ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Learning Studio and OpenClass End-of-Life: Pearson is getting out of LMS market. “So what platforms and technology products do meet corporate goals? Barnes said that Pearson does courseware really well, with over 12 million students on these platforms overall and approximately 2 million per day. He sees large distinctions between content-agnostic LMS solutions and courseware. Courseware might require certain features that overlap LMS features, but the fundamentals of what’s being delivered goes well beyond content management store, calendaring, and other LMS basics to include instrumentation of content and science-based learning design. Barnes said that learning design is the key element they’re looking for as a company.”

Let Them Eat Cake (Competently). “However, in the rush to emphasize marketable skills over a deeper liberal knowledge content, proponents of CBE in all forms are forcing students (particularly the underserved in lower-tier institutions, whom they claim to be helping) into a ‘knowledge-less’ version of liberal learning in order to ‘hurry things along’ and not get in the way of their job training. Despite the rhetoric of ‘serving the underserved’ and ‘closing the skills gap,’ they are responsible for generating new hierarchies between those who receive a cheap, fast food-style or ‘good enough’ education from those who receive a quality one. They are forging new barriers and strata in an already highly stratified higher education system, not removing them as they often claim.”

Why EQUIP Really Matters. “The Department of Education is finally offering the catalyst for our generation of education innovators to continue the tradition of new institutional forms. The source of hope is the awkwardly named Education Quality Through Innovative Partnerships (or EQUIP). At its heart is a refreshing challenge to innovators: How would you reimagine the university of the future without the strictures imposed by the Higher Education Act and Title IV? If you didn’t have regulations driving an antiquated system of input-driven variables, what postsecondary experience would you design?”

Cluster-Hiring Cluster &%*#?. “Perhaps most importantly, the overwhelming majority of respondents — 69 percent — disagreed (over half of them strongly) that the cluster-hiring strategy “is an innovative and appropriate replacement for the traditional departmental hiring strategy.” Most said their own departments’ hiring strategies were inconsistent with the cluster strategy; over half said the cluster strategy interfered with their departments’ strategies.”

Developing a higher ed course-content strategy. “The learning content ecosystem is in flux. But one thing is certain: Every institution will need to develop a multidimensional learning content strategy if the digital transition to is to proceed smoothly. Failure to do so will likely fragment the student experience as adoption rates vary from class to class, and new courseware is tested and discarded. Unmanaged, a gap may open between courseware’s promising new capabilities and faculty’s reluctance to leverage them. This will frustrate students and lead to substantial underuse of the institution’s investments. Changes in learning content and services will intersect with academic policy, technology, student privacy, teaching, instructional costs, course materials accessibility, incentives, revenue management, and more. Developing an effective strategy needs to include all relevant campus stakeholders and service providers.”

Kludge: A Metaphor for Technology Use in Schools. “Fortunately, there are district officials, school principals, and classroom teachers who avoid the ‘kludge’ effect by reframing the problems of teaching and learning as educational not technical (e.g., getting devices and software into the hands of students and teachers) or grounded in economic reasons. The problems are educational (e.g., how will these machines and software be used to help students understand essential concepts and apply necessary skills… . They know in their heart-of-hearts that learning is not about the presence of technology, it is about teachers and students interacting with subject-matter and skills and using paper, pencil, tablets, and Google docs to achieve learning goals. Learning is about teachers using these technological aids to get students to say ‘aha’ about what they have learned, to acquire confidence through practice of skills.”

Teaching, Learning and ‘The End of Average’. “Rose spends much of the book giving examples of where averages obscure rather than enlighten. Measures of central tendency on aspects of populations tend to hide the reality that exceedingly few individuals have profiles that match the average profile. Examples include everything from body type to brain structure. Basing a pedagogical strategy on the average learner is guaranteed to ensure that large numbers of learners will not succeed.”

The University is a System. “So what is the point of considering the university as a dynamic system?  It is to highlight that the output is dependent on the interplay between the input and the internal dynamics.  Highly selective colleges filter out students—affecting the output portion due to the external inputs— while effective universities are adapting their own characteristics to affect the output portion due to their internal dynamics. The two knobs need to be concurrently adjusted. However, the above discussion misses one important aspect: simply focusing on the easy-to-measure-and-manipulate graduation rate is both shortsighted and limiting.  In fact, the value-added by any university should be measured by the learning that takes place within its boundaries, and the ability of its graduates to perform in their chosen fields.”

Muy Loco Parentis: How ‘Freakouts’ Over Student Privacy Hamper Innovation. “Today, in place of in loco parentis, colleges are generally’seen as taking a facilitator role. They are generally expected to help students learn what “drinking responsibly’ means, but students are expected to take responsibility for their own behavior. They make decisions for themselves, as young adults. The job of educators is to guide them on how to make good decisions. Except when it comes to student data and privacy. There, colleges are still making decisions on behalf of the students, whether those students want it or not. Whether they even know it or not.”

Another Take on Competency. “We think CBE can work in almost any context for any kind of student, assuring quality in learning in ways that the traditional models simply do not touch, but we know that it can be transformative for students who have been marginalized or failed in the traditional models Ward valorizes. For those students, real skills and a college degree can mean food on the table and a pathway to advancement. This end result of ‘democratizing knowledge’ through CBE is what higher education was always intended to do.”

Narrower Pathways to a Bachelor’s Degree. “Research by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges indicates that students with these ‘AS-T degrees’ who transfer to a university are more likely to earn a bachelor’s in STEM fields and to complete fewer credits overall than students who followed the more general education-oriented statewide transfer agreement. In other fields, state ‘major-related transfer degrees’ are being created that will transfer for both general education credits and most major-specific credits required by universities in the state.”

Higher Ed Overhaul Unlikely in 2016. “Even though many view reauthorization of the Higher Education Act as a dead idea for at least this year, that’s not to say that lawmakers will not make any changes to higher education policy in the coming months or years. One possibility is that lawmakers would pass smaller, less ambitious bills in areas that have wider bipartisan support, like simplifying student aid programs and federal loan repayment options. Another possibility is that lawmakers or the next president will seek to pass more ambitious higher education changes by attaching them to moving legislation or adopting them through the budget process.”

Rising costs brings new focus on how exactly colleges set their prices. “Part of the problem, he said, is that the modern college experience is about a lot more than just going to class. Institutions aren’t necessarily competing to keep costs low or to improve student outcomes through direct spending on teaching. They’re competing on amenities: high-quality facilities, extracurricular activities, counseling services, diversity officers, high-tech computer labs, how nice their campuses look.”

Empowering Students in Open Research. “There are two shades of gray here that are complications. First, researchers worry about the data bias that comes from opt in. And the further you lead students down the path toward encouraging them to share their data, such as making sharing the default, the more the uneasiness sets in. Second and relatedly, there is the issue of informed consent. There was a general feeling that, even if you get around IRB review, there is still a strong ethical obligation to do more than just pay lip service to informed consent. You need to really educate students on the potential consequences of sharing their data.”

The Open University at 45: What can we learn from Britain’s distance education pioneer? “Still, none of these changes and challenges suggest any core defects in the OU’s model. Over 45 years it has shown an ability to innovate effectively; to serve very large numbers of nontraditional students; to pay careful attention to designing interactive classes that work at a distance; to offer degrees that are valued in the labor market; and, increasingly, to focus on the best ways to retain adult students who are balancing their studies with work and family obligations.”

Gates Foundation sounds call for stronger higher ed data infrastructure. “Short of its forthcoming recommendations, the Gates Foundation released a metrics framework in its latest paper, created in partnership with the Institute for Higher Education Policy. The framework is based on a consensus among institutions, organizations, and states that have implemented their own robust data collection efforts. It highlights access, progression, completion, cost, and post-college outcomes across three areas: performance, efficiency, and equity.”

Lessons from Kathie Lee. “That presumes that it’s possible to make counteroffers at all. In some collective bargaining environments, it isn’t. That’s because in many settings, salary schedules are rigidly prescriptive. Ironically, the argument for a system like that is precisely to ensure that members of underrepresented groups are treated equally. By reducing salaries to a formula, it’s possible to ensure that candidates of equal credentials will be treated equally. … A dean who makes an offer beyond the schedule, even trivially so, effectively tapes a ‘grieve me’ sign to her back. It’s not an option.”

Creating an Infrastructure for Open Access. “We’re nearing a tipping point in scholarly publishing. Neither scholars nor the general public has access to a lot of the work being produced by academics, and publishing just for the sake of adding lines to a CV is no longer an acceptable cost of doing academic business. Assuming a critical mass of scholars will have access to research libraries that can afford to provide nearly everything is not realistic or sustainable, even though libraries spend enormous amounts of money trying to provide as much access as possible with rising costs and shrinking budgets. The idea of open access is gaining traction among scholars, and any number of experiments are under way to develop new ways of making it possible.”

How to Prune Jargon From Your Popular Writing. “In my experience, the single hardest writing task for most academics is learning how to write for public audiences. And the single worst habit we have is using overly complicated language to express complex ideas. Simple sentences don’t equate to simple ideas — but you wouldn’t know that from reading most academic texts.”

Postcards From the Provinces. “But that’s not how it works. Talented students often stay close to home, and restrict their college choices to places nearby. And that’s not because they don’t know any better. It’s because they want to. Believe it or not, people consider factors beyond what shows up in scorecards. Family obligations, regional tastes, and a sense of being at home matter. Performance funding schemes that operate at a statewide level are remarkably poor fits in regions like that.”

6 influential technologies on the higher ed horizon. “Growing focus on measuring learning: a renewed interest in assessment and the wide variety of methods and tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, and other educational needs of students. ‘The proliferation of data mining software and developments in online education, mobile learning, and learning management systems are coalescing toward learning environments that leverage analytics and visualization software to portray learning data in a multidimensional and portable manner. In online and blended courses, data can reveal how student actions contribute to their progress and specific learning gains,’ states the report.”

Musings about Technology in Work and Life. “Productivity in the workplace is clearly important be it in an office or classroom. For decades increased productivity was a factor in raising wages and rising standards of living. I have no animus toward increased efficiencies in teaching or learning. In each of our lives, we seek productive short-cuts to get through the day–think multi-tasking and FitBit.  The point is that technology has surely given us expanded choice, even creativity, in our daily lives but when it comes to a helping profession such as teaching where interactions between students and teachers are crucial to sustained learning, it is well to note that many of the software applications used in school then and now were add-ons that came from the business sector originally designed to get more work from less money spent.”

Thoughts on Cluster Hiring. “Cluster hiring is the practice of concentrating hires in one or a few departments or areas for a year, as opposed to spreading hires around. It has its virtues. For one, it helps with diversity. When a department gets to make, say, four hires in one shot, it’s much harder for folks to object to a non-traditional candidate or two. Everybody can get their favorite. Relatedly, it can help with issues of critical mass.”

The Counterfactual Dystopian Higher Ed Narrative. “To be clear – I do not want to deny or diminish the very real challenges that higher ed faces. We have critical challenges along almost every dimension of access, costs, and quality. The state level disinvestment from postsecondary education is as damaging as it is economically shortsighted. Completion rates remain too low, and educational debt is too high. The way that our contingent faculty are treated at many institutions is indefensible. What is also true is that our colleges and universities are anything but static institutions.”

College Scorecard: ED quietly adds in 700 missing colleges. “In English, this means that the ED took out their artificial criterion and fixed this issue. Colleges that award degrees no longer get excluded from the College Scorecard because they award even more certificates.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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