Online learning caucus coming to Congress

Members of the eLearning caucus have not been announced.

Two members of Congress formed an eLearning caucus last month–a much-needed Capitol Hill forum, educators said, after a recent survey showed Congressional representatives and their staffers lacked a basic understanding of online education.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., a conservative House member, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., among his party’s most liberal members, created the eLearning caucus Oct. 5 to “promote research on successes and failures in eLearning so that federal education funds are used prudently, and to ensure policy is aligned with practice,” according to a “dear colleague” letter written by Noem and Polis.

A poll conducted this year by the Presidents Forum, a group of online colleges that primarily serve adult learners, showed policy makers were unfamiliar with up-to-date web-based learning. Many on Capitol Hill thought distance learning was still conducted primary through correspondence classes, and survey respondents said online programs were only equivalent to classroom learning if a large institution created and administered the curriculum.

“There was very little understanding of the impact of current technology,” said Paul Shiffman, executive director of the Presidents Forum. “Both staff and [Congressional] members come from a place and time identified primarily with traditional education. They have not been in contact with most recent methodologies … so there’s a void of knowledge there.”

The corridors of power in Washington, D.C. aren’t exactly teeming with online college graduates, said Russell Poulin, deputy director of WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET).

“Start going down the type of folks who end up being staffers on the Hill, and a lot of them have gone to private institutions or large public universities that have been slower to pick up on online education,” he said. “It’s hard to fault these people, because it’s just not in their background. It’s human nature not to be aware of something that has never been in your experience.”

Congressional caucuses are often formed to provide a public forum on policy issues and a chance for legislators to collect and analyze pertinent information before the issue comes to the full Congress.

Caucuses often tackle narrow issues. The Caucus for Competitiveness in Entertainment Technology, created in February and nicknamed the “video game” caucus, explores the impact of games in education.

Educational technologists familiar with the caucus said caucus membership hasn’t been made public yet, and a spokesman for Polis said that while the caucus hasn’t formally launched, “we’ve drawn a great deal of interest” from legislators.


Why university presidents refuse reform

American higher education—long the envy of the world—is facing unprecedented challenges…as the crisis continues to escalate, there is a conspicuous lack of leadership from the presidents and chancellors of educational institutions, says the Washington Post. Many responsible administrators privately admit that there are enormous problems with our system, but almost all of them are unwilling to speak out publicly or put major reforms first on their agenda. Why? There are several basic reasons that presidents and chancellors refuse to approach these issues honestly…

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Five leaders of the robot revolution

In our upcoming Sunday magazine, I profile Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech and a leader in the movement to perfect the humanoid robot, says Daniel de Vise, columnist for the Washington Post. In the movies, robots are everywhere, boxing and shooting and running and flying and generally outdoing humans at every turn. In reality, the humanoid robot has a long way to go. Simply powering an autonomous robot is a nightmare; current battery technology allows a robot maybe 20 minutes of life, and (as one of Hong’s students told me) if you poke the power cell with a pencil, it will explode. Visual sensors are costly and erratic. The simple human act of walking has eluded the world’s best robot scientists, although thanks to Hong and others, that barrier is finally coming down…

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Penn State officials head to court on perjury charges

Just hours after stepping down, two high-ranking Penn State administrators face arraignment Monday on charges they lied to a grand jury investigating former defense coordinator Jerry Sandusky and failed to properly report suspected child abuse, a case that has left fans reeling, the Associated Press reports. Late Sunday, after an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees, university President Graham Spanier announced that Athletic Director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the school’s senior vice president for business and finance, would be leaving their posts. Curley requested to be placed on administrative leave so he could devote time to his defense, and Schultz will be going back into retirement, Spanier said…

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Student loans: The next bubble?

First the dot.coms popped, then mortgages. Are student loans and higher education the next bubble, the latest investment craze inflating on borrowed money and misplaced faith it can never go bad? Some experts have raised the possibility, the Associated Press reports. Last summer, Moody’s Analytics pronounced fears of an education spending bubble “not without merit.” Last spring, investor and PayPal founder Peter Thiel called attention to his claims of an education bubble by awarding two dozen young entrepreneurs $100,000 each NOT to attend college. Recent weeks have seen another spate of “bubble” headlines–student loan defaults up, tuition rising another 8.3 percent this year and finally, out Thursday, a new report estimating that average student debt for borrowers from the college class of 2010 has passed $25,000. And all that on top of a multi-year slump in the job-market for new college graduates…

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Syllabi costs mount on college campuses

No colleges surveyed used commercial syllabus systems.

The unnoticed costs of syllabi management might make campus budget hawks break a sweat.

Colleges and universities spend an average of $272,674 every year on creating, printing, and distributing syllabi, a new report suggests, and while higher education shifts to online platforms for many aspects of administration and learning, syllabus management still involves plenty of paper.

The report, published last week by The Syllabus Institute, a website run by syllabus technology maker Intellimedia, analyzes the myriad financial and employee costs of making and updating syllabi and handing them out to thousands of students.

Read more about syllabi technology in higher education…

Syllabus digitization takes hold on campuses

Should professors be forced to post syllabi online?

Four-year universities included in Intellimedia’s research spent more than $102,000 every year managing syllabi for about 1,800 faculty members.

The largest campuses spend upwards of $1.5 million annually on creating, printing, and evaluating syllabi, according to the study.

“The process of managing syllabi is shared by many and affects every department’s workflow and budget,” said Jennifer Connally, principal researcher for The Syllabus Institute’s report, “Where Does the Budget Go?”

The average syllabus is seven pages, and more than half of professors interviewed by The Syllabus Institute said they printed an average of 673 pages of syllabi every semester.

Even midsized schools with 300 faculty members spend $8,100 on printing syllabi per semester, according to the research.


Analytics use boosts student retention

Nine in 10 colleges use some form of statistical analysis to determine retention and learning strategies.

Phil Ice knows numbers never lie.

Ice, vice president of research and development for American Public University System (APUS), has watched retention rates at the 97,000-student online school steadily climb with the continued analysis of in-depth information that shows when a student might be on the verge of dropping out.

If a student’s test scores are dropping, participation numbers are low, and disengagement is evident through various statistics, the numbers suggest that student might not last much longer at APUS.

How can professors and university officials know precisely which students are in danger of giving up on their education? One surefire strategy is to examine how many days have passed since the student last logged onto his or her course website.

If it’s been a while since the online student checked the site for syllabus updates or discussion sessions, APUS’s analytics system will flag the student as a potential dropout.

“We hone in on things such as a student’s perception of being able to build effective community,” Ice said.

APUS professors and instructors use information detailing a student’s online engagement with a comprehensive survey to create a model of student retention and satisfaction, according to the university.

“We’ve been using analytics before it was a buzz word in higher education,” Ice said.


Why science majors change their mind

Politicians and educators have been wringing their hands for years over test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore, the New York Times reports. How will the United States stack up against global rivals in innovation? The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math. And there are encouraging signs, with surveys showing the number of college freshmen interested in majoring in a STEM field on the rise. But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.”

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College students still vulnerable to bullying

Bullying and cyberbullying don’t end when students go from high school to college, a new study finds, HealthDay reports.

“We got into looking at college students because there are studies on elementary, junior high, high school and the workplace,” Christine MacDonald, a professor of educational and school psychology at Indiana State University, said in a university news release. “There’s nothing on colleges. It doesn’t just stop when they turn 18.”

She and her colleagues found that 15 percent of college students in their study reported being bullied and nearly 22 percent reported being cyberbullied…

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Students need lessons on where to find their facts, study finds

A new analysis of “unoriginal” writing by the anti-plagiarism site Turnitin finds that college students aren’t much better than high school students at choosing their sources, the Washington Post reports. A growing number of college presidents and faculty are concerned about student plagiarism in the internet age. But the questions raised by this analysis go beyond ethics. Wouldn’t professors be disheartened to learn that a significant share of students are harvesting their facts not from an old-fashioned encyclopedia but from Yahoo Answers?

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