ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Students Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between Books and Food. “While this is a good start, colleges need to build on such efforts. Hunger is a symptom of poverty, and a holistic approach is the only way to eradicate it. Those going hungry should not only get access to food on campus but should be directed toward community resources.”

Centers for Teaching & Learning As University Red Teams. “Center for Teaching and Learning already play many roles on our campuses. They provide resources, support, and community for faculty and future faculty. They run initiatives and programs designed to support the goals of faculty. They offer a convening spot for campus educators and outside experts. CTLs create and run programming, workshops, and training opportunities for faculty and other campus educators. And they work to highlight the innovations and initiatives of faculty and non-faculty educators as they work to improve the art and science of teaching. Could red teaming be added to the menu of CTL work? If the CTL is not playing the role of Devil’s Advocate for existing campus practices in teaching and learning, who else is stepping into this function?”

Transcript of Tomorrow. “It’s an idea that’s growing in popularity at colleges experimenting with competency-based education, serving working adults or examining how to give students easier access to their records. In addition to (or perhaps in the future, instead of) giving those students a traditional transcript that shows their grades and how many hours they spent studying specific topics, colleges could offer a digital-first document that automatically pulls in students’ papers, projects and other assignments and how they count as progress toward clearly defined learning outcomes. And like a résumé, students could customize it, tailoring how their academic accomplishments are displayed in response to individual job listings.”

Let’s Focus More on the First Year. “First year is when college students get a sound, cross-disciplinary grounding in the liberal arts and sciences, especially those who go on to vocational majors like engineering or nursing. The liberal arts are where they learn how to think critically and how to communicate effectively, skills that are crucial for a generation that will have many different careers in their lifetime.”

Education Tourists Can’t Save Anything or Anyone. “Maybe this is something we should bring to our discussions about education reform, less desire for control, and a little more humility. Listening, rather than telling. Those of us who have had the privilege to teach and to learn know that it is, by definition, messy, and that it necessitates risk, and giving up on control. People like Ed Boland and these other reformers are not saviors. They are education tourists.”

College Bookstores Are Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place. “Once a de facto monopoly, college bookstores now have to contend with increased online competition and the resulting declining revenues. They also have the problem of publishers bypassing them to deal directly with students, and now those same publishers have found a new way to sabotage college bookstores.”

Dreaming Of A No-Feature LMS. “The beauty of the no-frills – gradebook/roster/LTI LMS idea is that this platform gives us only what we can’t get from the consumer tools that we use every day.  We want our students to work with the same tools in college that they will work with in the workplace.  We want to force our learners to find productivity solutions that they can bring to many work environments.  At the same time, we need the gradebook, roster, and SIS integration.”

No, Virginia, The Truth Does Not Always Lie in the Middle. “Student loans aren’t really about loans. They’re really about access to college. If we’re serious about improving loan repayment rates — a second-order good, but a good nonetheless — then we need to look hard at improved operating appropriations for public colleges, a higher minimum wage, and a host of measures to improve entry-level hiring. McCluskey’s piece is silent on all of these.”

The Textbook’s Crumbling Monopoly. “As the opportunity for other knowledge sources to join the mix grows, quality and validity must be prioritized. The beauty of a textbook was that it had been vetted. For any given college-level textbook, numerous experts agreed that the content it contained was accurate, appropriate and contributive towards the student’s education. Said differently, the content in a textbook was curated by people who had dedicated their entire professional careers to it. How does that happen with a podcast? Or a blog post? Or a series of tweets? Who—or what—is making sure that the content from these sources is legit? How is it being curated? And how does curation become standardized across all courses?”

Positive openness. “The conflation of open with free has nearly always been to the detriment of the people openness is intended to benefit. So we need to get away from it: Accept that openness costs money somewhere in the system if you want to do it properly, or stop calling it open education. My colleague Rob Farrow has been coming to this from a philosophical perspective. He has been thinking about how currently open is framed as an absence – eg the removal of restrictive copyright. In the presentation below he frames it using Isaiah Berlin’s concept of positive and negative liberty. Negative liberty is the removal of constraints, whereas positive liberty carries agency. Both are required, but I think Rob’s point is that we’ve focused on the negative liberty aspect hitherto and now need to move to the positive liberty aspect.”

Mount St. Mary’s University and the dilemma facing American higher education. “The controversy at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland illustrates the paradoxical challenge facing American higher education: universities need to be run with more of a focus on the bottom line, but at their core, colleges are not corporations. Colleges and universities are unique institutions driven by a mission to expand and disseminate knowledge through research and teaching.”

Digital Course Materials in Professional and Executive Programs. “Reasons that the transition from print to digital may come first in professional, graduate and executive programs include: Scale:  So many things can go wrong in the curricular transition from print to digital.  We are better off limiting the scope of our efforts.  We should first go small and get it right, and only then think about diffusing innovations to the rest of the campus.  The small size of graduate, professional and executive programs are a huge benefit in digital learning innovation.  It is possible to get our minds around all the requirements of the faculty and the students, and to design a digital curriculum program that truly adds value over print.”

GOING DIGITAL: Faculty Perspectives on Digital and OER Course Materials. “Not surprisingly, faculty identified their own assessment of the quality of course materials as the top issue in their selection of course materials (97 percent rating as important/very important).  Ranked second was the cost of course materials for students (86 percent), followed by the comments of students or teaching assistants and also comments from colleagues (tied at 71 percent).  In contrast, just over two-fifths of the survey participants indicated student or instructor supplements were important/very important in their decisions about course materials, and only a fifth said comments and reviews on public web sites had a major impact on their decisions about course materials.”

Accounting for Scholarship. “For scholarly publishing to meet the standards of quality established over the past century will require continued investment in the kinds of intensive, skilled labor that university presses foster. How to meet that demand while simultaneously developing ways of funding open-access publishing remains to be worked out. Ithaka S+R’s report doesn’t underestimate the difficulties; it just reminds us that the problem is on the agenda, or needs to be.”

Getting the Question Right. “The issue of defaults is separate from the issue of ‘loan burdens.’ Above zero, they’re almost inversely related. When we hear talk of ‘saddling’ students with debt, we need to be very careful to note exactly what we’re talking about. The key issues here are completion and starting salaries. Students who complete degrees have higher debt burdens, yes, but they’re much more capable of paying them off, because they make so much more. “

Openness as feature. “What these highlight to me is that openness is a feature when you’re developing a business model or technology. Will it get you more money or users? If yes, then adopt it. If no, like any feature it can be dropped. Compare this with universities and non-profit organisations for whom openness is a principle. It is embedded in what they do, and matches their core mission (or should do, although the increasing commercialisation of universities may see more ‘feature’ based thinking). So while the announcement of any big company that they are adopting open gets headlines and is exciting, it is worth examining to what extent is it a feature versus a principle?”

Amazon’s Plans for OER. “But it doesn’t appear as though Amazon Inspire is about enabling schools or educators to spin up their own infrastructure to publish, host, and share content. It’s about building a marketplace, controlled by Amazon, to buy, sell, and trade stuff. This is Amazon.com for education, not AWS. And that’s a pity, because rethinking some of the infrastructure of an educational Web – something that Caulfield has been writing about lately – is far more interesting than building yet another centralized and corporatized OER repository.”

Defining the “Open” in Open Content and Open Educational Resources. “The terms ‘open content’ and ‘open educational resources’ describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like “open source”) that is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities: Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage) Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video) Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language) Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup) Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)”

Never judge a book by its cover—use student achievement instead. “The textbook effects were substantial, especially in math. In 4th and 5th grade math classrooms, we estimated that a standard deviation in textbook effectiveness was equivalent to .10 standard deviations in achievement at the student level. That means that if all schools could be persuaded to switch to one of the top quartile textbooks, student achievement would rise overall by roughly .127 student-level standard deviations or an average of 3.6 percentile points. Although it might sound small, such a boost in the average teacher’s effectiveness would be larger than the improvement the typical teacher experiences in their first three years on the job, as they are just learning to teach.”

Rethinking Grading. “Then there are the frustrations expressed by educational psychologists and psychometricians: That a single, over-all grade conflates elements that need to be disentangled. That grades tend to overly reward lower-order thinking skills (such as memorization and recall) rather than higher order skills (involving analysis, application, and synthesis). That grades too often fail to accurately reflect student learning or mastery. That grades are frequently de-motivating and discouraging.”

20 (Inadequate) Ways of Talking About Learning, Technology and Higher Ed Change. “How should we talk about our work at the intersection of learning, technology and higher ed change? What is the language of our practice? Here are 20 (inadequate) attempts to describe this (our) work: 1 – The practice of improving postsecondary student learning through systemic institutional improvements in pedagogical practices, technology integration, and enhanced educator support.”

Open Access Reinterpreted. “For me, the problem is not just paywalls, but licensing, and indeed the whole system of scholarly communications, that has failed to convince more academics (and indeed, that failed to convince more academics much earlier on) that scholarly publishing should be meant to be read and reused, shared and discussed, augmented and distributed more openly, more widely, more fairly.”

Bridging the Gap. “A growing number of colleges and educators want to better prepare students by reaching them long before they fill out a college application. Minneapolis Public Schools looked to address this problem in 2006 with an initiative called My Life Plan. Similarly, Achieving the Dream, a completion-focused nonprofit group, is hoping a larger national initiative to better connect K-12 with community colleges and four-year institutions will help students be more successful.”

Why 14 States Are Choosing to #GoOpen. “Speaking to those education leaders present last week, Joseph South, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, framed the daylong conversation by emphasizing just how out of sync this approach to procuring resources is with where schools are at today. He said, ‘The goals that we have for our schools, for our students, are changing. The approaches that we’re taking to teach our students are changing. Our infrastructure is changing. But,’ he cautioned, ‘our resources are not keeping pace.’”

The Triad and For-Profits. “Even for-profit officials at the time said job placement rates were among the best ways to hold vocational college programs accountable, according to Shireman. The department subsequently attempted to create a methodology for calculating those rates. After producing two reports on the topic, the feds essentially punted to accreditors and states, citing limitations in data systems and available data. As a result, some states rely on the same job placement rates colleges provide to accreditors. Others created their own reporting and verification methods. The federal solution to this dilemma created a ‘little bit too much flexibility,’ Shireman said. As a result, he said, little is known about how state agencies monitor job placement reporting, and whether there are consequences when problems are identified.”

Noncompletion Success in California. “For years now, community colleges have bemoaned the fact that they don’t get credit for the students who pass through their halls but leave without a certification or degree. So California has spent the past two years examining just what happens to these students. Many of them don’t drop out in the traditional sense. Instead, they take one or two career or technical education courses at the community colleges and then leave. Using employment and student data, California community colleges have been able to determine that after finishing just a few courses, these ‘noncompleters’ receive promotions or increases in wages that allow them to move up in their careers and contribute even more to the state’s economy.”

The Fix Isn’t In. “Librarians are in a nasty spot. … We feel we are virtually required to provide access to whatever researchers in our local community ask for while restricting access from anyone outside that narrowly-defined community of users. Instead of curators, we’re personal shoppers who moonlight as border guards. This isn’t working out well for anyone. Unaffiliated researchers have to find illegal work-arounds, and faculty who actually have access through libraries are turning to the black market for articles because it seems more efficient than contacting their personal shopper, particularly when the library itself doesn’t figure in their work flow. In the meantime, all that money we spend on big bundles of articles (or on purchasing access to articles one at a time when we can’t afford the bundle anymore) is just a really high annual rent. We can’t preserve what we don’t own, and we don’t curate because our function is to get what is asked for. This is how to dig a grave for libraries as a common good.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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