Amid great anticipation, Apple last week rolled out its latest products. All the fanfare and breathless media coverage serves to underscore the excitement innovative technologies generate across our society. This is especially true for higher education. Few other industries integrate technology so thoroughly into their work.
That is why higher education leaders are so concerned about legislation that would take decision-making about the use of technology to support learning out of the hands of campuses and turn it over to an obscure federal agency.
The TEACH (Technology, Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education) Act comes from the best of intentions. Its sponsors hope to improve how campuses meet the needs of students with disabilities, and to help give guidance to institutions struggling to reconcile their responsibilities to those students with the relentless pace of technological innovation. These are goals campuses strongly support.
As is so often the case in Washington, though, the devil is in the details. Our organizations, along with 19 other higher education groups representing nearly every American college and university, have serious concerns about what the TEACH Act would mean for higher education’s ability to use technology to advance learning.
In short, the legislation would actually prevent us from using new technology to better serve our students, including students with disabilities.
We shared these concerns with the advocacy group that favors this legislation, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), over a year and a half ago. Some supporters of the bill have wrongly implied that our opposition stems from something other than a desire for the best policy outcome for all students, including those with disabilities. This is not true. Nor do such assertions help students, or advance good policy.
Let us be very clear: we believe the federal government can play a valuable role in improving accessibility without inhibiting the use of technology to improve learning for all students. But that is not what the TEACH Act would do.
Rather than simply providing helpful, voluntary guidelines, the TEACH Act would effectively require colleges to only use technologies that meet guidelines created by a federal agency, or risk being sued.
This agency (the Access Board) has never directly addressed higher education technology issues before, and how it would tackle the incredible diversity of digital instructional materials and related technologies that campuses employ (everything from e-text books to dynamic weather simulators) is far from clear.
The key problem with this approach is that while technological innovations are being made every day, federal agencies do not move nearly that fast. The TEACH Act would require the federal guidelines to be updated every three years — a very long time in the technology world — and that’s the best-case scenario.
The reality is that the Access Board’s pace is far slower. The agency’s current technology guidelines for the federal government were last promulgated in 2000; it has been in the process of trying to “refresh” those guidelines for close to a decade.
What’s more, the TEACH Act would deny colleges and universities the flexibility provided in current law to meet students’ needs when full technological solutions are not yet available.
The bill would apply a new, extremely rigid standard for accessibility exclusively to colleges and universities that is distinct from the standard the nation as a whole, including the federal government, has long followed. Such an inflexible approach would limit, not enhance, our ability to serve persons with disabilities.
With this in mind, could the process proposed in the TEACH Act even work? Or, as is more likely, would colleges and universities find themselves restricted to using technology that is years (or decades) behind the times, with no flexibility to adapt and better serve their students, including those with disabilities?
The bottom line: the bill as currently drafted would unambiguously inhibit the development and adoption of new learning technologies that would directly benefit students.
Colleges and universities lead the way in designing and developing accessible technologies, filling a vital gap where the private sector — including many publishers of textbooks and learning materials — has been largely unresponsive.
It is hard to imagine the impact on learning if colleges and universities are forced to wait years for the federal government to catch up with technology.
We take our responsibilities to our students seriously, and part of that commitment is keeping pace with technology. Doing so can pose challenges for campuses trying to balance the possible benefits of emerging technologies with our responsibilities to our students.
But freezing the development and implementation of new learning technologies, as the TEACH Act would do, has serious consequences. Rather than helping students with disabilities, putting such a policy into law would ensure that all students are left behind as technology advances. We remain committed to finding an approach that will truly improve learning for everyone, and we hope others will join us.
Terry W. Hartle is senior vice president of government and public affairs of the American Council on Education. Jarret S. Cummings is director of policy and external relations of EDUCAUSE.
Submitted by Jake New on September 15, 2014 - 3:00am
Four female students at the University of Florida have been assaulted on campus since August 30, all by who officials believe to be the same man. The four victims describe the suspect as a large, white man in his twenties, dressed in university-themed clothing, the Miami Herald reports. The women, sometimes with the help of bystanders, were all able to fight off the suspect's attempts at raping them, officials said, but Gainesville and university police are still searching for the man. "We’re coming after you," Linda Stump, the university's police chief, warned the suspect in a press conference Monday.
Some are questioning the plan put forward by the University of Oregon board chair for the search for the next president, The Register-Guard reported. The board chair has put forward a plan in which he will conduct the search with an "assist" committee. The board chair alone will be allowed to rank and eliminate finalists before presentation to the full board.
Cornell University and the City of Ithaca have settled a lawsuit filed by the father of a freshman who killed himself in 2010, The Ithaca Journal reported. The father's suit charged that Cornell and Ithaca failed to take adequate steps in the design of a bridge from which the student jumped to his death. (Numerous changes to bridges around Cornell's campus have been made since then.) Under the settlement, Ithaca will pay $100,000 and Cornell will establish a permanent scholarship in the student's name. Ithaca objected to the settlement and said it was being forced into it by its insurance provider.
Debra Bean, associate provost at National University, in California, has been promoted to provost there.
Michelle Behr, acting dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado, has been chosen as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Birmingham-Southern College, in Alabama.
Scott Dalrymple, the new president of Columbia College in Missouri, is marking his forthcoming inaugural in an unusual way. He is organizing a student match on the popular sports video game Madden NFL. Then he will play the winner, and if the student wins, Dalrymple will pay for all of his or her textbooks for a year. Dalrymple issued his challenge in the video below, which moves quickly from "Pomp and Circumstance" to trash-talking about teams that the president (a Buffalo Bills fan) does not favor.
Submitted by Ry Rivard on September 11, 2014 - 1:59am
Faculty at Florida State University are continuing a months-long struggle against a well-connected politician who may become the university's next president.
Faculty have long said John Thrasher, a state senator and former speaker of the House who is also chairman of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s reelection campaign, has benefited from his connections and back-room dealings. Now, Thrasher, whose name has been in the mix all summer, is one of four finalists. The Faculty Senate approved a motion Wednesday that called upon the Board of Trustees "not to hire Senator Thrasher as the next president of FSU. Senator Thrasher lacks the stated qualifications required for the position, whereas the other three finalists meet those qualifications."
Thrasher has a law degree, the other three finalists have Ph.Ds. They are: Richard Marchase, a vice president at Alabama at Birmingham; Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University System; and Michele Wheatly, the former provost of West Virginia University.