March 9, 2020
-by Michelle D. Miller, is a professor of psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University
“The coronavirus has colleges and universities swinging into action to move courses online. In the coming weeks, we’ll find out just how prepared (or not) academe is to do this on a large scale. Those of us in online teaching and educational technology have moved quickly to help, too, and it’s astonishing how many helpful resources have already been pulled together.
Even just a few weeks into the crisis, and really only a few days since class cancellations started to become a reality, there are top-quality guides free for the taking, created by people who really know their stuff. I will make no claim to have read all or even a fraction of them, but there are several that are clearly share-worthy:
A detailed Google doc, written by Jenae Cohn and Beth Seltzer — both academic-tech specialists at Stanford University — is geared for Stanford, but there’s a lot there that anyone can use. Their guide is particularly noteworthy for how it breaks down the synchronous-asynchronous distinction, explaining advantages and disadvantages of each and offering guidance about how to use Zoom for virtual meetings.
Derek Bruff, director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, has pulled together a lot of useful ed-tech advice under the heading of “just-in-time online teaching.” Read this page, in particular, for step-by-step instructions on key aspects of going online fast (the advice is geared toward the Brightspace learning-management system, in particular, but is general enough to apply to other platforms, too).
As a veteran of online teaching and education technology, I’ll offer my own short list of advice for faculty members who need to move online, fast, with the twin goals of maintaining instructional continuity as much as possible and finishing the semester strong.
No. 1: Begin by going over your course assignments for the coming weeks. Are they accessible online, so that students can find the instructions and materials that they need? Is it clear how students will be turning in their work? Have deadlines changed, and are all of those deadlines prominently posted?
No. 2: How will you give feedback on their progress? Consider how students will be able to practice the key skills and objectives you want them to get out of the course — things they would normally do in class. How will you give them opportunities for practice and feedback, for both small-stakes and high-stakes assignments? Undoubtedly those opportunities will be different from what they were before you moved the class online. Just be sure that it’s very clear how students can access those opportunities.
And if you don’t spend much class time having students practice and get feedback, now is a good time to increase that aspect of your course — given that you won’t be presenting content in person. For example:
If students would have been developing their skills in analyzing and synthesizing assigned readings via in-class discussion, perhaps they could do that online using collaborative annotation of the text. (Perusall is one such tool to do that.)
Or, if you’d normally have students practice by attempting to answer questions in an interactive in-person lecture, present a version of those questions in online discussion forums or quizzes, and offer feedback on their responses.
No. 3: Then, move on to the in-class experience. What do you normally use your in-class time for? Try to define what you do in class at a higher, more goal-oriented level (e.g., presentation of content, checking for understanding, collaborative project work — instead of just saying “lecture,” “quiz,” “discussion”). If you keep those goals in mind, you will have a better idea of how to achieve them online, as well as what aspects of the in-class experience you ought to focus on simulating.
In particular, this mini-reflection should help you decide whether to go with a synchronous means of engagement (e.g., a real-time Zoom meeting), an asynchronous one (e.g., VoiceThread decks or narrated videos), or some combination of the two.
No. 4: Decide what you’re going to do about any high-stakes assessments, particularly exams. There are no easy answers here, especially if you planned to have a good chunk of a student’s grade hinge on what would have been a proctored, in-person test. Perhaps you could take another route to summative assessment for the course, such as replacing a big supervised test with some type of project that is easier to personalize and less dependent on proctoring.
You also could explore online proctoring, but there are potentially objectionable aspects to this kind of test surveillance. Such concerns — along with the time required to research, select, and put into practice an online proctoring system — are significant hurdles. But it may be worth a look, depending on your situation.
No. 5: Consider the course materials. In all likelihood, your readings and other materials exist in digital form, and you may have posted them already. But you’ll need to double-check that any readings, videos, problem sets, quizzes, and the like are accessible, along with key documents such as the course syllabus and calendar.
No. 6: Once you’ve dealt with those things, the name of the game is communication. In the face of all this uncertainty, you need to explain — as clearly as you can and in a variety of places — what students can expect about the course in the next few weeks. Be sure to cover what it is that students are responsible for doing, how they can find the things they need to meet those responsibilities, and what they should do first. Make sure the lines of communication are two-way, as well. When in doubt, offer more ways to get in touch with you (text, messaging app, email, video call), not fewer.
That’s my teaspoon of advice to add to the pool that will no doubt be growing in the coming days and weeks. But I also want to acknowledge, and heartily agree with, the caveats and outright frustration being expressed by many in the online teaching space over the way our generously contributed advice could be misused.
As my colleague Flower Darby, told a Chronicle reporter: “We don’t want [people] to get the idea that this is what effective online education looks like. Moving online with inadequate support is a short-term solution.” She noted that an undersupported, hasty move could create bad impressions about online teaching, in general.
I fear that such impressions will outlast the present crisis. And so, while we all want to be as helpful as possible, online-teaching advocates are unanimous in cautioning that these options for salvaging the semester are not to be confused with the kind of intentional design that’s needed to create high-quality online offerings over the long run.
And sadly, we do need to put that message on repeat, because if we online-teaching veterans have learned anything, it’s that there are too many programs and institutions out there who do see this kind of rushed online teaching as a quick fix. How many of us have heard some variation on the idea of “just putting it all online” — in the name of profitability, convenience, or catching some imagined wave of the future?
It’s always telling to dig deeper into what people think “it” is in that put-it-all-online edict. Is it the readings? Videos of a professor giving lectures? Or (I hope) something else entirely?”
By Robert Ubell (Columnist)
Jan 13, 2020
“A couple of decades ago, when I was dean of online learning at Stevens Institute of Technology, a small STEM college on the Hudson with a view of mid-Manhattan, we polled our digital students about why they chose to enroll as virtual learners. Did they come to our virtual classrooms for the strength of our faculty? The quality of the program? The reputation of the college?
When we tallied the results, one reason emerged as a driving force for our online learners: They came seeking convenience.
We shouldn’t have been surprised. Noted Columbia University legal scholar, Tim Wu, has called convenience, “the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today” and “perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies.”
Of course, technology has brought new conveniences for on-campus as well as online students. Back when I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, for example, each semester I’d queue up for hours in the school gym in front of long tables with blank-faced staff to register for class. I’d fret that my longed-for Shakespeare class would close-out by the time I finally reached the front of the line.
Today, students register painlessly from their dorm, home, or anywhere with their laptop or smartphone. And that is what students now expect, since digital services have practically eliminated standing in line anywhere. Raised on apps and on-demand media, students can access almost anything, merely by keying a link. But these days colleges can be left behind in their digital services.
“Higher education has not yet figured it out,” Peggy McCready, associate vice president for IT services and support at Northwestern University, recently told me. “Service and support at universities are not up to the level of personalization we’ve grown accustomed to at the drugstore, where your prescription is refilled automatically and you’re reminded when you haven’t picked it up.”
One reason, she argues, is that colleges and universities are often radically decentralized, making the standard of service different in different campus departments and sectors. “With a more diverse student population, nontraditional students, without helpful and easily accessible tools, struggle to find resources they need to succeed.”
Inconvenience–like forcing students to rush around campus from one dean’s office to another for approvals–neither builds character nor imparts learning, but inflames exasperation with a college’s inattention to student needs. Student life is complicated and stressful enough without adding unnecessary obstacles.
“As consumers, convenience is one of students’ key expectations, but not often realized on campus,” said academic IT guru Lev Gonick, Arizona State University’s CIO, in an interview last month. “Even so, convenience is a huge and basic student expectation. Wrap-around services make students feel they are very much part of the university.”
Eighteen months ago, ASU launched a mobile app, an online one-stop-shop, helping students, not only with maneuvering campus services, but decisively providing robust student engagement. ASU students have now downloaded it 130,000 times, accessing it more than 3.4 times a day to check class schedules, navigate campus services, or see student alerts–all in the palm of their hands. Thanks to an integration with TicketMaster, it even gives students access to ASU football games.
One place on campus that has been quickest to bring in conveniences has been the library, where paper card catalogs were long ago retired for digital searching. “The importance of convenience is especially prevalent among younger generations in their studies, but is true across all demographic categories—age, gender and academic role,” concludes a recent report from OCLC, the giant library technology cooperative.
And for plenty of students, college is just not possible unless it is made convenient enough to fit into the limited time and space they have to devote to studies. That’s especially true for students working full-time jobs, for parents caring for children and for others who cannot just hop into their cars and drive off to a campus.
That’s why online programs at colleges have also been a leader in focusing on convenience, and why more than a third of the nation’s students are now online.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that digital replacements for onerous tasks will be simpler or easier to use. Just recently, it took me more than 20 minutes, with several failed attempts, to submit student grades to an awkwardly designed online form that would have been a snap with just pencil and paper. And no one is spared the frustration, waiting while rudely long irritating tunes keep you on hold, attempting to right some trivial, but hostile digital error. Flaws in online convenience can turn into a nightmare of dysfunction.
There are those who think that convenience is just an expensive trick, exploited by capitalism to circulate commodities faster than ever to increase profit. Like Sirens in The Odyssey, consumerism seduces our desires–envy, fame, or happiness, and love–compelling our keyboard fingers to click-open our credit cards faster than ever.
“Making things easier isn’t wicked,” argues Wu. “On the contrary, it often opens up possibilities that once seemed too onerous to contemplate, and it typically makes life less arduous, especially for those most vulnerable to life’s drudgeries.”
For scholars and academic leaders who encourage young minds to explore philosophy, science and other heady pursuits, focusing on student convenience may seem a foolishly trivial detour from what matters most. Yet ignoring convenience could send college students fleeing to more accommodating places that pay more attention to what they need.
And we owe our students convenience for the respect it represents, the sanity it embraces and the kindness it demonstrates. And for some colleges that face falling enrollments, becoming more convenient may be key to survival—just like the shops along my street that have been threatened by Amazon and other online options.”
Robert Ubell is vice dean emeritus of online learning at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. A collection of his essays on virtual education, Going Online, is published by Routledge. He serves on the advisory board of the Online Learning journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.
by Quentin Fottrell
Published: Nov. 12, 2019, 10:31 a.m. EDT
“New research appears to validate what many parents and educators have long suspected
Instead of updating your status, why not improve your exam results?
Students whose grades are below average could boost their results if they devoted less time to Facebook and other social networking sites, according to research published Tuesday. The study, led by James Wakefield, a senior lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, examined the time first-year university students spent on Facebook (FB) and how it impacted their grades.
Such students are likely already struggling with their ability to focus. “Time spent on social networking platforms puts lower academic achievers at higher risk of failing their course,” Wakefield said. “We found that if they used Facebook for three hours a day — not substantially higher than the average of just under two hours — the difference was around six marks in a 60 mark exam or 10%.”
The research, published in the latest edition of Computers & Education, a peer-reviewed journal, with co-author Jessica Frawley, a lecturer at the University of Sydney, looked at university students studying STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and business degrees, it is likely to also be relevant to high school students who use social media.”
More than 500 students enrolled in a first-year class, “Introductory Accounting,” at an Australian university took part in the study; they had an average age of 19. The researchers controlled for other factors that might influence their achievement, including whether they were planning to major in accounting, as well as their age and gender.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced a grilling on Capitol Hill last month by members of the House Financial Services Committee over his proposed cryptocurrency project Libra and the platform’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The #DeleteFacebook hashtag was trending on Twitter (TWTR) in the wake of that controversy.
Many consumers vowed to deactivate their accounts in 2018 after revelations that U.K.-based campaign strategy firm Cambridge Analytica used millions of Facebook users’ personal data without their permission. Some 44% of users between the ages of 18 and 29 deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the wake of the scandal, according to a survey by Pew Research Center.
In the aftermath of that scandal, all Facebook users received a message on Facebook called “Protecting Your Information,” laying out which third-party apps have access to your individual Facebook profile. (Zuckerberg also issued a mea culpa, and pledged to be more careful when vetting third party apps, but said fixing the problem could take years.)
Last month, #DeleteFacebook was trending once more after a report from Politico that Zuckerberg held private meetings with conservative journalists and commentators over the summer. Despite these recent controversies, Facebook reported an 1.6% increase in active users in the third quarter from the previous year, bringing the global total to 2.45 billion monthly active users.”
“I don’t know about you, but in my recent experiences, college tours, admissions open houses, and accepted student days are starting to make me feel more like a car salesperson than a college administrator. “Excuse me, ma’am, does this education come equipped with all of the latest features or would you describe your campus as offering more of the base model?” Because I have some experience negotiating great deals in car lots throughout the Northeast, I feel better prepared for the shrewd skill of negotiations required when discussing financial aid packages with families. It appears that students today not only get to “build their luxury vehicle,” colleges get to create an options package for the newest generation to come to campus, Generation Z (Gen Z), also known as IGen, a term coined by Dr. Jean Twenge, notable author, researcher, and psychologist.
According to Twenge, IGen or Gen Z were “born after 1995, socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers.” What kind of different things you ask? Jeff Selingo, in his recent article titled “The New Generation of Students: How Colleges Can Recruit, Teach and Serve Gen Z,” says “this generation of students is interested in practical subjects with clear paths to careers.” Born during the Great Recession, these students have witnessed and experienced parents losing jobs and siblings being saddled with large amounts of student loan debt and lackluster careers to show for the high debt and expensive degree. In sum, they are give me what I need (tell me why I need it), at the lowest price, in the shortest time for the largest payoff customers. Thankfully, readers, we are not selling cars, but are instead offering an education and experience that will lead to lifelong benefits for Gen Z-ers, but you’d better talk fast because if the luxury vehicle isn’t going for the price of a hand-me-down mini-van, there’s a fancy dealer up the street that they simply must check out before they head out of town. Because today’s students are purchasing a college experience in an analytical way, let’s talk options, which in the words of Selingo, translates to “customization.”
This generation has a need to know. They need to know the particulars, the whys, and the relevancy for not just the degree but for the course they have been advised to take, the first year experience they are required to “experience,” the program that they have been invited to attend, and the litany of other choices we place before them as traditional incoming college students. Once you’ve finished explaining the value, to make it make sense, it must be customized: the course, experience, program, and most importantly, the degree if you plan to retain your Gen Z student.
While annoying, I can’t say that this is a huge surprise. How else do you hold the attention of a person who was born in the smartphone era? Their lives and their choices are customized in ways that previous generations would have never imagined. It started with “Build-a-Bear” and has now progressed to how they select an Avatar. They create and customize it, selecting traits, attire, and identities to their liking. Customization on steroids continues, as E-Gaming comes to a college near you. Student gamers buy Gaming PCs with Monitor Bundles and customized optimization packages that include such things as “Case Fans, Motherboards, Graphics Cards, Operating Systems” that they purchase, build themselves, and personalize. Days of Xbox Live and the PlayStation 4 with groups gathering over Madden or Grand Theft Auto in the student lounge are quickly fading and a new era is upon us.
So what does customization look like in the classroom? I mean, some of us are still debating whether to offer a course online, forget about a degree. Before you panic, there’s good news. Gen Z students are not just interested in a full tech experience, but instead, recognize the need for the social interaction, even if they don’t enjoy it (remember, they are practical). Twenge and Selingo both agree that what is required are “more flexible learning opportunities including face-to-face, virtual and most of all, experiential.” It will be important to connect the student’s need for a customized curriculum and varying modalities of instructional delivery to the Gen Z wish to connect course content to career. There exists a need to be explicit, descriptive, and intentional about communicating Student Learning Outcomes in a manner that addresses both the learning and skill development. School and departmental activities such as curricular and content mapping might need to replace the day one icebreaker/team builder and be brought to class as “show and tell” or professors may need to add skill outcomes to the syllabus at a minimum.
From the co-curricular vantage, how well equipped are we to customize a living learning experience beyond themed housing and course clusters? Student development theory asserts and affirms the value of learning that happens outside of the classroom, so what new high-impact practices can be designed for this latest generation? To achieve this, we will need to bring stakeholders from Academic Affairs, Facilities, Student Affairs, Student Success, and the Finance and Advancement units together to help us build and fund targeted initiatives. Whatever is built must provide opportunities for collaboration and creativity. Consider the model of business incubators and tailor it to an academic experience that can be better defined as innovation incubators. This can be where students and faculty come together to engage in experiential education activities outside of the classroom. The benefits of business incubators include startups with opportunities for mentorship, expertise, and networking. These are all things students can benefit from as well, including the mentorship of a peer or professional advisor, the expertise of a faculty member, and the social integration that can be described as networking as we seek to build stronger student connections to campus and to the college community.
While we are busy creating Google office prototypes for students, might I also recommend that we think about ways that we can create space for university employees to come together and innovate. We will have Gen Z with us for just another 10-15 years and then we will see a new breed of students join our hallowed halls. We simply can’t afford with Gen Z to spend all of the time it took us to research millennials, skill up with professional development, invest in expensive capital projects and create all of the “fun” programming they sought, only to implement it and see them leave three years after we finally figured it all out. Carpe Diem people, while there’s still time.”
“Each year as we suit up for college commencement, donning our regalia of fanciful robes, velvet berets and silk tassels, I make a point to interject to my colleagues the John Steinbeck quote from the Sea of Cortez, “it is a rule in paleontology that ornamentation… precedes extinction.” We certainly have major issues within our higher-ed organizations and ever growing threats in the education market. And in that light, I welcome provocative assessments of the current state of higher education. But in reading Bryan Caplan’s recent essay, What’s College Good For? (The Atlantic Jan/Feb 2018) previewing his pending book, “The Case Against Education,” I can honestly say that Caplan’s views will only metastasize our ills and accelerate any institution’s demise.
Caplan’s main thesis is that our higher ed system teaches only a minimal level of useful job skills, and as such, the value of a college degree, for the most part, comes from signaling one’s “pre-existing” traits to the job market. He estimates the mix of value at about 20% job skills and 80% traits. The pre-existing traits Caplan says one signals by attaining a college degree include: the ability to learn quickly and deeply, the commitment to working on something until it is finished, and the ability to adapt to new systems of management and work with others on teams. Caplan concludes that since higher education isn’t really responsible for the development of what would be viewed by most as highly desirable traits, and in the absence of any significant job skills training, that college “is a big waste of time and money.”
Completely missing from Caplan’s seemingly new revelation about poor job-skill training in college is the fact that the world renowned 4 year higher educational system that we have built in the U.S., from its dawn, has never endeavored to promote “job skill training.” Caplan’s estimate of 20 % job skills is about right (even for degrees as practical as engineering I would target about 30%), but the minimal influence that he claims education plays on the balance of the other critical traits is woefully inaccurate. Even with the 100 year plus tradition of teaching what Caplan describes as irrelevant subjects, there is little doubt about the role that U.S. higher-ed has played in inspiring our workforce to advance America’s political, cultural, technological and economic dominance over the past century. Higher-ed has thrived in discovery, fostered the synthesis of new ideas, and advanced both technological, medical, and social innovation at almost every level. And in the process, demanded of its students through its inherent pedagogical structure the repeated and rapid mastery of new subjects. And, yes, even mastery of subjects that Caplan finds “useless” and “irrelevant” like rhetoric, economics, history, and literature.
In the long term, employers care far less about the specific factual knowledge that a 22-year-old graduate brings to their company’s collective knowledge-base. But they do care about whether they have the humility and confidence to quickly learn something new and adapt to the incredible array of forces that are changing the landscape of their business at increasingly faster rates. And for outstanding employees, there is the expectation that they should be able to repeat this process of learning something new at a high level again, and again, throughout their careers. To me, this seems very much like the well-tested expectations of a college educational experience. It might be called the “knowledge” economy, but the reality is, it is the “ability to attain knowledge” economy.
During the course of a 4-year degree, a college student will engage-in and repeat the process of going from little-to-no knowledge in some subject and advance to some measureable level of mastery about 30 to 40 times. And by design, with each new course, the student has had to learn from someone new, in the midst of different groups of people, while needing to access different types of resources, under different sets of rules, and with increasingly difficult expectations of performance. The higher-ed calendar also provides ample time for meaningful internships and extra-curricular activities, like sports, student government, volunteerism, and study abroad, that bring real-world balance to an education.
Now, how much time we take to complete this transformation from high school graduate to adaptable learner, how much it costs, who we are serving, what teaching methods to employ, or how technology could improve this process are front-and-center of strategic planning at most universities. There is nothing sacred about the current 4-year college degree or structure. A four-year degree, as it stands today, with 130 credit hours and 40 different courses of high level learning involves about 4,000 to 5,000 hours of study. What various students do with that “practice” time is what brings distinction. But even with 5,000 hours of study, a college grad has merely walked along the shore of a great ocean of knowledge that humans have discovered in any subject. Some, like Caplan, would say “that they haven’t learned anything,” but others, like those that I work with, would say “that they know that they have a lot more to learn.” Students will benefit just as much from understanding the limits of their knowledge, as they will in drawing from the core.
As one might expect, everyone involved in Caplan’s higher-ed storyline is just in it for themselves. The big ruse called college he describes couldn’t be sustained without it. He is cynical about everyone around him. He is cynical about students (“the vast majority are philistines”), he is cynical about his fellow teachers (“the vast majority are uninspiring”), and he is cynical about the administration, “the deciders – the school officials who control what students study.” If I sensed the same level of self-interest that Caplan feels hanging over his academic environment, I would be equally disillusioned with higher-ed. But I don’t, so I am not.
Despite what some think, even in degree tracks viewed as practical as engineering, we do not engage in “job skill training.” In the St. Thomas School of Engineering, we promote and celebrate a 30% job skills / 70% traits balance that Caplan finds wasteful. I tell our students that there are no “Mechanical Engineer” jobs. However, there are incredible careers that can begin for those who have had the experience of learning the array of new subjects, from Philosophy to Thermodynamics, in our Mechanical Engineering curriculum. The products, the markets, the science, the customers, the designs, the finance, the regulations, the equipment, the timing, the documentation, the history, the communications, the manufacturability, the software, the laws, the cultures are so different for each company in each product sector, that we could not possibly “train” you for any specific job, because training you for one, would ill-prepare you for the vast majority of other possibilities. Let alone those that will emerge 4 years from now.
As engineering educators, the worse thing we could do for our students is to have them be surprised by what little they know as they walk through the door to their first job. Or, even worse, be over confident in what they think they know when they walk through the door of their first customer. And, in that light, the best thing we can do is to prepare them to walk into any new environment, fully knowing that you must first deeply listen, learn, question, understand, and as quickly as possible move to mastery. And then, plan on repeating that process again, and again, throughout their career. Much like they successfully demonstrated during their college education, regardless of the subject.
There are plenty of angles to constructively criticize and dramatically improve the current state of higher education, but the views in Caplan’s “What’s College Good For?” essay are no place to start.”