Daytona State reins in its push toward e-textbooks

Daytona State reins in a plan to push students and faculty toward electronic textbooks.

Students trust libraries for more than borrowing books, report says

A new report analyzing what students need the most found they often chose the library as a top destination for services.


Georgia State and publishers continue legal battle over fair use of course materials

Appeals court ruling continues decade-long legal battle between Georgia State University and three publishers over what constitutes "fair use" of course materials. Does anyone still care about the outcome?


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'U.S. News' rankings provide a profoundly limited view of alumni relations (opinion)

As the 2019 U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges Rankings Survey have been unveiled, it is time to take a hard look at the dated measure of alumni engagement applied therein. The alumni giving metric used by the rankings is deeply flawed, and it can encourage a profoundly limited view of the positive impact of alumni relations. It is a blunt tool that distracts from core, mission-driven work.

As the organization of record for the data that U.S. News uses to calculate alumni giving rates, and the one that has a mission to inspire and equip the advancement of professionals who champion the success of their institutions, it is time for us to set the record straight. The alumni giving rate is a simplistic and inadequate measure to assess alumni engagement.

U.S. News interprets the data from CASE's recently acquired Voluntary Support of Education survey without context, arriving at an alumni giving rate that is somewhere between meaningless and harmful. It does so, as outlined on the U.S. News website, by taking a two-year average of the number of alumni donors and dividing that by the number of degree-holding undergraduate alumni for whom an institution has a good address. That can lead to a detrimental fixation on numbers for the sake of numbers, where the denominator -- contactable alumni, known as a result of successful alumni engagement programs -- continually increases, while the numerator -- alumni donors -- grows more slowly. Such a formulation does not measure the full breadth of support from alumni and instead results in a metric that distorts the true engagement of alumni in the life of the institution.

The VSE gathers those data as well as other data points, such as solicitation effectiveness and the size of the average gift, to arrive at a more complete picture of that one aspect of alumni engagement -- specifically, giving.

Consider the denominator: contactable alumni. This is a number that grows every year as the institution does what it's supposed to do: provide students an educational experience that results in their graduation. Moreover, strong engagement programs and contemporary technologies and communications techniques make it easier to find addresses and other contact information, again increasing the base upon which giving is measured. Yet when an institution does a good job of engaging alumni and maintaining communication with them, so-called alumni giving may well decline because the institution has invested in developing and maintaining better records while strengthening relationships for more than immediate pecuniary reasons. So precisely when the institution may be engaging alumni in more-productive relationships year after year, its giving rate will suffer.

Next, let's look at the numerator. Alumni giving to institutions takes on many forms that are not captured in the U.S. News calculations. Many alumni give to their institutions through donor-advised funds, foundations and other organizations. Alternative forms of giving -- including GoFundMe or other social media efforts and organized giving days, as well as state and federal charitable-sector giving drives -- provide alumni with additional methods of supporting their alma mater that are not represented in alumni participation rates. New forms of giving outside the charitable sector -- such as the rise of philanthropy LLCs and other vehicles -- also add an entirely new dimension to the conversation.

CASE, through the work of a volunteer Alumni Metrics Task Force, recently produced an Alumni Engagement Metrics white paper that illustrates four key measures to assess alumni involvement: volunteer engagement, experiential engagement, communication engagement and philanthropic engagement.

  • Volunteer engagement includes participation in formally defined volunteer roles that are endorsed and valued by the institution and support its mission and strategic goals. Such activities would include governing or advisory board membership, career mentoring and advising, public advocacy, classroom guest speaking, and project review.
  • Experiential engagement includes experiences that inspire alumni and are valued by the institution -- promoting its mission, celebrating its achievements and strengthening its reputation. Such activities include participation in alumni activities and attendance at cultural and sporting events, as well as young alumni involvement in enrollment advocacy programs. They also encompass new and emerging opportunities that take advantage of evolving technologies.
  • Communication engagement, particularly in an era defined by digital and social connectivity, offers an entirely new realm for alumni to engage in interactive, meaningful and informative dialogue with the institution. From likes to follows to retweets, as well as more traditional means such as writing letters to the alumni magazine and adding personal news to class notes, communication participation can and should be recognized as a core engagement activity.
  • All of these join the more traditional metric of philanthropic engagement, which includes diverse opportunities for alumni to make philanthropic investments that are meaningful to the donor and support the institution's strategic direction. This engagement comes in many forms, making measurement complex.

CASE is now in the beta phase of testing the recommendations of the Alumni Metrics Task Force, exploring how best to establish reliable metrics in each of these categories -- all areas central to CASE's work and vital to our members. The information we glean from the VSE Survey, along with similar research CASE undertakes around the world, will enable us to generate knowledge, consider how and what we measure, and deliver actionable insights to professionals engaged in advancement.

As the U.S. News rankings come out, higher education leaders and the public must understand that alumni engagement is about so much more than an elementary numerator/denominator calculation. Let us not get distracted by who is up or who is down and who moved from tier to tier. Let us focus instead on the crucial difference that higher education institutions make every day in the lives of students, communities and society through life-changing research, as well as transformative experiences that enable those who have attended these institutions to experience fruitful, meaningful engagement in their professional, personal and civic lives.

Alumni giving as defined and promoted by U.S. News is an obsolete and irrelevant metric. If their rankings show that your institution's alumni giving is declining, that doesn't mean your alumni are not engaged and do not value their alma mater, or that your institution is failing. VSE research shows that charitable gifts from alumni have increased by nearly 1,700 percent over four decades, from $.64 billion in 1977 to $11.37 billion in 2017. Alumni giving as currently defined is not a proxy for student satisfaction and post-graduate engagement.

Education teaches us that good models are continuously tested, re-evaluated and revised. When it comes to alumni participation, that is what CASE is doing through the work of its Alumni Metrics Task Force. It is time for U.S. News to do the same.

Sue Cunningham (@CunninghamCASE) is president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

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Sound Education

Fri, 11/02/2018 to Sat, 11/03/2018


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University presses consider whether to cancel book contracts of harassers

Scholarly publishing organization is considering the issue, amid calls to do more about those who mistreat students and colleagues but appear to go unpunished. Some contracts have been canceled.


Machine-learning scientists vow to boycott new journal

Researchers in machine learning, a field in which journals are generally open, vow not to read, submit or review for Nature Machine Intelligence, which will charge subscription fees.


Cons and Scams: Their Place in American Culture

Mon, 04/23/2018 to Tue, 04/24/2018


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Openly licensed educational content and the decline of the author (essay)

The death of the author has been a recurring theme in literary theory and philosophy at least since Roland Barthes’s seminal essay on the topic in the 1960s. The model for the critique of authorial control was the lone actor, the single producer unaware of the forces (assumptions, prejudices, historical accidents, etc.) that shape the production and reception of his or her work. It has remained largely a theoretical point: regardless of authority, authors of course continue to produce works under their names and, protected by commercial copyrights that began in the 16th century, enjoy royalties and professional recognition for their work.

The displacement of the author’s authority, however, is no longer solely a matter for theorists: it is now occurring concretely and practically through the flourishing of crowdsourced, collaborative productions of content. While there have long been instances of it commercially (consider, for example, white papers whose only authorial attribution is the corporate name), there is no greater expression of this development than openly licensed educational content.

Unlike scholarship or research publications, educational content is meant to be decidedly unoriginal: it is a survey of the state of a field, intended to introduce students to generally accepted principles, ideas and research findings. The extent to which information is original, and therefore not generally accepted in the field, renders it susceptible to excision in a survey course. Learning materials, then, are reflections of a community of practice, captured at a moment in the history of a discipline. As such, producing them is inherently a social, community-based exercise.

Viewed in this way, the commercially copyrighted model of educational content production can look like an historical anomaly. The collective effort at constituting a body of knowledge appears printed and bound or digitally distributed with a nameplate, and often a “brand” name (sometimes even representing people who are no longer living), obscuring the social character of the work.

To be sure, this is not to leave unacknowledged the considerable effort writers of educational content put into their work, spending years organizing and synthesizing these surveys into forms that meet faculty learning objectives. Such work, of course, deserves to be recognized professionally and financially. Doing so, however, is quite a different matter than regarding the survey itself as an original contribution of a single author or group of authors. The concepts, for example, of anomie and of ideal types are central for an introduction to sociology, but these emerged from the works of, respectively, Durkheim and Weber, not the textbook author.

Rarely are the concepts described in an educational text the author’s own. Like a gardener, the textbook author cultivates and shapes those elements that already exist and that are well established -- elements that many faculty adopters often would prefer to see adjusted, moved or rearticulated.

This assembler and synthesizer role requires recognition professionally and financially -- it’s the chief motivation for most writers to prefer traditional publishing -- but the maturing models of openness achieve this, too, without the encumbrances of the commercial copyright, through delivery platform revenue sharing, foundation support and other channels (and it’s only just getting started). What’s more, open models mean that far more faculty can be recognized professionally and financially as authors, editors and revisers of educational materials. Rather than a pyramid in which only those at the top enjoy the benefits of such recognition, open models can distribute resources across a wide range of participants, the value of which is dependent less on the author’s “brand” than on what the individual contributors achieve. They have the capacity, then, to unleash levels of creativity and innovation that would be unthinkable in the closed commercial world.

Within the publishing houses themselves, the notion of educational materials as the work of a single author or group is also becoming less tenable, as textbooks yield to digital courseware that merges textual content and interactive technologies and give faculty adopters some control over how the learning objects are delivered to their students. Commercial courseware is produced in the corporate world, then, much like a white paper is: with the authorial control of an organization rather than of an individual.

If, however, the underlying content is meant to be a representation of the state of a field, is it not best produced and shared by that community in a way that is as unfettered and collaborative as possible, recognizing that faculty in the field also wish to have a say on how that content is articulated and conveyed? And is the daunting task of producing a textbook or similar work more daunting because, as a commercially closed process, it has little recourse to the community of educators as participants?

What’s exciting about the emerging model for openly licensed educational content is its appeal to pedagogical inclusivity, that it aligns more effectively than commercially produced materials with the way disciplinary knowledge is shared in the academy. Open models of collaboration map digitally to the way faculty and students discuss the subjects, in faculty training and in the classroom.

In the sharing of educational knowledge, the decline of the author bodes well for learning. The prejudices, influences and assumptions that a single author carries into their work can now be evaluated, tested and challenged through an open process that was unthinkable in Barthes’s world of the solitary writer. Thanks to open models, the binary opposition of author and reader is breaking down. Faculty and students are no longer passive recipients of someone else’s synthesis -- the commodity with which one is presented -- but participants in it as a living work.

Openness, then, is about the renewal of educational engagement for faculty and students. Coming at a time when few assumptions about the academy can go unchallenged, it is a powerful and radical way to reimagine the relationships of teacher, student and text.

Brian Jacobs is founder and chief executive officer of panOpen.

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