Here's what we think are the 10 most significant higher-education technology stories of 2011.

New rules crack down on student recruitment by for-profit colleges … LMS powerhouse Blackboard Inc. expresses support for common technology standards … Federal officials dole out $500 million in grants to support the creation of open eLearning resources: These are among the many key ed-tech developments affecting colleges and universities in the past year.

In this special retrospective, the editors of eCampus News highlight what we think are the 10 most significant higher-education technology stories of 2011. To learn how these stories will continue to affect campus decision makers in 2012 and beyond, read on.

What do you think of our list? What other ed-tech stories do you think are worthy of mentioning? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

10. Colleges grapple with students’ bandwidth demands.

Technology officials at Beloit College in Wisconsin recently saw just how long a network update would appease students’ appetite for more internet bandwidth: Nearly doubling the campus’s web capabilities proved adequate for precisely three days.

Beloit, a 1,300-student campus, struggles with the same challenge faced by colleges and universities many times its size: Today’s students expect to have constant access to uninterrupted high-speed internet service. And that puts a huge strain on campus IT officials charged with meeting this demand.

Because colleges and universities have a finite amount of bandwidth available, limits on the amount of bandwidth students can use have become more commonplace, especially during peak hours.

With on-campus bandwidth at a premium, some institutions, such as Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., are charging students if they exceed a monthly bandwidth cap. This new policy sparked an online petition calling for the end of the bandwidth cap, and IT leaders on campuses nationwide said they have seen varied student reaction to strict internet limitations.

“I think students and faculty understand that bandwidth needs to be reserved for educational reasons and teaching purposes,” said Megan Fitch, chief information officer at Beloit College. “But [bandwidth caps] aren’t well received by some students.”

Beloit, for example, went from a network with 80 megabits per second (Mbps) of data to 150 Mbps last April, owing in part to student use of media-rich content like streaming video. That upgrade, however, came with limitations on who could use the increased bandwidth and when they could use it.

On weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., 95 Mbps are allocated for academic purposes, while 55 Mbps are reserved for student residential areas. After 6 p.m., bandwidth in student dorms jumps to 90 Mbps, and on weekends and late night weekday hours, all 150 Mbps are available for anyone on campus to use.

Fitch said Beloit officials planned on adding bandwidth every other year, but with some students coming to campus with as many as four web-accessible devices—smart phones, laptops, tablets, and video game systems like the Xbox—that timeline for network upgrades is in question.

Some observers said charging college students for excessive web use could start a much-needed conversation about the market realities of internet availability on campus.

“If you pay more, you get more—that seems to be fair to me,” said Eric Tooley, product manager for Blue Coat Systems, a California-based company that provides bandwidth management services. “It comes down to what the market will bear. How much is it worth to you?”

See also:

29 universities seek high-speed networks

How to avoid the Wi-Fi blues in academia

Colleges struggle with students’ data demand

Campuses look to ‘dark fiber’ for connectivity

9. Legal battles hamper schools’ efforts to create digital libraries.

In March, a federal judge rejected a deal between internet search leader Google Inc. and the book industry that would have put millions of volumes online, citing antitrust concerns and the need for involvement from Congress. And in September, authors’ groups in the United States and three other nations filed a lawsuit against five U.S. universities, seeking to stop the creation of online libraries made up of millions of copyright-protected books they say were scanned without authorization.

These two legal actions, which revolve around the use of so-called “orphan” works (out-of-print works whose authors cannot be located), have put a wrench in schools’ efforts to digitize their book collections and make them available to a wider range of scholars and students.

U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin said Google’s creation of a universal digital library would “simply go too far,” and he was troubled by the differences between Google’s views and those of others affected by the settlement. Still, he left the door open for an eventual deal, noting that many objectors would drop their complaints if Google set up the arrangement so book owners would have to opt in to join the library rather than being forced to opt out if they don’t want to take part.

Stanford University, which affirmed its support for the Google Books project last year, said in a statement that campus officials were “disappointed” by the ruling.

“The settlement effort was the culmination of several years of negotiations between publishers, authors, libraries and Google,” the university said. “For research and education, the settlement provided an opportunity to access these out-of-print works as part of a universal library and to preserve works that physically deteriorating.”

Many campuses that have lent support to Google Books have created their own digital book collections—modest online libraries when compared to the scope of Google’s collection of about 15 million works.

Some of those efforts were called into question when the Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, and the Union Des Ecrivaines et des Ecrivains Quebecois, or UNEQ, joined eight individual authors to file a copyright infringement lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against Michigan, California, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Cornell universities.

The lawsuit accuses the University of Michigan of creating a repository known as HathiTrust, where unlimited downloads of orphan works could be accessed by students and faculty members. The authors accused Michigan of getting the unauthorized scans of an estimated 7 million copyright-protected books from Google.

The university planned to make about 40 books available online to its students and faculty in October, said Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at the university. He said campus officials had been in discussions with the Authors Guild in recent weeks about its plans and were surprised by the lawsuit.

“I’m confident that everything we’re doing … is lawful use of these works,” he said.

In his March ruling, Chin said Congress ultimately should decide who should be entrusted with guardianship over orphan books and under what terms, rather than the issue being resolved by private, self-interested parties.

While these legal developments are a setback for digital library initiatives, campus leaders said they would find new ways to share educational resources among institutions.

“Putting commercial considerations aside, eventually we need to come to terms with distribution of most all educational content, including books, online,” said Raymond Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Center for Online Learning, Research, and Services. “Increasingly, open educational resources are moving ahead in education. Those who cannot come to terms with some sort of program will be left in the digital dust.”

See also:

Federal judge rejects plans for Google digital library

Could Google Books ruling affect college textbook market?

Authors Guild sues universities over online books

8. Lecture capture use continues to grow … but that could change as bloggers target educators.

The past year has brought significant growth in higher education’s use of lecture-capture technology, which market research firm Gartner places in the “hot spot” of its Strategic Technology Map—meaning it can improve both personal productivity and organizational efficiency.

A key trend fueling that growth has been students’ use of smart phones and tablets to replay campus lectures while on the go. For instance, students’ use of the Tegrity lecture-capture system jumped 47 percent in the first seven months of 2011, according to a Tegrity press release. The company credits the bump to web-capable smart phones that allow students to watch lectures anytime, anywhere—and not just on their laptops or in their dorm rooms.

As more schools invest in lecture-capture systems, they’re finding new uses for the technology. Wyoming’s Laramie County Community College says it has saved thousands of dollars by using its lecture-capture system to proctor online exams. The savings stem from allowing students to take tests alone, with the camera rolling, instead of traveling to a faraway facility where people hired by the school monitor exams.

Meanwhile, new open-source software developed at Stanford University allows viewers watching video lectures to zoom and pan around the recorded images. The software, called ClassX, could provide an interactive and more cost-effective alternative to traditional lecture-capture solutions as more colleges make class recordings available online.

Although professors are becoming more comfortable with using lecture-capture technology, a disturbing trend has emerged that threatens to reverse that progress: Controversial blogger Andrew Breitbart, a conservative pundit with a track record of posting highly misleading but politically damaging videos, earlier this year announced his intention to “go after” educators. One of his first efforts was a series of videos purporting to show a University of Missouri-Kansas City lecturer advocating violence as a labor union tactic.

After a campus investigation, Chancellor Tom George said the lecture videos “were definitely taken out of context, with their meaning highly distorted through splicing and editing from different times within a class period and across multiple class periods.” He added: “We sincerely regret the distress to [the lecturer] and others that has been caused by the unauthorized copying, editing, and distribution of the course videos.”

Reacting to the UMKC situation, researcher Alan Greenberg wrote an opinion piece for eCampus News, called “Don’t let ideologies take lecture capture hostage.”

“We all know there are ideologues out there willing to twist words, images, and video to suit whatever ugly purpose they promote. And a professor’s recorded lecture, manipulatively edited, can have a greater impact than printed words, simply because it can appear more real,” Greenberg wrote.

“Lecture capture is worthy enough that we don’t want it taken hostage by anyone hoping to use the technology to wage political battles. … Bloggers who improperly edit academic on-demand content like recorded lectures with an agenda like Breitbart’s need to have as many libel suits thrown at them as possible.”

See also:

Lecture capture used to proctor exams in higher education

Smart phones driving lecture capture growth

Online lecture viewers can zoom, pan within videos using new software

Recorded lectures take on new risk as blogger ‘goes after teachers’

Opinion: Don’t let ideologues take lecture capture hostage

7. Analytics technology becomes a key part of campus decision making.

For years, marketers have used sophisticated software to track consumers’ buying habits and web browsing activity, then crunch this information and—based on the data—make a series of intelligent predictions that allow them to target their sales messages much more effectively. Now, this same technology is appearing in schools and colleges as well—and observers say it’s a development that could revolutionize education.

Using predictive analytics software, Kennesaw State University in Georgia has been able to hone in on prospective students more efficiently. Sinclaire Community College in Ohio has cut its student dropout rate in half. And the online American Public University System has seen its course completion rate steadily climb.

These breakthroughs come at a key time for U.S. higher education, which is under enormous pressure to innovate and provide better learning opportunities.

Predictive analytics encompasses a variety of statistical techniques for mining information gathered across a variety of sources—for example, student information systems, library automation systems, learning management systems, and back-office enterprise systems—and analyzing those current and historical data to make predictions about the future.

The implications of predictive analytics for education are nearly endless. For instance, schools are using analytics software from companies such as IBM or SAS to track student performance over time, looking at various data points—not just test or quiz scores, but other, more subtle signals as well, such as how frequently students are logging on to a learning management system, or how often they’ve contributed to online discussions—to identify those who are at risk of failing or dropping out. Some schools are overlaying a system that can identify these early warning signs automatically and create a customized intervention plan for students who might need it.

Other colleges and universities are using analytics software to more accurately predict enrollment numbers, which helps them plan in a variety of areas—from budgeting and staffing to anticipating the amount of parking that will be available to students. Still other campuses are using predictive analytics to recruit students who are more likely to enroll and do well.

IBM has worked with industry leaders for years, helping businesses use predictive analytics for managing risk and improving their return on investment. Now, IBM has developed what it is calling a “vision for smarter education,” creating an analytics framework that combines predictive analytics with “intervention management” technology, which can trigger a specific intervention that is unique to each struggling student’s needs and deliver this remedial content directly to the student. The solution is in beta-testing now and will be commercially available for schools and colleges in early 2012.

The higher-education technology group EDUCAUSE, meanwhile, has launched a new initiative to encourage the use of analytics technology among colleges and universities. The project will culminate with a national summit for campus leaders to explore analytics use in more detail next fall.

Predictive analytics helped an IBM computer dubbed “Watson” beat two former Jeopardy! champions earlier this year in a highly publicized contest that showed how far artificial intelligence has come. After that demonstration, the Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine signed on to test Watson’s capabilities to help doctors diagnose diseases more effectively.

See also:

Special report: Smarter education

Seven reasons you need predictive analytics today

A huge win for artificial intelligence … but what does it mean for humans?

Analytics: Not just for IT anymore, educators say

Analytics software to be free for college students

Ed-tech group to push for more analytics use in colleges

Analytics use boosts student retention

6. New rules targeting for-profit colleges could change the online education landscape.

Some of the country’s largest online education programs will have to comply with new federal “gainful employment” rules that take effect in 2015. The rules are meant to ensure that students aren’t graduating from for-profit colleges unqualified for the professional world and burdened with excessive student loan debt, but the final regulations issued in June are far less stringent than first proposed.

One-fourth of the students at for-profit colleges default on their loans after three years, for-profit students account for almost half of all federal loan defaults, and graduation rates at those schools hover around 50 percent, according to national education statistics. For-profit colleges, which have seen enrollments skyrocket in the past decade, rely heavily on federally backed student loans.

A college must fail all three of the government’s “performance requirements” in three out of four years before the institution no longer can receive federal loans, according to the Education Department’s new regulations. These three requirements are: (1) students must be spending 12 percent or less of their total income on loan repayment after they’ve graduated; (2) graduates must be spending 30 percent or less of their discretionary income on loan repayment; and (3) 35 percent of former students must be paying down their loans by at least one dollar every year.

Advocates of far stricter rules laid out by federal officials last fall said the Obama administration had missed its chance to crack down on an abusive industry that took in more than $20 billion in federal student loans in 2009.

“I feel like it’s an unconditional surrender to the [for-profit] industry,” said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “This administration is putting on a brave face, but the fact is that they caved in. … I see it as a complete defeat for reform. This was a rout, and the industry won clear across the board.”

The for-profit college industry had a different take. In a statement, the Association of Public Sector College and Universities criticized the government’s measurements for how for-profit schools must comply with the new rules.

“We remain very concerned that the gainful employment regulation, while reflecting the fact that the department has listened to the sector and made changes to its initial proposal, is still using the same ill-advised metric approach to this matter and is clearly outside of its statutory authority,” the statement said. “Our concern is that the regulation will still penalize programs with great outcomes while allowing under-performing programs to continue.”

Meanwhile, as critics decry the abuses of for-profit colleges, some observers fear this criticism could damage the public’s perception of online education in general.

Many of the industry’s largest colleges with the most recognizable brand names, including the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, have used the anywhere, anytime convenience of online courses as a key selling point. But associating online education with a college sector that has been hammered in recent years could tarnish the public’s perception of web-based learning, Nassirian said during a Senate hearing in July.

“Committing fraud is easier from a distance,” he said, referring to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report detailing how for-profit colleges pressure students into signing up for massive student loans. “That’s just the nature of distance delivery. It’s just like eMails you get from princes in West Africa asking for money. There’s more ambiguity online.”

It’s not just online learning’s reputation that could take a hit, as an internal Education Department probe is looking into whether Wall Street traders influenced the development of the final gainful employment rules, or benefitted from inside information about these rules before it became public. The investigation was prompted by the release of several eMails exchanged between department employees and Wall Street traders. Government watchdog groups obtained the messages under Freedom of Information Act requests.

The probes could cast a dark cloud over the department’s efforts to crack down on predatory student recruiting practices by for-profit colleges, calling into question the department’s true motives. Aside from whether education officials acted appropriately, the flap also raises larger questions about “the integrity of government decision-making in the face of relentless Wall Street scrutiny,” the Project on Government Oversight says.

See also:

Are new ED rules an ‘unconditional surrender’ to for-profit colleges?

Opinion: New ‘gainful employment’ regulation is weak medicine for a strong ailment

Students, lawmakers question value of for-profit colleges

Liberal activists: For-profit colleges ‘ripping off’ students, taxpayers

Are for-profit colleges hurting online education’s reputation?

Integrity of ED’s for-profit college rulemaking under scrutiny

For-profit college default rate spikes; industry hits back

Plan to outsource online classes to for-profit schools meets opposition

For-profit colleges getting more GI Bill dollars

5. Indiana’s eText project could pave the way for more electronic textbooks on college campuses.

It’s been done before: Several colleges and universities have experimented with electronic textbooks, and Florida’s Daytona State University has been moving to an all-digital textbook environment since 2009. But Indiana University’s eText project is the first large-scale digital textbook initiative by a major university, and it offers the biggest sign to date that eBooks could begin to catch on in higher education.

In September, four publishers signed licensing agreements with IU to offer eBooks that can be read on a laptop, tablet, or smart phone. And because studies suggest that many college students still prefer traditional hardcover texts to electronic books, the inexpensive book options can be printed for a small fee.

One of the publishers participating in IU’s eText initiative, Flat World Knowledge, will provide anytime access to eBooks and other course material for a one-time fee of $19.95, according to a company announcement. Books bought through the eText program will save students about two-thirds the price of a retail textbook, said Brad Wheeler, IU’s vice president for information technology.

Professors won’t be required to select their course’s textbook from the university’s eText program, but Jeff Shelstad, Flat World Knowledge’s CEO, said by simply making the eBooks available, faculty will feel the pressure from cost-conscious college students. “They’re going to have to explain why their book is so much more expensive than the others,” Shelstad said of professors who choose traditional textbooks for their classes.

IU’s eText initiative also involves books from John Wiley & Sons Inc., Bedford Freeman & Worth Publishing Group, and W.W. Norton.
The university’s eText project was announced just a week after activists from the Student Public Interest Research Groups launched a national advocacy campaign for more affordable book options.

IU’s partnership with open textbook companies “represents a step toward bridging the gap between the expensive textbooks of today and the affordable, accessible learning materials of tomorrow,” said Nicole Allen, a Student PIRGs spokeswoman.

Allen commended IU for allowing students access to their eBooks until they graduate from the university—much longer than the typical 180-day licensing restriction places on many eBooks—but added that any licensing limitations “endorses a potentially dangerous model where ‘ticking time bomb’ textbooks are the norm.”

The longer licensing period could help IU’s initiative succeed where other electronic textbook programs have struggled—but it’s not the only development that appears promising: Supplementing the online books available through the eText initiative will be software known as Courseload, a device-agnostic platform that allows students to read and annotate their electronic books.

Courseload works with any content, device, or learning management system, solving a key problem that has hindered the use of electronic textbooks so far, said CEO Michael Levitan: lack of compatibility between different texts from various publishers. Plus, Courseload includes built-in analytics that can provide real-time feedback on how the content is being used.

Joshua Davis, an IU Bloomington senior, called the eText platform “an efficient way for me to keep my notes organized for class.”

“I was able to access my textbook remotely, both online and offline—plus, I didn’t have to lug another heavy book around campus,” said Davis, adding that he spent more than $800 on textbooks for the fall 2011 semester. “I think this transition can’t happen soon enough.”

See also:

Indiana University tries to drive down textbook costs with eBooks

Florida college looks to become eBook pioneer

Students stage ‘textbook rebellion’ at University of Maryland

A classroom in your eBook?

‘Sex vs. Textbooks’ survey doesn’t jibe with student preferences

Self-destructing eBooks rile librarians

Will Amazon’s $200 tablet spark interest among schools?

4. Blackboard pledges its support to common ed-tech standards, which could prove critical in making content usable on any platform.

Common standards for online learning became much more viable last January after Blackboard Inc. announced that it would support an open database initiative that could make educational content usable on any platform.

Blackboard, in a Jan. 10 press release, said its market-leading learning management system (LMS) would provide “full support” for ed-tech industry standards known as Common Cartridge and Basic Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI).

The standards were developed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a nonprofit organization that advocates for greater use of educational technology through interoperability. IMS officials certified the Common Cartridge and Basic LTI standards in November 2010.

Blackboard’s commitment means faculty members could use online exams, for example, on a variety of web platforms, instead of being limited to the LMS their college or university uses. Using Common Cartridge standards would mean professors and their students would be able to log onto several websites through the same account, because the platforms would be integrated.

Common Cartridge is supported by a host of publishers, vendors, and LMS platforms, including McGraw-Hill and Pearson.

Rob Abel, chief executive of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, said standards designed to span across the educational market “are much more effective when market share-leading organizations are committed to their success,” because participation from a company like Blackboard “motivates the many partners of such leaders to also implement the standards.”

The common standards apply to Blackboard’s Learn 9.1 platform, the company said in its announcement. Applying IMS’s standards to that platform would mean educators could use digital learning tools from other companies’ LMS software and could share the tools more easily.

“This is a big milestone for us and for our clients, and a sign of the maturity of the education technology industry,” said Ray Henderson, president of Blackboard Learn and a member of the IMS board of directors.

If a professor uses Desire2Learn to create a course platform, for instance, the standards would allow her to “reuse the learning content” if she is hired to teach the same course at another college that uses Blackboard.

Without the standards, the professor could not import her course from one platform to another, meaning she would have to spend hours recreating the course online.

Applying the standards to Blackboard’s platform made good business sense as campus technologists and educators continue to look for more flexible online learning tools, said Charles Severance, a faculty member at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and a developer network coordinator for IMS.

“Strong support for standards and interoperability is very much in Blackboard’s best interest, and for me it always felt like it was only a question of when it would fit into the Blackboard development cycle,” he said, adding that the company’s pledge to Common Cartridge and Basic LTI could mark the first step in Blackboard assuming an active role in advancing standards. “Beyond Blackboard’s customers, I hope that this is the beginning of Blackboard taking increasing leadership for the entire marketplace in terms of standards and interoperability.”

Blackboard’s commitment, Abel said, could be a money saver for college and university IT departments that have seen deep budget cuts in recent years.

Custom integrations that bridge many learning systems are expensive, Abel said. But Basic LTI would allow applications to be shared from one LMS to another without IT staffers spending hours—or days—completing customization.

See also:

Blackboard backs ed-tech standards

Blackboard reassures education customers after acquisition

New Blackboard notifications: Customizable, quick, and mobile

3. Federal officials dole out the first installment of $2 billion that could spark an eLearning revolution.

It wasn’t the $12 billion in community college funding that officials hoped for in 2010, but a $2 billion federal grant program unveiled in January could encourage two-year schools to develop open education material that would be freely available online.

Officials from the federal departments of Education and Labor introduced the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grants Program on Jan. 20, inviting community colleges and other two-year degree-granting institutions to apply for up to $5 million per institution, or up to $20 million to applicants who apply for funds in a consortium of schools.

The Education Department (ED) doled out the first $500 million in funding this fall, and $2 billion will be distributed in the next four years overall, according to the announcement.

The federal program is about one-sixth of what community colleges were hoping for under the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), a $12 billion program introduced by President Obama that would have constituted the largest-ever investment in two-year college funding.
Getting the AGI through Congress proved untenable, so the $2 billion jobs-training package was included in the federal health care bill.

Advocates of open education resources said the reduced amount could be a critical step toward mainstreaming openly available college courses on the web.

Beth Noveck, a professor at New York Law School and former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer, said in a statement that the grant initiative is a “historic step forward for open education.”

In a Jan. 20 blog post, Noveck said that under the terms of the grant program, if a community college uses federal funds to make an educational video game, “everyone will have the benefit of that knowledge,” and “anyone can translate it into Spanish or Russian or use it as the basis to create a new game.”

The goal of the grants program, according to ED, is to “prepare program participants for employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations.” Accomplishing that will require an expansion of higher education, particularly online courses.

The incentive to develop high-quality web-based content comes as two-year college officials are struggling to find ways to accommodate unprecedented enrollment spikes. Since the economy’s downturn in fall 2008, Americans have turned to two-year schools to boost credentials while they are unemployed or underemployed.

“The big idea here for is for online [courses] to provide more capacity to serve more people and really fit the needs of displaced workers,” said Jim Hermes, director of government relations of the American Association of Community Colleges. “We need programs that will get people credentials faster than normal.”

The government’s grants program will support the development of “interactive software” that can “tailor instruction” for nontraditional students whose schedules don’t allow for in-person classes, as well as multimedia software and simulations that can provide experiential learning and create a range of “open-source courses that can ultimately be shared and distributed nationwide”—a concept first explored at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a decade ago, when officials there made lectures, syllabi, and other class materials free to anyone with a web connection.

Officials at Robeson Community College in North Carolina, which led a group of schools that won a federal grant, said the money would be used to bolster local community colleges’ mobile learning options as students more frequently use smart phones, laptops, and computer tablets such as the Apple iPad to do school work on the internet.

Improved mobile educational technology will mean “students will engage in interactive, anytime, anywhere learning that will allow them access to the advanced manufacturing courses, modules, and custom self-help on iTunes U as well as thousands of free education applications and apps for purchase for which each will have an allowance,” Robeson spokeswoman Lisa Hunt said.

See also:

$2 billion that could change online education

Open courseware on every campus by 2016?

Ed Department: Half of community college students need remedial classes

White House makes grants to boost online learning

2. ‘State authorization rule’ places an unwelcome new burden on distance-education programs.

While the $2 billion in federal TAACCCT grants could help spark eLearning, another decision by federal officials threatens to pull the plug on web-based courses for some students.

Colleges that offer online instruction must get approval from every state in which they operate, or their online courses could be shut down, after a controversial rule from the Education Department (ED) went into effect July 1. The regulation, known as the state-authorization rule, has drawn the ire of distance-education organizations from coast to coast.

The rule requires colleges and universities that receive federal aid to prove they are certified to operate in every state in which they have online students—a mandate that comes at a high cost and could cripple many burgeoning online-learning programs, educators say.

So far, federal officials have given colleges and universities some flexibility in meeting the new mandate: As long as online-learning programs are taking sincere steps to comply, ED hasn’t threatened to shut them down. But it remains to be seen how long this grace period will last—or whether the rule will, indeed, have the kind of “chilling” effect on eLearning programs that some observers fear.

“The main concern is that colleges are put in a spot where they have to pay … hundreds of thousands” of dollars in legal fees to abide by the new rule, said Russell Poulin, deputy director of WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, an organization that advocates for online instruction.

Instead of paying those fees and meeting legal requirements to operate in many states, Poulin said, many institutions might cease to offer online education programs in those states. That would force students to find other ways to finish their education, likely delaying their path toward a degree.

For those schools that pay for state-by-state certification, higher-education officials said the costs associated with compliance could lead to steep tuition increases.

“This will have a major chilling effect on one of the fastest growing areas of education in the country,” said Janet Poley, president of the American Distance Education Consortium. “And it is completely counter on the administration’s intent to have many more people graduate from college.”

Poulin said colleges are still left with the “monumental burden” of identifying where their web-based students are located, deciphering the often unclear state regulations, and deciding if they need to apply to each state.

Complicating the situation is ED’s mandate to register every online program in every state. In other words, the same school might have to seek separate registration for its nursing, computer science, and business programs in each state.

John Ebersole, president of New York-based Excelsior College, said during a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing March 10 that Excelsior staffers recently spent about 400 hours completing applications for two programs in one state.

“It really is mountains of paperwork that they’re going to have to fill out,” Poulin said.

Robert Larson, director of the North Dakota University System’s online education program, said that if compliance with the state-authorization rule proves too pricey, NDUS might cease its online courses out of state.

That would mean NDUS would operate without tuition from about 5,000 out-of-state web-based students.

“To not have those students enrolled in our schools, would we survive? Probably,” he said. “Would it be as good? No.”

Schools won’t have to get permission from states that don’t have regulations for out-of-state institutions, according to ED. The state-authorization rule also does not apply to colleges that run programs entirely online. But if a school requires occasional live, proctored tests on physical campuses, it would have to comply with the rule.

Officials who have tracked ED’s state-authorization rule said the regulation would have most impact on nonprofit, public institutions that run web-based courses attended by students across the country. For-profit schools such as Kaplan University or the University of Phoenix obtained certification from states years ago, so ED’s rule won’t affect them.

See also:

Fed rule could have ‘major chilling effect’ on online instruction

ED sticks by controversial rule; online college officials concerned

New federal rule could have worst impact on small states

As regulations loom, a call for cooperation between states

1. Social media helps rewrite the rules of internet search.

A quiet revolution has occurred this year, as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and other internet gatekeepers have revised their search algorithms in an effort to bring users more personalized information. This subtle shift has enormous implications for students, researchers, and society at large.

Every time we click on an internet link, we’re contributing to our online profile. In effect, we’re telling Google, “This is a source I like and trust.” Now, the ranking systems of all the major search engines take these hundreds of little endorsements we make every day and use them to deliver information that the companies behind these tools assume we’ll value: The links from our most “trusted” sources—such as our friends, or the websites we visit every day—appear at the top of our search results.

The reasoning behind this game-changing move is to help us sift through the overwhelming amount of information at our fingertips. The major search companies recognize that we need a filtering system to save us from information overload, and the system they’ve created now relies more heavily on our history of preferences than on an objective calculation of relevance to bring certain resources to the front of the pack.

This is how sites like and Netflix have been sorting our potential shopping or movie-rental choices for years. But looking for a good novel you hope to enjoy isn’t the same as looking for objective information about a topic. This stealthy rewriting of the rules for internet search could have a profound effect on how we make sense of, and make our mark on, the world.

For one thing, it has the potential to narrow our worldview instead of broadening it, says Eli Pariser, an online organizer and author of the book The Filter Bubble.

During a May 2011 Technology, Education, Design (TED) talk, Pariser called this phenomenon the “invisible algorithmic editing of the web.” He warned that it results in a situation where “the internet shows us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see,” adding: “Instead of a balanced education diet, [we] end up with information junk food.” To counter this effect, web users should broaden their online networks to include a wide range of opinions and perspectives.

The new web-search rules affect not just how we perceive the world, but also how we shape it. If students, researchers, and educators want their writings, videos, websites, and other online works to appear near the top of an internet search, they’ll have to understand how these new rules work in order to take advantage of them, says educator and consultant Angela Maiers.

The major search engines now rank web pages not just by how relevant they might be to individual users, but also by the “Klout” score of their publisher, Maiers told attendees of the 2011 Building Learning Communities conference in July.

Klout is a measure of your social media influence across the web. It takes into account the number of internet connections you’ve made, the frequency of your online contributions, and the size of your social media following. The more consistently you participate in online social media—such as by blogging, or tweeting, or leaving comments on websites—the higher your Klout score will be.

As the new rules of internet search make clear, if students and faculty want their ideas to be seen online, they must build a strong social media presence, Maiers said. She recommended that educators teach social media skills to their students and give them a chance to create, collaborate, and contribute online. “In turn, students will build Klout,” she said—which will help them exert “a personal influence on the world.”

See also:

A whole new game for internet search

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