We just got back from the annual WCET Leadership Summit in Newport Beach, CA where we deliberated on how digital learning can help higher education can embrace:
Equity as a demonstrated priority for the institutions’ students, faculty, and staff.
Accessibility as the lens through which the institution examines its resources, policies, services, and infrastructure.
Data and evidence-based decision making for student success and ethical questions underlying analytics engines and edtech products.
We quickly changed this from digital learning to learning in general. With that shift, we were able to truly focus on the broader aspects of the impact of equity and access programs and how we can help students succeed.
What are WCET Leadership Summits?
WCET Leadership Summits typically go beyond the conference mold. Held each spring, they designed to bring together educational leaders and practitioners actively engaged in pursuing answers on a limited number of big focused questions in higher education.
The Summits have ranged in topics, from leading innovation, credentials, adaptive learning, data, and digital learning content.
We got great feedback this year! Attendees particularly appreciated the networking opportunities, the inclusive WCET community, sharing ideas with others, the group dinners (organized reservations at local restaurants that attendees sign up to join), and our outstanding panelists. “Networking” was a common phrase used by those who indicated the biggest value of the event.
Since it is hard to communicate the learning realized from the many small group and sidebar conversations, I will review the panels and breakout sessions. Thank you to my WCET team members who contributed their notes, comments, and editing skills to today’s post.
Opening Panel – Inclusion in Higher Education: Beyond a Promise to Action
With his usual inspirational flair, Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director of WCET, opened the Summit with a challenge to all of attendees: during the sessions, networking opportunities, and reflection times, make sure to ask: “what if” and “how?” And, most importantly, make sure that we all leave the Summit with actionable plans to take back to our institutions and organizations.
Mike’s opening was followed by our opening panel. Mike remained on the stage to moderate a great start to our Summit with panelists Kim Hunter Reed, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and Jose Fierro, President and Superintendent of Cerritos College in California. Kim and Jose discussed examples from working with institutions on inclusion. Kim started by reviewing Colorado’s work to erase equity gaps. Some of this work includes using a Lumina grant and state funding to increase work study, increase need-based aid, and begin their statewide OER initiative (check out a report on this initiative, worked on by WCET’s Director of Open Policy, Tanya Spilovoy).
Cerritos College in California is a minority serving institution. 75% of their students qualify for a fee waiver, 60% of students are first generation, and 35-45% live below the poverty line. As Jose said, equity and access conversations are very real because of the population they serve. Their institution has diversity and equity plans built into hiring and student success practices. They’ve even involved their community in developing such plans. We had great discussions about hiring practices, helping students believe in their own success, faculty support, using data and metrics, and obtaining executive level/higher-up support.
What is our hope and future for higher education? Kim advised that our guiding star should be a future where education is accessible by anyone and everyone.
What a start to our summit!
Panel 2 – Institutional Exemplars: Digital Learning Implementation Strategies to Improve Student Success
The second panel of the day included the following higher education leaders:
Fred Corey, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Arizona State University
Julie Greenwood, Associate Provost, Transformative Learning, Oregon State University
Jon Oelke, Assistant Professor, Wheeling Campus Academic Lead, and Psychology Content Lead Pathways Program, National Louis University
We started by learning more about each institution’s various learning programs, such as Oregon State University’s Adaptive Learning Ecosystem, National Louis’ redesigned undergraduate program, and the Adaptive and Interactive classroom learning models used at Arizona State.
The panelists also described the high impact elements of their programs. Immediate feedback through adaptive, digital technologies makes a strong and lasting effect on student success. The use of data allows institutions to analyze programs, initiatives, courses, and strategies. And if those initiatives/programs, etc. aren’t working, stop doing them! Data can tell you if you’re investing appropriately for all students. Data can also be used to find which of your instructors are having the most success and apply what they do in their classroom to other classes.
Panel 3 – Ethical and Effective Uses of Student Data (by the Institution, Faculty, and Students)
Our first afternoon panel included:
John Fritz, Associate Vice President, Instructional Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Iris Palmer, Senior Policy Analyst, Education Policy, New America.
Van Ton-Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor, Workforce and Digital Futures, Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges.
Phil Hill, Co-Publisher, e-Literate (moderator).
We learned that ethical and effective uses of student data require a sound data governance structure. This structure should include a data dictionary, so all stakeholders are speaking the same language. If a campus is using data analytics well they are extending the use beyond a single course.
A large part of the conversation centered on student data and accompanying interventions. I enjoyed the discussion of the ethics of student nudges (or the ethics of not intervening if the data seems to say you should). As our panelists asked, “what is an institutions’ ethical obligation of knowing?”
As many who participated in the Summit twitter backchannel noted, a huge takeaway from this panel was the significance of how to word interventions for true effectiveness in helping students without hurting them.
It’s also important to use data to “share a light on success,” as this is the way to “change the culture” for our campuses.
Panel 4 – Moving Towards a Campus Climate of Universal Access for All
Mark Jenkins, Director, e-Learning/Open Education and Coordinator, Accessible Technology Initiatives, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
Cheryl Pruitt, Director, Accessible Technology Initiative, Chancellor’s Office, California State University System.
Tom Cavanagh, Vice Provost for Digital Learning, University of Central Florida (moderator).
The key takeaway for me from this session were:
Every learner is in a different place in their educational journey. Our job is to give them the resources they need to be successful.
I loved how the panelists focused on accessibility and universal design as an opportunity, as Mark Jenkins put it, to reflect on what you are doing from a compliance or inclusive standpoint.
Often, campuses wait to act on accessibility issues until compelled to act due to a legal challenge. While litigation can be a great nudge to get us started in the right direction, isn’t it better to create proactive policies and initiatives instead of waiting for litigation or compliance issues?
Panel 5 – Reducing Equity Gaps for All Learners: How to Get Started, How to Get Everyone Involved, How to Track and Measure Success
The panelists included:
Andriel Dees, Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Capella University.
Jill Leafstedt, Executive Director, Teaching and Learning Innovations, and Senior Academic Technology Officer, California State University, Channel Islands.
Gonzalo Perez, Associate Vice President, Academic Affairs, Coconino Community College.
Sally Johnstone, President, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (moderator).
The panelists discussed how their institutions are working toward reducing equity gaps. Each of these institutions had large populations of underrepresented and underserved students. Jill made a poignant statement about the impact of education, not only for each of our students, but on their entire family tree. Students receiving an education change the lives of everyone in their family (those family members are potential students as well!). Andriel spoke of Capella’s “Pyramid of Inclusion” and how they address equity gaps through curricular cultural competency, work study programs, career development, and assistance with “anything that goes into that journey to your doctorate.”
I particularly enjoyed the video about how Coconino Community College is literally flying through the Grand Canyon in helicopters in to assist rural communities who do not have any access to education! Gonzalo also spoke about using data to highlight success rates and the outstanding success they’ve had with dual enrollment courses (which have grown 64% in the last year alone!). Their model for dual enrollment instruction (the college instructor is the instructor of record and guides the instructor, but the local high school instructor augments that instruction in the high school classroom) sounds like the best of both worlds and will address some of the accreditation challenges with dual enrollment credentialing.
Panel 6 – Thinking Beyond the Institution: Other “Actors” to Advance Ethical and Equitable Access to Education and Opportunity (a Spontaneous ‘Design Thinking” Discussion)
The panelists included:
Fred Corey, Vice President for Undergraduate Education, Arizona State University.
Jose Fierro, President/Superintendent, Cerritos College.
Sharon Leu, Senior Policy Advisor, Higher Education Innovation, Office of Educational Technology, U.S Department of Education.
Cecilia Retelle Zywicki, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Wiley Education Services.
Michael Berman, Chief Innovation Officer and Deputy CIO, Chancellor’s Office, California State University (moderator).
I was struck by one of the first comments of the panel: why should we care about the equity gap? Because, we’re human.
We were reminded that by 2020 60% of jobs will need a postsecondary credential. But we have a long way to go if we’re going to meet that requirement (good point Cecilia!). Jose pointed out that we need to change our funding model if we really want an educated population from one that focuses on mere headcount to equity-based funding.
Sharon advised that today’s students and today’s educational opportunities are not the same as those in the past. We cannot use the past to help us solve the problems of today. We need to change the language we use and the culture around education, so we can address systematic inequalities. Jose continued this line of thought by encouraging us to decrease the stigma around trades related education. We need to showcase the value of this education and these jobs. Finally, Fred asked us to focus our attention on students that truly need us; those who are refugees, those who are hungry or have no homes, the students that really need our societal help.
Breakout Session Conversations
The breakout sessions this year were a bit different. Instead of smaller sessions on different topics, the sessions were opportunities for deeper dives with the panelists. While many of the discusses entered into what I will call “no tweet zones” (and therefore, I don’t feel comfortable summarizing them here either), here are some of the topics discussed in the sessions I attended:
Student engagement tools: these tools are becoming more engaging. Students can become more involved and have fun in the classroom.
Data: the most effective use, particularly of data dashboards, is when faculty understand them and are empowered to act upon what the data says.
BYOD: despite many (MANY) conversations around whether to allow technology devices in the classroom, our participants believe that faculty who embrace device use in the classroom (by involving devices in their instructional activities) are more engaging and the devices become less of a problem).
Student accommodations: Accommodations include environment accommodations, like not using chairs that swivel or make strange sounds. Accommodations like this decrease distraction and make environments more comfortable for all learners.
Online education can be a great equalizer. Students with disabilities can participate in educational opportunities that were previously not open to them. But, online environments may also hide disabilities (and instructors may not know students need accommodations).
A suggested solution: Don’t just offer accommodations when a student discloses a disability. Instead, offer accommodations as options for all students. For example, allow students to select how they will receive feedback (via video, meeting, written feedback, etc.), or let them choose the format for their final project.
We learned about Wichita State’s accessibility programs, particularly their work to train students to make their class presentation accessible for all learners. “When you make material accessible for one, you make it better for everyone.”
When implementing a new initiative, keep in mind that the focus should be on the people and not the technology. The leadership to run an implementation can happen from all levels; from those at the top to those who are on the front lines and have the tools to make the project happen. Highlight champions to encourage grassroot efforts.
To use data effectively, encourage participation with your faculty and students. While many faculty may have a “gut feeling” about how their course is going, the data may not represent that. Have a conversation with faculty about data and what it means for them and their students. Data by itself is not very interesting. It’s the words, the visualization, and the contents that tells the real story.
Closing Session – Our Incoming Freshman Class of 2022. What Will Your Institution Do to Best Serve these Students? How Do Your Faculty Utilize All of the Digital Learning Resources that May Improve Student Engagement and Learning?
Our closing session focused on the future. How can institutions prepare to best serve tomorrow’s students?
The final panelists included:
Andriel Dees, Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Capella University.
Jill Leafstedt, Executive Director, Teaching & Learning Innovations, California State University, Channel Islands.
Kim Hunter Reed, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Higher Education.
I was particularly thrilled to experience a closing panel of all women at this conference. Conference panels often lack diversity, but I’m proud that the Summit was different.
All three panelists focused on building momentum and closing equity gaps. Is the future focused only on bachelor’s degrees? Or can we serve all our students, even those who aren’t gaining a bachelor’s?
We also discussed digital literacy and digital citizenship. We need to teach our students, starting when they are young!, how to be citizens in this digital world of ours.
A major takeaway: let’s change the thinking away from “equitable access” and focus more on “equitable success.” We’ve go to be all-in in our approach and include everyone on our campus in helping increase equity and student success.
Final/closing session with Mike
Remember Mike’s challenge? To ask the tough questions (why? and how?) and to learn practical, actionable steps to take back home? I feel the panels provided examples for those action items and the breakout sessions provided ample opportunity to ask questions.
Mike closed the Summit with some closing reflections: “This work is about people (leaders, teachers, and students) not about hardware and software. This work is about student success and empowering faculty and staff to help students succeed.”