ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Fewer Good Jobs for College Grads? Not So, Says New Study. “The novelty of the study is how it categorizes jobs. Instead of grouping jobs by industry (the type of employer someone works for), the report groups them by occupation (what someone does on the job). To explain why that matters, the report uses the home health industry as an example. Home health would be categorized as a low-wage industry because the bulk of its workers are low-paid. But it also employs some high-paid workers, like registered nurses and physical therapists.”

Does Assessment Make Colleges Better? Who Knows? “I saw unmistakable parallels to assessment in universities. Are we using assessment to find minor shortcomings in our teaching and curriculum, changing what we do in the hopes of remedying those shortcomings, and in the long run having no real positive effect on the quality of our graduates and institutions? Are we, in effect, finding and treating harmless academic microcarcinomas rather than real problems? And, if so, what might be the consequences of all this?”

The Stigma. “But to the extent that we look at outcomes, rather than inputs, I could see the sector start to gain some overdue respect. At a really basic level, the percentage of bachelor’s degree grads with significant community college credits is almost exactly the percentage of American undergrads enrolled at community colleges. In other words, the widely-held myths of “dropout factories” don’t square with facts on the ground. And the oft-cited graduation rates are measuring the wrong thing; so many students transfer before graduating, and then go on to graduate, that leaving them out simply gets the story wrong.”

MOOC Providers. “1. They could disaggregate course content and make the assets available to any faculty member (or institution) to use. Rather than threatening to displace faculty, then, a resource repository would give faculty valuable tools to make teaching more effective. Think of it as akin to what JSTOR did for journal content.”

Teaching Long-Term Critical Thinking. “Even after the instructions were taken away, the students in the test group were 12 times more likely than a group of 130 students the previous year (the control group) to propose changes to improve their data or methods. The test group students also were four times more likely to identify and explain a shortcoming of the model using their data. The test group students demonstrated similar critical thinking skills in a second course the next year, suggesting that their learning was long-term.”

Billions in Pell dollars go to students who never graduate. “In a quirk of federal policy, individual institutions do have to disclose the graduation rates of their students who receive Pell grants, when asked. And while some resisted doing so, or released them only in response to public-record requests, the Hechinger analysis of 30 of the largest private and 50 of the largest public universities — and tens of thousands of Pell grant students — shows that more than a third of Pell recipients at those schools hadn’t earned degrees even after six years.”

A Smarter Approach to College Textbooks. “For faculty members, the challenge is to find a workable balance between the amount of reading we would like those in our classes to complete and realistic expectations for student follow-through. While some full-length books may remain on our required list, their numbers have shrunk over time. These days, assignments that used to call for complete books are being slimmed down to single chapters or articles. Our aspirations for our students to encounter and absorb substantial amounts of written material increasingly rub up against their notions of how much is worth reading.”

Decoding Why the Amazon NY TImes Article Struck a Campus Nerve. “The Times article on Amazon is disturbing because we want to find a way to accelerate organizational and culture change at our schools, while simultaneously avoiding an assault on the values and norms that have tied us together. We want to be more open, agile, and data driven – but we want to do so in a way that respects distributed decision making and professional autonomy that characterizes much of the higher ed workplace.”

Transparency, Candor, and Discretion. “The argument for transparency is that it prevents abuse, and that can be true. But more transparency isn’t always better. Sometimes a difficult issue requires a candid exchange, and thoughtful candor requires discretion. The deeper we push transparency, the more difficult we make it for candid exchanges to happen. And in the absence of those — the discussions in which people try on ideas, discard them, contradict themselves, and fine-tune eventual solutions — knee-jerk or formulaic ideas win by default. If we can’t tell the truth, then we have to base decisions on euphemisms or preconceptions. How that’s better is unclear at best.”

Does Assessment Make Colleges Better? Let Me Count the Ways. “We had to think about the difference between wanting students to “know” and wanting students to “do” — and we came to recognize that, in an era of Wikipedia and smartphones, “knowing” doesn’t seem all that crucial compared with doing. Another surprise: There are lots of kinds of doing. Our graduates might be expected to apply what they know in designing a simple bridge, to analyze what makes a bridge fail, to evaluate a bridge design and determine its flaws and limits. Which outcome, really, names what new graduates should be ready to do? Even faculty members in traditional arts-and-sciences programs like history learned that the application of knowledge, and not just knowledge itself, matters.”

The Move from Course Management to Course Networking, “During the time the LMS has been in use, social networking and social media sites have appeared. And that’s kind of an accidental discovery for educators. Social networking allows us to be connected to people and engage with them in ways we haven’t been able to before. So, for education, we need to provide a similar mechanism so that students and teachers can be connected, can be networked, and can collaborate with others — others from their own class and from far beyond.”

Defining College Affordability. “But what does ‘affordable’ even mean? And if politicians, policy makers and the public don’t have a shared understanding of what families should pay for college, can we really expect them to develop and agree on what to do about the problem? Officials at Lumina Foundation don’t think so, which is why they are today offering up a simple (and, they admit, somewhat simplistic) framework for concretely defining what is reasonable for the typical college student and her/his family to pay for college.”

Pell Grants and Fire Departments. “In fact, as the article obliquely notes but fails to consider, the purchasing power of Pell grants relative to tuition and living costs has gone down. That, combined with ever-increasing income polarization, is the real story. I could suggest an alternate headline that would also fit the facts: ‘Pell Grants Too Small to Make Up for Polarized Society By Themselves.’”

There Is No Such Thing as an Educational Innovation. “I believe that adopting contract grading is going to both improve student learning and allow me to spend more time on the work that is most meaningful – helping students improve their writing – by saving time on what I think is least meaningful – making fine-grained distinctions and offering justifications between grades of 83 and 86. My innovation is, in reality, an iterative process that I’m joining midstream.”

My Take on the Amazon Workplace Exposé. “But so many of the fundamental values embedded in the business practices of tech giants whose platforms have become fundamental to the exchange of information today are hostile to library values which include access for all, social responsibility, democracy, diversity, lifelong learning, the preservation of culture, the public good, privacy, and intellectual freedom. Yes, service is also a library value. But service based on our values is not the same as delivering consumer goods more quickly and cheaply than the competition. The more we conflate consumerism with service for the public good, the harder it will be for public institutions like libraries and universities to do their essential work.

10 Things This Instructor Loves. “Students who aren’t afraid to ask questions. If one student doesn’t understand something, it is very likely others don’t either. Stopping the professor to clarify a point gives us the opportunity to really teach and stay in touch with our students. I am always grateful to students who risk looking “dumb” to ask a question.”

Stem Degrees Not Earned by Math Alone. “But STEM is not a math- and computation-only degree; extensive reading, summarizing, synthesizing and analyzing of text along with e­ffective written expression as it relates to a particular topic are also an integral part of earning a degree, STEM or otherwise.”

The Hidden Force in For-Profit Closures. “The extent to which those institutions, which lent money to help keep Corinthian afloat, were involved in managing the for-profit college giant as it hurtled toward ruin is becoming clearer in the company’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. And it highlights the significant power and influence banks that lend to for-profit colleges are increasingly wielding over those institutions, especially as many companies in the industry face greater cash flow problems and stiffer regulatory scrutiny.”

New Debt Relief Rules Coming. “The Obama administration is planning new regulations that will set clearer standards for discharging the federal student loans of defrauded borrowers and give the U.S. Department of Education new tools to recoup money from colleges where it finds misconduct.”

Not Just Research. “AAU’s developed a framework for systemic change in undergraduate STEM teaching to help guide universities in their work. In the center is pedagogy, with a focus on articulated learning goals that are made explicit to students; educational practices, such as engaging students in active learning, using real-world examples and letting data drive practice; assessments, including for hard-to-measure outcomes like scientific thinking and problem solving; and access (making sure that STEM courses are inclusive of all students). Supporting pedagogy is scaffolding.”

Challenge Of Student Transition Between Active And Passive Learning Models. “Nevertheless, the general point remains that it is difficult for students to transition between active learning models and passive lecture and test models. The Hechinger Report calls out the example of K-12 students moving into college, but we talked to faculty and staff at UC Davis who saw the flip side of that coin – students used to passive learning at high school trying to adapt to an active learning science course in college.”

Californians Increasingly Shut Out of State’s Public Colleges. “California once showed the world how a state could guarantee a college education for nearly every resident, but then it failed to provide the long-term funding to do it, said Martha Kanter, a former U.S. education undersecretary and California community college leader. Rather than a beacon, she said, it has become a warning: States without long-term plans for funding public colleges and universities run the risk of watching them deteriorate.”

“In Exchange for Concessions From Management…” “The term “shared governance” implies an “us” among whom governance is shared. Historically, colleges have tended to define the “us” as faculty, staff, and administrators, with trustees hovering outside. The boundaries have long been contested — adjuncts, for example, are often excluded either de jure or de facto — but they’ve been understood mostly to encompass people who work on campus and who see each other on a regular basis. But to the extent that colleges become increasingly beholden to lenders, lenders are starting to demand power. And their agendas are entirely different.”

3 Ways That Higher Ed Will Look Different in 2025. “What is driving this higher ed learning revolution? First, there has been an explosion of research on both how the brain learns and on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL). Second, the growth of online learning programs, and learning at scale, have driven many educators to seek out the research on effective pedagogy. And third, the growth of blended courses – even courses that have not reduced the residential component – has also driven interest and application into research based teaching methods around active learning. For all of these reasons and more, learning on campus has emerged as an important differentiator.”

68 Percent of Statistics Are Meaningless, Purdue University Edition. “We have covered Purdue’s Course Signals extensively here at e-Literate. It is a pioneering program, and evidence does suggest that it helps at-risk students pass courses. That said, Purdue came out with a later study that is suspect. The study in question claimed that students who used Course Signals in consecutive classes were more likely to see improved performance over time, even in courses that did not use the tool. Mike Caulfield looked at the results and had an intuition that the result of the study was actually caused by selection bias. Students who stuck around to take courses in consecutive semesters were more likely to…stick around and take more courses in consecutive semesters.”

Where to start? These are the basic technologies to improve retention. “To stem the loss of new students, universities and colleges are implementing first-year programs, academic advising and other interventions. Institutions are also trying to accommodate the diverse needs of all their students by offering more personalized, flexible courses and programs. To help create a well-rounded, sustainable approach to student retention, many institutions are turning to web-facing services and other technology.”

How should quality assurance for competency-based ed work? “Because the country’s dominant higher education policies have focused on expanding access for more than half a century—allowing more students to afford higher education regardless of true and total cost through mechanisms such as Pell Grants and other financial aid programs, subsidies, and access to low-interest student loans—the government has in essence been a customer of higher education that has paid for the enrollment of students, not their successful completion and placement into good jobs. Accordingly, considered as a whole, the traditional higher education sector has followed its incentives and expanded access but had highly uneven student success rates at best.”

US Department of Education: Almost a good idea on ed tech evaluation. “Ed tech apps by themselves do not “work” in terms of improving academic performance. What ‘works’ are pedagogical innovations and/or student support structure that are often enabled by ed tech apps. Asking if apps works is looking at the question inside out. The real question should be ‘Do pedagogical innovations or student support structures work, under which conditions, and which technology or apps support these innovations?’.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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