ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Promising Research Results On Specific Forms Of Adaptive Learning / ITS. “These are very encouraging results for the field of ITS and a subset of Adaptive Learning. I view the results not as saying adaptive learning is the way to go but rather as there is evidence that adaptive learning working applied in a tutoring role can improve academic performance in the right situations.”

Beyond the Transcript. “The Lumina Foundation has kicked in $1.27 million for NASPA to partner with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to explore how to collect, document and distribute information about student learning and ‘competencies,’ including what is gleaned outside of the traditional academic classroom. … Student knowledge that might be documented in next-generation transcript prototypes include co-curricular or experiential learning — maybe working on a campus robotics team — or even soft skills like critical thinking and good communication. Digital badges also could be included.”

“How Music Got Free.” “The other narrative in How Music Got Free is a detailed look at how the music industry incumbents reacted to the challenges of digital music and piracy. This narrative is particularly important to all of us incumbents in the higher education industrial complex, as we don’t want to make the same mistakes as the record (or newspaper) executives. What happens to an industry built on managing scarcity when our core product is no longer scarce? Is open online learning our mp3? Is edX and Coursera our Napster? Is the residential education experience our compact discs? Does our business model depend on offering a bundled experience, where our customers would rather consume what we have à la carte? Maybe. Maybe not.

Knowing Why They Know. “Barre’s juxtaposition of quantitative and qualitative feedback suggests that some of what comes across as biased or inappropriate judgment is, in fact, an artifact of weak writing skills. From the perspective of over a decade of administrative experience, I think she’s right. None of that is meant to discredit or discount claims for social justice. It’s just to say that when we read student comments, we have to remember that we’re reading student writers. Student writers tend to fall into certain traps.  They know what they want to convey, but they don’t always know why they know, or how to explain it in language that people with graduate degrees would consider appropriate. When they shift to another register — numbers — they become more surefooted.”

Making an Impact with Games? “One of the continuing challenges for bringing games into education is assessing the impact of games on learning. Often, it’s hard even to agree on what we want games to accomplish: are we most interested in raising student engagement? Reaching learners who are alienated by traditional lectures? Increasing critical thinking and analysis skills? Or getting content memorized or absorbed?”

Instructure: Accelerating growth in 3 parallel markets. “Taken together, what we see is a company with a fairly straightforward strategy. Pick a market where the company can introduce a learning platform that is far simpler and more elegant than the status quo, then just deliver and go for happy customers.  Don’t expand beyond your core competency, don’t add parallel product lines, don’t over-complicate the product, don’t rely on corporate M&A. Where you have problems, address the gap. Rinse. Repeat. Instructure has now solidified their dominance in US higher ed (having the most new client wins), they have hit their stride with K-12, and they are just starting with corporate learning. What’s next? I would assume international education markets, where Instructure has already started to make inroads in the UK and a few other locations.”

A Career’s Worth of Change. “Highly interactive online education is going to become an ever increasingly important reality in higher education. It offers the potential to find lower cost means of delivering high-quality education. Two things have come together that excite me about highly interactive online learning. One is the advances in cognitive sciences. We know now so much more about the brain and how people actually acquire information, what the tricks are to get people to imprint information in their neurons. The second is the power of intelligent software. When you combine the learning sciences with so-called adaptive learning, there is enormous potential to drive down the cost of education and improve learning outcomes ….”

Feuding Over Digital Courseware. “Digital curricula in the hands of supported and equipped instructors have significant potential to personalize learning and to lead to the delivery of high-quality education that meets the needs of today’s postsecondary students. But that impact will only be realized if technology solutions are able to successfully scale. New offerings with greater capacity to adapt to faculty needs are unlikely to transition from pilot to scale unless more than just the early adopters or “tech-savvy” faculty are engaged from the beginning.”

Coalitions That Don’t Coalesce. “That’s one manifestation, but the larger issue is the frequent disconnect between faculty and staff. For example, take academic advising. (Please!) At many colleges, academic advising is a shared responsibility between faculty and staff. But it’s common for friction to develop between the two groups, despite sharing a common task and, presumably, a common goal. Some of that, I think, stems from very different work environments and schedules. Some of it reflects different mixes of tasks in their respective workloads. And some of it reflects the usual mix of politics, turf, and history. The good news is that much of that is potentially amenable to change. The most basic issue is scheduling.”

“Television Is the New Television” and Why College Is the New College. “In media, as in education, quality is the ultimate driver of value. In the media world, quality depends on the efforts of the creative professionals who write, direct, act, and produce the story. In higher education, quality depends on the educators. MOOCs and adaptive learning technologies stand as little chance of supplanting the residential postsecondary model as YouTube replacing HBO.  YouTube is great at scale, but horrible at creating real value.”

Reimagining US History. “The course I am designing is built around a simple premise: That the most effective way to learn history is to do history. Instead of being be a passive recipient of knowledge, a student will become a detective, a researcher, a myth buster, a problem solver, and a forensic scientist. I want my students to investigate some of history’s most gripping mysteries and take part in some of history’s biggest debates. I want them to uncover the hidden history behind front page headlines as well as the stories behind everyday rituals and customs and songs. I also want them to critically examine Hollywood’s version of the past and explore the uneasy relationship between academic history and popular memory — the traditions and popular misconceptions that exert a much more powerful grip on our imagination than does any history book.”

Senators Push for Digital Equality for All Students. “As more teachers require students to do homework online, students from low-income families often don’t have the Internet access to complete their digital work, leaving them at a disadvantage. That’s why senators proposed two amendments to a bill being considered in the Senate to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).”

Instructure Is Truly Anomalous. “Beyond the numerical mystery, there seems to have been a change in market attitudes about LMS migration. Schools seem to be willing to look at alternatives even when they don’t have to. Nobody likes to migrate, of course, but a variety of factors, ranging from improved standards that make moving content easier to more technology maturity and experience among university faculty and staff, have reduced vendor lock-in. It’s a more fluid market now. I had hoped that would be the case someday but, in my heart of hearts, I really didn’t expect it. And at the moment, pretty much all of that new fluidity is flowing into Instructure—at least in US higher education. Overall, Instructure’s growth is hard to explain.”

The Gatekeeper Strategy in the Library Market. “one such insight emerged unexpectedly at AAUP this year, when Roger and Liam presented some slides on the principal library vendors. One slide was of the leading vendors of serials (including journals), the other of vendors of books. Surprise! The top vendor of both formats is one and the same. That uncomfortable feeling you get when you look at this information? You are witnessing the unfolding of a gatekeeper strategy by EBSCO, whose apparent aim is to mediate as much commerce as possible between publishers and academic libraries.”

Reshaping for For-Profit. “The transition from being a sector focused on “growth” in students and revenues to a “value” sector is one many for-profits are facing. That can be painful for some, like Apollo. Investors care about growth, and the lack of it explains why stock prices have fallen, said Silber, the education financial analyst with BMO Capital Markets. ‘They’re obviously hugely disappointed,’ Silber said. ‘But the sector is now a value sector. As painful as it is, it’s healthy for the industry to focus on outcomes, graduation, retention … because the problem is the value proposition that this sector represents is just not being appreciated anymore. If you can prove these classes and degrees are worth taking and worth going into debt to have, it will benefit the longevity of the sector.’”

Access From Above. “But short-term college programs for people who already have bachelor’s degrees (or higher) are looking like the new hot ticket for community colleges and for-profit providers. Whether you call them “boot camps” or “retraining” or something else, they’re targeting a market that neither sector has historically targeted.”

‘My Computer Is Slow Today.’ “The reality is that technology, and especially software, can get complicated faster than it gets better. Complication overwhelms the user experience. What are other examples where technology is no better, and maybe worse, than in the past?”

Teacher-to-Student Pessimism. “But I always have what my advisor had said in mind. I mean, my SAT score was only points away from being N.Y.U. worthy, but her discouragement managed to leak into my confidence and remove my chance to pursue the life of a New York student (not that I’m totally bitter about how everything turned out; I am going to college in Boston). But I wonder about the thousands of seniors out there who are being told they’re not good enough by teachers, the ones disadvantaged by teachers who are supposed to encourage youth to chase their dreams.”

Unizin Perspective: Personalized learning’s existence and distance education experience. “In my mind, Unizin is looking the wrong direction. The money and focus thus far has been for the 10 (now 11) member institutions to look inward – form a club, talk amongst themselves, and figure out what should happen in a digital ecosystem. A different, more useful approach would be to look outward: get the club together and look beyond their own successes (e.g. Penn State World Campus), go visit schools that are at the forefront of digital education, invite them in to present and share, and learn from others.”

Repositioning the Polytechnic University. “Internally, a polytechnic university committed to developing, integrating and valuing different forms of knowledge ‒ craft knowledge, the professional wisdom of practitioner communities and evidence from research ‒ can immerse students in these values: our institutional culture around knowledge and its mobilization will have at least as much impact as the details of our curriculum and programming. We need to ask ourselves how our practice as teachers and scholars exemplifies for students the ways of engaging with knowledge that they will want to – and need to – employ in their own professional careers (and in their roles as community members and global citizens).”

Robots, Jobs, and the Liberal Arts. “My recommendation is that we should worry less about technology taking jobs, and more about the systematic public disinvestments in higher education. Technological progress may displace work in the short run, but in the medium term technological progress drives productivity and hence wealth. In a wealthier society more people are free to do work that in prior generations was reserved for the few. Our society needs less truck drivers and more care givers. Our economy needs less retail clerks and more artists, writers, and musicians.”

Aziz Ansari, Public Sociologist. “More importantly, Modern Romance is an excellent model for an approach to public scholarship that could help introduce mass audiences to the important work of scholars. Ansari’s joking riffs and asides aren’t just sugar to make the medicine of information go down, but instead demonstrate how a similar curiosity drives both a comedian like Ansari, and scholars like Klinenberg.”

Thoughts on ‘Rise of the Robots.’ “What Ford gets right, and the midcentury critics got wrong, is that a strong middle class is neither inevitable nor natural. It’s a relatively recent, and fragile, development, and it was the result of a set of conscious political choices. As those choices are reversed, the conditions under which a middle class can thrive go away, and the middle class struggles to reproduce itself. The savvier members engage in “opportunity hoarding,” or pulling up the drawbridge behind them; the less savvy ones gradually (or quickly) lose ground, and wonder just what the hell happened. From the perspective of someone working in the community college world, Ford’s diagnosis is bracing. Community colleges are designed to create a middle class for a society that’s increasingly moving away from a middle class economy. The task is getting objectively harder.”

Social Media In Narrowing Out Perspectives. “When I visit with faculty, I occasionally meet someone who is convinced that their specific area of scholarship is being buzzed about nationally and coverage is rather extensive. Often that is far from reality. I now have greater empathy for that perspective. I usually begin my meetings with focused faculty by asking what they are reading, where they see the articles they like best and who in their industry is worthy of the attention they are receiving. This helps me to understand what media they value and who they want to surpass with quality media hits. But I think I am going to expand my questions to include who they follow on social media and what types of posts are getting their attention. This might help me to propose others they can follow and to benchmark the influencers and the outlets that are shaping their worldview. It allows me an insight into ways to expand my exposure to their topics and provide additional opinions, resources and outlets back to them. And as importantly, it will provide a way for me to create realistic expectations for media interest and coverage.”

Exploring Students’ E-Textbook Practices in Higher Education. “Over half of American college students have used an e-textbook in at least one course. A few trends contribute to the increasing use and interest in e-textbooks. First, textbook affordability has become a pressing issue. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, prices have increased 82 percent from 2002 to 2012. This cost sometimes drives students to delay or avoid purchasing textbooks. Digital materials such as e-textbooks may offer a more cost-effective alternative. Also, the expectation for digital materials is gaining strength in the K–12 sector. For example, Florida school districts set a goal to spend at least half of classroom material funding on digital materials by the 2015–2016 school year. Given that 81 percent of first-time-in-college (FTIC) undergraduate students hailed from a Florida public high school during the fall 2014 semester at the University of Central Florida (UCF), it is important to anticipate student expectations of digital materials. Finally, the availability of digital materials has risen exponentially with the incredible popularity of mobile devices.”

Closure Concerns and Financial Strategies: a Survey of College Business Officers. “The 2015 Survey of College and University Business Officers, Inside Higher Ed and Gallup’s fifth such study, reveals that as institutions deal with financial concerns, they are using some strategies, like increasing enrollment, more widely than more unpopular methods of trimming the budget. And that’s not necessarily to the benefit of struggling colleges, analysts interviewed for this article say. In the survey, 64 percent of business officers this year strongly agreed or agreed that their financial model is sustainable over the next five years, compared to 62 percent last year. That confidence drops to 42 percent over 10 years, roughly similar to last year’s response of 40 percent.”

Experimenting With Open Online Office Hours. “Amongst the important challenges in our open online learning community is how to make our courses more intimate. Asynchronous learning methods such as teaching videos, participant led discussion forums, formative and summative assessments, and simulations lend themselves to scale. These methods work well for the acquisition of foundational knowledge amongst a highly skilled, disciplined, and motivated population of lifelong learners.  Teaching at scale has proven less effective for those learners who require one-on-one personalized coaching. Teaching at scale also sacrifices the development of a human relationship between the educator and the student that is so critical for higher order learning. Offering personal, direct, and immediate access to educators through platforms like Google Hangouts On Air may be one way to address some of the challenges of teaching at scale. Questions can be asked and answered in real time.  Interactions with educators can be conversational, informal, and personal.”

Who killed Heald College? “In order to win WASC over, Heald needed to prove that Corinthian wasn’t going to meddle in its academic affairs. Corinthian leaders put them at ease, agreeing to let Heald maintain its independent board of directors, who would control the day-to-day operations at the school. There was just one exception: Corinthian wanted to control how Heald advertised its programs and recruited students. At the time, it seemed no different than how Heald already handled its marketing efforts, which it outsourced to a third-party firm. But trusting that Corinthian could handle recruitment and marketing but not influence Heald’s academic matters would turn out to be a major blunder.”

Developing a $10 Digital Textbook. “Kyle Bowen, director of education technology at Penn State University and chief technology officer of Skyepack, led the team that developed the platform in his previous role as director of informatics at Purdue. According to Bowen, one of the main drivers of the project was the desire to reduce textbook costs for students. But the team was also driven by the idea that e-textbooks could be more than just a digital manifestation of a traditional textbook, and that technology could deliver instructional material that was non-linear and incorporated media beyond just static text and images — video, embedded course discussions, student feedback, question-and-answer functions and other interactive features.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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