ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

Draining The Semantic Swamp of “personalized Learning” – A View from Silicon Valley (Part 1). “At one end of the continuum are teacher-centered lessons and programs within the traditional age-graded school using behavioral approaches that seek efficient and effective learning to make children into knowledgeable, skilled, and independent adults who can successfully enter the labor market, thrive, and become adults who help their communities. These approaches (and ultimate aims for public schools) have clear historical underpinnings dating back nearly a century. At the other end of the continuum are student-centered lessons and programs that seek student agency and shape how children grow cognitively, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. They avoid the traditional age-graded arrangements that they believe have deadened learning for over a century. Their overall goals of schooling are to convert children into adults who are creative thinkers, help out in their communities, enter jobs and succeed in careers, and become thoughtful, mindful adults. Like the other end of the spectrum, these approaches have a century-old history as well.”

Competency-Based Education Model Benefits Faculty As Well As Students. “Across the country, higher education institutions are innovating curriculum and business process to implement online competency-based education (CBE) models. Yet competency-based pedagogy—organizing teaching through learning outcomes and disciplinary competencies—has been a mainstay of teaching for decades. The innovation is found in business processes and systems that support a more flexible educational delivery system and represent significant opportunities to be tapped.”

What colleges have learned about distance education. “When online education came along, community colleges recognized that it gave access. We could do a better job of reaching out and connecting with students who historically have wanted to go to college but couldn’t. That’s why the for-profit industry caught on so quickly. There was an unmet desire, and suddenly a modality of delivery comes along that gave students a more effective way to connect and learn.”

Small Changes or Big Revolutions? “What, Blum wondered, could explain the disconnect between a love of learning and a hatred of college courses? Good teaching takes time and effort, which is why we are reluctant to abandon our current approaches unless we are convinced that we will see a major payoff. The book answers that question by contrasting how people learn in schools (of all sorts) with how they learn on their own. The vocabulary she uses to illustrate that contrast is telling: She refers to learning outside of school as “learning in the wild,” and learning within school as “learning in the cage.” Humans were born to learn in the wild, she suggests; students are forced to learn in the cage.”

The Die-Hard University. “The key to understanding the major differences between the earliest universities and current ones lies less in technologies than in Kerr’s acknowledgment that the perdurable university themes of “teaching, scholarship and service” have been manifested throughout the centuries “in one combination or another.” Service is not the least changed.”

Does EdTech have an ethos? And why should I

care? “For example, what assumptions does your average LMS make about a course experience? Although LMS’s differ slightly in their implementation, for the most part, they are true to their name: they attempt to “manage” learning in a “systematic” way – what does that say about how the LMS approaches learning, which we as educators know is messy and should be nurtured rather than managed? The LMS delivers on its name: It is a closed, copyright haven that makes giving quizzes and grading easier. How does that measure up in terms of ethos? It reinforces higher ed’s refusal to push back on draconian copyright laws, their intransigent fear of openly sharing, and the continued quest for efficiency around the management tasks of teaching. All of this can make sense in some contexts, but as an ethos for a rich, web-based teaching and learning experience it tends to fall short. Now you can certainly do more with such a tool, but few do—-and the tool itself is designed to reinforce the behaviors we have come to expect of the tool (there has been almost two decades of fine-tuning the LMS, so in that regard the tool is a reflection of our desires and priorities).”

Alternative Pathways: A Complex Upheaval Is Unfolding But Not a 50 Percent Failure Rate. “Christiansen’s prediction implies a binary result—either institutions stay in business or they go out of business. Upon reflection, I think the upheaval will affect more than 50 percent of current institutions, but that there will be multiple consequences of disruption, including going out of business. I would argue that far more than 50 percent of existing institutions will be affected, with some going out of business and others going through significant changes and adaptations to adjust to the emerging ecosystem in the postsecondary universe. These will be two of the several consequences of disruption.”

Local Pathways over National Frameworks: Strengthening Competency-Based Education. “Instead, the most promising terrain for integrating CBE in hiring are local and regional economies. Higher education institutions differ in terms of their governance, mission, values, resources, staff and students, among other things. Even within particular states, there are few opportunities for coordination across institutions. Across states, coordination becomes even harder. Industries are similarly complex. Within industries, like the service or tech industries, the business models, hiring practices, operations and infrastructure, and workforce can vary widely firm-to-firm, region-to-region. Across industries, variation in goals and activities is even more extreme.”

Scorecard for Accreditors. “The visual reports in many ways resemble the department’s College Scorecard, which gives consumers a broad range of data about the performance of colleges. And while students and their families are unlikely to use the new charts to keep tabs on accreditors, policy makers and NACIQI probably will consult them when weighing in on whether accreditors have been adequate stewards of federal financial aid. The data also could be a tool to compare accreditors against each other, which the department has said should be part of gauging the agencies’ effectiveness.”

‘What Matters Most.’ “So what matters most? Real learning, relationships, clear expectations, alignment of resource policies and practices with educational mission and student characteristics, improvement and leadership. (More on all those later.)”

No Cookie Cutting in My Classroom. “Far from being formulaic, real education and real learning live and breathe in difference, in intangibility, in unpredictability. Part of my job in the classroom is being adaptable, adjusting my lessons, my pace, my readings to fit the needs of a specific group of people, who are decidedly not the same as the last group of people. Each class has a personality of its own, not to mention the unique needs of each individual in that class.”

UX to LX: The Rise of Learner Experience Design. “Instructional designers, like web developers in the ‘90s, historically had expertise in conveying content through a limited set of tools and platforms, such as a learning management system (LMS). LX designers, in contrast, merge design-thinking principles with curriculum development and the application of emerging technologies to help faculty tailor content to student behaviors and preferences. It cuts across disciplines and moves beyond the LMS: LX designers embrace graphic design, multimedia production, research-based standards and social media. They are partners to faculty throughout the program and course development process.”

Transformations Affecting Postsecondary Education. “To meet the goal, the nation must maintain high school graduation and college entrance rates at or above 75 percent and 70 percent, respectively—reachable goals close to historical norms. The nation must also increase college graduation rates from 40 percent to 60 percent. Increasing the college graduation rate is inherently challenging but made even more so because of major demographic changes. Many of the upcoming college-aged individuals will be people of color or from low-income families, populations that traditionally have needed additional counseling, mentoring, academic support, and financial assistance to successfully enter into and complete higher education. How to increase access and graduation rates and thus equality for these two population groups is the major focus of the commission.”

Exploring the For-Profit Experience. An Ethnography of a For-Profit College. “The for-profit college sector is arguably the most controversial and least understood sector of higher education today. The past decade has ushered in a wealth of public concern and scrutiny as to whether for-profit colleges and universities are providing a quality education to underserved student populations. While their politicization has captured immense attention, there is far less empirical research on student experiences at for-profit institutions to better inform conceptual, institutional, and practical understanding of this sector of postsecondary education. Using ethnographic data from one midsize for-profit college in a suburban city, the author spent seven months exploring educational culture from the perspective of enrolled students. The findings illuminate four themes: (a) student desire for institutional transparency, (b) the perception of high-quality in-person instruction, (c) varied experiences based on student schedule and learning needs, and (d) the role of age in shaping peer interactions.”

Scaling Up OER. “While OER advocates aren’t yet prepared to say these initiatives represent a new phase for the proliferation of free or low-cost course materials, they acknowledged that the focus appears to be shifting away from individual courses and toward centralized efforts aimed at helping faculty members create alternatives to commercial textbooks or to think about opening up their teaching and research.”

What Does Student Engagement Look Like? “The findings do not indicate that participation is a bad thing or that it can’t engage students, just that it didn’t do so very convincingly for this cross-disciplinary cohort of more than 600. What the research team found did indicate engagement was something they call “nonverbal attentiveness.” It’s associated with behaviors like frequent eye contact, upright posture, seat location (closer to the front than the back), note taking, and positive facial expressions. In other words, silent students can be engaged and perhaps even more so than some who participate.”

Why you can’t discuss online learning without acknowledging this. “While procedures for handling traditional materials have been well established for some time, higher ed educators’ increased reliance on video for lecture capture, supplemental materials, distance and online learning, and more is bringing the issue of video accessibility standards to the forefront. The key to accessible videos is captioning: 99 percent accurate captions, using a 508-compliant video player optimized for accessibility, make it possible for people with hearing, visual, and motor impairments to use video materials. But adding captions to an entire library of video materials can be daunting.”

Open Innovation and the Creation of Commons. “The open movement rests on common principles such as sharing and collaborationtransparency and participationquality improvement and enhancement of positive societal impact by co-created shared values. Its core focus is on the actors and communities of openness, their skills and their mind-sets, and their abilities to openly innovate. Without an open ecosystem comprising important elements such as open policies and open licenses, open education, open source, open standards, and open science, open innovation would not be possible. Although it can create and shape markets, fostering the diversity of open business models, open innovation is offering more than just economic impact: it has the potential for structural change in open societies (which goes far beyond the idea of rapid adoption of new technologies).”

Part 2: Draining the Semantic Swamp of “Personalized Learning”: A View from Silicon Valley. “What has happened recently, however, is that those efficiency-minded school reformers, filled with optimism about the power of new technologies to “transform” teaching and learning, have appropriated the language of “whole child” Progressives.  Imbued with visions of students being prepared for a world where adults change jobs a half-dozen times in a lifetime, these efficiency-minded reformers tout schools that have tailored lessons (both online and offline) to individual students, turned teachers into coaches, and where students collaborate with one another thus reflecting the changed workplace of the 21st century. Efficiency-minded reformers’ victorious capture of the vocabulary of ‘personalized learning’  has made parsing the present-day world of school policies aimed at making classrooms havens of “personalized learning” most confusing to those unfamiliar with century-old struggles over similar issues.”

Reassessing a Redesign of Community Colleges. “The structural fix Bailey and his co-authors offer makes sense given the evidence that the status quo creates a host of barriers to student success. Still, like all structural remedies, this one runs the risk of reducing nuanced and layered human dilemmas to a technical problem, and thus being unresponsive to or missing entirely the particular life circumstances of students. So, yes, make the college curriculum more coherent, but realize that other human and material resources also will be needed to meet the needs of many students, and, as well, build into your structural changes the flexibility needed to honor the range of life circumstances your students bring to college. Otherwise, the fix may create unintended negative consequences.”

Learning to Adapt. “Experiments with adaptive learning at 14 colleges and universities have found the software has no significant average effect on course completion rates, has a slight positive effect on student grades and does not immediately lead to lower costs. And after using the software for three academic terms, less than half of the instructors involved say they will continue to use adaptive courseware.”

21st Century Credentials: Telling the Story of the Whole Student. “This all adds up to a loud call, a wake up call, if you will to the higher education community to drastically rethink how we demonstrate student learning and credential achievement. It was noted that grades are a proxy not necessarily indicative of what a student knows because they can be effected or skewed by poor assessments and failure of work ethic (i.e. an A paper might get a C because it was 3 days late). This circles back to being able to show what a student can do – to providing work samples, the authentic assessments that underlie credentials, not just grades.”

Tuition at public colleges has soared in the past decade, but student fees have risen faster. “Kelchen said the only significant institution-level factor in fee increases was tuition. As colleges increased tuition, fees came down. Conversely, as states instituted tuition caps, colleges raised fees. Kelchen found that colleges in states with tuition caps have fees that are $59 higher than schools in states without such caps. Schools, he said, are increasingly using fees to subsidize library services, information technology and other core priorities that used to be included in the price of tuition. Public colleges are in some cases imposing fees to make up for the loss of state appropriations.”

Of OER and Free Riders. “As I vocally and energetically advocate for universally replacing traditional materials with OER, I am acutely aware that there are essentially no OER available for 300 and 400 level courses or graduate courses. Importantly, the free rider problem does not describe a situation in which an individual uses open educational resources without contributing to their creation. It describes a situation in which so few people contribute to their creation that the OER needed by students and faculty never get created – and that accurately describes the current state of upper-level and graduate-level courses today.”

Accreditor on Life Support. “Either way, the decision to nix an agency that last year served as a gatekeeper for $4.76 billion in federal financial aid is an extraordinary move. It also is the strongest signal yet that accreditors must tighten up their consumer protection role and focus on student achievement measures, such as job placement, graduation and loan repayment rates, or risk facing the wrath of Democrats, consumer groups and many other critics of the accreditation process.”

Digital Books on Business Card Flash Drives. “What was different is that all of us attending the talk, and there were over 100 of us, were all handed a small plastic card (credit card size) with an attached mini usb drive.  The USB drive contained both an excerpt and a video about the book. This was a method for distributing digital content that I had never seen. Apparently, a business card flash drive is not all that unusual.”

Towards the future of technology for education: My NMC keynote. “Those spaces and technologies link up with the often-heralded transition from consumption to co-creation and production, which continues. Think: student as producer, student as maker.”

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