12
Dec

Hey, Google, Alexa, Siri and Higher Ed

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

I watch the many ways in which my 7-year-old grandson engages with Google Home when he drops by the house. Whenever a question of history or fact arises, I pull out my phone or walk to my open laptop, but he always beats me to the answer by simply speaking out: “Hey Google …”

This is just a seed of a rapidly growing phenomenon in human-computer interface that will enable far greater personalization and reach. Voice recognition and artificially intelligent interpretation are at the core of these technologies. As this rolls out into a pervasive interface, we are seeing changes in the way in which higher education is conducted.

Georgia Tech, Northeastern University and Arizona State University are among the universities leading the way in embracing voice assistants in supporting students and faculty members. “Call it a next-level chatbot, a natural extension of existing smartphone apps, or even a way to demonstrate technological prowess in a crowded student-recruitment market. Believers say that the use of the technology will only expand, and that lessons from the first year of student use across the country can instruct future adopters,” Lindsay Ellis wrote in The Chronicle. The early applications are mostly focused on everyday student needs on campus, but clearly the future is the way in which this technology migrates into research and the curriculum.

Imagine a true “student assistant” that links to AI applications and can conduct customized research. For example, a student might ask the assistant to list five articles on a topic that is being discussed in class — such as the impact of the midterm election results on climate policy. A trivial extension of that inquiry would be to send the results to a printer. And how about a logical extension that is nontrivial: asking a computer program to write a five-page paper citing those five articles, print the paper and email an electronic version to the student?

Manuscript Writer by sciNote is AI software that claims to assemble the key pieces of a research paper. Reviews of the grammatical quality at this point are not strong, but the potential of this technology is undeniable: “The sciNote system is likely to improve, though. In theory, its AI will learn from its mistakes by comparing users’ finished papers to the software’s first attempts. Given what we’ve already seen in automated journalism, it’s not so crazy to predict that the quality of science paper robo-prose will soon become much better than it is today. Perhaps we’ll even reach the point where it’s about as good (or about as bad) as the work of average human scientists.”

How far away are we from a full synthesis of emerging capabilities to do original research and writing — all triggered by a voice command? Not far. And, one has to ask, how does the advent of this technology impact the way in which we teach? Do we need to re-examine our pedagogies in light of very smart assistants?

Outside the classroom, voice-search technologies are affecting the way in which prospective students learn about our universities, degrees and programs. Increasing numbers of students are asking Alexa, Google and Siri, “Which university in this state has the highest ranked M.B.A.?” or “What is the average starting salary for a blockchain developer?” and “What universities offer certificates in blockchain development?”

The questions lead us to ask if our marketing departments are optimizing for these kinds of questions. This step beyond search engine optimization is called voice engine optimization, and it differs significantly from what we have doing for the past decade: “When it comes to voice search, getting to the top is more important than ever,” Emily Alford from marketing technology site ClickZ states. “On a desktop search for businesses, there are pages of options. On mobile, there are less, but being in the top four will probably get you noticed. Voice search, however, really only gives one or two options.”

Voice enabling is the funnel through which we will access increasingly smart technologies. As these technologies evolve and further intertwine into a conversant smart system, we must respond and anticipate the changes that are only months away. A good place to begin is implementing VEO for all of our programs.

Universities must be responding to this new trend to capture new prospective students, and to make sure you are sending current students to the proper resources that will enrich their time on campus. Have you begun implementing VEO at your school? If not, one of the best ways to start is to simply act like a student might and use your devices to ask the questions one might ask in natural speech, and then assess the position of your pages and tweak, text and repeat as needed. The changes you find could be small, and their potential impact for your school could be transformative.

Smart Title: 
Hey, Google, Alexa, Siri and Higher Ed
Ad keyword: 
IDL_20181212
Order: 
1 000
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Blog: 
Online: Trending Now

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

10
Oct

Is technology driving educational inequality?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Those of us who work in digital learning believe that our work serves a larger social purpose. Our belief system has at its core the idea of education as an engine of opportunity creation. We see digital technologies as a set of tools and methods that can, when properly utilized, be leveraged to expand educational access and increase quality.

Spend time in places where those who work in online learning and educational technology congregate, and you will find a shared commitment to opportunity creation. This belief that technology can be a fundamental force in support of progressive educational values is widely shared across the profession.

This commitment to social justice within the ed-tech and online learning community, however, just may be blinding many of us to the costs of digitization of higher education.

We may be in the situation where technology is driving, rather than ameliorating, educational stratification.

Educational technology and online learning as a cause of educational inequality are not part of our profession’s collective sense of self. It is not supposed to work out this way. Blended and online learning methods, platforms and techniques are supposed to create opportunities for the many, not just the few.

How might digital learning be doing more to concentrate higher education privilege than delivering widespread educational benefits? Evidence for this disturbing conclusion may be found in how both blended and online education are operating across the postsecondary ecosystem.

With blended learning, the idea is to integrate residential teaching with the affordances of digital tools. Traditional courses built around professors teaching students in a room are augmented by the introduction of digital platforms and resources.

These digitally enabled enhancements may take the form of an inverted or flipped classroom, where the professor creates and curates learning materials that the students interact with before coming to the physical class. Professors can then use precious face-to-face time to highlight difficult concepts and to engage in personalized coaching.

The transition from residential-only to blended learning has many other potential benefits. Flipped classes, robust formative assessments and online discussion platforms can help professors create active learning environments. The availability of learning analytics should give faculty visibility into student learning prior to a high-stakes midterm or final, allowing targeted interventions. Simulations and adaptive learning platforms should complement the traditional teaching activities of the professor.

The challenge with introducing blended learning is that it is expensive. The development of blended learning materials and methods increases the number of inputs, mostly in the form of faculty time investment, of any given course.

For well-resourced institutions, the investment in blended learning is feasible. Faculty can be given release time to redevelop their courses. Instructional designers can partner with professors to design a blended course.

At schools with fewer resources, there are fewer supports and incentives to move to a blended instructional approach. Course releases to redesign courses are not available. Instructional designers are not present to collaborate with faculty.

In other cases, less well-resourced colleges and universities may use the availability of digital tools such as adaptive learning platforms and online videos to increase course enrollments. Professors with more students will have less time to provide individual attention. In some cases, the professors may be altogether replaced by technologies and tutors.

The result of all this is that at colleges and universities with more access to resources, teaching and learning are significantly improving. Wealthier schools can maintain small classes while introducing new pedagogical techniques and digital platforms.

The quality of education at institutions with relatively high levels of resources has never been better. Critics of higher education have largely missed this story of improvement in teaching and learning amid all the angst about lazy rivers and climbing walls.

At the same time, the digitally enabled improvements in student learning can get concentrated among the small proportion of institutions that can afford to make these investments. At these schools, digital technology is a complement rather than a substitute for educators.

Similar observations can be made about online education. Anyone who has ever developed or taught an online course knows that more resources, not less, go into creating a high-quality online learning experience. We are at a point where the most fortunate of schools and students can create and experience very high-quality online courses. These are courses filled with loads of faculty engagement, presence and mentoring.

On the other end of the scale, online learning can be a method to save costs by eliminating the most expensive aspect of any educational endeavor — the educator. Professors are replaced by peer-graded discussion boards, computer-graded assessments and self-paced adaptive learning platforms. The quality divide in online education is growing wider by the year.

Those of us in the digital learning profession should grapple with the unintended consequences of our activities. If digital learning is a cause of widening levels of educational inequality, then we should address this challenge head-on.

The digital learning profession, and the associations that represent us, should be placing educational inequality at the top of their research and policy agendas. This may take the form of an elevated level of advocacy for public investment in postsecondary education. Issues of equity should be as present in our convenings and writing as those of progress.

Is it time for those of us in digital learning to discuss inequality?

Smart Title: 
Is Technology Driving Educational Inequality?
Order: 
1 000
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Email Teaser: 
Is Technology Driving Educational Inequality?
Blog: 
Technology and Learning

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

01
Sep

Audiobooks for College Students?: A Q&A With the Co-Founder of Libro.fm

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

How should higher education approach audiobooks, and what are the alternatives to Audible / Amazon?

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

11
Nov

The Verdict Is In: Competition Is Bad For The Health Of Public Higher Ed

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Competition is both inefficient and costly. Plus it erodes the institutional mission and operations of public higher education institutions. 

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

18
Oct

6 Questions for Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill need no introduction. We all read e-Literate. We all know about MindWires Consulting.

Still, I have questions. Michael and Phil generously agreed to answer all of them.

Question 1: If I were to name the most influential thinkers working at the intersection of learning and technology, I’d put both of you on that list. Neither of you are professors. Why would two people who decided to make a living in thinking and writing about learning innovation decide to do so outside of traditional academic gigs?

Michael: Phil and I came to consulting via different paths. In my case, I grew up in a family of teachers. I started my undergraduate career wanting to be a philosophy professor. But the further down the academic path I got, the more I realized that excellence in and scholarship of teaching, which is what I really cared about, was something that I’d have to work in around the main work requirements for job security and advancement in at least the first decade of a career as a professor. I made two more runs at finding a career path inside academia — once as a Ph.D. student in English and a second time as an assistant director at the SUNY Learning Network — and both times I came away believing that I could spend more of my time focused on my passion by working for academia rather than working in academia.

Phil: I’ve been doing independent/small-company consulting in academia for 16 years after an unexpected entry into consulting at the end of the dot-com era (hot tip — it turns out your job might be at risk if you fail at a hostile takeover). It turned out that consulting fits my skills and pathologies, but I needed a specific market to keep the small-company approach. Based on early client feedback that there was an unserved need that my style fit into, and based on the intangible benefit of truly caring about the field being served, I moved all work to focus on education. That’s a long way of saying that this was not a deliberate choice but more of falling into a role that suited my style and client needs.

Question 2: I’m trying to get my head around MindWires Consulting. What is it? How does MindWires compare to other consulting companies?

Michael: We are probably unique in that we are a blog that has a consulting company rather than the other way around. E-Literate preceded MindWires by nearly a decade, and most of our consulting work flows from our writing. The kind of consulting we do is typically around sense making and change management. How is the future of pervasive technology-supported education likely to be different from the present, and how can organizations prepare for it? Not coincidentally, this is also what we write about. Organizations — academic institutions, ed-tech vendors and sometimes ed-tech investors — have to answer the same questions for themselves. When they hire us to consult, we will often give them more detailed or organization-specific analysis and decision-making support on topics related to ones we have written about.

Phil: As Jerry Weinberg wrote as his Second Law of Consulting, “No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem.” A particular focus of our approach at MindWires is that we help people make decisions, together. When the California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative needed to select a common LMS, the decision was not rocket science — there were only a small number of LMS solutions that could possibly serve an entire state — but the challenge of getting a large group of colleges to work together and then to collectively support the decision was the challenge.

Question 3: Can you give a specific example of the work that MindWires Consulting is doing?

Michael: Sure. Another way that we’re unique is that we have earned the trust of both universities and vendors to be able to consult to both sides. I’ll talk about one area from the vendor side. The curricular materials market is going through a lot of changes, between general downward price pressures, the rise of courseware and adaptive learning, increasing use of OER, and different measures of product value such as efficacy, to name a few. Vendors in this space — both large and small — will hire us to help them figure out how those trends affect them, how they can engage in dialogue with academics more productively about these changes, and how they can think about the best opportunities for them to contribute value to the overall educational process. Sometimes these are short-term engagements, where we are asked to provide a constructive critique of a particular product strategy, and sometimes it’s a more long-term relationship, where we keep them up to date on changes we see in the market and they ask us questions that come us as they think through how to respond to those changes.

Phil: On the academic side, we recently helped UCLA as they identified and prevetted a group of vendors that provide a range of OPM/digital enablement services. The university made a strategic choice to help various colleges who might seek OPM support by going through a public evaluation process, clarifying market choices and working out institutionwide requirements and terms — by not leaving the full decision up to individual programs. We guided them in understanding the OPM market and advised them during the request for proposal process.

Question 4: The higher ed community looks to you guys to help us make sense of the ed-tech world, including the claims of ed-tech companies. I read e-Literate as a source of smart and unbiased analysis. At the same time, you are both engaged in paid consulting gigs in the ed-tech space. How can we be confident that your consulting will not bias your analysis? Even if the consulting is disclosed, it seems to be human nature to be influenced by where the funds that pay our mortgages come from.

Michael: There is no doubt that we have conflicts of interest to manage. We do our best to minimize them, but some are unavoidable in the odd role we play of marriage counselor between academics and ed-tech vendors. That’s why we always disclose when we are writing about somebody who is paying us or has paid us in the recent past. Readers should know the relevant facts to judge for themselves whether we are being fair. For the same reason, we usually don’t argue with people when they accuse us of bias due to conflict of interest on a particular post. They have every right to draw their own conclusions regarding our objectivity.

That said, we have developed a reputation for routinely biting the hand that feeds us. I’m proud to say that I don’t believe we’ve ever killed a story for fear of losing business. And we definitely have lost business from this approach, but we’ve probably also gained some. Our clients know what they are going to get from us because our behavior as consultants is pretty much the same as it is in our public writing. We try to be honest, fair, unflinching and constructive. I think the smarter companies also understand that we are one of the few outlets that can say something positive about an ed-tech vendor and have a chance of being believed. We don’t take that trust for granted, and we can only maintain it so long as our readers have bedrock faith that we always write what we believe to be true about a company, whether it is good or bad, and whether it helps or hurts our business relationship with that company. If we write something critical of a vendor’s behavior today, that means we have a better chance of being believed if we write something complimentary about their behavior down the road.

Phil: Ditto.

Question 5: Making a living by consulting seems really hard. You need to get and keep clients. There seems like there would be lots of travel. I’m wondering if the work of being consultants contributes or detracts from the thinking and the writing that you both do on innovation in higher education?

Phil: Over all, consulting clearly contributes to our thinking. This is one of the best avenues to more directly understanding the perspective of students, faculty and academics, often in the form of focus groups, interviews and surveys. As we work in between institutions and the market, we also get to see how one group perceives the other. Plus, we meet a lot of really smart people who help us learn. The biggest detraction is time and the need to make payrolls and mortgage payments, with the reduction in time to think and research and write.

Michael: I’m not as much of a natural road warrior as Phil is, so for me, there’s a balance. I can only be useful, as an analyst or a consultant, insofar as I can immerse myself in the worlds of the people that I’m trying to help deeply enough to gain some insight. I could form opinions at a distance, but the world in 2018 provides ample evidence that armchair punditry tends to do more harm than good. At the same time, I do need to think about what I’ve heard and learned. Even more than Phil, I tend toward long-form analysis. That kind of work takes time. So it’s important for me to give myself some “think” time.

Question 6: I want to turn the last question around. It seems as if in many ways not working inside higher education is beneficial to understanding how higher education is changing. You get to work with many institutions. You are exposed to the larger higher ed ecosystem. And you might have more freedom to be critical. Is it possible for someone working for a college or a university to think and write critically about higher education innovation?

Michael: Every perch provides a view into the world, and every viewpoint enables a person to see some things more clearly while obscuring others. Our perch, which gives us a view of academia from the middle distance, is inherently neither better nor worse than the inside view. One of the most dramatic benefits of ours is that it’s rare. We have somehow managed to find a relatively habitable perch where we can see into and across a lot of different silos from the outside, and there just aren’t many people who are lucky enough to be in that position. I also think our chemistry as partners makes a huge difference. Even when looking from the same perch, Phil and I bring different yet complementary experiences and analytic strengths to our work. It’s a real joy. But I want to emphasize that we could not do what we do without the benefit of the experience and perspectives that we get on a daily basis from talking to academics. They teach us a lot, all the time.

Phil: What he said. But I’ll add that there are multiple examples of people writing critically on higher education that come from inside that I enjoy reading. It might be difficult for them to separate out their emotions and vested interests in outcomes (requiring transparency in what their position is), but their perch gives them firsthand insights as well as “I’ve lived through this, I get it” experiences. We need multiple viewpoints.

What do you want to know from Michael and Phil?

Smart Title: 
6 Questions for Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill
Ad keyword: 
IDL_20181017
Order: 
1 000
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Email Teaser: 
6 Questions for Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill
Blog: 
Technology and Learning

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

02
Oct

Advancing Employability Through a Labor Market Information System

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Producing the right number and mix of graduates the labor market can absorb remains one of the major challenges of many higher education systems.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

16
Aug

5 Things Universities Want From OPM Providers

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

What do universities want from online program management providers?

I have no idea.

Ask me what I want in a potential OPM partner, and I’ll talk your ear off.

But search for any research on how universities evaluate the decision to partner with a for-profit company to build, market, launch and run a new online degree program — and you will be mostly searching in vain.

The growing phenomenon of nonprofit/for-profit partnerships in postsecondary online learning needs research attention. We need to move OPM analysis out of the world of for-profit consulting companies and higher ed blogs. We need to investigate the changing way in which higher education programs are financed, including the OPM partnership model, involving scholars who are committed to independent and sustained research.

For now, lacking the research, I’ll share some of my own OPM opinions. You can let us know if your thinking, and the thinking at your institution, aligns with my own.

Here are five things that I want to see from OPM providers:

No. 1: Higher Ed People

Higher education is a business built on relationships. We are more like an ancient guild than a modern industry. The decision to make a life in higher education is not a rational one. Nobody in their right mind would choose a higher ed career on a pure cost/benefit calculation. Higher ed people are, above all else, mission driven. They are true believers in the potential of higher education to improve the lives of our students and to contribute to the making of a better world.

It would be great if more people who worked in online program management companies came from higher ed. If they built their relationships and networks while working for a university. It is not that we don’t trust people from outside academia. It is just that we don’t trust people from outside academia.

This might be our blind spot. Higher ed people don’t have a monopoly on being mission driven. Still, too few professionals in the OPM business seem to have previously been in higher education leadership roles. If partnerships with OPMs really do benefit our institutions, our students and our faculty, then more higher ed people should be wanting to work for OPMs.

No. 2: Flexible Unbundling

The only reason that a university would partner with a company to do an online program is that, for some reason, we can’t do it ourselves. What we can’t do ourselves varies from school to school, and surprisingly even within schools.

In some places we need the whole enchilada. We need the start-up capital. The instructional designers and project managers and video educators. We need the marketing and outreach to a population of online learners that we are not experienced reaching. We need the learning platforms. The student support.

Mostly, however, we don’t need all that. We need some but not all of those things. And what is needed might be different for different parts of the university. One division, school, program or major might be really good when it comes to instructional design. What they need most is marketing. Another area of the institution may not have the instructional designers, but it is well set up to support enrolled students.

A good OPM will be flexible in their partnerships. It will have options between revenue share and fee for service. It will unpack the partnership in a way that can work best for the institution.

No. 3: Capacity Building

Too often, OPM providers lead with money. How much revenue the new programs might deliver to the schools. Money is good, but it is only one part of the equation.

What we really care about is the long-term resilience of our institutions, and our ability to meet our strategic goals and to support our larger institutional missions. Online education is integral to how education is changing. Online programs provide opportunities to not only bring in new (much needed) dollars, but also to build new institutional capacities.

Online programs can serve as amazing opportunities for faculty development. Pair a professor with an instructional designer and watch the magic happen. What faculty learn in developing and teaching online courses can be translated into residential teaching and learning.

Outsourcing the core functions of an organization is always a bad idea. Outsourcing the teaching and learning function of a university is always a bad idea. OPMs need to learn to work with universities to use any partnerships around online programs to advance all learning.

No. 4: Transparency

One difficulty that schools have in even thinking about investigating a partnership with a company to start a new online program is our lack of information. We just know so little about how past OPM partnerships have played out. There is no good source of independent data — even if the data are anonymized.

There is no database that aggregates all OPM partnership arrangements across all the different schools and that would allow for a data-driven analysis of how well these arrangements work and which OPM might be a good fit.

Beyond a lack of outcome data, our ability to examine the contracts between peer schools and OPM providers is limited. We don’t really know how to negotiate a fair deal because we don’t understand how other schools have gone about setting up these partnerships.

The lack of data leaves us to rely on conversations, snippets of information and what the various OPM companies tell us. This inability to make data-driven decisions hurts everyone. It slows down the process. It makes schools that should consider an OPM partnership fail to even begin a project to look at options. A lack of data makes it less likely that partnerships that are begun will work well for both parties.

The only entities that can solve this lack of data are the OPM companies. I would love to see an OPM association that is built around helping higher education make data-driven decisions. This would require a commitment to transparency that I don’t think the OPM industry has prioritized.

No. 5: Diversity

This really should not have to be said in 2018, but judging from what I see in the OPM industry, I’m going to say it anyway. Higher ed people really do care about diversity, inclusion and opportunity. We believe that diverse perspectives are necessary for healthy teams and well-run organizations.

Our students are increasingly diverse across every demographic and social dimension. A potential OPM partner whose work force is not diverse is a demonstration of the values of that OPM company. We are unlikely to partner with anyone who does not share our values.

Again, these are the five things that I’d like most to see from a potential OPM partner.

What would you like to see?

How do we get the research started that would help us make some more definitive and representative statements about how schools and OPM providers might better work together?

Where do you get your OPM information?

Smart Title: 
5 Things Universities Want From OPM Providers
Order: 
1 000
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Email Teaser: 
5 Things Universities Want From OPM Providers
Blog: 
Technology and Learning

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U