ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

The MOOC revolution that wasn’t. “Although MOOCs were hardly new in 2012—the term had been coined four years earlier by Canadian educators to describe their experiments with “connected,” open online learning—MOOCs became wildly popular (and wildly hyped) in no small part because their appearance in the popular press coincided with several key trends in higher education, most notably the rising cost of tuition, growing levels of student loan debt, and pressure for everyone to have some post-secondary education.”

Improv-ing Grad School Life. “To do improv is to “act as if.” That is, to pretend that whatever situation you are in is normal for you. … In grad school, it is easy to feel as though you don’t deserve to be there. … To combat these feelings of inadequacy, try to act as if. Act as if it is easy to discuss your research with the leading figures in your field. Act as if you are comfortable giving a job talk to a room full of potential colleagues. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or outclassed, just pretend that what you’re doing is natural for you (and soon it will become so).”

Grading: Ego, Control, and Varieties of Authority. “In examining my feelings and anxieties over this shift, I’m recognizing some bigger-picture tensions in my work, particularly the intersection of ego and control and how it relates to teaching. I realized that I’m worried about “too many” A’s because I’m concerned it would be a comment on the rigor of my course, even though one of the possible routes to an A requires students to do twice as much writing as those who receive a B, a more rigorous experience by any standard. Still, I wonder why I’m experiencing so much angst over a change that should be liberating.”

Meanwhile, a Bubble Quietly Deflates. “Did you know that Federal subsidized student loans, measured in dollars lent, have dropped more than forty percent over the last five years? It suggests a bit of a flaw in the “student loan bubble” discussion, if nothing else.”

Ed Tech Evaluation Plan: More problems than I initially thought. “The OET strongly advocates for the use of ed tech applications, which I think is a primary cause of their inside-out, technology first view of the world. They are not an objective organization in terms of whether and when technology should be used, but rather an advocate assuming that technology should be used, but please make it effective.”

As Coursera Evolves, Colleges Stay On and Investors Buy In. “So far the secret to bringing in revenue, or what Mr. Levin called a ‘product-market fit,’ has been professional development. The company has created series of courses that add up to mini-degrees that students can earn quickly, and pay a small fee to certify that they successfully completed them. ‘It’s mostly people in their 20s and 30s who are interested in learning more skills and making themselves prepared for better jobs,’ said Mr. Levin. But he insisted that the company is not pivoting to focus only on professional development. He said Coursera is still committed to offering liberal-arts courses as well, and that one thing the new investment will be used for will be to look for ways to make those courses more sustainable.”

The Power of Positive Regard. “Educational research shows teachers can build trust and rapport in common-sense ways, for example, by being: available (posting and holding office hours); discreet (keeping sensitive information confidential); fair (treating all students equally, grading equitably, and avoiding favoritism); and benevolent (never doing anything to take advantage of students, make them lose face, or embarrass them). That last one is especially important for college faculty members. The importance of building trust and rapport cannot be overstated.”

2 Things That I Wish I Learned In Sociology School. “f I could give a talk to sociology grad students it would be all about how they can impact higher education from outside the sociology department. I’d talk about all the ways that a sociological frame of mind, and the set of analytical skills and theoretical foundations learned in grad school, can be utilized in a range of alt-ac positions. I’d point out how quickly higher ed is changing, and how sociologists have an opportunity to help drive what comes next in our industry. I’d talk about how much I love my non-sociology teaching and research job.”

Of MOOCs and Mutants. “With the shock of MOOCs somewhat behind us, how can we now incorporate them into our everyday lives and language? … I propose that the best way we can think about MOOCs is as mutants. I mean to use this somewhat loaded term in the same way that it is used in the X-Men movie series. … The non-mutants at first imagine these super-humans as saviors of a sort. When faced with extreme crises, the mutants are sometimes the only ones who can save the day. But, over time, it becomes clearer and clearer that the super-powers of these super-humans are almost always double-edged. The mutants often cannot control their powers, causing collateral damage as they attempt to address the crisis. Their actions sometimes cause independent problems of their own.”

Inside View Of Blackboard’s Moodle Strategy In Latin America. “In just the past twelve months, Blackboard has acquired three Moodle-based companies –Remote-Learner UK (Moodle Partner in the UK), X-Ray Analytics (learning analytics for Moodle), and Nivel Siete (Moodle Partner in Colombia). When you add in organic growth to these acquisition, Blackboard has added ~450 new clients using Moodle in this same time period, reaching a current total of be ~1400. This is a change worth exploring.”

Buzzwords May Be Stifling Teaching Innovation at Colleges. “So what is adaptive learning? Mr. Culatta defined it as ‘using technology to assign human or digital resources to learners based on their unique needs.’ That means that a computer program adapts how materials are presented to students based on ‘their responses to questions tasks and experiences,’ he added. In an interview after his talk, Mr. Culatta said he spent so much of his talk on a glossary, despite teasing from colleagues that it might bore attendees, because language could be key to the success of this experimental teaching approach.”

The Fraught Interaction Design of Personalized Learning Products. “None of which is to say that the fancy adaptive learning algorithms themselves are useless. To the contrary. In an ideal world, the system will be looking at a wide range of evidence to provide more sophisticated evidence-based suggestions to the students. But the key word here is “suggestions.” Both because a critical part of any education is teaching students to be more self-aware of their learning processes and because faulty prescriptions in an educational setting can have serious consequences, personalized learning products need to evolve out of the black box phase as quickly as possible.”

When Educators Make Space For Play and Passion, Students Develop Purpose. “Wagner found that all of these tremendously influential teachers ran classrooms that emphasized interdisciplinary learning, real team collaboration, risk taking, creating learning as opposed to consuming knowledge, and cultivated intrinsic motivation in students.”

3 Problems With A Bias For Action. “Every new initiative we start will create a huge set of downstream consequences and dependencies. Starting something new is easy, sustaining an innovation is difficult. We seldom have the structures in place to move initiatives from pilots to operations.  It is often unclear who will manage existing projects when the “new initiative” people move on to what is shiny and new. How much do we need to have all the sustainability variables under control before we start something new?”

Product and process in higher ed. “And this brought me round to thinking about how we view higher education. It used to be firmly in the process camp. People went to university because the act of learning, critical thinking, engagement with peers and time away from the pressures of career were seen as valuable in themselves. There were undoubtedly vocational degrees which were more product centred – you did an accountancy degree usually because you wanted to become an accountant – but largely it was the process that mattered. Over the past twenty years we have seen a shift where the dominant rhetoric and mindset around higher education is one of product.”

Pedagogy Unbound: You Are the University. “It is the faculty members, whether they are tenured or adjunct, graduate students or veteran professors, who still represent the highest ideals for what education can do. We are uniquely invested with the power to shape our students’ college experience and their ideas about what their purpose in life might be. We can, if we choose to, inspire in students the same love of learning and desire to unravel the mysteries of the universe that so many of us first acquired in college.”

Everyone thinks the current state of higher education is awful. Who is to blame? “And here we arrive at a way to thread this needle of collective criticism. The one thing that Deresiewicz, Lukianoff, Haidt and McArdle all agree on, surprisingly enough, is that higher education should be a non-market institution. The point of college is not merely to cater to consumer demands, whether one defines the consumers as ‘college students’ or ‘the firms that will eventually hire those college students.’ A vital function of universities is to convert young people into thinkers who can critically analyze the very society that they are about to join. But when people are ponying up vast sums of money to attend these places, it becomes more difficult for college administrations to ignore the whims of their students.”

A key to increasing economic mobility. “A highly desirable characteristic of these alternative ways of preparing for the workforce, especially the certificates and certifications, is that course work and skill acquisition can often be obtained through online programs that are less expensive than attending college, as well as through apprenticeship programs. If classroom education is required, preparation and learning can be done at community colleges with their reasonable fee schedules and flexible hours.”

E-Texts and the Future of the College Bookstore. “The current, traditional bookstore model is broken and does not serve student and faculty needs. Too many students don’t acquire textbooks due to high costs. Too many students come to class unprepared or acquire textbook content too late in the term (when they can obtain an additional source of funds). Too many students state that their primary reason for dropping courses, withdrawing, taking fewer credit hours and not being as successful in their academic efforts as they desire is the high cost of textbooks and other instructional materials, and their lack of acquiring them.”

Coping With Cuts. “The 621 public institutions in fiscal 2013 spent more per student on educational expenses than they received in state funding and tuition dollars combined, according to the report, which was prepared by Postsecondary Analytics, a higher education research firm. Six years earlier, in fiscal 2007, the balance was different: publics received more appropriation and tuition funding than they spent on students.”

Educational Innovation as a Verb, Not a Noun. “I can’t do more than summarize Mott’s argument here: it’s a clear and concise read on its own. Two aspects of his argument particularly appealed to me. The first was the notion that our challenges in higher education come from trying to address a set of anomalies in our paradigm of teaching and learning, a paradigm which developed to serve an elite educated class in entirely different economic and political circumstances. As in the example of Newtonian mechanics, for many purposes the old paradigm may continue to work in addressing the needs for which it was developed. But when more and more of the action happens at the margins of that context, the anomalies accumulate as demonstrations that we have to fundamentally rethink our views of teaching and learning.”

When Success Wears a Disguise. “When we talk about “student success,” for example, it’s often boiled down to graduation rates. By now, most of us can recite the reasons that the IPEDS rate is a silly and inaccurate measure for community colleges, and they’re all true. For example, many students who intend to transfer for a bachelor’s degree don’t intend to complete an associate’s along the way. Their plan is to do a year at the community college and then transfer. When the financial aid form asks whether they’re “degree-seeking,” they’re telling the truth when they answer “yes.” They just aren’t seeking it where they’re first enrolling.  But the forms don’t capture that nuance, so what the student perceives as successfully working a plan shows up in the numbers as institutional failure.”

These 10 trends are shaping the future of education. “College enrollment saw a spike during the onset of the Great Recession, but those numbers are now retracting as the economy improves. Meanwhile, the post-Millennial generation is projected to be smaller than the one preceding it. Simply put, America’s 629 public four-year institutions, 1,845 private four-year institutions, 1,070 public two-year institutions, and 596 private two-year institutions will soon be competing over a smaller pipeline of potential incoming students. Of course, that competition will only be tempered by increasing competition from the aforementioned alternative credentials for those on the fence about traditional higher ed.”

Corinthian Ruling Could Mean Loan Relief for Student Debtors. “The hundreds of thousands of students who attended the institutions of the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc., are still on the hook to the federal government for billions of dollars in student loans. But a decision this week by a bankruptcy court could improve the chances that they won’t have to repay those loans, according to their lawyers.”

Learning to Adapt. “So far, roughly 1,000 students have taken the adaptive math courses. Typically about 50 percent of students pass the first level of developmental math at Essex. That number dropped to 35 percent in the adaptive version of the course in 2014. This year it crept closer to 50 percent, said Walcerz, but the adaptive version’s success rate still lags behind that of the traditional version of the course.”

Information Wants to Be Free – But Not Always. “Here’s why they aren’t cheap. These books don’t just get written, they get worked on by a number of writers working over different parts of the book, and they are reviewed multiple times in chunks by a variety of experts who are paid (not a lot – but paid, and there are a lot of them giving their opinions). These books also have colorful design features to illustrate complicated ideas, and that takes more specialists and reviews and raises the cost of printing. While the advice about commas may change little, how to explain writing issues to a changing student population may take adjustment over the years, and the rules for citation practices change every few years. There are permissions to pay if quotes are used to illustrate a point. There’s a sales force, too, and the cost of being at conferences to woo faculty adoptions.”

Personalized Learning is Hard. “Differentiated instruction is a logical pedagogical response to a heterogeneous class problem. But it can only work in their environment if they have appropriately skilled, trained, and motivated faculty. ECC made substantial investments in software and facilities, but this result highlights the fact that the critical success factors in many cases will be making a substantial investment in providing faculty with appropriate professional development and a motivating compensation and promotion plan. It sounds like they have come to realize that and are taking some steps in that direction. Truly effective innovation in education is hard.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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