ED MAP: Insights Blog

6.22.15 Higher Ed Weekly Read: Articles Worth Reviewing
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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Testing. “But there are problems, created for the most part by state actions and regulations that are clearly counterproductive. We have an overemphasis on testing beginning at the third grade level. These tests, tied to the common core, are 90 minutes long (longer for kids with special needs who get extended time to complete examinations) and are a major source of stress for kids. In the early grades we should be fostering a love of learning and not an anxiety over too much testing. I am a person who believes there is benefit in testing, both on a diagnostic level and also as a gauge of student progress. But in New York this testing is a dominant factor in the evaluation of public school teachers. We all know that so many factors, in addition to the teacher, enter into the test results of students. And as an economist, I know that many of these factors are often directly related to the resources available to a family.”

7 Seriously Bad Ideas That Rule Higher Education. “Institutions that follow a cost saving strategy of adjunctification and other non-full-time, non tenure-track faculty models are trading short-term cost savings for long-term viability. The critical comparative advantage offered by any college or university is the highly trained and experienced educator. Treating teaching as a commodity, rather than a highly intensive skill best undertaken by a dedicated educator, is the surest way to enter a race to the bottom. Smart institutions will invest in faculty, since faculty create the institution’s value.”

Kids, Conscience, and Consciousness. “As a professional educator who’s relatively fluent in education policy debates, I can rattle off all the reasons to be skeptical of, if not openly hostile to, school rankings. They’re proxies for economic class.  They reflect standardized test results, which are both narrow and skewed. They can become self-fulfilling on the extremes, as wealthier people make strong districts stronger, and people with options abandon the districts on the bottom to the people who don’t have options. I get all of that. But I’m also a parent of two specific children. Even granting parental bias, they’re great kids. I want them to have great school experiences, both academically and socially. And that’s where kids, conscience, and social consciousness sometimes pull in different directions.”

When My Son Discovered RateMyProfessors.com. “Usually, when it comes to course evaluations, the fact that students are required/compelled/pressured to complete them means that one has a wider range of useful data to work with. If most students have filled in evaluations, and all the comments and ratings are similar, then you know that you really are doing a good/terrible job — the results are statistically significant. If one only had course evaluations from students who hated or loved the class enough to fill them in, one would probably have a distorted perception of what one has accomplished, whether that perception errs on the side of being too negative or too positive. As with the complaints, the flowing praise of the course and its instructor some students offer may have as much to do with their own work habits and motivation as anything the professor did.”

‘University Ethics.’ “I don’t think universities and colleges should examine their own ethics before teaching professional ethics in other disciplines; in fact, they should continue teaching ethics for the other professions as they start up their own needed courses in university ethics. I do think, however, if they finally faced their own apathy and lack of interest in university ethics, administrators and faculty might end up restoring their university’s own ethical credibility that is grossly eroding. Moreover, by facing their own intransigence, they might end up being able to teach courses in professional ethics for other professions that are more comprehensive, practical, true to ethical prudence and less remote and conceptual than they normally are.”

Preventing the Next Corinthian. “While bold, this latest student loan debt forgiveness move is in keeping with the deeper Obama higher education policy legacy. Throughout his tenure, the president has coupled massive increases in federal spending for college access and affordability with a groundbreaking insistence on quality results out of colleges. The increased investment was smart and the accountability tough, but more is required to assure the federal higher education investment and quality college programs.”

Personalization at Scale: Two Institutional Journeys. “UMUC and Capella operate in similar spheres: Both institutions serve adults who attend university online and on a part-time schedule. The majority of our learners are seeking a degree as a step toward creating a better life for themselves and their families. Both institutions are tuition-driven, have a faculty who work remotely, and are supported by centralized administrative operations. While the institutions share similar philosophies of innovatively serving our diverse student populations online, their approaches to implementing services and programs reflect the differences in organizational structures.”

When Learning Analytics Meets E-Learning. “Data mining techniques have existed in higher education for over a decade. Learner analytics is different from data mining, in that analytics support data-driven decision-making and provides information for educators, policy makers and administrators to improve learning process. Siemens (2013) adds that learning analytics is about sense-making and interpretation, whereas educational data mining is more about developing methods and models for existing data in educational settings so that bigger questions about learning could be answered. Moreover, as Swan (2012) suggests, previous data mining efforts focused on reporting or archiving student data and never emphasized teaching and learning. Data mining tries to organize and reduce educational data whereas data analytics views the entire data systems to better understand learner behaviors.”

Let Your Communications Professionals Tell the Truth – It’s their Job. “The reality is that we get paid to play devil’s advocate and are tasked with pushing for clear and truthful communications. Anyone who has “communications” or “public relations” in their title and isn’t advocating for the truth should look for a new job. Our bosses have the prerogative to follow our advice or not, but at the very least they should be presented with our best thinking and make that decision for themselves. Truthfulness is a core tenet of our jobs and we must live it if we want to have a say during a crisis.”

By the Book. “Davis and co-authors Catherine Kudlick, Margaret Price, Melissa Helquist and Jay Dolmage have settled on the popular standard EPUB as the desired format for accessible ebooks. Their guidelines recommend publishers waive digital rights management restrictions for readers with disabilities so the restrictions won’t interfere with accessibility software. The guidelines also come with pointers on how to make content accessible. They suggest making text resizable and available as text-to-speech, labeling all photos and illustrations, and using line styles instead of color to distinguish between different data in charts.”

Spotlight on Innovation: Pursue To Study Why Active Learning Works. “The Basics of SDT: Student-centered learning is most effective when students experience: Autonomy, in the sense of empowerment, choice, and options in their learning so that they feel like they are really participating in the learning experience Competence, defined as gaining confidence and development and mastery of skills Connectedness with other students, the instructor, and with the course material.”

How and Whether Certificates and Associate Degrees Lead to B.A.s. “Two out of five students who earned associate degrees in 2008-9 had bachelor’s degrees under their belts six years later, according to a new national study. The average time between the degrees was 2.8 years. … Postsecondary certificates, which are often awarded for specific workplace skills, were far less likely to lead to college degrees. Of students whose first postsecondary credential was a certificate, just one in four received an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years.”

The Mixed Marriage of For-profit and Not-for-profit Publishing. “We should understand that for-profit organizations have no incentive to make any incremental investment whatsoever unless it leads to a larger market opportunity, reduced costs, or defends an existing market position. For all the talk of innovation, innovation, innovation in the for-profit sector and all the social benefits that are alleged to come of it, the fact is that innovation is a handmaiden to forecast ROI and social benefits are an accidental outcome, not a goal. When a NFP publisher begins to offer authors new services, even with no prospect of making money from them, the for-profit competitors have to grit their teeth and match these features item by item. To do otherwise is to risk alienating authors and to create problems in brand management, as the absence of certain features may appear to be an expression of greed or indifference. Thus mission-based organizations doth make missionaries of us all.”

Restoring Value in the Classroom Experience with Experiential Learning. “Establishing a classroom environment where the faculty member asks and suggests, presses and cajoles, presents multiple perspectives, and offers just enough guidance for students to reach the next plateau of understanding, facilitates student development. It allows students to observe (in the professor) and attempt (with their guidance) the critical thinking so valued by today’s employers.”

Defining Competency. “The unusual degree of coordination between the feds and accreditors on the two documents could help smooth out the kinks in the department-backed experimental sites program on competency-based education. Experimental sites allow participating colleges to be exempt from certain rules for federal aid eligibility as they tinker with different approaches to higher education. However, the experimental sites project on competency-based education has been sluggish at times, due in part to mixed messages from the department about the emerging form of higher education, which more than 200 institutions have begun offering or are seeking to offer.”

Block That Regulation! “The bill drafted by Republican leaders of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending for education, health and labor programs would bar the Education Department from using any of its appropriated funds to carry out existing regulations related to “gainful employment” for graduates of vocational programs, state authorization, teacher preparation, and the credit hour, and to implement President Obama’s envisioned system to rate colleges and universities. Essentially, it would block virtually all efforts by the Obama administration to hold colleges more accountable for how they use federal funds, which Republican lawmakers (and many college officials) have opposed as overreaching, misdirected and unlikely to work.”

What Higher Ed Can Learn From Gateway 2000. “Gateway may be gone, but the unravelling of Gateway says very little about the computer industry as a whole.  The fact that Gateway disappeared does not mean that the computer industry died as well.  From the peak to the fall of Gateway we have witnessed the decline of the desktop, the ascension of the laptop, the (brief) rise of the netbook, and the dawning of the (maybe) post-PC tablet era. The lesson is for us in higher ed is that some (many) of our incumbent institutions are likely to also either go away, or change to such a degree that they will be unrecognizable to previous cohorts of graduates. The closing or morphing of even a large number of today’s 4,700 degree-granting postsecondary institutions does not mean that our system of higher education is coming to an end.”

Smart Praise for Students. “In the book, she argues that people have either a “fixed” mind-set or a “growth” mind-set when it comes to their beliefs about learning and intelligence. If you have a fixed mind-set, that means you believe your intelligence is a fixed, stable quantity; someone or something stamped an IQ on your forehead at birth, and your are limited to that IQ for the remainder of your life. If you have a growth mind-set, in contrast, that means you believe that your intelligence is malleable, and can improve with hard work and effort. Her early research in this area focused on children, but she came to believe that mind-sets influence people at all ages, including college students.”

Preparing for the digital university. “I think it’s worth highlighting the Supported Open Learner model developed by the OU (and then successfully replicated across the globe). This has a range of elements all specifically designed to aid the distance learner, including course material designed to be studied individually, a part-time tutor allocated for support (by face to face tutorials, phone, online, etc), a regional centre support system, summer schools, use of different media and assessment constructed to be a feedback and progression mechanism. I stress it because many universities and online providers still haven’t discovered this rich support mechanism. I expect one will reinvent it soon, amongst much fanfare, but the point is that different elements have greater significance for different students.”

Senate Committee Taking Closer Look at Education Accreditation Process. “Accreditation has been around since the 1800s and started out as a voluntary system to ensure institutional quality. Over time, as more and more of the population attended college, accrediting bodies increasingly became “proxies” for the federal government and gatekeepers of Title IV, or federal financial aid and loans. Without an accreditor’s stamp of approval, institutions are not eligible to make use of federal dollars. Despite their new tasks, their essential function remains much the same as it always was. As a result, hearing witness Dr. George Pruitt, president of Thomas Edison State College and chair of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, said that accrediting agencies are burdened with conflicting expectations. The conflict stems from whether accrediting bodies should be regulating or assessing institutions.”

6 Academic Leadership Lessons from John Snow. “Lesson 4 – First, Build Coalitions: Only part of the job of a successful leader is the ability to articulate a strong vision for the future. John Snow clearly saw the future (an army of undead White Walkers coming over the Wall), and was willing to change centuries of best practices in order to be ready. What John Snow failed to do is build an effective coalition for change. He did not take enough time to listen. He failed to do the hard work of understanding the interests of his stakeholders. This failure to build a coalition ultimately cost him his job.”

Maciej Ceglowski’s Internet Repair Kit. “He has some ideas about what needs fixing, and I think it’s good stuff, consistent with the recommendations made in Bruce Schneier’s Data and Goliath. Limit the collection, storage, and sharing of data gathered by websites. He doesn’t advocate for prohibiting data collection entirely – aggregated data can be used in delightful, creative ways. But don’t allow the creation of huge enduring memory banks that the people whose data it includes cannot control.”

Finding a New Compass. “All versions of Compass, which was first created in 1983, will be eliminated by the end of next year, according to ACT. The test’s limitations in measuring college readiness were a factor in the decision, Colby said in an interview. For example, many adult students who place into remedial courses with Compass might be able to thrive in college-level courses after taking a brief refresher on academic material that they haven’t seen for a while.”

How a For-Profit’s Implosion Could Be a Game-Changer for College Oversight. “The U.S. Department of Education’s actions are unprecedented in scope, opening the door to the possibility that thousands of defrauded students could see their federal loan debts wiped away in one fell swoop, at a potential cost to taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars. By many accounts, the move could also change how accreditors, states, and the federal government handle quality assurance of college programs. ‘If we are going to be discharging a significant amount of debt, it means we have to pay much more attention’ says David A. Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who long served as an Education Department official.”

Digital vs. print textbook war – who cares? “While this print versus digital textbook debate carries on, people are failing to notice a larger and much more important point. In reality, who cares what the dominant textbook format will eventually become? Depending on the learner, subject matter, and instructor, one format or another may always be the ‘better’ choice to accommodate a student’s learning style and the instructor’s curriculum design. The more pressing conversation should be about doing everything we can to help students be successful, graduate on-time, and be prepared for the working world. To do that, we need to lower the cost of course materials for students, increase accessibility, and improve student outcomes, regardless of the textbook format – in fact, both formats have a place in achieving those goals.”

Is Small Beautiful?Small is, for online education, perhaps a necessary corrective to the enormous aspirations and large disappointments of the first years of the MOOC boom. These experiments with engaging small, targeted groups of students in rich learning experiences have re-taught an age-old principle of education: personal attention matters. And it’s a lesson with increasingly important implications, as digital solutions become more pervasive in higher education. Just as ambitious commentators predicted a few years ago, a new collaboration between edX and Arizona State University, announced in May, will begin to offer the equivalent of a first-year ASU curriculum on the online platform. SPOCs and other non-massive experiments that have emerged from the MOOC boom will provide important lessons for these kinds of collaborations—helping to figure out what kind of education those students who stick through the MOOC grind can hope to get.”

The Web Will Either Kill Science Journals or Save Them. “What we’re dependent on collectively now is not the functional role of journals, but the symbolic role of journals. It’s a functional role, because the symbolic role is important for the hierarchy in the scientific communities, but it’s not what you would consider core. Universities are to blame in a way, because they’ve created a monster with research evaluations, where they say to their young professors, ‘Ah, if you don’t get published in, say, Nature, you won’t get tenure.’”

Debt-Free and (Mostly) Detail-Free. “Although public colleges and universities may welcome the attention to the state funding issues they’ve faced in recent years, a debt-free college plan driven by new federal spending is also riddled with challenges for those institutions. The federal government has long financed higher education through aid to students who choose their institution. If, as some of the debt-free college proposals call for, the federal government upped its direct subsidies of states and institutions, that would likely mean greater federal control over higher education — a concern some voiced even with the more modest community college plan earlier this year.”

The First Law of Branding. “For brands today, integration across the brand ecosystem is really important. Messages and channels need to be closely connected to each other: what you tweet about should be connected to what you post on Facebook and Instagram and there should be echoes of those messages in your alumni magazine and viewbook. And they should all look as if they belong to the same institution.”

Education Dept. Calls Imminent Rule a Reminder to States of Their Oversight Role. “The U.S. Department of Education, in a letter meant to highlight to states their responsibilities to oversee colleges and protect students, reminded colleges on Friday that, beginning on July 1, they could lose their eligibility for federal student-aid programs if they aren’t authorized by a state agency that has a policy meeting minimum federal requirements. Such ‘state authorization’ must include a system for students to file complaints against colleges for wrongdoing and for the state to act on the complaints, the letter says.”

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