ASU receives $10 Million NASA grant for science courseware

University will develop adaptive, simulation-based lessons that help faculty bring science to life, drawing upon NASA’s own science content.

Arizona State University has received a $10.18 million grant from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Education Community to develop next-generation digital learning experiences that incorporate NASA science content.

Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton and Deputy Principal Investigator Ariel Anbar of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) will lead the development and evaluation teams for this grant.

During the five-year program, ASU-based teams will work with the Inspark Science Network and ASU’s Center for Education Through eXploration (ETX), to develop a new way of learning and teaching through exploration of the unknown, at scale, via a digital learning design platform.

The Inspark Science Network is a joint initiative of ETX and adaptive learning pioneer Smart Sparrow, designed to promote active learning and teaching science through exploration.

The Network was launched in 2015, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to create new digital courseware that incorporates online simulations, virtual field trips and adaptive learning analytics to help students who typically fail science courses succeed.

“SESE is known for combining the creative strengths of science, engineering and education, setting the stage for a new era of exploration,” said Elkins-Tanton. “With this grant, we can promote a greater public understanding and appreciation for science, and inspire a new generation of explorers. We hope to share the exciting world of NASA science in a way that is both approachable and interactive.”

Of particular focus will be the “active and adaptive” approach to science education, where learning becomes interactive and the platform can be modified for different audiences and teaching goals.

“The aim is to help learners become problem-solvers capable of exploring the unknown, rather than just mastering what is already known,” said Anbar. “It is learning science as process and as a universe of questions rather than as a dusty collection of facts.”

The ASU team is also led by Co-Investigators Steven Semken and Sheri Klug-Boonstra as well as ASU professor of practice and Smart Sparrow CEO Dror Ben-Naim. Other co-investigators include SESE’s Erik Asphaug, Jim Bell, Philip Christensen, Scott Parazynski, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Sara Imari Walker, David Williams and Patrick Young.

Together with Smart Sparrow, this team will develop personalized and adaptive learning experiences centered on astrobiology and “small bodies” such as Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Jupiter’s moon Europa, and asteroids. These are specific areas of expertise among the NASA subject matter experts on the ASU team.

“By pairing the best of learning technology and design with NASA’s groundbreaking research and experience, educators will be able to inspire students in new ways,” said Ben-Naim.

In the near term, the focus will be on independent self-learners of science. In the longer term, the team seeks to expand the program to formal K-12 education, in coordination with NASA’s new education strategies.

“This grant brings together education powerhouses — ASU and NASA, together with a trusted edtech partner — to promote STEM education through exploration,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, chief research and innovation officer and executive vice president at the ASU Knowledge Enterprise. “This opportunity helps ASU engage and empower learners from all backgrounds and proficiencies to master concepts, ask open-ended questions regarding what’s next, and prepare to explore the unknown with the help of technology.”

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Education Community vision is to share the story, the science, and the adventure of NASA’s scientific explorations of our home planet, the solar system, and the universe beyond, through stimulating and informative activities and experiences created by experts, delivered effectively and efficiently to learners of many backgrounds via proven conduits, thus providing a direct return on the public’s investment in NASA’s scientific research.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Why technology shouldn’t be king for competency education

CBE expert pushes for the prioritization of content on competency education learning platforms.

Competency-based education (CBE) is no longer a new concept in higher education. Community colleges, state university systems, private colleges and institutions around the country and globe are embracing the model, putting the final nails in the coffin of “one size, fits all” education.

The CBE model brings a number of benefits to the learner—from flexibility and accessibility to personalization and adaptivity. We have seen students graduate with bachelor’s degrees in less than nine months, met adult learners who completed  the degrees they never thought they would have the opportunity to finish, and talked to faculty who have reclaimed direct one-to-one interaction with students through CBE’s ability to connect students and professors at the perfect moment for learning.

Because these advances have been spurred by new technological capabilities, conversations around ed-tech and CBE often center on code, platforms, and how the technology products themselves change the learning experience.

When we go down this path, though, we lose something critical. The technology is an enabler for learning—a platform with which the student interacts—but it is the content and the educator that are at the center of the learning experience with the student. In many ways, the technology is the starting point and the content is what makes the journey.

Certainly advances in technology give us the ability to engage students in new and innovative ways. In CBE programs, students are no longer tied to a Tuesday/Thursday 9:30 class, and can move through course material more quickly (and therefore affordably) if they already mastered the relevant material in the course of their jobs or other experiences. Advanced algorithms can also put content in front of students that is appropriate for their level of knowledge, and measure when they are ready to move on.  When done correctly, these capabilities help students absorb content more efficiently.

The Hurdles of tech-prioritized CBE

However, when technology is deployed solely for technology’s sake, it can create additional hurdles for students. For instance, while a new interactive video may be an exciting tool conceptually, if accessing it forces students to leave the platform to download, they are removed from the immersive learning experience and forced to navigate in new ways. As a result, study sessions are derailed.

And, if we design new assessment techniques without considering differences between teaching English and teaching computer science, there is a good chance the result will be generic multiple choice questions instead of interactive engagement with the content.

(Next page: Why content should be king for competency education)


Report: Universities must do better with digital resources

A new study aims to shed light on lack of university-provided digital media resources; negligence of copyright compliance.

There is a major disconnect between student and faculty digital literacy perceptions, and institutions must provide better access to, and knowledge about, digital resources to improve learning outcomes. At least, that’s what new findings suggest.

As part of its inaugural 2016 State of Digital Media in Higher Education Report, digital media resource provider VideoBlocks gathered insights online in February this year from more than 300 current educators, students and administrators in higher education, and presented key findings on critical topics such as digital literacy, digital media usage and access, and copyright compliance. [More on methodology can be found in the report.]

With an exponential increase of digital media production and consumption in the past decade, it has become imperative that higher education institutions prepare their students to be digitally literate in order to help them meet the new standards of 21st century careers and communication, argues the report.

Thus, it is important to establish how educators can best incorporate digital media resources and digital literacy competencies into their courses. The report urges universities to close this digital literacy gap by providing faculty with the proper digital media resources for achieving these goals.

“Digital media has become increasingly important in higher education, as digital literacy is a key skill for graduates entering the modern job market,” said VideoBlocks CEO TJ Leonard. “We wanted real, valid data, and we weren’t just looking for a marketing vehicle. This survey was a direct result of our experiences with a number of different universities, faculty and instructional devices. There was an anecdotal buy-in to digital media, but no hard data around it and a mismatch of perceptions. So we looked at a really wide swath of topics in order to establish a link between learning outcomes and digital media.”

(Next page: Key findings in digital literacy, usage and access, and copyright compliance)


ED: Institutions can better support Pell students’ college success

A new federal analysis outlines strategies for higher-ed institutions to better support college access, success for low-income students

Institutions of higher education can do more to help Pell students reach their college goals and career aspirations, federal officials said recently.

In a report released this week, the U.S. Department of Education highlighted institutions’ efforts to promote higher-ed access and success among low-income students and also identified areas of much-needed improvement.

The report, Fulfilling the Promise, Serving the Need: Advancing College Opportunity for Low-Income Students, spotlights institutions with a strong record of success in ensuring that low-income students are not just attending college, but are completing their degrees.

The report highlights schools that excel in providing Pell-eligible students with access to college, as well as schools with strong performance on measures of college success for students eligible for Pell Grants and recognizes the important role many community colleges play in serving more than 40 percent of our nation’s undergraduates.

“For students from low- and moderate-income families, a college degree is the surest path to the middle class in our country. I applaud the colleges and universities that have taken measurable steps to open up this pathway and make it a successful one for students from all backgrounds. But we need these types of efforts to become the rule and not the exception,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

Some colleges and universities have room to improve, the report notes.

Nearly three in four undergraduate students at forprofit, four-year institutions are federal grant recipients, but those students’ completion rates are far lower than those at either public or private nonprofit four-year colleges — less than 16 percent of Pell Grant recipients at for-profit, four-year colleges graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with half of those at public four-years and 55 percent at private nonprofit four-year institutions, the report notes.

And using institutions with available data, fewer than 50 public institutions enroll more than 40 percent of their student body as Pell recipients and also complete more than half of their Pell recipients, according to the report. Just over 100 private nonprofit institutions do–less than 10 percent of all such institutions.

The report also includes proposals to expand access, affordability, and success:
• Pell for Accelerated Completion would allow full-time students the opportunity to earn a third semester of Pell Grants in an academic year, enabling them to finish faster by taking additional courses year-round and better meeting the diverse needs of today’s students.
• On-Track Pell Bonus would create an incentive for students to stay on track or accelerate their progress towards a degree through an increase of $300 in the Pell Grant awards of students who take 15 credits per semester in an academic year. The bonus would encourage students to take the credits needed to finish an associate degree in two years (60 credits) or a bachelor’s degree in four years (120 credits).
• Rewarding colleges that successfully enroll and graduate students from all backgrounds.
• Making two years of high-quality community college, or two years at an HBCU or MSI, free for responsible students through America’s College Promise, letting millions of responsible students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and the skills needed to succeed in the workforce at no cost.
• Ensure Pell Grants keep pace with rising costs by continuing to index the Pell Grant to inflation beyond 2017 with mandatory funding to protect and sustain its value into the future.
• Second Chance Pell Pilot Program tests new models to allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around.

The report, which focuses mostly on four-year colleges, uses data available in the College Scorecard and incorporates outside organizations’ findings and analyses.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Here’s where higher ed is headed this week

Catch up on the most compelling higher-ed news stories you may have missed this week

Every Friday, I’ll recap some of the most interesting and thought-provoking news developments that occurred over the week.

I can’t fit all of this week’s news stories here, though, so feel free to visit and read up on other news you may have missed.

In this week’s news:

Community colleges look to transition away from state accrediting agency
After weathering years of criticism, the California Community Colleges approved plans to change the process of accrediting the state’s 113 institutions. The move signals a dramatic shift from the state’s standing accreditation agency, which has come under fire for wielding vast power with limited oversight.

PSU course asks students to use commercial video games
A new course from the Penn State College of Education’s Learning Design and Technology (LDT) program is not only integrating technology in the classroom, it is encouraging the students’ use of commercial video games.

Community colleges partner on credentialing initiative
A new project aims to identify and develop a model for creating recognizable credentialing that can be used by students, colleges, and employers.

Shocking data reveals Millennials lacking skills across board
International data sets show U.S. Millennials hit global bottoms for skills in literacy, numeracy and technology problem-solving.


University Ventures, Eden Capital and USA Funds back Revature

Next-Generation IT staffing firm’s talent sourcing and development model to be accelerated through university partnerships

Revature announced its first external investment through a Series A round led by University Ventures and Eden Capital, with participation from USA Funds.

An IT training and staffing firm focused on high-demand coding and software development professionals, Revature blends accelerated learning with labor market intelligence to provide job seekers with the skills and competencies required to succeed in the workforce.

Founded in 2003, Revature delivers coding and software development engineers to the Fortune 500, government organizations, and top systems integrators competing for tech talent. Unique to IT professional services organizations, the company’s model incorporates free pre-hire training for candidates who meet aptitude benchmarks, allowing job seekers with or without any technology or computer science background to develop foundational coding skills and receive mentoring from seasoned professionals in one of the company’s 22 enterprise-driven online training pathways.

“We are delighted to partner with University Ventures, Eden Capital and USA Funds to help our clients close critical skills gaps and help more job seekers reach their potential,” said Srikanth Ramachandran, founder and CEO of Revature.

Revature’s approach also requires that all candidates, regardless of their background, attend free intensive 10-week on-ground bootcamps, where they receive custom training on enterprise technologies required by employers, as well as key soft skills. Upon completion, candidates are hired by Revature and staffed at industry-leading clients. Revature currently employs over 500 software engineers, trained on high-demand enterprise technologies that are critical for client success.

“Revature’s unique business model has great potential to not only close the IT skills gap, but transform how we train and place job candidates,” said Dina Said, founder of Eden Capital. “With impressive and sustainable partnerships in place with leading corporations, Revature is well- positioned to scale quickly.”

“Colleges and universities pride themselves on inculcating the critical thinking, problem solving and executive function skills that help students get their fifth job,” said Ryan Craig, Managing Director at University Ventures. “But in today’s job market, unless students get a good first job, the path to their fifth job is likely to be less successful. As a result, colleges and universities must focus on providing students with the hard skills employers are demanding for first jobs in the fastest growing sectors. This is exactly what Revature provides: no-risk pathways for college students to well-paid first jobs in the fastest growing sector of the economy.”

“With students from over 600 universities placed or hired and nearly 1,000 more students currently engaged in Revature’s training programs, the company is already significantly enhancing the return on students’ investments in their college educations – at no additional cost to students, their families or their universities,” said Bill Hansen, USA Funds president and CEO. “USA Funds looks forward to working with Revature to help tens of thousands of additional college students complete their degrees and jumpstart their careers.”


5 strategies to keep STEM students in STEM

Universities give best practices to attract, retain, and support students within STEM fields.

Developing new minds ready to take on careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) may be a national priority in the U.S., but if the current trends in higher education continue, that goal could be pretty difficult to achieve. According to National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields Statistical Analysis Report, about 28 percent of bachelor’s degree students and 20 percent of associate’s degree students entered a STEM field (i.e., they chose a STEM-related major) at some point within six years of entering postsecondary education in 2003−04.

“Many of these STEM entrants left STEM several years later by either changing majors or leaving college without completing a degree or certificate,” the NCES reports. “A total of 48 percent of bachelor’s degree students and 69 percent of associate’s degree students who entered STEM fields between 2003 and 2009 had left these fields by spring 2009. Roughly one-half of these leavers switched their majors to non-STEM fields, and the rest of them left STEM fields by exiting college before earning a degree or certificate.”

The fact that nearly half of the nation’s STEM career candidates either switch majors or leave school entirely before graduation is alarming, particularly since many of those students have the “highest SAT scores, highest AP science scores, and go to the most prestigious colleges and universities,” stated Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), in a recent eCampusNews article. In the piece, Hrabowski points to the typical lineup of “weed-out” classes as one of the primary drivers of the mass exodus from STEM majors. In other words, survival of the fittest may not actually be the best educational approach in fields where even the brightest, most industrious students are challenged to their very cores.

“Students come into college interested in STEM, but [schools] do a lot of things to push them away,” asserts Bill LaCourse, UMBC’s dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences. “Traditional classroom lectures, for instance, are uninspiring – particularly for brighter students who have to sit in a lecture hall of 400 students trying to stay engaged and on point with subjects that can be especially challenging.”

(Next page: 5 strategies to STEM the flow)