ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Blackboard Ultra and Other Product and Company Updates. “Ultra is much more than a usability makeover and much more ambitious than is commonly understood: There is a sense in the market that Ultra is Blackboard’s attempt to catch up with Instructure’s ease of use. While there is some truth to that, it would be a mistake to think of Ultra as just that. In fact, it is a very ambitious re-architecture that, for example, has the ability to capture a rich array of real-time learning analytics data. These substantial and ambitious under-the-hood changes, which Phil and I were briefed on extensively and which were also shared publicly at Blackboard’s Devcon, are the reason why Ultra is late and the reason why it can’t be locally installed at the moment.”

Final Exams or Epic Finales. “In most cases, the final exam is intended as a summative assessment of student learning. While students and instructors alike may dream of a world free of assessment, the reality for most is that exams will remain a necessity for decades to come. What is not fixed, however, is when or where these assessments are done. Just as many instructors ‘flip’ the classroom by putting lectures online and helping students with coursework during class, we now have the luxury of conducting our exams in many different places and times. In devoting the last few hours of a course to a final exam, instructors waste a valuable opportunity to motivate students to continue thinking about the material outside of the classroom.”

Obama’s Higher-Ed Home Stretch. “In a speech outlining the higher education priorities of the Obama administration as it enters its final 18 months in office, Duncan will say it is time to “go further” than discussions about rising levels of student loan debt. He will urge a shift toward focusing on degree completion and educational quality.”

How Unemployment Rates Shift Choices of Majors. “A new paper backs up that conventional wisdom with precise data on how high unemployment rates shift students’ majors. While both male and female students shift, they do so in different ways. And they both move away from the liberal arts and education when unemployment goes up. In total, the paper estimates that every increase of 1 percent in the unemployment rate prompts a 3.2 percentage point reallocation of the major choices of men, and 4.1 percentage points for women. In periods of significant increases in unemployment rates, the consequences could be significant for many students’ enrollment patterns.”

Do We Know How to Judge Teaching? “What, then, is the critical element for teaching success? I say the best teachers are learning-driven; their teaching is wholly focused on developing a deep understanding of the subject matter in the minds of their students. This entails much more than presenting information. Learning-driven teachers don’t simply wish or hope their students learn, they take actions to see that the desired kind of learning takes place. Consciously or not, learning-driven teachers are concerned with an array of factors that influence student learning.”

An Education Necessity: Mind Blowing Experiences. “When we become obsessed with measurement, with coherence, with standardization, we inevitably reduce the experience to those things that can be measured, and often those things are small, and not particularly meaningful when it comes to a life lived. Think about the compromises we must make for the sake of assessment, assignments that are safe, that require students to make the moves we can measure and quantify, but which also come with low probability of mind blowing.”

Transparency, Debt, and Context. “Apparently, since it started disclosing this information to students, students reduced their borrowing by eleven percent. In a context of increasing costs, that’s striking. And all else being equal, it’s probably a good thing. In a community college context, though, I suspect the results might be more complicated.”

The Importance of Writing Skills in Tech-Related Fields. “Writing is thinking, after all, so it should come as no surprise to STEM majors looking to make it big in technology careers that they need to take their writing a lot more seriously. Learning to write well – clearly, effectively, and quickly – should be an important component of every undergraduate education. STEM students should take more classes focused on thinking through writing, not less.”

Colleges give drifting students maps to help them find their way to graduation. “It starts when students first arrive. They sit down with an advisor who helps them decide on a career goal, sometimes by administering tests that gauge their interests. Then they work out a path to graduation, with the courses needed to eventually arrive at a degree in a particular major.”

The Complexity of Accountability. “A challenge, she said, is changing institutional accreditation so that it is more specifically and explicitly tied to student outcomes while also maintaining accreditors’ role as promoting quality improvement. ‘The issue is how do we do both of these things effectively,’ she said. ‘The accreditors don’t want to become compliance cops and do nothing else.’ Unmentioned in Duncan’s speech, though, is the political challenge of closing low-performing institutions — a challenge his Education Department has navigated in some high-profile cases.”

A Few More Rookie Dean Mistakes. “The best administrators I’ve known make a point of surrounding themselves with very smart people, and listening to them. That can mean allowing someone lower on the food chain to win, simply by having the better argument. When you defer to the better argument — when you allow truth to trump rank — you create an environment in which all that intelligence becomes an asset. If the chief has to win every time, then the organization is limited to the vision of the chief.”

Politics of Pell for Prisoners. “The Obama administration’s plan to open up Pell Grants to some incarcerated students, which will be announced formally on Friday, is already drawing criticism from some Republicans. The U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday that the ‘limited pilot program’ will operate under the experimental sites initiative, which allows the department to waive certain rules that govern federal financial aid.

Step Outside the Major, Please. “Humanities and social-science majors who take more than the minimum math and science courses are that much more employable — not necessarily because their math and science skills qualify them for STEM jobs but because they are not intimidated by math or science. They know how to learn in a variety of areas, and they can convince employers of that.”

Struggling to Stay True to Wisconsin’s Ideals. “So when the writing on the wall made it clear that the regional campus, which educates 10,700 students, would have about a quarter of its state funds cut this year, Eau Claire administrators had already planned a course of action to trim the fat: significant administrative reductions, preferably as far away from the academic enterprise as possible. Yet dealing with a 13.5 percent reduction in operating funds requires massive change, and it turns out that it’s very difficult to keep the impact of such a loss entirely off the radar of students.”

Carnegie Mellow project revives failed inBloom dream to store and analyze student data. “Koedinger launched LearnSphere earlier this year with the hope of making it easier and faster for researchers to analyze big datasets — mostly student keyboard clicks — in order to test educational theories and boost learning outcomes from elementary school to college. Just as inBloom had hoped software makers and researchers would use its vast database to improve education technology, Koedinger also wants to create a forum for sharing and analyzing data on how students learn. But, he says, there are important differences between LearnSphere and inBloom. For one, he says he’s not going to allow any personal information from school records in LearnSphere.”

Blended Learning: The Evolution of Online and Face-to-Face Education from 2008-2015. “In recent years, teachers in traditional schools have adapted their classrooms to represent the connected world in which they and their students live. Web-based content and resources are increasingly supplementing textbooks. New tools enable efficient communication and timely feedback. Collaboration and learning extend beyond the four walls of the classroom. Driving the early stage of this evolution, a small number of tech-savvy teachers and technology coordinators sought new ways to provide enriching and engaging content, and to extend learning beyond the walls of the school building and the confines of the school day. Initial results garnered the attention of districts and charter management organizations that sought to make blended learning options available to students across the country. Previously siloed innovative practices grew into scalable new blended learning models designed by districts transforming toward student-centered learning—with the goal of offering every student a world-class education. This development of district-level programs that blend the best of online learning and face-to-face instruction has been spurred by the increased availability of high-quality digital resources, tools, and adaptive platforms.”

Future Thoughts. “Innovation in the curriculum, or what institutions focus on teaching, is occurring faster than ever, which is driving dramatic change in the job market. I think it is a given that institutions will put more emphasis on technology and computer programming. But in addition, the job market will continue to evolve more quickly than educational institutions can preemptively keep up with, and for that reason, I believe that rather than preparing students with specific knowledge or a specific skill set, institutions will transition into providing a widely adaptable skill set to students. Yes, this is the basic concept of the liberal arts degree, but what I’m referring to will be ‘Liberal Arts 2.0.’ Think ‘liberal arts’ meets ‘technology.’ I cannot say exactly what this will look like, but I am confident it is on the way.”

Narrative in the Classroom. “I worry, though, that in our fervor to explain, we neglect the narrative approach. It’s important to remember that the two modes of thought complement one another, and work well in tandem. Much research in recent decades has suggested that narrative has powerful effects on our brains, helping us learn in ways that purely logical arguments cannot. As instructors, we should be looking for ways to make use of narrative in the classroom, both to reach those students who don’t think paradigmatically, but also to find another path to our learning goals.”

Two-Plus-Two in Temecula. “The Temecula campus now has moved on with a phase two, which higher education experts say is a novel spin on an articulated two-plus-two degree track. Mt. San Jacinto College, a community college located 35 miles from Temecula, has partnered with CSU San Marcos to offer a guaranteed transfer pathway — featuring both an associate and bachelor’s degrees in business administration — to students at a joint educational facility in downtown Temecula.”

Going Online, Being Digital. “If the era of online learning over the past two decades was in large measure about revenue growth, the present moment is about something else. Evidence of this change can been seen in a subtle shift in how we talk about this work. Where once we spoke consistently about “online learning,” now, more and more often, I hear higher education leaders talking about “digital strategy” — a shift in terminology that signals, I believe, a significant change in how we are thinking about the utility of learning technologies.”

Analyzing trends in Pell Grant recipients and expenditures. “The next chart shows that the decline in the number of Pell recipients over the last two years is largely due to community colleges and for-profit colleges. The number of Pell recipients at community colleges has declined by 11 percent since 2011-12, while the number at for-profit colleges has declined by 20 percent since 2010-11 after more than doubling in the previous five years. This is consistent with enrollment at some of the largest for-profit chains cratering in the last few years due to both the colleges’ actions (such as the University of Phoenix enacting a trial period for students) and actions from regulators (as evidenced in the recent collapse of Corinthian Colleges).

Blackboard’s Messaging Problems. “Another problem Blackboard has is that it is very hard to understand what they mean by “Ultra.” Sometimes they mean an architecture that enables a new user experience. Sometimes they mean the new user experience that may or may not require the architecture. And at no time do they fully clarify what it means for hosting.”

Scholarship can’t afford itself. “As there is increasing pressure on universities to justify student fees, to account for staff time, to monetise every aspect of the education process, I fear that such activities will be ‘realistically’ costed. The result of which might be to make them unviable. There is also a strong element of game theory once we start costing these activities – it would be to your institution’s benefit to be selfish rather than benevolent, ie to get more out of the system than you put in. And then others start acting the same. “

Making Work-Study Work. “While the research found generally positive impacts of the federal work-study program, it also found one surprising downside — participants take on substantially higher debt compared to non-participants with similar characteristics, including income, gender, institution type and other factors.”

6 Rules for a Highly Effective Marketing Team. “When looking to fill open positions, many organizations look for an exact match in skills and experience. This often limits opportunities for internal career advancement, since existing employees are unlikely to have an exact match in experience, particularly if the position is new. Companies that are committed to talent development focus on the competencies required to be effective in the job (for instance, communication skills, team orientation, problem-solving ability) and assume that smart employees can learn new skills.”

Negotiating a New Social Contract for Digital Data. “The Bill of Rights primarily speaks to limiting the power of the state. We also need to think about regulating uses of our data by non-state actors. The capacity to generate, collect, and mine data has grown quickly, well beyond our capacity to negotiate a new social contract to govern these new realities. Arriving at a new social contract is complicated for a number of reasons, including – the internet is international.”

Vanderbilt Releases More Information on Elusive Red-Tape Study. “The information, released on Friday, takes the form of a fact sheet, a PowerPoint presentation, and a summary that reiterate key points reported by The Chronicle this month. Among them: Of the $150 million in total, $117 million was associated with research conducted by the university. Complying with regulations specific to higher education, including accreditation, cost the university $14 million. Costs related to accreditation amounted to 6 percent of the total.”

The unintended benefits of online courses. “Another example highlighted in the report hails from the much smaller Guthrie Common School District in Texas, where a tiny rural school district has morphed into a statewide provider of hard-to-staff courses. … The district, which started off hiring a Spanish teacher to teach online courses across a number of similarly situated remote school districts in Texas, is now one of the largest providers in the Texas Virtual School Network, which allows students across the state to enroll in online courses. The small district, in other words, has at once responded to its own shortages in course offerings, while also extending its reach across the entire state. … Guthrie can now bring in revenue above and beyond its per-pupil allocation from the state to in fund additional opportunities for its own students.”

The controversial idea that could lower student debt. “A coalition of liberal and conservative lawmakers is promoting a plan on Capitol Hill that would force colleges to pay up when their students default. If schools share the risk of borrowing or have some “skin in the game,” policymakers figure they would work harder to keep costs down. But the approach could backfire if schools decide to weed out prospective students based on their ability to pay.”

Common Core for College Readiness. “The assumption that disadvantaged students will go to college underprepared doesn’t have to be the norm. In fact, ensuring that all students are prepared for college and career was the impetus behind the 43 states and the District of Columbia that adopted the Common Core State Standards. Research showsthat students who are exposed to rigorous curricula and the practices that the Common Core embodies are more likely to succeed in college or a career. While it’s too early to definitively state whether or not the Common Core is improving student achievement, early adopters are showing great promise.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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