Four Common Strategies for Delivering and Sustaining Virtual Student Support

One of my favorite parts of the work I get to do for WCET is helping to honor our members and colleagues in the field that accomplish outstanding acts of service dedicated to improving student success in higher education. That’s why I’m thrilled this week to welcome Alexa Wesley, the Director for Research and Strategy with NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, to highlight the recent winners of NASPA’s Virtual Innovation awards. the awards showcase institutions of higher education that demonstrate exemplar academic, financial, and motivational support for students. Thank you Alexa for sharing more about these institutions and congratulations to the winners!

Enjoy the read,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

The pandemic has prompted long overdue change in how institutions approach supporting and engaging students across multiple modalities. For many institutions, COVID-19 put a spotlight on the inequities present in systems meant to ensure access to support and connection-building opportunities for students in virtual spaces. In response, colleges and universities have had to think creatively about how to leverage technology to better meet students where they are and to provide high-quality virtual experiences.

virtual innovation awards logo

To help elevate promising practices happening in the field, NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education identified ten institutions as recipients of this year’s Virtual Innovation Awards: Excellence in Delivering Virtual Student Services. The process revealed a wide range of approaches taken by institutions of all types and sizes to foster a sense of virtual community for students. The accomplishments of the award recipients are set apart from other submissions due to their ability to be sustainable, scalable, and their potential to serve as innovative models for other institutions to adopt. Each of these institutions demonstrate how people, process, and purpose are core to realizing the promise of technology in optimizing virtual student support.

There is no one size fits all approach for translating a culture of care into virtual spaces; however, the institutions recognized here do share several key elements critical to their efforts. These key elements are presented below as four strategies that other institutions can use to deliver quality support for virtual students.

1. Provide opportunity for student feedback throughout the support design and validation process.

Montgomery County Community College logo

Montgomery County Community College created a student usability board of 12 students to provide continuous feedback on the Montco Connect platform – a centralized communications portal for students to receive personalized academic content, resources, and virtual engagement opportunities in “feed” view. Students receive a one-credit stipend for each term of service. The college intentionally recruits board members who are demographically diverse and who have varying levels of involvement so that student voices reflect the makeup of the student body. Students have been involved in all phases of the Montco Connect adoption process, and they continue to provide guidance on feature implementation.

California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) applied knowledge of its unique student population to design the tone and voice of its artificial intelligence chatbot, Ekhobot, which provides 24/7 support and social communication with students. The warm personality of the AI-powered texting platform facilitates low-stakes informal interactions with students and provides CSUCI with information needed to understand the student perspectives in real time. Ekhobot is closely connected with CSUCI’s Learning Online 101 micro-course for students, as student responses to the bot’s campaigns are used to continuously improve the course curriculum.    

UofF logo

The University of Florida gathers feedback from students who participate in Multicultural and Diversity Affairs’ virtual early arrival programs (EAP) focusing on building community for Black, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander and Desi students. Peer leaders play a meaningful role in EAP curriculum improvement and idea generation for short social media activities as some students find it difficult to engage in virtual spaces for long durations. For example, peer leaders for the Pledging to Advance Academic Capacity Together program created a dance slide video on Instagram (see the @ufpaact August 26, 2020 post) and students would vote on their favorite slide, learn the dance, and record themselves doing the slide. Another example of student feedback informing future practices was the transition of peer leaders taking on more internship-type responsibilities for the virtual programs.

2. Collaborate with faculty, staff, and students throughout the institution to maximize the reach of virtual support.

SDSU logo

San Diego State University engages with students through a number of virtual initiatives – including an admitted student program called Virtual Explore SDSU and other first-year student programs – administered and coordinated by cross-divisional teams, including faculty, staff, student leaders, and peer mentors. Cross-divisional teams receive joint training from academic affairs and student affairs to promote shared understanding of relevant policies, resources, and opportunities. The leadership team coordinates a master calendar of planned interventions and circulates information about priorities, initiatives and training materials to campus. Additionally, the institution prioritizes equity, inclusion, and technology initiatives by including these elements in SDSU’s strategic plan. This ensures that the campus has a shared vision to help drive collaboration and enable its systems and programs to work in tandem.

NAU logo

Northern Arizona University (NAU) regularly connects with partners across the institution to maximize the impact of its wide span of virtual engagement offerings, including YourPath@NAU – a competency-based student engagement mobile app featuring virtual connection-building activities. The student affairs’ business analyst role is especially critical to NAU’s efforts, as it is focused on translating the division’s vision into actionable language for the information technology services division to implement. Tapping into existing collaborations is also key as NAU’s chief information officer was instrumental in working with the vice president for tribal initiatives to provide access to technology for students in rural communities.

3. Centralize information so it is easy for students to find.

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) leveraged in-house technologies and systems to offer coordinated, responsive systems of virtual support to address multiple areas of student wellbeing, including:

BMCC logo
  • financial aid (technology, food, and emergency),
  • career development,
  • academic,
  • mental health, and
  • co-curricular needs.

BMCC offers multiple virtual cohort-experience programs to ensure that every student has access to tailored information and points of contact to answer questions. BMCC also hosts “student hours” and virtual town hall meetings over videoconferencing platforms for students to voice concerns, questions and requests and have them addressed on the spot. Virtual front desk office hours for different departments are easily found on a student resources webpage.

Houston Community College (HCC) scaled out its Live Virtual Lobby across the district. The Live Virtual Lobby screens and triages students into appropriate breakout rooms by a student services staff member to have private, one-on-one real time services provided. To promote awareness of the service, HCC shared the link out on its webpage and through social media, and advisors and support staff set-up email autoreplies and voicemails to provide directions for students on where to access the Virtual Lobby.

Georgia State University (GSU) introduced and integrated new virtual services into the institution’s network of timely, holistic supports that address all areas of the student experience. The university’s online Panther Involvement Network connects new students to a cluster of student leaders and organizations and directs communications to them based on their interests and affiliations. GSU also utilizes chatbot technology through the PantherAnswer tool to answer student questions, schedule appointments, or connect with various offices and staff.

4. Use multiple sources of institutional data to inform proactive and nimble outreach efforts. 

Bay Path University (BPU) quickly adapted to the pandemic conditions as it applied successful practices and virtual supports of the Social Online Universal Learning Approach already in place for online students in the American Women’s College. This included sharing predictive data in student engagement and performance dashboards, case rules and automation through the CRM system, and virtual faculty early alert tools with its traditionally in-person student population. Each student’s success team shares feedback and data through electronic forms to highlight individual needs and tailor proactive interventions. Having a pre-existing data-enabled approach allowed BPU to easily scale its own virtual to provide high-quality virtual supports for all students.

UA logo

University of Arizona launched a Student Data Insights Strategy Team as part of its Student Success and Retention Innovation unit – a hub of eight distinct departments and a strategy team – to monitor student access to virtual services and identify actionable insights. The data team is small and agile, as members meet weekly to provide quick turnaround data insights about virtual engagement initiatives – including the introduction of a micro-affirmation social media campaign to build student morale – and identify opportunities for improvement.

Looking Ahead

Insights gleaned from the variety virtual innovations scaled up during the pandemic may help inform institutional efforts to adopt long-term, hybrid approaches to serving students who engage both in-person and online. Lessons learned here can help contribute to new understandings of the future of student supports, regardless of the delivery method. Congratulations again to all of this year’s recipients and thank you to all who participated in our award program this year.

For more information about winners of NASPA’s Virtual Innovation Awards, please visit


21st Century Credentials: Telling the Story of the Whole Student

conference room full of peopleEarlier this month WCET’ers gathered in Salt Lake City to have frank discussions and hear from leading experts in the somewhat nebulous construct of 21st Century Credentials. There is no way I can replicate the conversations held, the discussions, the debate in a blog post. But I can distill some of the themes and learning I walked away with and point you to the resources from the 2016 WCET Leadership Summit.

Higher Ed Facing a “Trust Bust”
In our first plenary of the day, Mary Alice McCarthy of the New America Foundation confessed if you’d asked 5 years ago, she never would have guessed today’s conversation would be focused on credentials – I beg to say not many, if any, of us did. Sure, efforts like the Degree Qualifications Profile were underway five years ago, and Mozilla had started the Open Badges movement, and Sebastian Thrun was calling for the end of higher education as we know it through MOOCs. All of these conversations danced with the idea of alternative credentials and defining what a degree really means. They brought us to the place we are today, talking about credentials, how they relate to curriculum and enrollment and employment.

Ryan Craig, managing partner of University Ventures, started with two salient points about why we in higher education are having this conversation exploring credentials.

  • We’re beyond the ‘take our word for it’ era – there is a loss of faith in the greater community about what higher education does.
  • Technology has changed the game – learning is ubiquitous and is pushing higher education toward unbundling the degree.

We are facing, as Craig termed it, a “trust bust” – both from the employer community and our learners. They no longer accept “trust us” with regard to our faculty’s ability to teach well or the skills contained within a degree. Jeff King, executive director, Center for Excellence in Transformative Learning, University of Central Oklahoma shared that the academic record of the future needs to show what students can do – transcripts are too opaque and are no longer being used by businesses. Hiring managers are using applicant tracking systems with sophisticated algorithms to filter resumes by keywords and then doing their own testing of prospective hires rather than trusting their credentials.

This all adds up to a loud call, a wake up call, if you will to the higher education community to drastically rethink how we demonstrate student learning and credential achievement. It was noted that grades are a proxy not necessarily indicative of what a student knows because they can be effected or skewed by poor assessments and failure of work ethic (i.e. an A paper might get a C because it was 3 days late). This circles back to being able to show what a student can do – to providing work samples, the authentic assessments that underlie credentials, not just grades.

Tell the Story of the Whole Student
Throughout the next day, the theme came up over and over again of what I’ve termed ‘telling the story of the whole student.’ Tactically we talked about extended transcripts and portfolios, competencies with rich, authentic assessments that produce work students can showcase when they go out onto the job market. We talked about being inclusive of the learning that occurs in college outside of the classroom through work experiences, campus leadership experiences, and extracurricular adventures. We even discussed how internships and other experiences not sanctioned through the institution but verified by an employer or other certifying entity might be included in the students learning record. Moving forward it will no longer be suitable to our students or their employers to simply provide that they got a A in English 101 – they’ll want to know why, how and what evidence there is of the learning and the skills developed. It will take radical shifts in all of our systems – the alphabet soup of linked (or sometimes not) software that we use to track students fiscally, academically, and out into their time as alumni. And it will take collaboration – both internally within institutions and externally with employers and solution providers to make it work.

Empower Students in Their Own Learning Journey
It’s one thing to showcase students work through the next generation of learning record, but the added layer of complexity is helping our students understand why they are learning what they are learning and then be able to be self-advocates on the job market, using their work samples to illustrate what they know and can do. Two e-portfolio companies we had at the Summit Portfolium and Foliotek, both grew out of a pain-point for their founders. For Chris Miller, CEO of Foliotek, it was watching his newly graduated daughter struggle to showcase the knowledge and skills she developed when she hit the job market – leading a caring dad to attack it, ‘there’s got to be a better way.’ Similarly, Adam Markowitz, Founder and CEO of Portfolium, was literally a rocket scientist, his lifelong dream, who left in order to launch a marketplace to help students showcase the skills and knowledge they gained at the university to potential employers.

slide what do we mean by credentialsPortfolios are one way to help students explicate what they know and can do to employers. Another way, discussed at the Summit and through the many other connected credentials discussions  with Lumina Foundation, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, IMS Global, and the American Council on Education, is to clearly delineate the competencies associate with the work students do in college. It was suggested in many ways throughout the two days, that institutions who are not working with employers to define the competencies they need in graduates, will be left behind. And that graduates who do not have a clear understanding of their competencies and the work samples that support them will then suffer on the job market as employers turn to competency hiring rather than depending on the proxy of a college degree.

Again, this is not an easy task – there is no silver bullet. No one thing that will magically make competencies apparent and explicable by students. No one thing that will integrate all institutional systems to support next generation learning records. No one thing that will satisfy employers that your students have the knowledge, skills and work ethic they need to succeed. But it will take one thing – collaboration – within and external to the institution. Opening a multi-modal communication channel between and among internal and external stakeholders is the first step in making these changes.

WCET is The Place
Our Thursday morning moderator, Nick White, WCET Steering Committee chair and director of competency-based learning, Capella University told the story of the last time he was in Salt Lake City with his family and his then 3 and 5 year old daughters were into both make believe and chores. So, he took them to a park in Salt Lake City called “This is the Place Park” which holds significance for the Mormon church as the very place Salt Lake was chosen for their headquarters. They had the time of their year beating the dust out of rugs. Nick then, far more artfully than I am here, tied it back to being in a room full of like minds. That WCET is The Place. Many of us may have a hard time explaining to our friends, to people outside of our area of expertise, what the heck it is we do. But here, at WCET and specifically at this Summit, we are among colleagues, where we can think bigger and can meet new people who share our passions, vision, and mission.

I encourage you to watch the videos, check out the slides, the infographics, the amazing twitter backchannel, and other resources developed in support of the WCET Summit. I invite you to join the conversation at our 28th WCET Annual Meeting (registration is open, the full program will be live soon). Engage with your colleagues through the WCET member email list. Because WCET truly is the place where ideas take form and colleagues share pragmatic solutions.


CaliMorrison0615Cali Morrison
Communications Manager


Edtech is a Human Experience: My First SXSWedu

Sometimes you have to start at the end to see the beginning more clearly.  On my {somewhat delayed} journey home from SXSWedu, our Mike Abbiatti posed the question, “if technology is all it’s cracked up to be, why do we spend so much time in airplanes and hotels?”  

Sasha Thackaberry & Cali Morrison selfie at SXSWedu
Smiles of like minds colliding at SXSWedu. Thanks for the great convos & saving me a seat, Sasha!

For me this is a simple answer. We’re human.  No matter how good virtual reality gets or artificial intelligence becomes, no matter how slick the graphics in an app, how sensitive the haptic feedback, as long as there are still human beings, there will be an instinctual desire to shake a hand, share a hug, or dance to the piano man.

This is the heart and soul of my SXSWedu experience – the opportunity to connect with far-flung WCET’ers, meet some of my twitter pals who live across the world, connect with edtech entrepreneurs who are breaking the mold in how we help students learn, and have some really intriguing conversations with changemakers at the pre-K and K-12 levels.  

Many will talk about SXSWedu as the place where disruption starts or as a place where the educator’s voice is left by the wayside but my experience was more about the conversations in the backchannel and side hallways.  

Learning is Earning 2026

image of the display of conversations in the learning is earning 2016 game
A look at how the top 20 futures connected through this game.

One of the more intriguing and pivotal pieces of my SXSWedu experience was getting started in the Learning Is Earning 2026 game developed by Jane McGonigal, Institute for the Future, with the ACT Foundation.  I came across this in the expo hall (which, btw, is open to the public and there were busloads of high school students checking out their postsecondary education options) where ITTF had a slick booth and got me set up with a log-in. After I left the expo hall, I basically forgot about it….until the next morning when McGonigal gave her keynote address “How to Think (and Learn) like a Futurist.”  

It was during this talk I fully engaged with the game.  It was a set timeframe game, where we were asked to envision the future of education, based off some basic tenets set forth in the game-play rules, and share as many visions of the future as we could before 9pm on March 9th.  You share your ideas and together with the other players, you build those ideas with the pros, the cons, and what-ifs for each of those clusters.  I’m not going to sugar coat it, I became obsessed with the game. Maybe not as much as those in the top 10, but I did finish at 70th of 2068 players. Let’s say I have a slightly competitive spirit and a lot of ideas about what we can and should be doing in education 10 years from now. However, the game tech was fairly simple — its power was as a conduit for human connection, human interaction and the way, especially in education, ideas build upon one another.  This reminds me that the technology should be invisible, the learning should be evident.

Humans on the Other End of the Line

Speaking of being invisible, your use of data to support students, should be invisible to students as well. They should, of course, know that you are collecting millions of data points on them as they move through their postsecondary career and that the purpose in doing so is to support their learning.  However, as Mike Sharkey, vice president of analytics at Blackboard, pointed out to a completely sold out room, an advisor should never pick up the phone and say, “Based on your data, you have a 47% chance of failing this course.”  We have to always remember there are other human beings on the other end of that line and that many of our students are one piece of bad intel, one ‘life happens’ moment away from becoming a non-completion statistic.  


Garn, Corona, Thorne, Gorske panel
Myk Garn played provocateur with a panel of working learners enrolled in competency-based education programs and PelotonU.

This was totally evident in another key session for me which featured a panel of three students currently enrolled in competency-based education programs and supported by the start up Peloton U.  MC’d by long-time WCET’er, Myk Garn, these three students shared their experiences as working-learning adults.  Personally, as a proponent of competency-based education, what I heard from these students was reaffirming.  Their CBE program had helped them ‘chart a path from point a to point b,’ and ‘without it, I don’t know where I’d be.’   In a showing of the “Myk-style” we all enjoy at WCET events, he asked “I’ve heard CBE is a cold, lonely experience. There’s no one to share onion bagels with at the student union.”  Which of course drew a laugh, but also some very considerate responses from students.  One student pointed out he actually likes working alone, but that he was never alone because he was always supported by his mentor.  Another said, she connects just like we’re all doing here – through social media with others who are doing what she’s doing and that her mentor never lets her down.  The overall feeling that a human, learning connection is lost in online, competency-based education programs was disavowed, at least by  these students.

Another unique piece to these students experience is they are all part of Peloton U — a startup non-profit in Austin, TX which helps working, learning adults get connected with high quality online programs and provides them with an office to do their work and receive tutoring and mentoring support.  Again, bringing that visceral connection to a tech-driven education experience. As a boutique model, they are doing very well.  They survived the Shark Tank edu but the biggest questions they still have to answer are scalability and sustainable funding model.  This is definitely something I’ll keep an eye on for you, WCET’ers.

It’s all About Learner Experience

There were many, many sessions about instructional design and learner experience sprinkled throughout SXSWedu.  One I chose to attend was “Creating Viral-Worthy Creative Classroom Content” arranged by Strayer University to showcase the different technologies they are piloting to bring content to their students that will capture their attention better than cats singing Frozen on YouTube.  The panel reminded us that learner experience starts at the first interaction, during recruitment, not at enrollment, which I agree is often overlooked.  However, the meat of the session came down to – tell a story that is compelling to students, and they’ll stay engaged with it.  Even better, as Douglas Fajardo, CEO of Mirum Miami, noted, “when students get the opportunity to create, it brings great learning opportunity.” My biggest takeaways from this session are be where your students are, engage with them in ways they wish to engage, and involve them in the process of creating the content which fits your curriculum.

Breaking the University from the Inside Out

Another thread where the undercurrent of human connection popped up was in the closing day session put together by Allison Salisbury, director of higher education strategy for EdSurge, featuring Josh Kim, Dartmouth College; Sean Hobson, Arizona State University; and Paul Freedman, Engangled Ventures. The discussion was centered on how edtech companies and institutions can work together in better ways to solve educational problems. But the conversations revolved around topics I consider human connection problems:

  1. The edtech community is small, we all know each other.  If you show up to our community just pushing a product, we’ll retract like turtle — into our hard shell. If you join our community as yourself first, as a colleagues, you’re more likely to be heard. As Josh Kim put it, “You need long-term relationships, not another product.”
  2. Pursue the answer to a question, to a recognized problem, together — engage both industry and institution in the solution. Design should be a shared process.
  3. Institutions need to come into the era of transparency. If you can’t open up and look at your own barriers, any product will just be a bandaid. Know that product developers have good intentions but if you leave them blind, they will be constantly looking for the lightswitch to illuminate your problem and may never come to a solution that works.

My suggestion, let’s not just break the university to put it back together the way it’s always been, like a 5 year old with their first engineering kit.  Let’s break it apart and remix it to help our learners gain the knowledge and skills they need to be engaged citizens, lifelong learners AND successful in the workplace.

And the Beat Goes On…

If I tried to cram all my experiences into this blog, it would become the War & Peace of blog posts.  I very much enjoyed getting to attend the Gates Foundation’s Imagicon (though side note, it was not what I had imagined, ha!) and their discussion of personalized learning.   I thoroughly enjoyed when Mike Buttry, Capella University, compared digital badges to ramen noodles (some are full-flavored and bursting with nutrition, some are dry and packaged in cellophane) while noting the importance of the metadata underlying them. And in the same panel, Jake Schwartz, CEO of General Assembly, asked “Should liberal arts cost more than a house to acquire?”

Let me not forget to mention the great edtech companies I interacted with at SXSWedu (by no means a comprehensive list, see War & Peace comment above, in alpha order):

  • Cerego: This adaptive learning product, uses predictive performance to help students recognize when they might forget a concept if they don’t review it…and then provides them with the content to stay fresh.  Cerego won the best product of the Gates Foundation Imagicon during SXSWedu.
  • Foliotek: From the name of it, you might put together that they offer e-portfolios, which they definitely do – in a way that is not only useful for the institution but which student can use to showcase their skills and abilities to the outside world. What really intrigues me about this solution, is the assessment and strategic data side of it. They are using assessment data from the e-portfolios to help build accreditation review packages. It’s technology that can help students and institutions demonstrate actual learning through capturing authentic assessments. (As a former assessment specialist, I swoon over this idea.)
  • Kurzweil Education: provides tools which overlay content in order to help students who have literacy challenges unlock their potential.
  • Mirum Learning: Phil Ice, formerly of APUS and principal investigator of the WCET-incubated PAR Framework, has joined this team which is looking to combine creative services and learning science in new ways to bring rich, dynamic media to course environments. This  could change the way our students literally look at learning by bringing them content that is engaging and on that extension of their hand known as a mobile device.

SXSWedu was an amazing experience, one I’d like to have again. Though I’ll be sure to plan my travel better to not miss anything and bring my wellies for that springtime Austin rain. I’d love to hear from other WCET’ers who were at SXSWedu — what moved you? Would you go again?  


CaliMorrison0615Cali Morrison

Manager, Communications




Three A’s Driving the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act

This summer the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor & Pensions) Committee has begun the process of reauthorizing the Higher Education Act of 1965.  As some of you have experienced in previous reauthorizations, the committee has been holding hearings to determine what key factors of the Act that need updates.  Through modern technology I have been able to watch the hearings from my little office in the outskirts of Bozeman, MT and am happy today to bring you a little bit of what I’ve learned—three A’s are driving this round of reauthorization – Access, Affordability, and Accountability.

Consumer Information

HELPcomm5-6-15In the first of the spring hearings, the Committee addressed the issue of consumer information in college choice – what do students want and need to know?  As Senator Alexander pointed out, it’s been said that the U.S. Department of Education does a far better job of collecting data about colleges than they do of disseminating that information to students in a manner that makes sense to them.  The current vehicle for sharing that data is College Navigator, which can be hard for students to navigate and understand.  The witnesses also stressed that any consumer information produced must include information on sub-baccalaureate degrees.   And that we need to battle the fixation to only provide data at the institutional level — program level data is the most helpful for students to make informed choices about their postsecondary education options.  During this hearing, a recent student talked about how a chance encounter with a poster at a YWCA is what led her to a program which helped her gain the confidence to enroll and complete college.  She stressed, as did others on the panel, that having caring counselors at teh disposal of students who can help them translate what higher ed jargon means is extremely important to the success of especially first-time, first-generation students.

Skin in the Game

In the second hearing the Committee explored the idea of institutional risk sharing in student loan defaults.  By this they are proposing that institutions will be held accountable for a portion of the student loans from their students that go into default.  Douglas Webber, a professor at Temple University made the point that his research suggested that if institutions were to assume some of this risk, tuition would raise an estimated 1 -2 %.  There was also a lot of talk of limiting the ability of students to borrow more than what tuition and fees are, especially for part-time students.  How this affects you, our members, if the committee limits the use of student loans for living expenses for part-time students, it’s a short, slippery slope to cutting the ability for online students, even full-time, to receive student loans to cover living and miscellaneous expenses.


In the third hearing, the HELP committee approached the topic of affordability directly.  Several of the experts attested to the burden of the FAFSA and advocated for paperwork simplification.  With simpler processing they suggested reallocating those counselors who help students fill out the paperwork for the more challenging and important task to advising students on academics and counseling them on financial planning/understanding what their loans mean.  They also talked about the shrinking state contributions to higher education and how the federal government can incentivize states to continue to contribute to higher education. This had both sides through the carrot of less regulation and the stick of more regulation, depending on which side was talking.  Otherwise as one person said, we’ll end up with a federal system of higher education rather than a state system of higher education.

Accreditation’s Role in Ensuring Quality

During this fourth hearing, which focused on accreditation’s role in ensuring quality, it’s important and interesting to note that there were NO regional accreditors on the expert panel testifying at the hearing.  Three of the witnesses, Peter Ewell, George Pruitt (President of Thomas Edison State College), and Albert Gray (CEO of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools) advocated for change not, in Peter’s words “blowing up” the current accreditation system. Pruitt suggested that we should divorce the quality assurance portion of accreditation and the compliance work the accrediting agencies are mandated to do by the Department of Ed.

Anne Neal, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said we should blow up accreditation and let the Department of Ed decide if a subset of ‘known entities’ are producing quality without accreditation (think Harvard, big 10, etc.) She suggested a model like LEED certification for higher education accreditation – voluntary, market-based and not the gatekeeper for federal dollars.  To me, this sure sounds like the accountability efforts which emerged after the Spelling’s Commission report in 2006 – Voluntary System of Accountability, Transparency by Design, UCAN, and Voluntary FrMerisotisLeBlanc7-22-15amework of Accountability… If you ask the average student on the street, from my experience, they would not be able to name any of these.

Exploring Barriers and Opportunities Within Innovation

In the fifth hearing, the witnesses were: Mr. Jamie P. Merisotis President And Chief Executive Officer Lumina Foundation; Dr. Barbara Gellman-Danley President Higher Learning Commission; Dr. Paul J. LeBlanc President Southern New Hampshire University; Mr. Michael B. Horn Co-Founder And Executive Director, Education Programs Clayton Christensen Institute. As this was the hearing on innovation, there was quite the robust twitter backchannel during this hearing.  I Storify‘d the tweets, if you’re interested.

The take away learning from this session:

  • Gellman:
    • Good innovation cannot be legislated. Legislators need to step back & allow creative people to do their good work.  Remove the regulatory/compliance barriers on accreditors and they can better assess innovative programs.
    • There are over 100 regulatory statues that govern the business of accreditation.
  • LeBlanc:
    • Title 1 constrains innovation because of the language related to ‘regular & substantive contact with faculty’ that was written in a time before the internet to distinguish correspondence courses from other offerings.
    • Title 4 is a barrier because all of its timeline restrictions such as disbursements are tied to the credit hour. Competency-based education is trying to break the dependence on time as a measure of learning.
    • Focus on outcomes, rigorous assessments & transparency, demand focus on outcomes not inputs. Create safe innovation spaces for institutions and for accreditors.
    • The accreditation site visit is antiquated — looking at the data analytics for a program is what should be happening now, that’s where you can really see the outcomes.
    • He expressed over and over again, just assigning experimental sites without evaluation and sharing of the learning is a waste and won’t move us in the direction we need to go.
  • Merisotis:
    • Today’s student is nothing like the student of 1965.
    • Put student learning at the center. Defining clear student outcomes will allow competition to emerge and bring costs down.
    • We’re all for affordability, however none of us have a common definition of what affordability means.
  • Horn:
    • Disruptive innovation is the process that makes services more afforadable and accessible to all.
    • Disruptive innovation often happens in those spaces where the choice is really no choice at all.  It happens in marginalized places/populations.  Shared the example of Learn Up started by two guys who had spent 6 months in the unemployment lines hearing what others in line were expressing as barriers to employement (primarily job skills training and setting yourself apart to get an interview).

Basically if I were to boil down this hearing into a sentence it would be this:  Higher education innovation needs to focus on outcomes, not inputs, utilizing rigorous, authentic assessments and share their results transparently in order to prove its quality so accreditors and legislators can feel confident the aid dollars directed at said programs are being well spent. 

Opportunities to Improve Student Success

In this final hearing up to this point in the process, the committee looked at ways to improve student success. The first question this hearing raised for me, and was danced around during the hearing, is what is success and who defines it? If we think narrowly, then it revolves around graduation/completion rates.  But if we think more broadly, what does success cover? Testimony at yesterday’s hearing encouraged the committee, and the higher ed community, to consider the breadth of student success, NOT just traditional degrees – industry credentials (certifications, nanodegrees, etc) are important for a key factor for students – employability.

Another point that was made directly and supported by various examples is that our students live on the edge – a transmission problem can force a student to drop out for a semester or for good.  Modern students drop out because life happens, not because of an academic deficiency.  Georgia State University shared the example of giving small grants, usually only a few hundred dollars, to help students get through those tough times to graduation.  In order to do that, they have to use their data proactively.  Analytics help identify a problem but the high-touch practices at Georgia State are what have made the most difference for students.  They have to go hand in hand – in order to be as effective as possible.

Related to the first ‘A’ – it was noted that an open door becomes a revolving door quickly – student swirl is a barrier to timely progression for most students.  Aiding this swirl is the lack of articulation agreements, even within state systems, that cause students to lose credits as they move around – incentivizing states to work on articulation could help this.

Finally, as Rachel Fishman tweeted during the hearing – Our #highered system & finance are complex, you can throw more info at the problem, but it won’t solve underlying issue: complexity. #Simplify.

They concluded reiterating their plan to have a draft for the whole committee review by “early Fall” and that the next meeting regarding the reauthorization of the higher ed act will be in September.

We will continue to track the issue and bring you insights as the reauthorization process continues!


CaliMorrison0615Cali Morrison
Manager, Communications



Highlights from #WCETSummit: #AdaptiveLearning in #HigherEd

As has become tradition, June 10th and 11th, a band of WCET’ers gathered to explore an emerging innovation in higher education – adaptive learning.  Following in the footsteps of our summits on big data and alternative credentials, this summit looked to answer what is adaptive learning and how do we apply it in a variety of institutional settings.  Today I bring you, with the help of our tweeps and the rest of the WCET team, some highlights of the summit.

Day 1

Peter Smith, chair of the WCET Executive Council and founding president, Open College @ Kaplan University, kicked us off with a few tidbits of wisdom to set the stage:

  • We’re all in this circle to figure out better ways to help students learn.
  • The companies participating in the Summit are here as partners, not as vendors.
  • Let’s figure out how to harness it, use it & make it productive – that which makes our life difficult contains the solution. There is no silver bullet, each institution has to figure out how this works in their own context.

Opening Plenary: The Science and Promise of Adaptive Learning

Contemporary adaptive learning products and technologies are built upon a growing body of science on student engagement, content mastery, and faculty recommitment to teaching.  Jim Thompson, president of CogBooks,  began by sharing the three main factors he sees as creating the perfect storm for adaptive learning adoption on a greater scale:

  1. Explosion in demand for higher education
  2. Infrastructure in place to allow for high fidelity education at low cost
  3. The adaptive technology itself has matured

Thompson also shared how brains work – that learning occurs through structure driven by time on task with attention & motivation, repetition and sequencing.  He asked us to perform a task that I’ll ask you to do now – try to quickly state the months of the year in alpha order instead of time order.  Harder than you might initially think because of the way our brains store information. The key of adaptive learning is discovering what students already know, how they have structured it and what is the best path forward to them.   The key to adaptive learning is personalization.

we don't know what they know.Judy Komar, Vice President of educational technology, Career Education Corporation, followed on this same vein noting that currently, we don’t know what our students don’t know.  A good way to think of adaptive learning is the swiss cheese effect – the technology allows us to identify gaps in knowledge mastery and fill those gaps that impede forward progress.  If the gap remains unfilled, the challenges remain.  Adaptive learning makes the students the decision makers in their learning and allows faculty to refocus on the art & science of teaching. This in turn allows them to spend less time grading and more time on interventions to move students forward.   For more of the great insights shared by these experts, view the video.

Institutional Case Studies: Using Adaptive Learning to Improve Outcomes

In 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched its Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program (ALMAP) which funded institutional pilots to redesign and/or create new courses in partnership with one or more adaptive learning solution providers.   Rahim Rajan, senior program officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who leads the portfolio which includes the ALMAP, kicked off this panel by sharing the goals of the Foundation to improve lives gloabally, focusing in the U.S. on education.    Rajan pointed to the research done by Tyton Partners (1,2), which helped add some clarity to the different ways adaptive product pioneers were creating their adaptive learning experiences.  He also shared the work of John Hattie in Visual Learning that shares research based high impact pedagogical practice.

The institutions then got their opportunity to share some of the work they’ve been doing through ALMAP.  Here are a few highlights from the session, but for more detail be sure to watch the video:

  • Adaptive learning is a catalyst for instructors to re-engage with what they love – teaching.
  • You have to think holistically about adaptive learning – it will help you get the buy-in you need.
  • Students don’t know what to do with adaptive learning – they want the comfortable lecture. The key is communicating to students that you are still there for them.
  • Adaptive learning does not automate the faculty out of the equation; it gives faculty more latitude to focus on the students.
  • It takes a lot of academic courage to move forward with adaptive learning.
  • Adaptive learning is currently a craft – higher education must move it to the industrial level for it to truly make an impact.

For more on the ALMAP program and videos of those working in the field, check out our friend Phil Hill of e-Literate and the e-Literate TV series on personalized learning.

Small Group Conversations A

These small group conversations were not recorded, however, through the diligent work of the WCET team, we can provide you with a few highlights from each session.

lego wall kim phu

Adaptive Learning in Professional Education: Flipping the Lecture, Engage Students & See Results – Robert Hasel, associate dean, simulation, immersion and digital learning, College of Dental Medicine, Western University of Health Sciences.

  • Motivated learners remember more.
  • The “mapping” of the content is extremely important. Visualize a wall of legos. Each lego represents an explicit knowledge/competency.
  • Mapping the content also allows for keeping the content current – you can update what needs to be updated in a timely manner.

Institutional Models for Developing, Supporting, and Evaluating Adaptive Learning – David Pinkus, vp for Innovation, Western Governors University

  • Adaptive learning supports both the need to change previously held knowledge that is wrong and reinforce what was previously learned correctly.
  • Competency-based education + adaptive learning = Optimized Learning
  • Consider doing a pilot or proof of concept using micro-interventions rather than whole class reinventions.

How Adaptive Can (Has the Potential to) Increase Student Intrinsic Motivation to Persist – Kevin Bell, executive director, Curriculum Development and Deployment, College of Professional Studies, Northeastern University &

Ann Garnsey-Harter, executive director, Virtual Campus & Resource Development, Shoreline Community College

  • Adaptive learning is analogous to sports, i.e. basketball – practice, immediate feedback, etc. The key difference that the basketball player WANTS to get better at basketball.  How do we get someone to feel that passionate about algebra?
  • A truly adaptive course can be very time consuming for faculty. But prebuilt adaptive learning courses find some faculty resistance. Either way, some faculty will resist.
  • Intrinsic motivation=clear expectations, appropriate challenge, immediate and corrective feedback, sense of progress.
  • Ultimately it comes down to quality teaching. The tools allow faculty to be inspirational.

The Provost’s Perspective: Why Embark on an Adaptive Strategy?   Why Not? –  Connie Johnson, chief academic officer and provost, Colorado Technical University

  • Look at the data and give yourself permission to adjust and change in the process of implementing adaptive learning.
  • It’s about the academics, not the plan. Faculty are key to implementing adaptive learning.
  • It is more difficult to implement adaptive learning in subjects where students need original creativity.

Adaptive Learning Solutions:  A Town Hall with Some of Industry’s Key Providers

Vendor Town HallThis two-part session began with a moderated discussion among leaders of the major companies in the adaptive learning sector, including questions and comments from summit attendees.   Once the conversation concluded, attendees who had the unique opportunity to meet company CEOs, their team members, and some of their college and university partners to learn more about the products and services that support adaptive learning in higher education.   While those secondary conversations were not captured, you can watch the lively panel recording.  Some highlights include:

  • Adaptive Learning is an individualized personal mastery achievement platform.
  • Keep students in the zone of proximal learning. Not too easy, not too hard.
  • Adaptive courseware empowers and amplifies faculty to move from a one to many relationship towards a one to one relationship
  • The future of education will include open platforms, adaptive learning, and learning analytics.
  • Teaching is like gardening: you can’t will the plant to grow. You create the environment that enables the plant to grow.
  • We are all in a shift from education to learning, in a shift from input to output. Adaptive learning unlocks the creativity of faculty.

Small Group Conversations B

These small group conversations were not recorded, however, through the diligent work of the WCET team, we can provide you with a few highlights from each session.

Explore the Exciting Intersection of Adaptive Learning and Learning Analytics – Al Essa, vice president, Analytics and R&D, McGraw Hill Higher Education

  • Analytics systems (or any learning platform or infrastructure) must provide a “safe zone” for students to practice, to fail, to learn.
  • Know your audience!
  • Steps for institutions: identify the need; identify the partner/vendor; collaborate on more research on adaptive, effective interventions, etc.

Adaptive Courseware Options:  Before Selection, Understand Your Implementation Requirements – Dale Johnson, manager, Adaptive General Education Program, Arizona State University & Nick White, director, Competency Based Learning Solutions, Capella University

  • Content curation and course configuration are big factors in the choice of adaptive learning provider. The hardest part is the ‘black box’ – is their algorithm smarter than mine?
  • Content development is an art. Faculty need to have a clear-headed conversation about content development.
  • Look for existing relationships – don’t be a pioneer.
  • The stories matter. Get your elevator pitch. Build on early wins.

What Do Students and Faculty Say About Experiences With Adaptive Learning Courses? –  Tom Cavanagh, associate vice president, Distributed Learning, University of Central Florida

  • Students feel they are spending their time valuably.
  • Adaptive learning implementation ROI: as students are retained at significant levels the tool pays for itself.
  • Building the adaptive learning map takes time and resources.

What Does Success Look Like?  What are the Key Outcome Measures to Consider when Evaluating the ROI? – Rahim Rajan, senior program officer, Postsecondary Success, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  • During a time of increased scrutiny and reduced resources, instiutions need to be more nimble and adept.
  • Find efficient solutions to produce better outcomes.
  • Consider student outcomes (equity, completion, persistence, etc)
  • Consider budget factors (cost of product, course redesign, RIO, shelf life of the course material, support costs, faculty development)
  • Measure faculty satisfaction

Day 2

The Devil’s in the Details:  Policies, Structures, Business Models, and More

Lively even during their first cup of coffee, Tom Cavanagh, associate vice president, distributed learning, University of Central Florida led a group of dynamic experts through a guided conversation about the details that surround all aspects of adaptive learning.  Experts on the panel were Diane Auer Jones, president  & CEO,  AJsquared Consulting; Manoj Kulkarni, CEO, RealizeIT by CCKF; David Pinkus, vice president of innovation, Western Governors University; Karen Solomon, vice president for accreditation relations, Higher Learning Commission; Nick White, director, Competency Based Learning Solutions, Capella University.  These brief highlights do not do the energetic conversation justice, so don’t forget the video is available.

  • Is adaptive learning really new or is it just technology-enhanced old methodology? Is it revolutionary or evolutionary?
    • It’s revolutionary in how we define faculty autonomy & puts the student in the forefront of accountability. The technology is evolutionary.
    • It’s revolutionary because of the scale.
  • What are the myths and misconceptions about adaptive learning?
    • While adapting instruction to students’ needs is not new, tech gives faculty much more information and students more agency.
    • Retention is a multivariate problem not a univariate problem. Adaptive learning alone can’t fix that.
    • Elephant in the room is that adaptive learning is that it’s perceived as multiple forms of the same content.
    • Faculty misperception is that adaptive learning is either ‘spoon feeding’ our students or replacing faculty. It’s not human being versus machine learning.
  • How do we get faculty on board?
    • Faculty champions.
    • Good faculty will always jump in with both feet. And hopefully they’ll drag the bad faculty, the naysayers, along with them.
    • adaptivity resonates with teachers vested in student progress.
    • Eliminate faculty ‘friction points’ with adaptive learning.
    • There’s a communication problem because of the discussion of algorithms which seem like ‘black boxes’ and the robotization of life.
  • What’s the ROI?
    • Retention, retention, retention.
    • Data show that adaptive learning improved outcomes for especially women & mintorities so there’s an ethical obligation to provide it as an option for our students.
    • There’s also the external accountability factor adaptive learning can evidence.
    • It’s all about the Delta – the change in the learning. And the accountability for external constituents & for students.
    • In the absense of data, antecdote wins.
    • Constructing meaningful pilots, collecting data, and getting faculty to support these initiatives = administrative support.
  • How much does it cost?
    • We’re in start of the adoption curve & vendors are looking for partners, for ‘wins’ so it’s cheaper now than will be.
    • Start small. Fund it smartly. Build up to it as you see successes. Enterprise implementation will come later.
    • It’s an upfront investment, but you may see returns over the years.
    • Good onboarding is very important. It should be accessible and easily understood – like what game designers do for 1st time players.
  • Final question, what’s your 140 character, pithy tweetable piece of advice?
    • If you want to bring edu into this century it has to be science based diagnostic based edu.
    • How will peer reviewers be able to understand the quality of the work you’re doing with adaptive learning?
    • If you’re committed to strong outcomes, adaptive learning is a good commitment
    • adaptive learning is active learning and the data show active learning works best.
    • adaptive learning makes it possible for faculty to be the best teacher for each student

Summit group 15Small Group Conversations C

These small group conversations were not recorded, however, through the diligent work of the WCET team, we can provide you with a few highlights from each session.

Setting a Data Foundation for Adaptive Learning:  Understanding and Planning for How an Adaptive Initiative will Impact the Overall Data Ecosystem – Mike Sharkey, president, Blue Canary

  • Competencies need to have a consistent set. It’s especially good if you can define competencies by career.
    • How do students get their data out to resumes? LinkedIn?
  • Who owns the data, who has access to the data and are there standards for the data are all outlined in the contracts with your vendors, pay attention to those.
  • Plumbing alone gives you no value. It’s the things you attach to the plumbing that give you value (toilets, sinks, etc.). The same is true for the data pipeline. It’s what you do with the data that matters.
  • Hear it a lot…IT DEPENDS. Need to focus on the pain point for your institution.

Leveraging Adaptive Learning within Existing Competency-Based Initiatives – Kara Van Dam, vice provost, University of Maryland University College and Ryan Hively, senior account executive, VitalSource Technologies Inc.

  • Adaptive learning is a method not an algorithm, not a blackbox. It’s a sequence of learning events.
  • Mind maps help look at content and overlaps, look for patterns to help organically form the adaptive paths rather than a linear trajectory. Competencies need to be looked at at the program level view, not just the course level.
  • It’s important to consider what the tools can and cannot do. The adaptive learning tool is a means of serving up content, not a substitute for teaching. The tools can free good teachers to be great teachers.

Choosing an Adaptive Learning Partner (Criteria, Licenses, Open Content, and More.) – Dale Johnson, manager, Adaptive General Education Program, Arizona State University & David Pinkus, vp for Innovation, Western Governors University

  • When selecting a vendor consider: gating criteria; instructional design & andragogy; instructor & administrative access; the pacing & the polish.
  • Vendors should provide you with access to a sandbox to determine if their solution fits your needs.
  • Create a way for students to curate their own content.
  • Your slowest student is your benchmark for how much content you can include in adaptive learning courses.
  • Assessment is going more & more to interactive elements. If you can solve the puzzle, you’ve mastered the content.
  • Overheard in #wcetsummit session – I don’t understand gaming, but I understand the look on my granddaughter’s face when she plays.

Post WCET Summit:  What Are Your Next Steps?   What More Do You Need to Know? – Judy Komar, vice president of educational technology, Career Education Corporation

  • If you have knowledge gaps, you can use adaptive learning anywhere in academia –> undergrad and beyond.
  • Adaptive learning is not always faster. Acceleration is the glam & glitz of marketing, still have to help students persist.
  • Pilot not just to determine if we use adaptive learning or not. Pilot means calibrate! Calibrate the faculty, system, and curriculum!
  • An integrated model to adaptive learning should identify programs/courses that will improve student success overall.
  • Always go back to looking at YOUR institution, your goals, your students. It will be different depending on your situation.

Adaptive Learning is Ready as an Applied Innovation – Are You Ready?

Mike Abbiatti and Peter Smith led us on a guided discussion for the last session of the day to answer 3 final questions – what are the characteristics of successful adaptive learning? Does adaptive learning work? And what 5 things do you need to have for deployment?  You can see the more candid version in the video but here are the crowdsourced answers from the closing session.

The top 10 characteristics of successful adaptive learning are:

  1. Efficiency of getting to objectives. Still the same ultimate goals, AL is just a method to integrate with the current teaching and learning methodology.
  2. Individualized/personalized.
  3. Scalable.
  4. Clarity– data and elements within the system and sharing of data.
  5. Cost effective.
  6. Responsive design.
  7. Basic ed-critical thinking
  8. Measurable outcomes
  9. Motivating- students and faculty
  10. Promoting student success.

 Does Adaptive Learning Work?

  1. Yes, across the student profile and faculty (medical/dental). “Game changer”
  2. Yes, faculty have more time for higher level thinking and at the student level (gen ed. Freshman)
  3. Yes, i.e. Abe Lincoln
  4. Yes, data informs decision making (corp perspective)
  5. Yes, but important to look at the theory and the implementation.
  6. Yes, analytics help faculty and students.
  7. Yes, statistically it helps marginalized students.
  8. Yes, but…cost of entry and ROI.

What 5 Things Do You Need to Have for Deployment?

  1. Effective Faculty Development.
  2. Senior leadership buy-in.
  3. Leadership that is not afraid of risk.
  4. Faculty champions.
  5. Resources/$$$.

santa fe signWe all left Santa Fe invigorated at the future possibilities that adaptive learning holds for higher education.  Resources from the summit are available on our website and WCET has made a commitment to continuing this conversation at our 27th Annual Meeting in Denver November 11-13, as well as through our blogs, social media, members-only discussion list and research.  We welcome those who were there to add anything we missed and those who weren’t able to make it to Santa Fe to join in the continued conversation.


Cali Morrison

Communications Manager, WCET

Follow us on Twitter: WCET|Personal


Photo Credit: Test: Lego Wall by Kim Phu

Santa Fe Photos by: Cali Morrison


#WCET14: Ideas Blossomed in the City of Roses

November 19-21, 2014 seasoned WCET’ers and new comers to our community gathered in Portland, OR (known the City of Roses) to exchange ideas and learn together.  Invigorated by the conversations and fueled by amazing epicurean adventures, the tenor of the meeting was electric.  Whether you were able to be with us in person or just joined the backchannel, I encourage you to share your take-aways, ahas, and favorite moments from the Annual Meeting in the comments.  And don’t forget to mark your calendars for November 11 – 13, 2015 when we’ll gather again in Denver, CO.

Mt.Hood and the Willamette River from the 11th floor of the Marriott.

Before I share a few highlights, a little housekeeping.  Whether or not you attended the meeting face-to-face, you can access the materials from the meeting utilizing our mobile app.  It’s available for download on Android, Apple and has a browser based interface.  I created instructions for accessing the materials through the web interface.  If you’re a presenter and still have resources you’d like added please email them to Megan Raymond.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

 Academic Leadership Forum

Nearly two dozen executive level leaders (provosts, vice presidents, deans) participated in the 4th Academic Leadership Forum.   The purpose of the forum is to provide academic leaders with a peer-to-peer opportunity to network and discuss issues of common interest and concern. Innovation, faculty issues, student issues, and management/outsourcing issues were the focus of small group discussions.  Some  highlights:

  • Technology is a critical component of innovation. Higher ed needs to innovate internally and externally in terms of new collaborations and partnerships.
  • An institutional leader must weigh the costs of innovation versus scale.
  • What do adjunct faculty want? They want recognition, badges, brought in as a subject matter expert, stability even on a term-to-term basis and be recognized as people!
  • Adjunct workload agreements may be at risk as institutions cost out compliance with the Affordable Care Act. The ACA may force institutions to cut adjunct faculty workloads.
  • What’s the focus at your institution? Online students get services?   Or all students get online services, including career counseling, mental health services, health care, counseling.
  • We innovate in academic affairs…how do we really innovate in student services?
  • How to grow international markets?
  • We talk about student transfer issues…what about faculty transfer issues? Is there an opportunity to explore transferability of faculty (part time) credentials and training?

Badges in Higher Education: Exploring the Policies and Possibilities

In a pre-conference session, our partners from the MOOC and continuing community Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials, Anne Derryberry (Sage Road Solutions), Carla Casilli (Badge Alliance),  and Deb Everhart (Blackboard) were joined remotely by policy expert Mary Alice McCarthy (New America Foundation) to explore where badges are and are going in higher education and beyond.  Collaborative notes and resources from the session can be found on its etherpad.

Conversation about Student Success

In this in-depth conversation, the panel looked to answer two questions: 1. What are colleges actually doing to prepare students to be successful online learners? 2. Do we really know what works? The panel shared the results of the WCET Student Success CIG survey which addressed issues of student readiness and services offered as well as considered what is not currently being offered.

The Challenges are the Opportunities

Mike Abbiatti
Mike Abbiatti shares his vision for the future.

In January 2015, Mike Abbiatti will assume the role of WCET Executive Director.  Ahead of the opening keynote, Mike took a few moments to share his philosophy in taking the reins at WCET.  As he shared Leadership for the Future…

  1. Must be proven and trusted on a local, regional, and national scale.
  2. Must understand the difference between leadership and management.
  3. Must bring a solid history of attracting investment and sustainability.

WCET will continue to look at road blocks as opportunities for innovation and address them through collective leadership.  Mike thanked Russ Poulin and Mollie McGill for the wonderful job they have done and will continue to do through the end of 2014 as interim co-executive directors.

Innovation at Scale: Creating a Systemwide Environment

Our opening keynote was Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York, who came to Portland to share with WCET’ers how SUNY is using its collective impact to create access to education from ‘cradle to career’.  Some highlights:

  • America has always been a country focused on Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals
  • If we were to continue on our current trajectory to the 60% or 65% goals for adults with higher education credentials, NCHEMS research has shown we’ll be off by somewhere between 17 years (60% goal) to 29 years (65% goal).
  • SUNY uses the word “Systemness” (the coordination of multiple components that when working together create a network of activity taht is more powerful than any action of individual parts on their own).  {Side note and apologies for the forthcoming earworm: this may be the first time I’ve ever heard Vanilla Ice at an academic conference, but the message is clear in his song and at the heart of the SUNY philosophy – Stop. Collaborate & Listen.}
  • Don’t discount ideas hatched on the back of a napkin.
  • Assemble the right people and stop the blame game.
  • Shared accountability, individual responsibility.
  • SUNY is using their capital budget to grow online.  The network is infrastructure. {This completely blew my mind.  A simple, yet brilliant, solution to being able to innovate sustainably without dependence on one-time or grant funding.)

Nancy Zimpher Follow Up Session
Chancellor Zimpher discusses with WCET members after the keynote presentation.

You can view the full recording of Chancellor Zimpher’s presentation. After the keynote, Chancellor Zimpher joined a continued conversation with WCET members.

Open Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely

Peter Smith presented a ‘flipped session’ on the development of the Open College at Kaplan University (OC@KU) and what the openness within the program can be isolating for students and what Kaplan is doing to combat that.  His presentation was provided for participants prior to the session (available at: and the time in the session was used for discussion of how we can help ensure open learning isn’t lonely.

Opening Reception
Lively discussion abound at the opening reception!

Meeting and Greeting

Wednesday evening brought us together for the welcome reception with cool appetizers and hot higher ed conversation. During the reception, Ellen Wagner, Chief Research & Strategy Officer for the PAR Framework, made a special announcement of a new program PAR has started with an opportunity for WCET member institutions to join the  the next wave of pioneers driving measurable improvements in student outcomes through a special Student Success Membership of the PAR Framework.  If you’re interested in learning more about this offer, be sure to register for the December 10th webcast.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Do Our Students REALLY Think of Online Learning?

Student Panel 2014
Our student panel with Pat James and Phil Hill.

We talk about students all the time.  We talk about what we think they want, what we think we know about their experience, but rarely do we actually talk with current students about these things.  This was an excellent panel and one of its moderators, Phil Hill, already did a very thorough job summarizing and analyzing what the student panel shared with the audience, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.  Go Read: WCET14 Student Panel: What do students think of online education? over on e-Literate.

Conversation about Data Analytics

A long and distinguished panel was lead on this in-depth conversation about data analytics by Linda Baer, principal senior consultant for i4Solutions.  Institutions and vendors alike shared their practical applications of data for student success. A few take-aways from the session include:

  • Action analytics means not collecting data for reporting, but for use in improving efficiency, outcomes and learning. Data doesn’t help people if we don’t put it into action.
  • In developing an analytics strategy, get your business/financial managers involved.  They can help with scaleability issues and others when considering intervention strategies.
  • “Throw one noodle at a time.”  When trying interventions, try one at a time to really determine which work.
  • Have realistic expectations, don’t expect every intervention you try to work.
  • The question was raised “how do we get faculty to take more responsibility for student success?” To which Don Norris, President of Strategic Initiatives, Inc. and one of the panelists answered, “faculty may be reluctant because of the ‘obligation of knowing.'”

Student or Imposter?  Identity, Validation, and Authentication.  

A full house at this panel presentation addressing financial aid fraud, central IT security and why institutions should consider a four-factor authentication, discussion of why student authentication and academic integrity are separate concepts and complex issues, and an overview of the Office of Inspector General’s findings and recommendations related to verification of student identity and determination of a student’s academic attendance.  A few highlights:

Formulate a plan to address financial aid fraud:

  • This is not an online problem. This is an institution-wide problem and needs an institution wide strategy.
  • Leverage your technology and your student data.
  • The plan needs to start at the point of admission.
  • Require evidence of high school diploma, GED or other prior education documentation.
  • Try to avoid barriers to legitimate students, especially in programs designed for open enrollment and low tuition.

The February 2014 Office of Inspector General (OIG) report addresses authentication of student identity and verification of student attendance.    The OIG report calls upon the US Department of Education should develop a general regulatory definition of attendance that applies to all attendance based requirements for Title IV and guidelines for what is considered acceptable attendance in distance ed programs.  The OIG report also states that identity verification through secure login and password is inadequate for verifying one’s identity.  Audience members commented on how the attendance guidelines will conflict with the design of competency-based programs.

WCET Awards Lunch

Each year, we gather over lunch to celebrate our award winners for their innovative programs and contributions to higher education and WCET.  View the video of the entire ceremony.

Congratulations to the 2014 WCET Outstanding Work award recipients:

  • Capella University: FlexPath
  • Colorado Technical University: intellipath™ for MBA preparation
  • Excelsior College: Online Writing Lab (OWL)
  • Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Extended Learning Institute:NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: U-Pace

You can view the videos submitted by our WOW winners about their programs on our YouTube.

Mollie McGill, Michael Goldstein, Russ Poulin and David Longanecker celebrate the 2014 RJ award.
Mollie McGill, Michael Goldstein, Russ Poulin and David Longanecker celebrate the 2014 RJ award.

Congratulations to our 2014 Richard Jonsen Award winner, Michael Goldstein, of Cooley, LLP, who was honored for his commitment to e-learning leadership.  As a pioneer in the development and rational regulation of higher education, Goldstein’s lifetime contributions to the field and to WCET as an organization make him a natural fit for this, WCET’s top award. Learn more in our press release.

Conversation about Competency-based Education

Putting on my best moderator cap, I helped guide a diverse, knowledgeable panel of subject matter experts through this in-depth conversation on competency-based education (CBE).  Our goal for this session was to look beyond the questions of “Is CBE worth it?” and “What is CBE?” to look at how does an institution make CBE a reality on their campus.  We divided the session into four sections:

  • Change Management
  • The Academic Model
  • Technological Supports for CBE
  • Regulatory Approvals

Some key take aways from the session:

  • There is a lot of misunderstanding from faculty on CBE, but once they understand the focus on quality learning outcomes, they are open to the idea.
  • CBE begins with strong assessment and a shared understanding of how learning will be measured.
  • Some institutions need to tweak faculty contracts when moving to CBE, but it really depends on the academic model.
  • Quality = Alignment. (Directly attributable to Stacey Clawson and the most tweeted statement of the session.)
  • Make competencies real – align them with the world of work.
  • Understand that disruptive innovation requires significant investment. (Jeannie Copley)

Resources from WCET, including a forthcoming document from the subject matter experts in this session, are on the CBE Issues Page.

Net Neutrality to Enable Classroom Reality

Mike Abbiatti, SREB and Dave King, Oregon State University were lead in a conversation by Phil Hill, MindWires Consulting regarding the growing issue of how broadband infrastructure will affect e-learning.  As they deemed it – a digital range war – net neutrality could limit a student, or faculty member’s, ability to access course materials.  A couple of take-aways:

  • Bandwidth is the currency of education. (Mike Abbiatti)
  • Frame net neutrality more as keeping our promises to students, less as a technical issue. (Phil Hill)
  • On the net neutrality issue, EDUCAUSE is one voice on behalf of higher ed but others can also help to frame the issue so that the FCC and Congress better understand the impact of net neutrality decisions on the delivery of higher education programs and services.

The Ivory Tower

This new CNN film was mentioned by our opening keynote, Chancellor Zimpher and happened to be airing during the Annual Meeting.  So, WCET arranged a room for attendees to watch together and discuss.  Check out CNN’s Ivory Tower page for more details.  Chancellor Zimpher also wrote a thoughtful response to the film – We Are More Than An Ivory Tower.

Friday, November 21, 2014

DIY U: The Education Revolution

kamenetz talk
Education futurist Anya Kamenetz had an engaged crowd.

Our closing keynote was Anya Kamenetz, education blogger for National Public Radio (NPR) and education futurist.   Some key points of Anya’s talk:

  • Cost+Access+Relevance = Case for Radical Innovation
  • @shannonmedows asked Is it possible to change the economics of trad higher education instituitons under the existence of a faculty governance model?
  • “58% of grade school kids will be employed in careers that don’t exist today.” – Cathy Davidson Now You See It
  • Every discipline is rapidly changing, not just higher education.  Anya has a job that didn’t exist shortly ago – education blogger for a national RADIO station.
  • We don’t want to be preparing people to do things that computers do better. There will always be things people can do better than computers.  Moving forward higher ed should focus on a combination of people and practices.
  • Unbundling, mass customization, networked learning: 3 priorities for the future of higher education.
  • DIY U 2.0:
    • Affordable, Accessible, Relevant
    • Meet me where I am (online/offline)
    • Take me where I want to go (experiential, aspirational, curational)
  • It’s not just about your ship (tools, technology). It’s about the course that you set.  Be true to your mission.
  • Create a culture where curiosity, vulnerability and contributions are rewarded.
  • There is not ONE future for higher education – the strength of the future of higher education is in its diversity.

You can catch the whole session recording of Anya’s talk here.

 Final Thoughts

This great quote was shared by Deb Gearhart, Vice Provost for eLearning and Strategic Partnerships, Ohio University and vice chair of the WCET Steering Committee:  “I came away from the WCET Annual Meeting with a recognition (and confirmation that I am not alone) that all types of institutions are dealing with the issues of their technology infrastructures and processes not meeting their needs.  There is a huge opportunity in higher education for someone to make university systems talk and work with each other.”

And our friend Lisa Johnson made an amazing Learning Summary from her time at WCET:


You can also check out the Storify of the social media from the #WCET14 hashtag for more insights into even more of the annual meeting.

Obviously, I couldn’t be all over at once, so I’d like to thank Mollie McGill for sharing her notes with me as well as all the tweeps who fed the backchannel.  Without you all this would not be near as robust.  If you have learning not reflected here that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments!

And finally, we’d love to see YOU next year at our 2015 WCET Annual Meeting in beautiful downtown Denver, Colorado November 11 – 13, 2015.

Cali Morrison VooDoo Donut
By the glow of the neon, I enjoyed my classic maple bacon VooDoo Donut.


Cali Morrison
Communications Manager





Lisajohnsonphd. (2014, November 23). WCET 2014 conference learning summary [Video file, 22:40]. Retrieved from


The Evolution of Education

This year, the WCET Annual Meeting will kick off with a keynote from Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY).  Today she shares with us how her team is addressing three fundamental principles in education – access, completion and success. 

The Evolution of Education: Responsibilities for Post-secondary Education in a New Age

Education as we know it is rapidly evolving. From the earliest stages through post-secondary, some gaps in the pipeline have persisted as educators, administrators, parents, and students play catch-up with advances in technology, teaching methods, higher standards, and an increasing need for critical thinking guided by the STEM disciplines. As the world adapts to this new age, the mission of higher education has pressed beyond teaching and learning to include a more encompassing fate—the reliable delivery of education and job training that directly supports the innovation-driven 21st-century economy and today’s careers.

More so than any other sector, higher ed is equipped to lead the nation’s work to seal the leaks in our education pipeline. As anchor institutions founded on answering society’s highest needs while improving quality of life by creating a skilled workforce, colleges and universities have deep roots in local communities and, collectively speaking, we are perhaps the nation’s most reliable and powerful force of economic development.Road Map by Teijo Hakala

We have always been that engine. What’s new, though, are the creative, evidence-based, scalable interventions that are fueling our evolution. Applied learning, digital access, seamless transfer—these are the kinds of transformational changes that our sector should be implementing as we embrace our role in the education of every student, from cradle to career.

SUNY has developed a roadmap for what we view as the future of public higher education in the U.S. It is guided by three fundamental principles—Access, Completion, and Success.


With our cradle-to-career partners across the state, SUNY brings the opportunity of college to every New Yorker regardless of their background, family income, or other factors that may deter a student from pursuing a degree. We partner with schools and communities across the state—particularly those in our most challenged zip codes—to reach every student as early on in the pipeline as possible and see to it that they have access to the teaching, mentoring, and out-of-school support they need to prepare for college and career. These “cradle-to-career” partnerships utilize the StriveTogether collective impact approach to improving education outcomes.

We are doing what we can to reach non-traditional students too, such as returning veterans and adults who have life commitments such as a family to support and a job (or jobs) that keep them from believing college is an option. Open SUNY, our new platform for online education, allows us to vastly increase access to courses from across our 64-campus system and to power certain high-demand degrees with online “anytime” access as well as various supports for students and faculty that contribute to their success in this environment. With digital courses ready to take any time day or night, Open SUNY gives us the capacity to adjust to the schedules of our students and not the other way around.


Through a number of initiatives, including one of the nation’s foremost student transfer policies, we are also helping all students finish school faster, because cutting time-to-degree is still the number one way to cut costs. We have made it seamless for students to transfer credits all throughout our system of 64 colleges and universities. There is no valid reason why the nation’s institutions of public higher education can’t collectively do the same.

Today, the average SUNY student takes 4.4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree, and New York ranks fourth in the country for students graduating within four years—after only the smaller states of Delaware, Virginia, and New Hampshire. Part of that success comes in the form of awareness—doing all we can to be sure students know what it takes to earn a degree not only academically but financially. National focus on cutting college costs has led to our pairing of one of the most affordable educations in the country with one of the most aggressive financial aid transparency campaigns, SUNY Smart Track. We comprehensively show students what college is going to cost, detail for them their financing options, and support them as they decide how much to borrow and develop a plan to pay it back. SUNY Smart Track follows every student borrower from their decision to enroll through graduation and even as alums. As a result, SUNY students incur less debt than the national average, our loan default rate is significantly lower than average, and 40 percent of our students graduate with no loan debt at all.

Of course, the advent of technology in the digital age has been a significant boon to our efforts as well. Open SUNY is aiding our completion agenda, but it’s just the beginning. We are on the cusp of implementing web-based degree planning and auditing software that will track classes and degree requirements for students, enabling them to quickly see what courses they still need to graduate and when and where they can take them, be it at their “home” campus, a potential “transfer” campus within our system, or through Open SUNY. This will also be a powerful new tool for parents, faculty advisors, and admissions counselors as they assist students.


Today’s high-tech, global economy is fast-paced and moving forward every day, and we have to ensure that, above all else, we are preparing our students to be a part of it. That’s why there is so much hype— and justifiably so—surrounding the expansion of applied learning opportunities in college, including everything from clinical placements and cooperative education to service learning, volunteerism, student research, and field study.

At SUNY, we believe in the power of learning by doing, and we are retooling our workforce development programs en masse to take these approaches to the broadest possible scale. We are expanding our prior learning assessments so incoming students don’t have to re-learn what they already know. And through innovative on-the-job training programs like apprenticeships, internships, and co-op across our system, SUNY faculty are working side-by-side with the state’s employers to craft new, engaging curricula that integrates classroom study and (often paid) work experience. So our graduates have a significant advantage as they enter the workforce. Importantly, we are tailoring our applied learning offerings to meet the unique community and workforce needs of regions throughout New York State, so truly, everybody wins.

Through this education evolution, the core purposes of our sector remain, and traditional classroom settings are by no means extinct. But higher education in its finest, most effective 21st-century form integrates real-world work experience, modern technology, cradle-to-career networking, and other systemic evidence-based reforms as much as possible. The challenges that post-secondary education faces in a new age are daunting, but with creativity, openness, and a commitment to collective impact, higher education can rise to the occasion.


 Dr. Nancy ZimpherNancy Zimpher


State University of New York





Road Map Photo Credit: Teijo Hakala


You can learn THAT online?!?!?

Online learning has been popularized through programs in business, technology, education and even nursing.  However, over the years, the diversity of programs you can take online – even those which require extensive clinical hours – has grown.  For a little fun this summer, I dug around to find the most unusual online learning programs from an accredited university or a recognized industry association I could.  Here are some of the programs I unearthed:

  • Enjoy a frosty craft brew? Perhaps you’d like to learn the business of craft brewing before moving your operation out of the garage and into the public. There’s a certificate at Portland State University to help you with that.
  • Can you spot a diamond in the rough? Perhaps you’d like to become a Graduate Gemologist.
  • Maybe you’re into Casper and friends and want to go the Paranormal Investigation route.Organic Farmer
  • Maybe you’d like to learn to grow your own organic vegetables, but don’t have your own row to hoe. This program at Washington State University allows you to learn the basics and then intern with an organic farmer, organic business, or organic certifying agency to get your hands dirty.
  • You can become a leader in the energy industry, with a bachelor of applied science at Bismarck State College.
  • Learn to help people undergoing dialysis by earning a certificate that provides both theoretical and practical training. Or become a surgical assistant and support surgeons in fields from obstetrics to neurosurgery.
  • You can move up the healthcare ladder by earning your Nurse Practitioner degree through Duke University or Georgetown University
  • Perhaps you’d like to be among the first Canadian Architects trained online?
  • Maybe your heart resides with the animals and earning a veterinary technician degree would help you put your compassion to work.
  • You can even learn to become a professional pilot, prior pilot’s license not required but can be applied towards prior learning credits.

I also found lots of programs from unaccredited institutions in everything from blackjack dealing to tarot reading to becoming a wedding minister.  There is that saying that ‘you can be anyone online’ or as Brad Paisley said “I’m so much cooler online.”  So, what about your institution?  What is the most unusual program you offer online?  What isn’t offered online right now that you’d like to see offered online? UConn eCampus Puppet Arts

I’ll leave you with one idea – Coming this Fall from UConn: an online graduate certificate in Puppet Arts.

11:25am edit: *This is by no means an exhaustive list, I’m sure there are lots of other good programs in these fields and other unusual programs – please, add them to the comments – join the fun!

Photo of Cali MorrisonCali Morrison

Communications Manager, WCET

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Photo Credit: Steve Hanna


Fresh air, Fresh ideas

As military boot camp serves to bulk up the physical endurance and mental preparation for combat service, WCET’s data boot camp brought together cross-functional teams to bulk up their knowledge and preparation to build analytics capacity at their specific institution.  Unlike other events where the focus is on keynote speakers, the boot camp allowed for valuable networking and group problem solving by using small group break-outs, subject matter expert led discussions, and plenty of time for beneficial conversations.

Networking begins at WCET Boot Camp in beautiful Vail, CO.
Networking begins at WCET Boot Camp in beautiful Vail, CO.

As the character of the boot camp was centered on conversations, what you will not find here, or on the boot camp resources page, are video recordings or a blow-by-blow of who said what when.  Rather, the purpose of the event, and the true value, was for attendees to take away their personalized plan for implementing data analytics on their campus.  In that frame of reference, what follows are some highlights of information shared by our subject matter experts (SMEs) – I have tried to credit direct quotes but have often taken ideas from several people and condensed them into one point. For more direct quotes and learning be sure to check out the Storify of the tweets using #wcetbootcamp!

  • Postsecondary institutions need to examine the validity of our work – are we measuring the right things? Are our programs adding value for students and is it worth the cost?
  • Are institutional innovations sustainable once grant and other one-time funding are gone?  Dennis Jones noted “A really good innovation is of little use if it isn’t economically viable.”
  • The key to success for innovations is creative use of human resources – using existing team to work on innovations by shifting small amounts of time to it.  The only outlay of cost is time, no other monetary investment. (As Linda Baer called it… “skunk works projects” – done under the radar and eventually funded when they become necessary.)
  • Develop a short term plan (3-5 years) that aligns with your institutional strategic plan which is accepted by all stakeholders and has specific deliverables for design, pilots, scaling to the entire population and measuring, monitoring and optimizing moving forward.
  • Keep it simple and focused – determine your strategic need and pose the question you’d like to answer using the data before you start. As Mike Sharkey shared on twitter “If you don’t know where to start, think of a single use case to help narrow the scope.”
  • Accept imperfection.
  • Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis – move from analysis to action.
  • Identify the low-hanging fruit – find ways to develop small wins.
  • Coordination and documentation of the data collection processes are key to building a sustainable analytic culture on campus.
  • Get approval from your institutional review board early in the process so you can avoid the “we can’t do it because of FERPA” detractors.
  • Communicate the plan with all stakeholders – don’t leave anyone out of the implementation planning.  Strong communications will support cultural change within your institutional culture.
  • Look all around your institution for experts to support your analytic endeavors.  There are smart faculty and practitioners in all disciplines from math to academic advising to English and geography.  You don’t necessarily have to depend on outside expertise.
  • If you do hire consultants, the best consultants are always working themselves out of a job – they come in and build capacity within your institution so you can be self-supporting.
  • As Vernon Smith noted, “Innovation meets a need in a new way. Be prepared to fail. Then fail fast and move on.”

Next steps discussion led by SMEs Vernon Smith, Lisa Foss, Ellen Wagner, Mike Sharkey and Linda Baer.
Next steps discussion led by SMEs Vernon Smith, Lisa Foss, Ellen Wagner, Mike Sharkey and Linda Baer.


We invite you to join or continue the conversation at WCET’s 26th Annual Meeting in Portland, OR November 19-21, 2014.   If you have an analytics story, or other projects, research or practices in e-learning to share, be sure to submit your proposal by Friday, July 18th.


Special thanks go out to all of our SMEs for sharing your experiences and knowledge and participants for your active participation in WCET’s data boot camp!




See you in Portland!

Photo of Cali MorrisonCali Morrison
WCET, Manager, Communications
Support our work.  Join WCET.


Glimpse into WCET Leadership Summit: Designing Alternative Pathways to Credentials

May 7th & 8th, 2014 Salt Lake City was again host to a bevy of WCET’ers, gathered to discuss how we in higher education can adopt, adapt and administer high quality credentials in new ways utilizing tools like competency based education, badges and prior learning assessment. What follows are highlights of the agenda, however, recordings of the main panels are available on the Summit page along with a considerable number of resources.

Day One

Panel: Defining Alternative Pathways

Photo by Daniel Oines via CC
Photo by Daniel Oines via CC

Karen Solomon, vice president, accreditation relations, Higher Learning Commission served as the moderator, setting the tone for the panel that they would be sharing the broad perspective of what defining alternative pathways means at a higher level than individual institutions.

Sally Johnstone, vice president, academic advancement, Western Governors University shared these key points:

  • Competency-Based Education (CBE) is pervasive across education– it’s flipping the relationship between time and learning.
  • CBE puts the student at the front of the learning – it’s enabling individualized learning.
  • When planned and implemented properly, CBE can lower the costs and keep them lower, as well as sustainable across time.

Next we heard  from Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst, New America Foundation.  Her key points:

  • Competency: A clearly defined & MEASURABLE statement of knowledge, skill or ability.
  • Title IV regulations require mapping competencies back to credit or clock hours make it very difficult to do non-course based CBE.
  • Institutions need to gather more evidence of the effectiveness of their CBE programs.
  • Competencies are a unifying currency for credentials, increasing inter-operability between credentialing systems.

Finally for this panel, Iris Palmer, senior policy analyst, National Governors Association shared their perspective:

  • How do you start to move the perceptions of what ‘college’ is? How do you move these conversations at the policy level?
    • If you have to change the way policymakers view higher education, you have to change the way the public sees higher education.
  • The ‘state of the state’ is that there is not a lot of conversation happening, most states are warily eyeing CBE.
  • Unbundled faculty role can be scary for faculty who have no idea what it will look like, what it will mean for them.
  • Good examples are:
    • Kentucky: statewide model of a technology platform.
    • Texas: informing the state legislative bodies on CBE developments.
    • Wisconsin: communications are so important – including differentiated messaging for the audiences (faster, cheaper is better when you’re talking about the business side of the institutions, but it’s not the message you want to send to faculty or students who prefer a quality education).

During the Q&A, David Porter (@dendroglyph) posed the question via twitter, “When will we agree that flexible education models that include #cbe #oer #badges are part of the future HE trajectory?#wcetsummit14

Panel: Innovative Models

This panel, moderated by Patricia Book, WCET Fellow, highlighted the lessons learned by five model programs. Here are the highlights from each talk, outlined by speaker.

Alison Leigh Brown, associate vice president, academic affairs, Northern Arizona University

  • Technology makes it possible to assess everything, track everything in CBE programs, however Alison reminded us that we must include the human element as well.

Greg Fowler, chief academic officer and vice president, academic administration, Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education

  • In designing CBE programs maintain your focus and determine your ‘non-negotiables” from the very beginning.
  • Focus on student success and don’t try to ‘outdo’ other businesses (i.e. Don’t try to out-Facebook Facebook.)

Al Lind, vice president, innovation and e-learning, Kentucky Council on Post secondary Education

  • Adjuncts are paid per student, and set the number of students they are willing to have in a course, in KY.
  • CBE programs in KY offered 24 hour advising…it became so popular they expanded it to all students. This advising has been outsourced to Blackboard.

Laura Pedrick, executive director, UWM Online, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

  • Many CBE programs are targeted to specific student populations.  For the Flex Program, their ‘sweet spot’ are returning adults who have some credit but no degree and some work experience.
  • In designing CBE programs, be sure to engage the library – librarians know to package the learning resources most effectively.

Linda Schott, president, University of Maine at Presque Isle

  • Personalized learning changes everything!
  • Used brain/cognitive science to help make the case for CBE  to faculty.

Panel: Campus Infrastructure Issues

Hae Okimoto, director, academic technologies, University of Hawai’i system, invited panelist and the audience to grapple with consideration of the infrastructure needs which need to be filled to successfully implement CBE on campus.

Christi Amato, student support lead, TAACCCT Grant, Sinclair Community College

  • The top considerations for implementing CBE are:
    • What will the culture of the institution support?
    • Are there already natural ‘owners’ of the functions for CBE?
    • Who will own the student experience? CBE is an inherently solitary path and students need to be supported to be successful.
    • How will data support the desired outcomes of the CBE program?

Robert Collins, vice president, financial aid, Western Governors University

  • Involve your financial aid office early in the planning process.
  • The language around what qualifies a student for financial aid are complex but boil down to three touchpoints for students – admitted, enrolled and making satisfactory academic progress.

Peter Janzow, open badges lead and senior director of business & market development, Pearson

  • Used the analogy of travel as a parallel for CBE: the digital world supports travelers well – GPS, travel agents, multi-modalities, BYOD, social, sharing.
    • Humans bring their academic ‘baggage’ to education just as they bring luggage for travel.
    • In CBE, you have to support the whole human, not just the student.
  • Badges are empty containers that need to be filled with competencies and achievements.
    • Help students articulate to an employer their competencies and achievements, making outcomes more transparent.

Michael Reilly, executive director, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)

  • In planning CBE, it’s important to consider the electronic transfer of credentials. Involve your registrar in the process.
    • 42% of students who earn their first credential transferred at least once.
  • Be prepared to translate learning outcomes into a conventional format.
  • Don’t forget to consider ‘special populations’ like dual enrollment students and returning veterans in developing your CBE program.

Moderated Discussion of top issues

Karen Solomon, vice president, accreditation relations, Higher Learning Commission, helped wrap up day one by moderating a discussion of the top take aways from the two break out sessions.  Highlights include:

  • Need to create value for learners through clear translation to credentials & by making CBE affordable in means of not only tuition money paid but the time & opportunity costs to students.
  • Most destructive phrase in any innovation, including crafting CBE: We’ve always done it that way.
  • Student Information Systems (SIS) are a focus for CBE, the Learning Management System (LMS) is not so much of an issue.
  • Badges have been implemented in many different ways
    • connects those who are looking for employment and employers based on badges necessary to perform the job.
    • BadgesforVets connects employers with veterans looking for work by matching badges vets have earned based on their military service.
    • The Badge Alliance – a network of organizations and individuals building and enhancing an open badging ecosystem
    • Videos from the Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials MOOC/community are available on the WCET YouTube page.
  • There are concerns about ground level pedagogical issues – how it is done and how mastery levels are determined.
  • The question was raised: What happens when we find out something that’s good for the student is not good for the institution?
  • One A-ha! Moment shared: Think of CBE as less of a threat to either online or on-campus learning and more as another modality option.
  • Key needs addressed by CBE are learning validation & context translation/relevancy for broad career portability.

Day Two

Panel: Important Alternative Models for Best Serving the Student

Mary Alice McCarthy, senior policy analyst, New America Foundation served as the moderator for the morning session on day two in which panelists shared their  models – from badges to prior learning assessment and proprietary exams that translate into credit for students and what employers think of these models.

Carla Casilli, director, design and practice, Badge Alliance

  • Badges are stackable lifelong credentials and ways of mapping learning pathways connecting formal and informal learning.
  • OpenBadges is software developed by Mozilla which allows badge earners to store the meta-data that backs up their badges such as criteria, issuer, issue date, expiration date (if any), evidence URL and more.
  • The Badge Alliance is an outgrowth of Open Badges and is framed on a constellation model of working groups to develop the ecosystem that spans across subjects and a lifetime for students.

Grady Cope, president, Reata Engineering

  • Modern manufacturing has jobs, but many jobseekers don’t realize that they are no longer ‘smokestack’ jobs- they are more like a 3D environment seen in video games, but real.
  • For employers, credentialing of technical skills is important, but so is credentialing of skills such as teamwork, problem solving, leadership, critical thinking.
  • Involve employers as advisors to help shape programs, to ensure they meet the employers’ needs.
  • Can we better match student vision with industry need through CBE?

Steve Ernst, vice president, innovation and strategy, Excelsior College

  • Excelsior operates under the philosophy “What you know is more important than where or how you learned it.”
  • Excelsior uses a variety of models including: prior learning assessment, credit by exam, CBE, and online courses – all models leverage a common learning outcomes and competency framework.

Nan Travers, director, college- wide academic review, Empire State College

  • Empire State allows students to design their own degree within 13 areas of study.  All outcomes-based and PLA can be applied to any part of their degree.
  • Empire State participates in Open SUNY which gives all SUNY students access to online, 100% competency-based programs with open textbooks and OERs.
  • The State University of New York Center for the Recognition of Experiential and Academic Learning (SUNY REAL) will evaluate learning regardless of where, when, or how you acquired it as long as you can document your learning and it can be verified at the college/university level.

Panel: Business of Designing Alternative Pathways to Credentials

Jane Nichols, interim vice president of academic affairs, Truckee Meadows Community College moderated this panel exploring the key business models that have enabled new approaches to work in colleges.

Alison Leigh Brown, associate vice president, academic affairs, Northern Arizona University

  • NAU Personalized Learning is a subscription model – students can earn as much as they want in each six month period.  The model can sustain because they have unbundled both the faculty and student services roles – able to serve more students, better.
  • Involved faculty & student services from the beginning in an agile design model –short meetings with both sides involved.
  • Be obsessive compulsive about documenting everything.  Create orientation tutorials/videos for every role involved in the process.
  • The best recruiting tool is word of mouth from students.

Van Davis, director, higher education innovations, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

  • Texas has implemented the $10,000 baccalaureate and is stepping up effortst o help students who have college credit but no degree.
  • Education affordability is a civil rights issue.
  • CBE programs are expensive to start but after 5 years, in part due to scalability, they are in the black and start-up expenses are recouped.
  • Administrative and IT systems infrastructure are often the tail wagging the dog – legacy systems.
  • TX uses humans to do what humans do best and leverages technology & predictive analytics to improve affordability.

Greg Fowler, chief academic officer and vice president, academic administration, Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education (COCE)

  • Keep your egos in check. Stay clear about your mission – everything doesn’t need to be fixed.
  • Define a culture and protect your brand. Understand your mission & the environment in which you’re operating. Live your brand.
  • Academic quality is critical, but so are support services – most cited by students as critical to success.  Understand that academics will never be top priority for most of your students – it’s third at best – 1. Family 2. Job. Life is going to happen.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – some things are not going to work.  To enter the CBE field, you must also be comfortable with ambiguity & failure.

Al Lind, vice president, innovation and e-learning, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

  • Higher education’s weakness has always been in its business models.
  • KY Council on Postsecondary Education used a loan model, like a business start up would, for its CBE offerings.
  • Adjunct faculty who teach in the KY programs are paid on a per student basis (and set the number of students per course) and are paid bonuses for performance.
  • KY is bundling course materials with tuition for CBE programs.  Students were trying to pass courses without the materials –it wasn’t working.
  • Suggests those of us pursuing CBE programs read the Innovator’s series by Clayton M. Christensen, a noted author on the management of innovation and change.

Heard in the breakout discussion groups…

  • Degrees aren’t always translatable. What does it mean? What can you do and understand?
  • Liberal arts need to be woven into the hard skills based coursework towards CBE.
  • How do you build a reputation around a credential? Trust is a human factor.
  • Is cannibalization an issue? Are you training faculty just to have them swooped up by other institutions looking to implement CBE?
  • Great question: What is needed from doctoral granting institutions in order to produce the type of faculty we need to run CBE programs? (No one had gone there yet, but it intrigued the group.)
  • Degrees mean something. Degrees are not meaningless but they are not meaningful either.
  • Accreditors look to make sure that the plan is full embedded – that the strategy has been accepted throughout the ranks and is not a giant tree being held by a single root.
  • Fear of change was a common theme when discussing resistance to CBE.
  • Greg Fowler: When we say change, we think progress. When faculty hear change, they think correction (i.e. “what I’ve been doing is wrong.”)
  • Darcy Hardy: Discussing faculty fear: This is the same list as when we started online ed in 1998!

Closing Session: Recap of the Summit in Your Voice: The Most Interesting and/or Useful Takeaways

Peter Smith, senior vice president, Kaplan Higher Education Group lead this discussion with the whole group.  Rather than recreating the wheel, please view the live-blogged notes from Karen Solomon via padlet on this session.


CBE summit wordle 3Where do we go from here?

We welcome you to continue the discussion here on the Frontiers blog, through our members-only discussion list, on social media and in-person in Portland, OR this fall for the 26th WCET Annual Meeting November 19 – 21, 2014.  Thank you to all who attended, enhancing our conversations with each of your unique perspectives and to our fabulous sponsors who make these conversations possible.  Additionally, I’d like to thank the following WCET’ers for sharing their notes with me, to help make this summary as comprehensive as possible – Patricia Book, Pat James Hanz, Mollie McGill and Megan Raymond.


See you in Portland!

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Cali Morrison
WCET, Manager, Communications
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