Increased Visibility of Your College Scorecard

October 17, 2016


college-scorecardFor students, higher education may be the single most important investment they can make in their futures to ensure they have the knowledge and skills needed to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.

With college costs and student debt on the rise, the choices that American families make when searching for and selecting a college have never been more important. Yet, students struggle to find clear, reliable data on critical questions of college affordability and value, such as whether they are likely to graduate, find jobs, and pay off their loans. At a time when America needs colleges to focus on affordability and supporting all students who enroll, many existing college rankings reward schools for spending more money and rejecting more students. And college leaders and state policymakers who seek to improve institutions’ performances often lack reliable ways to determine how well their schools are serving students.

The College Scorecard offers data on more than 7,000 higher ed institutions nationwide, including nearly 2,000 data points and 18 years worth of information. The College Scorecard was redesigned a year ago with input from students, parents, educators, researchers, policymakers and counselors. Anyone can use the College Scorecard to access data on tuition, population, potential income and other information to help students make a data-driven selection. And now, come this winter, students who use Google Search to look up a college or university during application season may be pleased to see a new results card complete with stats on the institution. Google Search has integrated the College Scorecard from the United States Department of Education, making it easier for students to compare information.

When a user searches for a college or university in Google, they’ll get more than a map and logo for the institution in the right-hand side of their browser. Alongside the address and brief Wikipedia synopsis, they’ll find information related to student outcomes, such as the graduation rate and the average salary of the university’s graduates. Working with the U.S. Department of Education, Google has incorporated data from the College Scorecard directly into its search results. “Hundreds of millions of students and families pursue their college questions through Google, where trillions of searches are made every year,” Secretary of Education John King writes.

This College Scorecard can empower American students to rate colleges based on what matters most to them; to highlight colleges that are serving students of all backgrounds well; and to focus on making a quality, affordable education within reach. The old way of assessing college choices relied on static ratings lists compiled by someone who was deciding what value to place on different factors. The new way of assessing college choices, with the help of technology and open data, makes it possible for anyone – a student, a school, a policymaker, or a researcher – to decide what factors to evaluate.

Implications of the Scorecard
This means, as an institution, the visibility of your stats will increase.
In keeping with the original vision, the federal Administration recently released a plethora of previously unavailable information about colleges. New metrics include the average family income of students, the characteristics of the average student’s ZIP code, better transfer, debt, loan payment, and completion metrics, and, most importantly perhaps for the American public, student earnings data for thousands of colleges.

This represents a big step toward increased transparency in higher education. Parents, students, college leaders, journalists, policy makers, and researchers are now empowered to more empirically evaluate thousands of U.S. post-secondary institutions in terms of their contributions to student economic success.

Before these data, there were two sources of earnings data available to the public. A few states, like Texas, linked state tax records to college records and produced tables showing earnings immediately — as in one quarter – after graduation for people working in the state and attending colleges in the state. A broader and more useful database is provided by Payscale, a salary tool. Their College Salary Report database provides self-reported earnings data by college for alumni who use their website tool.

While the Scorecard adds potentially valuable information to the dizzying array that is already available, it suffers from many of the same flaws that afflict nearly every other college ranking system… There is no way to know what, if any, impact a particular college has on its students’ earnings, or life for that matter.

Perspective on the Scorecard
The College Scorecard is an asset to the public, as organizations dedicated to improving higher education have noted, and the project should be continued with annual updates as new data come in. Better yet, the earnings data should be linked to all attendees, not just federal aid recipients.

Thus, as opposed to the ambiguous and often inconsistent definitions and grading categories used by popular ranking systems such as those from U.S. News or Princeton Review, the College Scorecard, backers say, emphasizes each college’s discrete value—or, as the U.S. Department of Education puts it, getting the most “bang for your educational buck.” Proponents say it makes students’ academic and employment outcomes more transparent for prospective consumers, allowing prospective students and their families to spend their money efficiently and set aside adequate financial support for their children’s postgraduate studies.

You will see that colleges fare differently on the Scorecard depending on the metric. Institutions such as State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, Kentucky’s Berea College, and California’s Samuel Merritt University top lists when considering students’ post-graduation earnings and average annual cost, while Ivy Leagues such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale perform well when sorted by graduation rate. The tool also provides comprehensive profile pages for each college or university, detailing the percentage of its students paying down debt and the typical total debt per student, on top of information ranging from demographic breakdowns to lists of popular academic programs. Advocates are touting the launch of the College Scorecard as key to filling in long-standing gaps in data about college institutions and allowing consumers to focus on the metrics they find most important to them.

Regardless, there are difficulties and challenges in assessing higher-ed quality. It’s impossible to capture an institution’s value, the college experience, and its impact on students with a single metric. And perhaps therein lay the danger in any ranking system, but particularly those that do not differentiate or categorize, such as the U.S. News rankings.

It ultimately helps add more dimension to a potential answer for the thorny question around the “value” of an education at different colleges. Its data, reviewed in conjunction with that of existing ranking systems builds a more holistic picture of what different colleges and universities have to offer—providing greater guidance on one of the toughest, often most costly, and hopefully, most rewarding decisions many students need to make. It will be more important than ever for institutions to make efforts and devote resources to continuous improvement efforts and also documenting those efforts – efforts that will improve academic quality and support students because these are efforts that will affect future student success and these are the kinds of data/information now available for public consumption.

“By featuring this data front and center, Google is helping more students and families get the information they need when they need it,” Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. wrote. Google has already integrated the data into Google Search results. Next year, FAFSA will direct students to the College Scorecard as well.

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When was the last time you were scared?

October 10, 2016

One Things Scares YouHave you ever done something that scared the bejesus out of you? Think back….how did it end it up? Did you learn anything? Would you do it again? Have you ever done something scary over and over and over again?

I have. It was called the speech and debate team. And to this day, I still have nightmares. For four years, I chose to memorize 8-minute speeches with the end goal of performing well enough to engage my audience and convince my judges that I wrote these words, felt this way, and deserved first place. I chose to research current event issues, prepare my position, and argue my points in the most disciplined of ways in front of an audience. And every single performance, every single tournament, I found myself nervously holed up in a bathroom stall, anxiety rising to alarmingly high levels, sweat permeating my forehead, tears filling my eyes… and for what? I hated public speaking. I still hate public speaking. But I kept doing it.

Why, you ask? With every performance completed, with every first place medal proudly displayed in my dorm room, I felt like I was becoming a better, stronger, more well-rounded person. If this nervous sickness that came over me every tournament Saturday for four years was the price to pay for that, I could handle it.

The beauty of this extracurricular activity is that it builds, sharpens, and requires several skills that are necessary in today’s world: public speaking, active listening, critical thinking, careful preparation, and solid research. Over time, the best of the best debaters and speech givers learn that public speaking involves a particular kind of poise – the kind of poise that can only be learned when your mind goes totally blank two minutes into your eight-minute speech, when mid-speech the heel on your shoe breaks and you fall flat on your bum, or when your debate opponent completely dismantles the core of your argument in less than 5 minutes in a move you, for whatever reason, never saw coming.

Yeah, you learn poise from these experiences. Trust me.

You also learn how to control yourself. I, along with my teammates and competitors, frequently came in loaded for bear, only to find quickly that our enthusiasm could actually get in the way. If we didn’t control ourselves, we’d say something regretful or lose a potentially valid point in a hail of undisciplined words. Composure was key.

I attribute these experiences to my current disposition. I am not someone who speaks up often – that is, not before I am well versed in the issue, have done my own research, and have processed the information. This is why I am not one to volunteer out the gate to do something if I do not think I will have ample time to prepare and work on it. This is why I am sometimes difficult to read. This is why I am sometimes restrained in my enthusiasm and emotions.

But, this is also why I can think problems and solutions through from start to finish. This is why I can often stand outside of a situation and see its consequences from multiple angles. This is why I am able to communicate points clearly, concisely, and thoroughly (at least most of the time). And, this is why I can troubleshoot problems on the spot without losing my cool.

Watching the current Trump-Clinton debate series has brought all this back for me. I started thinking about all the skills truly talented debaters and speech givers must hone. Every time your heart starts to beat out of your chest from embarrassment, being uncomfortable, or getting into an unfamiliar place, it’s a great reminder that you’re alive and that this is an opportunity to learn and grow.

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Growth requires change. Change can be scary. So do something scary. For some, it might be learning a new technology. For others, it’s doing more public speaking. I know that if I had not participated in debate and speech competitions, I’d be a completely different person today. So just do something scary. If you do, change is inevitable, and you might just end up a better, stronger kind of person. I look forward to the next time I scare myself.

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I want to make students uncomfortable…

October 3, 2016

I wish I had experienced more professors like this…those who understand that the only way for students to learn something meaningful is to make them feel powerful, capable, bold enough to take risks.

I want to make student feel uncomfortable…

Written by: John Warner

As a college instructor, I believe that the most important thing I can do for students is to make them uncomfortable.

In my course policies, I often share a quote from Cornel West that encapsulates this belief.

“I want to be able to engage in the grand calling of a Socratic teacher, which is not to persuade and convince students, but to unsettle and unnerve and maybe even unhouse a few students, so that they experience that wonderful vertigo and dizziness in recognizing at least for a moment that their world view rests on pudding, but then see that they have something to fall back on. It’s the shaping and forming of critical sensibility. That, for me, is what the high calling of pedagogy really is.”

I am particularly fond of that “wonderful vertigo” part because it resonates so thoroughly with my own experiences in learning. This sense that the world is not necessarily as you’ve understood it, and surviving an “unhousing” can be a very empowering experience.

My approach to teaching seems to be under constant renovation.

This applies in other pursuits as well. We’re at about the five year anniversary of me writing for Inside Higher Ed, and I can remember the panic of the early days, trying to find something to say, wrestling with the right way to say them.

Five years later, while the act of writing will always involve some measure of discomfort, I now find this space indispensable as a tool that helps me understand and express my own sensibilities when it comes to teaching and learning.

However, those of us who agree that one of the primary goals of education should be to make students “uncomfortable,” should remember that in order to make students uncomfortable, they must first feel secure.

While there have no doubt been excesses when it comes to students declaring that they need a “safe space,” I am consistently dumbfounded when faculty speak or act in ways that seem so cavalier when it comes to making students feel appropriately secure so that they may learn.

A student who experiences college feeling unsafe — culturally, academically, economically, socially — does not have the luxury of being challenged in the classroom because all of their energy is directed towards trying to survive.

Faculty pursuing tenure should be particularly aware of this kind of pressure, and understand its corrosive effects.

For me, making students uncomfortable is the first step to urging them to embrace their own responsibility to answer the core pedagogical questions of learning to write. When I tell them that I will primarily offer pathways of inquiry inside of the discipline, rather than hard and fast answers, many students feel uncomfortable.

But I’ve also learned – often the hard way – that to demand that students take risks requires me to incentivize risk, rather than punishing failure, that security must be a given.

Put another way, anxious and afraid are not synonyms for “uncomfortable.”

It’s not that hard to establish appropriate security. When I started writing for IHE, I knew I had editors who would protect me from myself. I also knew I had nothing to lose, that if I was terrible at it, the worst that could happen would be to cash a handful of checks while knowing that I didn’t have a future as a blogger.

I also think that the often well-intentioned practice of laying down the “rules” for students may, long term, prevent them from experiencing the security and freedom necessary to learn.

I am thinking here of a recent CHE essay that “defines” the relationship between professor and student.

I agree with many of the sentiments. Students should not be viewed through the lens of customers. “Professor” and “teacher” are not the same thing. Professors cannot fulfill the roles of either parent or best friend.

This essay was Tweeted and Facebooked approvingly in my circles. These are things students “need to know.” The professoriate approved.

And yet, if I were to read this particular essay from the student’s perspective, above all I am perceiving not an invitation, but a threat. These are the rules as handed down from on high, and it is the student’s job to adhere to them because of course, the professor will be upholding his part of the bargain.

But what are we teaching our students when we strike the entire “bargain” without their knowledge of participation, and tell them it’s time to take it or leave it?

If I were a student and read this missive, ostensibly aimed at me, I would not feel informed. I would feel afraid, intimidated…unsafe even.

I think a superior way is to instead establish the context for the course. Rather than telling students what and who they are or supposed to be – roles they should get to determine for themselves – instead, simply share who you are, and your framework for the course.

Yes, there is a difference between teachers and professors, but first share your humanity, rather than establish your authority. Tell students where you’re from, what you teach, what you research, what you do in your spare time. Show them a picture of your dog or your grandchild or the car you’re restoring on the weekends.

Tell them your view of the course, where this view comes from, its roots and rationales. Don’t just tell them what you’re doing; tell them why you’re doing it this way.

Believe me that students will never forget that you’re the “professor.” But if you want them to learn, the first step is to move them past that abstraction, show them how your humanity informs your work in the classroom, and they will come to see that their humanity is part of the classroom as well. They are not students, but something better.

The only way for “students” to learn something meaningful is to make them feel powerful, capable, bold enough to take risks. This does not mean the instructor’s job is to validate all student effort as worthy. This is not an argument for an “everyone gets a trophy” culture.

It’s a wish that when it comes to learning, we don’t think about trophies at all, that we instead invite students into a classroom space where they get a say in their own rewards, and we, as faculty, are there to make them discomforted enough, that students forced to figure out what is meaningful to them.

Source article available here.

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Our Top 10 for Putting Students at the Center

September 15, 2016

top-tips-post-it-noteCombine over 18 years of experience in the higher education assessment and technology fields, consultation with over 500 programs, institutions, and higher educational organizations, and a knowledgeable group of trained educators and technology specialists and what do you get…a team laser-focused on improving student learning and increasing student achievement.

To do that, we believe it’s imperative to build best-practice processes of assessment across an entire institution that enable: 1) faculty to have the support and tools needed to more effectively communicate feedback on performance to students; 2) students to have the support and tools needed to more deeply engage in a reflective learning process; and 3) administrators to better collect and measure data on teaching and learning with the purpose of using that data to improve student learning.

If learning matters most, as we believe it does over any other driver, then our assessment practices should help students develop the skills and knowledge needed to not only become successful in tomorrow’s marketplace but to also become true lifelong learners. So below, you will find our top ten tips and pieces of advice for developing a best-practice process of assessment aimed at increasing student learning.

  1. Visible, consistent support from leadership, whether at the department, school/college, or institution level, is critical for developing, launching, and sustaining an effective assessment system. Without it, it is extremely challenging to garner cooperation from all the necessary stakeholders – students, faculty, administrators, and alumni. It’s important to identify the assessment leadership and provide adequate resources and support to those managing its implementation.
  2. Determining what and how to assess is critical. Identify the baseline data you will need and use to document change.
  3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate…Communication with faculty around the assessment process needs to be clear, well-organized, and, most importantly, focused on the purpose of an assessment process: continuous improvement of teaching and learning. The importance of a communications plan around assessment is often neglected. All stakeholders should know what the assessment goals are, what the expectations are, what resources are available, and how data is collected and will be used to improve.
  4. In the best case scenario, the desired student learning outcomes are foundational to the entire assessment process. Sometimes, though, we find student learning outcomes are ‘retro-fitted’ to accommodate existing practices, assignments, and rubrics. Accrediting agencies expect the former and, generally, will not accept the latter. Define a few very clear outcomes that can be measured using a developmental scale applied at two, three or more gateways to determine progress.
  5. Keep the planning simple…Look at what assessments you’re already doing, map them to your learning outcomes, develop any assessments you may need, and make it easy to collect the information from your instructors or evaluators.
  6. Timely Review Process…It’s important that faculty review/assess students’ work in a timely fashion, within the given term. Without the on-time review, students are left to wonder not only about their progress but also to question to real point of assessment. Programs/units should continually review the results and modify their processes based on that data to ensure programming meets student needs.
  7. Make assessment meaningful for students…Include students in the feedback loop and actively engage them in the learning and development of these outcomes. Help them understand and value the criteria, standards, and methods by which they are assessed and evaluated by making real-world connections and application of what they are learning.
  8. Remember that improvement and follow-up (closing the loop) are an integral part of assessment. Formative assessment is done to provide feedback for ongoing activities, and to inform any needed mid-course corrections; summative assessment is done to measure a project’s overall success; longitudinal assessment tracks impacts beyond the duration or initial scope of the project. And if we don’t build follow up into this, then really what’s the point?
  9. When presenting your process of assessment to others, think of it in the following way…it’s like telling a story. Your narrative should be clear in who, what, when, how, and why. You can’t go wrong when you’ve made student learning the protagonist of your story!
  10. Collaborate…don’t be afraid to draw on your colleagues for support. Learn how other institutions are using assessment to improve student learning; attend webinars and assessment-focused conferences; join relevant listservs; or reach out to those who have knowledge and expertise in assessment. Nothing in our field is more important that student learning, and as a result of this sense of collective responsibility, it’s also one of the most collegial.

These are our top 10…tell us, what are yours?

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The Absolute Worst Way to Start the Semester…

September 6, 2016

backschool - CopyReposted from the TheTattooedProf at Vitae

“Are you keeping us for the whole time today? Because I need to leave in 20 minutes,” asked a student with a baffled expression on his face. As I looked at him, I wanted so badly to explain: Of all the ways you could have chosen to introduce yourself on the first day of class, that was not the optimal one.

At my university — as was the case at other institutions where I’ve taught — students call the first day of class “Syllabus Day.” Their expectation is that they’ll show up, the professor will hand out the syllabus, go through maybe 10 minutes’ worth of housekeeping stuff, and then turn them loose until the course really starts later in the week. My student was visibly deflated when I told him we would have class for the entire 50 minutes (though, curiously, he did not leave after 20 minutes. Victory!).

One way to approach that anecdote — the easy and tempting way — is to lament the laziness of Kids These Days™ and wail that no one values education anymore. But since this isn’t a New York Times op-ed, I’d like to take another approach and talk about the actual teaching and learning implications of Syllabus Day. My student wasn’t asking for anything unusual from his perspective; he only sought affirmation that I would adhere to the expectations he had for our first meeting. And those expectations came from experience — his own and that of his peers.

There’s a reason that Syllabus Day has become a hallowed tradition and a nearly ironclad rule: So often, that’s all that happens when a class meets for the first time. Whether by accident or design, the pedagogical decisions we collectively make about the first day of our classes have conditioned students to expect nothing more than a syllabus (which they will likely leave unexamined for the rest of the semester), a few perfunctory introductions, a word or two about classroom conduct, and an early exit after about 15 minutes.

That’s the absolute worst way to begin a semester. Like the cliché says, we never get a second chance for a first impression. And in our courses, first impressions go a long way. If we lament that students never check the syllabus during the semester, well, what was their first impression of that document? If we are frustrated that students don’t take class discussion seriously, did we convey its importance when we introduced the class?

Many of the problems we encounter throughout the semester can at least be mitigated if we take a mindful approach to planning that first day of class. Here are some alternate approaches:

  • Ideally, the first day gives students a taste of everything they’ll be expected to do during the semester. If the course is going to be discussion-heavy, then a brief class discussion needs to be in the first day’s plan. If students will be doing a lot of the group work, then a group activity should be on the docket. If you teach a large lecture class, and plan on interleaving activities such as think-pair-share or minute papers, give your students an opportunity to experience that routine on the first day, and model your expectations and feedback for them.
  • In addition to modeling the specific activities, though, the first day is an excellent opportunity to convey your larger approach — your tone and style for the course. If the class is small enough, begin learning students’ names right away by having them introduce themselves to both you and their peers. If you want students to engage in active learning, give them an immediate opportunity to do so.
  • Take some time in that first class to do a mini-lesson on one of the exciting, weird, intriguing, or controversial parts of the course material. Let your own enthusiasm for the material shine, and let it be a model for your students. If you’re teaching a new prep, use the novelty to your advantage — what are the interesting questions you’re going to cover in the course?
  • Sometimes an explicit discussion of your course structure — the pedagogical decisions you’ve made — can be powerful. By letting students peek under the hood and see the method and purpose of certain aspects of the course, you’re demonstrating that they’re partners in its success.
    Whatever your plan for the first day, students should get some idea of what’s expected of them throughout the semester, and also have the opportunity to discern their place in the class and its activities.

Just because we’re rejecting the traditional iteration of “Syllabus Day” doesn’t mean there’s no place in the first class for a discussion of this crucial document. If my Twitter timeline this summer is any indication, we spend a lot of time creating our syllabi. Why ruin all that effort by merely passing it out to students and announcing “read this and let me know if you have any questions”? That doesn’t invite students to examine what their experience will be for the rest of the term, nor does it spark their interest or curiosity. At the other end of the spectrum, though, reading the entire document aloud doesn’t accomplish those goals, either —and instead can leave the impression that you’re pedantic, some sort of apparatchik, or both.

A better strategy is to highlight important points and direct students to the information they’ll need throughout the term. I’d also recommend you announce a syllabus quiz for later in the first week, especially if you plan on giving regular quizzes throughout the semester. That way, your first quiz can both: (a) encourage students to read the syllabus thoroughly, and (b) give them experience with the specific format of your assessments, but in a low-stakes environment that allows them to build some early confidence.

Another important first-day subject that tends to be a slog — though it doesn’t have to be — is on policies and expectations for classroom conduct. When I was an undergraduate, I sat through many a class where we spent an excruciating several minutes listening to a list of don’ts from an instructor who treated us like unwelcome distractions rather than college students — and that was before the prevalence of laptops, cellphones, and other mobile devices in the classroom.

It’s all too easy to wield a mighty ban-hammer in an attempt to prevent distractions in class. But a one-size-fits-all technology ban, for example, can be counterproductive (and illegal if you have students with documented disabilities who depend upon technological assistance). If you don’t want devices out at all, and have sound pedagogical reasons for your stance, share those reasons clearly with your students. If you don’t mind devices used for class purposes (laptops for notes, cell phones for a voice-recorder app) — but are wary of all the other ways in which they can disrupt what’s happening in the classroom — invite your students into the discussion on the topic.

I’ve had a lot of success with collaborative expectations-setting, in which I ask students how theywould like to see our class work during the semester: What helps you learn? What gets in the way of your listening or comprehension? What distracts you? In my experience, when students come up with a list of class expectations, they hold themselves to a higher standard than we would expect. The collaboration gives students a sense of ownership over our class meetings; they’ve gotten to help frame how learning occurs on a day-to-day basis, and they’re more invested in the course as a result. An additional advantage is that, when an incident does occur, rather than play the bad cop (“Please stop texting and put away your phone now”), I am merely reminding them of the rules they created (“Remember, we decided that cell phones were only for looking up class-related stuff”). It’s a simple, but powerful, shift — and it originates with a mindful approach to the first day of class.

Opening day presents a unique opportunity in our courses. Our students haven’t experienced anything yet, so there’s a default level of interest which we can leverage with engaged teaching and a welcoming atmosphere. The tone we choose to set and the structure of activities we design can impart a positive first impression, and might also preempt some of the more common frustrations that pop up later in the term. Sure, some students will lament the passing of Syllabus Day, but the dividends from a more substantial and engaging first day will more than offset that disappointment.

We dedicate so much time to designing our courses, planning our activities, reading up on our content, and constructing our syllabi. We ought to ensure that time was well-spent by planning a first day of class that encourages students to become engaged participants in every aspect of the course. This fall, let Syllabus Day go — some traditions aren’t worth keeping.

Written by: Kevin Gannon, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa

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‘Multiple Choices’ for Students…Helping or Hindering?

September 1, 2016

TooManyOptionsThere is an increased focus on student choice in education today, which in turn has created more student-centered classrooms that use problem-based learning. However, as institutions try to incorporate more student-centered initiatives into the classroom, there is often a lack of critical consideration for the potentially negative effects increased choice may have on student learning.

Student choice in this context refers to the opportunity for students to choose the pathway and methodology to accomplish assignments or projects. For example, students would have the opportunity to choose a topic they wish to explore and the approach they use to demonstrate their learning. These initiatives have a place in the classroom and can increase student motivation and creativity, but schools need to consistently question their own practices.

It has been a decade since Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, introduced the concept that people experience paralysis of the mind when overloaded with choices. In Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Schwartz discovered during experiments in grocery stores that people were more likely to buy a product when presented with fewer choices. In 2013, Daniel Mochon, an assistant professor of marketing at Tulane University, countered this theory in his own research about the power of single-option aversion—the idea that people are averse to buying a product when there is only one choice available.

The new question then becomes: What degree of choice should we have? This applies to the classroom too. Though these studies apply to retail, they have grounds in the field of education regarding student choice. The question is not about giving students choice or not; it’s to what degree student choice is effective.

There are measurable consequences when teachers provide students with endless choices. The common thought is that teachers avoid student choice because they are afraid of turning over control to students. The problem is not loss of control for teachers, but the difficulty of directing their attention to each individual student. Student choice can create a wide variety of individual projects with a range of outcomes and varying degrees of progress in classroom learning. Feedback is one of the most important elements in student problem-solving—a necessary component of student choice—but the increased individuality of projects can make it difficult for teachers to provide coaching to each student.

This reality forces teachers to choose between two options: generalizing the feedback and instruction, which makes this help less applicable to each student; or increasing individualized attention, which becomes shortsighted because of competing time and resource constraints.

We know that effective feedback takes copious amounts of time when all students complete the same assignment—and the greater the variety of student choice only increases that time. There needs to be a balance between an appropriate amount of student choice and the ability of the teacher to impart the feedback necessary to reach maximum student growth in a timely manner.

In addition, teachers cannot expect that increasing student choice and freedom will automatically improve student learning. Unfortunately, unlimited choice can set students up to fail. Teachers must help their students develop the appropriate skills for how to approach a problem and evaluate success and failure so that students can make more of their own effective choices in the classroom.

Too often, schools accept educational trends and expand them into every facet of teaching practices without evaluating the impact they have on student learning. Instructors, administrators, and students must discuss together the effects of student choice and the ways in which it can both help and hinder learning. Education leaders could also use professional-development opportunities to discuss with teachers effective student choice in the classroom.

If institutional leaders start this discussion, we can start to move away from the haphazard execution of this trend and, instead, create a learning environment that provides sustainable growth for all students.

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4 Reasons to Get Your Tweet On…Academically

August 22, 2016

twitterTwitter is initially an empty space each user individually transforms into a public, dynamic space. You follow other users without obligation or permission based on your interests. Tweets from users you follow then comprise your Twitter feed and are constantly updated as users put up new posts. You can check in several times a day, once a day, once a week or month or even more sporadically—whatever suits your needs. In addition to following users, you may also search topics using hashtags, subscribe to lists, or follow tweets from a conference, such as @LiveTextConf. There really seems to be no right or wrong way to use Twitter. But some may ask, what is the academic value of using Twitter? Is there any?

1: Learning about new research, publications, conferences, conversations: Twitter is a place to keep research findings and insights, while discovering juxtapositions and oddities. Use Twitter as a living archive, one that you can quite easily download to your hard drive every once in a while and comprehensively search. If you search for keywords or proper names, you may find threads and thoughts that can be expanded into larger investigations or arguments.

2: Teaching tool: Create a Twitter assignment, and use that assignment as a way to interact with students. This is a way to model to students not only how academic interests intersect with everyday life but also good interactive etiquette. As with any social media, things can get dicey on Twitter, but even the worst-case examples of Twitter spats can lend themselves to classroom discussions and lessons concerning written communication, the viral potential of the digital, the need to take time for reflection, and how to be respectful when making an argument.

3: Community-building, connecting, promoting: This is about using the tools at hand to help get your work out there to a real, reading audience who is interested in the kinds of things you are researching and writing about. When your book is published, tweet about it. You can tweet little snippets from your article or publication. This can help your book find readers. Pose a question and use a hashtag as a way to bring scholars together on Twitter. Chance are, you will get some smart and useful answers, and who knows how you may connect with these tweeters in the future!

4: A practice in writing: Twitter can help make your prose stronger, clearer and, most important, shorter. We often get into bad habits when we write for narrow disciplinary audiences, and Twitter can help jostle you out of wordy patterns that tend to become unconscious.

Best of all, Twitter is a way to engage in lively critique. It is a vibrant medium for pithy reviews, trenchant commentary and subtle demystification. Twitter, and any social media platform for that matter, collates and curates my worlds in an easy way, providing a platform for learning, engaging, and connecting which rests simply on one’s own interests and availability. And remember, add us to your world by following… @LiveTextedu

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More Visible and Collective Attention to Essential Learning Outcomes by Regional Accreditors

August 8, 2016

aacu-logoIn a statement submitted to the Senate HELP Committee in response to its call for comments, AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider urged members of the committee as it considers possible changes to accreditation to “prioritize first and foremost the goal of ensuring that all college students participate in high-quality programs that are well-designed to advance a set of essential learning outcomes…and that accredited institutions make visible their commitment to these learning outcomes and students’ demonstrated achievement of them.”

In her comments, she stresses that “any reforms [of the accreditation process] should keep the role of quality assurance in the hands of institutions of higher education and their membership accrediting organizations” but she also affirms the recommendations AAC&U has been making for many years about learning outcomes that today are needed in every area of endeavor.  These are identified in AAC&U’s Board of Directors Statement, “Our Students’ Best Work: A Framework for Accountability Worthy of Our Mission.”  Building on the recommendations in that document, Schneider suggests that regional accreditors should recognize that there is now a broad-based consensus across higher education and among employers that certain learning outcomes are not elective but essential.  The seven regional accreditors should pledge to make these outcomes central to their accreditation expectations and “[develop] their own processes for ensuring that students in accredited institutions are provided with clear roadmaps to consensus learning outcomes; that curricula are mapped to a clear set of learning outcomes; and that multiple, proven assessment methods are used…to assess the degree to which students are achieving institutional and [also] major-specific learning outcomes.”

In framing her response to the Senate HELP Committee’s call for comments on possible changes to accreditation, Schneider submitted both a one page summary of the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes that AAC&U has articulated, and also a one page summary of the very similar Degree Qualifications Profile(DQP) proficiencies released this fall following years of “beta” testing by more than four hundred colleges, universities, and community colleges, including several of the regional accrediting associations.

“Both in the economy, and in a globally engaged democracy, all graduates will need such proficiencies as analytic inquiry, communication and quantitative fluency, information literacy, ethical reasoning and judgment, the ability to engage and learn from diverse perspectives, teamwork and problem-solving, civic and global learning, and the ability to apply learning to new settings and unscripted problems,”  said Schneider.  “These proficiencies are essential, not elective and they ought to be a visible part of institutions’ demonstration that they foster high-quality learning.”

“Currently, many accreditors charge institutions to identify ‘learning outcomes.’ It’s time for the accreditors to move beyond that generic term to help the public and students alike understand that these cross-cutting capacities are a critical component of a quality education.”

Read the Senate HELP Committee White Paper on “Higher Education Accreditation: Concepts and Proposals,” President Schneider’s entire statement, and the earlier AAC&U Board Statement, “Our Students’ Best Work: A Framework for Accountability Worthy of Our Mission.”

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What I learned at the LiveText Annual Conference

August 1, 2016


There is a positive energy that you can feel in the air from the moment you arrive at the LiveText Assessment Conference. This is no accident because the people at LiveText are all about continuous improvement, and they get us all pumped for it. When I walked into the Conference, there were plenty of smiling new faces and delightful familiar ones.

A common theme at this year’s Conference was that implementing assessment to improve student learning requires a systems-level approach.  Dr. Maggie Bailey knocked it out of the park in her discussion on how to strategically connect assessment with program review and resource allocation. In my own workshop, we explored RACI as a method to heighten clarity and accountability in our decision making processes.

Another commonality is that supportiveness and communication are key ingredients to building a culture of assessment. It is important to celebrate successes. At one point during Alice Hambright’s talk, “Developing Management Superpowers”, she had our whole group in stitches on sharing information and making training fun for faculty.

What resonates with me at conferences is that we need to create activities for our students in a manner that is better aligned to the non-linear way that learning and development occurs. Towards that end, we need to be intentional in our methods, and we must be sure to meaningfully use data that we do collect.  In quoting Light, Keynote Dr. Tom Angelo really got us thinking when he said, “you can’t fix in the analysis phase what you bungled in the design phase.”

We also had the opportunity to learn about LiveText’s technology offerings. On the technology forefront, the LiveText Via platform promises to offer a seamless way to engage learners to trace their own growth and achievements with portfolios. And LiveText’s Assessment Insight System gives us a dashboard to gauge our progress in building out our plans and templates cohesively.

Apart from the structured sessions, some of my personal highlights included seeing family, and my pre-dawn 5 am 5-mile run with LiveText’s Rahul Nandi along the Chicago River. As a collective group of conference attendees, our conversations around and the view of the skyline at night from Lake Michigan took place in a way that left us with a sense of peace and hope for the future. When you attend a LiveText annual Assessment Conference, you will find that professionals share common bonds in part because we experience similar challenges: speaking a common language, embracing change, establishing trusting relationships with faculty and staff, and sustaining our efforts over time.

If you haven’t yet attended a LiveText Assessment conference, then you’ll definitely want to get out there to the next one in 2017, my friend!  See you then and hopefully sooner.

Dr. David Turbow, Outcomes Assessment Coordinator, Office of Assessment and Institutional Research, University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences

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Higher Education Learning Outcomes Assessment Movement Moves Away from Standardized Tests, According to National Survey

July 26, 2016


The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) released its third report from a national survey of Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) conducted by Hart Research Associates.  This year’s report, “Trends in Learning Outcomes Assessment,” highlights findings from the 2015 survey of a representative sample of chief academic officers at AAC&U member institutions including respondents from across the full spectrum of public, private, two-year, and four-year institutions.

Two earlier reports from the 2015 survey summarized findings related to general education redesign, high-impact teaching practices, and priorities for advancing diversity, equity, and underserved student success.

“It has been clear for some time that educators and employers have reached strong agreement that specific cross-cutting capacities or learning outcomes are absolutely necessary for any graduate who wants to succeed in today’s economy and in a complex, fast-changing world,” said AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider. “Unfortunately, the evidence also shows—compellingly—that many college graduates are weak on exactly these skills—critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, integrative learning, and the like. In this context, the good news from this new study is that higher education now is using assessment tools designed to help faculty and institutions tackle, target, and solve the chronic problem of weak student performance on these essential learning outcomes.  The assessment shift from tests that were disconnected by design from students’ course of study toward assessment tools that are anchored directly in students’ assignments across-the-curriculum is a huge cultural shift.  Assessment is poised, at long last, to become a tool for learning improvement, and not just a compliance exercise whose results leave educators mystified rather than usefully informed.”

Key Findings: Consensus on Learning Outcomes

  • Eight-five percent of CAOs report that their institution has a common set of intended learning outcomes that apply to all students. In an earlier 2008 survey, only 78 percent reported having common learning outcomes.
  • There is significant agreement across all institutional sectors among AAC&U member institutions about the learning outcomes that are important for all students. The outcomes most commonly named by institutions across different institutional types have remained remarkably stable in recent years.
  • One area where institutions are placing more emphasis is in learning outcomes related to research skills and integrative projects. Institutions today prioritize not only broad knowledge and cross-cutting skills like writing or quantitative reasoning, but 75 percent of institutions report requiring all students to attain research skills as part of earning their undergraduate degrees.

Key Findings: Increasing Percentage of Institutions Assess Students’ Achievement of Learning Outcomes Beyond Grades; More Assessment in Departments than in General Education

  • 87 percent of AAC&U member institutions assess learning outcomes across the curriculum, up from 72 percent who said they did so in 2009. Another 11 percent report that they have plans to assess outcomes and only 2 percent say they are not assessing learning outcomes and have no plans to do so.
  • Most institutions are assessing cumulative learning outcomes in departments, including 40 percent that report doing so in all departments.
  • More than two in three institutions report assessing cumulative learning outcomes in general education which is up from 52 percent who reported doing so six years ago.

Key Findings: Most Institutions Assessing Learning Outcomes Report Using Rubrics Applied to Student Work

  • Among those that report assessing outcomes in general education, most (87 percent) use institutionally created rubrics applied to samples of student work. Seventy-eight percent report gathering assessment data using capstone projects.
  • AAC&U released a set of nationally validated rubrics as part of its Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) initiative in 2010. Today, 42 percent of AAC&U member institutions report using these rubrics to assess student learning. In addition, among those using their own institutionally created rubrics, well over half (58 percent) say the VALUE rubrics informed the development of their locally created rubrics.

Key Findings: Higher Education Institutions Moving Away from Use of Standardized Tests

  • About one-third of AAC&U member institutions report using standardized tests of general knowledge and 38 percent report using standardized national tests of general skills, down from 49 percent who reported using these tests in 2008.

“With our society and economy demanding more of college graduates, it is imperative that colleges and universities gather meaningful data on how well students are attaining important learning outcomes and use that data to improve their approaches to curricular design and their faculty members’ use of effective teaching methods,” said AAC&U Senior Vice President for Academic Planning and Public Engagement Debra Humphreys.  “This survey shows that institutions are becoming far more adept at using sophisticated assessment approaches and are poised to use these approaches to make clearer how well students are attaining the outcomes everyone agrees are important for success in today’s competitive global economy.”

Find full findings from the current and previous reports, including survey methodology, online here.

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