down. Tuition fees are, in effect, a reliable way to diversify revenue. Students can be guaranteed to pay tuition fees every year, which makes them a more dependable source of revenue than government grants. In effect, fees balance the ups and downs of the funding cycle. Another thing tuition fees do is provide an incentive for institutions to accept more students; if institutions can’t charge tuition and aren’t funded according to student numbers, their inclination will be to accept fewer students, thus undermining the ‘access’ rationale for free tuition.”

Two Roads to Student Success. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the primary problem lies in the learning experience. The educational experience needs a clearer value proposition; the instruction needs to be more immersive and engaging; the pathway to a credential more streamlined and synergistic; the support structures more robust and proactive.”

Scaling Allows Institutions to Grow Enrollment and Improve Experience Simultaneously. “As increased access becomes more important—and the focus on access becomes increasingly prevalent—the opportunity to position the actions of the institution as a facilitator of positive economic and societal change emerges. Positioning the scaling of an institution in the context of its mission and purpose opens the door to engaging existing and new audiences in ways that evolve with the changing dynamics of the populations we serve. The key is transparency in our decision making.”

What WALL-E Teaches Us About Adaptive and Personalized Learning. “Now, more than ever before, people are desperately in need of skills that will help them determine what is worthy of their attention, and how to effectively study and learn over their lifetime in this increasingly ill-structured and information-rich environment. Yet what is the primary purpose of most adaptive or personalized learning systems? To eliminate the complexity of deciding what to study, how to study or how long to study.”

CFPB Duels With Accreditor. “The bureau wants the judge to force ACICS to provide information about its approval of seven for-profit colleges as well as the names of each person involved in reviewing nearly two dozen individual campuses. The list of colleges, which has not previously been reported, includes some of the most widely criticized and controversial for-profit institutions, several of which are now defunct.”

One Thing Blackboard is Doing Right. “We haven’t yet seen these hires bear fruit in big ways (except arguably with X-Ray for the Moodle customers), but there are all the early indicators of a coherent investment in an analytics strategy that could turn into a major differentiator. So far, most of Instructure’s analytics work has been limited to making data available for others to use. And the last time we checked, D2L’s analytics strategy was stuck in the mud (although we are overdue for an update in that department and will be looking into it again soon).”

A Schoolwide Work from Home Day? “Too often, we talk about online teaching as a drastic departure from traditional teaching. And it can be. But it can also be a useful backup, once relative fluency in online teaching and learning is sufficiently widespread. … Online-as-backup works well, too, when a professor is sick. If course shells were already established, then when a professor has to miss class, she can still provide a productive learning environment for students. It may not be her first choice, but it’s far better than just declaring a day a total loss.”

3 Ways Higher Ed Can Avoid the Fate of Polaroid. “Lesson 1 – Be Clear About Our Business: It is clear to us now that Polaroid should have affirmed that it was in the imaging business, not the paper business. … The goal of not confusing what we do with how we do it is easy to say, and very hard to reach. In higher ed, we are in the learning, credentialing and knowledge creation business.  We are not in the physical classroom or online classroom business.  Physical and online classrooms are tools – they are a means to an end. … we need to be willing to shift and adapt with new information, methods, and tools. We should learn from Polaroid and internalize the idea that what we will be doing in the future may be the same, but how we will be doing it will be different.”

Queen’s testing students’ ‘soft skills’ to gauge how they’ll cope in job world. “What does a university education actually teach you? In a rare bid to answer the age-old question, Queen’s University is trying to measure what students actually learn — beyond the subject they’re studying. It’s tracking skills employers say they seek, but which long have been seen as unmeasurable; things like the ability to think critically, work with others, be organized and analyze problems.”

The Illicit Love Affair between Open Access and Traditional Publishing. “This is the promise of OA: higher costs, more industry consolidation, and, among the advocates, an alarming growth of self-regard. Consolidation is the inevitable outcome because organizations seek scale to keep administrative costs down. OA is a marvelous feast, but don’t stick me with the check. The panel had representatives from government (the NSF’s Amy Friedlander), the library world (Judith Russell, the Dean of the University of Florida’s library system), and publishing (Elsevier’s Alicia Wise). Until I attended this panel, I had not realized the extent to which libraries, too, incur administrative costs for OA compliance.”

Students Are Spending Less on Textbooks, but That’s Not All Good. “ If we really want to help students, let’s first understand the data sources, then look at the potential problems with students’ purchasing behavior. Doing so reveals that the real issue of textbook costs is one of inequality of access, especially for first-year, first-generation students. What’s at stake is student success — retention and how long students take to graduate.”

Faculty First on Completion. “This week Achieving the Dream moved to make teaching and learning a more explicit part of its ‘organizational change’ model, with a goal of encouraging faculty members to lead student success-related changes on their campuses. The group also announced an initiative to engage adjunct faculty members in student-success programs and to give those instructors leadership opportunities.”

Free to Finish. “I tip my cap to Washington State for one of the smartest low-cost ideas for college completion I’ve seen in a long time. It’s in the process of passing a ‘Free to Finish’ bill, by which former students who left college within 15 or fewer credits of the finish line a chance to finish for free.  Students have to have been out of college for at least three years.  This must be their first degree — sorry, grad students — and I assume the college in question must have been accredited.  From the way the Washington Post piece is written, it sounds like the original college(s) can be anywhere in America.”

Going Digital: Not If, But How. “We can visualize the path, process, and outcomes of going digital (“moving cup to lip”).  Getting there, however, involves lots of moving parts: infrastructure and access to digital platforms, better course materials that provide added-value content for student learning, plus clear and compelling evidence, rather than opinion and epiphany, that digital course materials have a beneficial impact on student learning and educational outcomes

Blackboard Ultra Update: Some Clarity. “Blackboard is on a path toward SaaS. They have released the first version that they believe is higher ed customer-ready and will have real customers piloting it in production by the summer. Separately from that, they have been on a path toward design goals that they have been calling ‘Ultra.’ They released Bb Student, which delivers on some of those design goals for customers on both current and SaaS versions of Learn, and they have announced the intention to release a theme for 9.x that delivers on some of the design goals for the web version of the product. Where do these two lines intersect?”

11 Reasons Not to Read ‘Originals.’ “Grant’s reliance on evidence over anecdote leads him to some surprising conclusions about leading change. For instance, the best strategy for anyone wanting to drive an organization towards a different future is often to be upfront and vocal about the flaws in the plan. Change requires persuasion, and particularly in a university setting those who feel need to be persuaded to support the change have been professionalized into the values and norms of constructive criticism. Academics are excellent at picking apart arguments – you may be better off preemptively picking apart your own.”

Pathways in Name Only. “Like the hodgepodge of pilot programs in previous rounds of community college improvement, these efforts won’t produce systemic change unless they are designed in an integrated, holistic way and colleges make the commitment to implement them at scale. Today, experts who have studied these initiatives around the country suggest that only a handful of campuses have introduced pathways efforts that are truly comprehensive.”

The death of “online” learning in higher ed. “Yet by 2025, the phrase “online learning” could disappear from the common vernacular. How could such a good thing die so young? Two words: ubiquity and integration. In the 15 or so years that online learning has been with us, numerous studies have found that learning outcomes in an online environment are the same, if not better, than classroom-based learning outcomes. The question is no longer how online education compares to face-to-face learning, but rather whether the pedagogy enables the student to achieve the intended learning outcomes. The delivery mode is irrelevant.”

Data On Average Age Of Current LMS Implementation. “This week Jim Julius asked on Twitter if anyone had data on average length of time US higher ed institutions have had their current LMS. That’s an interesting question, as it should give insight into whether schools are unusual in how long or short they’ve been using one solution. It should also give some insight into the market itself.”

A Big Reason That Digital Textbooks Are Misunderstood. “The market for textbooks is distorted – there is absolutely no reason that a digital textbook rental should cost five times what a physical textbook rental costs. This is not a market where you can make otherwise common sense assumptions such as digital being lower cost, or assumptions that a decrease in adoption means that students do not want more digital options.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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