WHAT WE'RE READING
“High-impact” educational practices widely promoted and adopted to improve learning by college and university students and increase graduation rates have not led to those expected outcomes, according to new research in The Journal of Higher Education.
The study (abstract available here) found the effectiveness of 10 such practices -- first-year seminars, writing-intensive courses and collaborative assignments, among others -- recommended by the Association of American Colleges and Universities questionable and worthy of re-examination, at least as a tool to promote completion.
The research is based on data from 101 institutions that participated in the study by Sarah Randall Johnson, associate director of institutional research at Harvard Business School, and Frances King Stage, professor of higher education at New York University. Some of the institutions make extensive use of the practices, others minimal use and others no use at all.
Their study examined whether four-year public colleges that adopted the high-impact practices had higher four- and six-year graduation rates than institutions that did not adopt them. The study found that the graduation rates at colleges that incorporated all the practices were not higher than those that used few if any of the practices.
I work at a community college and I am fiercely dedicated to its mission to meet learners where they are and provide them with access to lifelong learning and the support they need to be successful. Thirty odd years ago, I started my community college career evaluating college transcripts. This included reviewing documents that listed military experience and translating military occupational specialties into college credit. Occasionally, I’d encounter an adult student with lots of work experience who was pleading for a means for us to translate it into credit but the CLEP exams did not provide the right fit and the credit-by-portfolio program was too onerous to consider. Sometimes there was a credit-by-exam that a department would offer but frequently, passing the exam would only exempt them from taking that particular class. They would still be required to take another course in its stead. The unspoken truth was learning outside the classroom was difficult to document unless someone had already blazed a similar trail. The strictures of higher education acknowledged that while one may be successfully engaged in the practice of a discipline, textbooks and lectures were still somehow superior to proving learning had taken place. Successfully providing evidence that one understood the theory provided the rub.
For many centuries we have equated postsecondary education (PSE) with ivory towers and brick walls, set in idyllic, tree-lined campuses, with peaceful sitting areas. We have had this picture presented to us so many times and in so many forums many people equate a great student experience only with this environment. Even from a quality perspective, I often hear it argued that the student experience is dependent upon this traditional face-to-face form of delivery. The truth is learning occurs in many ways and in many forms, and often in spite of us rather than because of us. In my own learning journey, I’ve had the opportunity to learn off the traditional campus. I was a distance learner for one undergraduate degree, and a hybrid participant for my doctoral program—though my master’s and another undergraduate degree were taken in traditional in-class, face-to-face formats. As such, I have watched (and experienced) our move to more online learning over the past two decades.
An audit last year by an independent arm of the U.S. Education Department questioned whether the teaching model of Western Governors University, built around competency-based learning, ran afoul of a federal law. Western Governors begged to differ.
Now it has data, in the form of a new survey by Gallup Inc., to make the case that its mentor-based model produces graduates who are more likely to be "thriving" in work and life than are graduates of other colleges.
Subject: Never run with nitroglycerin or a bucket of camel snot.
Well, you could, but it would be your funeral.
But seriously, using humorous subject lines just might be a way to engage students being taught with technology; more specifically, students in online courses. Humor doesn't always mean jokes that start, "A priest, mountain goat and ballerina enter a bar." It can be a subtle way of looking for a student's funny bone and tickling it enough to spark motivation to finish a course.
I teach for Western Governors University as a faculty member in the IT College. Technical Writing and Capstone courses are my specialty. It's an excellent gig: fantastic students with professional backgrounds working hard to earn degrees while life circles the wagons. Everything is online. It's a totally new experience for me, having spent the rest of my 30-plus years of higher education in brick-and-mortar settings.
Online learning has come a long way since the turn of the millennium. It certainly hasn’t displaced traditional colleges, as its biggest proponents said it had the potential to, but it has gained widespread popularity: The number of students in the U.S. enrolled in at least one online course rose from 1.6 million in 2002 to more than 6 million in 2016.
As online learning extends its reach, though, it is starting to run into a major obstacle: There are undeniable advantages, as traditional colleges have long known, to learning in a shared physical space. Recognizing this, some online programs are gradually incorporating elements of the old-school, brick-and-mortar model—just as online retailers such as Bonobos and Warby Parker use relatively small physical outlets to spark sales on their websites and increase customer loyalty. Perhaps the future of higher education sits somewhere between the physical and the digital.
Adoption and offering of online programming is on the rise at postsecondary institutions across the United States and Canada, it’s continued growth being driven by a number of trends coming together. Of course, development, delivery and support of online programming requires a different set of competencies and priorities from institutional leaders than the more traditional face-to-face offerings that have been the bread and butter of higher learning academies for generations. In this interview, Eric Fredericksen reflects on some of the most common challenges institutions face when trying to grow their online presence and shares his thoughts on how groups like the Online Learning Consortium can help institutional leaders overcome these obstacles.
When Florida opened the door 17 years ago for two-year colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, they expanded rapidly into a host of new areas: business, nursing, teaching, and more. St. Petersburg College alone created 25 bachelor’s programs. Thousands of students flocked to them, paying a fraction of what they would pay for an equivalent degree at the University of Florida. By 2014 nearly 6,000 students a year were earning their bachelor’s degrees from a community college. Despite their popularity, many people feared that the 28 taxpayer-financed community colleges were unnecessarily duplicating programs at the state’s 12 four-year public universities—and then awarding them substandard degrees. As a result, Florida’s legislature put a one-year moratorium on new programs, and then officials slowed down the creation of new ones after 2015.
Online courses are associated with higher retention and graduation rates, increased access and cost savings of as much as 50 percent, according to a new study from Arizona State University.
The research is built on case studies from a half-dozen institutions "with a strong track record of using digital learning to improve student outcomes," according to information released by ASU. In addition to ASU, the other schools examined for the study include Georgia State University, Houston Community College, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Rio Salado Community College and University of Central Florida.
Key findings of the report include:
Among four institutions in the study that offered face-to-face and online courses, three reported higher retention and graduation rates for students who took at least come online courses;
At Houston Community College (HCC), for example, retention for first-time freshman was 9 to 10 percentage points higher among students who took an online or blended course;
HCC students who took at least some digital courses were 17 percentage points more likely to graduate than those who only took face-to-face courses;
At the University of Central Florida (UCF), students who took 41 to 60 percent of their courses online finished earlier, in 3.9 years, on average, than students who took no course online, with an average of 4.3 years needed to graduate;
Student performance as measured by grades was mixed, ranging from 3 percentage points more likely to end with an A, B or C among those took online or blended courses to 12 percentage points lower;
Students at two-year institutions, unlike four-year schools, were more likely to earn lower grades for online or blended courses, though retention and graduation rates were still often higher for those students;
At the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTC), for example, students who took at least some online courses were 18 percentage points more likely to persist and 21 points more likely to graduate, though their grades were 8 to 9 points lower, on average, than their peers who took only in-person courses;
Adaptive courseware correlated with smaller achievement gaps for minority students and those who qualified for Pell Grants, with only 8 percent of minority students earning a D, F or withdrawing from all sections of an adaptive introductory writing course at Georgia State University (GSU), compared to 19 percent of minority students in the same course but without adaptive courseware;
Among those eligible for Pell Grants the numbers were similarly skewed, at 7 percent and 21 percent, respectively;
Among the five institutions studied that offered both online only and face-to-face courses, the share of students receiving Pell Grants was at least 5 percentage points higher among those who were fully online than those whose courses were fully in-person; and
Online undergraduate students were, on average, six to eight years older than their on-campus peers.
A year ago, I was thrilled when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an $8 million investment in open educational resources — freely available, high-quality materials that can be downloaded, edited, and shared. As an open education librarian at the City University of New York, I had been working to help faculty integrate OER into their courses to better support their students, and I knew that Cuomo’s investment would help us reach a tipping point in enabling more students and faculty to benefit from these resources.
I was immediately excited that CUNY’s 500,000 students — many of whom can’t afford to spend an average of $1,250 per year on expensive textbooks and other supplies — would be saving money. So my colleagues and I spent the past year working together to bring OER to scale throughout our public higher education institutions. And we’re thrilled by our expectation that by next fall, CUNY students will have saved $8.1 million thanks to OER.
But the impacts at CUNY have gone far beyond economics: These open resources are revolutionizing teaching and learning at our institution. Here are four powerful effects that aren’t just about cost savings.
Incorporating sustainability practices into campus operations can go a long way in signaling to the industry, as well as prospective students concerned about the trajectory of climate change, that the institution is committed to bettering the overall community. When he was presented with a challenge to renovate existing buildings on campus, Goucher College President José Bowen explained that sustainability was at the forefront of his mind, not only to save costs, but to send a message to his students that the school is forward-thinking and committed to building an overall worthwhile positive living environment:
"Students are looking at a lot of things — the curriculum, the dining hall. But where you're going to live is still on the top list of things that matter to students, the quality of the community you're going to build is important to them," said Bowen. And Gregory adds to this sentiment, noting "green programs can engage students, inspire alumni, reduce human exposure to chemical, biological and particle hazards, and deepen your community’s engagement in a healthy, sustainable campus."