ED MAP: Insights Blog

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


Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

A Typology of “Free Tuition.”Type 9: Net free for some, Based on income This is the kind of free tuition that already exists widely in America and Canada: where tuition is charged to all, and need- or income-based grants and tax subsidies are available so that some students at least receive as much on non-repayable aid as they pay in tuition. One of the reasons that ‘free community college’ programs in Tennessee and Oregon have been so cheap to implement is that existing federal and state programs already paid out as much in grants as students paid in tuition; making college look ‘free’ is thus often just a matter of packaging.”

Becoming More Themselves. “ Continuing to seek challenges requires a conscious choice. In the context of gatherings like AACC or SXSW, that conscious choice has to happen at the organizational level. They need to decide to bring in people who aren’t the usual suspects. They can highlight blind spots, and provide a sort of quality control. Sebastian Thrun could have avoided the humiliating failure he endured at San Jose State if he had bothered to listen earlier to people who teach outside of Stanford and MIT. In the best cases, the new perspectives don’t just exercise a sort of skeptic’s veto; they actually strengthen new ideas by making sure they reflect realities more complicated than their originators saw.”

Why They Stay and Why They Go. “Whether the separation is voluntary or not, losing a tenure-line or otherwise full-time faculty member is always a costly to an institution. The departing professor will take any external research grants with him or her, not to mention the sunk costs of hiring and training. Then there are additional costs that are harder to quantify, such as those to morale, mentorship, service and leadership in a department. Could institutions cut such costs going forward if they knew more about why faculty members leave? That’s the premise behind a major faculty exit survey initiative from the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at Harvard University and the University of California’s Office of the President.”

Bribing Students to Take Fewer Courses. “I was looking at the recent Hilton paper on educational outcomes and OER. What they find at the community college level is that use of open textbooks increases enrollment intensity in following semesters – students on average enroll in two more credits the following semester. And the hypothesized mechanism by which this happens is that money not spent by students on textbooks gets reinvested in tuition. This is huge for community colleges, because it means they can actually make more money on tuition by replacing textbook. OER not only pays for itself, but turns a profit.

In college remedial classes, unprepared students get the least-trained teachers. “Colleges nationwide are grappling with the problem of how to educate students who come to campus significantly underprepared for college-level work, but instructors like Puhak — experienced, effective, full-time teachers with no research responsibilities — are the exception rather than the rule. At the same time, the whole notion of ‘remedial’ classes is being hotly debated. Most colleges still use separate classes that underprepared students must pass before enrolling in college-level classes, while recent research indicates that integrating remedial learning with regular college courses brings better results. Regardless of reform efforts, a key factor that is usually overlooked is the teaching itself.”

Wheaton College Selects Schoology As New LMS In Surprise Decision. “Woodward related that she personally has a bias for working with underdogs, and she likes being an early adopter if there is significant upside. She therefore seems to relish the opportunity that the campus decision enables to work with Schoology and provide guidance on what the higher ed market needs. One area mentioned, which I have also noticed, is the need to clean up the language and avoid referring to ‘districts’ and ‘teachers’. Words matter, particularly in signaling that a vendor understands their customers.”

New measurement credits colleges for students who only complete some courses. “Community college students who fail to earn degrees and certificates or to transfer to four-year schools, but complete courses that help them earn higher salaries or job promotions will no longer be considered dropouts under a new measurement announced by the community college system. These students, called ‘Skills Builders,’ will provide the state’s 113 community colleges with a new way to measure success, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris said.”

Higher Education? More Like Subordination. “These are the students who work a little too hard on a particular assignment that’s captured their attention, often sacrificing performance in other classes in order to focus on the object of interest. I have seen these students miss deadlines not out of lassitude, but because they are simply not done pursuing their own goal. The best of the insubordinate don’t even care if there’s a grade penalty as long as they can finish what they started. They achieve what we wish for any scholar, self-regulation, but because school runs on subordination, they are often punished with bad grades, the same way a tenure track professor should not be writing a blog focused on public engagement, and should instead grind away at their research that will be read by few.”

Blackboard and Moodle Now BFFs. “Well, it looks like fences have been mended. Blackboard and Moodle Pty. have announced a renewal of the partnership. Based on both from the press release and comments made by both sides, Phil and I believe that both sides made and received concessions to restructure the relationship, and that both sides seemed to be happy about the result. If you’re a fan of Moodle, or just of diversity in the LMS market (including open source options), then you should be happy about this resolution. At the same time, it enables Blackboard to keep driving its successful international growth strategy, of which Moodle is an essential part.”

Engagement Inside and Outside the Virtual Classroom Critical to Success in Online Ed. “One of the most important aspects of an engaging online program is the level of support provided to faculty and students. … Online students, and faculty for that matter, often do work in the evenings and on the weekends. Providing support outside of regular university business hours (8AM to 6PM) is critical to success and plays a significant role in overall satisfaction with a program. Just-in-time support, giving people what they need when they need it, is a key component to our service model. We have put considerable effort into creating easily accessible online resources that anyone can access as needed.”

The real price of a college degree. “Comparing college prices with family income is critical given current debate in the U.S. about income inequality. If one vehicle to reverse that trend is to encourage more people to acquire a credential after high school, then it’s important to know how affordable degrees are to average Americans. It’s not only which tuition price is used to make that determination (sticker vs. net), but the earnings data used also matters, according to Beth Akers, a fellow with the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. Tuition levels should be compared against the future earnings of college graduates, Akers told me, since few families pay tuition bills out of their regular paychecks.”

Creativity and learning for the Conceptual Age. “A more accurate characterization of this postindustrial era would be to describe it as the Conceptual Age. In this Conceptual Age, work is shifting to design, meaning making, and the development of novel ideas and artifacts. Indeed, technology-driven innovation represents a shift not merely from mass manufacturing to something else, but a qualitative transformation in the very nature of work. Given the inherent capacity of technology to automate labor, it stands to reason that developing the right set of educational policies is now fundamental to the future prosperity of the United States. To be sure, intrinsic passion is becoming pivotal to skilled professions so that economic needs (in the traditional sense) are becoming increasingly dependent on creativity and problem solving. Following this line of reasoning, Richard Florida argues that creativity is the defining principle of our age.”

Is Scientific Publishing About to Be Disrupted? ASAPbio. Briefly Explained. “In a nutshell, it is a movement of biologists who are endorsing the use of ‘preprints,’ or the open-access publication of research before it has been peer-reviewed. … Advocates argue that greater use of preprints, in conjunction with continued submission to traditional journals, will allow scientists and the public to more seamlessly keep up with important discoveries as they’re made.”

Undermining Pell: Volume III: The News Keeps Getting Worse for Low-Income Students. “My analysis finds that the financial hurdles that low-income students face continue to be the highest at private nonprofit colleges, where only a few dozen mostly exclusive colleges meet the financial need of the low-income students they enroll. While the problem is not as extreme among public colleges and universities, it continues to rapidly escalate.”

EdTech Units, CTLs and the Postsecondary Subordination Narrative. “Come to a CTL workshop and leave your rank at the door. The salient variables are not tenure-status, but curiosity and a willingness to share about teaching – learn about learning. Many CTLs (including the one that I work for) offer programs and community for future faculty (postdocs and grad students) who are interested in learning about teaching and learning. These CTL communities treat future faculty with the same respect and collegiality that is extended to the tenured. Are EdTech groups and CTLs counterweights to modes of academic subordination and the existing status hierarchies on your campus?”

8 pieces of ed tech news to note from SXSWedu2016. “With 19 museums, nine research centers and a zoo, the Smithsonian Institution is a massive repository of knowledge in areas ranging from classical art to the hard sciences. This puts the institution in a position to capitalize on the growing demand for open educational resources — and its Center for Digital Learning and Access is doing just that. It has traditionally served students and educators via avenues like field trips and publishing, but its new Learning Lab, currently in beta, is utilizing its digital collections to better serve resources to classrooms.

Breaking Down the Walls: Complex Learning Dismantles Barriers in the Brain. “The findings could have implications for our power to bend different sections of the brain to our will by learning other demanding skills, such as playing a musical instrument or learning to drive. The flexibility occurs because the brain overcomes the normal division of labour and establishes new connections to boost its power. It was already known that the brain can reorganize after a massive injury or as a result of massive sensory deprivation such as blindness. The visual cortex of the blind, deprived of its input, adapts for other tasks such as speech, memory, and reading Braille by touch. There has been speculation that this might also be possible in the normal, adult brain, but there has been no conclusive evidence.”

Online Education 10 Years Later. “Many student problems with time management can be traced back to mistaken expectations about online courses. Students sometimes assume the flexibility of an online class means an absence of hard deadlines or due dates. This misconception, especially if combined with a lack of solid study strategies, can lead to a student falling behind very quickly and facing a difficult time catching up. Even though colleges give the same credit hours for the online versions of classes, students may feel that online classes are going to be easier and this assumption leads to poor performance and frustration.”

Personalized Learning vs. Adaptive Learning. “On the other hand, adaptive learning is a label that applies to products. Further, adaptive learning products can support all of the practice areas of personalized learning. They enable teachers to move content broadcast outside of class time, they make homework time into contact time through analytics, and they provide some tutoring function. ‘Adaptive’ tends to provoke a lot of discussion around the latter of the three practice areas.”

A Shared Vision for Faculty. “But the survey findings debunk that stereotype. We found many points of consensus among all those surveyed — including unionized faculty members — that seemed to indicate a shared vision and some clear ways forward for academe. Some of their key points of agreement included: We need more full-time faculty. The academy needs to decrease its dependence on part-timers and have more full-time faculty, although not necessarily tenure-track faculty. We need to professionalize the faculty.”

10 Principles for Institutional Advocacy Using Social Media. “7 – Model: Social media models for others how passionate, smart, and committed people should – and should not – communicate.  In an academic context, we have a particular responsibility to model good communications practices with social media.  We should assume that today’s students (tomorrow’s workers and leaders) are watching and learning how to interact by how we interact on social media.  If we want them to be articulate yet humble, persuasive yet open to new ideas, then we need to model those behaviors.”

Learning From a Typewriter? “When I asked the students to create an exclamation point, they implicitly imposed the false constraint that the only available resource was the typewriter itself. After all, the typewriter seems complete. The machine was built by professionals and seems to have all of the necessary parts to communicate through writing. Yet human agency is still required to operate and maintain the typewriter, and most importantly, to produce writing that impacts an audience. The remarkable student who reached for the pen recognized her own body and mind as resources for problem solving and participation.”

The Bigot in the Machine. “One of the problems with recognizing algorithmic bias is that, while we can look at the Library of Congress classification scheme and search their authority file to see whether a subject heading is used or not (and if not, what alternatives there are), we can’t see how an algorithm is engineered. These are black boxes, unavailable for examination, because they are valuable trade secrets, and each of us sees something different when we search, making it hard to generalize. Besides, if the various levers and pulleys within an algorithm are known, people will try to game it. Google has to constantly tweak their search algorithm to thwart companies that are paid to push search results higher. This makes it harder to predict and work around problems.”

Reverse Transfer and Expiration Dates. “Reverse transfer offers the possibility of showing some of those students as the completers they truly are. If their plan all along was to do a year or so here and then move on to a four-year school, and they do that successfully, then they’ve succeeded by any substantive measure. But by the measures by which we’re often judged, we’ve failed. Pardon the pun, but reverse transfer gives credit where credit is due. This week I saw a wrinkle I hadn’t anticipated. … But what about the student who started here in, say, 2010, stuck around for three or four semesters without completing, took a few years off, and is now enrolled at Compass Direction State? The program in which the student was enrolled here in 2010 may have changed its requirements since then; instead of being, say, six credits short, now he’s twelve short. Worse, what if the program in which the student had been enrolled has undergone a more fundamental change, or even been phased out?”

Accreditation Outside the Academy. “Participants so far include officials from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, Quality Matters, the Council for Adult & Experiential Learning, the National College Credit Recommendation Service, the United States Distance Learning Association, Charter Oak State College and the Online Learning Consortium. The broad range of organizations means several approaches to measuring and verifying the quality of academic programs are represented.”

‘Smarter Faster Better’ and Higher Ed Productivity. “Some of my main takeaways from Smarter Faster Better were about the relationship between organizational productivity and culture.  Duhigg explores research on tech companies that demonstrates that firms with commitment cultures out perform those with other norms. (The other identified workplaces cultures are: an engineering model, a star model, a bureaucracy model, and an autocracy model). In a commitment culture, employees are fully aligned with the mission and values of the organization – and they believe that the organization is invested in their success. The research that Duhigg reviews suggests that the best way that colleges and universities can achieve higher levels of productivity is to focus on employee well-being.  Rather than take a narrow view of wellness (such as providing incentives for exercise), institutions should pay attention to attributes such as autonomy, job security, mobility, and opportunities for professional development and growth.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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