Survey: Employers should prepare workers for lifelong learning

More than half of respondents (56 percent) participating in a recent survey say they believe today’s employers are not adequately preparing workers with future-forward tech skills.

The survey, conducted by Researchscape for Coding Dojo, measures consumer attitudes about technology skills and offers insights into how employers can “upskill” the tech workforce and improve tech literacy.

The results come at a time when many colleges and universities have to prove their return on investment for students who are increasingly more eager to learn about cultivating skills and post-graduation career prospects than athletics programs or campus social life.

Many industry experts also predict that continued lifelong learning will be a key factor in a healthy future workforce. In fact, a new report from Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Pearson notes that a career path won’t have a single-job trajectory, but instead will require a lifetime of learning. Higher education will have to experience significant reform to create graduates equipped for such a workforce, the report’s authors claim.

Nearly all of those surveyed (90 percent) believe employers, and not individual workers, have the primary responsibility to improve their upskilling initiatives.

Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents don’t have any basic coding skills and 12 percent described themselves as “not at all” tech literate–struggling with basic tech like smartphones and social media.

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Middle Tennessee State University: Pressing forward on the quest for student success

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), a public research university of 22,000 students, is located in Murfreesboro, southeast of Nashville and almost exactly in the geographic center of Tennessee. Its student body is 50% Pell Grant eligible, 50% first generation, and 40% minority. It has recently received wide recognition for improvements in the rates at which its students persist from one year to the next. The improvement has been gradual, steady, and impressive: In fall 2012, MTSU’s rate of year-to-year retention was 65.2%; by fall 2016, it had risen to 76.4%. This represents the highest level of retention in the modern history of the institution.

How has this transformation come about?
MTSU made a strong commitment to student success—and followed through on it with a set of concrete steps to transform the ways in which it helps students achieve success. A little more than four years ago, MTSU advised its students in a traditional way. Advisors held meetings with students to ensure that they carried out the basic business transactions necessary to register themselves for the following semester’s classes. At these meetings, advisors had scant information at hand on their students’ backgrounds and experiences and they faced large caseloads of students, all of whom needed to see them in a short period of time. As a result, advisor-advisee meetings typically did not include discussions about how the proposed classes did or did not align with the student’s recent academic effort, progress toward completing a degree or a major, or career plans.

The model is quite different today. MTSU, recipient of a 2015 grant for Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS), has been pressing forward in the pioneering use of data collection and sharing to maximize the potential of these advising relationships. In doing so, the institution has achieved significant increases in the rates at which students persist and, ultimately, complete degrees.

In 2014, MTSU joined the Education Advisory Board’s Student Success Collaborative (SSC). This enterprise-level technology enables the analysis of data relating both to the student and to the course over time, examining patterns of courses and mixes of courses as far back as the institution has data. Among the results of the analysis are predictive scores that allow administrators to look at the student body overall and identify the specific students most in need of help from their advisors. MTSU uses these data not only to identify and support the lowest spectrum of students but also to find and provide forward-looking assistance and advice to the larger cohort of students just above that spectrum. This larger grouping, an often-neglected group sometimes labeled the “murky middle,” is made up of students who have not yet left the institution but whom the data indicates are at risk of doing so in the immediate future. MTSU advisors and other student success specialists use the output of the technology to identify, reach, and monitor their assigned students before the first obvious markers of trouble, such as failing or not completing a class in the major or missing a success marker.

Using data to inform advising
Having such a powerful system in place to filter and analyze data is only a small piece of the puzzle, however. In order to utilize it successfully, the advising function itself must evolve to be data-informed. Getting the right people in place in advising roles and providing them with appropriate training are both equally important. As MTSU implemented the technology, the institution also committed to a substantial increase in the number of advisors it employed. Forty-seven new advisors were hired, allowing a reduction in the number of advisees that each was assigned. The increased numbers of advisors allowed for the creation of multiple distinct advising centers to address categories of student needs, from transactional to coaching/student support, and for the gradual evolution of advisor special expertise.

MTSU has also used its analysis of the wealth of data now available to develop and refine programs for student support. Here are just two examples of these:

1. The bridge program Scholars’ Academy.
An intensive two-week summer program on campus, the Scholars’ Academy Freshman Summer Institute is open to all first-year full-time students and particularly targets those who are first generation, members of minority groups, and/or Pell-eligible. The Institute is designed to prepare participants for college-level general education courses, to engage them in serious conversations about college, and to offer them connections to student support resources and valuable advice that will continue into their first year of study. Joining the Academy makes a significant difference for its students: Participants in the program have a one-year retention rate of 84.9 percent, which as of 2016 exceeded the 73.8 percent one-year rate rate for all other freshmen.

2. Peer-assisted supplemental instruction.
MTSU has used the extensive data available on course results to build meaningful learner support outreach through an expanding program of peer-assisted supplemental instruction. Data from the system allows staff easily to determine those courses in which rates of low or failing grades are especially high. They can then make peer-led study and discussion sessions available to students in the courses. The peer-led sessions incorporate content specific to a particular course section. From 30% to 60% of the students in a course with supplemental instruction available take advantage of it, and assessment shows average improvement of half to a full letter grade among students that participate. The supplemental instruction program served 21 course sections in fall 2016, expanded to nearly 70 sections in Fall 2017, and is expected to continue its expansion as learner support at MTSU evolves in the future.

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10 ways colleges use analytics to increase student success

The success of higher education institutions depends on the ability to excel across the student life cycle. Regardless of the type, size, or focus of a college or university, they all strive to attract and enroll high-quality students, retain and graduate students, and maintain strong relationships with alumni.

One of the keys to realizing these outcomes is using analytics to go beyond reporting on what has happened in the past, to providing a best assessment on what will happen in the future. By applying analytics to student life cycle data, universities can generate deeper insight into students before they arrive, while they are on campus, and after they leave.

Higher-ed institutions that are already using advanced analytics in these areas have successfully transformed their processes, decision making, operations, and funding. Let’s look at how some of these innovative organizations are enhancing the student journey with analytics.

Recruitment and marketing
Universities face fierce competition for students. With increasingly restrictive budgets, recruitment officers need to focus their limited resources on the students most likely to enroll. Having a better understanding of the factors that lead to successful recruitment of a talented student requires analyzing the data of past students.

The University of Oklahoma did just that. It took a data-informed approach and created predictive models to assess the probability that an admitted student would enroll, then determined which actions recruitment officers should take. By narrowing the focus to a smaller list of students, recruitment officers could now pursue better prepared students–and use fewer resources to do it. As a result, the university had its largest and most academically prepared student body ever, including more National Merit students than any other public or private university.

As Oklahoma learned, analytics can help universities answer questions like this and more. Such as, which scholarships and amounts would not only attract select students, but also get them to apply and ultimately enroll? Are students with higher SAT scores more likely to be engaged throughout campus, perform better academically, and graduate? Are first-generation students more likely or less likely to get involved in campus? By answering questions like these, universities can tailor their recruitment and marketing efforts to enroll more successful cohorts of students.

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The explosive growth of collegiate eSports, part 1

Nearly a year ago, SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran was looking at ways to grow his athletic department. Statistics on student-athletes showed higher GPAs, higher retention rates, and higher graduation rates than the rest of the student body. Recruiting more of these academically successful students was a top priority, and President Szafran had come across an idea that was non-traditional but showed great promise.

Within a few short months, SUNY Canton added three eSports teams and was competing at the varsity level with a number of other forward-thinking colleges and universities around the country. eSports is growing exponentially (the numbers are staggering), and university athletic departments and administrators are taking notice.

In the first article of this three-part series about collegiate eSports, I’ll discuss how SUNY Canton built our eSports program. Stay tuned for parts two and three, which will show how teachers are developing curriculum to support the gaming workforce and what IT departments need to do to make eSports come to life.

The new digital athlete
Ten, five or even two years ago, the association between video games and athletics didn’t exist. Today, however, we’re recruiting and training eSports students that are changing the complexion of traditional college athletic teams.

Generation Z is often referred to as the first digital generation. They grew up using the internet, and according to Nielsen, 73 percent of them have video game consoles. They spend hours each week playing popular games like Fortnite and League of Legends, and, with the launch of Twitch in 2011, live-streaming parties became another new normal that helped pave the way for eSports.

But eSports isn’t just about playing games. Its popularity has opened the door to new career paths in game design and development, and the dream of working in the eSports industry or becoming a professional gamer is now a reality. In fact, Indeed job postings related to eSports are up 18 percent since last year and 57 percent since 2015.

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How our campus supports active learning and collaboration

Active learning continues to be a hot topic in higher education and we have had many requests to help design spaces with technology to support that teaching style. Most instructional spaces at West Chester University in Pennsylvania are designed for bring your own device (BYOD) so that students and faculty can bring in their own computers, smartphones, or tablets. We wanted to provide tech that faculty, staff, and students can access from their personal devices, regardless of hardware platform, including our learning management system, Office 365/OneDrive, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), cloud printing, wireless presentation, mobile on-demand lecture capture, and mobile videoconferencing.

People can access all the tech we’ve implemented, but our concern was how would we help them recognize and adopt this tech? Although we send mass emails, host faculty and student orientations and training programs, and use digital signage and our webpages, we know this can lead to communication overload and the message can get lost.

The beauty of brand names
We all know what people are talking about when we say Kleenex, Band Aid, or Xerox—all brand names, not the actual products. We see the same thing in technology. Some classic examples are Google (web searching), Smart (interactive whiteboard), and Skype (for web conferencing). To make our technologies more recognizable, we used the branding approach.

Since we are the West Chester Golden Rams, most people are familiar with the Ram name and our mascot Rammy. We all have RamCards for ID and we can load them with RamBucks to pay for things on campus. Here are some of the names we’ve used to brand the technologies particularly useful for the many BYOD devices:

  • RamNet (wireless network)
  • RamCast (wireless presentation)
  • RamCloud (VDI)
  • RamPrint (cloud printing)

RamNet, our robust wireless network, is the foundation for the success of many of our new technologies that can communicate wirelessly. We needed to support an average of three devices per person and the concentration of devices is always much higher in classrooms so a dense wireless network is a standard in classrooms.

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How to use social media for classroom assignments

Social media is embedded in our culture. Online users regularly visit multiple sites each day to interact with their online community of family and friends, post and distribute content, and consume information. Social media sites are databases where our students go to communicate before and during class sessions. Since our students are using the platforms regularly, I wanted to find a way to integrate social media assignments and interactivity within my courses.

Even though students regularly use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites to review a funny meme, watch a new reality series, re-tweet the latest celebrity news, or post pictures, they may not want to connect with their instructor away from the classroom on a platform they use as their daily communication tool. According to a report published for Pew Internet Research, 4 percent of teenagers said that learning new information was a positive influence of using social media according. Communicating with family and friends, interactivity, expression, and entertainment were much more important to young adults when using social media. Therefore, it is imperative for faculty to look for ways to use social media in the classroom so that students learn to use the sites as a tool for learning, engagement, and discussion of course content. Here are some things that have worked for me.

1. Start slowly by building community.
If you immediately add social media to your course, students may not feel comfortable connecting with you or they may not want to create an additional social media profile just for your course. First, build community with your program and content by introducing the idea of social media without requiring assignments or evaluation. Facebook lets you create Groups that provide an environment to discuss ideas and issues and share content. Create a Facebook Group and invite students to share articles, photos, opinions, and other forms of content relating to the discipline. A Facebook Group will help your students become comfortable interacting with you while learning new material that relates to the classroom discussion. Additionally, you can use the Group to show potential new students the type of issues and subjects your courses cover.

2. Survey your students.
Once you have an online community centered on your program, I recommend doing a quick survey. (I use Google Forms or SurveyMonkey.) Ask students if they are interested in social media platforms being intertwined with their course, which sites they’d like to use, and what they want to learn when using a social media platform.

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The secret to edtech adoption? Make it easy

Today’s traditional college students come from the generation of digital natives, meaning they are generally incredibly fast learners when it comes to new technologies. However, that also means they have discerning technological tastes, especially when it comes to user experiences. You can outfit your student body with all of the tech tools in the world, but if they feel the user experience is unintuitive or inefficient, even the always-plugged-in generation may choose to stick to pen and paper. (Or, perhaps more likely, use a patchwork of personal devices with familiar interfaces.)

But schools are embracing these tech tools for a reason: technology-facilitated collaboration can help drive better student experiences and learning outcomes. To help students and instructors alike reap these benefits, technology partners are demonstrating a growing focus on ease of use. Today, huddle rooms wired for collaboration are changing the way students learn and work together. The next challenge is making that collaboration more effective and intuitive and, by extension, more broadly adopted. These efforts largely come in three categories:

1. Familiar, intuitive interface design. I remember hearing a story about someone’s two- or three-year-old niece holding a framed photograph and trying to pinch and flick the glass to zoom in on the photo. When it didn’t work, she turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, broken.” We are living in a world where smartphone gestures are second nature to hundreds of millions of people. Why try to compete with that? Classroom collaboration tools such as interactive flat panel displays (IFPDs) can leverage similar gestures and design (without infringing on any intellectual property, of course!) to allow digital natives to quickly and easily start using them.

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4 ways to address major risks to college opportunity

Rising tuition prices and student debt loads have come to dominate the debate over the future of higher education in the United States–but the risk to college opportunity goes well beyond that, according to a new report.

The report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (Penn GSE) finds that in order to understand the obstacles to making college accessible and affordable, leaders must consider, but look beyond, college sticker price and state appropriations.

The College Opportunity Risk Assessment is a state-by-state analytic tool to compare the many intersecting risks to postsecondary educational opportunity, such as how a state prepares its high school students, how it engages non-traditional college students, how it supports minority students, and the state’s fiscal health and stability.

The assessment includes a risk ranking for all 50 states, and an examination of where each state is most at risk. Researcher Joni Finney, professor of practice at Penn GSE and the director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education, discovered a number of findings:

1. Every state has a long way to go to have enough adult workers with college degrees, workforce certificates, industry certifications, or other high-quality college credentials to meet the economic and civic challenges of the 21st century. Many states cannot reach the demand for more credentialed and degreed workers by focusing only on young people. Even Washington state, which is least at risk in these rankings, is projected to fall more than a quarter million credentials shy of expected need by 2025.

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How iPASS worked in supporting student success—The two sides of the coin: technology & people

Increasing student success has moved high on the priority list at many institutions of higher education in the last five plus years. In their latest articulation of their vision, institutions have framed specific outcomes in student success. They have issued calls to action to measurably improve the institutional capability to help students complete their education. These student success efforts are long-term commitments on the part of an institution and should not be seen as “initiatives” or “projects” that can be completed within a year—or even two or three. To be effective in helping students complete what they have started, a student success approach must be ongoing and multi-faceted.

For the last five plus years, several dozen institutions have been working on student success efforts in a movement referred to as iPASS, which has been funded by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The acronym stands for “Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success,” a concept also popularly called technology-enabled advising. In simple English it involves leveraging technology in support of advising transformation that in turn supports students in a more holistic way to achieve their goals.

IPASS has focused on three main areas: Degree Planning, Coaching and Advising, and Early Alert and Risk Targeting.

In addition to a very strong emphasis on transforming the way advising is done on campuses, which has been no simple task, the technology-enabled advising approach has propelled institutions to deploy the following technologies:

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Fewer than half of college students are ready for the workforce

Just 41 percent of U.S. college students say they feel either very or extremely prepared to enter the workforce, according to a new survey.

And while the number of students feeling reasonably prepared doesn’t crack the 50 percent mark, it’s still a significant increase from 2017, when just 29 percent of students said they felt very prepared, according to the fifth annual McGraw-Hill Education Future Workforce Survey.

Men seem to feel significantly more prepared for their careers than women, the study reveals–50 percent of make students say they are very or extremely prepared for their careers, compared to just 36 percent of female students. Non-traditional students also report significantly higher levels of confidence–half of these students said they felt well-prepared, compared to 34 percent of traditional students.

Employers often observe that recent graduates don’t come prepared with strong workforce skills, and surveyed students seem to echo that sentiment. Fewer than half of students say they feel they’ve gained the critical skills needed to transition to the workforce, such as complex problem solving (43 percent), resume writing (37 percent), interviewing (34 percent), or job searching (31 percent).

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