It’s time to expand online legal education

Law schools have been far behind most other academic disciplines in embracing online education. That is why a recent proposal by the American Bar Association (ABA) to increase the number of credits that law schools may offer online has garnered attention. In reality, this proposal doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Current ABA Standard 306 limits law schools to offering no more than 15 credits (out of a typical 86 to 90 total) to be taught online. It also prevents law students from taking any online credits until they have completed their first year.

The proposed revised Standard 306 would allow law schools to offer up to one-third of their credits—about 28 to 30—to be offered online, effectively doubling the current limit. It would also allow up to 10 credits of online courses within the first year. The Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved the revision in May, and it may go to the ABA House of Delegates for concurrence as early as August.

The greater recognition by the ABA of the value of online education is a welcome development. But a default rule that caps online learning to one-third law of the total is still an excessive and unnecessary restraint on innovation.

Minimum vs. maximum
Most of the ABA’s programmatic requirements are in the form of minimums: 83 total credits, 15 hours of instruction per credit, six units of experiential learning, and so on. The cap on online learning is one of the few ABA restrictions that sets a ceiling on what a law school can offer.

The implicit premise of this ceiling is that online learning is inferior to classroom-based learning, or is at least problematic in some way, such that there must be limits placed on its use to ensure adequate quality of instruction. But this is, or at least should be, a pedagogical choice that schools or professors make, just as they have significant flexibility in course content and teaching methods.

Ken Randall, who served as the dean of a highly ranked ABA law school for two decades, made a similar point recently in Inside Higher Ed: “[I]f faculties are free mostly to teach the subjects they want and how they teach them, why can’t they decide on their platform of delivery? Just as they can decide whether a theater-style large lecture hall is or isn’t a good way to connect with face-to-face students, they should be able to decide whether to flip their classrooms toward technology-based learning.”

In assessing whether online learning is inferior, my own experience serves as a sort of natural experiment, since I was a professor and administrator at an ABA school for 12 years before becoming the dean of a fully online law school. We recently revised our entire required curriculum, and in doing so, sought to integrate best practices in legal education with the latest in adult learning and distance-learning research.

Why I believe in online learning
Live web-based seminar platform allows a give-and-take that resembles the Socratic method used in traditional law classes. Because students must regularly contribute to discussion boards between seminars, professors may actually have more opportunities to evaluate the quantity and quality of student participation than in a brick-and-mortar classroom.


3 smart marketing strategies to boost student engagement and retention

There’s a problem that every institution faces, no matter its level of size or ranking: keeping students engaged, excited, and, most importantly, enrolled.

As increasing competition crowds the higher education marketplace, two questions continue to plague enrollment management personnel: How do we capture the attention of our target audience, and how do we keep prospective students engaged throughout the admission and enrollment process?

These questions are something that all institutions must consider, especially in today’s rapidly changing academic landscape. Many institutions also face the same challenges when responding to these questions: decreasing budgets and a lack of internal resources.

There’s no doubt that these challenges are frustrating, but there are strategies you can implement today to start making an impact. Through years of experience working with a broad spectrum of degree programs, we’ve identified three scalable strategies that boost engagement and keep admitted students excited about their education.

1. Define your story and find unique ways to share it
One of the most critical components of your marketing strategy is defining your story and finding unique ways to share it. That doesn’t mean spewing facts about the institution’s long history on your Facebook page. It means effectively communicating the institution’s mission, vision, and culture in a way that connects with both prospective and current students. Is your institution working toward social change? Does it have a strong foundation in researching cures for currently incurable diseases? Institutions can tap these powerful, mission-driven sentiments to energize a prospective student’s true motivations and foster engagement.

Past generations used to be lured by an institution’s status and history, but the tides are turning. Big promises and generic advertising no longer motivate mission-driven consumers. Most traditional enrollment marketing efforts are no longer effective, and simply being on social media won’t provide you the results you seek.

Just as consumers are shifting toward companies that stand for something, prospective and current students want to know their institutions are socially minded and working toward making the world a better place. Younger generations, especially millennials, are turning to degree programs and institutions that are authentic and purposeful. We’re increasingly seeing this shift in demand, no matter the size or rank of the institution or degree.

How do you apply mission-based marketing into higher ed marketing and admissions? By turning your email nurture campaigns into powerful storytelling platforms. Email nurture campaigns are nothing new, but most institutions’ campaigns miss a valuable opportunity to interact with and engage prospective students by sharing the institution’s mission and culture through the work it is doing.

Many times, after students are admitted, email becomes a means to communicate dates, contacts, and other transactional information messages. These details are important, but they overlook the opportunity to continue telling your institution’s story and get prospects excited about your mission and their futures. Keeping the nurture campaigns going through the life of the student is a meaningful way to keep students engaged and make them feel a part of the institutional community.

One way to share your message is through faculty profile pieces. Arizona State University provides a great example of this. It publishes engaging profiles on all incoming faculty members. The profiles connect students to new faculty and get students thinking about what their own educational futures hold.

Whatever your organization’s story is, find it, and broadcast it far and wide.


How to create accessible video content

By now, you’ve heard (or been told) that your educational video content is required by law to be accessible. Since you’re not the sort to wait until you’re presented with a letter of accommodation, you are eager to get started. What do you need to do?

Educational video usually comes in two basic modes: lecture capture or instructional video. Determine which of these types you are using or intend to use. Lecture capture has a powerful allure: Just walk into a room, teach as usual, and “Presto!” You have a video to use in your online course. This method is fraught with peril when it comes to creating accessible video; ambient room noise, poor audio, bad lighting, and other factors can make lecture capture video a nightmare to make accessible after the fact.

Because of the uncontrolled factors inherent in lecture capture, we recommend that instructors avoid it whenever possible and take the time needed to create pre-produced instructional video. While it’s true that this method takes more time and effort up front, it will result in a more useable and accessible video.

Closed captions are a great start, but there is much more to accessibility than captions. Many learners have visual, cognitive, and attention disorders that captions do not address, and often do not even know to ask for help with these conditions. Whether a disability is reported or not, instructors are still obligated to make sure their video gets its message through to all their viewers.

Preparation tips
Creating accessible video is not fast or easy, but planning for accessibility at the outset will help ease the process. Think of your video like a Hollywood movie, where great attention is paid to lighting, wardrobe, background, microphones, rehearsed performances, and more. All these elements are carefully choreographed to capture a short performance that will (hopefully!) prove to be an enduring classic.

  • Start with an outline or script for your presentation. Include descriptions of the images in your slides and the actions in your script so that people who cannot see the screen and non-native English speakers can understand the actions.
  • Consider your production circumstances. Where will you shoot your video? How will it be lit, and what sort of backdrops are available?
  • Be mindful of the visual content. If you’re showing a slide deck or other text images, use a sans-serif font and contrasting colors to ensure that your content is clear to viewers with visual difficulties. Large, sans-serif fonts in your slides and other on-screen text materials can also aid optical character recognition tools that your video platform may have available.
  • Pay attention to sound. Are there loud air handlers in the room or traffic outside? What microphones do you have available? Poor audio can introduce unneeded difficulty to captioning, so be certain to account for and control how your recording environment sounds.

Campuses race to keep up with students’ bandwidth demands

College students are eager for more bandwidth and connectivity on campus, according to an annual report measuring higher ed’s internet offerings.

One in three schools offer 7GB bandwidth or more, while 72 percent offer 1GB or more–an almost three-fold increase since 2012, the ACUHO-I 2018 State of ResNet Report reveals.

Sixty-four percent of campuses extend wireless coverage to 80 percent or more of the whole campus–a 7.6 percent increase from 2017. Wireless coverage of 81-100 percent in on-campus student areas continues to increase year over year, from 77 percent in 2017 to 80 percent this year.

Seventy-four percent of business officers say reliable wi-fi is essential to driving their institution’s mission.

Campuses must have ubiquitous and robust wi-fi coverage in order to attract and retain students who are used to on-demand and on-the-go internet access via mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops.


Using workforce data to improve student outcomes

So, what do you want to be when you grow up? This seemingly innocuous question gets pretty weighty for college students as they make the decisions that could easily determine their life’s trajectory. And while some students are clear on their career choices, others need more information and guidance, such as which courses will best equip them with the skills employers value and whether their chosen profession will remain in demand.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute indicates that for young college graduates, the unemployment rate is 5.3 percent, while the underemployment rate is 11.1 percent in 2018. While that’s good news for around 80 percent of graduates, it still leaves one-fifth who are not finding suitable post-college employment. Perhaps even more alarming is a Gallup study that found “a crisis of confidence” among most students regarding their readiness to launch careers, specifically:

  • Only a third of students believe they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job market (34 percent) and in the workplace (36 percent).
  • Just half (53 percent) believe their major will lead to a good job.

At a time when higher education institutions are being held increasingly accountable for student outcomes and striving to prove their worth as an investment, the six-year completion rate for those who enrolled in 2011 was 56.9 percent. This number indicates that colleges and universities could be doing more to ensure that students see tangible value from their education in the form of a defined career path.

Improving advising to increase retention
While many higher ed institutions offer extensive career placement services, the reality is that these guidance services don’t always have access to current and complete workforce data. It’s constantly changing, and career counselors can’t be expected to know what will make someone successful in thousands of occupations. So how can today’s institutions, advisors, and students gain greater insight into workforce needs and make course corrections early enough in the student lifecycle to acquire needed skills?


How to better support international students

In 2012, the University of Delaware began an initiative to increase its international student enrollment and to develop tailored services for its international community. As a result, the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) has experienced tremendous growth, seeing a 200+ percent increase since 2009 in the number of international students attending the 22,000+ student university. Now serving an average of 5,000 international students, scholars, and dependents each year, our department has grown from a team of four to 18 professionals managing immigration services and 100+ dedicated programs.

Given this growth, our paper-based registration and advising system wasn’t efficient or sustainable. We needed a way to meet the challenges of managing international student programs and compliance at scale. We implemented Terra Dotta’s ISSS software to offer students a better registration and advising process and ensure reliable compliance standards. Here are some of the improvements this technology-driven process has allowed us to make.

1. Integrate SEVIS compliance for enhanced visa support
For Delaware and other universities, automating the international registration and advising process, as well as SEVIS compliance, provides faster, more effective U.S. visa support and document services—a critical concern for international students. Offering streamlined SEVIS reporting and immigration alerts and communication allows our international students to focus on their education instead of becoming consumed by their visa status.

We have established dedicated student and scholar profiles via an online portal where students can review current and past applications and programs. We send email reminders to complete specific tasks, and students and scholars can opt in to receive alert communications through text messaging.

As the transition to American society and culture can be challenging, we now offer more automated pre-arrival support and orientation and targeted communication and alerts—all geared to improving the international student experience. Students and scholars can log on to their individualized online profile and complete several tasks, such as learning modules about U.S. academic culture, immigration requirements, and what to expect upon arrival.


Here’s what makes students 200 percent more likely to pass

A new study indicates that students who engage with digital learning tools are dramatically more likely to pass their courses.

The research comes from Blackboard, VitalSource, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and is based on UMBC student engagement data across a diverse range of courses, including a variety of course subjects and class sizes. It assessed students’ use of Blackboard Learn and Bookshelf by VitalSource.

The results point definitively to the value of high engagement with digital resources. UMBC students who were highly engaged with digital learning tools were 200 percent more likely to pass their courses than students who were less engaged with the digital tools, according to the study results.

Incoming C students with low engagement had a 37 percent likelihood of passing a class, while similar students exhibiting the highest level of engagement with Blackboard Learn and/or VitalSource had a more than 90 percent likelihood of passing a class.


Future-proof your college before it’s too late

In any ecosystem, if one waits long enough, eventually a cataclysmic disruption occurs. Examples range from ice ages to digital cameras and mobile phones. When an environment becomes out of balance or a system is too reliant on archaic technology, something never-before-seen will come and change the game.

The final years at Blockbuster Video, Kodak Corporation, and Toys “R” Us, all share the consistent systemic failure to respond to disruptive threats: a willful ignorance to reexamine and adjust their product, services, and business model. Higher education is behaving much the same way. Until institutions acknowledge both the impending disruptive threat and the risk of not appropriately responding, higher ed remains a vulnerable enterprise.

Since the proliferation of the internet and digitization of information, we have witnessed several warning signs. Online course delivery, e-textbooks, the rise and fall of large for-profit institutions, MOOCS, certificates, and micro-credentialing have each commanded attention in the past two decades. While some of these innovations have persisted and some failed, each represents a foreshock prior to a large seismic event that we have not yet experienced.

An unchanging model
A longitudinal look at American higher education shows the business model remains unchanged. Institutions continue to cyclically recruit (a dwindling number of) students and steward them through a one-size-fits-all curriculum and delivery model that much resembles the student experience at Harvard University in 1636. Students arrive in late August, take four or five classes each semester and go home in May. After four years, a degree is granted. Though some classes are now hybrid, flipped, online, or leverage other high-impact practices, the overarching student experience is still the same.

In 2018, we live in an on-demand world. Consumers can start and stop television and movie content, purchase only the individual song they like, and are surrounded by digital assistants that can deliver the entirety of the internet through voice commands. Facebook reported 2.19 billion active monthly users in the first quarter of 2018, Amazon serves 310 million customers, Netflix has 100 million subscribers, and Google currently has seven unique products with over one billion monthly active users each. Collectively Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google are known on Wall Street as the “FANG” stocks and share dominance of the tech sector. Though their stocks fluctuate every day, collectively the four FANGs are worth about $1.5 trillion, roughly equivalent to the entire GNP of Canada.

Any of the FANG companies, and even some of their less-well-positioned competitors, has the resources to purchase a university in financial distress, assume their accreditation and infrastructure, and begin delivering academic content and granting degrees. I highlight them not for their purchasing power, but because they have each changed the way we live, consume, expect, and demand content and services. Billions of college-aged people are already users, have linked their profile to their bank account, and have multiple networked devices through which they interact and consume information.


Is web filtering ever appropriate for higher ed?

Halls of learning are places for learning and exploration. They are also a treasure trove of sensitive and valuable information, making them prime targets for attack by cybercriminals. In an environment where people are rightly sensitive about surveillance or limitation, is it ever an appropriate choice to filter web traffic?

In a previous post, we discussed the delicate balancing act security practitioners must perform to protect the safety of our flock while respecting and maintaining privacy. It’s important to keep that same discussion in mind while contemplating the prospect of imposing any sort of limitation on exploration, especially web-filtering.

Why filter web surfing at all?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern email service that doesn’t currently have some sort of spam filtering. We’ve all collectively accepted this as the New Normal, and given the enormous proportion of email traffic that’s now unsolicited or malicious, few people would regard this as a problematic limitation.

It’s difficult to draw a direct comparison between email and web filtering, as the World Wide Web is a massive place, much of which is not indexed by search engines and is only accessible if you’re given its specific location (most often in the form of a URL). Whereas email is pushed directly to you, a website usually sits passively until something or someone pulls it down to your machine. Spam filters stop junk from being actively thrust upon you, while web filters limit you from downloading potentially harmful data.


9 things your online learning program should know about students

Online students say tuition and fees are among their top three deciding factors when it comes to choosing an institution, according to a Learning House survey of 1,500 students who are considering, enrolled in, or have graduated from an online learning program.

The report reveals a number of key trends as online learning evolves and becomes widely-used for career outcomes. Seventy-four percent of surveyed students enrolled in their online learning program due to career reasons.

1. Mobile-friendly programs are important to surveyed students–87 percent say they use mobile devices to search for their online program of study, and 67 percent use mobile devices to complete online coursework.

2. Career services are also a priority for online students–because 75 percent pursue a degree for career-focused reasons, career services are a critical part of their post-graduation success. Surveyed online students say services such as working with a career adviser (50 percent), receiving resume help (48 percent), and having job search assistance (40 percent) would be useful.

3. Eighty-six percent of surveyed students say they believe the value of their degrees equals or exceeds what they paid for them. Among students who have experienced both face-to-face and virtual classrooms, 85 percent say online learning is as good or better than attending courses on campus.