ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

The No-Censorship Approach to Life. “To say that we can’t ban speech is, in a sense, easy. To say what follows next is very, very hard. This brings me to that second essential point: How students today grapple with ideas, with thoughts and viewpoints in the myriad ways available to them, will determine who they are. Of course, they will never completely resolve this process; it is too complex for rules or clear guides. They will make many errors, and feel embarrassed looking back. Or they will feel proud and hope they can replicate what they did.”

2 Projects That Promote Alternative Credentials Reach Key Milestones. “The bigger of the two is the ‘credentials registry,’ an effort to create an open, searchable, online system that categorizes and organizes the current maze of credentials, certificates, degrees, and licenses that students and workers now obtain. Announced more than a year ago, the registry is intended to be a tool for students, job seekers, and employers to determine what skills and credentials are needed for particular jobs and careers.”

The mindboggling barriers that colleges create – and that end up hurting their own students. “At a time when they’re under growing public pressure to improve the low proportions of their students who actually graduate, universities and colleges raise needless hurdles, Moses and other policymakers say. ‘I think the majority of higher education is complacent’ about their dropouts, he said. If colleges and universities made reforms to keep students in class, he believes graduation rates would shoot up.”

Liberal Arts, Inflexible Structures.Departmental structures can necessitate organizational workarounds, such as the creation of interdisciplinary liberal arts centers or institutes, to find a home for innovation. While interdisciplinary centers or institutes can serve as vital catalysts for innovation and collaboration across the disciplines, merely establishing them will not necessarily overcome the force of decades of departmentally focused priorities. As a result, these interdisciplinary centers can sometimes evolve into isolated interdisciplinary silos. Indeed, the lack or perceived lack of incentives for faculty involvement, a misalignment with departmental promotional criteria and the absence of clear expectations with respect to the roles that particular departments or disciplines are meant to play in these centers can all contribute to their eventual marginalization and failure — which can make it even more challenging to recruit and retain high-potential faculty. Paying lip service to interdisciplinarity isn’t sufficient.”

Choral Explanations for Student Success: A Proposal. “At the same time, this particular formulation feels right to me. Most college students will feel initially out of place in college, most students will struggle, most students will face some social rejection, most students will make occasional bone-headed moves. If we know that’s normal, we learn from it and continue on. If we think it tells us something deep about whether we belong in college, we start to spiral into isolation, depression, and loneliness. I’ve seen this happen to students. It’s real.”

Online ‘Micro-Master’s’ Programs Extend Their Reach. “More than a dozen colleges announced plans on Tuesday to offer an alternative credential by that name — roughly equivalent to between a quarter and a half of the course material from a typical master’s degree — that students can finish by taking a series of short online courses without first going through any admissions process.”

Changing Times. “For one thing, this emerging environment emphasizes lifelong learning.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held 11.7 jobs from age 18 to age 48. GenXers and Millennials are even more likely to job hop.  In an increasingly volatile economy, skills upgrades and retraining are essential. Many of the new programs come unbundled from the extensive array of support services offered by traditional college and universities.”

University May Remove Online Content to Avoid Disability Law. “While the university has not made a final decision, she said, it may not be able to afford complying with the Justice Department’s recommendations on how to make the online material accessible.”

Maybe I Should Join the ‘New Cheating Economy.’ “That it didn’t garner more attention is possibly due to the article being behind CHE’s paywall, or maybe it’s because, while the article is filled with deeply researched details and specific insights, it only confirms what we already know: When education is reduced to credentialing, people will find a shortcut around the ‘learning’ to get to the credential. Of course, as Wolverton shows, a lot of what is being avoided has only dubious connections to learning, and when the reward for the credential is worth the risk, students make the exceedingly rational choice to cheat.”

Why ‘Alternative’ Careers in STEM aren’t Alternative.’ “Academia will be just fine without many of us. The true shame is for Ph.D.s to rule out a whole swath of publicly engaged scientific paths because we are afraid or embarrassed to leave academic life, or guilted out of it. The larger issue here: Academia could use the help of its own Ph.D.s in convincing a misled or suspicious public about the benefits, reliability, and importance of scientific research.”

Tougher Scrutiny for Colleges With Low Graduation Rates. “Members of the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions will ask four-year institutions with graduation rates at or below 25 percent over six years and two-year institutions at or below 15 percent over four years — half the national average for first-year, full-time students — to account for how they are working to improve those numbers. In the coming days, the regional accreditors will contact colleges and universities they oversee who meet those criteria, notifying them that they will be under additional review. They will share how colleges are working to address those challenges and hold those falling short further accountable.”

A Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology. “May it entertain, and all be forgiven. App, n. An elegant way to avoid the World Wide Web. Blended learning, n. The practice of combining digital and analog teaching.  Also referred to as ‘teaching’, ‘learning’, and ‘the real world’.

Skills First, and Let Content Follow. “Much research has suggested that skills by themselves — isolated from any knowledge of disciplinary content — are very difficult, if not impossible, to teach. We learn important skills through practice in specific domains, and transferring those skills to other domains is not straightforward. Similarly, content without the skills to apply it is merely trivia. What good is it to know a lot about a subject if you don’t know what to do with that knowledge? So we need both skills and content.”

The State of Undergraduate Education. “The report published this morning is also a trove of data on higher education. Among the takeaways from the report: When it comes to college attainment, gender matters. In 2015, 50 percent of women aged 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree; 41 percent of men did. Race and ethnicity matter, too. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of Asian students aged 25-29 had earned an associate degree or higher. That percentage was much higher than for white (54 percent), black (31 percent) and Hispanic students (27 percent). Many high school graduates are unprepared for college; half must take remedial classes. Remedial classes don’t always work, though — just 28 percent of two-year college students who took these courses actually earned a degree in 8.5 years.”

Unwelcome Innovation. “The problem for Lumina, Mozilla, Credly and the rest is that they’re proposing to replace a rich variety of credential ‘languages’ with a universal one that’s not just unnecessary, but that’s modeled on fundamentally flawed analogies and observations. I’ll start with the flaws of badges as a credentialing solution. … Indeed, attaining badges for completing certain tasks or reaching certain milestones is such a core feature of video game design and experience that the whole practice of rewarding behavior within software is referred to as ‘gamification.’ … Yet video game badges — and the badges employed by gamification companies — are not truly credentials, but behaviorist reward systems designed to keep people on task. As credentials, their only useful meaning was within the systems in which they were earned, specifically within a given video game or bar-hopping app.”

Waiting for the Punchline. “The regional accreditors are savvy enough to know that judging an open-admission college against a selective one is measurement error, so I assume they’ll take that into account. But the problem with using accreditation this way is… Anyone? Anyone? It’s all or nothing. For all practical purposes, loss of accreditation is a death sentence. That’s because loss of accreditation ends eligibility for federal financial aid programs, and usually ends the transferability of credits.”

Developing Self-Driving Cars Will Be Easy Compared to Scaling the Seminar. “The really interesting challenges that we should be talking about are all about learning. By learning – I am thinking about the sort of learning that takes place in a small seminar. The learning that can happen when a few (highly motivated and qualified) students are taught by an experienced, skilled, and well-supported educator. The sort of teaching where students learn by creating new knowledge – actively engaging in the material, as opposed to passively consuming and then being (high stakes) tested on the content. This is the sort of learning where the goal is to teach students how to think – and how to continuously learn. This is the sort of education that assumes that today’s students will need to create tomorrow’s jobs.”

Weapons of Math Destruction: The Dark Side of Big Data. “These risky financial instruments, like many other proprietary big data projects – what O’Neil calls “weapons of math destruction” – have features in common. They are opaque (few people could understand them even if they weren’t trade secrets that cannot be examined by those who are subject to the decisions they make); they work at large scale, and because they are sealed systems, they can’t learn from their mistakes. They can do a lot a damage and are bizarrely unaccountable for it, often claiming greater objectivity than the fallible humans who encode them.”

Want Adaptive Learning To Work? Encourage Adaptive Teaching. Here’s How. “The sizzle of a courseware product, no matter how slick, loses its heat when faculty culture is not tuned to embrace it. But when a scaled implementation leverages faculty expertise and feedback during all stages, the culture shifts, and faculty move from being skeptical of adaptive learning to being advocates for it.”

Open education and the Unenlightenment. “The question then is how does education, and particularly open education operate in this changed context? Education is often promoted as the removal of ignorance. But ignorance can often result from a lack of opportunity. This is something that can be addressed. Indeed my own institution was founded exactly for this purpose, to give educational opportunities to those who were previously excluded. But that is a very different context from when people have opportunity, but deliberately do not want to gain knowledge. You can’t force people to learn. When knowledge and expertise are seen as part of the problem, the elite, the conspiracy, then you are up against more than just opportunity and barriers to learning – it’s a kind of anti-learning. In this culture, how does education proceed?”

Small College Problems. “Shea identified five more broad issues to examine. One was resource allocation. Another was that colleges and universities are labor-intensive organizations, typically with between 60 percent and 80 percent of their expenditures tied up in personnel costs. Another theme was capital, or the amount of reserves a college had on hand. Other themes were the external environmental factors affecting colleges — the things they don’t control — and the issue of leadership.

Do Your Students Take Good Notes? “So in my teaching I’m working on front-loading an explanation of the relationship between what happens during class time — no, we’re not just having an unstructured conversation about things — and the designated learning outcomes of the course, as well as the role played by memory and such learning strategies as taking notes. It’s clearly not enough just to harangue students about their inadequate classroom behavior; instructors should think carefully about what and why they want students to engage in certain practices and make clear to students what the reasons are.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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