Check out this new, immersive entrepreneurship program engaging students across the U.S.

FlexFactor is a unique workforce development program created by NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Innovation Institute. Launched in San Jose, California in 2016, it has expanded nationally to Ohio and Alabama. This technology and entrepreneurship program is designed to be an immersive educational experience that engages the next generation of advanced manufacturing talent by connecting students, school districts, colleges and universities, and members of the industry. NextFlex’s collaboration with Ohio’s Lorain County Community College (LCCC) marked the first step in FlexFactor’s national expansion.

Helping students develop the 4Cs … and then some

Launched as a pilot with 13 high school students in March 2018, Lorain County FlexFactor will engage more than 750 students in the 2018-2019 academic year, with continued expansion for next year. This exponential growth is not surprising as it mirrors the rapid expansion seen in Silicon Valley, where the program grew from eight students in the inaugural pilot in 2016 to more than 3,500 students across four locations in less than two years.

FlexFactor challenges student teams to work collaboratively to identify a real-world problem, conceptualize an advanced hardware device that addresses the issue, and showcase their product by building a business model and pitching it to a panel of business and education representatives “Shark Tank” style.

Related: Urban makerspace partnership links industry with education

FlexFactor brings imagination and creativity into the classroom, and students are lighting up with excitement. “FlexFactor allows students to let their imagination run wild, solving problems with futuristic technology we didn’t think was possible!” says Ario Thompson, a junior at Oberlin High School. “Through FlexFactor, we can impact the future by sharing our technologically driven ideas and business plans with industry professionals who can help us bring them to reality.”

During their time in the FlexFactor program at LCCC, students are immersed in the collegiate environment, eliminating college admissions barriers while forming relationships with faculty members through lectures and interactive advanced technology lab experiences. Students engage in design thinking and prototyping at the LCCC Campana Center for Ideation and Innovation.

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Are national universities on higher ed’s horizon?

Higher education’s future could include national universities–at least, that’s what a new report proposes.

Grant Thornton’s The State of Higher Education in 2019 identifies a handful of trends and issues that are either emerging or expected to emerge in the coming year–and the biggest of those is the idea of national universities.

Read more: Why are colleges closing and what can we do?

The report urges those in higher ed to “consider the inevitability of national universities.” Those institutions would, logically, operate on a national scale in order to reach more students and meet their needs.

While state-funded higher education has established the colleges and universities we know today (and along with it, academic freedoms, innovation, and diverse offerings), it also has resulted in what Grant Thornton principal Matt Unterman notes are institutional inefficiencies, such as a lack of economies of scale and a siloed delivery on educational mission.

In his section of the report, Unterman says national universities would do more than simply require students to log into online courses from their homes or travel to a single physical location. National universities would operate across all states in a consistent manner, akin to the way retail stores and supermarkets operate. They would serve constituents where they’re located and where they want to be served.

“On the other hand, most consumer-oriented, commercial enterprises already operate on a national scale,” Unterman observes. “As one of the last ‘local’ industries standing, siloed campuses are artifacts of the past, on the road to consolidation and a very different future.”

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What is your college doing to help students handle stress?

Depression on campus is an ongoing issue that colleges must face. According to the American College Health Association, the number of students who report ever being diagnosed with depression has more than doubled since 2000, from 10 percent to 22 percent in the spring of  2017.

But Dr. Paul Granello, an associate professor of counselor education at Ohio State University (OSU), is trying to turn those numbers around with his creation, the Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) Lab. “We keep losing people to suicide on college campuses around this country,” he says. “The stress of the college student has gone up significantly.”

An idea is born

A few years ago, Granello, whose wife is an OSU professor who counsels students in the college’s suicide prevention program, was looking for additional ways to prevent suicide. Treatment programs for anxiety and depression had been sufficient, he says, but preventative programs—before students get to crisis mode—were lacking. So Granello developed a SMART lab that pairs wellness coaching with biofeedback. The biofeedback, provided by HeartMath, offers scientifically based tools and technologies to empower students to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors to reduce stress and unlock intuition.

Related: Student wellbeing is more important than you think

The lab, which cost $10,000 to create, has served more than 700 students since it opened in 2017. It is housed in the Physical Activity and Education Service building and is open 21 hours per week. When students visit, they use computers and Heart Math’s emWave Pro devices, which have sensors that measure heart-rate variability or gaps between heartbeats.

Nine students, including four doctoral students, operate the lab, which is a collaboration of the Department of Educational Studies and OSU Student Life. “The lab trains people in stress management and resiliency skills,” says Granello. “It’s a nice way to show students they are making progress.”

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5 tips for battling student distraction

Battling student distraction is a real–if not new–thing. While it’s always been challenging to ensure students are engaged in learning, the increased use of laptops and smartphones offers more opportunities to veer off-task. But increased classroom technology also offers more opportunities for instructors to keep students engaged.

A 2018 survey found 87 percent of people think students are distracted now more than ever before. Of professors using technology in the classroom, 85 percent are hoping to improve engagement, and 51 percent say their biggest teaching challenge is students not paying attention or participating in class.

Read more: Dealing with digital distractions in the classroom

But instead of blaming technology as the culprit, what if educators could turn technology distractions into learning opportunities? That’s exactly what some forward-thinking professors are doing as they’re battling student distraction.

This resource from Top Hat offers some insights into battling student distraction:

1. Personalize learning: Allow students to drive the personalization of their learning by choosing their assignment topics, pursuing curiosities sparked in class, and sharing and collaborating with their peers. When technology is applied, these projects become more meaningful because they can be shared with a wider audience through social media, video content, blogs and podcasts.

2. Play the game: Studies show the gamification of course content has a positive impact on both engagement and learning by using competitive scenarios and the distribution of points or rewards. To ensure the methods are also effective, they must be designed to support course learning objectives.

3. Teach the future: Students are training for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist and in this digital world, technology is a life skill. According to the 2017 NMC Horizon Report, being digitally literate is about generating a deeper understanding of the digital environment, enabling intuitive adaptation to new contexts and co-creation with others.

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4 myths about accessibility and online learning

Those who are in higher education are probably tired of hearing about accessibility. But accessibility awareness is the key point to making courses accessible. Bringing this awareness to faculty on how they design a course had been an ongoing charge for those in higher education that work with course design.

Dispelling myths about accessibility in an online environment

Myth #1: Students with learning differences don’t take online courses.
Many students do not report the need for accommodations in an online course. Why? They have to jump through so many hoops to get an accommodation. First, there’s the letter from Disability Services (how about naming it Accessibility Services?) every semester; then they have to explain the accommodation to the instructor and discuss why the accommodation is needed every semester. And then there is the social stigma attached to reporting an accommodation. This procedure is stressful for students and often hinders student success. But taking an online course is beneficial for students who struggle with social anxiety, who need flexibility, or who need to learn in chunks in a safe environment.

Instead, how about making a course accessible from the beginning? Isn’t online learning supposed to be inclusive?

Related: How to make sure your university’s online content is accessible to all

Myth #2: Captioning is just for those who are hearing impaired.
Recently, I put in a large grant request to provide professional captioning services for faculty who use videos that are required for online learning and assessment. I presented to a committee, showing them a 30-second YouTube video that was filmed on our campus and welcomed students. I turned the volume off, handed the committee an auto-generated transcript from YouTube, and asked them to read the transcript while watching the video. This is how we ask students who need captioning to learn while watching videos. Try it! It is very challenging!

After about 10 seconds, they put the transcript down and my request was granted.

Captioning is not just for those who need accommodations because of hearing differences. It is for the international students who experience language barriers, students who learn differently, and for those who might need to watch a video in a sound-sensitive area (e.g., a library, someone taking care of a sick kid who is sleeping). Doing what we ask our students to do in the world of accessibility brings awareness.

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Two effective methods to increase faculty diversity

 [Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Community College Daily.]

Community colleges tend to have the greatest diversity among their students than other types of higher education institutions, yet they still face challenges in attaining diversity among faculty.

In California, for example, a report by the Campaign for College Opportunity found that while Hispanics compromise 44 percent of the student body in higher education, including the state’s 114 community colleges, only 15 percent of faculty are Hispanic, Community College Daily reported.

There are community colleges across the nation, however, that see broadening the diversity of faculty as a priority.

A foot in the door

“The more diverse our faculty, the more comfortable our students will feel and the more likely they will prosper academically,” says Elina Bivins, equity manager and Title IX coordinator at Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Florida.

Hillsborough is a minority-majority institution when it comes to students, so college leaders would like to see that balance mirrored among its faculty. “We’re living in a very diverse society, and we want to make sure we cultivate and foster an environment that is free of free of harassment and hostility,” Bivins says.

Related: 4 best practices around diversity and inclusion in higher ed

HCC, winner of the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) 2017 Award of Excellence for advancing diversity, implemented several strategies to increase diversity among faculty. The college created a faculty advisory team two years ago to select minority applicants to participate in an internship program, where they can gain some teaching experience and build relationships with deans, faculty and administrators before they are hired for a permanent job. The interns work as full-time, paid, temporary instructors and are assigned a mentor.

According to Bivins, diversity has increased at Hillsborough since the Florida College System began requiring colleges to submit an annual equity report. Between 2015 and 2016, Hispanic faculty at HCC increased by 50 percent and African-American faculty increased by 14 percent.

HCC also targets faculty recruitment efforts to job fairs and other sources that tend to attract minority applicants, and the college’s Office of Equity and Special Programs hosts two diversity training sessions a year open to all faculty and staff. The latest one was on micro-aggression, and previous workshops covered employment laws, such as Title IX.

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Higher ed: We are missing the boat in online learning

We are having the wrong conversations around online instruction. There is a constant pressure to “utilize” technology and “expand online learning” without much reflection on how the technology could actually enhance learning rather than just perpetuating ineffective teaching methods.

Ironically (considering my background in the technology world), one of the areas that I turned my back on in frustration a number of years ago was online education. The reasons for this were that, working within the traditional learning management system (LMS)—for me, that was WebCT, Blackboard, and Moodle—I was too constrained as an instructor, cut off from my students, and, consequently, forced into a Hobson’s choice of mass failure or a drastic lowering of standards. Most importantly for me, classes in an LMS rarely reach the status of a community of learning.

How online environments fail students

For freshmen and sophomores, especially at an open-enrollment college, the most crippling deficit students suffer from is not lack of talent or intellect; it is a poor grasp of learning skills. This deficit is magnified by the nature of most online instruction these days in large part because the platforms most institutions are given to work with tend to work best for self-directed, motivated learners. Even for these kinds of learners they act as constraints to the kinds of exploration necessary for active and empowered learning.

As I have written recently, even in a traditional classroom environment there are severe impediments to the kind of open, creative learning we want from our students. There is always the temptation to go the easy way toward rote learning.

Related: Does your online program hit the right notes?

The online learning environments that exist today facilitate that temptation by prioritizing content delivery over interactions. We need to deconstruct online education and understand where its current paradigm has led us to. To do this, we have to ask ourselves whether we are facilitating the kinds of learning that are necessary to solve the problems of today and tomorrow.

Online learning has always been sold as a logistical expedient. First, it “meets students where they are” so that they can learn asynchronously and/or without reference to geography. It therefore expands the reach of “education” and, as a result, created the second logistical expedient: enrollment growth that didn’t require a parallel growth in expensive physical facilities. This second one quickly grabbed the attention of those institutions trying to grow their enrollment and was justified in part as the parallel “good” of expanding higher education in underserved markets.

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Looking for a way to evaluate your online learning program?

A new self-evaluation tool offers a way for institutions to determine if they’re offering a supportive and high-quality online learning program. It’s the OLC Quality Scorecard for Online Student Support, from the Online Learning Consortium, and it’s intended to help institutions improve support for online learners.

The OLC Quality Scorecard for Online Student Support was developed from a joint initiative with the State University System of Florida (SUSF) and the Florida College System (FCS). This latest addition helps colleges identify gaps in services and provides a pathway to improve support for online students.

“Several big ideas drove the development process of the student support scorecard,” says Victoria Brown, assistant provost for eLearning at Florida Atlantic University. “Among these was the desire to provide a comprehensive review of the entire academic life-cycle of a student at the institution, starting from the first indication of interest in attending, all the way through graduation. Other considerations included expanding access to the services that on-campus students receive, providing an online academic experience, and increasing engagement between online students and the institution.”

Any improvements an institution makes are likely to trickle down to face-to-face students as well.

Related: 3 challenges & solutions around online learning

“Improvements to support for online students can benefit all students,” says Josh Strigle, director of e-learning and learning support centers at the College of Central Florida. “That’s why the scorecard and associated materials have been designed to help improve the experience of every student.”

The scorecard facilitates an introspective look at 11 key areas of an institution:

  • Admissions
  • Financial aid
  • Pre-enrollment advising
  • Veterans services
  • Career counseling
  • Orientation
  • Post-enrollment services
  • Library
  • Students with disabilities services
  • Technology support
  • Graduate student services (universities only)

“The most difficult part of providing excellent online student support institution-wide is achieving cooperation from the diverse service areas across the institution,” says Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D., OLC’s chief strategy officer. “Our new scorecard overcomes this challenge by acting as an internal conversation starter which helps an institution coalesce around a commitment to providing the same level of support to their online learner community as those who are on campus.”

A companion handbook offers information on standards and best practices used by other institutions and is available exclusively to OLC Institutional Members via login.

Online education is on the rise

The new scorecard comes at a time when online learning programs are expanding at institutions across the country. Ninety-nine percent of online education program administrators say demand has increased or stayed the same over the past few years, and nearly 40 percent of respondents say they plan to increase their online program budgets in the next year.

In a recent survey, nearly all four-year institutions that plan to launch more than 10 new online programs in the coming years already have more than 20 such programs.

Almost 60 percent of online students in another survey say they made it a point to choose online learning over on-campus traditional learning due to online learning’s convenience. Many students say they like flexible transfer policies that improved their time to degree completion.

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Do you teach the way you were taught?

As academics, we tend to model our teaching style on the way we were taught. In some courses this works well, but in other courses it may not. Learning how to teach the students we have and not the students we want can be an eye opener.

So, were you taught in a large lecture hall with a very smart faculty member lecturing? And did you then go and take a test to summarize what you learned in a lecture? For some courses, this works. Facts are facts and the muscle names in the human body are not going change, nor will the sum of 2 + 2. But in other courses, such as Business Ethics, content changes from day to day. There are always ways to bring students into a very engaging discussion.

Structuring your style for the course you teach

Recently, I was working with a faculty member who was teaching an Ethics course. He wanted to just use the textbook and give students a weekly quiz online. After a lengthy discussion, I suggested that he conduct three different discussions in his face-to-face course: a local ethics issue on Mondays, a national ethics issue on Wednesdays, and an international ethics issue on Fridays. I also recommended switching up the summative assessments by analyzing a current case study (one from the last three years) every other week, based on one of the ethical issues discussed in class. This change is taking some time and work by the faculty member, but daily news feeds have helped with the face-to-face discussions. This model can be used in an online course as well. It is a different form of assessment and the discussions will show if a student understands the concepts of the course.

So far, the results have been amazing! Students are extremely engaged in the discussions and he learned a lot about his student’s life experiences as well as the hunger they have for discussion ethics.

Related: How creative thinking transformed my classroom

Changing how we assess today’s learners

How do you assess a course at the end of the term? How about assigning a project instead of a test that’s based on rote learning using the test bank from a publisher? Project-based learning is taking an area of interest and making some type of deliverable that can be used.

A few years ago, I was teaching an Introduction to Computer course at a local community college. My students were required to research a subject of their choice and then write a report using Microsoft Word. I wanted to add project-based learning to make the course more dynamic, so I asked them to create a web page based on their research. Some non-profit organizations actually used the student’s web pages after the course. The students found the projects to be fun and engaging, and they were proud of their work.

Related: See how other colleges support active learning

As we look forward to the end of the semester and think about how we teach, it is important to continuously assess our style and come up with ways to improve our teaching for better student engagement and student success. So, do you teach the way you were taught? If the answer is yes, maybe it’s time to rethink that.

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Here’s one way to stop “summer melt”

As recently as last year, nearly one in five students who committed to attending Georgia State University (GSU) never showed up for classes in the fall. This problem isn’t unique to GSU, and it’s commonly referred to as the “summer melt.” But GSU has taken an innovative approach to solving this challenge, using an artificially intelligent (AI) chatbot that has led to a significant increase in student enrollment.

Reversing summer melt

Summer melt most commonly affects low-income students, many of whom are the first in their family to be accepted into college. Navigating the complex student enrollment process can be intimidating for anyone, but especially these students—and many just give up before they complete the process.

To reverse this trend, GSU identified the common barriers that students face between graduating high school and beginning college, including filling out financial aid forms, completing immunization records, taking placement exams, and registering for classes.

Related: Here are a few proven ways, some involving edtech, to boost enrollment & retention

The university then developed a two-pronged approach to help at-risk students through these obstacles: (1) It implemented a new portal to guide students through the steps they must take to be ready for the first day of classes, with technology to track their progress toward completion so officials could ensure their success; and (2) it launched “Pounce,” an AI-enhanced chatbot, to answer questions about the process from incoming students 24-7 via text messages on their smart devices.

Putting AI to use

The chatbot is powered by a mobile messaging platform from AdmitHub, an edtech company that develops custom chatbots designed to support student enrollment and retention. It uses conversational AI technology to personalize admissions support for incoming students, drawing upon a knowledge base with answers to more than 2,000 anticipated questions.

AdmitHub built this knowledge base in partnership with GSU administrators, who gave the final approval on what the chatbot’s responses would be. While this knowledge base continues to grow, there are times when the bot hasn’t yet learned the answer to a specific question, says AdmitHub Co-Founder and CEO Drew Magliozzi. There are also situations when it’s best for a human to intervene to provide additional guidance.

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