There is no doubt that back-to-school plans have been hotly debated as the higher-education world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions have whipsawed between resuming on-campus classes or opting for a virtual approach to learning. Students themselves are carefully considering where, when, and how to pursue their college degrees. There are no straightforward answers or “one size fits all” solutions. Despite all the uncertainties and hurdles that have impacted the education industry as a whole, Pearson partner Maryville University has experienced remarkable growth.
Congratulations to Maryville University for making The Chronicle of Higher Education’s fastest-growing colleges list again after record enrollments for the 16th consecutive year. Maryville anticipates this growth trend will continue into the Fall 2020. The proof is in the numbers. Maryville projects overall enrollment increases of 10 percent across traditional on-campus undergraduate students and online undergraduate and graduate students this year. Maryville is welcoming more than 925 new students to campus, including more than 750 incoming Freshmen students enrolled in on-campus classes this fall – representing a 7 percent increase in on campus enrollment. Online class enrollment has grown by more than 17 percent, with more than 7,200 students engaging with Maryville online.
“Students across the country choose Maryville because we offer market relevant, high quality, online programs that provide the flexibility they need to fit education into their busy lives,” said Katherine Louthan, dean of the School of Adult and Online Education. “We are one of the few universities committed to the continual innovation and evolution of the digital learning experience.”
Maryville has long embraced digital learning as the future of higher education and understands the vital role it will play as an element of our “new normal.” Maryville’s decades-long focus on developing robust online programs and providing support for its faculty to deliver high-quality curriculum across all learning environments enabled Maryville to quickly pivot between in-person and virtual learning in response to COVID-19. This flexible and active learning model makes Maryville’s program offerings especially appealing to students eager pursue higher education in the midst of their already busy lives.
Matthew Ventura, Ph.D., recalls a high school English teacher who taught him a hard but important lesson.
“Mr. Davidson was really tough,” he says. “He felt no shame ripping apart our essays.”
“Despite the criticism, he spent so much time giving us detailed feedback,” Matthew says. “It really affected me.”
“Not only did I become a better writer,” he says, “I realized that a Mr. Davidson-like level of feedback can help improve critical thinking skills like few other things.”
Important skills, better teaching
Matthew went on to study and develop new ways to teach and assess 21st century skills like critical thinking.
An early collaboration, the Physics Playground, was a digital game that walked students through complex physics concepts with outcomes and processes that mimicked real-world experiences.
It was a breakthrough.
“These kinds of natural, playful simulations,” Matthew says, “help students strategize their way through tough subjects—and provide an opportunity for teachers to provide feedback based on where each student is in the learning process.”
“Imagine a class of 400 students,” he says. “How can a teacher be like Mr. Davidson and provide such granular, one-on-one feedback to everybody?”
Innovative digital platforms, he says, provide a trifecta of benefits:
They teach effectively. They lead to one-on-one feedback for students. And they’re scalable.
The need for problem-solvers
“It was an opportunity to explore some basic questions about critical thinking,” Matthew says. “What do we mean by ‘critical thinking? How can we improve it?”
It’s part of a conversation, he says, that’s been batted around by academics for decades.
“More and more employers want to hire good problem-solvers,” Matthew says.
Good problem-solvers, he says, can spot opportunities for innovation thanks to critical thinking skills—”so these questions were important to try to answer,” he says.
Critical thinking in specific disciplines
“Skills for Today” reviews the history of definitions around critical thinking. It summarizes leading research on the various methods of teaching and assessing critical thinking.
The paper also takes the discussion about critical thinking in a new direction.
“There is so much talk about broad critical thinking skills,” he says. “What we want to start exploring is: How can we improve critical thinking in particular disciplines?”
A speech class might employ new critical thinking teaching methods in debate exercises, he says.
An IT course might show students how to find bugs in computer code.
A business or economics class might guide students to weigh issue pros and cons in order to make tough decisions.
“We want to provide an actionable framework for educators in this new approach,” Matthew says, “so we can reach more learners and prepare them for tomorrow’s workforce.”
Next-generation teaching tools
Matthew emphasizes that critical thinking skills are skills—and that they are only improved with practice.
He hopes his paper can be a part of making this practice more effective.
“We hope this research helps us develop new learning tools that benefit learners,” he says, “and, at the same time, guides teachers to bring new teaching approaches into their classrooms.”
Online teaching has gone viral! COVID-19 is causing teachers, who never thought they’d teach this way, to dive right into unchartered territory. Learning how to use technology to deliver content and evaluate students’ mastery of course principles is happening–almost overnight—and often without much guidance for instructors.
Faculty are often working more hours than they can count, trying to quickly ramp up so their students have little disruption in their learning.
Creating online learning environments is daunting, even for seasoned online instructors with weeks of lead time. But now, face-to-face face teachers are under the gun to get these courses up and running pronto. Those teaching in Spring 2020 are under pressures no one ever anticipated.
Add on to that the stress of self-isolation, homeschooling children, and sharing home office spaces with partners and children. Self-care is vital for any caretaker, and right now, it’s vital for teachers too.
This article offers teachers self-care tips to destress and renew so they continue to offer their expertise and talents to their students in these unprecedented times.
Use the Pomodoro method of working. Complete 25 minutes of intense work followed by a 5 minute break. Repeat 3x if needed. Then take a 30 minute break before beginning the cycle again.
Remember, a 40-hour work week included water cooler time or meetings. Four hours of intense work per day is really an ambitious goal. Clearly, sometimes we spend more time and sometimes less, but don’t let working online dominate your entire day.
You need designated down time. Make rules for working hours that suit your most productive times and around other people and duties in your home.
Designate a workspace (even if you have to share). Straighten and clear your work area every day. Try to keep this space only for your online teaching. Leave it when you have completed your work and don’t return “just to check.”
If you have to share a desk or computer with others, create a schedule and a way to remove your tools for work. Try putting your office tools on a cutting board you can take with you when you exit or find a box for your files/papers. This way, you have a portable workstation you can remove to prevent others from disturbing.
3. Teaching support
You are not alone. There are plenty of resources for teaching online, some at no cost. Sites like Pearson’s can provide you with online teaching tips as well as faculty experts to consult about best practices for teaching online.
4. Take care of your students
By now you may realize how time consuming and emotionally draining maintaining an online presence with your students can be. Take these steps to help take care of your students, and yourself!
Remember #1 and don’t feel you must be physically present 24-hours a day because your students may email you at 2 a.m. And while you need to find ways to create a real relationship at a distance with your students, they didn’t have access to you in the classroom beyond their class times and your office hours. The same rules also apply online.
Be clear with your students when you will and will not communicate with them. Defining expectations reduces misunderstandings that can occur when asynchronous communication becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Be cognizant of this crisis and consider bending some rules in your class that made sense before but may become less relevant now. Practice flexibility.
Focus more on collaborative activities between students if possible (shared Google docs or other methods of online collaboration).
Offer students some live time virtual meetings with you.
Create short video messages to your classes showing your willingness to understand how this crisis is impacting their lives.
If you follow the Pomodoro method mentioned above, use the breaks for some type of physical exercise. Intense mental focus is relieved by short bursts of physical activity.
Try using an exercise ball to stretch out your back. Or you jump on that stationary bike or step machine.
Designate off time for physical workouts every day. Being confined in our homes doesn’t mean we can’t work out. Use YouTube for dance workouts (you can do this with anyone in your home or alone).
Take a walk (keeping safe distances). Getting outside, even if it means on the roof of your building, will do wonders for your attitude. Morning sun is particularly important, so try to get some of those early morning rays on the top of your uncovered head.
6. You are what you eat
Eat well, but not deprived. Now may not be the best time to go on that diet, but it is a time to eat well.
Comfort foods like chips and candy aren’t the best mindless munching snacks. Instead, try nuts, fruits, or crunchy veggies. Reserve your “treats” for designated times and make sure to really focus on the enjoyment of that special something (chocolate for many of us).
Eating out is not an option currently, so find ways to get fresh vegetables, fruits, and other groceries in safe ways. There are companies that will deliver fresh veggies and fruits to your door weekly, and many markets are providing curb side pickup or deliveries of preordered items.
This may be the time we all learn to create shopping lists and stick to them, making meal plans, maybe even cooking those recipes we’ve been saving and never trying.
Remember as you plan and eat well, we will all emerge from our cocoons in time; while a few pounds to shed may not be something to worry about, gaining 20 or 30 pounds will decrease your sense of well-being, creating additional stress. So, refer to #5 again!
7. Take care of your feelings
Most of us are overwhelmed by this crisis. Be gentle with yourself if you find you are less patient with others, have times when you just want to be completely alone, feel anxious, or find yourself in a cleaning or cooking frenzy. These are just signs that you need to decompress a bit.
Take up that hobby you’ve been putting off; use yoga or meditation to set the tone for the day or to decompress, or relax with a book in the evening. There are many free apps that can help you with these types of activities.
Reach out virtually to friends and family through regular video meetings. Free resources such as Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts, or Teams in Outlook can help you connect real time with those you love.
Attend virtual concerts that many orchestras and musicians are creating to provide comfort and inspiration, watch live cameras of zoos or wildlife, or start that blog you’ve been putting off.
Externalize your feelings in healthy ways by talking with supportive people either in your home or at a distance. If these feelings result in prolonged depression, please know there are many online counseling services that provide counseling. Counselors nation-wide are mobilizing and also working from home to help decrease stress and depression.
8. Care of others
One of the greatest methods of self-care is to flip the focus of helplessness or irritation and think of ways you are already caring for others. Look for fresh ways to be supportive of friends, family members, and your community that you hadn’t considered before.
There are sites and apps that offer opportunities to volunteer virtually in a number of ways beyond just donating. Often getting out of ourselves and into the needs of others lifts our spirits, increases our self-worth, and spills over to the jobs at hand; caring for the educational and sometimes emotional needs of our students.
Know that while you may not be getting the applause and ticker tape parades you deserve, your tireless efforts to provide ongoing education are not without notice. We will come out on the other side of this, and hopefully with greater depth in our understanding of what teaching and teachers mean and can come to mean to the students today facing challenges we have never encountered.
You are the trailblazers, teaching the leaders who will face new worlds of challenges. Take care of yourselves! The world needs you!
Being a leader can be challenging at the best of times, but even more so in a crisis situation like the current pandemic. Transitioning Survey findings from Pearson identified that people’s satisfaction with the work from home experience has declined: Only 82% of those in the US are currently satisfied with working remotely versus 93% in early March.
But how do you lead well when you can’t physically meet with the people you are leading? Here are our tips for effective leadership in a virtual world
1. Focus on inspiration and motivation, rather than just managing or controlling
Motivating and inspiring leadership strategies are especially important when leading virtually because we lack many social cues and tools we usually use to influence others. Be more mindful and practice this.
Examples of these types of strategies include:
Displaying ethical and inspiring behavior, taking a stand, and acting with conviction.
Supporting others and attending to their individual needs.
Motivating others by projecting a positive vision.
Supporting innovation and creativity.
2. Be optimistic, but honest
In times like these, people look to their leaders for hope, while also expecting honesty and transparency. This can be a difficult balance, when you might be experiencing personal stress and worry and often have to communicate bad news.
Delivering information in a timely manner, and in a compassionate, caring, and straightforward way. Here is a checklist from the CDC on how to communicate in a crisis.
Giving others an opportunity to process the information, and a space to share their thoughts and experiences.
Finding opportunities for realistic optimism, pointing toward the future and highlighting ways that everyone can work towards it.
3. Support trust and cohesion within virtual teams
It can be challenging for virtual teams to develop trust and cohesion.
As a leader, you can:
Set norms and processes around communication.
Encourage and schedule time for personal and social conversations as well as work discussions.
Include regular opportunities for video conferencing, which allows for much richer interaction.
Be a role model for these strategies.
4. Provide frequent and explicit opportunities for coordination
Because virtual teams have fewer opportunities to spontaneously interact and coordinate work, it is particularly important to provide clear channels and expectations for communication and coordination.
Leaders play a key role in establishing these norms and expectations, such as:
Plan regular calls so that everyone in the group can share their progress.
Use instant message or chat functions to take the place of impromptu in-person meetings.
5. Take care of your own mental health
Leaders are not immune to experiencing worries, stress, anxiety, or sadness at times of uncertainty. In fact, you may experience a unique set of stressors, making it all the more important for you to take the time to take care of yourself. For strategies to do this, read our blog on wellness.
Right now many of us are juggling working in a new environment, becoming a teacher for our kids, caring for our family full time and dealing with the anxiety that comes from living in the middle of a pandemic. We’re all feeling pretty stressed. Self-care is crucial for managing these negative emotions and being resilient.
Here are six tips based on the science of learning to help you get through this:
1. Look after your physical and mental well-being
If possible, continue your current self-care practices since it is easier to stick to existing habits. However, many of us will have to alter or discover new ones.
Here are some ideas if you are stuck at home for a few weeks:
Take care of your body by eating healthy, well-balanced meals, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep.
Work up a sweat with at-home or individual exercise activities by following workout videos on YouTube, using Fitness Apps for HIIT or strength training, or by hitting the pavement for a walk or run outside.
Practice relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. If you’re new to this, here are a few options to start.
Make time for appropriate activities that bring you happiness and joy. These might include cooking, listening to music, taking a warm bath, crafting, reading, or watching TV or movies.
2. Maintain social connections
For introverts and extroverts alike, the activities that are most important for promoting our well-being are inherently social, which can make this period where we are encouraged to be physically distant from our loved ones particularly difficult. It is all the more important to maintain our social connections, using technology to help us stay psychologically close.
Use the many different modes of communication at our fingertips – voice calls, text, social media. Video especially can make us feel closer.
Since interactions will not come up as naturally during this period, be more intentional about scheduling time to speak with friends and family. They will be excited to hear from you.
These conversations will be important opportunities to relieve stress by sharing your feelings with others. In addition, try to incorporate fun, play a game virtually or watch the same movie together.
3. Create structure and a schedule
Watching the news can make us feel a lack of control, which fuels stress. Control what you can and maintain as much normalcy as possible.
Develop a schedule and try to stick to your new routine. You can start with activities that support good eating and sleep habits, and fill in with both fun and necessary activities. Scheduling in regular opportunities for self-care can help us stick to those plans.
For those who are transitioning into remote work, maintaining a schedule can help ensure dedicated time for work while also protecting individual relaxation and family time.
Particularly for families who have young children home from school, maintaining a schedule may seem daunting. Be kind to yourself as you work through new processes and routines. Much of the benefit of the schedule comes from thoughtfully making one, not perfectly following one.
4. Be a smart media consumer
It is important to find a balance regarding media consumption. With situations changing quickly in a crisis, it is useful to follow the news in order to keep up-to-date. On the other hand, repeatedly viewing (often negative) news stories can increase stress and anxiety.
Consider taking breaks from viewing the news, or schedule specific times to check the news. It can also be helpful to limit your media consumption to a few, trusted sites, which can help keep you from hearing the same information repeatedly.
5. Seek additional help if needed
During times such as these, it is completely normal to experience elevated levels of stress along with other negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration. If these persist or worsen and begin to cause significant distress or dysfunction, seek additional help.
More specific warning signs include:
Persistent anxiety, worry, insomnia, or irritability.
Withdrawing from appropriate social contact.
Persistently checking for symptoms or seeking reassurance about one’s health.
Abusing alcohol or drugs.
Experience of suicidal thoughts or actions.
Many therapists are transitioning to providing telemedicine so you get professional support without needing to meet in person. Find a therapist from a site like Psychology Today. Those with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with treatment.
6. Practice empathy
We are in many ways overwhelmed with information and recommendations and it can be easy to fall into the trap of judging others for their choices. But many are having to weigh financial concerns with public health and personal safety, and making difficult decisions.
Hanging on to judgment and anger at others can be counter productive. It can cause our personal stress levels to elevate and can break down the social bonds that are so important to weathering crises. Try to practice empathy by considering the perspectives of others. Understanding why someone has made a different decision from you can help you be more compassionate. Loving-Kindness Meditation can also support compassion and empathy. This type of meditation involves mentally sending kindness and goodwill to others. Read more here.
But also, don’t let trying to practice self-care stress you out. Do the best you can and be kind to yourself and others.
Under different circumstances, creating an online course from the ground up using online learning best practices would take considerable time and effort. Given this current unprecedented situation, we understand that your immediate concern is likely simply ensuring that your face-to-face course can be converted rapidly for online delivery.
Cheating isn’t new. Many students do it, and in many different ways. As courses move to online environments, we might wonder if the lack of the instructor in the classroom makes it more likely cheating will happen. Technology certainly changes how students cheat.
A 2017 study by Kessler International reported that 76 percent of surveyed students said they had copied text from someone else’s assignments. Slightly more (79 percent) admitted to plagiarism from internet sources. Around 72 percent said they’d used mobile devices to cheat.
An astonishing 42 percent of students admit to purchasing custom papers or essays online, and 28 percent have paid someone to do their online work. Sadly, many of them thought it was ok to cheat.
Colleges and universities have implemented a variety of tactics designed to minimize cheating. They include tools such as the following.
Clearly defining cheating and setting expectations
This may seem elementary, but letting students know you are aware of cheating and will take it seriously can help curb cheating. If your assignment does not require the use of their phone for apps or resources, remind them to keep devices out of reach.
Academic integrity policies
Many colleges and universities have policies about cheating in their student code of conduct, and these are perhaps the simplest methods to deter cheating. When students break the policy, they may be dismissed from the program. It is a good idea to require students to sign an honor code statement in an initial assignment or prior to each test.
Using proctored exams
Many schools require students to report to campus or to official off-site testing centers for proctored exams. Proctors are typically required to check students’ IDs, enter passwords if needed, and watch them during tests. Tools like ProctorU support digital online proctoring and record the testing session for the instructor, flagging any concerns.
Restricting IP addresses
Some software will allow you to restrict access only to certain labs on campus. This is often done in conjunction with proctoring.
Use a Lockdown Browser
Require students to use a Lockdown Browser with online quizzes and tests. This is a custom setting that literally “locks down” the browser that displays the test or quiz, preventing students from copying or printing the questions or accessing any other websites or applications.
Utilizing keystroke verification software
Keystroke verification software, such as Keystroke DNA, is perhaps one of the most common tech-based cheater prevention methods.
The approach is simple: Students type a short phrase, which is then analyzed by a software program. The software assesses the students’ typing speed, rhythm, and other personal characteristics to create a behavioral biometric data profile for each user. Before any work is submitted, it needs to be verified.
Embedding text-matching software
These are tools like Turnitin, SafeAssign, or CopyLeaks, where software is used to read an essay or paper and assess the likelihood of plagiarism.
Students tend to share old tests, use study material sharing sites to share answers and methods, etc. To prevent cheating, professors may find it useful to use question banks and randomize the questions so that students have a more difficult time in sharing answers.
Professors should change assessments each semester or create multiple versions of tests or quizzes for a class. Include essay or explanation questions, as it makes it more obvious if an answer was copied from somewhere else. If possible, consider pooling questions so all students get similar but slightly varied test questions.
Offer low-stakes quizzing
It reduces the incentive to cheat because the value of each quiz is lower than that of an exam, but it still provides opportunities for assessment.
Assign collaborative learning activities
Use collaborative activities liberally. Consider using social media, shared documents, discussion forums, cyber cafes, video conferencing, and other types of collaborative tools to engage students with one another.
Studies indicate collaboration in online classes increases problem-solving skills more effectively than the student who is completing all classroom activities alone. There is little motivation or ability to cheat when students are working cooperatively for a common goal.
One study at MIT in the 1990’s forbade student collaboration in a programming class. The students collaborated anyway, and became more effective programmers. MIT determined that collaboration would be the new normal in programming classes. After all, the goal is student learning!
If students learn better when collaborating, and collaborating reduces the chances of cheating, then increasing the collaborative activities in an online environment will lead to increased learning and decreased cheating, which is a win/win by any standard.
Use resources already in your arsenal
You might find it helpful to use your Learning Management System to provide links to resources like Turnitin, which can often be linked directly with assignments.
Students think of cheating as a way to avoid learning the course material. But I tell my students that as hard as they work to avoid doing any actual learning, I will work harder to find ways to encourage and guide them to do what they should.
There are resources out there to help me do that. Check your Learning Management System instructor resources, explore other available technology tools, read Chronicle of Higher Education articles or Learning Scientists posts, and talk to your campus instructional designers. These are all great places to find tools you can use to deter cheating in your online courses.
We’ve partnered with Wake Forest University for years. For example, we support its nationally respected online graduate program in counseling. It’s been a success for everyone — especially students, who are achieving strong academic and career outcomes.
So, when Wake Forest’s School of Medicine sought to deliver two new, purpose-built degree programs, it was natural for them to talk to us. However, Wake Forest’s School of Medicine has distinct capabilities and priorities.
Its entrepreneurial leaders asked us: How can we customize a partnership that reflects our internal resources and capabilities? How can we use our ability to provide funding to help launch these online programs?
We offer multiple models for delivering our best-in-class services. Together, we built an innovative, co-investment agreement that gets the risk/reward balance right for both parties.
The final contract promotes shared interests and alignment (like traditional revenue share agreements) but Wake Forest’s upfront contributions allow us to share the financial risk. That way, we created a shorter contract commitment that will allow us to make changes, if the market changes quickly.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest benefits from the same comprehensive online program management services that are already working well for the University — from our strong national marketing expertise to one-on-one student coaching and support through graduation.
Innovative curriculum to transform healthcare
Launching this fall, these online programs are a perfect example of an institution that’s found an unmet opportunity to use its strengths and positively impact the lives of students and society. Let’s look at each one:
Wake Forest’s Master of Science in Clinical Research Management will empower professionals throughout the clinical research field to move research and development forward, advance health and save lives. Through an engaging, supportive and interdisciplinary online program environment, participants will learn how to select and apply relevant scientific knowledge, critically analyze research designs, help construct/lead clinical trials and improve patient care.
Wake Forest’s Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership will prepare a new generation to transform healthcare for the better. Graduates will be exceptionally qualified to lead their organization and improve patient outcomes. They’ll be ready to address everything from strategy to culture; change management to innovation.
Online education is about helping more people thrive. That’s what Wake Forest is doing — and we’re excited to partner with them.
To learn more about our customizable models, world-class expertise, and the resources we offer, contact us.
Several national studies (Swail; American Institutes for Research; Lake) purport approximately 60% of all college students attending four-year institutions persist until graduation within 6 years. Thus, there is a 40% attrition rate nationally.
American tax dollars contribute to the grants, scholarships and financial aid used by many students. According to LendEDU a college drop-out has incurred about $14,000 dollars in student aid debt. About half of these loans are in default. There are high stakes involved at the institutional level as well.
According to a study of retention at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2016, the cost to that one university of losing almost 40% of their enrolled students during that 6 years was $86 million. Given the high financial impact to society, institutions, and students, the study of college retention and student persistence has become an important one.
Beyond financial loss
While retention has hefty financial implications, perhaps more important, college degrees prepare students to critically evaluate the needs of their society and to understand how to effect change for the better. Retention also affects the national reputations of colleges where legacies, among other advantages, are at risk in institutions with high attrition rates. Finally, and perhaps most critically, the impact on the individual student of attrition, withdrawal, or dropout goes beyond crushing college loan debt.
The impact on self- esteem and self-efficacy results in far more pervasive and damaging long-term consequences than mere financial limitations. The assault to self-worth may be the greatest danger of college attrition and the most important reason to show concern for increasing student retention. An examination of student retention can help us change the retention narrative, and help our students write brighter and more hopeful futures for themselves and our society.
What we can do
There are factors that lead to attrition beyond the control of institutions and instructors. Student abilities, skills, and preparation come with them to college. As do their personal attributes, values, and knowledge base. While we know students with the character trait of resilience are far more likely to persist against negative factors, colleges cannot control whether a person has this trait or not.
The outside influences, often leading to student dropout, such as families, jobs, or lack of support are factors beyond the scope of college control as well. While programs within colleges may ameliorate the effects of some of these influences, these influences come with the individual and vary widely between students.
The good news is there are a number of factors colleges and instructors can influence. Several of these factors are defined by Alan Seidman (2012). Seidman purports these may be the greatest contributors toward student success. These include; expectations, student support, involvement, and feedback.
Expectations clearly communicated to students from their institutions and teachers is critical for student comfort, increasing engagement. While it is common knowledge that syllabi are contracts of the class expectations between the student and the teacher, institutional expectations are equally important.
Students will most likely interact on an institutional level before having access to individual classrooms. Schools that have clear mission statements, clear and comprehensive student orientations, clear student handbooks, and information to access support services go a long way toward creating an open and transparent environment where students feel respected and valued. This atmosphere of clear expectations should flow into each classroom, reducing confusion and miscommunication, creating an atmosphere of comfort and clear outlines of how to succeed.
Student support should have a three-pronged approach providing services for academic, social and financial support.
Academic support may be provided through tutoring centers, peer, and faculty mentoring programs, computer proficiency workshops, writing centers, computer labs, and service-learning centers. Not only do academic support centers help students in their classes, but they foster social networks between peers, teachers and the student, creating learning communities.
Social support in college has been linked to positive student engagement, potentially increasing retention. Social centers designed to bond like others for common goals or common identities have shown value in creating climates of collaboration in colleges. Social groups might include clubs or centers for foreign students, service groups, ethnic identity, or spiritual unity, among any other traits that bond groups.
Financial support may take the form of required workshops on financial responsibility for any student on financial aid, or grants and student financial rewards, or student work programs. Some colleges have even offered short-term small cash loans to students struggling at the end or beginning of terms. Students who have a clear understanding of what they are getting for the amount invested are armed with information about the investment and may make better choices about wise expenditures of their energy, time, and resources.
Involvement studies (NASPA; Purdue University) indicate students who feel positive emotional connection to their educational environments, through peer or faculty connections, are more likely to persist. College student populations have evolved from primarily residential students to the majority of students commuting.
With busy, active lives beyond the borders of college campuses, involving students in campus life has become a challenge. Dissociated students are far less likely to find the support needed to weather the inevitable stresses of college. Programs such as peer and faculty mentoring also foster an atmosphere of connectedness.
Methods of student involvement in the classroom include group projects designed for students to connect through remote or social media communication. Class time can also be allocated for group work. In short; happy, connected people are more likely to want to remain connected to each other and the environment that fosters those connections.
Feedback is often overlooked as a critical factor in student retention; however, it is the one factor that is absolutely in the control of the institution and instructors. Transparency by all parties is the key ingredient for solid and satisfactory problem solving. Students need to know how they can succeed and what they need to do to get there.
Institutional feedback comes in the form of monitoring student’s academic standing. Students need accurate and timely assessments of their degree progress. They need clear communication of their GPA, college and national standing, as well as communications from financial aid concerning their current debt and estimates of debt upon graduation. Students also need early warning when they are steering off the path to successful completion.
Instructor feedback answers the common student questions of: “What is my grade? How do I measure up? Can I pass this course? Our assignment assessments are our feedback to these questions. The practice of assessing content mastery with only one or two major exams or papers gives little indication to students of where they are going off the rail before it was too late. This should not be the case in a learning-focused classroom.
Learning-centered classrooms should offer immediate feedback on formative low stakes assignments. That feedback should be clear and meaningful resulting in the students increased awareness of what they know or don’t know. This translates into better metacognition and students are less likely to overestimate their knowledge acquisition.
The learning-centered classroom
Learning-centered classrooms demand students learn first-hand, moving away from the teacher centered classroom, where learning is strained by passive listening with little interaction. After implementing new learning-centered feedback strategies in my classroom such as quick mini quizzes using clicker type answering providing immediate feedback in a low-stakes situation, I saw striking results in improved preparedness and retention.
Learning-centered classrooms are also collaborative. Building learning communities within the classroom is often the only peer association commuter students will have. Collaborative learning has been shown to produce greater levels of intellectual development. Teachers can foster this through group work in the classroom assignments.
These might be problem-solutions focused or project-based. Service-learning opportunities in the classroom allow students to work together and apply the academic principles they are learning to real world settings. Other classroom activities that have been suggested in the book, “Make it Stick,” as excellent methods for student learning include:
Spacing Retrieval Practice, based on the testing effect, where taking tests increases the ability to be a better test taker. Activities that lend themselves to this might be short quizzes, one-minute essays, self-analysis activities, or partnered homework assignments.
Interleaving is cycling back to previous learning and bringing it forward for application. Reviews, reflections, quizzes, short essays, or group presentations might lend themselves to this type of assignment.
Elaboration gives new learning meaning and commits it to longer-term memory through application. Essays, scenario creation, group projects and presentations are all able to offer opportunities to elaborate on new knowledge. One particularly successful activity has been to have groups teach a portion of the new concepts for the week.
Generation is the process of finding creative and innovative solutions to problems or assignments. Offering students opportunities to submit drafts with feedback generates deep understanding of the concepts building towards a more successful final product. Working in groups to resolve a difficult problem is also effective in generating deeper understanding through the lens of other perspectives.
Reflection reviews new learning, making applications to prior learning or novel situations in real world settings. Service-learning group projects with field notes foster reflection on how the classroom principles apply in practical settings. Essays and scenario activities also allow students to make meaning of new information.
Calibration teaches students how to judge what they know. It increases metacognitive skills and helps student more accurately assess the time and energy expenditures needed to succeed. Testing of any kind as well as self-evaluation aid in calibrating, as do peer evaluations.
Collaborative learning-centered classrooms where homework is due prior to class, where the student was provided immediate feedback on homework before coming to class, where the teacher has access to performance data from the homework, allows the instructor to focus on those concepts deemed most difficult for the entire class.
This classroom is now flipped to address this specific group of students with their unique learning needs. The flipped classroom lends itself to collaborative learning and interactive problem-solution activities that address the most difficult concepts using valuable class time effectively.
As a young teacher, my classroom was all about my teaching; how creative I could be thoroughly covering all the material. I now see my classroom is not about my teaching, it is about my students’ learning.
I am empowered to know that while retention is an enormous problem impacting our society, colleges, and students, there are things we can do at the institutional level and the classroom level to combat student attrition and student dropout rates, leading to more students meeting their goals and achieving successful and productive futures.
The higher ed model has traditionally been focused on delivering the final product — well-educated graduates. However, as learner demographics evolve and lifelong learning becomes, well, a way of life, institutions are recognizing the need to shift focus by turning to customer service models outside of higher ed to make it happen.
Student success is on the line, but so are increased enrollments and graduation rates — along with affinity among alumni and donors.
We understand there’s heavy debate over whether or not learners are, indeed, “customers”, and a perception that the application of customer service models in higher ed undermine the altruistic values of academe. At the end of the day, both camps can agree that student success is the ultimate goal. Let’s examine an institution that’s reinventing the student experience through corporate inspiration, and see what some of the best companies are doing.
What do a progressive healthcare system and a grocery chain have to do with student success?
Just ask American University.
When new students arrive at American, as is the case at many colleges, they confront a complex aggregation of offices and practices. Traditional university structure and advising isn’t set up to respond to today’s digital natives who expect access and resolution at the click of a button.
When leaders at American began the university’s Reinventing the Student Experience (RiSE) project in 2015, they discovered that “the comprehensive nature of what we were trying to imagine was a bit easier to spot in the corporate world,” said Jeffrey Rutenbeck, then dean of the School of Communication.
They turned to the renowned Cleveland Clinic and high-end grocery chain Wegmans for a look at their approaches to improving customer satisfaction. They found that, in both instances, the “customer” was at the center of the experience, with the overarching goals of anticipating and exceeding expectations.
This is accomplished through continued customer service training at all levels of the organization during standing monthly meetings that explore various topics and celebrate employee success. Data is also a critical component in measuring “customer” success, and it is employed throughout to measure everything from communication to employee satisfaction.
In the development of their RiSE project, students remained at the forefront of their plans. American understood that students have unique goals, needs, and challenges throughout their experience. In their meetings with students, four unique types of student themes evolved, and personas were developed from this feedback to serve as a guide in the reinvention.
Another key component to ingraining this “customer-centric” ethos throughout the culture is listening. By providing training that fosters this key skill, American gives their employees (and learners) an active role to play in improvement initiatives and the opportunity to have ownership of the experience.
“The kind of excellence you can achieve with technical proficiency is very different from the kind of excellence you can achieve if you build a culture that connects everyone to the same mission,” said Rutenbeck.
Here are some best practices from corporate customer service models that you can apply at your institution:
Understand who your “customers” are
Deliver a consistent, seamless experience throughout the learner journey
Make the experience convenient
Set and manage expectations
Align services with your overarching mission and values
Personalize the experience
Ask for feedback
Establish accountability across all services
Wondering where to start looking?
Here are 10 companies delivering outstanding customer service:
Institutional leaders are looking for the next big idea — the ability to leave behind a legacy of innovation and student success. But what does innovation mean? For some it means scaling high-tech platforms that promote personal learning approaches, for others it’s redefining traditional course materials to more modern, affordable and sustainable options.
In a recent report published by The Chronicleof Higher Education, titled, “The Innovation Imperative”, they share information and insights on the topic of innovation, including what it looks like in higher education, barriers to progress, and an in-depth look at what students really think about it.
How can you integrate online with the rest of your institution, and align everyone’s incentives for success?
It takes the ability to scale
Ranked #1 in the nation for innovation by U.S. News and World Report for five years running, ASU provides a number of opportunities for its students to get the most out of technology and creativity.
Innovation at work:
ASU Online, a fully online degree program, scaled from 8,200 to 41,000 students in six years, as its portfolio of programs has grown from 33 to 173.1.
Starbucks College Achievement Plan, an innovative partnership with a large corporation, covers tuition for students who work there 20 hours/week.
ASU Prep Digital, a college readiness program, allows high school students to start prepping now through a blend of high school and university coursework.
A centerpiece of ASU’s innovation strategy is that scaling isn’t just about the number of programs. It’s about evaluating your marketing efforts to recruit ever-larger numbers of students.
Michael M. Crow, the university’s president since 2002, believes the role of institutions like his is to “find ways to massively innovate” to ensure that growing numbers of students can have high-quality educational opportunities.
How do you set costs to optimize enrollment, serve students, and sustain your program?
It takes return on investment
Gone are the days of brick and mortar as the only model for higher ed. As the nation’s first online nonprofit university, Western Governors University’s programs are delivered solely online, meeting the needs of today’s non-traditional student body, allowing them to graduate faster and at a lower cost.
Innovation at work:
The University only offers degrees in business, IT, teacher education, and health care. Through this specialization, WGU is able to serve more students at lower costs.
A competency-based education model allows students to advance upon mastery making education accessible to more students, and better preparing America’s workforce.
A unique faculty and instructional model where different people are responsible for monitoring a student’s progress helps lower administrative costs.
Low tuition is one of WGU’s hallmarks because, as its president, Scott Pulsipher, has said, affordability “increases the access for so many to be served.”
How can you differentiate and future-proof both new and existing online programs?
It takes adaptability
The world we’re in right now requires adaptive change, particularly when it comes to lifelong learning — no matter what that looks like. To meet this demand, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) has established one of the biggest online-education operations of any college in the country, with an enrollment of more than 120,000.
Innovation at work:
SNHU has been recognized for its pioneering work in serving refugees overseas.
Students and smartphones. Educators have legitimate concerns about their use in the classroom, and how the technology is quite frequently a distraction. Cognitive scientists study the effects of distraction on learning and point out how short the typical student’s attention span is. As an instructor, can I use those tools – especially cell phones – to my advantage? Can we use them to help students learn?
The answer is yes. I want students to use their phones in class, but not for scrolling through Facebook or checking text messages, posting on Instagram, etc. We use them as a classroom response system (and any wi-fi enabled device will work, so a laptop or Kindle or Google tablet or iPad will work, too). Think of them as a more powerful clicker type of system. Instead of being able to only use multiple choice questions, I can choose from 18 different types of questions. It’s all about using the phones as a catalyst for learning; the tool is Learning Catalytics.
As an instructor, you can pose a variety of open-ended questions that help your students develop critical thinking skills, while monitoring responses with real-time analytics to find out where they’re struggling. With this information, you can adjust your instructional strategy in real time and try additional ways of engaging your students during class. Students can review their work after class as well, and see your additional notes and feedback. It’s a great just-in-time tool for you–and it’s a great review tool for them.
Learning Catalytics also lets you manage student interactions by automatically grouping students for discussion, team-based learning, and peer-to-peer learning if you’d like. You can deliver a session in five modes; typically we think of the instructor-led synchronous mode, but you can also deliver it automated online or use self-test or self-paced options, or even teams as noted above.
This amazing and engaging tool allows you to search thousands of existing questions across many fields of learning; anything from art history to psychology to mathematics to physics to anatomy and much more. You can search questions loaded by Pearson Education and tagged by author or content. You can also search content shared by your colleagues down the hall or around the world. If you want still more questions, or you can’t quite find exactly what you want, you can easily create your own questions. You can embed images or dataset links, use an equation editor, provide additional feedback, and even leave notes for other educators.
The help site on Learning Catalytics is quite extensive; it’s good to explore the video resources if you are thinking about getting started.
One of the best things? It’s free if you are already using a MyLab & Mastering product. If you aren’t, it’s $12 (6 months) or $20 (12 months). It’s also easy to access student performance data by class or even by module or question.
I’ll admit, when I first saw it more than 6 or 7 years ago, I thought it was neat. I also figured I didn’thave time to add one more thing in my classroom. I was concerned students might not have access (what if our wi-fi went down?) and I didn’t know if it was really worth the time to set things up. At the time, I taught courses that had very little available in terms of pre-written questions, so I wrote my own.
The first day I ran some sessions with students made me a believer. The very last question I asked them in each class was what they thought about that day’s new tool. Yes, I loved the instant feedback in class, and I liked seeing them more engaged, but if they just saw it as a toy….maybe it wasn’t worth it. I wanted it to help them remember and develop new memory skills. (Interested in more about working memory? Read this article.)
Their replies cemented it for me. One young man wrote that it was the first time -ever- that he enjoyed a math class even though he had to work hard. Others wrote it was fun, it made them pay attention, or they liked being able to ask questions or let me know they didn’t understand without everyone else knowing it.
Thus began my journey. I’ve used Learning Catalytics online. I’ve done large workshops with nearly 100 attendees participating. I’ve done team-building in my classes both face-to-face and online. I’ve written a lot of questions. I’ve shown other faculty how powerful this is–and they teach everything from art to economics to math to English to career readiness. It’s a flexible and powerful tool.
And, not only does it engage my students, but it engages me. I like technology, but I also want it to be something that really benefits my students, not just makes them have fun. Learning Catalytics fits the bill-I like to think of it as “teach-nology.”
Learning Catalytics was developed by Eric Mazur, the creator of Peer Instruction, speaker on physics education and interactive teaching, founder of SiOnyx, and a professor of physics and area dean at Harvard. He collaborated with Brian Lukoff, an educator, entrepreneur, technology designer, and engineer. Brian was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and a Stanford Ph.D. in educational measurement and technology. Eric also worked with Gary King, an expert on statistical methods, founder of Crimson Hexagon, Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, and one of just 23 University Professors at Harvard.
Maybe you are chuckling to yourself about a moment recently where that happened to you. You sat at your desk or stood in the middle of the room or waited in your car at the intersection…trying to remember the thing you wanted to recall. You may have employed some mnemonics or keywords or other tools to help you store and later access that information. Sometimes if information hasn’t seemed to clearly fit into our mental mapping or schemas, or we haven’t attempted to access it for a while, it’s kind of tough!
Often times when we think about teaching, we’re focused on getting information into students’ heads. We have content to cover, a final to prepare for, etc. We may think we don’t really have time to add another “thing” to our classroom routine, and yet, there is something very critical that we should be focusing on. Happily, it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time, money, or any special technology tools.
“Retrieval practice” is a learning strategy where we focus on getting information out of student minds. Through the action of trying to recall information, our memory for that information is strengthened. Consequently, forgetting is less likely to occur.
In the book Making it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors share the benefits of using learning strategies such as retrieval, spacing, interleaving, elaboration, dual coding, and more. There has been a significant amount of research in the field of cognitive science as well as neurobiological research about how we learn. We’ve learned that a few strategies in particular are far more effective; from LearningScientists.org: “About 10 years ago, a report was published summarizing the research from cognitive psychology applied to education. These strategies in particular were found to have solid evidence and were suggested for implementation. Unfortunately, a recent textbook report suggests that they have not really made their way into teacher-training textbooks. However, it’s important to note that not all 6 strategies have equal amounts of evidence behind them. In particular, spaced practice and retrieval practice are most strongly supported by decades of research.”
The real question is, though, how can we make use of those studies in our classroom? What does learning science really tell us? What would retrieval look like?
It can be a 2 – 5 min activity in the beginning of class where you ask students to recall material from the prior class. They can then pull out their notes and fill in the gaps. It can be using sample tests and frequent low-stakes quizzing to help students practice. It can be using flash cards to not only recall ideas but to think about connections between topics. I read about one professor who said when he bumps into a student on campus, he uses those moments to review key things from class or help them make connections to other coursework.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, especially this time of year. We invite you to pause, and take a moment to look at the world and really see it. Focus on the present and live in that moment — tune in, calmly, and with awareness of your surroundings and sensations. Here are four tips based on content from Access to Health, 16e that are designed to help you live a more mindful life.
1: Live more compassionately
Be there. When others are down, be kind and offer support. Compassion is so much more than helping others through grief or pain — it’s the good and bad.
See the good in others. Listen to your inner critiques of others, their appearance, or actions, and block the negative and focus on the positive.
See the good in you. Practice self-compassion (cut yourself some slack).
Remember that compassion is a skill. You can consciously foster your capacity for compassion for others and yourself.
2: Live with purpose/meaning
Carve out “me” time. Start with 30 minutes of quiet time per day. Disconnect from media intrusions, meditate, play calming music, walk in nature, listen to the silence, and block any outside “chatter” in your life.
Think about what’s important to you, and ask yourself, “What makes me happy?” Jot it down and ask yourself whether you did anything today that made you happy.
Say “no” to things or events that are “downers” for you or those things you do out of guilt or a need to feel needed.
Engage in activities (like volunteering) that help others and bring you satisfaction.
3: Live with gratitude
Make a list of the things that you’re thankful for in life.
Consider the “lessons” you’ve learned through pain, loss, adversity, or challenges. Think about how something that seemed like a bad thing in life may have actually shaped who you are today, and how you have moved ahead.
Think about the people who are positive influences in your life and how you might “pay those actions forward”, and make a difference for others.
When you wake up each day, try to say to yourself, ”Today will be a good day, because…”
4: Lean in, tune in
Wake those sleeping senses. Hear more, see more, taste more, smell more. Slow down on your walks — hear the birds, smell the air. Take the time to savor your food.
Do your part to reduce your environmental footprint — live simply, waste not, and walk the talk when it comes to planet survival.
It only takes minutes each day to live a more purposeful life. Use these helpful tips to make the most of your summer, and be ready to enter the next school year refreshed.
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up with episodes 1-8.
With technology, teachers actually sometimes see less student work than they do with a traditional worksheet. How can resources developers best communicate about students’ work to teachers? What instructional decisions do teachers make for which it is helpful to have data to answer? Are data points useful beyond intervention alone? What do teachers actually seek from data and how it is presented, without adding to existing workload? What latest design methods of communicating information can be used to feedback student performance to teachers whilst maintaining the agency of all stakeholders? Is the “data-dashboard” here to stay? Or, is there another way?
Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.
Higher education is moving into a new phase when it comes to the power of technology in the classroom. More sophisticated learning tools are being developed, and they promise to fundamentally change how instructors teach and students learn. Such advances are being met with a mix of resistance and acceptance. Some educators worry that new technologies may diminish their role in the education process will eventually replace them, or that digital learning tools are too costly, or not necessary. Some are concerned about the amount of work involved with incorporating technology into their courses. Despite such uneasiness, a growing number of educators are adopting the tools and using them in innovative ways to enhance student learning.
Among other products, Learning Catalytics is an interactive student response tool that educators are using in classrooms and lecture halls to pose questions and poll students’ understanding real-time with graphical visualization. We are continuing to develop even more advanced learning tools, including technologies that can assess critical thinking skills and broaden tutorial capabilities.
According to higher education experts, many educators are turning to technology to enhance the learning experience, deliver improved outcomes, and to manage increasing class sizes and varying learning styles. They are selecting course materials that are available in digital format, and they’re using interactive tools to check students’ progress and mastery on assignments when completing course assignments. Many educators are redesigning coursework to blend online activities with classroom experiences. Some are sending texts and emails to nudge students to keep up with assignments, while others are recording and streaming lectures for students to view outside the classroom at their convenience, on a variety of mobile devices. A number of educators are even setting up labs where students can use sophisticated technology to conduct research.
For example, the college of education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign two years ago unveiled its Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory (IDEALL) where students can set up technology–enhanced learning environments and then use technology to study the impact on learning. The lab features state-of-the-art equipment, including 360-degree audio- and video-recording systems, ceiling-mounted cameras, and 55-inch touch-screen tabletops. University researchers say the entire lab operates as a data-collection device to track learners’ interactions with technology. They use data analytics techniques to identify patterns and relationships among the learners’ movements, responses, discussions, and other actions to gain insight into their levels of engagement.
H. Chad Lane, an associate professor of educational psychology, says the high-tech lab is making a “huge difference” for student researchers, and is an energizing, popular, and much-sought-after resource.
Although students might be gravitating toward digital tools, many education technology experts say their use will not replace instructors. Digital learning, the experts say, makes educators better able to meet the students where they are technologically, better able to adapt lessons for varied learning styles, and better able to reach more students. Those benefits, the experts say, translate to stronger academic success, improved retention rates, and higher graduation rates.
“Students learn best when there is an available instructor because those personal interactions and relationships are a very essential part of the teaching and learning process,” says Barnes. “Technology is simply backing up the instructor because the instructor cannot be there at every moment for every student.”
Indeed, students can access digital coursework on their own schedule, anytime, anywhere, on their personal device of choice. Digital products also offer a flexibility and malleability that print books cannot. Electronic materials can be easily updated by publishers, and they can be integrated with other technologies to become even more adaptable. Interactive learning solutions typically present topics in small chunks, along with a video, audio, or other teaching aid. Students can highlight and take notes, and they test their knowledge before moving on to the next topic. The interactive capability helps students grasp the concepts, accounts for their different learning styles, allows them to work at their own pace, and pushes them to be more engaged in their studies—all while helping to reduce the cost of learning materials by as much as 70 percent.
The interactive capabilities also help the instructors by giving them a broader reach to connect with students, an opportunity to give feedback outside class, and the ability to adjust and optimize their instructional plans. Instructors can electronically observe what assignments have been completed, how long it takes students to do them, and how they score on the online quizzes. Educators can send notes to students, prompt them online, or modify a lecture, assignment, or coursework, if they see that students are not understanding a concept.
Inclusive Access has helped faculty and students at Miami University by enabling more streamlined course material delivery, offering simpler and earlier access, and reducing costs.
MyLab Statistics Inclusive Access study documents student success
Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
Miami University’s Inclusive Access implementation of MyLab Statistics, as part of a larger course redesign and textbook change, has played an important role in improved student learning outcomes.
Pearson Inclusive Access has facilitated the department’s transition to hybrid course delivery at the Oxford campus by enabling MyLab’s integration within the university’s LMS, providing students code-free access to the program at the start of the semester.
Student success at the Oxford campus has increased by 5.6 percentage points since Inclusive Access has been implemented as part of the course redesign. Students appreciate the cost savings and streamlined access across devices.
Miami University is an Ohio public university. Its main campus is located in Oxford, Ohio, about thirty-five miles north of Cincinnati, with four additional regional locations in Hamilton, Middletown, West Chester, and the European Center in Luxembourg. The Oxford campus enrolls approximately 16,000 undergraduate students and 2,500 graduate students, while the regional campuses in Ohio boast a combined enrollment of 5,000 students. Forty percent (40%) of students are state residents, with freshman enrollment including representation from nearly all 50 states. Seventy-eight (78%) of students are White, 3.5% are Hispanic, 4% are Black, and 2% are Asian. Ten percent (10%) of students are non-residents originating from more than 50 countries. The Department of Statistics offers courses at the Oxford, Middletown, and Hamilton campuses. Over 60% of students enrolled in the introductory statistics course are Oxford students.
Challenges and goals
Miami University’s Department of Statistics has been a long-time user of MyLab™ Statistics — Pearson’s online homework, tutorial, and assessment application—for its introductory algebra-based statistics course (STA 261) and has been satisfied with the program overall. However, they sought to facilitate student access by eliminating the need to wait for financial aid approval to purchase course materials, streamline the enrollment process and eliminate student difficulty with access codes. At the same time, they were interested in integrating MyLab with Canvas, their learning management system (LMS). Inclusive Access to MyLab via MyLabsPlus offered several advantages: all students gain immediate access to course materials via the university LMS on or before the first day of class; access codes are eliminated; and students benefit from a 13% discount on course material.
The University implemented Inclusive Access to MyLab Statistics on all three campuses in Fall 2014. The previous year, faculty piloted the model in a few sections of the course. At the Oxford campus, which had been using a Pearson text previously but transitioned to a different Pearson text, Agresti and Franklin’s The Art and Science of Learning from Data during Fall 2014, MyLab was integrated into the LMS immediately. The Hamilton campus transitioned from a different Pearson text and also adopted Agresti and Franklin during the move to Inclusive Access, enabling LMS integration from the start as well. At the Middletown campus, instructors continued using their original Pearson text during the 2014–2015 academic year and only transitioned to Agresti and Franklin during the 2015–2016 academic year. This required students to redeem an access code when registering for the course during the 2014–2015 school year, and MyLab was not integrated into the LMS. The following year, all campuses used the same Pearson text, did not require the use of access codes, and integrated MyLab into the LMS.
The move to Inclusive Access assisted the Oxford campus in transitioning from a face-to-face delivery model to a hybrid one in their introductory statistics course. Beginning Fall 2014, all sections of STA 261 at Oxford were offered as hybrid courses. As Ms. Lynette Hudiburgh, course coordinator and lecturer at the Oxford campus, explained, “Inclusive Access facilitated the move to hybrid course delivery. We were trying to streamline the process as much as possible. Any time the method of course delivery is changed, it is difficult. Integrating MyLab in the LMS and eliminating the need for access codes was helpful during this transition.”
In addition to using MyLab content delivered through the university LMS, the department added video to the course, requiring students to take quizzes about the video content before learning the assigned topic in class. This helps students build background knowledge that can lay the foundation for developing deeper conceptual understanding during the lecture. In addition, faculty began using Learning Catalytics™ to help guide assessment. Once a week, they would pose Learning Catalytics questions as students worked on problem sets. If students answered these incorrectly, faculty would intervene with reteaching or with partner discussion. As Hudiburgh explained, “Without Learning Catalytics we would not have been able to determine what students did and did not understand, especially given our large class sizes.”
Observed impact Hudiburgh noted that enrollment has become more consistent across sections during the Fall 2015 semester, with all sections of the course filled. “It seems like attendance was distributed evenly across the board, with 32–34 students in each class. In the past, some class enrollments would drop much lower than that range.” She concluded that this most likely is the result of fewer withdrawals overall in the course.
40% Exams (two exams at 10% each; final exam 20%)
25% Group projects
15% MyLab quizzes
5% Video lecture quizzes
5% MyLab homework
5% Lab activities and problem sessions
5% Learning catalytics
Results and data
Across all campuses, the percentage of students successfully completing the course with an A, B, or C increased after Inclusive Access was introduced. As shown in figure 1, the percentage of students succeeding in the course increased 1.5 percentage points after the implementation of Inclusive Access (n=10,232). This change is statistically significant (p=.0361).
Auburn University’s All Access program has saved students money and enabled first-day access to digital course materials having an impact on their retention, course grades, and overall success in college.
Inclusive Access study tracks student access and cost savings
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama
Pearson Inclusive Access at Auburn University (known as the All Access program) has cumulatively saved students close to a million dollars since Fall 2014.
Based on survey data, a projected 2,185 students who opted in to the Inclusive Access program during Spring 2017 would otherwise not have purchased course materials. It has enabled these students (over one-third of participating students) who would not have otherwise purchased the text to gain access to required texts from the start of the semester.
Auburn University is a public research university in Auburn, Alabama. It is a land, sea, and space grant institution and one of the largest universities in the region. Offering a choice of over 140 majors in 15 colleges and schools, it enrolls over 28,000 students, with more than 22,000 undergraduates. Seventy-seven (77%) percent of students are White, nearly 7% are Black, 3% are Hispanic, and 2% are Asian. The university boasts a freshman retention rate of over 90%, and a five-year graduation rate of nearly 73%. Auburn prides itself on its international footprint, with over 800 international students benefiting from its Accelerator Program, 500 Auburn students studying abroad, and a global faculty.
Challenges and Goals
In the Inclusive Access model, all students enrolled in a course receive first-day access to digital course materials, and the cost of the materials is included in the course fee. Auburn University became a pioneer of Inclusive Access for several reasons. With its history of customer service and helping faculty solve problems to improve the educational experience, the bookstore sought to provide a digital solution that would empower faculty members in a new age. The bookstore management at Auburn embraces change and transparency as critical to moving the university bookstore industry forward. In its quest to serve as a value provider and seek innovation, Assistant Director Russell Weldon explained that, “Inclusive Access became the next logical step.” Finally, the model helped further the university’s strategic mission of engaging students and increasing success and retention rates.
Auburn University’s bookstore began implementing its All Access program in Fall 2014. Its primary focus was on ensuring a smooth but easily scalable implementation. The first course adoptions had no need for a student opt out, since the digital materials were only available via the All Access program. Auburn also worked to develop their own in-house management system, rather than relying on a third-party partner, to ensure that they can more easily control all aspects of the implementation. Auburn’s system menu allows for use of an access code, an eText, or a Canvas (Learning Management System) integration of a digital product. The system emails students upon course registration to inform them that they have enrolled in an All Access class and are provided an individual access code. They are also redirected to the bookstore’s website to help them understand what this term means and how they will receive their course materials.
In March, the bookstore hosted an event with multiple publishers and digital providers for forty instructors. All of the participating instructors chose to implement All Access in the Fall semester. As Russell Weldon described, “There is an explosive amount of interest and growth. We can tell that there is something happening.”
As a result of the careful planning and infrastructure created to manage the program, students experienced a smooth transition to All Access, as reported by history professor Dr. Daren Ray, who implemented it in Spring 2017. Students received instructions from the bookstore that explained how they would be charged for the course materials and how they could opt out of the program. According to Dr. Ray, for nearly all students, this explained the process sufficiently. The only exceptions were a few international students who experienced difficulty understanding the instructions and required assistance from the instructor to explain the opt-out process. Professor Ray uses Revel™ in his course, and transitioning to All Access was a natural next step that simplified the registration and onboarding process for his students. In addition, the cost savings of twenty dollars per unit on the program reduced student frustration regarding the cost of the multiple course materials in his course.
There’s an explosive amount of interest and growth. We can tell that there is something happening.
—Russell Weldon, Assistant Director, Auburn University Bookstore
The All Access initiative at Auburn University Bookstore has translated to significant cost savings for students:
Students have saved an average of fifty dollars for each unit in the program compared to the new price of the unit.
On average, students saved just over 50% off of the lowest print option (new or used).
In the Spring 2017 semester alone, 6,500 students enrolled in 20 courses saved a total of $178,000. In Fall 2017, the program grew to 16,000 students enrolled in an All Access course with cost savings of $441,850.
Over the lifetime of the All Access program (three years), students have realized a cumulative savings of almost one million dollars ($991,227).
In courses that required students to purchase course materials, student opt-out rates over the past three years has been less than 1.2%, significantly lower than the national average of close to 6%.1
Despite the significant student cost savings, the bookstore has consistently reported a revenue from All Access sales, enabling it to continue to provide faculty with solutions that facilitate their instruction.
The Student Experience
The Auburn University bookstore surveyed students enrolled in courses that participated in the All Access program at the end of Spring 2017.2 Out of 6,707 students, 112 students (1.7% of students surveyed) responded to the survey, of which 92 (82%) opted in to All Access for at least one course during the Spring semester.
92% of student respondents who opted in to All Access believed that the cost of digital materials in the program were a similar or better value compared to print textbooks they had purchased in the past. Student perception here is in line with the actual student cost savings reported above.
Over one-third of students surveyed reported that they were unlikely to purchase course materials at all if they were not offered digitally via the All Access program. This translates to 2,185 students (of the 6,284 students enrolled in the program during the Spring semester) who opted in and were able to access the course materials due to All Access. These 2,185 students would likely not have had any access to course materials during the semester without the All Access program. 78% of students who opted in to All Access agreed or strongly agreed that the digital course materials were easy to access.
Technology is driving the sports industry, making it easier to gather player insights. Can it do the same for student performance?
The sports industry has changed drastically in recent years with the implementation of technologies that improve player and team performance. NFL teams now use digital playbooks to enhance training and communication, the NHL is planning to introduce smart puck technology in 2019 to track movement on the ice, and most recently at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, all 32 teams used Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS), technologies that give coaches, analysts, and medical teams access to player statistics and video footage, such as player positioning data, speed, passing, and tackles. With high stakes competition in every game, coaches can rely on EPTS to help them make informed decisions. And sports coaches aren’t the only ones using technology to gain insights and drive results. Just ask a teacher.
Teachers and coaches embrace technology
According to a 2016 survey by Edgenuity, provider of online and blended learning services, 91% of teachers believe technology provides a greater ability for them to tailor lessons and homework assignments to the individual needs of each student.
By implementing technology in the classroom and learning how to use new apps and platforms, teachers are able to stay on top of learner progress and provide immediate feedback that will improve performance. Teachers, like sports coaches, have to learn about the latest technologies so they’re able to build the skills and the talents of others.
Technology affects everyone
In 2016, FIFA invited the soccer industry to Zurich to learn more about new technologies like EPTS that would impact the game. Johannes Holzmueller, FIFA Head of Football Technology, believes the advantage of wearable technology is the amount of data people can access. His colleague Marco van Basten, FIFA’s Chief Technical Development Officer, notes that data informs players on their performance, it gives doctors insight into player health and wellbeing, and trainers can use it to recommend player substitutes.
With innovative technology, a community of people interested in the soccer player’s abilities can work together. The collaboration and involvement look similar to the way teachers, parents, and administrators work together to do what’s best for the student. Cutting-edge technology affects an individual’s entire ecosystem.
Keller Battey, a first grade teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, relies heavily on technology to help her track progress and personalize teaching. “Technology helps all students,” Battey says. “If a student is above grade level, I can extend a skill or a lesson and if a student is struggling then I can remediate. I know exactly how my students are performing and so do their parents. The data is all there.”
Education companies, large and small, are listening to consumers and have focused on the benefits of providing data and analytics to help teachers and students achieve success. Pearson’s Intelligent Essay Assessor (IEA) is a prime example of a capability that meets the needs of teachers and students.
IEA is a suite of automated essay scoring capabilities that can analyze open-ended responses from learners and then assesses the content knowledge and understanding. It uses a range of machine learning and natural language processing technologies to evaluate the content and meaning of text and feedback is immediate, allowing teachers to monitor ongoing progress at an individual and class level.
The goal of technology here is to ensure correct evaluation and accuracy. In this year’s World Cup, the new Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology performed in a similar capacity.
Technology as a supplement
VAR was created to ensure fairness and identify any errors on the field. Video Assistant Referees work in a team of four, and each referee undergoes extensive training to support match officials in the decision making process.
FIFA referee Mark Geiger has been a VAR since the project started in 2016 at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. He says, “When you have a critical decision in a game…they’re there to tell you ‘check complete.’ It’s the two best words for a referee to hear because now you know your decision was correct, and you’re able to go on with a lot of confidence.”
VAR technology proved to be a controversial topic at the World Cup, and though it may undergo improvements, the technology is here to stay. At the closing news conference in Moscow, FIFA president Gianni Infantino touched on the technology at the games. “This is progress, this is better than the past,” he said. “VAR is not changing football, it is cleaning football.”
A similar sentiment is expressed by education leaders who assure consumers and educators that technology doesn’t exist to replace teachers; it exists to support them. Tim Hudson, SVP of Learning at DreamBox, told Business Insider, “It’s important that we listen to teachers and administrators to determine the ways technology can assist them in the classroom.”
When students must choose between textbooks and food or gas money, the latter wins. But without course materials, students often find classroom success elusive.
A student entering his or her first year of college can expect course materials to cost between 5 to 10 percent of total expenses. At the same time, student populations are changing from the traditional 18 to 22-year-old to campuses that are more diverse, including older adults and returning veterans, all with unique financial challenges. But one financial concern remains consistent: course materials are expensive are often the first college expense cut when money gets tight.
The steep rise of textbooks
In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a Consumer Price Index for college expenses. Between 2006 and 2016, tuition costs jumped 63 percent. Over that same period, textbook prices increased 88 percent. Covering that same time period, a study conducted by the Florida Virtual Campus revealed more than half of students spent more than $300 on books in a semester, while nearly a fifth shelled out more than $500.
More importantly, the Florida study showed how the high cost of materials directly impacts the student’s ability to succeed. When books are too expensive, two-thirds don’t purchase them, and of those students, 37 percent earn a poor grade, while almost one-fifth end up failing. To compensate for high book costs, students are taking fewer classes or don’t register for a class they need — but that ends up extending their time in school, which costs more money. It’s an ugly, expensive cycle.
How campuses stepped up
Students began to complain openly about the price of textbooks. Faculty became concerned that students stopped purchasing the expensive materials. Educators at Indiana University paid attention.
“We started pilots in 2009, working with some publishers, to make some electronic textbook content available, and we didn’t ask the students to pay,” said Stacey Morrone, associate vice president for learning technologies in the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology at Indiana University. The students liked the change.
Indiana University now works with 30 publishers who agree that the cost of e-texts will be at least 35 percent of a hard-copy edition. They have publishers who now offer their entire digital catalog at a flat rate. And importantly, the students will be able to access the e-text throughout their college career. While digital formats are optional, more faculty are buying in because, Morrone said, it ensures every student has their materials on the first day of classes. Indiana’s data shows that students who achieve A/B grades start coursework immediately and keep reading.
The faculty benefit
San Diego State University began its Immediate Access program in 2016 with two classes. That’s since grown to 80 classes with savings of $2 million in textbook costs, with a projection of 150 classes next year and $4 million in savings.
James Frazee, senior academic technology officer and director of instructional services, said students at SDSU are charged for digital books and materials as a course fee, and they aren’t charged the fee until after the add/drop deadline. The majority of students said they access the materials before that deadline and felt this access helped them academically.
“Students feel this is a good value,” Frazee said. Not only are the materials more affordable, but they deepen the level of engagement with faculty. Faculty can monitor the way the materials are used and can focus lessons around sections where it is clear students are struggling. Also, as students have access to materials immediately, faculty can conduct more frequent, low-stake assessments earlier in the semester. Having improved insight to how students are faring from day one, faculty can restructure the lesson plan that lead to improved student success.
Digital materials go beyond affordability, said Drew Miller, senior vice president of marketing with Pearson. Digital learning platforms, like Pearson’s Revel, combine content with immersive and engaged academic experiences. It allows both students and faculty to be interactive in the education process, creating a sustainable business model for both higher education institutions and the students they serve. Students are able to access and afford the materials they need to succeed while the institutions provide a learning environment that allows options that work best for all.
This content was sponsored by Pearson. See the original article here.
Pearson study reveals Generation Z and millennials’ learning preferences
Young people are the first to admit they can easily spend hours a day on the internet—whether it’s via a desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone. While they may be tech-savvy by nature, this innate connectivity poses the question of technology’s place as it relates to how Generation Z and millennials learn.
In a recent survey of 2,558 14-40 year olds in the US, Pearson explored attitudes, preferences, and behaviors around technology in education, identifying some key similarities and differences between Gen Z and millennials.
While 39% of Gen Z prefer learning with a teacher leading the instruction, YouTube is also their #1 preferred learning method. And 47% of them spend three hours or more a day on the video platform. On the other hand, millennials need more flexibility—they are more likely to prefer self-directed learning supported by online courses with video lectures. And while they are known for being the “plugged in” generation, it’s apparent that plenty of millennials still prefer a good old-fashioned book to learn.
Regardless of their differences, the vast majority of both Gen Z and millennials are positive about the future of technology in education. 59% of Gen Z and 66% of millennials believe technology can transform the way college students learn in the future.
When I was a college student, there were times when I skipped out on buying a required textbook for a course. Finances were always tight, so I tried to balance my checkbook with buying actual books. Even then, textbooks weren’t cheap. Today, students are paying more and more for their higher education experience. If a university can find ways to make attending college more affordable, accessible, and “high-tech/high-touch”, well, it’s not really an option, it’s a necessity.
Today’s technology makes it easy to distill course materials into digital formats and enhances them as a result. Colleges and universities are quickly shifting from books to bytes to improve the student experience and boost course outcomes.
Here are 10 reasons why your university should go digital with its course materials:
2. A better experience for students with disabilities
Unlike print books, modern eTextbooks can be accessible “out of the box.” When eTextbooks include features such alternative text descriptions of visuals and content that can be used with assistive technology, students can start reading right away, without waiting for a disability services department to create a file.
3. Learning analytics and digital integration
Can you remember when a physical book connected to a digital learning system? It’s just not possible. However, with digital course materials, integration with the campus LMS/VLE is possible. Plus, with learning analytics built in, digital materials can help support at-risk learners who may need additional assistance.
Digital course materials might not seem like they give universities a recruitment edge, but in an increasingly competitive enrollment landscape, everything helps. Students seek modern solutions for their educational experience. For bring-your-own-device (BYOD) campuses and institutions that provide technology platforms for students, digital course materials hit the sweet spot. They create more affordances for student success and showcase a university experience that is effectively using the latest technologies.
5. Multi-platform capability
The ability to view course materials on a variety of devices represents a huge advantage for digital course materials. If a student needs to read a chapter while on the go, odds are, they will be able to access it on whichever device they have with them. Also, it’s a good bet that no one misses having a backpack filled with textbooks.
6. Seamless group work
University campuses are filled with versatile seating and project workspaces. You can’t project a textbook onto a large screen, but you can with digital course content. It’s simply a matter of either plugging in or wirelessly beaming content to a screen. It makes group work and collaboration a much easier task.
7. Always current
Have you ever tried to update a textbook? Editions come and go, each one costing more than the last. With digital course materials, content is as up to date as possible and it doesn’t cost students more for this “always current” content. Who wants a used book when you can have a new digital version?
8. Instant access
No longer do students have to search for the lowest price option or wait until after term starts. Instant access to digital materials, through programs such as Pearson Inclusive Access and others, ensures all students are ready to learn on the first day of class, not the third week. It’s as easy as logging into the university system, selecting the appropriate course, and downloading the material to a compatible device.
Textbooks have been surpassed in form, function, and capability. Digital course materials allow authors the opportunity to embed audio and video into their work. This makes for a much more interactive and “real” experience for students.
Anything that a college or university can do to assist students with their academic success is a good thing. Digital course materials aid and enhance an institution’s ability to improve their overall retention rates and bolster student success with all of the supportive elements in this list.
What would you add to the list?
Digital course materials are not the future for higher education; they’re the present. It’s only a matter of time before your institution goes digital for student success.
This post was sponsored by Pearson as part of a higher education influencers collaboration.
In 2016, distance education enrollment continued to grow for the 14th straight year.
This is the headline coming out of Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States – a recent report released by Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG).
As stated in BSRG’s press release: “The growth of distance enrollments has been relentless,” said study co-author Julia E. Seaman, research director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “They have gone up when the economy was expanding, when the economy was shrinking, when overall enrollments were growing, and now when overall enrollments are shrinking.”
Generation Z is the youngest of the five generations, active in today’s economy. They are already the largest generation in the U.S. and will represent 40 percent of the population in 2020. In the world of higher-education, Gen Z accounts for all of the students enrolling today. Generation Z has experienced the most change in their short time on earth. Most of those changes center around technology. Gen Z is disrupting decades-long practices in our education system, forcing colleges and universities to adapt at a rapid pace or become irrelevant.
Millennials were different and required some modifications so higher-ed has been adapting to their needs. Millennials were the first generation to come to campus, laptop in hand. Gen X may have used desktops in computer labs on campus. The Millennials forced educators to begin using technology as a teaching tool. Gen Zs were born with technology. They will never know what life was like without the internet. Gen Z learners don’t see technology as a tool, they see it as a regular part of life.
While Millennials used three screens on average, Gen Z students frequently use up to five. Most use a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and a tablet. These devices occupy ten hours of Gen Z’s daily activity. The constant stimulation and access to all the world’s information at their fingertips has given them an eight-second attention span and has trained their brains to expect instant gratification. Sitting in a hall or classroom listening to a lecture is Gen Z torture. Gen Z students want a chance to be part of the learning process, not a passive bystander.
Gen Z students are much more pragmatic and skeptical than generations before. Many experienced their parents’ and friends’ families lose everything in the Great Recession. They felt intense pressure as their parents did all they could to get them into college. Because of that experience, they are very worried about college debt, and demand colleges provide a good return on their investment. A Gen Z survey from the nonprofit, College Savings Foundation showed seventy-nine percent said costs are a factor on college choice. Thirty-nine percent said high costs caused them to change their path and enroll in state schools, community colleges, or vocational and career schools.
I’ve seen this with my college sophomore son. He will wait as long as three weeks after a class starts before he decides whether to purchase an expensive textbook. He tells me that some professors won’t even use the book so he waits. He has even dropped classes after learning how much the textbook will cost.
Fortunately, many professors and their institutions are saving students money by migrating to digital textbooks and course materials. Education companies like Pearson provide Pearson Inclusive Access for students that can save them upwards of 80 percent off the price of a new print textbook. Offering digital textbooks also makes it possible for students to receive their course materials the first day of class. Professors can begin teaching immediately without concern that half their students do not have required materials because they either can’t afford it or are spending time searching or borrowing to save money.
In addition to the cost savings, digital textbooks appeal to Gen Z students because they can access course materials on the same devices they already embrace. Gen Z wants to seamlessly jump from their personal experiences to their educational experiences on-demand and do it outside the classroom anytime, anywhere. Seventy-eight percent of students prefer digital course materials. I am not surprised because they provide three Gen Z “must-haves.” Cost savings, convenience, and interactivity. Being able to scan for specific topics, or click on audio and video links keeps those eight-second attention spans engaged in the course materials.
Professors and institutions benefit as well. Digital textbooks provide data on how students are engaging in the content. This is invaluable feedback that can help educators identify struggling students and make adjustments when needed. More than 425 colleges and universities across the country have partnered with Pearson to provide digital course materials, and they are starting to see real results in student achievement.
The primary focus of my book is to help each generation become self-aware of their own generational preferences. When educators become self-aware, they can ignore common Millennial, and Gen Z stereotypes and embrace their unique strengths, preferences, and learning styles. Many Boomer and Gen X educators struggle with this, and it is understandable. Technology has caused Gen Z to see more changes in ten years than older generations will experience in their lifetimes.
Change can be hard, and it can be good, especially when it helps young people grow, learn, and become successful adults. Experienced educators should do everything they can to make learning fun, interactive, and engaging for their Gen Z students. Utilizing digital course materials and other technologies that can provide that kind of experience is a step in the right direction.
This article was originally published on Dillon Kalkhurt’s LinkedIn Pulse page and has been reposted here with permission.
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up with episodes 1-7.
What initiatives are supporting teachers and students to co-create games together? In this episode of our Future Tech for Education podcast series, hear from educators, gaming companies, and researchers on the evolution of games-based learning from “content” to “creation”.
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This is the sixth in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. Click through to read the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth pieces.
Economists define a collective action problem as one in which a collection of people (or organizations) each have an interest in seeing an action happen, but the cost of any one of them independently taking the action is so high that no action is taken — and the problem persists.
The world of education swirls with collective action problems. But when it comes to understanding the efficacy of education technology products and services, it’s a problem that costs schools and districts billions of dollars, countless hours, and (sadly) missed opportunities to improve outcomes for students.
Collectively, our nation’s K-12 schools and institutions of higher education spend more than $13 billion annually on education technology. And yet we have a dearth of data to inform our understanding of which products (or categories of products) are most likely to “work” within a particular school or classroom. As a result, we purchase products that often turn out to be a poor match for the needs of our schools or students. Badly matched and improperly implemented, too many fall short of their promise of enabling better teaching — and learning.
It’s not that the field is devoid of research. Quantifying the efficacy of ed tech is a favorite topic for a growing cadre of education researchers and academics. Most major publishers and dozens of educational technology companies conduct research in the form of case studies and, in some cases, randomized control trials that showcase the potential outcomes for their products. The What Works Clearinghouse, now entering its 15th year, sets a gold standard for educational research but provides very little context about why the same product “works” in some places but not others. And efficacy is a topic that has now come to the forefront of our policy discourse, as debates at the state and local level center on the proper interpretation of ESSA’s mercurial “evidence” requirements. Set too high a bar, and we’ll artificially contract a market laden with potential. Miss the mark, and we’ll continue to let weak outcomes serve as evidence.
The problem is that most research only addresses a tiny part of the ed tech efficacy equation. Variability among and between school cultures, priorities, preferences, professional development, and technical factors tend to affect the outcomes associated with education technology. A district leader once put it to me this way: “a bad intervention implemented well can produce far better outcomes than a good intervention implemented poorly.”
After all, a reading intervention might work well in a lab or school — but if teachers in your school aren’t involved in the decision-making or procurement process, they may very well reject the strategy (sometimes with good reason). The Rubik’s Cube of master scheduling can also create variability in efficacy outcomes: Do your teachers have time to devote to high-quality implementation and troubleshooting, and then to make good use of the data for instructional purposes? At its best, ed tech is about more than tech-driven instruction. It’s about the shift toward the use of more real-time data to inform instructional strategy. In some ways, matching an ed tech product with the unique environment and needs of a school or district is a lot like matching a diet to a person’s habits, lifestyle, and preferences: Implementation rules. Matching matters. We know what “works.” But we know far less about what works where, when, and why.
Thoughtful efforts are underway to help school and district leaders understand the variables likely to shape the impact of their ed tech investments and strategies. Organizations like LEAP Innovations are doing pioneering work to better understand and document the implementation environment, creating a platform for sharing experiences, matching schools with products, and establishing a common framework to inform practice — with or without technology. Not only are they on the front lines of addressing the ed tech implementation problem, but they are also on the leading edge of a new discipline of “implementation research.”
Implementation research is rooted in the capture of detailed descriptions of the myriad variables that undergird your school’s success — or failure — with a particular product or approach. It’s about understanding school cultures and user personas. It’s about respecting and valuing the insights and perspectives of educators. And presenting insights in ways that enable your peers to know whether they should expect similar results in their school.
Building a body of implementation research will involve hard work on an important problem. And it’s work that no one institution — or even a small group of institutions — can do alone. The good news is that solving this rather serious problem doesn’t require a grand political compromise or major new legislation. We can address it by engaging in collective action to formalize, standardize, and share information that hundreds of thousands of educators are already collecting in informal and non-standard ways.
The first step in understanding and documenting a multiplicity of variables across a range of implementation environments is creating a common language to describe our schools and classrooms in terms that are relevant to the implementation of education technology. We’ll need to identify the factors that may explain why the same ed tech product can thrive in your school but flop in my school. That doesn’t mean that every educator in the country needs to document their ed tech implementations and impact. It doesn’t require the development of a scary database of student or educator data. We can start small, honing our list of variables and learning, over time, what sorts of factors enable or impede expected outcomes.
The next step is translating those variables into metadata, and creating a common, interoperable language for incorporating the insights and experiences of individuals and organizations already doing similar work. We know that there is demand for information and insights rooted in the implementation experiences and lessons of peers. If we build an accessible and consistently organized system for understanding, collecting, and sharing information, we can chip away at the collective action problem by making it easier and less expensive to capture — and share — perspectives from across the field.
The final step is addressing accessibility to shared insights, facilitating a community of connected decision makers who work together both to call upon the system for information and to continue to make contributions to it. Think of it as a Consumer Reports for ed tech. We’ll use the data we’ve collected to hone a shared understanding of the implementation factors that matter — but we’ll also continue to rely upon lived experiences of users to inform and grow the data set. Over time, we can achieve a shared way of thinking about a complex problem that has the potential to bring decision-making out of the dark and into a well-informed, community-supported environment.
As a college professor, I have spent a fair amount of time trying to find the ideal working system for my own research as well as for my students. And I know that so many of my colleagues have done the same.
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up with episodes 1-5.
How do we get beyond the tick-box or bubble filling exercise of exams and tests, whilst also measuring ‘progress’? In episode 6, we review ideas around ‘invisible assessment’ and question who benefits from ‘traditional’ and re-imagined forms of assessment, including games-based assessment. Can ‘tests’ be fun and should they be? How do we measure collaboration?
Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Get caught up here with episode 1, episode 2,episode 3, and episode 4.
In the latest episode of our Future Tech in Education podcast series, we dip into the world of VR and mixed reality to uncover what high-cost, high-risk learning opportunities are being made more accessible to all by this technology.
Plus, we wrap our co-curated mini series with practical suggestions for educators: be mindfully skeptical, resist fear, understand that you can start small and grow, and avoid technology for technology’s sake. This last one is harder than it sounds. Many new technologies wow us but do not have useful application to education. Learn how to make the most of technology.
Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Watch episode 1, episode 2,episode 3.
Technological change is exponential, which means it will only impact our lives more and more quickly. Among the aspects of our lives undergoing change, language usage is one of the ones being altered most drastically. New technologies also create new opportunities for learning. How must we adjust and what can we take advantage of?
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Digital learning and technology has a short and turbulent history as creating cultural, social, generational, and socio-economic divides. The swiftness of change in society due to technological advances has disrupted just about everything we do, but in education, the disruption is perhaps the most important to consider.
There is a discontinuity in how education is evolving compared to the realities of career and society. Higher education attempts to be responsive to these changes, but the course corrections are often slow and/or don’t align well with the actual trajectory of the modern world. The solution is not clear-cut, but there are many ways higher education is trying to keep pace.
Here are 5 trends that are helping higher education to align better with the actual needs of students:
Online and hybrid classes have become a very popular part of the landscape at many institutions of higher education. The mix of flexibility and the infusion of technology such as video-conferencing software, cloud-based office suites such as Google’s Gsuite or Microsoft’s 365, and the use of learning management systems such as Blackboard or Desire to Learn. While the technology serves the purpose of adding flexibility and leveraging resources, the experiences students gain from working and learning in this environment align closely with the modern workplace.
Digital Delivery of learning materials is the obvious evolution for higher education, and one that has been painfully slow. While the ability to deliver what we used to think of as a “textbook” as a digital resource has long been possible, many programs still rely heavily on student and faculty use of printed media. It doesn’t have to be this way, and some schools are beginning to take a hard look at the way materials are used in courses. In many cases, the switch can be easy. For instance, Pearson Education is one of the leaders in providing access to digitally delivered learning materials. The digital catalogs available for students and faculty are massive and growing every day. At this point, any move toward digital delivery is a positive one. This transition would modernize the higher ed experience and probably save students some money.
Internships and outside experiential learning built into degree programs have continued to be a popular route due to the development of personal and social skills, but internships have a secondary yet powerful consequence: they also help instructors and program chairpeople stay current. There is a lot to be said for programs where internships, programming, and instruction are woven together in ways that a more traditional, sanitized, classroom experience cannot replicate.
Student voice and choice is changing the landscape of post-secondary education. There is a great power in programs willing to allow for a variety of student voice and choice in the learning experience, not just for the capstone, but throughout the learning journey of the students. This seems to be far more accepted in vocational and advanced degree programs, and I’d like to see it sweep through the undergraduate experience as well.
Embracing the learner, not the system, is really the key to the survival of many post-secondary programs. While the integration of learning technology, internships, diverse media delivery and student voice make for an increasingly intimate and individualized experience, it can’t survive in a vacuum. The evolution to embrace learner needs, especially when those needs run afoul of traditional practice, needs to be valued. Whether differentiated by time, place, pace, or method of delivery, individualized instruction can happen now in ways that would have been impossible or impractical even ten years ago. Not only can professors use their LMS platforms to deliver multimedia-rich learning options, but there are many options for curricula and review material already assembled and ready to use, such as Pearson’s Revel and MyLab/Mastering products.
Disruption is the constant today, and post-secondary programs will need to continue to find ways to attend to the gap between what they deliver and what students actually need. They need to be nimble and responsive to the world they are preparing students for.
While the familiar may have a certain nostalgia to some professors and instructors, these disruptions represent the best potential for future growth of programs, institutions, and the individuals. Unlike any other time in history, higher education faces a shift from tried and true to a constant reinvention to meet the fluid demands of both the working world and an ever-changing student body.
This article was originally published on Dr. VonBank’s LinkedIn Pulse page and has been reposted here with permission.
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia.
Technology is a part of almost every aspect of our lives: buildings can be 3D printed, cars can drive themselves, and algorithms can direct our education.
In the third episode of this series (catch episode 1 and episode 2), we explore how do we react to, interact with, and create with the tools of technology? It’s essential that we understand how these function and what the implications.
We also look into the changing world of work and how we can best prepare.
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes here.
Smarter digital tools, such as artificial intelligence (AI), offer up the promise of learning that is more personalized, inclusive and flexible. Many see the benefits of AI, some are skeptical – but it’s crucial we understand what these tools can do and how they work.
In the first episode of this series, we talked about the how to navigate the challenges and opportunities tech brings to the future of education. In episode two, we explore: What is AI and what is it not? What’s the difference between narrow AI, general AI, and super-intelligence? What type of AI is used now in education? What type do people fear? What questions might teachers want to use when thinking about AI in education?
This series, produced with The Edtech Podcast, explores the implications of and questions around future tech for education. Listen for insights from experts — including contrarians — from across industry, research, and academia. Subscribe to the Future Tech for Education on iTunes.
In our first episode of the Future Tech for Education podcast series, we put “future-forecasting” in perspective through a few useful but simple models. We talk about the history of the future and mindful skepticism, and we delve into the four foci of edtech technologies — mixed reality, data science (AI), biosyncing, and human-machine relations — and their effect on education, teaching, and learning.
Employ mindful skepticism. This means not accepting a new technology as inherently good or evil. But try to understand what the possibilities are. Try to understand what can it be used for; how can I make the most of this technology.
Gen Zers are the current generation to embark on their journey in higher education. They are present on your campus and in your classes, with many more enrolling every year. How well do you know them? Do you have the tools to shape these newcomers into successful and productive adults after just a few short years of schooling?
Born between 1997 and 2015, Generation Z accounts for 26% of all the total United States population, according to a Nielsen report. They’re currently the largest living generation and have the potential to reshape how we use technology and view the workplace, so you probably should.
Understanding what drives this generation can help you better tailor your coursework around tangible and transferable skills so students can better understand how it relates to their future. Barnes & Noble College conducted a survey of 1,300 Gen Zers, and more than 89% of respondents acknowledge that a college education is valuable.
For them, college is seen as the pathway to a good job. The study also states that Gen Z’s top criterion in selecting a college is how it will prepare them for their chosen careers, followed by interesting coursework and professors who care about student success.
Learning how to engage with this generation is just as important as learning what tools to use to engage them. Their comfort and trust in the online space will greatly determine how they interact with their educators. In fact, Gen Zers often prefer video content—with 85% of surveyed students reporting that they watched an online video to learn a new skill in the past week, according to The Center for Generational Kinetics.
And they have high hopes for their post-collegiate future, too. In fact, 88% of surveyed Gen Zers reported that they were optimistic about their own personal future—more than any other generation, according to a report by Vision Critical.
But that optimism is balanced by realistic expectations about their careers. When asked what matters most in their ideal jobs, in the same survey, they favored salary more and work-life balance less than their millennial counterparts.
Here’s just some of what you can expect to learn more about:
Up-to-the-minute analysis of what’s happening in higher education
Illuminating insights from multigenerational surveys about Gen Z behaviors and attitudes about education
Eye-opening interviews and surveys about the individual experiences of hundreds of Gen Z students from Jean Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood
In the meantime, dive deeper into the Gen-Z psyche, and read about their learning habits in the infographic, “Engage from A to Gen Z.” Learn more about this generation’s make-up, goals, and what makes them tick.
This year at Educause, Erick Jenkins, East Carolina University student and Pearson Campus Ambassador, and Jenn Rosenthal, community manager at Pearson, went behind the scenes to learn about what was top of mind for contributors to the best thinking in higher education IT.
Erick and Jenn spoke with digital learning advocates about the latest and greatest in digital learning and what exactly that means for students, educators, and institutions.
Together, they demystified Inclusive Access, discussed the importance of 21st century skills, engaged with cognitive tutor extraordinaire – IBM Watson, and dove into the world of AR and mixed reality.
Catch their interviews below and let us know what roles you see technology playing in the future (near or far) of education in the comments section.
Erick and Jenn talk with Jeff Erhlich, Director of Special Projects at Park University about what exactly Inclusive Access is (hint: it’s more than eText) and the benefits it brings to students, educators, and institutions.
Jenn and Erick examine virtual patient Dave through HoloPatient using Microsoft HoloLens and chat with Mark Christian, Pearson’s Global Director of Immersive Learning about how Pearson is using AR/VR to enhance learning.
We’ve heard from Emily Lai, Ph.D., twice before. Last year, she shared the story of her work in Jordan to improve learning opportunities for the children of Syrian refugees. More recently, she offered her tips for parents and teachers on helping students improve their information literacy.
The Components of Collaboration
“Most of us know what collaboration is, at least in its most basic sense,” says Emily Lai, Ph.D.
“It means working with others to achieve a common goal.”
Emily is Director of Formative Assessment and Feedback for Pearson. Her work is focused on improving the ways we assess learners’ knowledge and skills, and ensuring results support further learning and development.
“We’ve been reviewing the research, trying to figure out what we know about collaboration and how to support it. For example, we know that collaboration skills have an impact on how successful somebody is in all kinds of group situations—at school, on the job, and even working with others within a community to address social issues.”
Teaching Collaboration in the Classroom
Teaching collaboration skills in the classroom can be harder than expected, Emily says.
“When a teacher assigns a group project, oftentimes students will divide up the task into smaller pieces, work independently, and then just shove their parts together at the very end.”
“In that case, the teacher likely had good intentions to help develop collaboration skills in students. But it didn’t happen.”
Checking all the Boxes
“Tasks that are truly supportive of collaboration are not easy to create,” Emily says.
Digging deeper, Emily says there are three sub-components of successful collaboration:
Interpersonal communication – how you communicate verbally and non-verbally with your teammates.
Conflict resolution – your ability to acknowledge and resolve disagreements in a manner consistent with the best interest of the team.
Task management – your ability to set goals, organize tasks, track team progress against goals, and adjust the process along the way as needed.
Emily says she understands how difficult it can be for educators to check all three boxes.
Before beginning an assignment, Emily suggests teachers talk to students explicitly about collaboration: what makes a good team member versus what makes a difficult one, as well as strategies for working with others, sharing the load responsibly, and overcoming disagreements.
During group work, she says, observe students’ verbal and non-verbal behavior carefully and provide real-time feedback.
“Talk with them about how they’re making decisions as a group, sharing responsibility, and dealing with obstacles,” Emily says.
“In the classroom, it’s all about the combination of teaching collaboration skills explicitly, giving students opportunities to practice those skills, and providing feedback along the way so those skills continue to develop.”
“The research shows that students who develop strong collaboration skills get more out of those cooperative learning situations at school.”
Teaching Collaboration at Home
Emily is a mother of two daughters, 4 and 8.
At home, she says, there’s one part of collaboration that is especially valuable: conflict resolution.
“Most often, it comes in handy on movie nights.”
“The 8-year-old tends to gravitate towards movies that are a little too scary for the 4-year-old, and the 4-year-old tends to gravitate towards movies that are a little too babyish for the 8-year-old.”
“It would be easy to intervene and just pick a movie for them, but my husband and I do our best to stay out of it,” Emily says.
“We’ve established the procedure that they have to negotiate with each other and agree on a movie, and now they have a collaborative routine in place.”
“They know they get to watch a movie, and we know they’re learning along the way.”
“Taking turns in conversation is another big one for the four-year-old,” Emily says.
“She doesn’t like to yield the floor, but it’s something we’re working on.”
“I know from the research that if my daughters learn these collaboration skills, they are more likely to be successful in their future careers.”
Sharing the Latest Research
This week, Emily and two of her colleagues are releasing a research paper entitled “Skills for Today: What We Know about Teaching and Assessing Collaboration.”
The paper will be jointly released by Pearson and The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), a Washington, DC-based coalition that includes leaders from the business, education, and government sectors.
“We teamed up on this paper because we both believe collaboration is too important for college, career, and life to leave to chance,” Emily says.
It is the first in a four-part series on what is known about teaching and assessing “the Four Cs”: collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication.
“P21 is the perfect partner for this effort,” Emily says.
“Our partnership signifies a joint commitment to helping stakeholders—educators, parents, policy-makers, and employers—understand what skills are needed to be successful today, and how to teach them effectively at any age.”
To download the full version of “Skills for Today: What We Know about Teaching and Assessing Collaboration,” click here.
Three executive summaries of the paper are also available:
Now more than ever, faster than ever, technology is driving change. The future is an unknown, and that scares us. However, we can overcome these fears and utilize these new technologies to better equip ourselves and steer us in a positive direction.
Language evolves, and understanding these changes is crucial to learning how to communicate effectively. Like almost all change, it’s best to embrace it rather than try in vain to reject it.
For example, it appears as though I’m on the losing side in the popular definition of the term “mixed reality.” Sorry, Mr. Milgram — I’ve given in.
A technopanic is extreme fear of new technology and the changes that they may bring. Consider the Luddites, who destroyed machinery in the early 19th century. The only constant is change, so they had little success slowing down the Industrial Revolution. In recent history, think of Y2K. This was a little different because we feared that new technology had been embraced without our full understanding of the consequences. Of course, we proceeded into the new millennium without our computer systems plunging civilization back into the Dark Ages.
Last year, the BBC compiled a list of some of history’s greatest technopanics. One of my favorites was the fear that telephone lines would be used by evil spirits as a means of entry into unsuspecting humans who were just trying to walk grandma through how to use her new light bulbs.
Our current technopanic is about artificial intelligence and robotics. I am not saying this fear is unreasonable. We don’t know how this will play out, and it appears as though many jobs will no longer be necessary in the near future. However, expending too much energy on fear is not productive, and the most dire outcomes are unlikely. The Guardian produced this clever and amusing short about artificial intelligence:
Working with New Technology
Narrow artificial intelligence is now prevalent, which means programs are better than humans at performing specific tasks. Perhaps the most famous example is IBM’s Deep Blue defeating Garry Kasparov, the world champion of chess at the time — in 1997. Today, complex algorithms outperform humans at driving and analyzing lab results, among many other things.
Robots, which are stronger, larger (or smaller), and do not get bored or sick or go on strike, have been replacing humans for hundreds of years. They can fly and work through the night for days on end or longer.
Can Humans Compete?
Spending too much energy on searching for an answer to this question is a waste of time. We should not see progress as a competitor or as an enemy. These are tools we can use.
Cyborgs: For many people, this is the word that will come to mind when reading the phrase above above it. While the word makes us think think of science fiction, we have been implanting devices in our bodies for decades. But we can now control artificial limbs directly from our brains, bypassing the spinal cord.
More “extreme” cyborgs do exist, such as Neil Harbisson, who can hear colors via an antenna implanted in his skull. Transhumanists aim to overcome human limitations through science and technology.
Becoming a cyborg is not practical, desirable, or even feasible for many of you. It’s also not necessary.
Cobots: A cobot is a robot designed to work interactively with a human in a shared workspace. Lately, some people have been using the word to refer to the human who works with robots or to the unified entity itself.
I don’t think the new definition of this word is useful. When referring to a specific type of robot, it has practical use.
Centaurs: After Kasparov lost to Deep Blue, he understood the potential of humans working with machines. He created a new form of chess called “centaur chess” or “freestyle chess.” Teams can consist of all humans, all algorithms, or a combination (a centaur). The champion has almost always been a centaur. Kasparov saw the value of combining what humans do best with what machines do best.
We Should Strive to Be Chirons
In Greek mythology, centaurs tended to be unruly, amoral, and violent. When considering a blend of human abilities and machine abilities, a potential outcome is losing our sense of humanity.
Chiron was a sensitive and refined centaur in Greek mythology. He taught and nurtured youth, most notably, Achilles.
In the context of maintaining sanity through this technopanic and, more generally, coping with technological change, Chiron embodies the centaur we should aspire to.
In regard to how we should manage technology-induced fear (reaction, interaction, and creative acceptance), this would be the third stage. We all need to strive to be chirons. For our own sake, this is critical to lifelong learning. For the sake of our youth, we need to be able to demonstrate constructive and responsible use of technology.
At Educause 2017, we will explore how new technologies can impact the future of higher education and student success. Discover opportunities to engage with Pearson at the conference and drive these critical conversations.
This is the fifth in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. Click through to read the first, second, third, and fourth pieces.
Education technology plays an essential role in our schools today. Whether the technology supports instructional intervention, personalized learning, or school administration, the successful application of that technology can dramatically improve productivity and student learning.
That said, too many school leaders lack the support they need to ensure that educational technology investment and related activities, strategies, or interventions are evidence-based and effective. This gap between opportunity and capacity is undermining the ability of school leaders to move the needle on educational equity and to execute on the goals of today’s K-16 policies. The education community needs to clearly understand this gap and take some immediate steps to close it.
The time is ripe
The new federal K-12 law, the Every Students Succeeds Act, elevates the importance of evidence-based practices in school purchasing and implementation practices. The use of the state’s allocation for school support and improvement illustrates the point. Schools that receive these funds must invest only in activities, strategies, or interventions that demonstrate a statistically significant effect on improving student outcomes or other relevant outcomes.
That determination must rely on research that is well designed and well implemented, as defined in the law. And once implementation begins, the U.S. Department of Education asks schools to focus on continuous improvement by collecting information about the implementation and making necessary changes to advance the goals of equity and educational opportunity for at-risk students. The law, in short, links compliance with evidence-based procurement and implementation that is guided by continuous improvement.
New instructional models in higher education rely on evidence-based practices if they are to take root. School leaders are under intense pressure to find ways to make programs more affordable, student-centered, and valuable to a rapidly changing labor market. Competency-based education (the unbundling of certificates and degrees into discrete skills and competencies) is one of the better-known responses to the challenge, but the model will likely stay experimental until there is more evidence of success.
“We are still just beginning to understand CBE,” Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc said. “Project-based learning, authentic learning, well-done assessment rubrics — those are all good efforts, but do we have the evidence to pass muster with a real assessment expert? Almost none of higher ed would.”
It is easy to forget that the abundance of educational technology is a relatively new thing for schools and higher ed institutions. Back in the early 2000s, the question was how to make new educational technologies viable instructional and management tools. Education data was largely just a lagging measure used for school accountability and reporting.
Today, the data can provide strong, real-time signals that advance productivity through, for example, predictive analytics, personalized learning, curriculum curating and delivery, and enabling the direct investigation into educational practices that work in specific contexts. The challenge is how to control and channel the deluge of bytes and information streaming from the estimated $25.4 billion K-16 education technology industry.
“It’s [now] too easy to go to a conference and load up at the buffet of innovations. That’s something we try hard not to do,” said Chad Ratliff, director of instructional programs for Virginia’s Albemarle County Schools. The information has to be filtered and vetted, which takes time and expertise.
Improving educational equity is the focus of ESSA, the Higher Education Act, and a key reason many school leaders chose to work in education. Moving the needle increasingly relies on evidence-based practices. As the Aspen Institute and Council of Chief State School Officers point out in a recent report, equity means — at the very least — that “every student has access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education despite race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background, or family income.”
Embedded in this is the presumption that the activities, strategies, or interventions actually work for the populations they intend to benefit.
Educators cannot afford to invest in ineffective activities. At the federal K-12 level, President Donald Trump is proposing that, next year, Congress cut spending for the Education Department and eliminate many programs, including $2.3 billion for professional development programs, $1.2 billion for after-school funds, and the new Title IV grant that explicitly supports evidence-based and effective technology practices in our schools.
Higher education is also in a tight spot. The president seeks to cut spending in half for Federal Work-Study programs, eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants, and take nearly $4 million from the Pell Grant surplus for other government spending. At the same time, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reviewing all programs to explore which can be eliminated, reduced, consolidated, or privatized.
These proposed cuts and reductions increase the urgency for school leaders to tell better stories about the ways they use the funds to improve educational opportunities and learning outcomes. And these stories are more compelling (and protected from budget politics) when they are built upon evidence.
Too few resources
While this is a critical time for evidence-based and effective program practices, here is the rub: The education sector is just beginning to build out this body of knowledge, so school leaders are often forging ahead without the kind of guidance and research they need to succeed.
The challenges are significant and evident throughout the education technology life cycle. For example, it is clear that evidence should influence procurement standards, but that is rarely the case. The issue of “procurement standards” is linked to cost thresholds and related competitive and transparent bidding requirements. It is seldom connected with measures of prior success and research related to implementation and program efficacy. Those types of standards are foreign to most state and local educational agencies, left to “innovative” educational agencies and organizations, like Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools, to explore.
Once the trials of implementation begin, school leaders and their vendors typically act without clear models of success and in isolation. There just are not good data on efficacy for most products and implementation practices, which means that leaders cannot avail themselves of models of success and networks of practical experience. Some schools and institutions with the financial wherewithal, like Virginia’s Albemarle and Fairfax County Public Schools, have created their own research process to produce their own evidence.
In Albemarle, for example, learning technology staff test-bed solutions to instructional and enterprise needs. Staff spend time observing students and staff using new devices and cloud-based services. They seek feedback and performance data from both teachers and students in response to questions about the efficacy of the solution. They will begin with questions like “If a service is designed to support literacy development, what variable are we attempting to affect? What information do we need to validate significant impact?” Yet, like the “innovators” of procurement standards, these are the exceptions to the rule.
And as schools make headway and immerse themselves in new technologies and services, the bytes of data and useful information multiply, but the time and capacity necessary to make them useful remains scarce. Most schools are not like Fairfax and Albemarle counties. They do not have the staff and experts required to parse the data and uncover meaningful insights into what’s working and what’s not. That kind of work and expertise isn’t something that can be simply layered onto existing responsibilities without overloading and possibly burning out staff.
“Many schools will have clear goals, a well-defined action plan that includes professional learning opportunities, mentoring, and a monitoring timeline,” said Chrisandra Richardson, a former associate superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. “But too few schools know how to exercise a continuous improvement mindset, how to continuously ask: ‘Are we doing what we said we would do — and how do we course-correct if we are not?’ ”
Immediate next steps
So what needs to be done? Here are five specific issues that the education community (philanthropies, universities, vendors, and agencies) should rally around.
Set common standards for procurement. If every leader must reinvent the wheel when it comes to identifying key elements of the technology evaluation rubric, we will ensure we make little progress — and do so slowly. The sector should collectively secure consensus on the baseline procurement standards for evidence-based and research practices and provide them to leaders through free or open-source evaluative rubrics or “look fors” they can easily access and employ.
Make evidence-based practice a core skill for school leadership. Every few years, leaders in the field try to pin down exactly what core competencies every school leader should possess (or endeavor to develop). If we are to achieve a field in which leaders know what evidence-based decision-making looks like, we must incorporate it into professional standards and include it among our evaluative criteria.
Find and elevate exemplars. As Charles Duhigg points out in his recent best seller Smarter Faster Better, productive and effective people do their work with clear and frequently rehearsed mental models of how something should work. Without them, decision-making can become unmoored, wasteful, and sometimes even dangerous. Our school leaders need to know what successful evidence-based practices look like. We cannot anticipate that leader or educator training will incorporate good decision-making strategies around education technologies in the immediate future, so we should find alternative ways of showcasing these models.
Define “best practice” in technology evaluation and adoption. Rather than force every school leader to develop and struggle to find funds to support their own processes, we can develop models that can alleviate the need for schools to develop and invest in their own research and evidence departments. Not all school districts enjoy resources to investigate their own tools, but different contexts demand differing considerations. Best practices help leaders navigate variation within the confines of their resources. The Ed Tech RCE Coach is one example of a set of free, open-source tools available to help schools embed best practices in their decision-making.
Promote continuous evaluation and improvement. Decisions, even the best ones, have a shelf life. They may seem appropriate until evidence proves otherwise. But without a process to gather information and assess decision-making efficacy, it’s difficult to learn from any decisions (good or bad). Together, we should promote school practices that embrace continuous research and improvement practices within and across financial and program divisions to increase the likelihood of finding and keeping the best technologies.
The urgency to learn about and apply evidence to buying, using, and measuring success with ed tech is pressing, but the resources and protocols they need to make it happen are scarce. These are conditions that position our school leaders for failure — unless the education community and its stakeholders get together to take some immediate actions.
This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. The 74 originally published this article on September 11th, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.
Question: What do we learn from a study that shows a technique or technology likely has affected an educational outcome?
Answer: Not nearly enough.
Despite widespread criticism, the field of education research continues to emphasize statistical significance—rejecting the conclusion that chance is a plausible explanation for an observed effect—while largely neglecting questions of precision and practical importance. Sure, a study may show that an intervention likely has an effect on learning, but so what? Even researchers’ recent efforts to estimate the size of an effect don’t answer key questions. What is the real-world impact on learners? How precisely is the effect estimated? Is the effect credible and reliable?
Unfortunately, education researchers are not expected to interpret the practical significance of their findings or acknowledge the often embarrassingly large degree of uncertainty associated with their observations. So, education research literature is filled with results that are almost always statistically significant but rarely informative.
Early evidence suggests that many edtech companies are following the same path. But we believe that they have the opportunity to change course and adopt more meaningful ways of interpreting and communicating research that will provide education decision makers with the information they need to help learners succeed.
Admitting What You Don’t Know
For educational research to be more meaningful, researchers will have to acknowledge its limits. Although published research often projects a sense of objectivity and certainty about study findings, accepting subjectivity and uncertainty is a critical element of the scientific process.
On the positive side, some researchers have begun to report what is known as standardized effect sizes, a calculation that helps compare outcomes in different groups on a common scale. But researchers rarely interpret the meaning of these figures. And the figures can be confusing. A ‘large’ effect actually may be quite small when compared to available alternatives or when factoring in the length of treatment, and a ‘small’ effect may be highly impactful because it is simple to implement or cumulative in nature.
Confused? Imagine the plight of a teacher trying to decide what products to use, based on evidence—an issue of increased importance since the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) promotes the use of federal funds for certain programs, based upon evidence of effectiveness. The newly-launched Evidence for ESSA admirably tries to help support that process, complementing the What Works Clearinghouse and pointing to programs that have been deemed “effective.” But when that teacher starts comparing products, say Math in Focus (effect size: +0.18) and Pirate Math (effect size: +0.37), the best choice isn’t readily apparent.
It’s also important to note that every intervention’s observed “effect” is associated with a quantifiable degree of uncertainty. By glossing over this fact, researchers risk promoting a false sense of precision and making it harder to craft useful data-driven solutions. While acknowledging uncertainty is likely to temper excitement about many research findings, in the end it will support more honest evaluations of an intervention’s likely effectiveness.
Communicate Better, Not Just More
In addition to faithfully describing the practical significance and uncertainty around a finding, there also is a need to clearly communicate information regarding research quality, in ways that are accessible to non-specialists. There has been a notable unwillingness in the broader educational research community to tackle the challenge of discriminating between high quality research and quackery for educators and other non-specialists. As such, there is a long overdue need for educational researchers to be forthcoming about the quality and reliability of interventions in ways that educational practitioners can understand and trust.
Trust is the key. Whatever issues might surround the reporting of research results, educators are suspicious of people who have never been in the classroom. If a result or debunked academic fad (e.g. learning styles) doesn’t match their experience, they will be tempted to dismiss it. As education research becomes more rigorous, relevant, and understandable, we hope that trust will grow. Even simply categorizing research as either “replicated” or “unchallenged” would be a powerful initial filtering technique given the paucity of replication research in education. The alternative is to leave educators and policy-makers intellectually adrift, susceptible to whatever educational fad is popular at the moment.
At the same time, we have to improve our understanding of how consumers of education research understand research claims. For instance, surveys reveal that even academic researchers commonly misinterpret the meaning of common concepts like statistical significance and confidence intervals. As a result, there is a pressing need to understand how those involved in education interpret (rightly or wrongly) common statistical ideas and decipher research claims.
A Blueprint For Change
So, how can the education technology community help address these issues?
Despite the money and time spent conducting efficacy studies on their products, surveys reveal that research often plays a minor role in edtech consumer purchasing decisions. The opaqueness and perceived irrelevance of edtech research studies, which mirror the reporting conventions typically found in academia, no doubt contribute to this unfortunate fact. Educators and administrators rarely possess the research and statistical literacy to interpret the meaning and implications of research focused on claims of statistical significance and measuring indirect proxies for learning. This might help explain why even well-meaning educators fall victim to “learning myths.”
And when nearly every edtech company is amassing troves of research studies, all ostensibly supporting the efficacy of their products (with the quality and reliability of this research varying widely), it is understandable that edtech consumers treat them all with equal incredulity.
So, if the current edtech emphasis on efficacy is going to amount to more than a passing fad and avoid devolving into a costly marketing scheme, edtech companies might start by taking the following actions:
Edtech researchers should interpret the practical significance and uncertainty associated with their study findings. The researchers conducting an experiment are best qualified to answer interpretive questions around the real-world value of study findings and we should expect that they make an effort to do so.
As an industry, edtech needs to work toward adopting standardized ways to communicate the quality and strength of evidence as it relates to efficacy research. The What Works Clearinghouse has made important steps, but it is critical that relevant information is brought to the point of decision for educators. This work could resemble something like food labels for edtech products.
Researchers should increasingly use data visualizations to make complex findings more intuitive while making additional efforts to understand how non-specialists interpret and understand frequently reported statistical ideas.
Finally, researchers should employ direct measures of learning whenever possible rather than relying on misleading proxies (e.g., grades or student perceptions of learning) to ensure that the findings reflect what educators really care about. This also includes using validated assessments and focusing on long-term learning gains rather than short-term performance improvement.
This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. EdSurge originally published this article on April 1, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities (OED). It has been used in storytelling from Aesop to Zootopia, and people debate its impact on how we view gods in religion and animals in the wild. This is out of scope for this short piece.
When it comes to technology, anthropomorphism is certainly more problematic than it is useful. Here are three examples:
Consider how artificial intelligence is described like a human brain, which is not how AI works. This results in people misunderstanding its potential uses, attempting to apply it in inappropriate ways, and failing to consider applications where it could provide more value. Ines Montani has written an excellent summary on AI’s PR problem.
More importantly, anthropomorphism contributes to our fear of progress, which often leads to full-blown technopanics. We are currently in a technopanic brought about by the explosion of development in automation and data science. Physically, these machines are often depicted as bipedal killing machines, which is not even the most effective form of mobility for a killing machine. Regarding intent, superintelligent machines are thought of as a threat not just to employment but our survival as a species. This assumes that these machines will treat homo sapiens similar to how homo sapiens have treated other species on this planet.
Pearson colleague Paul Del Signore asked via Twitter, “Would you say making AI speak more human-like is a successful form of anthropomorphism?” This brings to mind a third major problem with anthropomorphism: the uncanny valley. While adding humanlike interactions can contribute to good UX, too much (but not quite enough) similarity to a human can result in frustration, discomfort, and even revulsion.
Historically, we have used technology to achieve both selfish and altruistic goals. Overwhelmingly, however, technology has helped us reach a point in human civilization in which we are the most peaceful and healthy in history. In order to continue on this path, we must design machines to function in ways that utilize their best machine-like abilities.
Technopomorphism is the attribution of technological characteristics to human traits, emotions, intentions, or biological functions. Think of how people may describe a thought process like cogs in a machine or someone’s capacity for work may be described with bandwidth.
A Google search for the term “technopomorphism” only returns 40 results, and it is not listed in any online dictionary. However, I think the term is useful because it helps us to be mindful of our difference from machines.
It’s natural for humans to use imagery that we do understand to try to describe things we don’t yet understand, like consciousness. Combined with our innate fear of dying, we imagine ways of deconstructing and reconstructing ourselves as immortal or as one with technology (singularity). This is problematic for at least two reasons:
It restricts the ways in which we may understand new discoveries about ourselves to very limited forms.
It often leads to teaching and training humans to function as machines, which is not the best use of our potential as humans.
It is increasingly important that we understand how humans can best work with technology for the sake learning. In the age of exponential technologies, that which makes us most human will be most highly valued for employment and is often used for personal enrichment.
There may be some similarities, but we’re not machines. At least, not yet. In the meantime, I advocate for “centaur mentality.”
There is a crisis engulfing the social sciences. What was thought to be known about psychology—based on published results and research—is being called into question by new findings and the efforts of individual groups like the Reproducibility Project. What we know is under question and so is how we come to know. Long institutionalized practices of scientific inquiry in the social sciences are being actively questioned, proposals put forth for needed reforms.
While the fields of academia burn with this discussion, education results have remained largely untouched. But education is not immune to problems endemic in fields like psychology and medicine. In fact, there’s a strong case that the problems emerging in other fields are even worse in educational research. External or internal critical scrutiny has been lacking. A recent review of the top 100 education journals found that only 0.13% of published articles were replication studies. Education waits for its own crusading Brian Nosek to disrupt the canon of findings. Winter is coming.
This should not be breaking news. Education research has long been criticized for its inability to generate a reliable and impactful evidence base. It has been derided for problematic statistical and methodological practices that hinder knowledge accumulation and encourage the adoption of unproven interventions. For its failure to communicate the uncertainty and relevance associated with research findings, like Value-Added Measures for teachers, in ways that practitioners can understand. And for struggling to impact educational habits (at least in the US) and how we develop, buy, and learn from (see Mike Petrilli’s summation) the best practices and tools.
Unfortunately, decades of withering criticism have done little to change the methods and incentives of educational research in ways necessary to improve the reliability and usefulness of findings. The research community appears to be in no rush to alter its well-trodden path—even if the path is one of continued irrelevance. Something must change if educational research is to meaningfully impact teaching and learning. Yet history suggests the impetus for this change is unlikely to originate from within academia.
Can edtech improve the quality and usefulness of educational research? We may be biased (as colleagues at a large and scrutinized edtech company), but we aren’t naïve. We know it might sound farcical to suggest technology companies may play a critical role in improving the quality of education research, given almost weekly revelations about corporations engaging in concerted efforts to distort and shape research results to fit their interests. It’s shocking to read efforts to warp public perception on the effects of sugar on heart disease or the effectiveness of antidepressants. It would be foolish not to view research conducted or paid for by corporations with a healthy degree of skepticism.
These efforts represent opportunities to foment long-needed improvements in the practice of education research. A chance to redress education research’s most glaring weakness: its historical inability to appreciably impact the everyday activities of learning and teaching.
Incentives for edtech companies to adopt better research practices already exist and there is early evidence of openness to change. Edtech companies possess a number of crucial advantages when it comes to conducting the types of research education desperately needs, including:
access to growing troves of digital learning data;
close partnerships with institutions, faculty, and students;
the resources necessary to conduct large and representative intervention studies;
in-house expertise in the diverse specialties (e.g., computer scientists, statisticians, research methodologists, educational psychologists, UX researchers, instructional designers, ed policy experts, etc.) that must increasingly collaborate to carry out more informative research;
a research audience consisting primarily of educators, students, and other non-specialists
The real worry with edtech companies’ nascent efforts to conduct efficacy research is not that they will fail to conduct research with the same quality and objectivity typical of most educational research, but that they will fall into the same traps that currently plague such efforts. Rather than looking for what would be best for teachers and learners, entrepreneurs may focus on the wrong measures (p-values, for instance) that obfuscate people rather than enlighten them.
If this growing edtech movement repeats the follies of the current paradigm of educational research, it will fail to seize the moment to adopt reforms that can significantly aid our efforts to understand how best to help people teach and learn. And we will miss an important opportunity to enact systemic changes in research practice across the edtech industry with the hope that academia follows suit.
Our goal over the next three articles is to hold a mirror up, highlighting several crucial shortcomings of educational research. These institutionalized practices significantly limit its impact and informativeness.
We argue that edtech is uniquely incentivized and positioned to realize long-needed research improvements through its efficacy efforts.
Independent education research is a critical part of the learning world, but it needs improvement. It needs a new role model, its own George Washington Carver, a figure willing to test theories in the field, learn from them, and then to communicate them to back to practitioners. In particular, we will be focusing on three key ideas:
Why ‘What Works’ Doesn’t: Education research needs to move beyond simply evaluating whether or not an effect exists; that is, whether an educational intervention ‘works’. The ubiquitous use of null hypothesis significance testing in educational research is an epistemic dead end. Instead, education researchers need to adopt more creative and flexible methods of data analysis, focus on identifying and explaining important variations hidden under mean scores, and devote themselves to developing robust theories capable of generating testable predictions that are refined and improved over time.
Desperately Seeking Relevance: Education researchers are rarely expected to interpret the practical significance of their findings or report results in ways that are understandable to non-specialists making decisions based on their work. Although there has been progress in encouraging researchers to report standardized mean differences and correlation coefficients (i.e., effect sizes), this is not enough. In addition, researchers need to clearly communicate the importance of study findings within the context of alternative options and in relation to concrete benchmarks, openly acknowledge uncertainty and variation in their results, and refuse to be content measuring misleading proxies for what really matters.
Embracing the Milieu: For research to meaningfully impact teaching and learning, it will need to expand beyond an emphasis on controlled intervention studies and prioritize the messy, real-life conditions facing teachers and students. More energy must be devoted to the creative and problem-solving work of translating research into useful and practical tools for practitioners, an intermediary function explicitly focused on inventing, exploring, and implementing research-based solutions that are responsive the needs and constraints of everyday teaching.
Ultimately education research is about more than just publication. It’s about improving the lives of students and teachers. We don’t claim to have the complete answers but, as we expand these key principles over coming weeks, we want to offer steps edtech companies can take to improve the quality and value of educational research. These are things we’ve learned and things we are still learning.
This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. EdSurge originally published this article on January 6, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.
I was in Austin in 2011 for SXSW, learning from other startups, networking, and promoting my own digital products. The interactive component of the conference ended with a “surprise” performance at the enormous Stubb’s BBQ concert venue. I reluctantly waited in line with hundreds of others, hopeful to hear something like LCD Soundsystem, who had appeared in a previous year. Once we were all inside, The Foo Fighters took the stage. Considered by many to be “the last great American rock band,” they’re just not my thing. A traveling companion saw the boredom on my face and asked, “Do you want to hear something different?”
6th Street was dead for the first time all week (nearly all the conference attendees were at Stubb’s), and we popped into a small bar where about ten other patrons huddled near a wiry young man on a small stage. Delicate Steve began to play The Ballad of Speck and Pebble. My brain lit up. It was one of the most inspiring live performances I’ve ever heard.
In my kitchen, six years later, while I was making applesauce with my earbuds in, Slate’s “Political Gabfest” ended, and Mr. Boilen’s voice came on to introduce Steve Marion, aka Delicate Steve, on “All Songs Considered.” Marion talked about being a “Napster kid” as well as how he was inspired to play music after his grandmother gave him a toy guitar.
He dove into the rabbit holes of discovery that were available via the Internet to a kid living in northwestern New Jersey. Driven by curiosity and play, using the physical and virtual tools available to him, he began to create. Last year, he played slide guitar on Paul Simon’s new album, and next week, he’ll be at The Bowery Ballroom in New York City.
In McKibbon’s review in The New York Review of Books, he comments, “Spotify’s playlists show people picking the same tunes over and over.” I believe the same was true when analogue music dominated. Virgin Megastore promoted the latest big release from one of the giant record labels.
The difference now is that more tools — virtual and physical — are now available to us. How we use them is up to us. We need to ensure that everyone, especially young people are aware of them all and how to use them properly for discovery. Dig deep into that artists’s archive on Spotify. Flip through those old records on Bleeker Street.
In the late 1990’s, Jill Godmilow taught me how to edit film and sound by hand while I was a student at The University of Notre Dame. I used an 8-plate Steenbeck. It was a lot of work to cut a film like that, but it helped me understand the value of a frame: 1/24 of a second.
Now I have a child, and I try to help her understand how things work by making mechanical object available to her. She’ll pick up the hand-made kaleidoscope I brought back from London, or crank the Kikkerland music box to hear “Waltzing Matilda.” Together, we play both Minecraft and Clue. Her favorite Christmas present last month was a record player. She chooses to put on the Taylor Swift record “Red” over and over and over again. She also explores Minecraft videos made by other kids all over the world.
Some of these interaction blend the virtual and the physical, like using the Osmo pizza game, learning math while playing, or programming Dash to wheel around the apartment, learning problem-solving.
We can foster creativity and encourage exploration using whatever tools we have available to us. I am not advocating constant barrage of entertainment or toys — there is also value in escaping into a book or a tent in the woods — but new, digital tools are not necessarily a bad thing, and to many, they offer ways to learn and build, expanding their minds and enriching our culture.
Explore, be weird, enjoy what you do, learn through what you enjoy. But do be careful not to lose yourself entirely into the virtual world. The physical world offers a nearly limitless amount of new experiences and adventures. These are thrilling to us because of our human nature, and even as we learn how to embrace the digital to a greater extent, we should do so to enrich our lives, not in an attempt to replace something that doesn’t need replacing.
I will always be grateful to Jill Godmilow for showing me how to analyze the finest moving parts to a completed whole, which I often have to do in a purely digital format, where the individual elements are not so apparent. I appreciate the music from Delicate Steve, meticulously constructed with his mind and fingers through a medley of neuron-firings, Google searches, and guitar riffs.
I am thankful that my daughter wonders at our Remington typewriter and miniature carousel, watches the interlocking pieces, and reconstructs some of these relationships with blocks on her iPad, with dominos on the table, and with her friends in the schoolyard.
Answering that question through null hypothesis significance testing (NHST), which explores whether an intervention or product has an effect on the average outcome, undermines the ability to make sustained progress in helping students learn. It provides little useful information and fails miserably as a method for accumulating knowledge about learning and teaching. For the sake of efficiency and learning gains, edtech companies need to understand the limits of this practice and adopt a more progressive research agenda that yields actionable data on which to build useful products.
How does NHST look in action? A typical research question in education might be whether average test scores differ for students who use a new math game and those who don’t. Applying NHST, a researcher would assess whether a positive—i.e. non-zero—difference in scores is significant enough to conclude that the game has had an impact, or, in other words, that it ‘works’. Left unanswered is why and for whom.
This approach pervades education research. It is reflected in the U.S. government-supported initiative to aggregate and evaluate educational research, aptly named the What Works Clearinghouse, and frequently serves as a litmus test for publication worthiness in education journals. Yet it has been subjected to scathing criticism almost since its inception, criticism that centers on two issues.
False Positives And Other Pitfalls
First, obtaining statistical evidence of an effect is shockingly easy in experimental research. One of the emerging realizations from the current crisis in psychology is that rather than serving as a responsible gatekeeper ensuring the trustworthiness of published findings, reliance on statistical significance has had the opposite effect of creating a literature filled with false positives, overestimated effect sizes, and grossly underpowered research designs.
Assuming a proposed intervention involves students doing virtually anything more cognitively challenging than passively listening to lecturing-as-usual (the typical straw man control in education research), then a researcher is very likely to find a positive difference as long as the sample size is large enough. Showing that an educational intervention has a positive effect is quite a feeble hurdle to overcome. It isn’t at all shocking, therefore, that in education almost everything seems to work.
But even if these methodological concerns with NHST were addressed, there is a second serious flaw undermining the NHST framework upon which most experimental educational research rests.
Null hypothesis significance testing is an epistemic dead end. It obviates the need for researchers to put forward testable models of theories to predict and explain the effects that interventions have. In fact, the only hypothesis evaluated within the framework of NHST is a caricature, a hypothesis the researcher doesn’t believe—which is that an intervention has zero effect. A researcher’s own hypothesis is never directly tested. And yet with almost universal aplomb, education researchers falsely conclude that a rejection of the null hypothesis counts as strong evidence in favor of their preferred theory.
As a result, NHST encourages and preserves hypotheses so vague, so lacking in predictive power and theoretical content, as to be nearly useless. As researchers in psychology are realizing, even well-regarded theories, ostensibly supported by hundreds of randomized controlled experiments, can start to evaporate under scrutiny because reliance on null hypothesis significance testing means a theory is never really tested at all. As long as educational research continues to rely on testing the null hypothesis of no difference as a universal foil for establishing whether an intervention or product ‘works,’ it will fail to improve our understanding of how to help students learn.
As analysts Michael Horn and Julia Freeland have noted, this dominant paradigm of educational research is woefully incomplete and must change if we are going make progress in our understanding of how to help students learn:
“An effective research agenda moves beyond merely identifying correlations of what works on average to articulate and test theories about how and why certain educational interventions work in different circumstances for different students.”
Yet for academic researchers concerned primarily with producing publishable evidence of interventions that ‘work,’ the vapid nature of NHST has not been recognized as a serious issue. And because the NHST approach to educational research is relatively straightforward and safe to conduct (researchers have an excellent chance of getting the answer they want), a quick perusal of the efficacy pages at leading edtech companies shows that it holds as the dominant paradigm in edtech.
Are there, however, reasons to think edtech companies might be incentivized to abandon the current NHST paradigm? We think there are.
What About The Data You’re Not Capturing?
Consider a product owner at an edtech company. Although evidence that an educational product has a positive effect is great for producing compelling marketing brochures, it provides little information regarding why a product works, how well it works in different circumstances, or really any guidance for how to make it more effective.
Are some product features useful and others not? Are some features actually detrimental to learners but masked by more effective elements?
Is the product more or less effective for different types of learners or levels of prior expertise?
What elements should be added, left alone or removed in future versions of the product?
Testing whether a product works doesn’t provide answers to these questions. In fact, despite all the time, money, and resources spent conducting experimental research, a company actually learns very little about their product’s efficacy when evaluated using NHST. There is minimal ability to build on research of this sort. So product research becomes a game of efficacy roulette, with the company just hoping that findings show a positive effect each time it spins the NHST wheel. Companies truly committed to innovation and improving the effectiveness of their products should find this a very bitter pill to swallow.
A Blueprint For Change
We suggest edtech companies can vastly improve both their own product research as well as our understanding of how to help students learn by modifying their approach to research in several ways.
Recognize the limited information NHST can provide. As the primary statistical framework for moving our understanding of learning and teaching forward, it is misapplied because it ultimately tells us nothing that we actually want to know. Furthermore, it contributes to the proliferation of spurious findings in education by encouraging questionable research practices and the reporting of overestimated intervention effects.
Instead of relying on NHST, edtech researchers should focus on putting forward theoretically informed predictions and then designing experiments to test them against meaningful alternatives. Rather than rejecting the uninteresting hypothesis of “no-difference,” the primary goal of edtech research should be to improve our understanding of the impact that interventions have, and the best way to do this is to compare models that compete to describe observations that arise from experimentation.
Rather than dichotomous judgments about whether an intervention works on average, greater evaluative emphasis should be devoted to exploring the impact of interventions across subsets of students and conditions. No intervention works equally well for every student and it’s the creative and imaginative work of trying to understand why and where an intervention fails or succeeds that is most valuable.
Returning to our original example, rather than relying on NHST to evaluate a math game, a company will learn more by trying to improve its estimates and measurements of important variables, looking beneath group mean differences to explore why the game worked better or worse for sub-groups of students, and directly testing competing theoretical mechanisms proposed to explain the game’s influence on learner achievement. It is in this way that practical, problem-solving tools will develop and evolve to improve the lives of all learners.
This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. EdSurge originally published this article on February 12, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.
This is the second in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. Read the first piece here.
But as curricula and learning tools are prepared for rigorous evaluation, we should think about how existing research on teaching and learning have informed their design. Building a movement around research and impact must include advocating for products based on learning research. Otherwise, we are essentially taking a “wait and hope” strategy to development: wait until we have something built and hope it works.
When we make a meal, we want to at least have a theory about what each ingredient we include will contribute to the overall meal. How much salt do we put in to flavor it perfectly? When do we add it in? Similarly, when creating a curriculum or technology tool, we should be thinking about how each element impacts and optimizes overall learning. For example, how much and when do we add in a review of already-learned material to ensure memory retention? For this, we can turn to learning science as a guide.
We know a lot about how people learn. Our understanding comes from fields as varied as cognitive and educational psychology, motivational psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, and computer science. There are research findings that have been replicated repeatedly across dozens of studies. If we want to create educational technology tools that ultimately demonstrate efficacy, these learning science findings should serve as the foundation, integrating the insights from decades of research into how people learn and how teachers teach into product design from the beginning.
Spaced practice: We know that extending practice over time is better than cramming all practice into the few days before an exam. Spaced practice strengthens information retention and keeps it fresh over time, interrupting the “forgetting curve.” Implementing spaced practice could be as simple as planning out review time. Technology can help implement spaced practice in at least two ways: 1) prompting students to make their own study calendars and 2) proactively presenting already-learned information for periodic review.
Retrieval practice: What should that practice look like? Rather than rereading or reading and highlighting, we know it is better for students to actually retrieve the information from memory because retrieving the information actually changes the nature of the memory for the information. It strengthens and solidifies the learning, as well as provides more paths to access the learning when you need it. Learners creating flashcards have known about this strategy for a long time. RetrievalPractice.org offers useful information and helpful applications building on this important principle. There is a potential danger point here for designers not familiar with learning literature. Since multiple-choice activities are easier to score with technology, it is tempting to create these kinds of easy questions for retrieval practice. However, learning will be stronger if students practice freely recalling the information rather than simply recognizing the answer from choices.
Elaboration: Taking new information and expanding on it, linking it to other known information and personal experience, is another way to improve memory for new concepts. Linking new information to information that is already known can make it easy to recall later. In addition, simply expanding on information and explaining it in different ways can make retrieval easier. One way to practice this is to take main ideas and ask how they work and why. Another method is to have students draw or fill in concept maps, visually linking ideas and experiences together. There are a number of online tools that have been developed for creating concept maps, and current research is focusing on how to provide automated feedback on them.
So how many educational technology products actually incorporate these known practices? How do they encourage students to engage in these activities in a systematic way?
Existing research on instructional use of technology
For example, there is a solid research base on how to design activities that introduce new material prior to formal instruction. It suggests that students should initially be given a relatively difficult, open-ended problem that they are asked to solve. Students, of course, tend to struggle with this activity, with almost no students able to generate the “correct” approach. However, the effort students spend in this activity has been shown to build a better foundation for future instruction to build on as students have a better understanding of the problem to be solved (e.g., Wiedmann, Leach, Rummel & Wiley, 2012Belenky & Nokes-Malach, 2012. It is clearly important that this type of activity be presented to students as a chance to explore and that failure is accepted, expected, and encouraged. In contrast, an activity meant to be part of practice following direct instruction would likely include more step-by-step feedback and hints. So, if someone wants to design activities to be used prior to instruction, they might 1) select a fundamental idea from a lesson, 2) create multiple cases for which students must find an all-encompassing rule, and 3) situate those cases in an engaging scenario.
Schwartz of Stanford University tested this idea with students learning about ratios — without telling them they were learning about ratios. Three cases with different ratios were created based on the number of objects in a space. This was translated into the number of clowns in different-sized vehicles, and students were asked to develop a “crowded clowns index” to measure how crowded the clowns are in the vehicles. Students are not specifically told about ratios, but must uncover that concept themselves.
Product developers should consider research like this when designing their ed tech tools, as well as when they’re devising professional development programs for educators who will use those technologies in the classroom.
Product makers must consider these questions when designing ed tech: Will the activity the technology facilitates be done before direct instruction? Will it be core instruction? Will it be used to review? How much professional development needs to be provided to teachers to ensure the fidelity of implementation at scale?
Too often, designers think there is a singular answer to this series of questions: “Yes.” But in trying to be everything, we are likely to end up being nothing. Existing research on instructional uses of technology can help developers choose the best approach and design for effective implementation.
With this research as foundation, though, we still have to cook the dish and taste it. Ultimately, applying learning science at scale to real-world learning situations is an engineering activity. It may require repeated iterations and ongoing measurement to get the mix of ingredients “just right” for a given audience, or a given challenging learning outcome. We need to make sure to carefully understand and tweak our learning environments, using good piloting techniques to find out both whether our learners and teachers can actually execute what we intend as we intended it (Is the learning intervention usable? Are teachers and students able to implement it as intended?), and whether the intervention gives us the learning benefits we hoped for (effectiveness).
The key is that research should be informing development from the very beginning of an idea for a product, and an evidence-based “learning engineering” orientation should continue to be used to monitor and iterate changes to optimize impact. If we are building from a foundation of research, we are greatly increasing the probability that, when we get to those iterated and controlled trials after the product is created, we will in fact see improvements over time in learning outcomes.
This is the first in a series of essays surrounding the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium, a gathering of 275 researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, professors, administrators, and philanthropists to discuss the role efficacy research should play in guiding the development and implementation of education technologies. This series was produced in partnership with Pearson, a co-sponsor of the symposium co-hosted by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator.
To improve education in America, we must improve how we develop and use education technology.
Teachers and students are increasingly using digital tools and platforms to support learning inside and outside the classroom every day. There are 3.6 million teachers using ed tech, and approximately one in four college students take online courses — four times as many as a decade earlier. Technology will impact the 74 million children currently under the age of 18 as they progress through the pre-K–12 education system. The key question is: What can we do to make sure that the education technology being developed and deployed today fits the needs of 21st-century learners?
Our teachers and students deserve high-quality tools that provide evidence of student learning, and that provide the right kind of evidence — evidence that can tell us whether the tool is influencing the intended learning outcomes.
Evidence and efficacy can no longer be someone else’s problem to be solved at some uncertain point in the future. The stakes are too high. We all have a role to play in ensuring that the money spent in ed tech (estimated at $13.2 billion in 2016 for K-12) lives up to the promise of enabling more educators, schools, and colleges to genuinely improve outcomes for students and help close persistent equity gaps.
Still, education is complex. Regardless of the quality of a learning tool, there will be no singular, foolproof ed tech solution that will work for every student and teacher across the nation. Context matters. Implementation matters. Technology will always only be one element of an instructional intervention, which will also include instructor practices, student experiences, and multiple other contextual factors.
Figuring out what actually works and why it works requires intentional planning, dedicated professional development, thoughtful implementation, and appropriate evaluation. This all occurs within a context of inconsistent and shifting incentives and, in the U.S., involves a particularly complex ecosystem of stakeholders. And unfortunately, despite the deep and vested interest of improving the system, the current ecosystem is many times better at supporting the status quo than introducing a potentially better-suited learning tool.
That’s the challenge to be taken up by the EdTech Efficacy Research Symposium in Washington, D.C., this week, and the work underway as part of the initiative convened by the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, Digital Promise, and the Jefferson Education Accelerator. People like us rarely have the opportunity to collaborate, but this issue is too important to go it alone.
Over the past six months, 10 working groups consisting of approximately 150 people spent valuable hours together learning about the challenges associated with improving efficacy and exploring opportunities to address these challenges. We’ve looked at issues such as how ed tech decisions are made in K-12 and higher education, what philanthropy can do to encourage more evidence-based decision-making, as well as what will be necessary to make the focus on efficacy and transparency of outcomes core to how ed tech companies operate.
Over the next six weeks, we’ll explore these themes here, sharing findings and recommendations from the working groups. Our hope is to stimulate not just discussion but also practical action and concrete progress.
Action and progress might look like new ways to use research in decision-making such as informational site Evidence for ESSA or tools that make it easier for education researchers to connect with teachers, districts, and ed tech companies, like the forthcoming National Education Researcher Database. Collaboration is critical to improving how we use research in ed tech, but it’s not easy. Building a common framework takes time. Acting on that framework is harder.
So, as a starting point, here are three broader issues that we’ve learned about efficacy and evidence from our work so far.
Everyone wants research and implementation analysis done, but nobody wants to pay more for it
We know it’s not realistic to expect that the adoption of each ed tech product or curricular innovation will be backed up by a randomized control trial.
Investors are reticent to fund these studies, while schools or developers rarely want to pick up the price tag for expensive studies. When Richard Culatta and Katrina Stevens were still at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, they pointed out that “it wouldn’t be economically feasible for most app creators (or schools) to spend $250k (a low price tag for traditional educational research) to evaluate the effectiveness of an app that only cost a total of $50k to build.”
We could spend more efficiently, leveraging the 15,000 tiny pilots and decisions underway into new work and new insights without spending more money. This could look like a few well-designed initiatives to gather and share relevant information about implementations and efficacy. Critically, we’ll need to find a sustainability model for that type of rigorous evaluation to ensure this becomes a key feature in how adoption decisions are made.
We need to recognize that evidence exists on a continuum
Different types of evidence can support different purposes. What is important is that each decision is supported by an appropriate level of evidence. This guide by Mathematica provides a useful reference for educators on different evidence types and how they should be viewed. For educators, it would be wise to look at the scale and cost of the decision and determine the appropriate type of evidence.
It’s important to remember that researchers and philanthropists may use education research for different purposes than would a college, university system, or districts. Academic researchers may be looking to identify causal connections, learning gains, or retention rates, while a district is often focused on a specific context and implementation (what works for schools similar to mine).
When possible, traditional randomized control trials provide useful information, but they’re often not affordable, feasible, or even necessarily appropriate. For example, many districts, schools, or colleges are not accustomed to or well versed in undertaking this type of research themselves.
It’s easy to blame other actors for the current lack of evidence-driven decisions in education
Everyone we spoke to agrees that decisions about ed tech should be made on the basis of merit and fit, not marketing or spin. But nearly everyone thinks that this problem is caused by other actors in the ecosystem, and this means that progress here will require hard work and coordination.
For example, investors often don’t screen their investments for efficacy, nor do they promote their portfolio companies to necessarily undertake sufficient research. Not surprisingly, this tends to be because such research is costly and doesn’t necessarily drive market growth. It’s also because market demand is not driven by evidence. It’s simply not the case that selection choices for tools or technologies are most often driven by learning impact or efficacy research. That may be shifting slowly, but much more needs to be done.
Entrepreneurs and organizations whose products are of the highest quality are frustrated that schools are too often swayed by their competitors’ flashy sales tactics. Researchers feel that their work is underappreciated and underutilized. Educators feel overwhelmed by volume and claims, and are frustrated by a lack of independent information and professional support. We have multiple moving pieces that must be brought together in order to improve our system.
Ensuring that ed tech investments truly help close achievement gaps and expand student opportunity will require engagement and commitments from a disparate group of stakeholders to help invent a new normal so that our collective progress is directional and meaningful. To make progress on this, we must bring the conversation of efficacy and the use of evidence to center stage.
That’s what we’re hoping to help continue with this symposium. We’ve learned much, but we know that the journey is just beginning. We can’t do it alone. Feel free to follow and join the conversation on Twitter with #ShowTheEvidence.
Aubrey Francisco, Chief Research Officer, Digital Promise
Bart Epstein, Founding CEO, Jefferson Education Accelerator
Gunnar Counselman, Chief Executive Officer, Fidelis Education
Katrina Stevens, former Deputy Director, Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education
Luyen Chou, Chief Product Officer, Pearson
Mahnaz Charania, Director, Strategic Planning and Evaluation, Fulton County Schools, Georgia
Mark Grovic, Co-Founder and General Partner, New Markets Venture Partners
Rahim Rajan, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Robert Pianta, Dean, University of Virginia Curry School of Education
Rebecca Griffiths, Senior Researcher, Center for Technology in Learning, SRI International
This series is produced in partnership with Pearson. The 74 originally published this article on May 1, 2017, and it was re-posted here with permission.