Two more professors find themselves targets of physical threats and harassment

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Two more professors -- one at Trinity of Connecticut and one at Syracuse -- find themselves the target of physical threats and harassment.

Westminster Choir College Backers Sue Rider

Supporters of Westminster Choir College have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court arguing Rider University cannot legally sell the choir college’s campus in Princeton, N.J.

The filing marks an escalation in a battle that has been playing out for months between Rider and a group called the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton Inc. Facing budget deficits, Rider has explored moving Westminster and selling the college and its campus, which is located several miles away from Rider’s main location in Lawrenceville, N.J. That sparked resistance from faculty members, students and alumni who believe Rider is improperly trying to find a way to make money off a financially healthy Westminster in order to make up for its own financial deficiencies.

The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton has proposed spinning the choir college off from the university. But negotiations did not materialize, according to the coalition’s president, Constance Fee. As a result, the group is turning to legal action.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, says Rider has considered selling the Westminster campus to real estate developers. But it argues Rider does not have the right to sell the campus under a 1991 agreement. Westminster merged into Rider under the agreement, which calls for Rider to continue Westminster’s mission and ensure its separate identity, the lawsuit says.

The class action suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of former Westminster board members, current students, their parents, past students and donors. It alleges breach of contract and asks for a judgment that would allow Westminster to operate as a separate nonprofit higher education institution. Alternately, it asks the court to direct Rider to find another entity to operate Westminster on its Princeton campus. It also asks that Rider be barred from selling the Westminster campus to any group that will not keep the choir college in its current location.

Rider disagrees with assertions of the lawsuit and does not believe it serves the best interests of the choir college, said a university spokeswoman, Kristine Brown, in a statement. The university believes it has a strong defense and will prevail.

“As we’ve told the Westminster community, we firmly believe that the choir college’s legacy can best be achieved with an institution that is better positioned to make the necessary investments,” she said. “Working closely with the Board of Trustees and an outside firm, we’ve made significant progress on our search to find a new institution willing to acquire Westminster Choir College and continue its rich tradition.”

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Hickey College Will Shut Down

Hickey College, a small for-profit career institution located in St. Louis, will shut down due to low enrollment, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The college, founded in 1933, offers degrees and certificates in accounting, culinary arts and graphic design, among other programs. It enrolls 391 students, according to federal data. Hickey is overseen by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a national accreditor that the Obama administration decided to terminate last year.

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Update on Community College OER Project

Last year Achieving the Dream began a $9.8-million project to use open educational resources (OER) to create degree programs at 38 community colleges. A study on early returns, which was conducted by SRI International and the rpk GROUP, found that faculty members are changing their teaching in the OER courses and that students are at least as engaged in the courses as they are in conventional ones.

The project focuses on faculty members that have previous experience with OER or teaching online. While the study found that instructors were very positive about the advantages of OER, they said creating the courses takes up to twice as long. The study also found that 71 percent of participating instructors said they are likely to promote the use of open resources to their colleagues.

“OER gives all students a chance of being equally ready on day one of class and has the promise of cutting costs to students, especially when deployed in full degree pathways," Karen Stout, Achieving the Dream's president and CEO, said in a written statement. "Equally important, OER has the promise of improving student engagement with course materials and can re-energize faculty engagement in course design and spark more dynamic approaches to teaching.” 


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Essay: Looking back at predictions about MOOCs

After thinking that interest in and excitement about massive open online courses had faded to the background of the higher education landscape, I was surprised to see a recent flurry of news media coverage of MOOCs. Even more surprising, I found myself impressed -- the work seems markedly different from the wave of stories that flooded the popular and higher ed trade press in 2012, with less hype and longer evidence-based studies. For example, recent coverage included a report from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that analyzes characteristics and behaviors of their own MOOC students, and a study by Stanford University and MIT researchers that addresses the persistence of international students who have enrolled in MOOCs.

Having written and spoken about MOOCs many times in the past, this recent resurgence prompted me to look back to my own articles, research studies and blog posts from the MOOC heyday to see if some of my own claims and predictions have come to pass.

The term “MOOC” will go away. I am somewhat surprised the moniker has stuck around as long as it has, because what exists today is quite different than what we were discussing five years ago. In “A MOOC by Any Other Name? An Online Course,” I suggested that we would stop talking about MOOCs because they were another variation of an online course, with too much variety in the term’s application. I was not entirely accurate, since we’re still using the term -- however, I stand by my assertion that we’d do better to move away from it. There still is no one thing that exemplifies what, exactly, makes an online course a MOOC. Since there are even more permutations of MOOCs these days, I’d be curious how the academy and general public perceives and understands the name.

A viable business model will emerge. The original MOOCs lived up to the first O: open. They were entirely free for the massive numbers of students who enrolled -- over 100,000 students in some courses. The courses were largely self-paced and included minimal or no faculty interaction. Completion rates hovered below 10 percent and the courses provided no transferrable college credit from the institutions that sponsored them. Course content was provided by reputable U.S. universities through various partnership agreements with the three major MOOC platforms, Coursera, Udacity and edX, which were mostly funded by venture capital. Free courses equaled no discernible revenue stream.

This has changed. Free and open is no longer completely true. Emphasis on personal enrichment is no longer the value proposition.

The three original MOOC platforms still exist but have been joined by others like Open University’s FutureLearn. In addition, institutions host their own MOOCs on local learning management systems.

All of the major platforms now charge fees for certifying completion. The original three MOOC platforms appear to have found their niche by migrating to the nondegree professional development and contract-training sphere, taking advantage of the growth of alternative credentials (e.g., nondegree certificates and microcredentials) that are recognized by industries and employers. Many offer and charge for badges or other credentials that can be displayed on social media platforms like LinkedIn. For example, Udacity offers nanodegrees, edX offers MicroMasters and Coursera offers specializations. Some of these credentials also include university credit through university or alternative credit providers. Computer and data science, programming, and software development dominate the offerings. Students pay to earn these various credentials and certifications, and some platforms offer need-based financial support.

Reputation, not revenue drives investment. Early on I studied institutional leaders’ motivations for investing in MOOCs. Important motivators included increasing institutional and individual faculty reputation, expanding international reach, and exploring innovative and more effective ways to teach. Generating revenue was not a principal motivation.

This, too, has changed somewhat. While general reputational enhancement and the exploration of online teaching innovation no doubt result from an institution’s involvement in MOOCs, generating revenue (at least covering costs) and integrating MOOCs into degree-granting programs appear more common.

Georgia Tech continues to offer a low-cost, high-enrollment master’s degree in computer science on the Udacity platform with support from AT&T. Well over 3,000 students have enrolled in the program. The university has recently added a second high-enrollment, low-cost master’s in analytics on the edX platform.

Arizona State University offers the Global Freshman Academy on the edX platform, providing credit-bearing, self-paced lower-division courses to a domestic and global audience. ASU also offers individual self-paced and instructor-led credit-bearing courses with edX. Though the courses and programs are not free, the relatively low cost of these programs, combined with the robust online platform, seem to contribute to the access missions of these large public institutions.

MOOCs can be vehicles for continuous improvement in teaching and learning. Yes and no. The recent reports from Harvard, MIT and Stanford illustrate this. The Harvard/MIT report explored the background of students, time on task, paid certificate completion rates and the relationship between certification rates and the Human Development Index (World Bank composite index of a country’s life expectancy, education and income indicators). Researchers at Stanford and MIT focused on interventions to increase persistence and completion among international MOOC enrollees. These sophisticated studies increase our knowledge of MOOC student behaviors, but findings are not applicable to other academic settings.

Higher ed will be firmly entrenched in the MOOC 3.0 era. In a 2013 post, I applied the Gartner technology hype cycle to MOOCs and predicted, “we will enter a plateau of productivity and the various permutations of MOOCs will become part of the higher education mainstream.” I do believe we are in the plateau of productivity with MOOCs, but not within the higher education mainstream.

Both the MOOC platforms and universities emphasize using MOOCs and alternative credentials to support professional development for working professionals, mainly in technology fields where employers are willing to provide ample financial support. The exception would be institutions like ASU that focus on providing access to their regular undergraduate curriculum. But the push is overwhelmingly toward professional development markets.

Adoption of other technologies that support improved pedagogy, access and affordability -- such as open educational resources, learning analytics and personalized learning -- is growing, but not dependent on the development of or contribution from MOOCs.

MOOCs can play an important role in postsecondary attainment. In 2013, I optimistically wrote, “MOOCs and their derivatives, and the accelerated experimentation and wide-ranging conversations they have sparked, have played an important and energizing role in our quest to help more students along the path to postsecondary attainment.” I admit this was an overstatement, especially now that I am chancellor of an access-oriented institution.

With some exceptions noted previously, MOOCs are mainly a technology business, focused on providing a return on investment (even for nonprofits like edX) by targeting the large nondegree professional development and technology training market. Though the MOOC experiment over the past five years has resulted in many positives, this era also reminds us that when it comes to degree attainment, there really is no magic bullet. The hard, in-the-trenches work of helping the students of today get and remain focused, learn, and stick it out to degree completion remains the province of mainstream higher education -- MOOCs or no MOOCs.

Cathy Sandeen

Cathy Sandeen is chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin Extension. She previously served as vice president for education attainment and innovation at the American Council on Education.

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Professors: time to reconsider reliance on anti-plagiarism tool

Turnitin has received its share of complaints regarding its accuracy, although it remains the standard bearer for plagiarism detection. Likewise, some writing professors have long said they fear reliance on the service has led colleges to abandon efforts to teach students about academic integrity.

Colleges offer online summer courses for residential students

Colleges find their own residential students are good targets for distance learning this time of year, with education and financial payoffs.

CAEL tool measures support of adult students

The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has launched a tool that allows colleges and universities to measure their support of their adult students. Adult Learner 360 compares the institutions' effectiveness against adult students’ perceptions using two surveys: one that captures the importance and effectiveness of the institutions' activities, policies and practices, and one that measures the satisfaction of the adult learners.

CIC consortium offers way for small colleges to develop online courses

Liberal arts colleges see joint online courses as providing breadth of offerings that may be financially impossible with traditional instruction.


Selecting an online exam proctoring service

Kelvin Bentley provides the questions to ask for finding the right partner for your institution.


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