ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Building a Better Discussion. “In the book, he draws upon his sociology training to analyze the classroom as a space where certain social norms operate, and he considers how those norms shape our efforts to spark discussions. Social norms in general have a powerful influence on behavior, he argues. Consider, for example, our behavior in elevators. … Likewise, he argues, students come into our courses having internalized certain norms about how to behave in a classroom. Too often, those internalized norms trump faculty expectations for student participation — a problem that is exacerbated when we don’t explicitly articulate our expectations or explain why discussion matters and how it should work.”

New MOOC Takes Aim at Curbing Recidivism. “The courses, which are free, focus on basic study skills training, IT skills, and soft skills relevant to customer service. Each course takes between 20 and 30 hours to complete. As Feerick imagines it, courses such as ALISON’s could eventually be used in place of or in tandem with the mandatory 200 hours of community service required of released prisoners. Parole officers would be able to ensure that former inmates had completed their coursework by having them take corresponding tests.”

Increasing community college student transfer rates. “The path to transfer for community college students is complex. In a 2011 paper, Judith Scott-Clayton evocatively described finding the way to degree completion at community college as ‘the equivalent of navigating a shapeless river on a dark night.’ Recognizing that the process of transferring from a two-year to a four-year college is complex, several states have mandated that public colleges and universities adopt transfer and articulation agreements. These agreements take different forms but all attempt to clarify or streamline the pathway to transfer by guaranteeing that taking certain courses or pursuing particular degrees will allow students who begin at two-year institutions to transfer the credits they earn. Perhaps surprisingly, a handful of studies that compared transfer rates in states with transfer and articulation agreements to those in states without them found no impact of these policies.”

Free College for All? Alas, It Doesn’t Fix Everything. “The lesson of the Kalamazoo Promise is that even dramatic reductions in the cost of college have modest results in terms of leveling the playing field. Our biggest obstacle is not getting students into college, it is helping them stay there, and come out with a certificate. Getting into college is one thing: being ready to learn and progress is quite another. The weaknesses in the U.S. higher education system run much deeper than financial affordability. There is too much focus on the four-year degree, rather than high-quality vocational learning.”

Game Change for Accreditation? | Commentary. “Last month was tough for accreditation. Congress, the U.S. Department of Education and the press all sent the same message. Accreditation must be more directly engaged in protecting students and serving the public interest. As the country’s primary means of assuring and improving academic quality, accreditation is called upon to tackle two of the biggest concerns facing higher education: doing more to assure graduation and other forms of student success and doing more to help students avoid harmful debt and default. The sense of urgency is great. This theme is dominant. The refrain is frequent.”

Health Care and Higher Ed. “In an era of increasing scrutiny and growing financial difficulty, health care and higher education face many of the same challenges: disruption, rising prices, consumer criticism, decreasing public funds and an increasing need for collaborations and mergers.”

How to Outsource. “Yet when institutions choose to outsource, they have to be hawkish about the performance of a vendor, and closely monitor the savings partnerships bring an institution. Issues related to culture and mission integrity — can an outside company really serve a mission-driven university well? — need to be taken seriously as institutions consider outsourcing, according to a panel of college and university chief financial officers discussing the practice Monday.”

Experimenting With Aid. “The U.S. Department of Education continues to work on its plan to grant experimental federal aid eligibility to partnerships between accredited colleges and alternative providers, such as job skills boot camps, coding academies and MOOCs. A wide range of experts have been summoned to the White House for a meeting at the end of July to discuss this growing space. And department officials say they are seeking comments on how best to spot and ensure quality with nontraditional providers.”

Teaching Is Mentoring. “The mechanism for measuring mentorship as part of one’s tenure profile is yet to be determined, but any mechanism, be it based on the Gallup-Purdue index, or any other metric is pretty much doomed to failure. It is doomed because mentorship is not wholly predicated on faculty behavior, or faculty action. It’s simply more complicated than that, and like many worthwhile things, it resists measuring. A good mentor is many things simultaneously. They are a source of information and knowledge which can be passed on. They are also a gauge, an evaluator who can hold the student accountable to the work. They may occasionally be cheerleader, other times a disciplinarian.”

Distinctive Excellence in Polytechnic Universities. “While we may particularly value the contribution of practitioners to our teaching mission, fully valuing their knowledge and relationships also entails rethinking the nature of our scholarly mission as well. The growing emphasis on knowledge mobilization ‒ from scholarly communities into practice ‒ by research sponsors has highlighted how non-traditional scholarly roles can complement other scholarship.”

Competition and Sharing in Learning Technology. “Those of us who work learning technology believe in our potential to create a bigger educational pie. We think that improving the quality and value of higher education will increase the people and resources that flow to our campuses. We believe that we can leverage technology to improve postsecondary productivity. Driving down costs while improving quality will increase the higher ed pie.“

When Too Little is Too Much. “Because the default problem is really a wage problem. For students who drop out anyway, less debt is better than more debt. The real public policy problem is the student who drops out with enough debt to matter, but without a serious income. The ‘free community college’ movement addresses the first directly, by eliminating tuition, and the second indirectly, by making it easier to pay living costs.  Students who can cover their living costs are likelier to persist and graduate. Statistically, too little debt behaves like too much.”

Do libraries matter in distance education? “In answer to the question, ‘Do libraries and librarians play a part in advancing distance education?’ Corbett and Brown say in their new report that ‘the trend is to shift the emphasis from what librarians do to how they do it to meet the continuing needs of distance education users. The academic librarian provides added value to the teaching and learning process; as long as there is a need for learning resources, there will be a need for a guide to navigate those resources.’ Also, because distance students often live in locations that don’t have a local library, online library services (i.e. locating resources for coursework) are critical.

Modules for Mastery. “Sellers stressed the modules are meant to supplement — not replace — instruction, whether that means a high school AP class or an online course. For the time being, the modules are not full courses (although those are on the way). One module, for example, breaks down the Phillips curve, an economics concept that explains the relationship between inflation and unemployment. Another explains pressure, force and flow in fluids. In total, Davidson Next includes 14 modules in each of the three disciplines. Each module, aligned with AP curricula and approved by the College Board, was designed by a different high school teacher.”

Offsite and Online. “In many cases, community colleges set up sites specifically to reach students who otherwise might not have an easily (or realistically) available option. Many of those students are first-generation, and most of them work significant numbers of hours per week for pay. We know from the literature that one of the strongest predictors of success for first-generation students is the presence or absence of a personal relationship with someone at the college. Small sites lend themselves to that in a way that online instruction generally doesn’t.”

7 Common Mistakes About Open Online Education. “The hype around MOOCs played the same role as the dot com bubble.  MOOCs helped lay the groundwork for a sustained conversation about how people learn and how we teach.  The excitement about MOOCs was never justified. But the excitement around learning was and is. Every college and university is working to make sure that the classes offered on campus offer greater value than what can be had online and for free. Methods and practices around residential education are being reexamined and rethought. Learning is understood as a competitive institutional differentiator.”

What Fitness Bands Can Teach Us about Classroom Assessment. “First, the fitness band provides clear, timely data on the user’s progress. At any moment a fitness band user can view real-time data about her or his movement (steps taken, miles traveled, active and idle time, calories burned, and so forth). For college teachers, providing students with clear and timely data on progress is challenging. Gathering and reporting data takes time. However, our students depend on feedback to help them see if their work needs to improve and in what areas. We must work to discover small ways to efficiently gather and report on data.”

Unizin Updates on Florida State System and Acquisition of Courseload. “The second update is that Unizin acquired the IP, trademark, and remains of Courseload, a provider of e-reader platform for digital textbooks. … This move now determines the second component of Unizin, as the plan is for the acquired Courseload employees will modify and develop a portion of their software to become the basis for the Content Relay. Previously Unizin had been planning to license or contract another organization to provide the Content Relay. This acquisition means that Unizin will now be in the software development business and not just to integrate various products. This approach changes what had previously been the plans to not develop product.”

Reddit and Weep. “In the case of many ‘free’ social platforms, value has multiple meanings. The value members receive are undermined by abuse or manipulation. The value of the platform as a for-profit enterprise can suffer if membership declines or a portion of the membership overtaxes the infrastructure’s resources. But when the owners make changes, members often feel the community they built and contributed to is no longer theirs, is not valued properly. Reddit’s commercial value depends on a small paid staff, a large membership, and the labor of unpaid moderators. There is magical thinking in the business model of sites like Reddit that depend on attracting lots of members and encouraging them to spend hours on a site that has little value other than the activity of its membership. Who’s site is it, anyway?”

Technology Is Not A Differentiator. “Tomorrow’s jobs will require the ability to continuously learn new things, exercise judgement, and communicate effectively. These are the skills best learned in a liberal arts context, where the focus is less on learning a specific job skill and more on learning how to learn.  Technology can be a resource and an aid for educators doing the hard work of teaching students how to think, argue, evaluate, and persuade. But technology will never replace the educator, and the relationship between the educator and the student, as the true catalyst and driver of learning.”

The Dreaded Computer Lab. “Imagine: a campus with good enough wifi, and a sophisticated enough printing system, that students could borrow or bring chromebooks or something similarly simple and cheap, and work on papers or assignments wherever they happen to be. We wouldn’t need to dedicate nearly as much square footage to general-purpose computer labs. Students wouldn’t have to fight for spaces in labs, or try to concentrate on a paper while surrounded by other students clackety-clacking away under fluorescent light.”

Caution and Competency. “The U.S. Department of Education is working on an ‘experimental sites’ project that would allow some of those providers to offer federal financial aid to students by partnering with traditional colleges. The goal of that project, and of experimental sites more broadly, is for the feds to craft limited, controlled experiments they can learn from in creating policies. Senators from both sides of the aisle support that approach. But during the hearing, senators and witnesses said they want to prevent an opening of the floodgates of federal aid to undeserving institutions.”

Access To Learning Content Is Not The Same As Equity In Education. “For Plato, a real education always moves students from the darkness of the shadows to the brightness of the light. Each step closer to brightness involves waiting for the eyes to adjust. Think about how we all wince and squint when we open the curtains to let the sun into a dark room. Plato’s is a complex metaphor that points to both the sting we feel when learning new ideas which challenge our habitual world view, and the conflicting and time-consuming process through which we integrate a new worldview into our established personal identity. I know it sounds like an abstraction, but it is actually more practical than you think.”

Why Consumer Technologies Cloud Our Thinking About Higher Education. “So why has higher education been so resistant to the positive forces of technology evolution? Why is it that costs continue to rise, student debt continues to soar, schools continue to struggle, contingent faculty keep staying contingent, and so many students keep dropping out? The reason that technology has not transformed higher education at the same pace as consumer industries is that higher education is not a consumer good. Higher education is not something that we consume, rather it is an activity in which society invests. Consumer technologies are designed to facilitate private consumption. Higher education is a public good.”

Ed Tech’s Funding Frenzy. “But the education sector presents some specific quirks that may make investors more likely to favor consumer-facing companies, Woolf said. Colleges have long sales cycles, infrequently replacing administrative and other types of software. Federal regulations also make education a challenging market to navigate, he said. To complicate matters, the line between higher education- and consumer-facing companies may be blurring.”

Disruptive Innovations In Higher Ed Emerging From Outside Mainstream. “One such group is broadly known as the coding bootcamps, although they are moving beyond simply teaching coding skills. They typically combine online learning with brick-and-mortar co-working experiences to offer students short, intensive, focused programs to help students find jobs with their new skillset. And they are growing fast. As a result of their length and focus, they are far more accessible than traditional higher education for thousands who cannot go or return to a traditional institution of higher education for the length of time it would take to receive the corresponding skillset. In many cases, this just-in-time education is offering learning opportunities that would not even be available on many traditional campuses. And alternative financing mechanisms are emerging to help students afford the experience and send students signals about which programs offer the more promising pathway to success. General Assembly is arguably the poster child for the sector. It reports having a 95 percent job placement rate into a student’s field of study and is transforming higher education from a destination into an experience that one returns to over and over again through a journey of lifelong learning.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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