Top 4 uses for blockchain in higher ed

As new technologies emerge, they often help make things more convenient for users. One such instance of this is the use of Blockchain in University IT.

Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin, is a method of storing and tracking information that might change the face of Higher Ed as we know it. While Blockchain implementation in university settings is still in its infancy, there have already been several promising use cases that allow us a glimpse at how Blockchain might interact with a Higher Ed IT system.

At a 2016 conference held at the University of Michigan, IT and Higher Ed innovators were brought together to discuss the future of the university transcript. The general consensus was that digital technologies would drastically impact the future of credentialing.

Based on these findings, here are four top uses for Blockchain in Higher Ed so far.

1. Create Public Access Credentials

As the university system stands, the most formal credentials issued to students are transcripts and degree certificates. These credentials verify a user’s completion of a degree, as well as the types of classes a user attended and the user’s relative success in those classes. Once a student has graduated, accessing these formal pieces of documentation can be time consuming. Prospective employers often ask for copies of these documents, and as such, this tedium could delay students in their job search.

Blockchain, however, can change all of this. Using Blockchain technologies, a university could grant each student the capability to instantly produce secure and complete credentials to any institution that requests them. More than just a transcript or degree certificate, Blockchain can also host robust information about students’ performance in standardized tests, degree requirements, and even extracurricular activities.

Blockchain provides an all-encompassing and expedited way for students to provide credentials to inquiring agencies of any type.

(Next page: Blockchain’s potential in higher ed 2-4)


These are the top 10 workforce skills students will need by 2020

Today’s workforce, as nearly everyone knows, is increasingly global. And with that global nature comes fierce competition–students will need an arsenal of workforce skills in order to stand out from their peers.

According to a recent McGraw-Hill Education survey, just 40 percent of college seniors said they felt their college experience was helpful in preparing for a career. Alarmingly, that percentage plummeted to 19 percent for women answering the same question.

That same survey also found that students in STEM majors were the most likely out of any group to report that they are optimistic about their career prospects (73 percent).

According to data from the nonprofit Institute for the Future, there are 6 drivers of change in today’s workforce:

1. Extreme longevity: People are living longer–by 2025 the number of Americans older than 60 will increase by 70 percent
2. The rise of smart machines and systems: Technology can augment and extend our own capabilities, and workplace automation is killing repetitive jobs
3. Computational world: Increases in sensors and processing makes the world a programmable system; data will give us the ability to see things on a scale that has never been possible
4. New media ecology: New communication tools require media literacies beyond text; visual communication media is becoming a new vernacular
5. Superstructured organizations: Social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation, and social tools are allowing organizations to work at extreme scales
6. Globally connected world: Diversity and adaptability are at the center of operations–the U.S. and Europe no longer hold a monopoly on job creation, innovation, and political power

(Next page: An infographic illustrates today’s in-demand workforce skills)


New toolkit aims to help campus leadership this year’s most pressing challenges

The New Media Consortium (NMC), a not-for-profit organization focused on education innovation, is releasing the Scaling Solutions Across Higher Education Toolkit: The NMC Horizon Project in Action, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With the US on track to produce approximately 11 million fewer certificates and degrees than the economy will require by 2025, postsecondary institutions must better serve student populations who are at risk of dropping out. With step-by-step implementation support, the NMC’s Toolkit empowers campus leaders to convene “Scaling Solutions” workshops that address major threats to learner equity and access.

In 2016, the NMC hosted an exemplar workshop at the OLC Accelerate conference, bringing together 45 leaders, practitioners, and students from 38 institutions and organizations to engage in problem-solving activities. The Toolkit aims to extend the efficacy of that format to campuses across the country by enabling colleges and universities to replicate and adapt the model in their own environments. Activity guides, checklists, sample emails, sample evaluations, and more are included to help campuses to plan for and execute the workshop from start to finish.

“The NMC cares deeply about scaling solutions to turn promise into practice,” says Eden Dahlstrom, Executive Director of the NMC. “We know that influencing large-scale change takes effort, which can be mitigated by working together to address challenges as a community. The Toolkit provides the champions of change with a practical guide to inform, inspire, and motivate their community to tackle Higher Ed’s greatest challenges.”

Four challenges were the subject matter of the original workshop, initially described in the NMC’s 2016 stage-setting strategic brief, Scaling Solutions to Higher Ed’s Biggest Challenges, outlined below. Several challenges depict how faculty need greater support to effect real change for students. The Toolkit guides postsecondary professionals through activities where they first discuss the challenges and potential solutions, and then organize in taskforces to put those solutions into action.

The Challenges:

Integrating Student Data Across Platforms. Institutions are capturing a deluge of student data that often resides in departmental silos, missing the potential to be a holistic tool that informs decision-making and predictive models.

Scaling Evidence-Based Methods Across Disciplines. Teaching and learning models in one discipline do not always translate to others, and approaches to scaling effective pedagogies too often favor anecdotes over data-driven evidence.

Supporting Adjunct Faculty through Tech Deployment. Adjunct faculty often teach introductory and online classes, but institutions do not always provide them with access to the same supporting resources as full-time and tenured faculty.

Financial Aid for Competency-Based Education. Leaders are challenged with designing CBE programs that map student progress into traditional credit hour equivalencies so students can qualify for federal financial aid.

Next, the Toolkit helps postsecondary leaders navigate the process of facilitating taskforces that focus on scaling the solutions across their campuses. The three recommended taskforces described in the Toolkit are as follows:

The Taskforces:

Framework/Rubric Design Taskforce. This taskforce designs an institutional readiness and impact framework that helps higher education leaders prepare for and measure the progress of solutions.

RFP/Grant Program Development Taskforce. This taskforce designs a prospective Request for Proposals for a program that supports institutions as they implement long-term technology and student service solutions to the challenges.

Marketing/Outreach Taskforce. This taskforce devises outreach activities and campaigns that enable the faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholders to better understand the challenges, where the potential solutions lie, and evidence of progress.

Toolkit users are also provided with inspiration for creative activities to conduct in the taskforces, along with sample outputs. Further, postsecondary leaders who host their own Scaling Solutions workshops are encouraged to share their experiences with the NMC; these stories will be housed on with potential to reach a global community of educators.

Scaling Solutions Across Higher Education Toolkit: The NMC Horizon Project in Action is published under a Creative Commons license to encourage broad dissemination.

Download the Toolkit (PDF)


College presidents: These 3 skills are mandatory for survival

Higher-ed leadership is changing, and college presidents must have deeper and broader skill sets to meet increasingly complex demands, according to a new report from the Aspen Institute Task Force on the Future of the College Presidency.

“America’s colleges and universities and their presidents are facing more challenges than ever—especially in light of dramatic political, demographic, and technological changes,” noted Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “The next generation of leaders will need increasing preparation and support to succeed.”

The report comes from a variety of higher-ed institutions, and a panel of 35 university and college university presidents issued the new recommendations.

During deliberations, Task Force members recognized that college presidents will need to navigate change as they apply new skill sets to new challenges.

“What the field needs now, what our institutions need, is leadership for impact. This requires a different orientation, a different set of gifts, and a willingness to stand creatively in the tension between institutional and societal interests. The conversations contained in this paper are a good indication that this new kind of leadership is already beginning to take shape.”

(Next page: The major trends prompting three key recommendations for college presidents)


2017 Ranking: The 25 Best Online Liberal Arts Colleges

College Choice, an authority in college and university rankings and resources, has published a ranking of the 25 Best Online Liberal Arts Colleges for 2017.

Life in our increasingly complex, intersectional world makes many students assume that only a technical, skills-based education will help them succeed. And yet, a classical education—that is, a liberal arts education—can be one of the best ways to the new demands coming from employers across industry sectors.

A solid multidisciplinary education develops the skills and knowledge students will need in their careers: oral and written communication skills, the ability to think critically, problem solving prowess, plus a theoretical foundation in both the sciences and humanities.

“Online programs in education are an affordable, accessible, and flexible way to earn an advanced degree, especially if you find yourself in a situation that makes going back to school either logistically or financially problematic,” Christian Amondson, managing editor of College Choice, said of the ranking. “Despite the stigma online programs once held, they have mostly shed those stereotypes and have increasingly solid reputations, in large part because online programs are developed and taught by the same faculty who teach the traditional, on-campus courses.”

College Choice developed its list by looking at institutional excellence along with return on investment—the differential between tuition costs and average early career earnings. The figures and information come from the university and colleges’ websites, PayScale, U.S. News & World Report, and The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).


The ranking for the 25 Best Online Liberal Arts Colleges finds Oregon State University in the top spot. Pennsylvania State University World Campus is in second, and Arizona State University rounds out the top three.

The entire ranking, listed in alphabetical order, is as follows:

Arizona State University

Azusa Pacific University

California Baptist University

Champlain College

Colorado State University

Columbia College

DePaul University

Duquesne University

Eastern Oregon University

Fort Hays State University

Granite State College

Indiana University–Purdue

Northeastern University

Oregon State University

Pennsylvania State

Regent University

Saint Leo University

St. John’s University–New York

University of Illinois–Springfield

University of Maine–Augusta

University of Massachusetts

University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth

University of Nebraska

University of Wisconsin

Westfield State University

College Choice is an independent online publication dedicated to helping students and their families find the right college. The site publishes rankings and reviews that try and make finding the best colleges for different interests easier and more fun, as well as resources to help students get into, pay for, and thrive at the college of their choice.

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Faculty: 7 ways to avoid social media mistakes

If a tree falls in a forest…you can count on the entire social media world knowing about it.

According to faculty at various universities, there are two main ways that social networking sites are causing new concerns and considerations for faculty and institutions: frictionless sharing and context collapse.

In a report by Cassidy Sugimoto, assistant professor at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University; Carolyn Hank, assistant professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee; Timothy Bowman, graduate student at Indiana University; and Jeffrey Pomerantz, information scientist at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; these terms are defined as:

Frictionless sharing: Passive sharing on social media sites, like Facebook. It is a sharing of one’s online behaviors by default. “With these new features, one is always ‘on,’ leaving a trace of what is happening anywhere on the Web and at any time—not simply when one is logged in,” said the authors. It is a “panoptic knowledge of one’s Facebook friends’ activities,” and quite different than the traditional relationship between student and faculty member.

Context collapse: When the online persona of an educator is both personal and professional. Because of this context collapse, it is also hard to limit audience, especially on social media networks.

If both of these new considerations aren’t navigated carefully, say the report’s authors, “Facebook regret”–or the not just reputational risk for the social media subscriber or their friends (whether faculty, student, or other institutional member), but also a potential risk to the reputation of an institution–can occur with often-negative consequences.

This rapidly expanding social networking concern for higher-ed faculty “begs the question of where the boundary is drawn between professional conduct, communication and obligations, and personal conduct, communications and obligations…the question may be more appropriately positioned as to why there is not a boundary,” said Sugimoto.

(Next page: 7 recommendations from faculty)


UCLA releases data, steps for better diversity on US campuses

The Racial Heterogeneity Project issued its report that offers a conceptual lens and actionable steps for organizations, institutions, and states to improve data practices and more accurately capture and represent the nation’s racial and ethnic diversity.

The Project, composed of leading education researchers, was organized by the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education at the University of California, Los Angeles with support from the ACT Center for Equity in Learning.

The report is released at a critical time, as the U.S. Census Bureau is preparing its 2020 questionnaire and there are still questions regarding the ways in which race and ethnic categories will be accounted for.

For instance, the report states that in the past Latino ethnic groups depicted in the Census “do not accurately account for the vast diversity of the Latin American countries represented among the Latino population in the U.S….[t]he assumption that the Mexican American/Chicano experience is the definitive Latino experience is inaccurate.”

“Education equity is critically important to the country’s well-being. The collection of more accurate data informs not only who is attending schools and universities across the nation, it also opens the door for better understanding student needs and strategically focusing attention on supporting those needs,” says Robert Teranishi, Ph.D., co-director of the Institute.

The report includes the following recommendations around needs assessment, data collection procedures, and data reporting practices:

  • A call to action to establish momentum for change. The civil rights community and other advocacy efforts should be aware of and advocate for a more nuanced perspective of racial and ethnic minority groups. This is important groundwork for establishing awareness about the unique needs and challenges of particular sub-populations, as well as building a foundation for better data that can reflect the opportunities, experiences, and outcomes of these groups
  • Better data results in more reflection and better insight. Data should be collected in a manner that accurately reflects the heterogeneity of different racial populations. This has been an evolving project for the U.S. Census Bureau, which has revealed useful insight from which other government agencies can learn. New data categories that reflect the increasingly diverse national demography will be critical for education policy and practice. The exploration of the new racial category “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA), for example, reflects the responsiveness of the U.S. Census to capture the changing national demography.
  • A call for proof points. Disaggregated data should be made more widely accessible and there is a need for effective models for reporting and utilizing these data. Results from studies using disaggregated data should be shared widely to show the utility of this data for informing practice, policy, and advocacy, especially for sub-groups that are particularly marginalized and vulnerable.

These recommendations are based on the urgency that students of color already represent the majority of public school students, and will constitute a new majority of the population sometime between now and 2050, by which time Whites will compose less than half of the total population. First- and second-generation immigrants will compose nearly 40 percent of the population, and the Asian American and Latino populations will increase by more than 100 percent each.

“By focusing on equity, we are examining and addressing barriers to opportunity related to family income, race and ethnicity, and accessibility, and other issues that intersect with these areas of focus,” says Jim Larimore, chief officer, ACT Center for Equity in Learning. “This report is a prime example of research we are supporting that illuminates challenges and opportunities, and that leads to actions that have the potential to improve learning, access and student success.”

The Institute and Center for Equity in Learning will hold a Twitter chat to discuss the report on June 28 at 3 p.m. EDT/Noon PDT. The discussion will use the hashtag #RacialEdDataChat as well as the handles @UCLACAREProject and @ACTEquity

Material from a press release was used in this report. 


Should HED use this popular K-12 assessment?

Though resources such as graduation rates and standardized test scores are often used by prospective college students to evaluate an institution’s offerings, before-and-after learning measurements might be more effective, according to new research.

A test of this learning, such as a test to measure students’ writing skills during four years of college, should be used by all colleges and universities, according to a researcher at Rice University.

The researcher found that Rice undergraduates’ writing skills improved 7 percent over their college years, and college-ranking websites could help prospective students narrow their college search by providing information on how students improve skills such as writing during their education at various schools.

The 7 percent improvement during the four-year college span that researchers found over a nine-year study period was based on measurements of Rice undergraduates’ expository and persuasive writing skills.

The study is highlighted in the article “Improvement of Writing Skills During College: A Multiyear Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Study of Undergraduate Writing Performance,” which appeared in a recent edition of Assessing Writing.

“Colleges and universities seldom perform such before-and-after comparisons to see how much — or whether — students improve over their college years,” said James Pomerantz, a professor of psychology at Rice and a co-author of the study. “If you scour the web looking for information about how well students progress while pursuing degrees at America’s colleges, you will be hard-pressed to find a single school that provides this information.”

(Next page: Could institutions apply this method to assess improvement of other skills?)


Global ranking: US universities are most prestigious in the world

Times Higher Education (THE) has today published its World Reputation Rankings, a reputable list of the world’s most prestigious universities compiled from research insight from leading global academics.

The US takes 8 out of the top 10 places, with Harvard University taking the top spot for the seventh year in a row, and have a total of 42 institutions in the top 100.

However, Asian universities continue their rise with 28 institutions in this year’s ranking.

The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2017: United States (Copyright: Times Higher Education 2017) (Read the full results and analysis here):

Reputation rank 2017 Reputation rank 2016 Institution Country
1 1 Harvard University United States
2 2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
3 3 Stanford University United States
6 6 University of California, Berkeley United States
7 7 Princeton University United States
8 8 Yale University United States
9 11 University of Chicago United States
10 10 California Institute of Technology United States
12 9 Columbia University United States
13 13 University of California, Los Angeles United States
15 14 University of Michigan United States
19 16 University of Pennsylvania United States
21 22 Johns Hopkins University United States
23 17 Cornell University United States
=25 25 New York University United States
28 28 Duke University United States
29 =35 University of California, San Diego United States
31 =30 Northwestern University United States
=32 34 University of Texas at Austin United States
=32 =35 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
=34 29 University of Washington United States
36 =30 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
37 33 Carnegie Mellon University United States
=42 42 University of California, San Francisco United States
48 =40 Georgia Institute of Technology United States
49 =45 University of California, Davis United States
50 51-60 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
51-60 =49 University of Minnesota United States
51-60 51-60 Purdue University United States
61-70 71-80 Brown University United States
61-70 71-80 University of California, Santa Barbara United States
61-70 51-60 Ohio State University United States
61-70 44 Pennsylvania State University United States
71-80 51-60 University of Maryland, College Park United States
71-80 61-70 Michigan State University United States
71-80 61-70 University of Southern California United States
71-80 61-70 Washington University in St Louis United States
81-90 71-80 Boston University United States
81-90 University of Florida United States
91-100 University of Arizona United States
91-100 81-90 Indiana University United States
91-100 71-80 Texas A&M University United States

“The United States continues to dominate the THE World Reputation Rankings but several of its most prestigious institutions have been outshone by Asia’s leading universities for the first time,” said Phil Baty, Times Higher Education rankings editor, in a statement. “Claiming 42 places in the top 100 list (one fewer than last year), the US is the most-represented country in the table. But it will have to watch out for the rise of Asia as several of the continent’s higher education stars overtake well-established American powerhouses.”

(Next page: The top 30 universities worldwide)


5 ways to use the Internet of Things in higher ed

There’s no doubt that the Internet of Things is developing swiftly, and that it can be used in many creative and innovative ways. Experts forecast between 20 and 100 billion connected devices will be on the market by 2020, with market expenditure increasingly accordingly. But what does the IoT mean for Higher Ed? Here are five ways that the Internet of Things can be used on your campus to engage, interact, and connect with your users.

1. Labeling and Finding

The truth is that most university campuses are already wired for IoT. Campus-wide wifi along with a proliferation of personal devices that students and faculty already own make for the perfect hardware basis for IoT. Transferring these capabilities to connected facilities is often a matter of creative application. For instance: what if your campus’ buildings were able to transmit interactive map data to a student finding their way around for the first time? What if your on-campus sculpture garden had virtual plaques that could send information and metadata to passersby? What if your biology department’s herb garden was IoT enabled to transmit plant data to inquiring minds with the click of a button? Anything that someone might be looking for on campus could be easily labeled and put online in order to facilitate ease of finding for any user with a smartphone.

2. Booking and Availability

Physical space on a university campus is often hotly contested territory. With so many classes, clubs, activities, social hours, meetings, and general comings and goings of people, the occupancy of any space is an ever-flowing river of variables. The Internet of Things could help your users navigate their space needs with ease; reporting on if a current room is in use, how long it has been occupied, and perhaps even when the current occupants plan on vacating the premises. This could be integrated alongside your college’s existing room reservation service to help provide students vital insight into whether they can find a space somewhere, and how long they might expect to be able to occupy that space.

3. Preparation

With so many variables to consider when rooms are or are not in use, room preparation can be high on the minds of faculty and administrators. Will the lights be on? Will the room be the correct temperature for occupancy? Will the computers and available technology be ready to go? Will the correct seating arrangement/number of desks be in place? All of these variables can be tracked, and most of them can be preset, using the Internet of Things. For example, the Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington uses the IoT to monitor their HVAC systems and card readers, allowing them to track when people enter and leave specific buildings and adjust their systems accordingly. Implementing such practices on your university campus will not only save your users time but also needless worry about the state of their space before and during university events and classes.

4. Intervention

As FitBit and other personal wearables become better at tracking various health markers, these markers can be put to use tracking individual patterns in the student body. Student success, health, and well-being should be at the forefront of the university’s mind, and consequently, this data can work to help ensure it. As student patterns are tracked, deviations from those patterns can signal recognizable trouble for students. The University of Southern California is currently researching the impact that analyzing IoT-gathered data can have on student performance, but the IoT can be used to prevent more than just academic difficulties. Lack of sleep coupled with a lack of activity, for instance, might indicate a mental or physical health crisis that the university can help with. Getting in front of such crises can be a huge step forward in student care, enabled by technology and the Internet of Things. One thing to keep in mind is the privacy concerns such use might raise; as universities implement systems that integrate wearables, they will encounter this hurdle and have to implement policies to address it. Those policies must be custom-built to each use case and should be put to rigorous review as wearables become part of the university’s Internet of Things.

5. Research

Laboratories are often required to be completely controlled spaces with considerations made for climate, light, and sometimes even biometric data inside the lab. The Internet of Things makes monitoring and administrating such conditions an easy prospect, and can handle the task remotely often without human intervention. The right IoT setup in your university labs might make a huge difference to researchers, and directly impact the quality of work they produce.

The capabilities of the Internet of Things are nearly infinite and almost only limited by creative application. The future is coming, and it’s time for Higher Ed to get on board with the incredible possibilities that the IoT can lend.

[Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Optimal Partners Blog.]