Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Ready to Dive Deeper into Big Data and Learning Analytics in Education?

Here's a great place to start!

The folks at the Journal of Research and Practice in Assessment (RPA) put together this special edition to provide a rich resource for those looking to dive into a broad and deep pool of the ideas, issues, policies, practices, and research related to the use of advanced analytics in learning and student support strategies. I helped co-author an article in this edition that's an overview of Civitas Learning's work with colleges and universities nationwide. This article also provides three case studies that showcase the use of insight and action analytics to power student success efforts, especially work to get good data to the front lines of learning in compelling ways--i.e., using apps to inform and inspire students, advisors, and faculty.

Here's the PDF link to the full RPA Winter 2014 Edition: http://www.rpajournal.com/dev/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Volume9.pdf 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

High-tech learning is no easy A

(Originally published in TribTalk: Perspectives on Texas, a publication of the Texas Tribune, August 5, 2014).

My nine brothers and sisters and the 25 foster children who rotated through our house when I was growing up made for a diverse, sometimes crazy household. There was a lot of love to go around, but not a lot of experience in navigating higher education. If it wasn’t for the faculty and staff at a local community college who helped and challenged me early on, I doubt I’d have earned a bachelor’s degree, much less a Ph.D.

That experience, along with my two decades of working with innovators hoping to improve student learning and college completion — especially the work of many business and education leaders here in Texas — has made me a passionate advocate for a grand bargain we should be willing to make with college students today: You do the work; we clear the way. Here’s how it works.

Innovations like digital courseware, online and blended learning, and competency-based models — in which students progress based on content mastery, not time spent in class — have transformed higher education in recent years. Lower-cost, high-quality options are now available to more students than ever before. But the reality is this: Too many students think these new options are meant to make learning easy.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Quality learning often pushes you — and pushes you hard. The time, energy and money spent developing these innovations aren’t intended to make learning easy but rather to ease students’ journeys. At their best, they bring learning to life in new and compelling ways and make an often-impenetrable higher education system easier to navigate. These innovations are pointless, however, if students don’t live up to their end of the bargain.

Indeed, research, practice and the lived experience of educators show that all students — in both live and online settings, and in both traditional and competency-based models — must show up, be willing to do the often challenging work of learning, and develop the tenacity and grit to deal with the inevitable struggles they’ll face in both life and learning along the way. Unfocused students are more likely to leave education with debt, not degrees. Entitled students convinced that we should cater to them will blame anyone but themselves for their failure. Uncommitted students may have big dreams but no willingness to defer gratification or sacrifice along the way.

We felt so strongly about this bargain when we launched WGU Texas — a fully online, competency-based university, of which I was the founding chancellor — that our advertisements featured taglines like “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be Texan” and “The Texas Two-Step: Work Hard, Succeed.” These messages weren’t about scaring students away but about readying them for the road ahead. Our typical student was 37 years old on average and returning to school after struggling to complete a bachelor’s degree or to find a learning model that would put them on a path toward a master’s degree. WGU Texas’ competency-based model might have been more accommodating, but it definitely wasn’t going to be easy. We were looking for students who were willing to do the work, not looking for an easy way out. To date, more than 5,000 Texans have risen to this challenge.  

However we challenge students, though, the other side of the bargain is ours. If students approach their learning with purpose, engagement and tenacity, they have the right to expect — and insist — that we make their journeys through our state’s education system learning centered, data rich and high value.

Our policies and practices should be focused on improving and expanding learning, not maintaining tradition for tradition’s sake. Students should have clear, comprehensive information about where they are and what’s next. That may mean sharing and better analyzing student progression data, even between institutions and systems, and getting these data in the hands of students, advisers and faculty. We simply can’t continue to force tens of thousands of students to fly blind while making their way through our courses and programs or, even worse, while navigating needlessly confusing transfer agreements — especially when more than 70 percent of all baccalaureate recipients in our state transfer credits from community colleges to universities.

Most of all, successfully completing these journeys should result in both credentials valued by the labor market (if getting a job is part of our promise or their purpose) and deeper knowledge that prepares students to learn for a lifetime, participate in a democracy and develop the agency to guide their lives.

It’s an exciting time to be in the fast-changing, furiously innovating world of education. We have the opportunity to help more students succeed than ever before using the most compelling learning resources the world has seen yet. However, high expectations and hard work are a must on both sides of the grand learning bargain if we’re going to make the most of this moment and realize the true promise of education in Texas.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Early Learning Later

There’s a lot of energy and conversation in education circles about the power of early learning—from head start to advanced early childhood development programs. In short, I’m a fan. However, what I’m talking about here is opening the doors to early learning options for students further along the path. As we continue to break through the boundaries of time-based learning – argued for so well by Terry O’Banion back in the Learning College for the21st Century days – we have to continue to push the boundaries all along the K-20 pathway. One particular boundary to push is bringing even more early learning later.

Clearly competency-based programs like Western GovernorsUniversity, Southern New Hampshire’s College for America, or the emerging programs such as the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s initiative with South Texas College and Texas A&M Commerce, are going to make acceleration more common. By allowing students to advance based on learning-competency achievement as opposed to 16-week-calendar advancement, they’re helping earlier learning take shape. More integrated and accelerated programs in developmental/college readiness programs like MathMyWay at Foothill-De Anza College District or the soon-to-be “largest math emporium in the galaxy,” as Austin Community College president Richard Rhodes calls it, are using early learning to bring more students into their purposeful education pathways sooner by helping them engage learning on demand, show what they know, and then go on to the next learning challenge. But there are still too few of these options.

But the story of Alexander Gilman, a 15-year old from AZ, struck me this morning. At 15 he is graduating with multiple associates degrees thanks to the early college programs in place through the Maricopa Community Colleges and is now poised to enter Arizona State University’s honor’s college as a junior! As you read the story you realize that we have to do more to help bring early learning to those ready for it. The Early College High School movement has been around for some time now and is taking clearer shape across the country. The folks at Educate Texas have been a key catalyst for these here in Texas – and have helped bring together the insight from rolling out over 100 of these schools over the last decade. But, again, there are still too few of these options.

What we’ve learned from the competency-based, accelerated developmental education, and ECHS work is that there are thousands, if not millions, of young people ready to be challenged to learn earlier. There are thousands, if not millions, of returning adults that are seriously delayed or derailed on higher education pathways because of course-based, calendar-tied curricular paths. They too are ready to learn sooner. Early learning matters to both of these cohorts—and more--and we need to do even more to make it more common.

Of course there are lots of questions and key issues to consider. How do we effectively identify the students ready for early learning options? How do we tune and time their learning journey’s to make sure the moments that require more capstone experiences and reflection are met? How do we balance these efforts with or weave them into the necessary efforts to help students who are falling behind or completely off their educational path? How do we fund these models with secondary and postsecondary funding formulas and financial aid models? What is the best facilities and technology mix to make it happen?

No easy answers to these, but there is exciting early learning happening on these fronts as well. From the emerging Competency-BasedEducation Network to continuing work of Educate Texas, there are a growing number of voices in the chorus asking how we bring more early learning later!