ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-2016. “Most higher education faculty are unaware of open educational resources (OER) – but they are interested and some are willing to give it a try. Survey results, using responses of over 3,000 U.S. faculty, show that OER is not a driving force in the selection of materials – with the most significant barrier being the effort required to find and evaluate such materials. Use of open resources is low overall, but somewhat higher for large enrollment introductory-level courses.”

Supporting Sci-Hub vs. Explaining Sci-Hub. “Via email, Gardner said that he never endorsed Sci-Hub or its methods, but that in discussing the site, he said it was easy to use. He said it’s important for librarians to be aware of that fact.”

How Colleges Prepare (or Don’t Prepare) Their Leaders Is Holding Back Innovation. “Sure, new ideas to transform teaching, financial aid, and student services often bubble up from experiments in the trenches. But presidents encourage innovation by setting the tone, crafting the narrative for internal and external constituencies, and finding the money to expand boutique projects.”

Defining the Relationship. “I’m not your adversary. Just because we’re not best buds, please don’t think I’m your enemy. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if by ‘friend’ you mean someone who cares about your well-being and success, then I guess I am a friend after all. Yet there is always a degree of tension in the student-professor relationship. You may at times feel that I am behaving in an adversarial manner — questioning the quality and relevance of your work, making judgments that you perceive as negative. Understand that is only because I do want you to succeed. It’s not personal, on my end, and you must learn not to take it personally.”

Open Educational Practice: the boring way and more interesting ways. “I think it would be really interesting to design an environment that leverages the nature of digital technologies to make it easy for teachers (of all types) to engage in activities, help them do their job effectively, and enable them to learn and break out of the persistent pattern of relations that currently exist. And by the by, have them engage in open educational practices.”

How Much Does Higher Ed Spend on IT? “One of the metrics that I find most interesting in the CDS benchmarks is how campus IT organizations spend their money.  On average (across institutions) about 80 percent of the IT budget is spent on operations (run), about 13 percent on incremental changes (grow), and around 5 percent on non-incremental changes (transform).  No institution type spends more than 8 percent of their technology budget on transformative projects.”

Stress and Student Success. “While I use countless teaching strategies in my courses, I’ve been tracking something even more fundamental: a unified field theory for student success in higher education. An insight from John Medina’s Brain Rules was a bread crumb on this search — one that has led me to conclude that stress is the underlying reason for the majority of student withdrawal: ‘Stressed brains don’t learn the same way,’ Medina argues. In addition to the numerous physical consequences of stress (heart attack, stroke, poor immune response, etc.), chronic stress also negatively impacts student learning.”

Opting for Renewable Assessments. “David Wiley argues for ‘renewable assessments’: one where ‘the student’s work won’t be discarded at the end of the process, but will instead add value to the world in some way.’ (The contrasting type, meant to be submitted-and-forgotten, he characterizes as “disposable.”) As examples, he offers courses where students write or edit Wikipedia articles, where students design an anthology, or a variety of other types. Wiley asserts that by shifting toward renewable assessments, we will lend meaning to students’ educational projects”

Toward Renewable Assessments. “Replacing disposable assessments with renewable assessments goes a long way toward re-humanizing education, giving students a reason to care about and truly invest in their work. Without this broader motivating context, students are just waxing cars, sanding decks, and painting fences.”

What if OER was blogging? “And blogging is done in spare time, at little or zero cost to the institution. What if we started envisaging projects more in terms of the blog as the core element rather than the dissemination or engagement channel? When a project or an institution is tasked wit building an OER repository, we all know what that looks like, and our default mode is to produce content, build a database, recruit a technical team, etc. But what if we said instead, we’re going to employ four bloggers (say), who will write engaging posts about the topics rather produce academic content? Are those posts better accessed and used than formal OER?”

Charter Schools: 25th Anniversary and More to Come (Part 1). “Warring research studies from camps promoting and opposing charters have unceasingly argued for the past quarter-century whether charters are academically outperforming traditional public schools. It has become a trivial question because there is so such diversity among charter schools.”

Ten Theses In Support of Teaching and Against Learning Outcomes. “1. Teaching at the university level is not a practice of communicating or transferring information but awakening in students a desire to think by revealing to them the questionability of things. The desire to think is awakened in students if the teacher is able to reveal the importance of the discipline as a way of exposing to question established “solutions” to fundamental problems of human experience, thought, activity, relationship, and organization. Teaching does not instruct or transmit information, it embodies and exemplifies the commitment to thinking.”

Why We Need to Stop Using ‘Self-Paced’ in CBE Descriptions. “While almost every CBE model is designed to give the student significant latitude and agency over their pace — the control is not unilaterally at the discretion of the learner.  It is a negotiated flexibility, with milestones, deadlines and absolute limits, arbitrated between course designers, faculty, learners — and regulators — to ensure there is ‘satisfactory academic progress’ to maintain financial aid eligibility. In short, the variability of pace in CBE is not without boundaries.  And the limits are not, ultimately, set by the learners themselves.”

The Next Revolution has Begun. “In many countries credentials are not ‘official’ without government recognition and the validation process is usually in the hands of individuals with traditional and conservative notions of tertiary education. And although employers complain about the skills that university graduates lack, they still tend to hire only those who have earned traditional credentials in very specific fields of study. Creating new, flexible, multi-disciplinary university degree programs with less emphasis on specific professional content whose value will be recognized is both a political and social challenge.’

Why Technology Always Increases Costs for (Quality) Education. “When it comes to education, the introduction of new technologies can have great benefits. I’ve worked for the past 20 years in and around online learning. I believe in the power of digital platforms to extend and improve teaching and learning. What I have never witnessed technology doing, however, is lowering the cost of education.”

3 Investments In Teaching and Learning That Your Institution Can’t Afford Not To Make. “Small, targeted online programs – particularly if built around the differentiating strengths of your institution – can be part of a portfolio of approaches to diversify revenues. Second, it is in developing the capabilities to offer online and blended courses where colleges and universities will figure out how to raise the quality of face-to-face education. Sound instructional design principles transcend modes of educational delivery. The same principles that govern the design of quality online courses apply to fully residential courses.”

4 Resolutions for the New Semester. “Pay more attention to student goals. I’ve written before about the importance of soliciting student goals at the beginning of a semester, but I haven’t done a good-enough job of that in my own classes. It’s equally important to make clear my own goals as the instructor. But I need to remember that students will have their own reasons for wanting to master the skills and knowledge offered in my courses. The better I understand their goals, the better I’ll be able to help students excel.”

How to (seriously) read a scientific paper. “I usually start with the abstract, which gives me a brief snapshot of what the study is all about. Then I read the entire article, leaving the methods to the end unless I can’t make sense of the results or I’m unfamiliar with the experiments. The results and methods sections allow you to pull apart a paper to ensure it stands up to scientific rigor. Always think about the type of experiments performed, and whether these are the most appropriate to address the question proposed. Ensure that the authors have included relevant and sufficient numbers of controls. Often, conclusions can also be based on a limited number of samples, which limits their significance.”

Schoology: The strongest LMS you’ve never seen. “Schoology is one of the new generation of learning platforms designed natively for the cloud (on Amazon Web Services, where else?) and designed with an intuitive interface both on web and mobile. From a product perspective, it is hard to find significant deficiencies as the depth of features is comparable to Blackboard, D2L and Moodle, yet the system has avoided succumbing to feature bloat. There are cases where the market terminology of K-12 embedded in the product interface needs to be altered to not confuse higher ed institutions, but this is different than having missing features or features that miss the mark.”

‘Our Technology Is Our Ideology’: George Siemens on the Future of Digital Learning. “Siemens’ work is on the cutting edge of what’s possible in digital learning, but he doesn’t want to discuss the latest fads in education technology. Instead he wants to talk about humanity. He’s optimistic that technology can help people achieve a higher quality of life in a future where work is increasingly automated and distributed across the globe. He just doesn’t think our current university systems and edtech solutions will get us there.”

Coming to You Soon: Uber U. “Taken together, then, these trends amount to uberizing the university. How so? Broadly conceived, Uber represents on-demand access, a claim to a flawless experience with minimized hassle, immediate gratification, all at the best going rates. It provides the digital platform drawing together the elements necessary for instant delivery while hiding from view some of the significant delivery costs, such as maintenance and operations, health care and Social Security. In other words, Uber U offers, to larger or lesser extent, a platform and experience rather than the foundation for lifelong learning, conceptual and critical thinking, methodological and analytic rigor, listening and clarity, coherent argumentation and engagement. It privileges in-time, on-demand vocational skilling for the task at hand rather than the capacity for deep thinking.”

We Can Handle the Truth. “My job, a job shared by all academics who teach, involves helping students understand how information works – where it comes from, why context matters, how to make decisions when you encounter contradictions, and how to use information fairly and responsibly when trying to persuade others. That job is carried out all over campus, but at institutions that focus on undergraduate education, it’s explicitly what our libraries are for. The library is a lab or studio for creating new meaning using existing knowledge. (It’s also a place to study and take naps and socialize, but those are not why we build libraries.) The habits of mind that students pick up in the process are important. They’re learning how to think independently of political messaging, half-baked opinion pieces, superficially-reported news, or the preponderance of opinion among their friends or family. They’re learning to respect evidence and to believe in their own capacity to discern the truth using ethical means.”

The real crisis in higher education is about a lot more than debt. “In many ways, completion, access and affordability go hand in hand. While there are many reasons why students drop out of college, research has shown that money is a primary factor. Some colleges have responded by pouring a lot of their resources into students who demonstrate the most need or providing short-term grants to prevent students from leaving. Too many schools, however, expect the neediest families to cover an outsized portion of the cost of attendance, an unsustainable practice that could lead students to drop out.”

Automation versus jobs: a new model. “This suggests income and wealth inequality are likely to grow, at least when considering the impact of automation. These findings also point to post-secondary education participating in that widening class division, as university degrees should remain a ticket to higher income – and avoiding the robots.  “With only a few exceptions (accounting clerks, paralegals, etc.) college educated business professionals face minimal risks from job automation across all scenarios.”  What does this mean for educators and campus leaders? Should we accept this division and our role in it, or organize to shape a different, more egalitarian outcome?”

The Simple Vision. “The simple vision is this: I think institutions of higher education should be in the business of creating the digital educational infrastructure of the future.”

Charter Schools’ 25th Anniversary: Why This Reform Has Lasted (Part 2). “The point is that there are institutional reasons why some reforms are like shooting stars that flare and disappear and some reforms stick. Organizational and political reasons (e.g., vague and multiple goals, innovations that fit existing structures, are easy to monitor, and have active constituencies) explain how schools and districts adapt their goals, structures, and processes to an uncertain, ever changing environment to incorporate new ideas and practices.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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