Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 3:00am

Blackboard will soon offer a version of its learning management system, Learn, in the public cloud, the company announced on Wednesday during its annual conference in Las Vegas. During his morning keynote, CEO Jay Bhatt also previewed a redesigned user interface. The company is also packaging its products together, giving institutions access to products that Blackboard services that are often used together.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 3:00am

Not even six weeks after M.B.A. programs were found to be safe from the threat of massive open online courses, a new report from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has bad news for business schools. MOOCs, or more specifically the video snippets they often use in place of lectures, "[have] the potential to destroy full-time M.B.A. programs as we know them today," write Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich, professors at the university. The authors have some good news for business schools, though: "However, if used differently, the same technology can be used to strengthen today’s business schools by boosting student learning and leveraging faculty and other expensive assets."

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 3:00am

This week Pearson introduced a new learning model for competency-based education. The company's seven-step "platform" seeks to help colleges prepare, build and sustain successful competency-based programs. It includes advice on market analysis, curriculum design and using data to evaluate student performance.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 3:00am

The American Council on Education on Wednesday released two reports from its Presidential Innovation Lab. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded lab asks more than a dozen chief executives to think about how technological, pedagogical, organizational and structural innovations can close the student achievement gap.

The first paper, called "Unbundling Versus Designing Faculty Roles," traces the evolving role of the faculty, from mainly tutors in the 18 and 19th centuries, to the increasingly professionalized faculty of the early and mid-20th century, to contemporary professors, for whom teaching, research, service and others duties increasingly are “unbundled” or disaggregated. The paper argues that this unbundling is particularly acute in large introductory courses, where instructors mainly teach rather than design courses, and in massive, open, online courses, or MOOCs. At the same time, the paper says, unbundling is occurring in myriad ways, and “there is no single model.”

A common concern related to such unbundling, the paper says, is the potential for the decline of the “complete scholar,” whose research, teaching and service combine to positively impact students. But, the paper notes, community college teachers understandably may focus more on teaching than research. The paper also says that technology can help integrate teaching and research by making teaching more inquiry-driven, and by making teaching a kind of research process through student data analytics. The paper concludes that unbundling of professor duties is not necessarily bad for students, but that it requires further study. Colleges and universities may do well to study unbundling within their institutions and more intentionally assign faculty roles based on their evolving duties, as some institutions have done. But those conversations also should happen at the national level, the paper says.

The second paper, called "Beyond the Inflection Point: Reimagining Business Models for Higher Education," raises a broad range of questions about possible changes to higher education’s various business models. For example, the 10-page primer mentions the role of online education in potentially depressing tuition prices across the academy. It also looks at how competency-based education and prior-learning assessment could increase the acceptance of alternative credentialing in higher education. The context for these changes includes more scrutiny of costs in higher education and of the use of cross-subsidization among programs. While the paper doesn't provide firm answers to these challenges, it makes several suggestions, including a call for more collaboration between colleges and for institutions to consider outsourcing the teaching of introductory courses.

Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, John Finley, professor at Louisiana State University’s College of Agriculture, plugs the power of cocoa. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 3:00am

More than 500 adjunct professors and their advocates have signed a petition calling for the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate their working conditions. The petition's authors, all current or former adjuncts at various colleges and universities, allege that they are being paid for only part of the work they do, and that that amounts to wage theft. The petition is addressed to David Weil, director of the agency's Wage and Hour Division, and urges him to "open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty, including adjunct instructors and full-time contract faculty outside the tenure track." The investigation should be conducted at the "sector" level, they say, rather than individually.

The petition says that average yearly income for adjunct professors "hovers in the same range as minimum-wage fast food and retail workers," since adjuncts typically are paid only for the time they spend teaching -- not the time they spend preparing or meeting individually with students. Ann Kottner, an adjunct professor of English at three New York City-area colleges, says in a photo posted with the petition that she works 66 hours per week but is compensated for only 26 hours, for example. Kottner and her co-authors say faculty unions have helped alleviate the problem in some cases, but that more needs to be done to protect the rights of adjuncts who can't or won't form unions. Many adjuncts lack basic job security and fear getting "blacklisted" for speaking out or organizing, they say.

The Labor Department did not return a call for comment on the petition.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 3:00am

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday reversed a Republican proposal to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities by more than 5 percent in the coming fiscal year. The full committee approved an amendment to the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, which sets the NEH budget, to fund the federal humanities agency at the same level as the current year.

Lawmakers on the subcommittee overseeing the NEH budget last week had approved legislation that would have reduced it by $8 million in the federal fiscal year that begins October 1. That would have been a reduction from its current $146 million.

The committee adopted the entire funding measure on a 29-19 vote amid a fight over Environmental Protection Agency climate regulations. The bill now heads to the full House. The U.S. Senate has not yet taken up a version of the spending bill.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 3:00am

The nonprofit institute that manages the well-known Semester at Sea study abroad program has signed a “standstill agreement” with a German bank to prevent action by its creditors after it missed payments on an $83.5 million loan for its cruise ship, the Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Va., reported. The May 2 agreement required the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE) to pay $400,000 at signing and $100,000 every subsequent month as the institute attempts to sell its cruise ship, the MV Explorer.

The standstill agreement came one month prior to a “mutual" decision on the part of the ISE and its university partner, the University of Virginia, to end Virginia’s academic sponsorship of Semester at Sea programs as of May 2016. A June amendment to the contract between ISE and U.Va., obtained by Inside Higher Ed via an open records request, outlines several other conditions under which the academic sponsorship could be terminated before the agreed-upon 2016 date, including if the institute violates any terms of the standstill agreement or if for any consecutive three-month period the difference between its cash balance and its accounts payable is either negative or 15 percent lower than projected figures. The document requires ISE to consult with Virginia officials no later than 45 days prior to the start of each of its scheduled Semester at Sea voyages to ascertain whether it has sufficient resources to complete the program as planned. 

Lauren Judge, a spokeswoman for ISE, said in an email to Inside Higher Ed that the institute “is not in a precarious financial situation and is current on all financial obligations. ISE has ended its fiscal year (May 31, 2014) with positive operating results, improving the financial condition reflected in ISE’s balance sheet over that of the previous year.”

“The primary purpose of the standstill agreement between ISE and its creditors is to provide an orderly process for the sale of the MV Explorer, as ISE is returning to its original business model of two voyages per year,” she said. “Under this model, ISE no longer requires the use of a ship year-round. In returning to a leasing model for another ship, ISE will be relieved of the financial risks and burdens of ship ownership. The standstill agreement states that ISE is no longer responsible as a guarantor for ship debt and payment. Additionally, upon the sale of the MV Explorer (or at the latest May 15, 2015 if a sale has not been completed by that date), all financial obligations will be removed from ISE’s consolidated balance sheet.”

According to an article on its website, ISE purchased the MV Explorer in 2008 after leasing a ship for the 40 years before that. The article cites escalating fuel costs and the impact of the economic crisis on enrollments as some reasons for selling the ship.
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 3:00am

Academe may be less prepared than the finance, health care and manufacturing sectors to tackle cybersecurity breaches, according to a report from the network security provider ForeScout Technologies, Inc. After interviewing more than 1,600 IT staffers at organizations in the U.S. and abroad, researchers at IDG Connect found higher education lagged behind the other sectors on forming policies and mitigating risk. IT staffers in higher education were also the least confident that mobile device security and network monitoring tools would be improved.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 - 3:00am

Citing procedural reasons, a federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a lower court to grant a new trial to a Teresa R. Wagner, who has waged a multiyear legal campaign to show that the University of Iowa discriminated against her because of her conservative political views. A jury in 2012 rejected one of Wagner's claims and deadlocked over another, and last year a federal court refused to give her a new trial.

But in its ruling Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit embraced Wagner's assertion that the lower court judge, in refusing to grant Wagner's request for a new trial, had failed to recognize that the magistrate judge in her 2012 trial lacked the authority to accept the split verdict against Wagner after he had earlier declared a mistrial.

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