ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Algorithms in Use: Evaluating Teachers and “Personalizing” Learning (Part 2). “Even though the rhetoric of ‘personalized learning’ mythologizes the instructional materials and learning as student-centered, algorithms (mostly proprietary and unavailable for inspection) written by programmers making choices about what students should learn next are in control. ‘Personalized learning’ is student-centered in its reliance on lessons tailored to ability and performance differences among students. And the work of teachers is student-centered in coaching, instructing, and individualizing their attention as well as monitoring small groups working together. All of that is important, to be sure. But the degree to which students are making choices out of their interests and strengths in a subject area, such as math, they have little discretion. Algorithms rule …).”

They Don’t Train Us for This. “Steal good ideas shamelessly. Most of my good ideas have come from other administrators. To appreciate a good idea requires that you pay attention to what people are saying, that you think carefully about the challenges, and that you adapt those ideas you borrow to present circumstances. And why not borrow a good idea? Administrative plans are not subject to copyright. At the same time, be modest about your own contributions — give credit where it is due. You’ll be seen not only as effective but as generous in sharing the limelight.”

Pressing Challenges. “Initiatives such as the publishing service providers at Michigan and UNC are perhaps particularly worth monitoring, as they represent both a shift from publishers being paid for content to being paid for services, and from primarily serving authors outside of the university to also serving faculty members on campus. Those shifts challenge university presses to reconsider their traditional definition as independent, selective organizations, experts said.”

Separating Education From Credentialing. “A prominent technology think tank wants the federal government to encourage the use of standardized assessments to measure postsecondary knowledge and skills, with an approach that would separate learning from credentialing and challenge the dominance of traditional college degrees.”

Cognitive Dissonance. “I knew that, but knowing it and seeing it aren’t the same. Stanford is beautiful, preposterously well-funded, and entirely separate from the realities that the community college people live. To the extent that elite policymakers hail from there and places like it, I can see why they keep getting the basics wrong. They’re extrapolating from an outlier. A colleague in the program responded to one speaker by thanking him for the cognitive dissonance. I’d like to thank Stanford for providing an entire week’s worth.”

The Open Flip. “My argument is that most of the digital economic models, theories and ideologies haven’t really transferred across to education very successfully. This is either because the ideas themselves are rather poor (hello disruption) and don’t really transfer anywhere, or because the nature of education is different from a very straightforward consumer model. Education is structured differently, and is characterised by large grant or budget spends. In these circumstances that money can be reallocated, often leading to savings overall, and openly licensed content that can be adapted and used by all. The mythical win-win.”

The Academic Advantages of Twitter. “A community. The environmental policy scholar@raulpacheco started his #scholarsunday hashtag as a way to bring scholars together on Twitter, and it has been so successful that now it seems like every day of the week is Sunday. I’ve gone on to meet in person so many of the people I originally connected with on Twitter (including Raul himself), and that experience then reflexively rejuvenates the Twitter community. So if you feel like posing a question to a scholar you admire — or just placing a question out in the seeming void — there is a good chance that you will get a response, and usually it will be smart and useful. And then you may end up having a drink with your virtual respondent at a conference in the future, and possibly forming an ongoing friendship, professional collaboration or both”

“Yes, and…” “As he spoke, I realized that “yes, and…” is a conceptual cousin of “mindset.” “Mindset,” drawing on the work of Carol Dweck, is all the rage in the community college world. It rests on drawing a distinction between two concepts of intelligence.  In the traditional, “fixed” view, people have a certain IQ or a certain level of intelligence, and that’s what they have. They can’t change it. If you’re “not a math person,” then nothing will make you one.  The “mindset” school argues that intelligence is a muscle, and it can grow stronger with use. Struggling to learn something isn’t a sign of failure; it’s a necessary step in intellectual growth. We routinely accept that logic in the context of physical exercise, so it’s a short step to apply it to mental exercise.”

“It’s a Simple Question…” “Every so often, someone will mutter something about seemingly simple questions taking days or even weeks to get answers. The implication is that administrative stonewalling, indifference, or incompetence is at fault. And there are times when those can be true. But there’s another factor that may be invisible from the asker’s end, but is quite apparent from here. Precedent.”

MoodleMoot US 16: Playing small-ball. “The general sense that I got from the conference was that the US Moodle community is pleased with the direction of Moodle but would like a more aggressive approach to major improvements (usability and multitenancy in particular). I believe the response of schools to the November release will be a significant marker on just how successful the small-ball approach can be. Will we start to see Moodle being a serious competitor for new LMS selections? For the good of the community, I would hope so.”

EdTech: Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are Transforming Online Learning. “Already, AI is able to address common learning challenges. Software can track students’ learning processes to help identify problems and, through data analysis, predict performance. Julia Stiglitz, VP of enterprise at online education company Coursera, says: ‘Data is an amazing resource for teachers, who glean detailed feedback on how learners are processing information.’ Such technology can also provide real-time feedback and ultimately, some experts believe, improve students’ performance.”

Playing, Learning, and the Teaching Problem. “The way we search now isn’t through connections, the way scholarly conversations work. We have been doing everything we can to flatten those conversations into a Google-like search box that takes terms in and returns a list of things to choose from, trying to make it easier and more familiar. Chris Bourg, director of the MIT libraries, gave a fascinating talk a short while ago about efforts to move from search to a richer kind of discovery, one that makes it possible to see connections and find new paths to follow. She builds on that old saw that only librarians like to search, people like to find, and asks how we can help people discover and have fun while they are building their own understanding.”

“Disaffected Dudes.” “How can a community college reach underemployed men in their twenties and thirties? This group — Josh Wyner called them ‘disaffected dudes,’ which I’ve decided to steal — comes back to college at far lower rates than women of the same age. Some of that may be the perverse side effect of the wage gap; if men without degrees make more money than women without degrees, then the opportunity cost of men returning to school is higher. (If he makes 40k and she makes 20k, then sending her to school means forgoing 20k; sending him would mean forgoing 40k.)  But anecdotally, that seems like only a small part of it.”

Send First-Gen Students to Grad School. “With the increasing importance of graduate degrees in the workplace, and the decreasing likelihood that employers will pay for workers to pursue graduate degrees, it falls to undergraduate faculty to think about how we can become better advisers for students who would benefit from graduate degrees. We can help them to learn what programs are worth the investment, both of tuition dollars and of delayed entry into the labor market, as well as to choose undergraduate courses that will move them to the next step.”

Report on Faculty Role in Student Success Efforts. “The most important responsibility of individual faculty members is to enhance the student learning experience, according to EAB. Pedagogical innovations may be plentiful on campuses, but training and support in those practices may be lacking, the paper says. So faculty leaders should be empowered to expand the use of known, effective techniques across departments.”

27 is the new 18: Adult students on the rise. “Ruffalo Noel Levits and CAEL conducted a survey of adult students from the 2015-16 academic year that found adult learners have different needs than ‘traditional-aged’ students. Some of those needs include: Course offering flexibility. More course offerings in their major. Multiple options for financial aid and billing. In light of this growing student population, states have introduced or enacted legislation providing student supports for adults.”

More Thoughts on Empathy: Freedom Works. “Here’s the crazy thing I realized: when I ditched compulsory attendance, the course became more rigorous, not less. Now, students had to confront themselves and what mattered to them, not what mattered to me. Many find it scary, but hopefully in a good way. I found myself empathizing with less successful students not in spite of, but because of their lack of performance. The greater the struggle to conform, the more sympathy I had. This seemed to make the act of teaching even more interesting. Teaching was not a perfomance, but a process itself, student learning a problem to be solved in collaboration between instructor and student.”

The Myth of the Nontraditional Student. “Those of us who work in higher education should realize that there no longer is a nontraditional student or, at the very least, we need to revise the definition of what constitutes one. Further, the continued and frequent labeling of the majority of our college students as nontraditional is a form of othering that adversely impacts these students’ ability to successfully persist in many of our educational settings. Referring to our students as nontraditional puts them at a starting line behind other college enrollees — not only in their sense of self but also in the minds of fellow students, faculty members, administrators and policy makers.”

Bringing Adjuncts to the Table. “So Achieving the Dream, the nonprofit organization that advocates for institutional improvement at community colleges, is unveiling a new initiative that will help part-time faculty members become more active in their colleges’ reform efforts, with the help of full-time faculty. … Each college and campus will develop its own method or programs that will eventually increase adjunct engagement. They can do so by creating mentoring programs between part-timers and their more experienced adjunct or full-time colleagues, or it could mean adjuncts and full-time faculty teach courses together.”

Instructurecon 2016: Why This Company is Still Formidable (and Misunderstood.) “Anyway, after the themes are announced, the product team then goes off to conduct their customer research and design planning. At some point, a number of months later, the product team releases the user stories and screen designs. Publicly. Not just to select interest groups. Not just to paying customers. To everyone. These design artifacts amount to both a public announcement of and commitment to what is coming as well as an invitation for customers to provide ongoing input to developers as the features are being developed. This is not something special that Instructure does only with cutting edge ideas they are trying out. It’s the way they do all their Canvas development. It works because (a) the company is incredibly good at getting the word out to distracted customers about work in development and (b) customers trust the company to keep its commitments. Early screen designs by vendors are often derided as ‘vaporware.’ When a customer uses that term, it means ‘I don’t trust you to deliver on your promises.’ I could find none of that at Instructurecon, and I was actively looking for it. The most remarkable thing about the conference was the extremely low level of overall customer anxiety.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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