Indiana has become the first state to join a national initiative aimed at making it easier for distance education programs to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals when they enroll students across state lines.
Indiana’s application was approved by the Midwestern Higher Education Compact, one of the four regional higher education interstate compacts that are implementing the state reciprocity initiative, called the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. In order to join, a state has to meet certain minimum standards in how it authorizes programs and provides consumer protections for students. The goal is to streamline the state authorization process for distance providers who face a variety of different state regulations when they want to offer online courses outside the state in which they are headquartered. Marshall A. Hill, NC-SARA's executive director, last year set a goal of 20 member states by the end of 2014.
Beyond the patchwork of state laws governing distance education, the U.S. Education Department is also in the process of rewriting a regulation that would require online programs that want to participate in federal student aid programs to obtain permission from regulators in each and every state in which they enroll students. A previous version of that rule, known as the “state authorization” requirement, was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2012.
Department officials indicated last week, in kicking of the negotiated rulemaking process for the new rule, that they are interested in considering how state reciprocity agreements should be factored into the federal government’s state authorization requirements.
2U, one of a growing cadre of companies that help colleges take their academic programs online, announced Friday that it had taken steps toward an initial public offering of its stock. 2U has sought to differentiate itself from the other players in this market by focusing on high-prestige universities. Documents filed by the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission provide some insights into the shape and scope of the market of online service providers; Phil Hill of e-Literate offers an analysis here.
The University of the People, an unusual online institution in which students pay no tuition and faculty members volunteer, has been accredited, The New York Times reported. Officials at the university have predicted that accreditation could lead to rapid growth. The university was accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council.
The university's founder described his goals in a podcast interview with Inside Higher Ed in 2009.
An electronic textbook pilot has, once again, reported lukewarm interest among college students -- this time at the University of Iowa. Sponsored by Educause and Internet2, the fall 2012 pilot involved about 600 students across 17 different courses, comparing results of students using e-textbooks from McGraw-Hill Education and Courseload to students in similar courses who used print books. Most students preferred the print books, calling them "easier to access and more useful for learning," and few students used the e-textbooks' bookmarking and note taking features.
Additionally, there was "no significant difference" between the grades earned by students using e-textbooks and those using print books. Sam Van Horne, an assessment coordinator in the Information Technology Services offices, said he and the other researchers were surprised by the lack of interest in the interactive features of e-textbooks. "One conclusion of the assessment researchers was that instructional designers can scaffold the adoption of e-textbooks and their interactive tools by helping students and instructors both use the technology but also understand how the use of tools can benefit learning," Van Horne said in an email. "The assessment researchers are hoping to design and test such interventions with other users of e-textbooks."
In 2013, Iowa expanded the pilot to include products from Bioportal, Mindtap and CourseSmart. The researchers said they are in the process of analyzing preliminary data.
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.