FutureLearn, the British provider of massive open online courses, is planning to create "badges" that can be earned for each section of its MOOCs, Times Higher Education reported. This will make it easier for those who enroll to show that they have learned something even if they do not complete the course. Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, which created FutureLearn, said that it was "sad" when journalists talk about those who don't finish MOOCs as "dropouts." He said that these badges might change that. "As a vice-chancellor I get very annoyed when I see people who don’t complete [courses] described in negative terms. We’re trying to design FutureLearn pedagogy around a 'mini-MOOC' model, shorter in duration and broken down into bite-sized pieces," he said.
Higher Education Quick Takes
The latest leaks from Edward Snowden, provided to The South China Morning Post, focus on U.S. National Security Agency hacking of backbone computer networks at China's Tsinghua University. A Post article said that documents provided by Snowden showed the hacking to be "intensive." On one day, 63 computers and networks were hacked by the NSA.
Today is another day that the U.S. Supreme Court might rule on a landmark decision on affirmative action in college and university admissions. The affirmative action case is by far the case in this Supreme Court term that was argued the longest ago (back in October) without a ruling yet issued. A hashtag based on the name of the plaintiff #waitingforfisher has turned up on Twitter. Numerous articles have cited various theories about what the delay could mean -- although the authors of those articles typically admit that they are guessing, since the Supreme Court doesn't leak.
One law blog -- Noncuratlex.com -- poked fun at all the impatience by publishing a fake news story in which Chief Justice John Roberts offered the real reason for the delays: "I want to put to rest all of the nutty conspiracy theories that have circulated around the Fisher case," the blog quoted Roberts as telling reporters. "Any speculation that the Court is struggling with drafting the opinion, or opinions, is pure nonsense. The truth behind the delay is far more mundane. As you may have guessed, we’re still waiting for the go-ahead from Madame Zena, the official Court Astrologer."
Ashford University has begun a voluntary buyout program for non-faculty employees, said a spokeswoman for Bridgepoint Education, which owns the for-profit institution. Enrollment has tumbled at the university, which is also grappling with uncertainty about its regional accreditation. To reduce class sizes, Ashford has hired more faculty members while eliminating all of its teaching assistant positions, according to the company. Next month the Western Association of Schools and Colleges is expected to publicly announce whether Ashford has succeeded in a revised accreditation bid. The university's current regional accreditor is the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Professors at Hebrew University are objecting to a plan to add some single-sex courses (in which female instructors would not be permitted to teach male students) as part of a plan to attract ultra-Orthodox Jewish students, Haaretz reported. Israel is currently in the midst of a national debate on how to better integrate ultra-Orthodox Jews into society, and how to encourage more of them to get a (secular) higher education and to pursue employment. Some universities are adding gender-segregated classes to make these students more comfortable and there is a plan for Hebrew University to do so. But administrators -- facing widespread faculty opposition last week -- held off on seeking a vote on the idea. Professors say that segregated classes would be illegal, would discriminate against women and violates academic norms.
McGraw-Hill Education plans to acquire adaptive learning software maker ALEKS. The software maker and the publishing giant have worked together over the past decade on math courseware for McGraw-Hill. ALEKS also has a standalone product, which McGraw-Hill said it will continue to offer in the "near term."
The acquisition marks McGraw-Hill's first since it was acquired by private equity firm Apollo Global Management. ALEKS is one of a number of companies trying to figure out how to make education software respond to and aid students.
The University of Colorado Board of Regents voted Thursday to conduct a campus survey on whether there is discrimination based on political perspectives, particularly at the flagship Boulder campus, The Denver Post reported. Regents said that there was insufficient political diversity on the faculty, and that this could lead to discrimination against students based on political perspectives. Faculty leaders have said that there is no evidence of bias against students. The survey is expected to cost at least $40,000.
A new survey of students who are mothers found that the factor they said was most crucial to their academic success was scheduling flexibility. In the survey, 77 percent cited the issue, but one third of the mothers said that their colleges were not flexible enough. The student mothers also said that they relied on career services and academic advising. The emphasis on scheduling flexibility isn't surprising, given another finding in the survey -- that 56 percent of the student mothers work 30 hours or more each week. The survey (from a national sample) was conducted for Ivy Bridge College of Tiffin University.