How USF is breaking down information silos and igniting student success

We believe that every student admitted to the University of South Florida will succeed.  The student success movement at USF is built on that simple, fundamental belief.  We hold ourselves accountable for our performance, so we have responded well to the new accountability rules and expectations of improved student outcomes.

Since the formation of a Student Success Task Force in 2009-2010, student success has been a strategic priority for the entire institution.  We introduced or strengthened a wide range of persistence and completion initiatives, including but not limited to the professionalization of academic advising, course redesigns, and living-learning communities.  We saw impressive gains in our retention and graduation rates, but in 2014, the rate of our improvements began to slow down.  We had hit a performance plateau that lasted nearly three years.

First-year persistence rates stubbornly hovered around 88 percent, and our six-year graduation rates stalled at 68 percent, both marks just below the thresholds (90 percent and 70 percent) required for USF to qualify as a preeminent university according to state of Florida guidelines. To reach the next level of student success and earn additional state dollars for our performance, we needed to ensure that we retained or graduated an additional 80 students.  That’s all it would take to become a preeminent university.

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3 experts share their blended learning advice

With a growing non-traditional student population, many colleges and universities are looking to blended learning technology and strategy to meet their pedagogical needs. But finding a combination of online and in-person components that match the expectations of both students and faculty can be daunting. Thankfully, higher ed’s collaborative culture makes networking and sharing expertise with other IT professionals easier.

A panel of industry experts spoke at the higher ed IT Professional’s Meetup at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., to discuss how to find the right mix of blended learning offerings. The panel included Eric Palson, director of academic technologies at Babson College; Kristen Palson, director for Simmons Online at Simmons College in Boston; and Gaurav Shah, director of academic technologies at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. Elmore Alexander, the former dean of the Ricciardi College of Business at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Mass., moderated the discussion.

While blended learning environments may not be as ubiquitous as other programs in higher ed, they are growing in popularity and have proven successful at some institutions. “This is an important topic for schools of all sizes,” said Babson’s Palson. “With so many options for learners, including free education, to be able to create online and blended offerings in an efficient, scalable way that ensures a quality learning experience is critical right now.” Palson has more than 15 years of creating online and blended content and applications; his team at Babson runs six online or blended programs, with nine expected to be live this fall.

Types of blended offerings

Blended programs differ greatly, based on the school’s budget, infrastructure, and stakeholder expectations. At Babson, it’s a combination of face-to-face and fully online time, with the potential for synchronous work as well. Bentley University has a hybrid program, which Shah defines as an in-person classroom with a synchronous online component. Bentley also has an online degree completion course, which relies much more heavily on asynchronous work with some synchronous components. The Simmons team, which offers nine online or blended programs, partners with 2U to help bring their programs online at a larger scale than the programs they design and support in-house.

The experts offered several lessons on how to build, implement, and support a blended learning program that exceeds expectations. Here are some of their major takeaways.

1. Start with a thorough understanding of stakeholder needs and expectations. Shah explained that when Bentley created its hybrid program in 1999, one of the first steps was to survey students to gauge their interest in the program. “They all loved it,” he said. “They jumped at the idea. Without that need, we wouldn’t have even gone there.”

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6 tips for reaching adult students

Lynn Morton, strategy director at digital marketing agency R2i, specializes in working with higher education marketing teams. eCampus News talked with Morton about ways to best target Gen Z last year; this time, we asked her about reaching adult students.

How to reach adult learners

Tip #1: Flexibility is more important than you think.

“As people get older, they have more responsibilities,” says Morton. “Offer systems and programs that are flexible.”

Tip #2: Allow adult learners to learn on their own time.

“Older students have to pay for higher ed while balancing a house, a schedule, a partner, kids, animals, etc. Understand that most people going back to school have full-time jobs; they can’t just redo the college experience.

“It’s not about adapting what you have—it’s about building it from the start. How can the systems you develop better support anyone who needs a non-typical college experience?”

Tip #3: Learn from the mega universities like Southern New Hampshire University and Western Governors University.

“These schools are delivering education at scale. They offer accessibility and flexibility and provide support for students to be accountable. They focus on keeping students motivated, moving, and on track. In essence, they offer extreme amounts of flexibility at a lower cost.”

Tip #4: Focus on the outcome.

“With adult students, you’re competing for their time and energy, so outcomes are really important. You want to make sure people graduate and are getting jobs. You need to provide support efforts and use that as part of your selling package.

“Let students know what differentiates you in the way you provide support. The entire consumer world is focused on customer experience, and this applies to higher ed as well. For me, the Target app sets the standard. I get disappointed if I don’t have that same level of experience with other apps. How do you maximize the return of your technology to provide that experience?”

Tip #5: Understand the older student’s experience.

“Interview students to truly understand what they need. For instance, people want more customization and personalization, which higher ed doesn’t always believe.

“Education has a ton of data, but many institutions are unsure about how to tap into it. Leverage your data to understand who’s visiting your website and cater that experience to an adult learner vs. a typical college student. People don’t want to go where they don’t see themselves, and choosing a college involves lots of research.

“Make sure your app improves the student experience. Use your data to figure out how to better serve your students, such as sending out homework or class reminders.”

Tip #6: Use the right social media for this population.

“Facebook is everywhere. It’s effective for driving awareness but privacy concerns are abundant. The Boomers and Gen X use Facebook, while millennials are starting to delete platforms.

“Many adult learners are already on LinkedIn, so you might want to hire a good marketer to get creative. Have an authentic message that resonates, and ask yourself, ‘What are we offering adult learners? What is their reason to buy? What opportunities and customization do we have that will appeal to them?’”

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5 steps to smarter corporate partnerships

When it comes to higher education and corporate partnerships, it’s not a “nice to have;” it is mission-critical for colleges and universities to survive. The job market is evolving so quickly that institutions need a steady stream of information from employers on what they want and need from their workforce so curriculum and learning can reflect those needs.

The key here is “partnership.” Think quality over quantity. Both sides—institutions and employers—are looking for return on investment (ROI), and these five approaches will help universities build impactful relationships with mutual benefits.

5 steps for stronger corporate partnerships

1. Identify your internal champions
First and foremost, understand internal champions of the institution. Many faculty members and trustees hold professional external positions and are willing to share the university’s mission and strengths with the outside world. Alumni have a broad reach when it comes to garnering support. LinkedIn is a great tool to easily identify where alumni are employed. The next step is to determine if those companies are recruiting your graduates for meaningful internships or full-time positions. If so, tap the alumni to develop or strengthen a relationship.

2. Understand what a corporate partner wants
What’s in it for them? Corporate partners should gain something from having a relationship with your university. Identify what they are looking for and create opportunities that are mutually beneficial: access to student talent and faculty research; a business case analysis as part of curriculum or a presentation in the classroom; participation in career fairs; or opportunities for broadbrand awareness on campus.

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Student wellbeing is transformative

Faculty, academic advisors, and student affairs counselors impact student wellbeing to the degree they transform each student’s mindset by empowering the self of the student.

Student wellbeing is more than simple observable changes in behavior or short-term boosts to motivation. Student wellbeing is the process of deep change—changing beliefs, assumptions, and paradigms of reality—for example, going from no hope to hope, from resignation to having dreams and a passion to pursue new possibilities, from anxiety and depression to inner peace and happiness.

How to encourage results in wellbeing

Best practices and methods are available for educators that focus on student self-understanding and awareness to produce transformational results in college-age adolescents and young adults. Whether leading the classroom, advising, or overseeing an internship, educators that apply wellbeing best practices effectively can impact their students in transformative ways.

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5 principles for thinking like a futurist

[Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission of the author and EDUCAUSE Review. Originally published in EDUCAUSE Review 54, no. 1 (Winter 2019)]

In 2018 we celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the Institute for the Future (IFTF). No other futures organization has survived for this long; we’ve actually survived our own forecasts! In these five decades we learned a lot, and we still believe—even more strongly than before—that systematic thinking about the future is absolutely essential for helping people make better choices today, whether you are an individual or a member of an educational institution or government organization. We view short-termism as the greatest threat not only to organizations but to society as a whole.

In my 20 years at the Institute, I’ve developed five core principles for futures thinking:

  1. Forget about predictions.
  2. Focus on signals.
  3. Look back to see forward.
  4. Uncover patterns.
  5. Create a community.

#1: Forget about predictions

If somebody tells you they can predict the future, don’t believe them. Nobody can predict large socio-technical transformations and what exactly these are going to look like. We are getting better at making point predictions. There are prediction markets and all kinds of data-rich tools with which we’re trying to predict elections, market share prices, and the success of product introductions. All of these focus on one particular event, a particular point. But a lot of our work at the Institute for the Future is focused on comprehending big, complex transformations—rather than just one thing, one event. We’re looking at the interconnection between technologies and society and economics and organizations.

One way to think about this is to look at the difference between waves and tides. Waves are what we see on the surface. They are fleeting events, they come and go, appear and disappear. But there is something bigger underneath that is causing these waves. Underneath the waves is the tide, causing all kinds of disturbances of which waves are just one sign. Our work involves trying to understand those tides, the deeper forces underneath the waves.

Futures thinking is about readiness

So, if no one can predict the future, why think about it? Because doing so helps you to inoculate yourself. In the medical field, inoculating yourself prevents you from falling ill. In futures thinking, if you’ve considered a whole range of possibilities, you’re kind of inoculating yourself. If one of these possibilities comes about, you’re better prepared.

Futures thinking is about seeing new possibilities

Thinking about the future is also about imagining. It’s about transforming how we think. It’s about creating a map to the future and looking for the big areas of opportunity. We like to think about transformations, for example, in learning and work, and how they get connected and intertwined in various ways. And then we start thinking about zones of opportunity. How can we shape the future to make it more equitable? How can we amplify learning outcomes? What do we need to do to achieve these outcomes?

The future doesn’t just happen to us. We have agency in imagining and creating the kind of future we want to live in, and we can take actions to get us there.

When we think about the future at the Institute, a 10-year horizon is our “sweet spot.” This is for multiple reasons. Ten years is a safe place. People don’t bring a lot of turf issues when thinking that far out, and they can agree on a desirable future to consider and to prepare for.

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Here’s how Indiana is closing the achievement gap

Nearly every state has put renewed emphasis on ensuring that more adults get a college degree, with Indiana as a shining example. According to a report from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the achievement gap between low-income and other student populations in the Hoosier State has narrowed by more than half and is projected to close completely by 2025. Much of the credit for this turnaround is due to Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars program.

The program is a need-based, state-aid initiative that pays up to four years of undergraduate tuition at any participating public college or university or a comparable amount for a private college. To qualify, high school students must meet 12 requirements, including attaining a GPA of at least 2.5, refraining from illegal drug use, and earning a Core 40 diploma.

Closing the achievement gap

At Indiana State University (ISU), about one in five entering freshmen are 21st Century Scholars. While the award money is earmarked for tuition, ISU also provides other aid for these scholars, such as housing and book allowances. When the program began, aid was available regardless of a student’s progress in college. About five years ago, however, the program switched to a more demanding schedule where students have to reach 30, 60, and 90 credit goals.

“There’s an intensive level of effort where we work with 21st Century Scholars because we want them to reach those milestones,” says Josh Powers, associate vice president for student success at ISU. “We do tons of things to instill pride. We immediately signal that they’re 21st Century Scholars. We want to be relentless in helping them [get their degree].”

Before the school year begins, scholars are invited to a pinning ceremony that recognizes their status and makes them feel that they belong in college. Speakers include students who are themselves 21st Century Scholars; incoming scholars recite a pledge to commit to their education, sign a banner, and receive a 21st Century Scholar pin.

Reaching out to first-generation students

ISU also has a student-led Scholar Corps organization for support, as well as a mentoring program where first-generation college students are matched with first-generation faculty or staff members. Some faculty even post a sticker on their office door with a message such as I WAS A FIRST-GEN IN COLLEGE. ASK ME MY STORY. “I cannot tell you how quickly the barriers go down when you recognize that this professor in front of you was that in high school or college,” Powers says.

The 21st Century Scholars program certainly helps more students stay on track for a timely graduation and allows ISU to fulfill its mission. But, Powers says, ISU also benefits in very practical terms. For example, it provides an important resource flow to the school, gives ISU higher visibility, and gains the attention of the state legislature and education commission.

For institutions that want to help their low-income or disadvantaged student populations and fulfill their state’s higher education graduation goals, Powers offers these suggestions:

  • Inclusiveness messaging. “It’s important to remind oneself that a student is not a monolith. It’s important to do some introspection about the messages you’re sending of belongingness and what you’re doing to meet them where they are.”
  • Financial literacy. ISU hires financial aid specialists during the summer to work individually with families and work through their financial circumstances.
  • Comprehensive support. ISU reinforces the message that asking for help is a sign of strength. For example, ISU has remedial math instruction so that students can get extra instruction and “really get down in the weeds and not feel uncomfortable that they’re going to be negatively viewed by the professor because they don’t understand something. It’s always a work in progress.”
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10 suggestions for smarter online course design

For every pilot flying an aircraft today, there is an instructor who made it happen. Teaching someone to fly an aircraft involves multiple layers of skill and ability, psychological intuition, courage, and logic. Online course design can benefit from what we have learned about teaching someone to fly.

Today, pilots can accomplish all knowledge-based training online and complete all airline jet flight training in a motion-based simulator. This technology is so realistic that a new First Officer joining an airline will begin flying passengers without having ever been in the actual airplane beforehand.

Online aviation courses have made similar advancement with designs that allow students to interact with aircraft systems animation. Students can turn virtual dials or push switches and watch what happens to the aircraft hydraulic system. While this technology achieves fantastic realism, online course design in aviation still relies on the basic understanding of how humans learn and how they react.

10 suggestions for smarter online course design

1. Provide a course syllabus with clearly defined course objectives at the beginning of the document. Save all the rules and regulations for the end. All higher-ed faculty create a syllabus anyway, but make sure the syllabus clearly shows the student not just what they will learn, but how the training will help them reach their goals.

2. Find out a little bit about the background and experiences of the student. If you have an introductory forum post, make it about more than just exchanging surface information. Take the time to learn about the students’ existing skills and knowledge. This will help you integrate the coursework with what they already know and help them relate personal experience to the learning process.

3. Let the student know everything that is expected of them right from the start. Make sure there are no moving targets. Students will get frustrated if they believe they have mastered a lesson or skill to a defined level, only to discover they are only halfway there.

4. Keep grading up to date and reward achievements often.

5. Students, especially adult learners, have a need to control the pace of an online course and to decide when they can start and finish a lesson. Try having just a few hard dates instead of making each lesson and each assignment start and stop at a strict time. This may not work well with group assignments such as discussions, but having quizzes available any time throughout the course will help the student feel they have some control over the lesson delivery and give them some freedom to handle personal schedule disruptions.

6. Adult learners have life experiences along with a desire to “self-design” a lesson. Take advantage of this by giving the student scenario-based training but make it real and relevant.

7. Student of all ages like student comradery. Instructors can fulfill two adult learner needs at once by creating self-directed projects that involve other students or use other people as resources, advisors, and mentors.

8. Use technology that fits the lesson, is easy to use, and readily available. No one wants to be required to learn how to use some new technology during a course. If new technology is required, then have a pre-course technology-training module before the course begins.

9. Treat the adult learner like an adult and refrain from spoon-feeding. Students learn when they have to think things through instead of reciting facts. The act of searching for information results in unintentional learning.

10. Remember that learning is a two-way street that requires a teacher and a student. Set a cooperative learning climate that involves effective communication in both directions. Try using your learning management system’s chat feature to improve availability and communication. It is doubtful that feature will get many users, but the fact that it is available demonstrates your commitment to communicate and aid your students.

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3 drivers of new online learning models

Online learning models are a higher-ed staple for many different reasons, including flexibility, availability to students in different geographical areas, and the ability to help workers build new skills or strengthen existing ones.

But now, online learning is on the verge of yet another revolution, in which students demand blended learning experiences, according to a whitepaper from Entangled Solutions. These learning models, which are a mix of online and face-to-face, in addition to other demands from a new generation of students, will require colleges and universities to rethink their online learning models.

“The future of work, indeed the future of our country, depends on our higher-education system thinking differently about how to prepare the next generation of talent,” writes Jeffrey Selingo, a senior strategist with Entangled Solutions, in the foreword. “The decade ahead will require institutions to ask the right questions about online education, to experiment, and attempt new approaches.”

Up to now, online learning has experienced four waves:

1. The first wave of higher-ed online learning offered non-credit offerings and a number of degree-granting, for-profit institutions such as University of Phoenix and Kaplan. For-profits experienced intense growth as the demand for online learning skyrocketed.

2. The second wave saw the rapid rise of online enrollments at institutions that emphasized their nonprofit status in order to distance themselves from for-profits, which started to experience federal investigations and increased regulation.

3. MOOCs dominated the third wave of online learning. Their free, open, and noncredit structure appealed to many, especially because many MOOCs came from prestigious universities such as MIT and Harvard. Many thought MOOCs had the potential to “democratize elite education and revolutionize the whole system of learning and credentialing.”

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6 lessons about campus redesign

New thinking in campus redesign about flexible learning and collaborative campus spaces, as well as smart re-use of space, is helping institutions become flexible and remain change-ready, effectively creating more efficient teaching and better, more cost-effective, long-range development planning.

So what, then, are some key principles in flexible use planning for the teaching environments of tomorrow?

1. Focus on student needs first

At Dunwoody College in Minneapolis, we’ve seen more change than most. When you’ve been around for a more than a century you learn—and re-learn—about evolving. Over the decades we’ve grown from one of the country’s earliest dedicated technical-education institutions to one that offers a Bachelor of Architecture, and a School of Engineering with four-year engineering degrees, in addition to a core set of offerings.

That evolution has taught us to focus on the needs of the students. How will they be taught? What new cutting-edge technologies are available? Which learning environments and physical spaces on our campus provide the optimal conditions for their success? These and other questions were part of our planning process before we embarked on phase one of a multi-year renovation that is reshaping the campus experience for our students.

2. Re-use and multi-use spaces to manage initial costs

Not every physical change to a campus means building new facilities from the ground up. The best higher-ed architecture partners now seek opportunities to re-imagine current square footage that is underutilized or serving an outdated function. In our case, that meant transforming 12,000 square feet of dormant gymnasium space first built in the 1920s and giving it new life as an open, two-story collaborative Learning Commons and Welcome Center, with double the square feet. Re-use can save thousands in construction costs and re-optimize the functional footprint of your existing campus structure for more modern day needs.

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