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.


7 ways AI will shape the future of work & higher ed

With so many industries seeing the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) applications come to fruition, we will need highly trained workers to fill what is likely to be a rising demand for such skills.

1. LinkedIn research shows that AI skills are among the professional networking platform’s fastest-growing skills. In fact, the number of LinkedIn members adding these skills to their profiles saw a 190 percent increase between 2015 and 2017.

2. The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs 2018 forecasts that AI will have applications in almost every sector. Software and IT services saw incredible growth in the past two years, but education, hardware and networking, finance, and manufacturing saw increases as well.

3. The Future of Jobs 2018 report lists AI and machine learning specialists as the number 2 top emerging role by 2022. In fact, AI is one of the top four specific technological advances (along with ubiquitous high-speed mobile internet, widespread adoption of big data analytics, and cloud technology) set to positively affect business in the 2018-2022 period.

4. Accelerated technology adoption: According to the WEF, by 2022, large proportions of companies are likely or very likely to have expanded their adoption of technologies such as the Internet of Things and app- and web-enabled markets, and to make extensive use of cloud computing. Machine learning and augmented and virtual reality are poised to likewise receive considerable business investment.

5. Companies will need to invest in training and re-skills their employees to keep pace with these changes. Colleges and universities have a chance to produce highly-trained graduates with these skill sets. The WEF report finds that 54 percent of employees at large companies will need significant re- and up-skilling in order to fully harness the growth opportunities offered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

6. The real challenge for higher education is to look beyond the delivery of higher education to how AI, big data, analytics, robotics, and wide-scale collaboration might impact the substance of education. What students learn, what college credentials signify, and how we keep abreast of changes may all shift.

7. AI also may have an impact on streaming video and personalized learning playlists, according to survey results from Sonic Foundry and University Business. The survey reveals massive potential in higher education for AI to offer Generation Z the Netflix model for learning, à la using it to suggest relevant videos and build personalized playlists. Currently, 66 percent of higher-ed leaders think about using AI to leverage student data such as video viewing, grades, and course enrollment to personalize learning. Forty-four percent think about using the technology for recommending videos/information based on student interests.


It’s time to redefine student success

In higher ed today, student success is focused on retention, graduation, or completion rates. Institutions appear to be stuck in the paradigm that if college students simply complete their degrees, they will be successful. Unfortunately, students are not really being taught how to define success for themselves, beyond institutional goals.

Whether measuring on a professional or personal basis, people are seeking a new set of success metrics. Some see success as aligning passions with career paths, but a LinkedIn survey found that only 30 percent of respondents find their dream job.

We offer another perspective: Student success is mental health and holistic well-being.

A different way of defining student success

The nation’s mental health and well-being are under duress. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness report on mental health and well-being:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million people—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias.
  • Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.
  • Young adults aged 18-25 years have the highest prevalence of mental illness (22.1%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (21.1%) and adults 50 years or older (14.5%).

To contribute to a healthier and happier society, university leaders need to relay to students the interconnectedness between mental health and well-being and student success. We need to redefine “student success” from being completion metrics to producing holistic well-being outcomes.

Holistic student success

A holistic framework for student success includes these eight dimensions of well-being:

  • Emotional – coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships. (Emotional well-being reduces incidences of sexual assault on campus, anxiety, binge drinking, et al.)
  • Spiritual – expanding our sense of purpose and meaning of life: for examples of life purpose curricula such as programs at Harvard and the University of Minnesota.)
  • Intellectual – recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills.
  • Physical – recognizing the need for physical activity, a healthy diet, and sleep.
    Occupational – personal satisfaction and enrichment derived from one’s work. (This is a focus of a seminar at Stanford University.)
  • Financial – satisfaction with current and future financial situations.
  • Social – developing a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed support system.
  • Environmental – good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being.

(Adapted from A Wellness Approach, Swarbrick, M., 2006.)


7 myths about online learning in higher ed

While online learning has been around for many years, it really took a new twist when Coastline Community College launched the first “virtual college” with no physical campus. Over the past 40 years, online-course delivery has exploded in a positive sense. But there are a lot of myths that still are associated with online learning.

Myths and facts about online learning

1. Online learning is not recognized by industry as a viable learning.
At one point, when correspondence courses were on the forefront of learning, many people did not recognize distance learning as the “correct way” to learn. But as technology has evolved, more tools were developed for a digital learning environment. Online learning appeals to working individuals who need flexibility as well as lifelong learners. As institutions move towards SMEs (subject matter experts) to teach, the attitudes toward online learning has shifted to a positive means of learning.

2. Online learning is easier than face-to-face learning.
When you’re in a face-to-face course, you can listen, not participate, and blend into the environment. In an online learning environment, you must participate in discussion board postings and work with your peers as a means of assessing learning.

3. Online instructors spend less time teaching online than face-to-face.
Engagement between instructors and students online is very different than face-to-face. There is more concentrated time in the seat during a face-to-face course. Online instructors teach and reach students many times throughout the week—including weekends, when most online students are active. Online instructors will tell you they invest more time in teaching online than teaching the same course face-to-face, which can be a “wash and repeat” for each course.

Related: 8 students spill the tea on their online learning programs

4. Online students spend less time learning online than face-to-face.
Most online students are connected to a mobile device and are constantly learning about the world. Siri is our best friend these days. In a face-to-face course, many times mobile devices are banned from the classroom. But in online learning, if a student has a questions about a topic—Bing!—just open another tab and search Google for an immediate answer. In an online class, a student must prove with written word what they have learned. Writing takes much longer than speaking.


3 challenges & solutions around online learning

For 15 years, I’ve been strongly committed to educational excellence and creating a positive learning experience in the online environment. The progress made in the distance education community over the past decade is astounding. After all, enrollment in online courses is increasing, and flipped classrooms and hybrid programs are becoming more common.

Bottom line: The nature of learning is changing and we as educators and administrators must keep up.

These days, everything from your social life to banking is online. Online learning is necessary for some, and it’s being adopted at all levels, including K-12, college, and even for certification programs.

Related: Debunked: 8 online learning myths that need to disappear

Although online education has its limitations, there are three benefits that show why e-learning may be the greatest revolution in today’s education.

1. Take flexibility, for example. Online learning allows universities to reach more people who may not have the option to attend classes in person. Students may have to commute long distances or juggle schedules for their kids that prevent their ability to take traditional courses in the classroom. For those going back to school in later years, they likely have jobs that make it impossible to travel for classes, so an online education offers them the opportunity to study whenever it fits into their lives.

2. We know student engagement increases student satisfaction, enhances student motivation to learn, reduces the sense of isolation, and improves student performance in online courses. However, online learners have fewer opportunities to engage with the institution, as building relationships with instructors and classmates requires more effort.

3. Efficiency. Administrators developing and delivering courses should think through the audience, online environment, user experience, and especially the design of course delivery. Take advantage of today’s advanced technology and provide students with the opportunity to be interactive through a discussion forum, blogs, journals, and both video and audio feedback. When it comes to enticing students to be involved and satisfied with their online learning experience, design matters.

Unpacking the challenges of online learning

There is still room for improvement when it comes to online learning, and the industry is quickly creating innovative solutions to continue to improve the success of students’ online education. To help educators get past their apprehensions, I’d like to address three challenges and strategies for overcoming them:

Online-learning challenge #1: Fear of technology

Despite online learning’s convenience, those from older generations going back to school—or instructing—may be doubtful at the thought of relying on technology for an entire course.

What you can do: Professors must have the appropriate training, resources, and even mentors to be able to run an online program smoothly. To avoid online students being anxious about not knowing how to submit a paper or take a test, ensure they have adequate resources. A traditional help desk will be of no assistance to them when they’re studying on the weekend or late at night.

Before a student even enrolls in an online course, assess their technological competency, and if they aren’t equipped to take a specific online course, you’ll know and can provide tools and resources to them ahead of time.

Online-learning challenge #2: Lack of flexibility

Some distance learning programs appear to offer a one-size-fits-all approach and lack a personal approach. This can potentially impact retention.

What you can do: Adaptive learning uses artificial intelligence to adjust content to an individual’s needs and combat that one-size-fits-all model. The ability to provide students with their own personalized course, made specifically for their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and engagement patterns is an ideal form of learning.

Online-learning challenge #3: Fear of cheating

Another large concern and challenge of online learning is the increased risk of cheating. Faculty and administrators may feel defeated by the drastic measures students will take to cheat, such as claiming a false identity, but the reality is students who want to cheat are going to find a way to do so.

What you can do: Using remote proctoring solutions can be a reliable way to enhance integrity in today’s online classroom. They are secure and allow students to take exams when it’s convenient for them. Remote proctoring systems have become increasingly sophisticated and are gaining wider consideration for high-stakes testing. When I worked at Columbia University in New York, we used PSI Services and faculty were comfortable delivering these tests because of the exceptional student and administrator experience. Find a remote proctoring solution you trust to include safeguards against cheating.

Related: Here’s what online learning programs do right–and here’s what they can improve

Online learning is now

The global online education market is projected to reach a total market size of $287 billion by 2023, increasing from $159.52 billion in 2017. This continued growth is evidence that innovations in distance education will continue to impact higher education in a positive way. I’m excited to see what’s to come in the future!


Here’s a way for colleges to help develop tomorrow’s leaders

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the AACC 21st Century Center.]

Metropolitan Community College (MCC) students who want to grow their leadership skills get the opportunity at the Missouri college’s MCC LEADS Academy.

The program, designed by the Campus Life & Leadership coordinators, is targeted to help MCC students develop their leadership skills over the course of their education. It was created by Caitlin Mountjoy, an MCC-Penn Valley student and the Student Government Association president on her campus.

“I’m ecstatic for MCC LEADS, because as a student leader I’m constantly growing and looking for new ways to improve my skills set,” Mountjoy says. “This program allows me and every other MCC student to just do that and more. I can’t wait to see what MCC LEADS has in store for us.”

Helping students become leaders

The goal of the program is to improve the overall experience of students on the MCC campuses and give them much-needed guidance to prosper after graduation. LEADS stands for Leadership + Education + Achievement + Diversity = Success.

“MCC LEADS is intended to provide students with opportunities to become more engaged on their campuses at the same time as developing the skills that will help them be successful throughout their college experience and beyond as they develop their careers,” says Kathrine Swanson, MCC vice chancellor for student success and engagement.

“Given the skills gap that many employers identify, students who take advantage of MCC LEADS will have an edge in the marketplace.”

There will eventually be three tiers of MCC LEADS, but the current program is focused on helping students become well versed in their own strengths, collaborating with groups, and giving back to their community.

Students can go through the program at their own pace, participating in interactive activities that include writing prompts, quizzes, reading assignments, and interviews. And the program meets students where they are. Students can participate in person, online, or both.

Related: 6 pieces of advice for women aspiring to IT leadership

Workshops cover topics such as exploring leadership, effective communication, emotional intelligence, and conflict with civility.

Mindy Pettegrew, who oversees the Campus Life & Leadership coordinators, says they did a great job thinking through what students need and making sure all students can take part.

“Those who take advantage of MCC LEADS will have an opportunity to connect to their campus in a different way, learn more about themselves and build skills that will help them while they are at MCC and beyond,” Pettegrew says. “It is something we’ve talked about for a long time and to see it come to fruition is exciting.”


Can adaptive tools improve student retention?

A new initiative is targeting failure rates in foundational courses–a major cause of college dropouts–by giving scalable, high-quality support to colleges and universities seeking to improve student retention.

Every Learner Everywhere is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and aims to increase the number of institutions using adaptive learning to improve course outcomes and graduation rates.

The initiative, which consists of a network of 12 higher-ed and digital learning groups, also hopes to eliminate the equity gap for low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students.

Read more: Adaptive learning helps students finish faster

Foundational courses (college credit-bearing and/or developmental education courses that enroll large numbers of students and have high rates of Ds, Fs, withdrawals, and incompletes) continue to be a barrier to entry for undergraduates.

Across all foundational courses, completion rates are 63 percent for community colleges and 75 percent for public four-year colleges. For foundational English and math courses, in particular, completion rates are 21 percent for two-year institutions and 51 percent for four-year institutions. What’s more, completion rates are 6 percent lower for low-income students, students of color, and first-generation students.

These failed courses put students further at risk by setting them on a path to leave school without a degree–all while having accumulated debt.

Every Learner Everywhere will directly address student success in these foundational courses by supporting the effective integration of adaptive learning systems, which offer a student-centric design, in an attempt to improve student retention.


Are you reaching the “new normal” student?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 62 percent of undergraduate students, described as the “new normal,” have at least one nontraditional characteristic such as being a first-generation student, having at least one dependent, or working either full or part time. As leaders in higher education modeling and delivery, we must foster flexible structures that expand access to higher education for the 31 million Americans who have some college credit but no degree. At Arizona State University (ASU), we’re exploring new pathways to reach the changing demographics of today’s students.

One thing we know for certain is that we cannot address this need by solely focusing on the traditional pool of undergraduate and masters-level students. The profile of today’s college student has changed, with fewer students fitting the mold of “traditional.”

Online learning reaches many more students

Online learning has become a promising pathway allowing for greater scale where students can design a path that fits their lifestyle. A recent study found that the number of students taking online courses grew to over 6.3 million students in the U.S., and that number continues to rise.

At ASU Online, we recognize that the demographics of adult learners are heterogeneous, and we are reaching out to previously underserved populations of learners with programs that do not require presence inside a classroom or at a particular time. Our programs continue to see significant growth; last August, more than 30,000 students were enrolled in 170 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Related: 3 ways to actually support nontraditional learners

More degree specializations are now available as universities expand to meet the evolving needs of students. Virtual reality tools enabling completion of lab sciences courses anywhere in the world will be available soon, and adaptive-learning technology is changing the way faculty and instructional designers create courses and evolve the learning process. Research arms like The Action Lab, a dedicated teaching and learning laboratory within EdPlus at ASU, are studying the impact of these tools on student success to achieve better learning outcomes. We are finding that online education is as rigorous and effective as face-to-face learning.


I taught online courses and formed stronger relationships with my students

Even though I never saw the 50 college students I taught in back-to-back sessions last summer, I feel especially close to them. Our digital relationships were just as powerful as the relationships I have with face-to-face students.

One of the ways my students became acquainted with their digital professor was through my weekly video lectures they were required to watch. The students seemed unusually comfortable in a digital world. I, on the other hand, had a difficult time adapting.

Online conversations helped students take learning to the next level

My online classes had no formal meeting times. Students were required to post daily comments on a private group Facebook page, and ask questions via email or text. Once I started responding to their posts, I began to feel a stronger connection to the students than I do in a traditional classroom.

I was checking the class Facebook page one night at 11 p.m. when a student posted a video from a Phillies game he was attending. His post showed a product featured on a billboard at the stadium. He explained that he now understood the role of sponsorships, thanks to that week’s reading assignment. I quickly responded and we had an online conversation during the 9th inning of the game I was also watching at home on ESPN. For the first time, technology enhanced my connection with a student.

The next morning, it happened again. Another student posted a photo of a retailer we were studying as she walked to her internship at 7:30 a.m. in New York City. I was online at the moment of her post. As with my baseball fan student the night before, we had a short digital conversation to confirm her observation and learning experience.

Related: 5 terrific edtech tools for creating a highly engaging online (or hybrid) course

For 10 straight weeks last summer, I was able to communicate with my students as they experienced our course material in their everyday lives. It added an enormous sense of authenticity and connection to the learning process.


How power dynamics can undermine effective learning

By definition, there is a finite amount of power over any given set of human interactions. How those relationships are structured can have significant impacts on the ability of students to think for themselves. The industrial mode of teaching with the teacher as the font of wisdom standing in front of the class imposes severe power disparities within the classroom. Students are basically playing a zero-sum game. They can either submit to the power relationship that the professor establishes within the classroom or drop/fail the class. Most students accept this without question, but it severely impacts their capacity to grow and thrive as learners.

Getting students to own their learning

As a teacher, I have always looked for more effective strategies to get my students to think for themselves. I have looked particularly at Empowered Learning as a mechanism to make the students in my American and Texas Government courses engage in material for a class almost none of them want to be in.

I have come to believe that it is only through empowering our students that they can hope to enter a flow state of high concentration and focus. Flow is a term coined by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi to describe a state between overly challenging and boring. It is in this zone that individuals are most effective in pushing their creative and intellectual boundaries when “instruction was perceived as challenging and relevant.” “Doing what the professor wants” interferes with my students’ ability or even willingness to engage in activities designed to achieve Flow.

In a classroom, the teacher is viewed as a god. That god can be benevolent or malevolent, but the teacher judges their fitness for learning, controls discussion, sets the agenda, and therefore has all of the ideas. At the end of the day, the grades are all that matters and Zeus hands those down from on high.

Students resist thinking for themselves in the presence of a god. Instead, they want us to think for them, to provide all of the answers. Patrick Rothfuss perhaps said it best when he wrote in The Wise Man’s Fear, “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.” Open questioning requires a power dynamic that allows for it and a dollop of courage. Instructors almost never ask students to think deeply about their own learning experiences.