Why academic assessment is poised for a scientific revolution

In 1906, Englishman J. J. Thompson challenged the scientific community’s understanding of the atom with his “plum pudding” theory. The model ultimately led to scientific evidence of the first subatomic particle, the electron. Thompson and subsequent pioneers of subatomic theory proved a powerful point: changing the unit of measurement can radically alter how we engage with the natural world.

Contrast this scientific revolution with our experience in the dynamic and changing world of higher education. For too long, higher education has relied on 19th-century definitions and measures to solve for 21st-century needs. The yardstick of academic progress—the transcript—has been the instrument to measure all learning that takes place during a student’s journey.

Students, families, and employers have serious doubts about the value of higher education—doubts that may be well-founded. Far too many students are exiting higher learning without the skills employers and society demand. One survey found that 87 percent of recent graduates felt well-prepared for jobs and careers after earning their diplomas, but only half of hiring managers agreed with them.

Is measurement helping to solve that problem—or contributing to it? It’s past time that higher education probes the question of whether we’re using the right definitions—and measures—of student success.

Consider academia’s approach to measurement: Academic transcripts can depict students’ achievements within courses and majors, but they often overlook opportunities to track and validate their growth across courses and fields, where critical interdisciplinary skills are forged. If we are to close looming gaps in our workforce, postsecondary leaders must embrace a shift that measures learning in a more holistic and granular fashion.

5 ways the University of Central Oklahoma is modernizing higher ed
The first step in this shift is embracing a unit of measurement that is both more precise and more comprehensive, as well as being evidence-based. Here’s how we’re already doing that at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO).

1. New measures of learning. At UCO, we have attempted a different approach through a program called the Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR). The program awards badges based on the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ VALUE Rubrics to assess student progress in five different multi-disciplinary areas; the application of skills and competencies happens not just in a single course but across the learning experience.

(Next page: How UCO is transforming higher ed)

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Do women in STEM experience hostile work environments?

Women in STEM jobs are more likely to experience hostile work environments, including discrimination and sexual harassment, according to a new nationally-representative Pew Research Center study.

Research in the study reveals that gender “is perceived as more of an impediment than an advantage to career success.”

Women in three particular groups are more likely to see workplace inequities: women who are employed in STEM settings where men outnumber women, women who work in computer jobs, and women who hold postgraduate degrees.

The findings are particularly troubling as policymakers and the STEM sector raise awareness about the need for more highly-qualified STEM workers, and as women and minorities become more vocal about their underrepresentation and treatment in the technology industry.

(Next page: 8 forms of discrimination women in STEM experience in the workplace)

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Don’t be complacent about data security

Have you ever been awoken by a loud noise in the middle of the night? Your body shifts from resting to alert in an instant. What just happened? Am I safe? Is the house secure? Did I lock the doors? At some point, you either get out of bed to investigate, or assure yourself it was nothing, and you go back to sleep.

We go through a similar shift from sleepy ignorance to total awareness each time a company reports a data breach that has put our personal information at risk. Except in these incidents, we have far less control over what happens next—and far less visibility into both the causes of the breach and the subsequent fixes and safeguards that the company implements to prevent such an event from happening again.

Data security is a major concern for education, even though, much like consumers, we may take it for granted unless there is a problem. But the stakes grow higher every year. As education continues to adopt new technologies to support teaching and learning, more personal data on students and their learning activities is stored online.

Ed tech companies have a clear and direct responsibility to protect that data, and educational institutions are obligated to thoroughly vet a vendor’s security policies and practices prior to adoption. Privacy policies and end-user license agreements are helpful, but limited, as they merely represent how a company intends to use data. Industry-standard certifications like SOC-II are better as they provide some insight into how a company secures information through internal processes and safeguards. But how can you know if the software itself is vulnerable to external threats?

(Next page: How to make sure your data is safe)

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Top 4 bandwidth hogs and ways to combat them

Supporting a network in a higher-ed setting can be a daunting task. With their proclivity for mobile devices, video games, wearable technology, and laptops (just to name a few), higher ed IT users may not realize how their tech choices can impact the network at large.

Generally, users at higher-ed institutions assume they can have bandwidth on-demand—as much as they want whenever they want—and take advantage of that regularly. These attitudes can mean that the university network becomes a traffic jam; difficult to administrate and nearly impossible to run smoothly.

According to the Association for College and University Technology Advancement (ACUTA), bandwidth on college campuses has nearly doubled since 2012 to accommodate, but it still may not be enough. How is an administrator to manage such a large, growing increase in demand? Don’t panic. There are definite trends in technology usage and several “bandwidth hogs” that make up a majority of network traffic in higher ed. Here are the top four, and a few tips for how to manage them.

1. Laptops
Today’s “traditional” college students will usually bring everything they need with them to college, including their laptops. Laptops have become a necessary part of the university classroom; used by students and teachers to connect, take notes, and have their work at their fingertips during class time. The 2016 ACUTA survey found that, as of 2015, laptops have become the top bandwidth-consuming devices on campus (taking over from mobile devices in previous years). Laptops tend to run programs that require more bandwidth (such as video games, virtual-learning tools, multimedia file storage, or streaming services like Netflix). Additionally, students may use laptops for P2P sharing methods, music downloading, and other high-bandwidth activities that are sure to take a bite out of your network.

The laptop is not going away anytime soon, so consider putting a yearly cap on bandwidth allotment per student login. This will encourage students to take some of their higher-bandwidth-hogging activities to alternate locations, such as a local library or coffee shop, freeing up space on your network.

(Next page: More bandwidth hogs and solutions)

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How to fight back against contract cheating

Academic cheating is not new or particularly inventive. There are, all in all, only a few ways to misrepresent your grasp of information.

Of the available options, contracting ghost writers, or paying someone to do another person’s coursework, has long been the most difficult to detect and eradicate because catching it relies at least in part on a sense of teacher intuition—that something about the turned-in work doesn’t quite align. However, if a student starts out using academic pinch hitters or invests in personalizing the material, even teacher intuition can be blunted.

Add to that the reality that, even when it’s suspected, ghost writing is one of the more difficult forms of malfeasance to prove. Unless it’s outright, undebated plagiarism, a charge of “I think this is not your work” can be slippery to make stick.

A recent survey from Turnitin, the company that’s helped thousands of schools detect and deter plagiarism, underscores the points about the prevalence of ghost writing in academic communities, as well its difficulty to substantiate. According to the survey of more than 1,000 higher-education instructors in the U.S. and Canada, nearly one in three (32 percent) suspected a student of turning in work that was done by someone else. Two in three said they may not act on those suspicions due to “insufficient evidence.”

(Next page: Ways to wipe out contract cheating)

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How to improve faculty and staff onboarding in higher ed

The hiring and onboarding processes can be extremely complex for colleges and universities. Higher-education institutions often bring in hundreds of new employees every year—from professors to student workers to administrators to dining service personnel. Hiring and onboarding these employees can involve dozens of hiring managers across various departments and multiple campuses. And the institutions must adhere to a number of strict state regulations for educational employers.

Not surprisingly, higher-ed HR teams can have a hard time tracking all the paperwork and tasks required to welcome new employees. This is a big problem, since flawed onboarding leads to poor employee retention, which negatively affects enrollment numbers.

If you’re struggling to manage the complexities of your institution’s onboarding process, there is hope! Creating an automated, digital process can significantly standardize and streamline higher-ed onboarding. Here’s how online onboarding forms and an automated workflow can put you on the path to success.

(Next page: How to streamline your hiring)

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3 ways to use tech to award more scholarships (part 1)

In today’s world, finding students to award scholarships seems like it should be a very easy task. There are obviously a lot of students in need of financial assistance to help with their education. However, the reality is that finding students to award scholarships to is a huge challenge for colleges and universities across the entire globe. Due to lack of technology, it is difficult for colleges to find the right students to fill available scholarships on campus. This results in millions of scholarship dollars going unspent and strained donor relationships, all while enduring large administrative costs for ineffective processes.

While awarding scholarships may not be a part of your direct responsibilities, the results of an inefficient scholarship process can lead to consequences for everyone on campus. Technology can play a big role in helping your campus use all scholarship funds, support more students, and even improve relationships with key donors.

3 ways to use technology to maximize scholarship management efforts

1. Create a connected campus.

Traditionally, scholarships have been awarded by many varying offices on campus using disparate systems and different applications. Spreadsheets fly around via email leading to FERPA security concerns and outdated information. By bringing all awarding entities on campus into one technology, you can make it easier for administrators to make accurate awards faster, and, most importantly securely. Scholarship-management technology will allow you to access information on current scholarship criteria, ongoing application information, and accurate award availability—all in one place.

(Next page: More ways to fix your scholarship process.)

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What role should faculty play in competency-based education (CBE)?

Imagine you’re a student.

You walk into a classroom on the first day of the semester. You approach your chosen desk and there sits a thick sealed envelope. Looking around, you see that each desk has its own thick sealed envelope.

Your professor approaches the podium and speaks.

“On your desks, in the envelope, you will find your syllabus along with all materials and assignments for the term. In it, you will even find your final exam. Since many of you are adult learners, we respect the fact that you are bringing a meaningful amount of life and workplace experience to this classroom. As such, you are free to begin these assignments whenever you’d like. We’ll be meeting for classroom learning and discussion each week so you can ask the big questions and collaborate with peers. You’ll also have access to videos and other media to help you learn more whenever you’d like. Some may finish all of your work within a few weeks; for others, it may take you the whole term. In this class, we prioritize your learning and how it’s measured more than time. Show what you know as soon as you know it.”

This is competency-based education (CBE). At least one form of it.

(Next page: How to offer a quality CBE program)

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Why universities need to prioritize network management

Technological advances have created unsurpassed strains on the networks of higher education institutions, especially research facilities. Universities and colleges need to stay competitive by offering exceptional online services (digital textbooks, online courses, etc.) and providing an “always accessible” experience for students—especially those conducting in-depth research projects. This becomes more challenging in the wake of smartphones, tablets, and laptops that invade institutional networks on a daily basis. Throw in a combination of public and private networks and the situation gets even more complex.

Most organizations have limited budgets and long evaluation processes to upgrade even the smallest piece of equipment. Coupled with the increasing risks associated with storing sensitive data—research, financial, and personal information that is vulnerable to cybersecurity threats—universities are facing a serious crisis of confidence.

Poorly managed services lead to a loss of visibility for the entire infrastructure and can result in blocked communications or unavailable service. In addition, teachers, staff members, and students all demand extreme flexibility. If institutions can’t stay competitive, they lose potential students, endowment dollars or funding, and even their reputations. How can institutions keep their networks available 24/7 and secure enough to keep up with the times?

(Next page: How to keep the network secure)

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How self-service options improve the student experience

With nearly all higher education students using electronic devices to manage their day-to-day life on campus, including uploading assignments to their ePortfolios and managing their course schedules in the institution’s portal via the student information system (SIS), the digital life has become the de facto replacement for paper and pen. Further, students’ expectations—particularly the Gen Z crowd—to manage all of their needs online has led senior institutional leaders to re-examine their processes, chiefly the back office or administrative tasks, enabling self-service capabilities and offering the next generation of paperless functionality.

Implementing new or expanding the use of existing technologies, such as enterprise content-management tools that provide access to e-forms and reduce paper processes, can yield increased efficiencies and productivity, and offer value that improves the overall student experience.

The student-facing side of paperless administration

As universities offer more and more varying degrees, access to financial-aid assistance, and continuing ed or life-skill courses, the sheer volume of paper and document management can be overwhelming. From admissions and financial-aid applications to change of major and transcript requests, students can access, complete, and collect required documents and signatures seamlessly. By offering online self-service pathways to bureaucratic chores, institutions can reduce lost or error-ridden paperwork, benefit from detailed audit trails, and eliminate manual-processing bottlenecks.

(Next page: The need to extend self-service functionalities)

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