ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Chatbots for First-Year Student Success. “One thing that stuck with me from Marcia’s presentation was that the people who need the help are often the people least likely to ask for it, because they are afraid asking a stupid question will mark them an outsider. So you have a set of students who know How to College, and often are quite aggressive with getting their question answered. And then you have students that really need the answers who are largely silent, and if they seek help tend to seek it from similar non-traditional student peers. I hesitate to say something so trendy, but this actually seems like a place where a chatbot could do some good. Chatbots have recently become common in many industries, providing an alternative interface to a database of information.”

Baccalaureate Degrees in High Demand at Community Colleges. “The Innovations conference’s opening general session in Chicago on Sunday focused on a growing trend in the community college sector: the move to independently offer baccalaureate degrees at select community colleges across the country. This year’s keynote speakers made a compelling case for why community colleges are well positioned to edge their way into the terrain that until relatively recent years was the principal domain of four year schools. While many universities have articulation or transfer agreements with local community colleges, the demand for baccalaureate degrees is higher than ever, giving states the incentive to widen the role that community colleges play.”

League, Day 1: Uncovering Hidden Talent. “High school GPA has stronger predictive validity than any exam. That holds true even across wealth gaps between districts. As Hetts pointed out, a student who manages to succeed in a struggling school does so with minimal support; that student must be pretty tenacious. And the data bear that out.”

The Myth of the College-Ready Student. “To accelerate the pace of reaching this goal, we must abandon once and for all the college-ready paradigm that has allowed higher education to deflect accountability. It is time that we fully embrace the burden of being student-ready institutions. After all, not only is the notion of college ready an excuse, but new practices in student success have exposed it as something of a farce. It turns out the problem was not as much about the students as we thought. It was largely us, uninformed about what it takes to help them succeed or unwilling to allocate the resources necessary to put it into practice.”

Power Struggle on Online Oversight. “But in New York, a coalition of advocacy groups is mounting a campaign against SARA. In a letter to the state’s education commissioner, the 34 groups said joining SARA would weaken the state’s ability to take on ‘predatory online education companies based in other states.’ As more states join SARA, the letter continues, those predatory providers will ‘set up shop in the states with the lowest regulatory standards while broadcasting nationwide.’ The groups further urge the commissioner to withhold her signature.”

Bridging the Skills Gap. “Employers struggle to find skilled workers to fill positions in IT and other growth fields. One reason is that human resources departments often use the college degree as a ‘crude proxy’ for what a job seeker knows and can do, said Khedouri. That’s what the foundation wants to change. To participate on the site, job seekers, employers and education providers must speak the language of competencies — clearly spelling out skills needed for a job. ‘This is really about a skills-based marketplace,’ Khedouri said of the jobs site, which features ‘stackable and portable credentials.’ Colorado’s state government has endorsed the project.”

The 4 Properties of Powerful Teachers. “Preparation. Speaking of determination, something else all teachers can do, regardless of their natural gifts, is prepare meticulously. Knowing what you’re talking about can compensate for a number of other deficiencies, such as wearing mismatched socks, telling lame jokes, or not having an Instagram account. Preparation occurs on three levels: long-term, medium-term, and short-term.”

The Most Important Work of Pedagogy I’ve Read in Ten Years. “Emdin’s reality pedagogy resonates because over the last couple of years I have been wrestling with my relationship to my work and my students. Having lost faith in a process that places the instructor at the center of the course as a vehicle for deep, meaningful learning, I’ve been seeking out alternatives, like ‘writing related problems’ instead of essays and the use of a grading contract. Most of all, I’ve been much more engaged with asking my students about their experiences in the world.”

League Day Two: Now What? “Still, the equity issue loomed large. When North Carolina put GPA above tests, more students placed into college-level classes. But the students who didn’t were comparatively more likely to be male and either black or Latino than the students who moved up. He stressed that more students of color moved up under the GPA system than under the test system; it’s just that the gain was smaller. I don’t see an easy or clean answer to that.”

For Freshmen, Only Full-Time Faculty. “From the beginning, Maimon believed the success of the transition would depend on a strong first-year curriculum and even stronger instruction. The best way to achieve that, in her view, was pairing the institution’s best supported, and in many cases most experienced, faculty members — full-timers and those on the tenure-track — with the institution’s most vulnerable students. While first-year success is a major indicator of any student’s ability to complete college, there’s a sense at Governors State that that’s especially true there.”

‘Lesson Plan.’ “We think colleges need to be places for learning, first of all; being places for credentialing should be a distant second. As the great work of Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz suggests, it is by building a better-educated workforce, not merely a more credentialed one, that the largest benefits of higher education come about. We worry that learning may sometimes get lost in the rush to give credit for prior learning, or to set students up to take a series of tests with minimal instructional support (as some — not all — competency-based learning programs appear to do). Some of these efforts may lose focus on the hard and time-consuming work of helping students learn.”

Students to Education Dept.: Small changes can make big payoffs in graduation rates. “Federal data shows that 59 percent of first-time, full-time college students obtain their bachelor’s degree within six years. Large numbers don’t finish, especially those who are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or whose parents did not attend college. But these students who met with King for an hour on Friday afternoon seemed optimistic that steps can be taken, large and small, to erase those barriers.”

Standardized Assessments of College Learning: Past and Future. “Assessment of college learning should take advantage of the power of representative sampling and inferential statistics. There is no need to test all students, all of the time. Taking samples that adequately reflect the various forms of diversity on a campus can be responsibly used to draw inferences about the campus population as a whole.”

Stop Blaming Colleges for Higher Education’s Unaffordability. “Yet a significant part of college affordability rests not with the colleges themselves, but with an economic structure that, in the absence of policy to the contrary, defaults to a situation where a handful of individuals amass a majority of the wealth. This is what has occurred at an increasing rate in the United States since the 1950s, and the concentration of wealth at the top of the economic spectrum is now seen by many economists as an enormous problem: Productivity has increased in virtually every part of the economy, but wages have not come close to keeping pace. More and more families are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, because their incomes have not risen alongside increases in the cost of living. Big-ticket items such as a college education seem increasingly unaffordable — because they are. Yet political leaders appear intent on ignoring the elephant in the room.”

League, Day Three: It’s Not That Simple. “The first presentation, on a multi-factor placement experiment in New York, set the tone. Multi-factor placement is becoming an obsession of mine. It’s the idea of getting away from a single placement test — usually Accuplacer or Compass, but it could really be anything — as a way of steering students either into or away from developmental coursework. It’s becoming increasingly clear from the literature that when these tests are used this way, they tend to “underplace” students in massive proportions. Given what we know about excessive time-to-degree depressing graduation rates, getting placement right upfront holds the promise of making a significant difference at relatively minimal cost.”

Choosing to Lead. “Those of us who work in higher education cannot depend on the small group that we traditionally refer to as the leaders on each campus to serve our students and our wider communities. It is important to develop the capacity to exercise leadership from any position in a college or university. Improving our institutions requires that everyone, whether in senior posts or supporting roles, uses whatever assignments we have to expand the possibilities for innovation, inclusion and excellence.”

‘Confidence Rating’ for On-Time Graduation. “In its current form, the system presents data about a student’s likeliness to graduate within four years in a dashboard. It gives advisers a confidence rating — a number on a scale from zero to 10 — as well as the factors influencing that score. The dashboard shows information such as cumulative and quarterly GPA, academic and registration status, and — importantly — how those factors compare to what the system knows about past students. If a student is falling behind the ‘ideal’ pace set by someone who graduated in four years, the dashboard flags it for the adviser.”

Assessing the Governor’s Zero-Textbook-Cost Proposal. “The state already has funded efforts to select, compile, and make available free, open textbooks for 50 high–enrollment courses that are common to the three public higher education segments. In addition, the state has funded an incentive grant program to encourage faculty to adopt these textbooks and other OER for individual courses. We believe developing OER degree pathways at the community colleges is a reasonable next step. In designing an OER degree initiative, we encourage the Legislature to draw on lessons learned from other states. Most notably, earlier efforts have found that intensive professional development and technical assistance are essential both to facilitate short–term success (such as creating an initial OER degree) and help campuses build internal capacity to continue expanding OER use long term.”

Congress Confronts a Balancing Act Between Education Research Data and Student Privacy Rights. “During a U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, lawmakers heard testimony on the federal government’s role in making sure researchers and education technology companies are able to use student data in meaningful ways while keeping sensitive information secure from hackers and companies looking to exploit the information for profit.”

Universities Build a ‘Connected Learning’ Network for Refugees. “This type of arrangement – gathering students in a single place to learn together but using online courses and a mixture of online tutoring and face to face tutoring – is called “connected learning” and has been pioneered in refugee settings by a number of universities and partnerships of universities for a number of years.”

Creating Connections for Online Learners. “It’s true that online learners will not have the same types of interactions as their on-campus peers. However, we need to stop thinking about what’s “missing” or “lacking” and focus on what we can do to increase connection and build community via digital channels.”

Reframing Libraries. “f we think about information as something communities create in conversation within a social and economic context rather than as a consumer good, we may put less emphasis on being local franchises for big information conglomerates and put more time, resources, and creativity into supporting local creativity and discovery. We may begin to do better at working across boundaries to support and fund open access to research rather than focusing most of our efforts on paying the rent and maintaining the security of our walled gardens. And as we make this shift, we may be able to stop teaching students how to shop efficiently for information that won’t be available once they graduate. We may help them think more critically about where knowledge comes from and how they can participate in making sense of things.”

Pedagogy Unbound: How to Make Your Assignments Better. ” Offer both a big-picture and a close-up view of the assignment at the outset. Research done by the Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project has shown that offering students a clearer and more transparent picture of their assignments before they start can lead to better results, particularly among student populations that typically perform poorly. That means explaining the overall goals you have for the assignment (what knowledge you want students to gain, what skills you want them to practice), the particular steps you expect them to follow in completing the work, and the specific criteria you will use to evaluate them. Putting in extra work at the outset to make sure that students fully understand what’s being asked of them can save you work when it comes time to grade.”

How to Graduate More Black Students. “Programs that help students succeed clearly vary, but there is a common theme. They tend to espouse and reinforce the ‘you are not alone’ idea, and the ‘you belong here’ mantra … While there are successful programs, such as the Posse Foundation, that operate nationally, they are difficult to scale in part because they are time-intensive and expensive. They often require human-to-human contact. … at-risk young people suffer from ‘a kind of relationship poverty.’ They lack the ‘human guardrails’ that exist for other kids. Building those up takes time and effort.”

Faculty, Students Disagree on Digital Content Usage Savvy. “The survey found that the educators usually hunt outside of university-provided sources to identify the digital media that they use in their coursework. Only a fifth rely on institutional resources. Other sources are Creative Commons-licensed content (21 percent), other copyright-free online services (31 percent) and licensed content (12 percent). Another 9 percent admit to the use of copyright-protected resources. Students are more likely to use university-provided resources (32 percent), while 13 percent acknowledge using content illegally. A large number of instructors appear to prefer to leave digital copyright compliance up to the students themselves.”

Higher ed’s digital shift not as fast as some hope. “The VideoBlocks survey indicates educators are ready to go and institutions are holding them back, while the Campus Computing Project finds more skepticism among faculty. The results may not be entirely in opposition, however. The Campus Computing Project found very high levels of support for digital curricular resources among chief information officers, specifically. In the 2015 survey, 96% of respondents said such resources make learning more efficient and effective.”

Permanent Scarcity and Permanent Crisis. “f both permanent scarcity and permanent crisis or the new higher ed normal, then perhaps we need to change how we think of our higher ed careers.  Entrepreneurism, flexibility, a comfort with risk, and the ability to thrive in an environment of insecurity and change are increasingly important attributes for a successful postsecondary career. Those that will most succeed will be higher ed leaders who are able to create new resources, new services, and new opportunities – rather than rely on existing structures and resources.”

“A Well-Meaning Ineffective Teacher Can Be More Dangerous Than One That Doesn’t Care at All. “ “Good teaching practice and transformative learning spaces can be put in place for free if we recognize that we have been doing teaching and learning wrong for a very long time and are willing to try something different. Through reality pedagogy, I am outlining a new theory for urban education that is birthed from of age-old practices that folks of color in urban communities have known to do but have never had the opportunity to implement in schools.”

Off the Mat and Into the World. “One of the most important things I’m learning in my yoga instruction is that no two bodies are alike and that similarities on the outside can mask differences on the inside. Rounder bodies might find poses where body parts are tightly pressed against one another (e.g. child’s pose) to be very challenging, while straighter bodies might find these poses to be restful. … My job as a yoga teacher is to help my students journey into their own bodies and to respect their unique anatomical structure. Yes, all knees serve the same purposes: to enable us to bend down, straighten up, and to walk or run. But within these overarching purposes, there are billions of knees with their own individual knee stories. Are brains any different?

4 Ways Academic Deans Can Make the Core Curriculum More Effective. “However, this compartmentalized model of education is out of tune with students’ needs. Students need to develop their ability to solve problems in an increasingly interdisciplinary and global world. To me, general education offers the greatest opportunity to prepare students for that increasingly complex world. What’s needed is a course of study that is clearly communicated to the student. Zero sum general education leads to a scattered core that students will complete without knowing how any course fit with the other 3 or 4 dozen courses that are also required. General education needs to render explicit the connections between academic learning, career development, and lifelong learning. The educational commons much be treated as an integrated whole with a focused vision.”

The Shift Toward Competency Starts With Faculty. “First, curriculum and instruments used to measure and evaluate student competency have to be developed by the faculty, who are ultimately responsible for providing feedback to students on their competency assessments. Our faculty led the development of curriculum that undergirds our competency-based, direct-assessment programs. Faculty teaching in this model must be at the center of identifying significant measures of student learning, and constructing authentic assessments that approximate real-world professional activities and work assignments.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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