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Updated: 1 hour 4 min ago

About Inside Higher Ed Selling Majority Stake

Sun, 2015-01-18 01:20

Update 1/21: See link and blurb at bottom of post from new Editor’s Note at Inside Higher Ed.

Last week the Huffington Post ran an article by David Halperin breaking the news that the private equity firm Quad Partners had acquired a controlling interest in Inside Higher Ed.

Quad Partners, a New York private equity firm that is invested heavily in the for-profit college industry, and whose founder has aggressively opposed regulation of that troubled industry, has acquired a controlling stake in the respected trade publication Inside Higher Ed (IHE), which often reports on for-profit colleges and the policy disputes surrounding them. There has been no public announcement, but the Quad Partners website now lists Inside Higher Ed as one of its investments, among a range of education-related companies, including for-profit trade schools Beckfield College, Blue Cliff College, Dorsey Schools, Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and Marinello Schools of Beauty.

Doug Lederman, one of IHE’s two top editors, confirmed to me that Quad purchased a majority interest in IHE in November.

Quad Partner James Tieng is now an IHE board member. Quad also owns the influential college admissions management company Noel-Levitz and other education technology companies that contract with colleges and universities — another sector that IHE covers.

The rest of the article then goes full conspiracy theory, building off the for-profit connection of both Quad Partners and its founder. Halperin seems to believe mere indirect association with for-profits is evil and compromising in and of itself rather than finding any changes or compromises in IHE coverage.

The bigger issue in my mind was described by Keith Button at Education Dive.

While the list of potential conflicts of interest in such a sale is long, the fact that the deal wasn’t announced and the potential news coverage issues weren’t publicly addressed up-front raises more questions.

This issue of disclosure was partially addressed in the original article:

“I would expect people to be watching us” in light of this purchase, says Lederman. “Our credibility is hugely important to us, and ultimately it will rise or fall on the nature and tenor of our coverage.” He says IHE will go on as before: “The proof will be in what we publish.” If there are significant references in IHE to specific Quad-owned companies, the publication will disclose the relationship.

In my mind, IHE made a serious mistake by not publicizing the acquisition back in November and issuing a blanket disclosure. I don’t fault them for selling the controlling stake in the company, especially given the lack of a paywall. But I do fault them for not realizing how the lack of disclosure created the opportunity for a advocate to publicly challenge them. It’s actually ironic to see a full-fledged advocate (Halperin writes extensively attacking the for-profit sector as part of his funding and openly calls himself an advocate) require 100% pure financial independence for IHE.

There are two types of disclosure that are relevant – a blanket disclosure announcing a key event such as the sale of the majority of company shares, proactively distributed and available; and article-specific disclosures if IHE articles reference companies tied to their owners. IHE seems to be relying on the latter, but their credibility will take a hit by not doing the former.

IHE was caught off guard by the Huffington Post article, and they seem to have quickly put up an Ownership Statement on the same day the article ran (Jan 14th).

Inside Higher Ed is an independent journalism organization. The journalistic independence is critical in ensuring the fairness and thoroughness of our higher education coverage.

Inside Higher Ed Inc. is owned by its three founders, other individual investors, and Quad Partners, a private equity firm that invests in the education space. Quad purchased a controlling share of Inside Higher Ed in November 2014 from a group of venture capital firms that invested in the company originally a decade earlier.

Owners of Inside Higher Ed stock who are not editors play no role in the editorial policies of the company.

The problem is the following:

  • This statement comes across as a reaction to Halperin – you got us – leading to the appearance that IHE had something to hide; and
  • IHE has done little to actually disclose this ownership, as the statement is only linked on the About Us page and Doug Lederman’s page (no articles or prominent placement of significant news event).

I read and research quite a bit of higher ed news and it took me a while to find this statement, despite the fact that I was specifically looking for information. With the current placement, very few people would have seen it.

This news is relevant, more for the Quad Partners ownership of Noel-Levitz than for their ownership of Marinello Schools of Beauty. Higher ed enrollment in the US has been declining the past 2 years, and this change is shaping up to be one of the biggest drivers of change initiatives for institutions and associated markets. There might be no other organization with more influential on enrollment management than Noel-Levitz. In the past 12 months Inside Higher Ed has written eight articles where Noel-Levitz plays an important role, and this prominent Fortune article profiling the company states:

Noel-Levitz might be the most influential force in higher education pricing that you’ve never heard of, empowering what’s become a three-stage, market-distorting game for college administrators.

Readers should know about the ownership connection given the importance of enrollment management and college pricing, and readers should not have to find this if and only if they read an article with direct references.

Do I believe that Quad Partners has or will change IHE coverage, especially on enrollment management and pricing? No. In my experience, IHE’s leadership and the reporters I’ve dealt with have been very ethical and honest. Furthermore:

Lederman says that at the insistence of IHE, the purchase agreement includes a clause that precludes Quad Partners from any involvement in editorial operations. IHE was launched by Lederman and two co-founders in 2004, with a modest investment from three Washington DC-area venture funds, including the owners of the lead generation company Double Positive. Those three investors, who sold their shares to Quad in November, also had no role in editorial operations, says Lederman.

IHE does a great job covering important stories in higher ed, including a watch dog role of exposing problems that arise. We need them to be trusted, and they should quickly correct the mistake. My unsolicited advise:

  • Write an article disclosing the sale and linking to the Ownership Statement – don’t make this information hard to find;
  • Quote a portion of the purchase agreement clause in the article to clarify their statement of editorial independence; and
  • Create a separate page of editorial policies.

Update 1/19: In a separate Education Dive post from the weekend:

A top editor of Inside Higher Ed said Friday that, in hindsight, he wished there had been more transparency about the sale of the publication’s controlling interest to a private equity firm that has invested heavily in for-profit education.

“We were founded without any support, then we had one set of investors and we had never said anything about them,” Scott Jaschik, an Inside Higher Ed founder and editor, told Education Dive. “In hindsight, I wish we had, because clearly this is of interest to people.” [snip]

“I guess I would just say to anyone who has questions, read us and read our coverage and call me if you think we’re doing anything that we shouldn’t,” he said.

Excellent work by Education Dive, by the way. As for IHE, I still think they would benefit from a blanket disclosure.

Update 1/21: Inside Higher Ed has now posted a full blanket disclosure note. Good for them.

Some of you may have seen some recent blog posts and discussion on Twitter or elsewhere about Inside Higher Ed Inc.’s ownership status. We wanted you to have more information directly from us. [snip]

In November 2014, Quad Partners, a private equity firm that invests in numerous companies in the education space, including some small for-profit colleges, bought a controlling interest in our company by purchasing shares of Inside Higher Ed Inc.’s stock from our previous investors.

Quad intends to help Inside Higher Ed expand its staff, extend its reach, and improve its coverage and services. Its goal is to help Inside Higher Ed do what it does better. And yes, like all investors, it wants to make money.

Owners of Inside Higher Ed Inc. stock who are not editors play no role in the editorial policies of the company. Quad acknowledged explicitly in its agreement to invest in Inside Higher Ed Inc. that it would be precluded from any involvement in editorial operations.

The post About Inside Higher Ed Selling Majority Stake appeared first on e-Literate.

No Discernible Growth in US Higher Ed Online Learning

Tue, 2015-01-06 11:34

By 2015, 25 million post-secondary students in the United States will be taking classes online. And as that happens, the number of students who take classes exclusively on physical campuses will plummet, from 14.4 million in 2010 to just 4.1 million five years later, according to a new forecast released by market research firm Ambient Insight.

- Campus Technology, 2011

On the positive side, Moody’s notes that the U.S. Department of Education projects a 20-percent growth in master’s degrees and a 9-percent growth in associate degrees, opportunities in both online education and new certificate programs, and a rising earnings premium for those with college degrees.

- Chronicle of Higher Ed, 2014

Q.  How likely would it be that this fraction [% students taking online courses] would grow to become a majority of students over the next five years? A [from institutional academic leaders]. Nearly two-thirds responded that this was “Very likely,” with an additional one-quarter calling it “Likely.” [That’s almost 90% combined]

- Grade Change, Babson Survey 2013

More than two-thirds of instructors (68 percent) say their institutions are planning to expand their online offerings, but they are split on whether or not this is a good idea (36 percent positive, 38 percent negative, 26 percent neutral).

- Inside Higher Ed 2014

Still, the [disruptive innovation] theory predicts that, be it steam or online education, existing consumers will ultimately adopt the disruption, and a host of struggling colleges and universities — the bottom 25 percent of every tier, we predict — will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years.

- Clayton Christensen in NY Times 2013

You could be forgiven for assuming that the continued growth of online education within US higher ed was a foregone conclusion. We all know it’s happening; the questions is how to adapt to the new world.

But what if the assumption is wrong? Based on the official Department of Education / NCES new IPEDS data for Fall 2013 term, for the first time there has been no discernible growth in postsecondary students taking at least one online course in the US.

From 2002 through 2013 the most reliable measure of this metric has been the Babson Survey Research Group (BSRG) annual reporting. While there are questions on absolute numbers due to questions on definition of what makes a course “online”, the year-over-year growth numbers have been quite reliable and are the most-referenced numbers available. Starting last year, using Fall 2012 data, the official IPEDS data started tracking online education, and last week they put out Fall 2013 data – allowing year-over-year changes.

I shared the recent overall IPEDS data in this post, noting the following:

By way of comparison, it is worth noting the similarities to the Fall 2012 data. The percentage data (e.g. percent of a sector taking exclusive / some / no DE courses) has not changed by more than 1% (rounded) in any of the data. This unfortunately makes the problems with IPEDS data validity all the more important.

It will be very interesting to see the Babson Survey Research Group data that is typically released in January. While Babson relies on voluntary survey data, as opposed to mandatory federal data reporting for IPEDS, their report should have better longitudinal validity. If this IPEDS data holds up, then I would expect the biggest story for this year’s Babson report to be the first year of no significant growth in online education since the survey started 15 years ago.

I subsequently found out that BSRG is moving this year to use the IPEDS data for online enrollment. So we already have the best data available, and there is no discernible growth. Nationwide there are just 77,493 more students taking at least one online class, a 1.4% increase.

Y-o-Y Analysis

Why The Phrase “No Discernible Growth”?

Even though there was a nationwide increase of 77,493 students taking at least one online course, representing a 1.4% growth, there is too much noise in the data for this to be considered real growth. Even with the drop in total enrollment, the percentage of students taking at least one online course only changed from 26.4% TO 27.1%.

Just take one school – Suffolk County Community College – who increased by roughly 21,600 student enrollments taking at least one online course from 2012 to 2013 due to a change in how they report data and not from actual enrollment increases. More than a quarter of the annual nationwide increase can be attributed to this one reporting change[1]. These and similar issues are why I use the phrase “no discernible growth” – the year-over-year changes are now lower than the ability of our data collection methods to accurately measure.

Combine Babson and IPEDS Growth Data

While we should not directly compare absolute numbers, it is reasonable to combine the BSRG year-over-year historical growth data (2003 – 2012) with the new IPEDS data (2012 – 2013).

Y-o-Y Growth Chart

One thing to notice is that is really a long-term trend of declining growth in online. With the release of last year’s BSRG report they specifically called out this trend.

The number of additional students taking at least one online course continued to grow at a rate far in excess of overall enrollments, but the rate was the lowest in a decade.

What has not been acknowledged or fully understood is the significance of this rate hitting zero, at least within the bounds of the noise in data collection.

Implications

Think of the implications here if online education has stopped growing in US higher education. Many of the assumptions underlying institutional strategic plans and ed tech vendor market data is based on continued growth in online learning. It is possible that there will be market changes leading back to year-over-year growth, but for now the assumptions might be wrong.

Rather than focusing just on this year, the more relevant questions are based on the future, particularly if you look at the longer-term trends. Have we hit a plateau in terms of the natural level of online enrollment? Will the trend continue to the point of online enrollments actually dropping below the overall enrollment? Will online enrollments bottom out and start to rise again once we get the newer generation of tools and pedagogical approaches such as personalized learning or competency-based education beyond pilot programs?

I am not one to discount the powerful effect that online education has had and will continue to have in the US, but the growth appears to be at specific schools rather than broad-based increases across sectors. Southern New Hampshire, Arizona State University, Grand Canyon University and others are growing their online enrollments, but University of Phoenix, DeVry University and others are dropping.

One issue to track is the general shift from for-profit enrollment to not-for-profit enrollment, even if the overall rates of online courses has remained relatively stable within each sector. There are approximately 80,000 fewer students taking at least one online course at for-profit institutions while there are approximately 157,000 more students in the same category at public and private not-for-profit sectors.

I suspect the changes will continue to happen in specific areas – number of working adults taking courses, often in competency-based programs, at specific schools and statewide systems with aggressive plans – but it also appears that just making assumptions of broad-based growth needs to be reconsidered.

Update: Please note that the data release is new and these are early results. If I find mistakes in the data or analysis that changes the analysis above, I’ll share in an updated post.

  1. Russ Poulin and I documented these issues in a separate post showing the noise is likely in the low hundreds of thousands.

The post No Discernible Growth in US Higher Ed Online Learning appeared first on e-Literate.

Fall 2013 IPEDS Data: New Profile of US Higher Ed Online Education

Mon, 2015-01-05 14:48

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) provide the most official data on colleges and universities in the United States. Last year they released data on distance education (essentially online courses) starting with the Fall 2012 term. Last week they released new data for the Fall 2013 term. Below is a profile of online education in the US for degree-granting colleges and university, broken out by sector and for each state.

Please note the following:

  • For the most part distance education and online education terms are interchangeable, but they are not equivalent as DE can include courses delivered by a medium other than the Internet (e.g. correspondence course).
  • I have provided some flat images as well as an interactive graphic at the bottom of the post. The interactive graphic has much better image resolution than the flat images.
  • There are three tabs below in the interactive graphic – the first shows totals for the US by sector and by level (grad, undergrad); the second also shows the data for each state; the third shows a map view.
  • Please note that along with Russ Poulin from WCET we have identified some significant problems with IPEDS data validity – see this article for more information.


Fall Profile by Sector

By way of comparison, it is worth noting the similarities to the Fall 2012 data. The percentage data (e.g. percent of a sector taking exclusive / some / no DE courses) has not changed by more than 1% (rounded) in any of the data. This unfortunately makes the problems with IPEDS data validity all the more important.

It will be very interesting to see the Babson Survey Research Group data that is typically released in January. While Babson relies on voluntary survey data, as opposed to mandatory federal data reporting for IPEDS, their report should have better longitudinal validity. If this IPEDS data holds up, then I would expect the biggest story for this year’s Babson report to be the first year of no significant growth in online education since the survey started 15 years ago.

Fall 2012 Profile by Sector

If you select the middle tab, you can view the same data for any selected state. As an example, here is data for California.

Sector and State CA Example

There is also a map view of state data colored by number of, and percentage of, students taking at least one online class for each sector. If you hover over any state you can get the basic data. As an example, here is a view highlighting North Carolina public 4-year institutions.

Map NC public 4-year

 

Interactive Graphic

For those of you who have made it this far, here is the interactive graphic. Enjoy the data.

 Learn About Tableau

The post Fall 2013 IPEDS Data: New Profile of US Higher Ed Online Education appeared first on e-Literate.

Fall 2013 IPEDS Data: Top 30 largest online enrollments per institution

Mon, 2015-01-05 05:18

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) and its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) provide the most official data on colleges and universities in the United States. Last year they released data on distance education (essentially online courses) starting with the Fall 2012 term. Last week they released new data for the Fall 2013 term.

Let’s look at the top 30 online programs for Fall 2013 (in terms of total number of students taking at least one online course) while showing both 2012 and 2013 data. Some notes on the data source:

  • I have combined the categories ‘students exclusively taking distance education courses’ and ‘students taking some but not all distance education courses’ to obtain the ‘at least one DE’ category;
  • The ‘All Students’ category combines those taking DE course with those taking no DE courses;
  • I have highlighted in red the not-for-profit sectors;
  • IPEDS tracks data based on the accredited body, which can differ for systems – I manually combined most for-profit systems into one institution entity as well as Arizona State University[1]; and
  • Please note that along with Russ Poulin from WCET we have identified some significant problems with IPEDS data validity – see this article for more information.

Fall 2013 Top 30 Largest Online Enrollments Per Institution All Students Taking At Least One Online Course (Graduate and Undergraduate, including Non-degree or certificate-seeking)

Top 30

First Impressions
  • With the exception of Grand Canyon University overall and Argosy University for DE, the for-profit sector took a beating with significant drops in both total enrollment and DE enrollment.
  • Western Governors University, University of Central Florida, Southern New Hampshire Univesity, Suffolk County Community College and Northern Virginia Community College seem to have the biggest DE enrollment increases; Suffolk is so dramatic a change in DE without a big change in total enrollment, however, that I assume they changed how they report the data (see the article mentioned above).

We’ll add more data tables and graphics breaking apart this data over the next few weeks here at e-Literate.

Update: Fixed the rank ordering for Suffolk County Community College and Northern Virginia Community College.

  1. ASU splits into various entities although the online programs are coordinated.

The post Fall 2013 IPEDS Data: Top 30 largest online enrollments per institution appeared first on e-Literate.

The Quotable Justin Reich: MOOC research needs to reboot

Sat, 2015-01-03 18:19

Thanks to Audrey Watters I just read a new article in Science Magazine and publicly posted here by Justin Reich, the lead researcher for HarvardX (Harvard’s implementation of edX and associated research team)[1]. Justin calls out the limitations of current MOOC research that focuses on A/B testing and engagement instead of learning, single-course context, and post hoc analysis with proper course design. While praising the field for making available cleansed data for any type of analysis, his core argument is that we need new approaches that cannot be solved just by research teams.
Update: Added link to publicly-available DOCX article.

While the whole article is worth reading, there are quite a few insightful quotes should get past the journal paywall.

  • Big data sets do not, by virtue of their size, inherently possess answers to interesting questions.
  • We have terabytes of data about what students clicked and very little understanding of what changed in their heads.
  • It does not require trillions of event logs to demonstrate that effort is correlated with achievement.

  • One reason that early MOOC studies have examined engagement or completion statistics is that most MOOCs do not have assessment structures that support robust inferences about learning.
  • Distinguishing between engagement and learning is particularly crucial in voluntary online learning settings, because media that provoke confusion and disequilibrium can be productive for learners.
  • Boosting motivation in well-designed courses is good, but if a MOOC’s overall pedagogical approach is misguided, then plug-in experiments can accelerate participation in ineffective practices.
  • For the first MOOC researchers, getting data cleaned for any analysis was an achievement. In early efforts, following the path of least resistance to produce results is a wise strategy, but it runs the risk of creating path dependencies.
  • For the first MOOC researchers, getting data cleaned for any analysis was an achievement. In early efforts, following the path of least resistance to produce results is a wise strategy, but it runs the risk of creating path dependencies.
Some e-Literate Context

This article is a welcome statement from one of the leading MOOC researchers, and it connects with some earlier posts and interactions at e-Literate. In June 2014 I wrote a post contrasting the MOOC research results with the approach taken at the University of Phoenix.

Beyond data aggregated over the entire course, the Harvard and MIT edX data provides no insight into learner patterns of behavior over time. Did the discussion forum posts increase or decrease over time, did video access change over time, etc? We don’t know. There is some insight we could obtain by looking at the last transaction event and number of chapters accessed, but the insight would be limited. But learner patterns of behavior can provide real insights, and it is here where the University of Phoenix (UoP) could teach Harvard and MIT some lessons on analytics. [snip]

UoP recognizes the value of learner behavior patterns, which can only be learned by viewing data patterns over time. The student’s behavior in a course is a long-running transaction, with data sets organized around the learner.[2]

Two days later I wrote a follow-up post based on commenters speculating that Harvard and MIT might have learning data that was just not released.

Granted, I am arguing without definitive proof, but this is a blog post, after all. I base my argument on two points – there is no evidence of HarvardX or MITx pursuing learner-centered long-running data, and I believe there is great difficulty getting non-event or non-aggregate data out of edX, at least in current forms.

Justin Reich replied in the comments, essentially agreeing about the lack of learner-centered long-running data analysis but disagreeing with my arguments on the effect of MOOC architecture and data availability. This comment from June aligns quite well with the current Science Magazine article.

My research presentation was not exhaustive, although generally belies my belief that we need advances in instrumentation and assessment. Fancy manipulations of of predictors (from the click stream) may be limited in value if we don’t have good measures of learning, or a rich understanding of the context of data. But I’m super excited, too, about people doing great work with the edX event log data, and it’ll get out.

It is very encouraging to see the HarvardX team pushing to move beyond clicks-as-engagement and get to actual learning analysis.

Additional Notes

Some additional notes:

  • I still maintain that the course-centric transactional design of MOOCs (as with most LMSs) plays a role in the current, limited MOOC research analysis. I have spoken to many MOOC researchers who lament the enormous amount of time it takes to parse JSON files to try and recreate patterns based on individual learners over time. While I believe that Harvard, MIT, and Stanford have research teams capable of this extraction, a learner-centered system architecture would do wonders to advance the state of art for learning analytics.
  • As mentioned above, I believe that the standard usage of an LMS in online or blended courses leads to many of the same limitations in learning analytics. You could apply many of Justin’s quotes outside of the MOOC world.
  • I wish Justin had moved beyond formal journal and conference proceedings articles in his references and included the results from the MOOC Research Initiative.[3] Although not peer-reviewed, several of these reports addressed deficiencies such as being discipline-specific and even including the assessment considered in the MOOC design (as opposed to post hoc analysis). These reports do not negate the points made in the Science Magazine article, but it would have been useful to include this set of reports as a basis to understand the current state of research.
  1. Note that Science Magazine access requires a subscription or purchase or individual article.
  2. Note that I based this argument on what UoP claims to be producing internally without being able to validate the results.
  3. Disclosure – MRI was funded by the Gates Foundation, which is also a sponsor of the next e-Literate TV series.

The post The Quotable Justin Reich: MOOC research needs to reboot appeared first on e-Literate.

Harmonizing Learning and Education

Thu, 2015-01-01 16:20

I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Dave Cormier has written a couple of great posts on our failure to take learner motivation seriously and the difference between improving learning and improving education. In the latter post—a response to Stephen Downes’ comment on the former post—Dave writes about the tension between improving an individual’s learning and improving our system of education, essentially positing that the reason why we as a society often fail to take learner engagement sufficiently seriously is because we become preoccupied with making the educational system accountable, a goal that we would be irresponsible not to take on but that we are also essentially doomed to fail at. (I may be putting words in his mouth on that last bit.) Dave writes,

There’s definitely something wrong if people are leaving their first degree and are not engaged in learning. We certainly need to address it. We totally want to be in the business of helping people do what they want to do. Try it. No really. Just try it. Sit down with a child and help them do what they want to do. And i don’t mean “hey this child has shown up with a random project they are totally passionate about and are asking me a question” I mean “stop them at a random time, say 8:25am, and just start helping them.” You will get blank stares. You’ll get resistance. You’ll get students who will say anything you want if it means you will go away/give them a grade. You will not enjoy this process. They will also not enjoy it.

There is something wrong. The problem is that we have built an education system with checks and balances, trying to make it accountable and progressive (in some cases), but we are building it without knowing why. We have not built an education system that encourages people to be engaged. The system is not designed to do it. It’s designed to get people to a ‘standard of knowing.’ Knowing a thing, in the sense of being able to repeat it back or demonstrate it, has no direct relationship to ‘engagement’. There are certainly some teachers that create spaces where engagement occurs, but they are swimming upstream, constantly battling the dreaded assessment and the need to cover the curriculum. The need to guarantee knowing.

He suggests that we need to redesign our education system around the goal of getting students to start caring and keep caring about learning. And his argument is interesting:

Give me a kid who’s forgotten 95% of the content they were measured in during K-12 and I will match that with almost every adult i know. Give me a kid who cares about learning… well… then i can help them do just about anything.

This is partly a workplace argument. It’s an economic value argument. It’s a public good argument. If Dave is right, then people who care about learning are going to be better at just about any job you throw at them than people who don’t. This is a critical argument in favor of public funding of a liberal arts education, personalized in the old-fashioned sense of having-to-do-with-individual-persons, that much of academia has ceded for no good reason I can think of. The sticky wicket, though, is accountability which, as Dave points out, is the main reason we have a schism between learning and education in the first place. Too bad we can’t demonstrate, statistically, that people who are passionate about learning are better workers. It’s a shame that we don’t have good data linking being excited about learning, being a high-performer in your job, and being a happy, fulfilled and economically well-off person. If we had that, we could largely resolve the tension between improving learning and improving education. We could give a compelling argument that it is in the taxpayers’ interest to build an education system whose purpose, as Dave suggests, is to increase the chances that students will start to care and continue to care about learning. It’s a tragedy that we don’t have proof of that link.

Oh, wait.

The Intuition Behind the Argument

Before I get into the numbers, I think it’s important to articulate the argument in a way that makes intuitive sense even to skeptics. As Dave points out, everybody agrees with the proposition that students should love learning if that proposition is presented to them as a platitude. Where people start to waffle is when we present the proposition to them as a priority, as in, “It is more important for students to learn to develop and nurture a passion for learning than it is for them to learn any particular thing.” And in order to resolve the tension between learning and education, we need to make an even stronger proposition: “A student who develops a passion for learning about subjects that are unrelated to her eventual career will, on balance, be a better employee and more successful professional than the same student who has studied content directly related to her eventual career with relative indifference.” Do you believe this proposition? Here’s a test:

Imagine that you could go back in time and choose an undergraduate major that was exactly tailored to the job that you do today. Would you be better or worse at your job than you are now? Would you be more or less happy?

Obviously, this test won’t work for people whose undergraduate major was the perfect pre-professional major for what they are doing now, which will include most faculty. But it should work for a majority of people, including lots of folks in business and government. In my case, I was a philosophy major, which prepared me well for a career in anything except philosophy. If I could have precognitively created a major for myself in educational technology back in the late 1980s, would I be more successful today? Would I be happier? The answer to both of those questions is almost certainly “no.” In fact, there is a good chance that I would have been less successful and less happy. Why? For one thing, I didn’t care about educational technology back then. I cared about philosophy. I pursued it with a passion. This gave me three things that I still have today. First, I have the intellectual tools of a philosopher. I don’t think I would have held onto the tools of another discipline if I didn’t care about them when I was learning about them. Second, I know what it feels like to pursue work that I am passionate about. I am addicted to that feeling. I am driven to find it in every job, and I am not satisfied until I do. This makes me more selective about the jobs I look at and much, much better at the ones that I take. And finally, though it was a long and winding road, my interest in philosophy led me to my interest in instructional technology in many ways. We tend to have a rather stunted notion of what it means for a subject we study to be “related” to our work. In my philosophy classes, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to “know” something, what it means to “learn” something, and what it means for something to be “good.” I got to see how these words are tangled up in logic, language, and culture, and how our notions of them change over time. I learned how to write and how to think, while I was simultaneously studying the first principles of language and cognition. All of these experiences, all of this knowledge, all of these skills have been directly valuable to me in my career as a professional non-philosopher (or a standup philosopher, as Mel Brooks might call me). I wouldn’t have them if I had majored in educational technology. I would have other things, but honestly, there are no deep skills in my work that I wish I had acquired through earlier specialization. Everything that I have needed to learn, I have been able to learn on the job. As Dave wrote, “Give me a kid who cares about learning… well… then i can help them do just about anything.”

If you are one of those people who majored in exactly what you ended up doing as a career, then try reversing the thought experiment. Suppose you could go back in time and major in anything you wanted. Something that you were passionate about, but something different from what you ended up majoring in. Would it have made a difference? Would you have been more or less successful in your current career? Would you have been more or less happy than you are now? For some folks, that pre-professional major was exactly what they needed to be doing. But I bet that, for a lot of folks, it wasn’t.

Survey says…?!

If any of this resonates with you at all, then you really must read the 2014 Gallup Purdue Index Report. You’ll have to register to get it, but trust me, this one is worth it. Gallup is most widely known for their political polling, but more broadly, their business is in collecting data that links people’s attitudes and beliefs to observable behaviors and objective outcomes. How likely is a person who thinks the “country is on the wrong track” to vote for the incumbent? Or to vote at all? Does believing that your manager is incompetent correlate with an increased chance of a serious heart problem? And conversely, does “having fun” at your job correlate with a higher chance of living into your 90s? Does having a “manager that cares about me as a person” mean that I am more likely to be judged a “top performer” at work and reduce the likelihood that I will be out sick? Does having a teacher who “makes me feel excited about learning” correlate with better workplace engagement when I graduate?

Ah. There it is.

To get the full impact of Gallup’s research, you have to follow it backwards from its roots. The company does significant business in employee satisfaction surveys. As with schooling, managers know that employee engagement matters but often fail to take it seriously. But according to research cited in Gallup’s book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (which I also recommend), employees who could answer “yes” to the question about whether their manager cares about them as a person, are “more likely to be top performers, produce higher quality work, are less likely to be sick, less likely to change jobs, and less likely to get injured on the job.” Also, people who love their jobs are more likely to both stay working longer and live longer. In a study George Gallup conducted in the 1950s,

…men who lived to see 95 did not retire until they were 80 years old on average. Even more remarkable, 93% of these men reported getting a great deal of satisfaction out of the work they did, and 86% reported having fun doing their job.

Conversely, a 2008 study the company found a link between employee disengagement and depression:

We measured their engagement levels and asked them if they had ever been diagnosed with depression. We excluded those who reported that they had been diagnosed with depression from our analysis. When we contacted the remaining panel members in 2009, we again asked them if they had been diagnosed with depression in the last year. It turned out that 5% of our panel members (who had no diagnosis of depression in 2008) had been newly diagnosed with depression. Further, those who were actively disengaged in their careers in 2008 were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression over the next year. While there are many factors that contribute to depression, being disengaged at work appears to be a leading indicator of a subsequent clinical diagnosis of depression.

Which is obviously bad for employer and employee alike.

In some cases, Gallup went all in with physiological studies. For example, they “recruited 168 employees and studied their engagement, heart rate, stress levels, and various emotions throughout the day,” using heart rate monitors, saliva samples, and handheld devices that surveyed employees on their activities and feelings of the moment at various points in the day.

After reviewing all of these data, it was clear that when people who are engaged in their jobs show up for work, they are having an entirely different experience than those who are disengage. [Emphasis in original.] For those who were engaged, happiness and interest throughout the day were significantly higher. Conversely, stress levels were substantially higher for those who were disengaged. Perhaps most strikingly, disengaged workers’ stress levels decreased and their happiness increased toward the end of the workday….[P]eople with low engagement…are simply waiting for the workday to end.

From here, the authors go on to talk about depression and heart attacks and all that bad stuff that happens to you when you hate that job. But there was one other striking passage at the beginning of this section:

Think back to when you were in school sitting through a class in which you had very little interest. Perhaps you eyes were fixed on the clock or you were staring blankly into space. You probably remember the anticipation of waiting for the bell to ring so you could get up from your desk and move on to whatever was next. More than two-thirds of workers around the world experience a similar feeling by the end of a typical workday.

And here’s what Dave said in his first post:

Student separate into two categories… those that care and those that don’t care.

Our job, as educators, is to convince students who don’t care to start caring, and to encourage those who currently care, to continue caring.

All kinds of pedagogy happens after this… but it doesn’t happen until this happens.

So. In this case, we’re trying to make students move from the ‘not care’ category to the ‘care’ category by threatening to not allow them to stay with their friends. Grades serve a number of ‘not care to care’ purposes in our system. Your parents may get mad, so you should care. You’ll be embarrassed in front of your friends so you should care. In none of these cases are you caring about ‘learning’ but rather caring about things you, apparently, already care about. We take the ‘caring about learning’ part as a lost cause.

The problem with threatening people is that in order for it to continue to work, you have to continue to threaten them (well… there are other problems, but this is the relevant one for this discussion). And, as has happened, students no longer care about grades, or their parents believe their low grades are the fault of the teacher, then the whole system falls apart. You can only threaten people with things they care about.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t hold kids accountable, but if we’re trying to encourage people to care about their work, about their world, is it practical to have it only work when someone is threatening them? Even if you are the most cynical personal imaginable, wouldn’t you like people to be able to do things when you aren’t actually threatening them? Are we promoting a ‘creative/knowledge economy’ by doing this? Are we building democracy? Unless you are a fascist (and i really mean that, unless you want a world where a couple of people tell everyone exactly what to do) you can’t really want the world to be this way.

It turns out that Dave actually overstates the case for Fascism. Fascist bosses get bad results from employees (in addition to, you know, killing them). If you want high-performing workers, you need engaged workers. And you can’t force people to engage.

Wellbeing isn’t just about work. It looks at five different types of personal “wellbeing”—career, social, financial, physical, and community—and shows how they are related to each other, to overall wellbeing, and to performance at work and in the world. (By the way, there’s a lot of good stuff in the sections on social and community wellbeing for the connectivists and constructionists in the crowd.)

We Don’t Need No Education

The Gallup Purdue Index Report picks up where Wellbeing leaves off. Having established some metrics that correlate both with overall personal happiness and success as well as workplace success, Gallup backs up and asks the question, “What kind of education is more likely to promote wellbeing?” They surveyed a number of college graduates in various age groups and with various measured levels of wellbeing, asking them to reflect back on their college experiences. What they didn’t find is in some ways as important as what they did find. They found no correlation between whether you went to a public or private, selective or non-selective school and whether you achieved high levels of overall wellbeing. It doesn’t matter, on average, whether you go to Harvard University or Podunk College. It doesn’t matter whether your school scored well in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Student debt levels, on the other hand, do matter, so maybe that Harvard vs. Podunk choice matters after all. And, in a finding that will cheer my philosophy professors, it turns out that “[s]lightly more employed graduates who majored in the arts and humanities (41%) and social sciences (41%) are engaged at work than either science (38%) or business (37%) majors.”

What factors did matter? What moved the needle? Odds of thriving in all five areas of Gallup’s wellbeing index were

  • 1.7 times higher if “I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams”
  • 1.5 times higher if “I had at least one professor at [College] who made me excited about learning”
  • 1.7 times higher if “My professors at [College] cared about me as a person”
  • 1.5 times higher if “I had an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom”
  • 1.1 times higher if “I worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete”
  • 1.4 times higher if “I was extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations while attending [College]”

Again, the institution type didn’t matter (except for students who went to for-profit private colleges, only 4% of which were found to be thriving on all five measures of wellbeing). It really comes down to feeling connected to your school work and your teachers, which does not correlate well with the various traditional criteria people use for evaluating the quality of an educational institution. If you buy Gallup’s chain of argument and evidence this, in turn, suggests that being a hippy-dippy earthy-crunchy touchy-feely constructivy-connectivy commie pinko guide on the side will produce more productive workers and a more robust economy (not to mention healthier, happier human beings who get sick less and therefore keep healthcare costs lower) than being a hard-bitten Taylorite-Skinnerite practical this-is-the-real-world-kid type career coach. It turns out that pursuing your dreams is a more economically productive strategy, for you and your country, than pursuing your career. It turns out that learning a passion to learn is more important for your practical success than learning any particular facts or skills. It turns out that it is more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.

So…what do we do with all this ed tech junk we just bought?

This doesn’t mean that ed tech is useless by any means, but it does mean that we have to think about what we use it for and what it can realistically accomplish. Obviously, anything that helps teachers and advisers connect with students, students connect with each other, or students connect with their passions is good. There’s also nothing inherently wrong with video lectures or adaptive learning programs as long as they are used as informational supplements once students start caring about what they learn or as tools to keep them caring about what they learn rather than substitutes for real engagement that shovel content in the name of “competency.” I’m interested in “flipping,” fad or no fad, because it emphasizes using the technology to clear the way for more direct human-to-human interactions with the students. Competencies themselves should be used more as markers of progress down a road that the student has chosen to travel rather than a set of hoops that the student must jump through (like a trained dog). Another thing that technologies can do is help students with what may be the only prerequisite to having passion to learn, which is believing that you can learn. In the places where I’ve seen adaptive learning software employed to most impressive effect, it has been in concert with outreach and support designed to help students who never learned to believe in themselves discover that they can, in fact, make progress in their education. Well-designed adaptive software lets them get help without feeling embarrassed and, perhaps more importantly, enables them to arrive at a confidence-building feeling of success and accomplishment quickly.

The core problem with our education system isn’t the technology or even the companies. It’s how we deform teaching and learning in the name of accountability in education. Corporate interests amplify this problem greatly because they sell to it, thus reinforcing it. But they are not where the problem begins. It begins when we say, “Yes, of course we want the students to love to learn, but we need to cover the material.” Or when we say, “It’s great that kids want to go to school every day, but really, how do we know that they’re learning anything?” It’s daunting to think about trying to change this deep cultural attitude. Nor does embracing Gallup’s train of evidence fully get us out of the genuine moral obligation to find some sort of real (but probably inherently deforming) measure of accountability for schools. But the most interesting and hopeful result from the Gallup research is this:

You don’t have to have every teacher make you feel excited about learning in order to have a better chance at a better life. You just need one.

Just one.

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Year-end Updates on e-Literate News Posts

Tue, 2014-12-30 16:11

For my final 2014 post, I thought it would be interesting to provide year-end updates to some news posts on e-Literate over the past year. You’ll notice that there is somewhat of an emphasis on negative stories or implications. For most positive stories, companies and institutions are typically all too happy to send out press releases with the associated media paraphrasing, and we have little need here to cover as news. The following non-exhaustive list is in date order.

D2L Growth Claims

In December 2013 I described layoffs at Desire2Learn (now officially named D2L). The significance of this story is that it calls into question D2L’s growth claims and trumpeting of massive new investment of $85 million. Some updates:

IPEDS Data on Online Learning


In early January we covered the new federal data on online learning, eventually breaking out into graphical analysis of Top 20 schools, state-by-state, and sector-by-sector categories. Some updates:

  • Russ Poulin from WCET and I (with some excellent help from WCET researchers) did some further analysis showing “significant confusion over basic definitions of terms, manual gathering of data outside of the computer systems designed to collect data, and, due to confusion over which students to include in IPEDS data, the systematic non-reporting of large numbers of degree-seeking students”.
  • Based on this analysis, NCES essentially responded by saying to ‘follow the damn rules, we’re not changing our approach’ (paraphrase).
  • The new data for the Fall 2013 term should be available in the next week or two, but for reasons listed above, I would be very cautious about forming conclusions for year-over-year changes.
2U’s IPO

In February and March we ran several stories about 2U’s IPO, as it clarified the business side of Online Service Providers and was one of the rare ed tech IPOs. Some updates:

Coursera New CEO and Direction

In March we described Coursera’s hiring of a new CEO – Richard Levin from Yale (and formerly creator of AllLearn and Open Yale Courses). Some updates:

Unizin

In what was probably our biggest “news” story of the year, Michael and I covered the creation and release of the Unizin consortium. Some updates:

  • After we broke the story on May 16th the Unizin consortium was officially announced on June 11th.
  • As of the end-of-year, Unizin has signed up 10 institutionsColorado State University, the University of Florida, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State, the University of Iowa, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Oregon State University. The highlighted institutions were listed as potential partners in the original May story. Purdue University, the University of Maryland, the University of Texas, and the University of Utah were listed in May but have not (yet) joined Unizin.
  • Other than the different list of schools that have joined, substantially all of the original details have been confirmed by later events.
Cal State Online Demise

In July we covered the demise of Cal State Online less than three years after its high-profile kickoff. Some updates:

Problems with University of California UCPath System

In July we covered the $220+ million delayed program to implement a systemwide Payroll system that promised to pay for itself within five years. Some updates:

Kuali 2.0

In August we described the described the big changes to Kuali – moving development to a for-profit entity – and proclaimed that “community source is dead”. Some updates:

  • The Kuali Student, Kuali Coeus, Kuali Financial System, and Kuali Ready projects have all voted to shift to the new model and run through KualiCo.
  • For Kuali Student, the University of Maryland has signed on as the first institutional partner.
  • Boston College has decided to not go with KualiCo and has issued an RFP with the following purpose:

Boston College was a Kuali Student (KS) partner until the KS Board decision on November 14, 2014 to stop the current development of Kuali Student 1.0 and move to KualiCo. Boston College would like to complete the current development of Kuali Student Enrollment 1.0, under the current ECL license and is seeking a development partner. This would involve taking the latest Kuali Student Enrollment release and building out the required functionality.

Now, on to 2015.

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