ED MAP: Insights Blog

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


Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

SRI’s Study on Gates Personalized Learning Grants Is Out. “There are no conclusive wins here. This is not a robot-tutor-in-the-sky moment. A few programs did well here and there. A handful produced promising incremental gains. But this is not a report that screams, ‘Wow, adaptive courseware works!’ The most you can say is that adaptive learning looks like it could be another arrow in the quiver that helps out in some situations—like developmental math courses at two-year colleges, for example.”

UNC Press to Offer Publishing Services for Professors’ DIY Textbooks. “One example is at the University of North Carolina Press, which recently set up an Office of Scholarly Publishing Services that will offer copy editing, design layout, distribution, and seed money for professors making open educational resources. The office will be something like a resource center for faculty members, whether they publish with the university press or elsewhere.”

Plan to Define and Test What Students Should Know. “The Measuring College Learning project, which Arum has helped lead, seeks to change that dynamic by putting faculty members in charge of determining how to measure learning in six academic disciplines. After more than two years of work, the project has defined the ‘fundamental concepts and competencies society demands from today’s college graduates’ in biology, business, communication, economics, history and sociology.”

Not So Gainfully Employed. “The authors offer some caveats for their findings. They note that their finding of a negative economic impact of enrolling at for-profit colleges is significantly due to the large share of students at for-profit colleges who leave without the certificate or degree they were seeking, ending up in many cases with significant debt. Generally, those who finish their programs experience better results. (But only about 30 percent complete associate and bachelor’s program, the study says.)”

The Real Threat to Free Expression. “Thus, the real challenge to free speech on campuses is that students seem unable or unwilling in critical instances to talk to each other, especially on the digital platforms that are closely associated with their identities. That has led them down the dangerous path of being too willing to endorse and even demand restrictions on the very speech they are trying to exercise in the service of their own ideas and causes. It is this system of informal censorship that is the most significant challenge to the idea that campuses might still be marketplaces of ideas.”

Credentials Reform: How Technology and the Changing Needs of the Workforce Will Create the Higher Educations System of the Future. “The growth in different types of credentials—from increasingly popular associate’s degrees to modern IT certifications—has been happening progressively over the last several years. What’s propelling change today is the effort to connect these credentials into one comprehensive and navigable system. Even as their ranks have grown, credentials have continued to operate in silos, rather than as part of a connected system. Each type of credential carries a different meaning, and there’s no common language to explain what each type means or how one compares to another. That makes it hard for employers and students alike to know what value various credentials carry in the labor market. Recently, though, leaders in the business, government, philanthropic, and education sectors have begun a robust push to define credentials in commonly understood terms: by the knowledge and skills that each carries.”

3 higher ed metrics that can truly benefit today’s students. “Above all, the newly released report advocates for a transparent postsecondary system that facilitates effective policy and practice, and informed choices for learners seeking degrees.Toward Convergence emphasizes the notion that postsecondary education is currently data rich but information poor, which makes improving data quality, transparency and use all the more important to allow more students (especially low-income students and students of color) the opportunity to gain access to and succeed in higher education as well as to achieve economic and social prosperity upon graduating.”

What Makes a Good Teacher. “They are professional without being aloof. Most academics tend to keep students at arm’s length — the obvious message being, ‘I’m your teacher, not your friend.’ Clearly, professionalism requires a certain amount of boundary-setting, which can be difficult, especially when dealing with older students, where the age gap is often not all that wide and, under different circumstances, they might actually be your friends. My best teachers always seemed to effortlessly walk that very fine line between being an authority figure and being someone I felt I could talk to.”

The Great Shadow Grade Debate. “Hopkins in its announcement about uncovering grades said it was virtually alone in its peer group to shield students in this way. But a handful of other selective to very selective colleges and universities have covered or shadow policies. Swarthmore College’s decades-old policy of leaving freshman first-time grades off transcripts is one of the longer standing ones. And while there’s sometimes casual talk of changing it, said Amy Vollmer, chair and longtime professor of microbiology, it still has value. Primarily, it offers students a short respite from grades so that they can focus on what Swarthmore wants them to do: learn.”

A Faculty Stand on Assessment. “In our work, we have found that faculty members readily agree that higher education is not about efficient acquisition of surface content knowledge and the simple regurgitation of memorized facts.That does not mean that content is unimportant. Content is indeed crucial, but primarily as a building block for more complex forms of thinking. Faculty members are eager to get students to apply, analyze and evaluate from their disciplinary perspectives, to acquire a disciplinary mindset and think like a biologist or an economist.”

Learning in Public. “If we are going to achieve more changes that result in success for our colleagues and students, then we have to plan for learning what works and for adjusting what does not. It would be great to have campus cultures that value the experience of constant experimenting and adjusting, celebrating the shared learning as we go. But, more often, the people leading such efforts find that the first round of bringing projects to approval and implementation is as much as they can take. The experience of engaging in the campus political arena is too bruising and dispiriting to encourage leaders to stay for learning and applying adaptations in a follow-up stage.”

Thoughts for Funders. “A high-profile national effort to build up a repertoire of OER in the high-enrollment classes would save students millions of dollars right out of the gate.  It would also help overcome a major faculty objection to OER, which is fear that courses without standard textbooks won’t transfer. If the materials are accepted as industry standards, the courses will transfer cleanly.”

Student Debt by the [Text]book. “ and four other higher education experts were together to describe the inadequacy of federal cost of attendance estimates, the numbers used by the government to distribute financial aid and by students to calculate living expenses. But the panel’s frustration with much broader issues was easily apparent throughout, and was directed at a higher education system that was never designed to be a social safety net for the poorest, but is increasingly starting to look like one. In the simplest of terms: Colleges now feel compelled to provide food aid, child care, free transportation, and counseling in order to cover the many gaps their students face.”

Are Your Students Learning From Their Mistakes? “What we do in the face of failure, or merely in the face of mistakes, seems to go a long way to determining how successful we’ll be. But as a lot of people point out, our systems of assessment in the college classroom don’t really help students develop the skill of learning from their mistakes. Too often, the language we use in talking about grades is the language of accountability, of personal responsibility.”

Prism: A Proposal for a Choral Approach to OER. “What this misses is that people are often helped by having multiple explanations of concepts and issues available to them. The trend, for example, in question and answer sites over the last six years has been towards something I call (with a nod to Ward Cunningham) ‘the chorus.’ The idea that these sites are based on is that there may be better and worse answers for individuals but we benefit when we have access to a wide range of explanations and example, because the explanation that may work for someone else may not work for someone else.”

The Case for CACE: The Consortium for the Assessment of College Equivalency. “Simply put, CACE allows each institution to share with its competitors what is often regarded as proprietary information–academic credit awards and official reports- as a means to better serve students. Members of CACE refer to this ability to offer credit for employer training and industry certification exams through an internal evaluation process as the ‘secret sauce.’ It’s one of the best ways CACE institutions can serve working adult students (and employers), and this benefit may likely have helped to land some CACE members on the recent Forbes Ten Great Colleges for Adults Returning to School list.”

What Should a Major Teach? ‘Adrift’ Authors Offer Answers. “There is a link between the competencies that each discipline articulates and the more generic ones: analysis, problem solving, writing. While the concepts are discipline-specific, the competencies we started to think of as discipline-specific manifestations of these more general ideas.”

Dual Enrollment and Trigger Warnings. “When dual enrollment and sensitive content meet, questions about trigger warnings become a little more complicated. This is where I tend to lean towards a more general ‘adult content’ warning to both prospective students and their parents, when they’re considering enrolling in college. Let them know upfront that they may encounter subjects or approaches that they wouldn’t have in high school, and accepting that is a price of admission.”

When is the Library Open? “It’s pretty obvious that outsourcing institutional repository management to Elsevier is a bad idea. What’s less obvious is that librarians need to move quickly to collectively fund and/or build serious alternatives to corporate openwashing. It will take our time and money. It will require taking risks. It means educating ourselves about solutions while figuring out how to put our values into practice. It will mean making tradeoffs such as giving up immediate access for a few who might complain loudly about it in order to put real money and time into long-term solutions that may not work the first time around. It means treating equitable access to knowledge as our primary job, not as a frill to be worked on when we aren’t too busy with our “real” work of negotiating licenses, fixing broken link resolvers, and training students in the use of systems that will be unavailable to them once they graduate. It means being part of the future of scholarship by acting now.”

Students, Keep Your Books.Keeping books allows students to return to them over the years. The most meaningful connections people can have with books play out over a lifetime. The weeks or months during a course count as an introduction. That’s enough for some books. Others offer more. Students can return to a book after 10 or 20 years, reread the notes they wrote in the margins the last time they read it, observe how their thinking has changed, see what new layers of meaning they can find in the text at different times in life.”

15 higher education revelations from NCES. “The employment rate was higher for people with higher levels of educational attainment than for those with lower levels of educational attainment. For example, among 20- to 24-year-olds in 2015, the employment rate was 89 percent for those with a bachelor’s or higher degree and 51 percent for those who did not complete high school.”

The myth of the well-rounded student? It’s better to be ‘T-shaped’. “But there’s more to being T-shaped than just having breadth and depth. It’s also about having balance and the agility to pick and choose from a set of knowledge and skills as they are needed. Here’s the problem: Colleges don’t offer classes, majors, or activities designed specifically for building the T-shaped individual, so undergraduates need to direct themselves — to act independently, be resourceful, and cobble together experiences inside and outside the classroom to better prepare for the evolving workplace they will face.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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