ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Big Brains, Small Minds. “As the sciences rightly grow, a free society must ensure that criticism of the sciences grows apace. Effective criticism depends on distance, in this case on an unshakeable difference, between the humanities and the STEM fields. That is not to say that STEM researchers can’t or shouldn’t be experts in the humanities, but rather that the work that the humanities do should not be judged by the metrics of hard science. As Aristotle, Plato’s most famous student, suggests at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, ‘precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions.’ Similarly, we should not expect the humanities to be driven or dominated by the objectives of science. Plato teaches us that part of the liberal arts’ enduring mission is precisely to critique these objectives.”

The Case for Open Review. “This ideal, however, has an uncomfortable by-product: if scholarly work becomes more accessible to readers, the work becomes more vulnerable and its reception becomes more transparent. While there are multiple implications for this vulnerability and transparency within the context of open access, a key one is the relevance of open annotation practices for innovations in peer review.”

Small Changes in Teaching: Space It Out. “Intensive, short-term learning often feels durable in the moment but then fades away — which is why students can do very well on noncumulative exams, and then tank a cumulative final. Cramming works for the short term. But without spaced exposure, learning dims quickly. What we know from experience has been affirmed by many studies of how learning works.”

The Partnership Between Colleges and Helicopter Parents. “However, paying parents typically bring more than funds alone. They often help promote the university; conduct admissions interviews; interface with donating alumni; assist with their own students’ emotional, cognitive, and physical needs; and help place graduates (both related and not) in valuable internships and jobs. Competition to attract these parents is stiff—and administrators’ complaints about parental ‘meddling’ are now tempered with interest in a ‘partnership relationship’ with parents. As such, four-year schools structure their classes, activities, and living options around traditional students and expect parents to do the work of maintaining them, even as the financial, physical, and emotional costs of doing so continue to escalate. But the new family-university partnership exacts a toll.

Backward Design, Forward Progress. “[T]his approach to course construction asks faculty to initially ignore the specific content of a class. Rather, the designer begins the process by identifying desired learning goals, and then devising optimal instruments to measure and assess them. Only thereafter does course-specific content come into play—and even then, it is brought in not for the sake of “covering” it, but as a means to achieve the previously identified learning objectives. Courses designed this way put learning first, often transcend the traditional skillset boundaries of their discipline, and usually aim to achieve more ambitious cognitive development than do classes that begin—and often end—with content mastery as the primary focus. Although the advantages of backward design are manifest, it’s probably still the exception to, rather than the rule of, course planning.”

The Other Legacy of the For-Profit College Boom. “Coming on the heels of Burlington College’s closure, I couldn’t help but think about the other legacy of the for-profit college boom: former employees cast adrift. … For-profits were especially susceptible to boom-bust cycles, since they drew their revenue entirely from enrollment. But an awful lot of smaller private colleges aren’t really that different, and their discount rates suggests that they’ve hit, if not exceeded, the highest tuitions the market will bear.”

Playbook for Transfer. “All of the institutions did three things consistently. They each prioritized transfer at both the community college and their partner universities, they created clear program maps that aligned curriculum and majors across both sectors, and they tailored advising for their transfer students, said David Jenkins, senior research association at CCRC and a co-author of the guide.”

Colleges heavily discount tuition, and it might be a race to extinction. “The problem is that, unlike most other sectors of the economy, the sticker price of colleges and their cost of doing business do not scale proportionally with quality. In other words, we have colleges that graduate nearly 100 percent of their students and colleges that graduate just 50 percent of their students, but both types essentially charge the same sticker price.”

What Homework and Adaptive Platforms Are (and Aren’t) Good For. “Putting all this together, fixing the problem of broken homework requires the three personalized learning strategies that Phil and I have been writing about: Moving content broadcast—especially lectures about the ‘what’— out of the classroom to make room for discussions about the why. Making homework time contact time, so that students can get help from the teacher when they are stuck with the ‘what’ and also see that the teacher cares about whether they are learning. Providing a tutor in cases where the software can help the student with the ‘what,’ or maybe a human tutor by enabling the teacher to see where students are stuck and focus class time on getting them unstuck.”

Colleges Shouldn’t Have to Deal With Copyright Monitoring. “Despite the narrowness of Sage’s win, all three publishers have asked the court for a permanent injunction that would impose many new duties on GSU and require close monitoring of all faculty uploads to online course repositories. This would apply not just to Sage publications, but to every use of in-copyright books on online course websites. The requirements would be too onerous and costly for colleges, given that such a small percentage of uses were found to infringe on copyright.”

Easily Overlooked, But Important. “I didn’t realize that the longstanding Holyoke practice of requiring the presence of external evaluators from transfer-receiving schools on program reviews was considered unusual. Apparently it is, but it shouldn’t be. I consider it the academic equivalent of having local employers on advisory boards for career-focused programs. The employers know what they want in future employees; presumably, the faculty know what they want in future students.”

Take Your Teaching Online: the Micro-Lecture. “While online lectures aren’t the only medium for online instruction, they can be a powerful one, and can play a strategic part in how you teach. Short, focused discussions of key concepts or ideas can be a great way to support student learning when they’re working independently or at a distance. For example, if you want to share content quickly in a condensed format, micro-lectures can help cut out excessive verbiage. Beyond creating a good learning experience for students, being conversant about effective online teaching can be a big help when you’re doing a job search.”

Platforms and Profits. “But I think it’s researchers who should be worried. Handing over their finished articles to Elsevier hasn’t worked out all that well. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many visits to Sci-Hub. Letting Elsevier become a platform for the entire “research journey” seems unwise. But to be honest, I’m not at all sure what it even means. How do you wring profits out of workflow? Is knowing who’s working on what and who’s paying attention going to be valuable enough that Elsevier can continue making its astonishing profit margin? Will they offer researchers or institutions metrics for a fee to make those profits? Will Elsevier’s involvement in pre-publishing activities coax authors to publish in Elsevier journals? Will Elsevier become like Facebook, a goldmine of personal information used for generating ads to a captive audience?”

Why Ditching Textbooks Would Be To the Detriment of Learning (Tim Oates). “Research on visual perception and cognitive loading suggests that screen flicker, scrolling and navigation all load up the brain so that comprehension suffers; Navigation in a book is straightforward; pupils can look back at old material and forward to new with great ease. Not so on the sprawling websites which aim to replace books; An evaluation in Singapore led to new electronic versions of very well-designed paper textbooks being abandoned after they failed to deliver the same learning processes and outcomes; The tactile and physical experience of reading a book can embed memories of the content more securely”

Academic Publishing: Toward a New Model. “How, then, might we rethink academic publishing to increase accessibility while maintaining the benefits of peer review? More important, how might we do this while recognizing the fundamental dual realities that (1) universities are already too stretched to devote significant resources to peer reviewing and (2) publishers are companies whose right to thrive financially should be respected? One solution is to cut the Gordian knot of review and dissemination. I propose that we do this by delegating the responsibilities for peer reviewing to the professional, or “learned,” societies.”

The Higher Education Technology Par

adox. “The number one paradox in higher education is that technology is both transforming and disrupting universities around the world. Institutions that adapt to the technology and become content producers will survive and flourish; those confined to being content consumers will struggle to stay in business.”

How Blockchain Will Disrupt the Higher Education Transcript. “A transcript is the record of what a student has accomplished at a university. The document is managed and controlled by the institution, not the student. In contrast, Long said, blockchain has the potential of providing an immutable record of an individual learner’s accomplishment that can be disclosed in a public context.”

The 5 Places I Get Information. “My laptop and the browser are for research. The articles, posts, spreadsheets, presentations, and other documents that I read on my laptop are in the service of answering a question. The phone is for general consumption of non-searched for content, the computer and the browser are for content that I am looking to discover.”

Congress Should Take Lead in Battle over Financial Aid ‘Displacement.’ “[C]olleges often reduce the amount of institutional aid they provide to low-income students who have received private scholarships. Financial-aid administrators at institutions that engage in this practice say they have a responsibility to direct their aid dollars to students with the greatest financial need. A low-income student who wins an outside scholarship is better off than one who hasn’t, they argue, and is therefore less deserving of institutional aid. But this argument angers private scholarship providers and some student aid experts, who say the practice hurts low-income students whom donors are trying to help. In addition, they point out that colleges don’t always take their institutional money and give it to other financially needy students.”

How Should State Higher Education Funding Effort Be Measured? “So which measure is the right measure? State legislatures tend not to care about inflation-adjusted or per-student metrics because their revenue streams (primarily taxes) don’t necessarily increase alongside inflation or population growth. Additionally, enrollment for the next year or two can be difficult to accurately predict when budgets are being made, so a perfect per-FTE funding ratio is virtually impossible. But on the other hand, colleges have to make state funding work to educate an often-growing number of students, so the call for the maintenance of funding ratios makes perfect sense. I raise these points because policymakers and education advocates often seem to talk past each other in terms of what funding effort for higher education should look like.”

Beyond FTE’s. “But in terms of institutional cost, FTE tends to underestimate for community colleges and overestimate for elite schools. That’s because costs don’t aggregate proportionally with credits. For example, a student taking fifteen credits can’t take two classes in the same time slot. But two students taking six credits each absolutely can. “Peak” times in a community college can be much busier than an FTE count would lead you to think. That impacts instructional cost — professors can’t be split, either — along with the need for parking, library space, and the like.”

A Speech for the Generations. “The most obvious point is that we are all seniors now, although the description may be a tad more upbeat for them. About three million undergraduate degrees will be granted this year. That’s roughly the same number of boomers who will retire. We are all ending one phase of life and starting another … and trying to figure out what to do next. I see the worry in their faces when they talk to me about it, the hope that things will work out for them and the concern that they might not. But honestly, I see that exact same expression when I look in the mirror.”

Saving the Liberal Arts. “Noting that John Maynard Keynes described humanity’s real and permanent problem as what do with our lives once we no longer need to expend them in meeting basic needs, Brewer said the liberal arts were the answer.”

Tension at the Top. “Community colleges, perhaps more than ever, are on the front lines of policy discussions about rebuilding the nation’s economy and future. The position of community college leader, however, is in flux. A large number of leaders at two-year institutions are leaving the field, while the presidential pipeline has become narrower. And recent conflicts between college trustees and presidents have led to resignations and terminations, which highlight the difficulties of holding the presidency. … Experts say the turmoil some presidents face, the constant shuffling of positions and the seeming lack of presidential candidates often can be boiled down to a few issues including poor relations with trustees, the decrease in community college leadership training programs and cultural clashes between colleges and presidents.”

The 2016 Dean’s List: EdTech’s 50 Must-Read Higher Ed IT Blogs. “That’s where the Dean’s List comes in handy: It reintroduces higher ed stakeholders to a group of education technology thought leaders who share not-to-be-missed analyses of higher ed technology trends, challenges and opportunities.”

Leaving the LMS to Make Course Remixing Possible. “This week, Adam Croom combined these topics, showing how to use Jekyll as an LMS replacement. The post is remarkably clear-eyed about the advantages of such a step–for example, it loads faster, it’s easier to update, and because it’s based on GitHub it’s built for sharing and redevelopment–as well as the costs (mostly, the tech savvy needed to do such a thing). And it’s not totally LMS-free: there are still quizzes and a gradebook, both of which are linked to an LMS.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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