Does Big Data have a place in community colleges?

If I ask 10 people to define predictive analytics and how it is used on their respective campuses to improve student outcomes, I am likely to hear stories about how colleges are using their data systems to provide access to decision makers.

analyticsSome may go on to describe the tools that they use to provide access to data to faculty, staff, and administers.

Most often, however, the definition or stories are dependent on where colleges are in their journey on building a robust and rigorous culture of evidence to improve student outcomes.

Maya Angelou once said, “Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” This quote got me to think about the journey that I’ve been on not only with the two colleges where I work but also the Achieving the Dream colleges that I provide technical assistance to as a data coach.

Shifting our thinking about which numbers to track

As I reflect on the last 17 years and how the use of data has evolved at community colleges, I think back to the early 1990s when our primary focus of data discussions was based on enrollment numbers.

All of our questions where centered on whether we had sufficient sections to meet our enrollment targets. These discussions became even more critical during planning for a “base year,” which drives the funding formula for community colleges in Texas.

However in the late 1990s early 2000s, we began to hear more public criticism about graduation rates at community colleges and the push to move into performance based funding.

It was during this time that I remember the dialogue at my college shifting to include more serious discussions about key student outcomes.

Nurturing an analytical culture

Achieving the Dream (ATD) hit our college at a time when we were ready to take our journey to the next level. When ATD announced that it would award a small grant to community colleges that committed to rethink their approach to student success by building a culture of evidence and engagement to improve student outcomes, my college jumped at the opportunity and was selected as one of the first twenty-seven colleges invited to participate in 2004.


Online cheating in American colleges

The blunders of technology are once again in the news, as the Affordable Care Act’s website continues to wobble around, the Lompoc Record reports.

The Army has just sold back its $300 million science-fiction airship — used one time — for $300,000 to the British company that made it.

If the past is any predictor, our ventures into technological wonders have too often ended in disappointment.

As an educator, I have seen waves of enthusiasm for each new gadget or mode of instruction. My older daughter, who is now at UC Berkeley, is astonished to find all but one of her teachers still uses chalk on a blackboard. Yet the 2013 Academic Ranking of World Universities places her college at third best in the world.

Also frustrating for her – Berkeley has not exactly embraced online instruction. Perhaps it takes the problem of the incredibly high rates of cheating in these courses seriously.

In an elaborately designed set of three studies at Ohio University, researchers “found that 72.5 percent of students reported cheating” in online work. Though signing an honor code has been found to reduce cheating by students in conventional classes, signing such a code didn’t seem to matter for their online students. It did matter if some instruction was done in person.

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Will online classes make professors extinct?

I’m one of the lucky ones. I landed a tenure-track job at a liberal arts college, a position that offers lots of personal interaction through teaching and advising.

I get to bond with my students not only in the classroom, but also on nature retreats, at national conferences, and during travel seminars to other countries. When my students graduate, they tell me excitedly about their job offers and their acceptance letters to graduate school.

I have a wonderful job.

But my story is the exception. If higher education continues down its current path, full-time professors — already an endangered species — may become extinct. The reason: Uncontrollable fervor for online education.

According to a jaw-dropping 2013 report by the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, the percentage of tenure track (i.e., permanent, full-time) positions has plummeted from 78% in 1969 to about 33% today. The report warns that “the rising numbers of non-tenure-track faculty in higher education are negatively affecting student success.”

Even before the online revolution, full-time professor jobs were already on the decline as colleges and universities came to rely on an army of inexpensive adjunct instructors.

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Anticipating students’ changing technology preferences

Preparing students for careers in journalism and mass communication is increasingly challenging. As the media industry evolves and the ways in which information is gathered, presented, disseminated and consumed transforms, so must our curricula.

phones84However, this challenge is not just one of “keeping up.” It is also about finding the right balance between teaching the foundations of our craft and exposing students to emerging media technologies, cutting-edge storytelling techniques, and the increasingly important ability to collaborate across disciplines.

Oh, and don’t forget to get the students in and out in four years.

In the Journalism Graphics major at Ball State University, these challenges often leave us feeling overwhelmed. We are faced with the daunting task of maintaining a cutting-edge curriculum that teaches students equal parts of journalistic values while trying to stay up-to-date on software and other tech skills necessary to compete in the digital media arena.

In addition to the fact that industry change and the advent of new mobile delivery platforms continues, it is increasingly tough to provide students with opportunities that adequately prepare them for the media world they will enter after graduation.

After all, who knows what new device or media delivery platforms will surface four years from now? The rate of change is so great that the jobs we are preparing students for are either moving targets or don’t yet exist.

To combat these challenges, we have made room for a few “special topic” courses in our curriculum that provide students with experiential learning opportunities.

These courses are intentionally titled ambiguously so we can be more nimble with teaching content and expose students to technologies and project scenarios that even industry professionals are experimenting with.


University of Texas San Antonio launches Big Data and cloud lab

Earlier this year, CivSource reported on a new Big Data research project at the University of Virgina. Now, the University of Texas San Antonio is getting into the mix with their own Big Data and Cloud lab. The lab will support the Open Compute Project (OCP) through cloud computing and big data research and development.

The laboratory will help the international business community improve their computing platforms through open-source hardware and cloud and big data technologies. The university laboratory will also train a pipeline of students for the workforce. The OCP is focused on making hardware cheaper and developing standards.

The laboratory was built in collaboration with industry partners such as Rackspace, Facebook, Mellanox, Internet2 and others. Research will focus on development of various areas of computing such as Open Compute, OpenStack and Software Defined Network (SDN).

“Our Cloud and Big Data Laboratory will allow us to venture into the unknown so we might better understand new technologies and methods of computing,” said Paul Rad, director of the UTSA laboratory and vice president of research at Rackspace.

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Confessions of a MOOC reviewer

As an American Council on Education (ACE) CREDIT reviewer, I had the unique privilege of being on the team that reviewed the first MOOC (massive open online course).  The experience was unique due to the course delivery.

In the end, the process was the same used in every other review for ACE.


Accreditation has been a persistent issue in the MOOC debate.

I’m often asked about the process and how the review was done.  Most of the time the person asking is really wanting to know how a faculty member can be confident in the recommendation.  The answer, I believe, is in the process.

The faculty review team was led by a national coordinator with extensive experience in teaching and evaluation and consisted of faculty current in the academic discipline under review.

We all had extensive experience in reviewing online courses and in essence, this was a review of an online course – with obvious differences. More on that later.

What happens in a review?

For all ACE reviews, we consider student learning outcomes, the intensity of the course, pre- and post-course assignments, qualifications of faculty, and academic and work-related experience of the participants.

Reviewers work together to review the content, scope, and rigor of the course including: course syllabi, textbooks, assessment methods, student and instructor guides, student projects, instructional materials, and instructor qualifications to name just a few.

One thing we keep central in our focus is that we have the charge to consider recommendations based not on our institution, locale, or region but to critically appraise materials from a national/professional perspective.

It’s not our job to review a program based on what we do at our local campus, but instead to review each course in light of the ACE guidelines and best practices.  It is not an easy thing to do, but that’s where having a team and coordinator is vital.

How did MOOCs differ from other courses?

So what was different about the MOOC? Not that much. The course was reviewed using the ACE review criteria, no special considerations were given – the courses had to meet the requirements for content, scope, and rigor.

A credit recommendation was given because the team determined that the course met the requirements.


Log on to a learning revolution

Varun Pant recently passed Stanford University courses in cryptography and logic without dropping a single mark, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

But the IT consultant and father of two from Epping has never stepped foot inside the prestigious American institution. Nor did he fork out the tens of thousands of dollars students pay to study there.

He is one of the millions of keen learners around the world enrolling in Massive Open Online Courses, known as MOOCs.

The online phenomenon, being led by top universities such as Princeton and Harvard, allows anyone with access to the internet to study free.

Recently, Open2Study, the MOOC arm of Open Universities Australia, passed the milestone of 100,000 enrollments. And Coursera, the world’s largest platform, has attracted 5 million sign-ups since launching last year.

As the phenomenon gains momentum globally, several Australian institutions, including Macquarie University and the University of NSW, are beginning to dip their toes into the online area.


MOOC attrition rates — running the numbers

The prosecution against MOOCs usually starts by highlighting the huge attrition rates for massive open courses, often claimed to run as high as 90-95 percent, The Huffington Post reports.

Who in their right mind would trust their kid’s education to a program that can’t even hold onto one out of ten students? Case closed.

Or is it?

In order to answer that question, we need take a look at the calculation used to determine these alleged drop-out percentages. It’s actually not all that complex since it starts by taking the number of people who hit the enroll button on a site such as Coursera or edX and sticking it into the denominator of a fraction. After that, it’s just a matter of placing the number of students who earned a certificate of completion into the numerator and, voila, you end up with your completion rate!

The completion rate is actually the opposite of attrition, but for purposes of this discussion we’ll use it to see what happens to the percentage of course finishers if we start looking more closely at the numbers used in our fraction (particularly the one below the line).

Basing our denominator on enrollments assumes that everyone who hits the enroll button on a MOOC web page should be considered the equivalent of a college student who signs up to take a course at their university. But is that an appropriate assumption?

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Campus crises and digital signage

Most campus personnel responsible for emergency response are aware of the legal guidelines presented in the Clery Act, which requires institutions to provide timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees.


Digital signage has become a common tool is campus crisis communication.

In addition to these requirements, campus safety staffs must be able to identify a crisis and execute strategies in compliance with state and federal statutes.

To meet this burden, you have to invest in careful planning, flexible systems and continuous testing to ensure all of your communication methods are optimized for emergency effectiveness. Campuses must be prepared to leverage a wide set of technologies to get the word out as fast as possible, in the most effective manner and across as many channels as possible.

Defining a crisis

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) does not define what constitutes a “significant emergency” or “dangerous situation”, so campuses need to define their emergencies long before one occurs.

A series of scenarios should be explored and prepared for, with detailed instructions for each. Consider every possible emergency on an organizational, local, state, national and global level:  severe weather, fire, violence, hazmat, terrorism threat, etc.

Knowing how to define a crisis and then immediately trigger a reliable action plan is crucial because the health and safety of your audience depends on the speed and accuracy of your response. A thorough crisis communications plan can play a significant role by transforming the unexpected into the anticipated, and clarifying how to respond.

Building a plan

Your plan should outline what you need to communicate, how, when and to whom. Here are eight basic steps to get you started:

1. Start at the top: Get your plan authorized by management and legal in advance and get management to integrate crisis training into orientations, budgets, and to approve time for testing and drills.

See page 2 for details on how digital signage can be a key part of crisis communication…


IBM and some college students aim to simplify data center disaster planning

The picture at right is of the flooded ground floor of Verizon headquarters at 140 West St. in lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy blew through the Northeast last year, All Things D reports.

For a few weeks last year, communicating was a real challenge in the storm zone. Power was out. Networks were stretched to the limit, in part because of a surge in demand, but also because a lot of the underlying equipment required to run them was offline or damaged.

When you’re in charge of managing digital infrastructure, planning for natural disasters is kind of a big deal. Businesses that rely on key systems in order to continue operating have to think long and hard about all the variables. Usually it involves building up a separate site to fall back on when the primary one can’t operate normally.

Then there’s that moment when the switchover, technically known as a reprovisioning, actually happens. Ideally it’s the sort of thing that requires days to carry out. The problem is the people doing the work usually get a few hours.

So IBM said today that it had come up with a way to make that switchover happen a lot faster. Working with some students at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Big Blue said, it demonstrated a way to use software-defined networking to accelerate the process of reprovisioning so that it takes only minutes.

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