ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

I Was a Student Protester. “The protesters have just as much a right to free speech, or its private institutional equivalent, as anybody else. They are putting themselves out there without having the benefit of years of professional education, lobbyist training, or what one hopes to gain in life — sheer maturity and balance that can only come with experience. They may suffer some consequences. If so, they are learning something about the real kind of civil disobedience”

Siri … Please Stick to Just Being a Catalyst. “To speak in the language of a “complex feedback and control system” is to acknowledge that such systems must be really good at the singular thing that they do, much like Siri. And it is here that I would suggest that, in general, online education has demonstrated that it is really good at supporting specific kinds of teaching and learning that are transmissional in nature (what is usually called declarative and procedural knowledge). But any vision of a “robust” education must include some sense of transformation, of helping students see outside of their initial sense of the world. This is what we have traditionally termed the liberal arts or critical thinking or lifelong learners or being entrepreneurial or whatever educational jargon most appeals to you.”

Live from the Basement: Reporting from the AACC. “In other words, how can colleges provide clearer guidance to students without falling into the trap of “boutique” programs that achieve great results only for the very small number of students lucky enough to be in them? Each panelist had a set of recommendations, some of which made tremendous sense. I was particularly taken with the idea of doing class scheduling a year or two at a time, rather than semester-by-semester. In theory, if you have enough students do plans far enough in advance, you could have a better sense of how many sections of what you’ll need, and when.  It’s a lot of detail work, but it’s important detail work, and it could generate real efficiency gains.”

End the Extracurricular Arms Race. “Sports, clubs, social advocacy groups and other activities can all be good things and have positive impacts on students and the community. But a critical mass of some of the country’s most talented and diligent students systematically sell themselves short, turning away from their academic work in favor of all and sundry extracurricular activities. Many are intensely stressed and consumed by those pursuits, such that they appear to have substantially less time for rest and leisure than their counterparts did two decades ago, even as they spend much less time in the library or laboratory.”

Building Clear Paths. “The Pathways Project is asking the colleges to achieve four objectives. First, colleges should clarify students’ choices with program maps developed by faculty members and advisers that connect to careers and employment. Second, the colleges should help students enter a pathway by redesigning their traditional remediation courses. Third, the colleges should offer strong advising to help students stay on a pathway. And finally, colleges should make sure students are learning by having high-quality pedagogy and establishing learning outcomes tied to employment or further education.”

When Students Are Skeptics. “During the two-day conference, representatives of each project were invited to share some early successes and challenges, then collaboratively identify ways to tackle those challenges going forward. Amid issues such as picking a suitable technology platform, detailing intellectual property rights agreements and scheduling across time zones, several participants raised the issue of resistance — not just from faculty members not participating in projects involving online education, but from their students. It’s a twist on a conflict that usually plays out between proponents and opponents of any kind of online education.“

In Darwinian World of Performance-Based Funding, the Neediest Students Are the Losers. “Even in the absence of performance-based funding challenges, getting low-income, minority, and at-risk students to graduate requires more support of all types, financial, academic, and social. This doesn’t come cheaply: It takes more money to get these students to the finish line. At the same time, budgetary pressures and “efficiency” improvements lead to cuts in support programs and/or reductions in enrollment of students who need more support.”

Survey: Data and Analytics in Higher Ed Can Be a One-Two Punch. “As Big Data proliferates, colleges are poised to take advantage of a wealth of data-driven insights, but many lack the analytics skills to do so. As a result, institutions outsource analytics or, more often, fail to leverage information they already possess. That means many could be overlooking meaningful trends or making strategic and operating decisions without the benefit of solid information.”

Six Things You Can Do to Deepen Student Learning. “3. Applicability – The big question here is, so what? How is what you’re teaching going to help students not only in your class, but in their life and careers? One way to help students see the relevance of a particular concept or a course as a whole is to explain it early and often. Don’t keep your course’s relevance a secret or save it for the ‘big reveal’ at the end.”

We Need a More Robust Learning Sciences Research Community. “Higher ed knows how to do science. It knows how to review scientific claims. Vendor research should be put through the peer review process. They should publish enough information that their results can be evaluated and, when feasible, duplicated. Their reputations should be based in part on who is doing (or, at least, properly using) good scientific research.”

School Sucks. “And what about those extracurriculars? What are they ‘robbing’ students of? In his essay, Prof. Hurst believes campuses suffer from ‘leadership fetishism’ as a kind of goal for students to be competitive in the job arena. But for many of us, including me, our extracurriculars were the most important and enduring experiences of our college careers. What if leadership experience is valuable for the sake of the experience itself, rather than a line on a resume?”

Discussions that Didn’t Happen. “The most striking was the near-total absence of discussion about the idea of free community college. It’s all the rage in the civilian world, but barely mentioned here. Even in the give-and-take between Donna Brazile and Cal Thomas on opening night, it barely registered. I expected at least some effort to address it. State and local funding strategies were mentioned, in passing, but mostly treated like discussion of the weather. Yes, it’s cold, but what can you do?  I’d like to know what we can do. What have people done that has worked, either to slow the decline or, ideally, to reverse it? Context matters, obviously, but some lessons may be transferable.”

Stopping Stop-Outs. “As online programs become even more commonplace at community colleges, institutions are changing their administrative structures. This year, 75 percent of survey respondents said they report not to someone in the campus IT office but to an academic administrator — including vice presidents, deans, provosts and chancellors.”

Ed Research Roundup. “The researchers divide those off the tenure track into four basic categories: full-time adjuncts (those who teach a full course load at one college or university); professional adjuncts (those who teach part time at a college but have another full-time career — think the moonlighting lawyer or graphic artist); single-institution adjuncts (part-timers who teach only at one institution); and itinerant adjuncts (part-timers who stitch together work at two or more colleges and have no full-time job outside the academy).”

Where you live rather than what you know? The problem with education deserts. “Increasingly, research suggests that where students live impacts their likelihood of attending college. Today’s college students are increasingly place-bound, working full-time, and are balancing a number of other responsibilities while taking classes. Their choices are determined by what is nearby, regardless of how much college knowledge they may have about alternative options. For them, it is not very helpful to know that a college hundreds of miles away would be a better academic fit or provide a better financial deal than the one down the road. A more intentional focus on the influence of place on student choices is driving our early understanding of what we term ‘education deserts,’ places in all 50 states where potential students confront limited college opportunity.”

2 Econ Professors Cite Student Borrowing as Contributor to Rising Tuition. “Increased student borrowing, more generous financial aid and the increased value of a college degree have all conspired to drive up tuition, two economics professors argue in a new paper released Tuesday. … Gordon made his remarks Tuesday at the American Action Forum, a nonprofit that purports to advance the ‘center-right policy debate’ on various issues.”

Strengthening the Partnership: A Survey of Proposed Higher Education Funding Solutions. “By 2020, the state of Colorado is on track to have completely withdrawn every dollar of public support from its higher education system. Current budget battles in Louisiana could mean a similar, more immediate fate for the more than 30 public institutions in the state. While these two examples are some of the most extreme, over the last decade especially, many states across the nation have shirked their responsibility to adequately fund public higher education with disastrous consequences for students and families. From 1996 to 2012, the share of college costs covered by states dropped from about 40 percent to just over a quarter for dependent students. In an effort to reverse these trends, higher education thought leaders from think tanks, membership organizations, universities and government agencies have all worked to devise their own solution to rebalance the amount states, the federal government, institutions and families contribute toward the cost of college.”

Tenure is disappearing, much to the detriment of higher ed. “Kezar cites a range of negative consequences that have followed the shift away from a tenured faculty workforce. There’s the documented negative impact on graduation rates, first-year retention, likelihood of transfer from a two-year to a four-year college, and student grade point averages. Students who take classes from primarily adjunct faculty have a harder time getting letters of recommendation and finding supporters to pitch them to graduate school programs and employers. Institutionally, the remaining tenure-track faculty have a heavier service load because there are fewer people to do it.”

The New Politics of Educational Data. “Based on discussions I’ve conducted with leading thinkers and practitioners, I can identify two competing ideologies, with powerful implications for the future of education. On the one hand there is a drive to reshape assessment, which we could call Testing 2.0, in the wake of general dissatisfaction with America’s No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies. In their place is a possible reduction of formal testing combined with increasing collection of student data throughout their schooling. Opposed to this is a nascent movement in favor of student autonomy and ownership of data as empowerment strategies.”

Forecast: Mostly Fair for the Foreseeable Future. “Carry on with weighing those four factors. It’s not easy to do, but frankly it makes more sense to spend our limited budgets buying books for the library rather than paying for permission to use those books in courses when those uses are fair and legal – in the dwindling circumstances in which libraries actually handle e-reserves, police them for copyright infringement, and foot the bill for permissions. Nor does it make sense to pass those costs on to students, already struggling to pay for textbooks.”

My Life as an Instant Challenge. “When my son began this activity, I wondered how much it would help provide him with useful skills. Now, I’m wondering whether instant challenges shouldn’t be a part of all children’s curriculum? Surely, being forced to be a part of a team with people who think differently from you and learning to solve random problems with limited time and tools at your disposal might be the best way to prepare for a lifetime of work and family life that often are their own set of instant challenges.”

MOOC With a Community College Twist. “Instead, SUNY Broome applied for and received two SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grants worth about $46,000 earmarked for MOOC development. The first grant made it possible to hire a videographer and shoot a series of video lectures, while the second funded the creation of a free textbook created in partnership with SUNY Geneseo, Battisti said.”

When Students Say Grades “Matter,” Give Them a Choice. “Over time, I’ve come to believe that one of the most important things we can do in our courses is to provide opportunities for students to make choices that force them to confront not just their surface level attitudes – ‘good grades are good’ – but to engage their deep, entirely personal values. We all know that good grades are better than bad grades, but why? How much better? Better for whom? The grading contract has proved to be a tool for making them confront their choices.”

Only 1 in 5 Students Obtain All Learning Materials Legally. “The study revealed that students use a combination of print and digital learning resources in their classes — and only a fifth of them said that all of their class resources were legally acquired. In many cases, the students were unaware that the textbooks were illegally obtained when they downloaded digital files online. However, many expressed that, when faced with the high price of textbooks, they were less concerned about the consequences of illegal downloading and more worried about graduating.”

What Analytics Aren’t. “In general, “analytics” is the process by which we turn raw data into valuable information. Analytics is a tool for problem solving. In most cases, regardless of its application, it requires human intervention. Additionally, analytics software isn’t magical. There’s no alchemy where we create substantive information from vapor. If a class is taught face-to-face with physical textbooks and papers submitted via email to the instructor, it is difficult to derive an accurate model around classroom engagement.”

Equal Promises, Unequal Experiences. “The four students attended the program, which is also offered in a face-to-face format, between 2012 and 2013. Instead of “learning exactly what you learn in a brick-and-mortar classroom,” the students say in the complaint that the 16-month, 12-course program consisted of course readings without the context provided by an instructor or recorded lectures. They are suing the university for fraudulent and negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and violation of D.C. consumer protection laws.”

The First e-Literate Subscription Product. “We have reached a similar stage with the LMS. We have entered the late majority phase. Most faculty that we speak to these days take the LMS for granted and, while they will often grumble about some aspect that they are unhappy with, more and more of them are making significant use of the platform—more than just posting a syllabus and some announcements. More of them will use adjectives like “useful,” unprompted, when talking about their particular LMS. I even heard one faculty member describe his school’s particular LMS as ‘humane’ recently. This is a more profound change than may be immediately obvious.”

Americans Overwhelmingly Value Degrees, Gallup-Lumina Survey Finds. “Among key findings from the study: 70 percent of Americans say it is’“very important’ for adults to have a degree or professional certificate beyond high school—a percentage that has remained near 70 percent since 2012—and 25 percent say it’s ‘somewhat important.’”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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