Submitted by Paul Fain on February 14, 2014 - 3:00am
Pearson, the education-technology company, this week announced that it has created a new digital badging system, dubbed Acclaim. The open platform, which the company rolled out this week at a Silicon Valley event on badging, allows learners to display their skills, knowledge and achievements on the Web. The Mozilla Foundation and Blackboard have also worked on digital badging, having collaborated on a separate platform.
Whether we call it protesting, mudslinging, or “digital hate,” as Chancellor Phyllis Wise did in her blog post addressing University of Illinois’ Twitter incident, there is nothing new about very public, incendiary criticism occurring online — or in person. Racist and derogatory slurs and innuendos happen every day, in our college and university student centers, in our residence halls, out on the field at games. And numerous colleges and universities have felt the wrath of social media outrage in response to a decision, changes in leadership, and other developments.
As those of us in higher education know all too well, we lack the time, staff and resources to police our students on the Internet through disciplinary action. It’s simply not feasible or reasonable, nor is it conducive to free speech.
Our colleges and universities need to take a proactive stance and realize that digital identity development – something that thought leaders such as Eric Stoller have highlighted as part of the conversation defining student affairs and higher education – can and should be a part of our institutional curriculums. This is more than just a major in social media that focuses on marketing skills, or the occasional guest speaker at a student event. This goes beyond our coaches handing out guidelines to athletes.
This is student affairs and academic leadership making a commitment to offer educational outreach and resources to students campus-wide, ideally through first-year courses, so that all freshmen benefit. Colleges are increasingly offering classes that cover important topics like financial literacy, as part of their orientation classes for incoming students. What if more colleges and universities devoted some orientation class time to digital identity topics such as personal branding, where students were required to critically examine case studies of individuals (companies, politicians, actors, etc.) who suffered the consequences of doing something awful online? Such an exercise would surely help them realize their mistakes live on in infamy online. Knowing how to unplug and be present and in the moment is another area where first-year students would benefit from receiving ideas and resources to discuss and develop with one another. Basic digital literacy skills, such as knowing the professional benefits of writing emails so that they don’t come across as casual, flippant texts to friends, would be worth sharing in a first-year course experience for all incoming students.
Career services also has a part to play in providing regular, ongoing guidance and resources so students can market their ideas, potential and leadership online, not just their senior years, but right from the beginning, as part of their experiences in pursuing internships, degrees and ultimately, jobs. If you talk to your average college students, surprisingly, some of them think LinkedIn is something that their parents use, not something they should be tapping into to network and explore jobs and internship options. If career services counselors started working with them early on to develop LinkedIn profiles, imagine how much easier it might be for students to research great internships and connect with potential employers, alumni and mentors throughout their time in college.
The pressure is on for higher education to get with the program and be more relevant to what students need to become gainfully employed after college. How far into the future will these hateful tweets haunt University of Illinois students once they start looking for jobs? My guess is forever. How will these students, many of whom have grown up in a highly digitized world where communication is immediate and readily shared through numerous technologies, realize their potential as online ambassadors without some sort of educational outreach?
The other glaring part of the weird, uncertain, ever-changing journey of social media is that these problems — which range from online gaffes and faux pas to blatant racism and sexism – are not just limited to our students. Our faculty and staff are struggling with digital engagement and how to share their thoughts and ideas online in ways that don’t damage their reputations and that of our colleges and universities. There are plenty of examples of educators being reprimanded or even fired because of poor behavior on social media. Perhaps that’s why higher education has been slow to address the need for digital identity development. Many of us employed at our institutions are grappling with the best way to use social media, at a time when technology is transforming our industry. We’ve yet to really tap into a universal, comprehensive way to address this issue at most of our colleges and universities. To bring things full circle and make digital identity development fully integrated into higher education, we need to provide more training for faculty and staff, so they have a better understanding of why digital identity matters. That’s got to be part of the mix.
As Chancellor Wise wrote, “we still have work to do” in response to the University of Illinois incident. And that work must go beyond one-time disciplinary actions to address something larger, something that is fundamentally lacking at most of our institutions: providing digital identity development educational outreach and support to our campus communities, across the board.
Becca Ramspott is a communications specialist at Frostburg State University.
Submitted by Paul Fain on February 5, 2014 - 3:00am
Educational Testing Service this week announced that it is offering digital badges that students can earn by taking two assessments the group released last year. Those tests -- the Proficiency Profile and iSkills assessments -- seek to measure what students learn in college. They are not designed to be used by employers, for now at least. But they might have job market potential at some point.
Now students can earn digital badges based on their performance on the two assessments. For example, badges are linked to all four skill areas the Proficiency Profile measures: mathematics, writing, reading and critical thinking. The badges can be added to a Mozilla "backpack" and shared with an "unlimited number of recipients in academia and beyond," ETS said in a news release.
A study published today in the journal mBio finds that an alternative version of an introductory laboratory course for undergraduates can significantly increase the odds that students will complete the course and take a second year of science. The alternative system -- in which students do actual science rather than replicating various experiments -- was designed with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Matt Reed’s recent column on experimental sites and competency-based education (CBE) offers just the kind of thoughtful analysis we’ve come to expect of his columns. He raises important questions about the role of faculty, the efficacy of approaches that include less instructional interaction, the viability of pay-for-performance aid models, and more. The answers to those questions today? We don’t know. And that’s why we need to support the Department of Education’s experimental sites proposal, to create safe places in which to explore the kind of thoughtful and constructive questions that Matt poses.
Last year saw the dizzying ascendency of the massive open online course, driven by some combination of their blue chip provenance, their creators’ triumphant claims, and the smitten embrace of popular media outlets (especially TheNew York Times).
To the satisfaction and relief of some, MOOCs have come back to earth. Still in search of a purpose (the job they are “hired to do,” to use a Clay Christensen phrase), a business model, and an ideal user scenario, MOOCs are entering a more useful and realistic phase of their development. A lot of smart, mission-driven people are working on MOOC 3.0 (everyone forgets about MOOC 1.0 that came before Coursera and edX put MOOCs on the map) and we’ll see if MOOCs are 21st-century content, a platform innovation, or a powerful new disruptive presence in the educational landscape.
Competency-based education is the hot new innovation, at least in its latest incarnation, largely untethered to the structure of courses and credits, the basic building blocks of curriculums and thus learning. In truth, CBE has been around for decades and pioneered by accredited nonprofits like Excelsior, Charter Oaks, and Western Governors University. They have been joined by a growing number of new providers including the University of Wisconsin System, Northern Arizona University, Brandman University, Capella University, Lipscomb University, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, and my own Southern New Hampshire University. Another 30 or more institutions are working on their own CBE offerings.
The Department of Education is exercising its authority to create experimental sites and has invited proposals for administering federal financial aid funds in new ways that support CBE models, and the White House is calling for more innovation and putting its weight behind CBE. The leading higher education associations – including EDUCAUSE, CAEL, AAC&U, and ACE – are joining in and announcing new initiatives, webinars, and meetings.
Accreditors are releasing new guidelines for CBE programs and the administration continues to pressure them by raising the possibility of new validation systems better suited to support innovative new delivery models. Think tanks and foundations have added their intellectual and financial backing to the effort. The hope, one I share, is that CBE can deliver on the holy triad of quality, cost (access), and completion.
This is a very different set of circumstances than those that have characterized the MOOC movement. CBE has an actual track record of success in its earlier iterations, is being embraced by powerful stakeholders, is being developed by institutions with deep understanding of the students they seek to serve, and is being tied into the established financial system of funding.
More importantly, CBE offers a fundamental change at the core of our higher education “system”: making learning non-negotiable and the claims for learning clear while making time variable. This is a profound change and stands to reverse the long slow erosion of quality in higher education. It is so fundamental a change that we hardly yet know all its implications for our world. For example:
If the claims we make for student learning really are non-negotiable, we will likely see a drop in completion rates, at least for some length of time;
We will have a lot of work to do around assessment, still difficult terrain in higher education;
The Department of Education, entrusted to protect billions of taxpayer dollars, will need reassurance that we have in place measures that guard against fraud;
If competencies are a new “currency” replacing credit hours, we will need to work out the “exchange rates” if we are to have a system that does not replicate the waste and inefficiencies of the current credit hour and transfer system.
Faculty roles are likely to be redefined, at least in some models, and a profession long in transition, and some would say under siege, will be further impacted;
Student information and learning management systems are not designed for these new models, yet form the administrative backbone that supports everything from registration to transcripts to billing to financial aid to... well, almost everything we do.
Accreditation standards, even new ones, will be tested and will have to evolve to reflect the lessons we learn over time.
In other words, if CBE is finally a movement, it is like many new movements still in search of the basics. It lacks a taxonomy, an agreed-upon nomenclature, the aforementioned exchange rate, a widely accepted form of documentation (what is the right form of CBE transcript?), the supporting systems, and experience with a wide variety of students.
This is why the Department of Education’s proposed experimental sites are so important. The key word here is experiment. Institutions need safe spaces in which to try new things, new rules by which to operate, the ability to rethink fundamental assumptions about how we deliver learning and support students, trying new models for costing and paying, and tolerance for mistakes. If we are not making mistakes, it isn’t really innovation that’s going on.
We need a range of approaches to see what works best for what students in what settings. In return, institutions engaged in the work have to do their part. That includes collecting and providing data with a level of transparency that our industry has historically resisted (higher education is a culture that innately resists accountability outside of student grades), putting aside underlying competitive impulses to share what we learn, and finding ways to support students and quickly address the mistakes we must inevitably make (remembering that we never “play” with student welfare).
Experimental sites are important for what they allow, but also for what they (should) fend off. We should beware a premature setting of standards or guidelines. We should beware a premature overturn of the credit hour, flawed as it is, before we have worked out its substitute (or more likely, complementary system). We should beware an opening of the gates like the one that attended online learning, when unscrupulous players entered the market and abused the system for enormous gains at enormous costs for students and the federal government.
In other words, we need just the kind of good questions that Matt Reed poses in his recent column. We need leading thinkers like CAEL and AAC&U to help us think through the big questions before us. We need EDUCAUSE to help us spec out new systems and technologies. And we need to try various models, collect data, and work through the significant questions still in front of us so we can better inform policy-making and the reauthorization discussion now getting under way.
Traditional higher education is not going away any time soon, but CBE has the potential to both provide new affordable, high-quality pathways to students and to challenge our incumbent delivery models to better identify the claims they make for learning and how they know. Those demands, whatever CBE turns out to be, are not going away either and CBE can function like the industry’s R&D lab. The proposed experimental sites align with that very useful role and deserve our collective support.
Paul LeBlanc is president of Southern New Hampshire University.
Landing a job right out of law school is a challenge many recent graduates experience. Despite the gradual decline in the overall employment rate for those students, 92 percent in 2007, and 85 percent in 2012, law students in their final year still said they are satisfied with the overall law school experience, according to a new survey. Even though the overall satisfaction has remained consistent, 55 percent of law school students are still unsatisfied with their institutions’ career counseling and job search help. The Law School Survey of Student Engagement, the study, received responses from more than 26,000 students at 86 different law schools.
The decline in dissatisfaction seems to occur shortly after the first year and it’s not just with career advising, but all advising services like academic, personal and financial aid.