#WCET14 Arrives in Portland & Your Desktop

WCET’ers are arriving from all over the nation in beautiful Portland, Oregon to celebrate 26 years of coming together.   This year we’re proud to present a program that brings both big picture, forward thinking ideas and practical applications that support student success.

Highlights Include:

Download the popular WCET mobile program app and start building your schedule!  iOS, Android, and web versions are available for phones and tablets.  This nifty app will allow you to track the sessions you want to get to, download the slides when presenters make them available and take notes during the sessions.  Be sure to check-in when you arrive at your sessions and use the networking functions to meet new friends and find old colleagues.

Tune in to our Award Winners

Congratulations to the 2014 WCET Outstanding Work award recipients who will receive their awards on Thursday during our Awards Lunch:

  • Capella University: FlexPathwowLogo2014
  • 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

Stay tuned to learn who receives the 2014 Richard Jonsen Award, which will also be announced during the Awards lunch.

Connect with WCET

Unable to Join us In Portland?

Photo of Cali MorrisonCali Morrison
Communications Manager


Exploring Portland at #WCET14

November 18, 2014

Another Portlandite, Jim Friscia, gives us a look into the fun Portland has to offer to compliment the learning at #WCET14.  Who knows, perhaps the next big thing in e-learning will come from a walk in the Japanese Garden, a conversation over a pint at Deschutes Brewery, or an inspirational sugar high at Voodoo Donuts.

In September, Loraine Schmitt of Portland Community College wrote an excellent post about Portland, the site of WCET’s annual meeting this week. It is chock full of great recommendation of places to eat, drink, shop, and relax. As another long-time resident and promoter of our beautiful city, I can’t help but chime in with some additional ideas for exploring in your free time. (BTW, I do hope some of you are planning to arrive early or stay through the weekend.)

Pioneer by CamKnows

Signs on Pioneer Square by CamKnows

Though you’ll be staying downtown, Portland is a city of neighborhoods, each with its distinct personality and options for exploring. Loraine mentioned the Pearl District and NW 23rd Avenue, but easy public transit options can take you to the Hawthorne District and nearby Division Street on the east side of the river. Division Street has recently become the hottest restaurant destination in our very foodie town. Or, head northeast to the Alberta Arts District and north to Boise-Eliot/Historic Mississippi Avenue, two of the hippest neighborhoods in the city (though you might be interested in learning more about Portland’s gentrification history that affected both of these areas).

We have amazing opportunities to walk, run, and hike in the city. If you’re a morning (or anytime) walker or runner, from the Marriott just cross the street and head north along Waterfront Park to the Steel Bridge. Cross the bridge and head south along the river’s Eastbank Esplanade path, crossing back to downtown on the Hawthorne Bridge. Another easy walk from the hotel is to head south along Waterfront Park and into the South Waterfront neighborhood. Here’s a link to more fabulous walks around the city. And, of course, we are a city of bridges that are fascinating to explore.

Speaking of walks, there are opportunities to join guided group walks that provide perspectives on Portland architecture, culture, and history. Here are two – one of downtown architecture on Friday afternoon, and of Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown district on Saturday morning.

japanese garden michael matti

Japanese Garden by Michael Matti

Are you a hiker? There are over 70 miles of trails in Portland’s Forest Park. This is a jewel of a wild urban park in Northwest Portland that you can easily get to via public transportation. Connected to Forest Park just to the west of downtown is Washington Park, where you can find the Oregon Zoo, the International Rose Test Garden, and the Japanese Garden. The Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most authentic outside of Japan, and the fall colors are beautiful.

Like to explore museums? Just a short walk from the hotel you can find the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, and OMSI (across the river from the hotel).

Enjoy heading out to live music? Portland has a wealth of options and if you want some recommendations, ask me or check out my occasional blog, Jim’s Music Notes.

There are so many tasty places to eat in Portland, from cheap to very expensive, and in virtually every neighborhood. To sort out many of the mindboggling choices, check out the Willamette Week’s current guide to the best restaurants in town. Both Urbanspoon and Yelp also have pages devoted to great places to eat, too. Have a favorite Portland chef? We currently have six James Beard award-winners and a host of notable nominees with restaurants in Portland. You can spend weeks eating here!

And if you’d like to know more about what has shaped the current state of the Portland and why young people “come here to retire,” check out this episode of public radio’s State of the Re:Union.

See you in Portland!

webJFrisciaJim Friscia
Director of Online Education & Learning Technologies
University of Western States
Integrating Health and Science

Nursing Regulation’s Prelicensure Guidelines for Distance Education Programs

November 14, 2014

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Nancy Spector over the past few years as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing works on the issue of prelicensure Nursing requirements across the states.  They have made significant progress in developing a “home state” model that will eventually require that only the state which the institution considers its home will be responsible for approving its prelicensure distance education programs.  Thank you to Nancy for this guest blog post updating us on their work.  — Russ Poulin

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing[1] (NCSBN) has been working to promote consistency, among the boards of nursing (BONs), with the state approval of prelicensure distance education programs.  Before we talk about this initiative, a little background on why BONs are involved in nursing education is important for you to understand.

In the U.S., prelicensure nursing programs are approved by their BONs before the students can take nursing’s licensure exam (the NCLEX).  Nurse licensure in the U.S. is based on a 2-pronged model.  First the faculty from a BON approved program must sign off that their student is clinically competent and able to take the NCLEX.  Then the board of nursing will make the student eligible to take the NCLEX, which is a computer adapted exam.  When the student passes the NCLEX, he/she can be licensed to practice nursing.  As part of the approval process, BONs evaluate and approve all nursing programs, including those that offer both traditional and distance education programs.

Issues in the Oversight of Distance Education Nursing Programs

Two national reports in nursing have recommended that nurses advance their education (Benner, Sutphen, Leonard & Day, 2010; IOM, 2011).  Distance education programs provide tremendous opportunities for nurses to further their education, particularly by offering quality programs in small communities or rural areas where nursing programs don’t exist or by allowing flexibility for those students who otherwise couldn’t attend a program.  However BONs have reported issues with distance education programs and some educators have complained about the varying BON regulations of the “host” states (where the student is located) with which they must comply.  Therefore, NCSBN’s Board of Directors convened a committee of our membership which met from 2012-2014 to identify the issues that boards of nursing and prelicensure nursing education programs face because of distance education and to develop some recommendations.

Some of the issues the committee identified included:

  • Core education requirements for approving distance education programs are needed so that states/jurisdictions are consistent when approving programs for having students in host states.
  • There is a need for licensure clarification, particularly with faculty who only teach didactic courses, though there was consensus that preceptors or clinical faculty who work with patients be licensed in the host state where the patients are located.
  • BONs in certain states want to know when students from out-of-state programs take clinical experiences in their state.
  • Host states want assurance that students participating in clinical experiences in their states are being supervised by qualified faculty or preceptors.
  • BONs report that the quality of online programs is more varied than with traditional programs and they have requested information on specifics on how to evaluate the quality of distance education programs.
  • Educators are worried about complying with all the different regulations from Boards of Higher Education as well as BONs.

To answer these concerns, the committee members took several steps.  First, we developed relevant definitions:

  • Distance education – Instruction offered by any means where the student and faculty are in separate physical locations. Teaching methods may be synchronous or asynchronous and shall facilitate and evaluate learning in compliance with BON approval status/regulations.
  • Home state – Where the program has legal domicile.
  • Host state – State/jurisdiction outside the home state where students participate in clinical experiences or didactic courses.

Changing the Need for Approval in Every Host State

Then, after conducting interviews, conference calls and surveys with our BONs, educators, and with representatives of the new National Council of State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (NC-SARA) organization, we developed guidelines for BONs that were translated into model administrative Rule/Act language[2] and adopted at NCSBN’s 2014 annual meeting.  The summarized guidelines are:

  1. Distance education programs must meet the same approval guidelines as any other program.
  2. Only the home state approves distance education programs.
  3. Home state ensures faculty supervision over clinical students in the host states.
  4. (a) Clinical faculty or preceptors are licensed where the patients/students are located. (b) Faculty who only teach didactic content are licensed in the home state.  Model licensure exemption language was developed to allow for this.
  5. BONs will include a question on their annual reports on whether students are engaging in clinical experiences in host states.

The committee encouraged the BONs to make these changes by 2020, which is in line with other national nursing education recommendations (IOM, 2011).  We developed a model (Figure 1, below) that clearly depicts the role of the home and host state with these new guidelines.  A major difference is that there will need to be more collaboration among the home and host states for program approval and for allowing programs to enroll students in host states.  Please see Lowery & Spector (2014) for a more comprehensive discussion of this committee work.

Venn diagram with "Collaboration for Public Protection" in the middle.  The role of Home and Host states is in the circles on each side.

Figure 1: Role of the home and host state in new NCSBN guidelines.

Website and Virtual Conference for Further Information

To support these efforts, NCSBN has developed a Distance Education web page with resources for BONs and educators.  This web page has a link for host states distance education requirements that educators have found valuable:  https://www.ncsbn.org/6662.htm.  NCSBN is also planning a virtual conference on April 28, 2015, for its BONs, which will feature Dr. Diane Skiba as a keynote presenter on the future of distance education and Dr. Diane Billings talking about quality indicators for distance education programs.  There will be plenty of time for dialogue, as well as panel discussions on the issues.  A special session will highlight the NC-SARA initiatives and Case Western Reserve’s new massive open online course (MOOC) on quality improvement.

What’s Next?

For next steps, NCSBN’s Board of Directors has convened a second committee, the APRN Distance Education Committee, which will develop guidelines for graduate programs with distance education courses.  With that new initiative, we will also develop a web page that will list all host state requirements for graduate nursing programs.  That work should be completed by August 2015.

It is imperative for BONs and educators to work together to promote excellent learning outcomes with distance education, which in turn will improve the quality and safety of patients. Authentic conversations will be essential as we move forward together.


Benner, P., Sutphen, M., Leonard, V. & Day, L. (2010). Educating nurses: A call for radical reform. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Institute of Medicine (2011). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Lowery, B. & Spector, N. (2014). Regulatory implications and recommendations for distance education in prelicensure nursing programs. Journal of Nursing Regulation, 5(3), 24-33.


Nancy Spector Photo


Nancy Spector, PhD, RN
Director, Regulatory Innovations
National Council of State Boards of Nursing



[1] The National Council of Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) is composed of the 59 member boards, which include 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories (Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa).  Three boards of nursing have RN and practical nurse boards and one board has an RN and advance practice registered nurse board.  .  The mission of NCSBN is to provide provides education, service, and research through collaborative leadership to promote evidence-based regulatory excellence for patient safety and public protection. The mission of our BONs is to protect the public.

[2] NCSBN’s model administrative Rule and Act language is developed by our members for the BONs to use as they write and revise their administrative Rules and Practice Act.  The NCSBN Model Rules and Act can be found here:  https://www.ncsbn.org/681.htm

The OER Trifecta: Access, Affordability and Student Success

A 2014 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award winner, the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) OER-Based Associate Degree Project has saved its students nearly half a million dollars in its pilot year.  Read on as Wm. Preston Davis, Director of Instructional Services, shares with us the values, processes and outcomes of this innovative program.

When I joined NOVA four years ago, I was almost overwhelmed by the size and scope of the institution. NOVA is one of the largest Community Colleges in the nation, serving a broad and diverse student population of over 70,000 students. NOVA also has one of the largest and most robust distance learning programs in the country, with 25,000 students enrolled in online courses. I immediately saw the importance of the college to the extended community, and envisioned a program that could help to alleviate some of the challenges facing students at NOVA by utilizing open educational resources.

OER Associate Degree Project

NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project is a comprehensive approach to addressing concerns over access, affordability and student success. There are three major goals of NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project:

  • To increase access to higher education. By making sure that each course includes all of the course materials and resources that students need, we are putting all students on the same level.  Each student has equal access to the same information, ensuring fairness and equality among all students enrolled in the OER course.
  • To make higher education more affordable. By eliminating the burden of additional textbook costs for students, the actual cost of taking an OER course is reduced.  Often, this is a significant reduction in cost which translates to considerable savings over time. This can result in much lower student debt, making attaining the Associate Degree easier and more valuable.
  • To increase student success at NOVA. By giving all students in an OER course equal access, and removing the burden of additional expenses to those who can least afford them, students have a better chance of being successful in the course, continuing their enrollment, and achieving their academic goals.

NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project is a two-phase project. In phase 1, we focused on a series of first-year, high-enrollment general education courses leading to a general studies certificate. In phase 2, we continued with a series of second-year, high-enrollment courses which allowed us to develop two full Associate Degree track options that use free and open educational resources.

Educational Technology

Open By Jeremy Brooks on FlickrWe developed our OER-Based Associate Degree Project to be delivered online, so that any student at any NOVA campus could have the opportunity to take these courses.  Our online students are familiar with technology and find having OER embedded into their online courses conducive to their learning.

Building digital content and resources into an online course helps to better engage the learner and keep them focused on the course material.  This leads to better knowledge retention, better course outcomes, improves their information literacy skills, and better prepares students to function more effectively in technology adapted careers.

Planning and Implementation

To accomplish this large and challenging project, it was crucial to build a team of dedicated and skilled faculty and staff who shared my vision. We had support from college leadership, and maximized our internal resources to accomplish our goals efficiently and effectively. Our Distance Learning Librarians provided guidance and expertise in locating and curating information and materials. Our Instructional Designers provided content organization and online instructional delivery expertise. Most importantly, we recruited select faculty with a history of innovative teaching as the content experts to design and teach the new OER courses.


The team-based adoption and implementation model developed for NOVA’s OER-Based Associate Degree Project can be applied by any institution.  The model is scalable and is applicable to traditional, hybrid and online modalities.  Furthermore, this model can be adapted to the level of education offered by the institution.  Several other institutions have already begun development of an OER Certificate program based on our model.

We have seen immediate benefits of the OER-Based Associate Degree project, measuring cost-savings to students in hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the impact that these OER courses have on each individual student and their success in reaching their educational goals is the true measure of success.  Over time, as our graduation rates grow and student debt shrinks, my colleagues and I will take great satisfaction in the difference that this OER project has made at NOVA and beyond.

Want to learn more? Join me in Portland for my session – OER-Based Associate Degree Program on Friday, Nov. 21 at 9:30 am.

W.Preston Davis headshotWm. Preston Davis, Ed.D.

Director of Instructional Services

Northern Virginia Community College



Photo Credit: Jeremy Brooks on Flickr

Big Data, Analytics and Reflections on Student Success

Today we feature Ellen Wagner, Chief Strategy Officer, Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework as she takes us on a tour of the post-secondary big data landscape, including reflections on the first three years of the PAR Framework.

It Begins With Big Data

One of the surest signs that a technology trigger is starting its roller-coaster ride through the (Gartner) Hype cycle of innovation is when the name we all call that trigger becomes a part of the public lexicon.

Today, Big Data is an all-encompassing term used to describe data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional data processing applications. A quick search of Google Trends shows that references to Big Data started to appear in web references, literature, and popular press back in 2007, after Tom Davenport and Jeanne Harris published their book Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (Harvard Business Review, 2007). Today, after only seven years, a Google search on Big Data will result in more than 857 million search results being surfaced. Big Data is so pervasive as an idea that it has become a meme, standing for something even bigger and more transformative than the data themselves. The term has come to stand for the idea that the records of activity that we leave in the path of our various digital engagements is just waiting to be mined by service providers, beacons, and embedded code strings, all in the service of optimized, personalized experience.

Big Data Landscape v 3.0 imageThis Big Data Landscape 3.0 graphic by Matt Turck et al provides a high level visual representation of the breadth and complexity of the Big Data landscape.  What is notable about this particular depiction is that very few of the companies in this graphic have very much to do with providing products and services for the post-secondary educational market in the United States. Some of the larger firms do have education lines of business, but these exist as part of a product company’s vertical market strategy rather than being explicitly aimed at big data services in education. The explanation for this apparent oversight is a simple one.  Although Big Data has certainly ramped up expectations of accountability and transparency in higher education settings, most of the data driving decision-making in higher education comes to us in columns and rows. Data sets that present in columns and rows can certainly be massive in number; however, data reported in columns and rows is still too small to be considered a true Big Data asset.

Nevertheless, meme of Big Data has been an effective catalyst to help people start to imagine what it will take to move away from authority-driven decision-making in post-secondary education and to establish a culture of evidence-based decision-making. But at a more systemic level, the ability to leverage insights to anticipate opportunities for optimizing effectiveness will be one of the key attributes demonstrated by data-savvy organizations and enterprises. How we license our digital textbooks will have everything to do with data related to use and student performance; the design of adaptive and personalized experiences will all depend upon data to filter, aggregate, assemble and exchange content, assessments and engagements.

Learner Analytics

So it should be no surprise that interest in learner analytics – predictive, inferential and descriptive alike – has grown steadily in recent years. The Learning Analytics and Knowledge conferences provided a venue for exploring dimensions of learning analytics research. The Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) helps explore the role and impact of analytics on teaching, learning training and deveIstock photo chartlopment. Purdue University’s Signals was among the first examples of using predictive analytics to identify students at risk, using a simple green – orange – red color scheme to flag students according to their risk probabilities. Sinclair College’s Student Success Plan provided early predictive case management support in the category for what is now emerging as Integrated Planning and Advising Systems (IPAS) tools and platforms. Rio Salado College used their PACE system to anticipate students at risk. Austin Peay University’s Degree Compass gave people an Amazon-like experience for course selection. Institutions including the American Public University System and the University of Phoenix made significant advancements in building sophisticated predictive analytics models to find students at risk. But it was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s investments in action analytics which helped jump-start and sustain multiple initiatives focused on building capacity to support using data to support and enable decision-making. In the post-secondary educational arena, these include Achieving the Dream , Completion by Design, as well as multiple waves of Next Generation Learning Challenges awards.  PAR, the Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework , received its first of several round of funding from the Gates Foundation in May, 2011.

PAR – From a Big Audacious Idea to a Collaborative, Non-Profit Venture

PAR Framework LogoFor the past three years the PAR Framework core staff and institutional members have created one of the largest student outcomes data resources ever assembled, from the voluntary contributions of de-identified student record from each of our member institutions.  We learned very early on that the common data definitions created to facilitate the exchange of records also provided us with the lexicon required for talking with one another about student risk, persistence, and success between and within institutions. We provide members with comparative benchmark reports. We provide localized predictive models generate a risk score for each (de-identified) student in the sample for each of our member institutions, and with access to dashboards for student watch-lists for designated professional staff including advisors and faculty.

The PAR Student Success Matrix (SSMX) then helps institutions comprehensively assess their student success policies, interventions and programs by organizing the wide variety of student supports – from orientation to mentoring to advising – into a systematic validated framework designed to quantify the impact of student success practices and determine the best support for students at the point of need.  The SSMx also reveals gaps and overlaps in student support programs and gives institutions the tools to evaluate the efficacy of their investments at the program level.  The common PAR measures for assessing and predicting risk and the validated frameworks categorizing student support services create the mechanism to effectively measure the impact of student supports within and across institutions.  


I was recently asked if I have been surprised by any of the things we have learned as PAR has evolved from a big audacious idea into being a learner analytics as a service provider for our members. I allowed that I have had three big surprises.

  • One of my biggest surprises has been the realization that even the most finely honed predictions of student risk are of marginal value if predictions of risk are not directly tied to actions to mitigate risks before those risks become realities. I have come to understand that prediction is the first step in a virtuous cycle of evidence-informed decision-making. By starting with a prediction of risk one can identify essential success behaviors that have been shown to mitigate the diagnosed risk. From this second step in the cycle, and with a diagnosis in hand, it is possible to link students with interventions designed to address diagnosed risks before they becomes a problem. Measures for assessing the relative impact and efficacy of that intervention can be linked to predictions of risk, bringing the cycle to its completion.
  • I have also been a little bit surprised that PAR’s common data definitions have turned out to be so strategically significant in our student success work. More to the point, I knew there were going to be essential for us to share data among multiple institutions. I just hadn’t realized that sharing our definitions would be useful for many others just getting started in analytics work. PAR’s common data definitions were recently identified as a key competitive advantage in this year’s Gartner Research Education Hype Cycle, 2014 Report . It is very satisfying to know that our efforts to create common data definitions have helped us communicate within and across data initiatives, with PAR’s openly published data definitions providing a stake in the ground for defining what we collectively mean when we talk about outcome measures and student success. More than 2,000 entities have downloaded our openly licensed definitions since we published it in 2013. PAR’s definitions have been cited in IMS Global’s Caliper specification,  and in Unizen’s  organizing documentation. PAR’s common data definition gives data projects a foundation for interchange, operating as a Rosetta Stone of student success data.
  • The third surprise, and perhaps the most satisfying one of all of my “big surprises” has been the degree to which educators, coming from all over the post-secondary ecosystem, will figure out ways to work together in the service of student success.We’ve seen that data of all shapes and sizes helps better inform the decisions we can make at ALL levels of the institution so that ALL education stakeholders -  students, faculty and administration are better prepared to succeed. Whether online, blended or on-the ground, whether state funded or publicly traded, whether we are two year or four year institutions, whether we are traditional or progressive – we know we can move the needle when student success is everyone’s passion.

The PAR Framework community is actively looking for forward-thinking institutional partners to join us in our efforts to launch a culture of evidence based decision-making in the service of student success. Please join us in Portland to learn more about becoming a part of the PAR community.

Photo of Ellen Wagner


Ellen Wagner, Chief Strategy Officer
PAR Framework

New Gainful Employment Regulations Tied to State Authorization

This morning, the U.S. Department of Education released a 945 page document describing its new “Gainful Employment” (GE) regulations. An informal version is available on the Department’s website and the final version will be published in the Federal Register on October 31.  Except for the quote from Inside Higher Ed, the other quotes are taken from an early release of the final document that I was able to view.

New to these regulations is an explicit connection between Gainful Employment and the state authorization regulations. As a result, the amount of information that will need to be reported and the number of states for which it will need to be reported could dramatically expand over what was published in the original proposed regulation.

Originally, colleges would have to report in the state in which they were located and also in their local Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The expansion means that institutions will be required to inform students about programs licensure, certification, and accreditation for each GE program for each state in which it must meet the federal state authorization rules.Sign reading "Help Wanted Apply within".

Currently, there is no federal regulation for state authorization for distance education, so it is not yet enforceable. Should that regulation be reinstated, the Gainful Employment notification regulations will be triggered in each state in which the college needs to be authorized for each program that is covered by Gainful Employment. We have heard that the Department may release proposed language for a new federal state authorization regulation sometime in 2015.

What is Gainful Employment?

Gainful Employment has been a controversial subject for several years. Its purpose, according to an article in today’s Inside Higher Ed:

“Gainful employment applies to vocational programs, including most of the for-profit sector’s offerings. Non-degree programs at community colleges would also need to comply with the rules, which are set to go into effect in July 2015. So would some non-degree programs at four-year nonprofit institutions, both public and private.”

The reason for the Gainful Employment rules are:

“Specifically, the Department is concerned that number of GE programs: (1) do not train students in the skills they need to obtain and maintain jobs in the occupation for which the program purports to provide training, (2) provide training for an occupation for which low wages do not justify program costs, and (3) are experiencing a high number of withdrawals or “churn” because relatively large numbers of students enroll but few, or none, complete the program, which can often lead to default. “

As a result, they will create a “transparency network” that will:

“…increase the transparency of student outcomes of GE programs so that students, prospective students, and their families have accurate and comparable information to help them make informed decisions about where to invest their time and money in pursuit of a postsecondary degree credential.”

Must Disclose Licensure, Certification, and Accreditation Info for GE Programs

The regulation will require colleges to disclose their licensure, certification, and accreditation status to students in Gainful Employment programs:

“We are…eliminating the proposal for program certifications to cover the States within an MSA, and requiring instead that the institutions provide applicable program certification in any State where the institution is otherwise required to obtain State approval under 34 CFR 600.9.”

As a reminder, §600.9 is the federal state authorization regulation. As stated in the paragraph below, the current federal state authorization regulation is only for states where an institution has a physical location:

“The current State authorization regulations apply to States where an institution has a physical location, and the program certification requirements also apply in those States so these two sets of requirements are aligned.”

But it goes on to hint that it will also include distance education if that regulation returns:

“If any changes are made in the future to extent the State authorization requirements in 34 600.9 to apply in other States, we intend the program certification requirement to remain aligned…We believe that the requirements for the applicable program certifications should also be provided for those States. This will ensure a program and institution that provides the program have the necessary State approvals for purposes of the Title IV, HEA programs. Linking the State certification requirements in §668.414(d)(2) with the State authorization regulations in §600.9 to identify States where institutions must obtain the applicable approvals benefits students and prospective students because the State authorization requirements include additional student projections for student enrolled in the programs for which certifications would be required.”

And a final reason for doing this…

“…institutions may be required to include on a program’s disclosure template whether the program meets the licensure, certification, and accreditation requirements of States…for which the institution has made a determination regarding those requirements so that students who intend to seek employment in those other States can consider this information before enrolling in the program.”


There are an unsettling number of colleges who are not transparent with students about this information. While Gainful Employment has definitely targeted the for-profit sector, there are plenty of institutions from other sectors who have not informed students about whether their program will meet local requirements.
I’ve only had a few hour to review this regulation. Some people did not think it was their job, it will be now.

I would not be surprised if there is not significant push-back and possible lawsuits regarding the whole regulation.

As I learn more, I’ll let you know.


Russell Poulin
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
Twitter: @wcet_info and @russpoulin


Photo credit: MorgueFile


Community Colleges Adapt to CBE for the Benefit of Their Students

At your cooperative, we’re always happy to share the learning of our members.  Sharing with us today is Sally Johnstone, Vice President for Academic Advancement at Western Governors University, about the work WGU has done with community colleges to launch CBE programs and the resources they have produced, which are open to all.

As some of you may be aware, Western Governors University has been working with almost a dozen community colleges across the country for the last two years.  Our role was to help them develop their own competency-based degree (CBE) programs. The staff members and faculty at these colleges worked at an incredible pace to incorporate the basic tenants of a CBE into their new programs. They were all faced with many challenges from both within and outside their institutions.  They met these challenges creatively and within the context of their own campus cultures.

cbe wgu 2300pxAmong them the colleges now have over 3,000 students enrolled in CBE programs.  The lessons they learned in their journeys from being vaguely aware of CBE to launching their own programs are being collected.  This week we launched www.CBEinfo.org.  It is site to help other community colleges learn from the pioneering work of Austin Community College, Bellevue College, Broward College, Columbia Basin College, Edmonds Community College, IVY Tech at both Fort Wayne and Lafayette, Lone Star College’s University Campus, Sinclair Community College, and Spokane Falls Community College.

One of the most remarkable aspects of all their work is that they integrated CBE into their regular campus operations. That effort has already enabled several of colleges to expand their CBE activities from a single degree or certificate program to include other academic areas.  The preliminary evidence indicating improvement in student success encouraged faculty and staff not involved in the initial projects to pay attention.

Accommodating Campus Cultures

The varieties in the campus cultures I mention above include both strong and loose system arrangements plus almost total autonomy.  Some campuses had faculty unions, some did not.  Some campuses were in states that tend to micromanage academic activities, like requiring A – F grades in each course.  These grades become meaningless when students are progressing by demonstrating mastery of the courses and working at different paces to achieve it.  The solution in this case was to assign a grade but redefine ‘passing’.  At a different campus, the faculty did not have state mandates to assign grades, but their student information system did require it.  Their solution was to consider an ‘A’ or ‘B.’ If a student earned a ‘C’ or lower he/she was allowed to continue working toward the degree but in a more traditional distance learning program.

As you explore the lessons on the site, you will also notice that the organizational structure to support CBE was dependent on the culture at each college.  For example, at Sinclair Community College they already had in place a sophisticated distance learning support center.  The faculty on campus were used to working with instructional designers who used common course templates.  This was a very good fit for the development of their CBE program.  In addition, they had developed technological tracking systems that allowed them to flag at risk distance learning students.  This was adapted to their CBE program and helped their academic coaches know which students might be struggling with their courses.

In contrast, at Austin Community College they did not have a centralized distance learning operation.  Consequently they created a support structure for CBE students and the faculty developing the courses within the academic department in which the program was housed.  It was a good way to get started, but as other academic departments are beginning to develop their own CBE programs, the staff in the Dean’s office is developing a new plan that will have some of the characteristics of the Sinclair center.

Interaction with the pioneers

Throughout this whole project all the colleges have been learning from one another. They will continue to do so as they modify their initial practices to better serve their students.  We now invite you to join in that sharing process.  Within www.CBEinfo.org is a Discussion option.  The staff and faculty from the partnering colleges have agreed to pay attention to questions and comments in that section and share what they have learning and are learning.

I look forward to seeing you online.


Johnstone,SallySally M. Johnstone
Vice President for Academic Advancement
Western Governors University

U-Pace: Building Student Success Through Content Mastery & Proactive Support

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a 2014 WCET Outstanding Work Award winner for their innovative online instructional approach, U-Pace.  Today Diane Reddy and Ray Fleming, co-creators of U-Pace and Laura Pedrick, executive director of UWM Online, share with us a little about the program.

Putting data into action. Valuable student data is now easily available to instructors through the Learning Management System (LMS) at their college or university. A wealth of information about each student’s work habits and progress is automatically recorded for each course. But while advances in learning management systems and learning analytics are accelerating, a gap remains between instructors’ ability to access student data and to act upon the data in an empirically-based way to fully utilize the potential to benefit their students. The U-Pace instructional approach uses information about learner engagement and performance recorded in the institution’s LMS to maximize students’ learning experience and provide personalized support for students to be successful.

U-Pace logoWhat does U-Pace mean for instructors? U-Pace is a self-paced, mastery-based online instructional approach that works within any LMS. U-Pace proactively supports learners through instructor-initiated messages called Amplified Assistance.

The mastery-based learning component of U-Pace consists of course content divided into small, manageable units (usually half of a chapter/lesson) that are each associated with a 10-item quiz. Students must demonstrate mastery on each unit quiz by scoring at least 90% before they can advance to new content. Retakes are unlimited (with a required one-hour wait between attempts), and consist of different quizzes that cover the same content.

Amplified Assistance consists of tailored feedback and motivational support that is emailed at least weekly to each student, which may be particularly useful for students who are struggling but reluctant to ask for help. Instructors use information recorded in the LMS to craft Amplified Assistance messages personalized for the student. Valuable information provided by most LMS’s includes:

  • When was the last time the student took a quiz or accessed the course material?
  • How many attempts does the student require to demonstrate mastery on a quiz?
  • Are students missing questions related to one particular concept that the instructor can help clarify?
  • Are students missing questions from multiple different content areas, perhaps suggesting they need assistance with their study skills and general approach to learning the material?

How does Amplified Assistance help students? In Amplified Assistance messages, instructors communicate unwavering belief in the student’s ability to succeed, and praise the student for small accomplishments (such as mastering a single quiz). Instructors also reinforce students’ effort and persistence (for example, by praising a student for consistently making attempts at a quiz they have found challenging to master), which may be especially beneficial for students who have the tendency to give up after minor set-backs. By focusing on the student’s positive behavior, instructors are shaping the student’s behavior for success. Through Amplified Assistance messages, U-Pace instructors provide the support students need to meet the high standards created by U-Pace’s mastery-based learning component, a combination which empowers students and fosters their sense of control over learning.

How can instructors create Amplified Assistance messages efficiently? Past U-Pace instructors have field-tested dozens of Amplified Assistance messages and created templates that are freely available on the U-Pace website. The variety of templates offered allows instructors to select a message from an appropriate category (e.g., “Students who are on schedule,” “Students who are behind schedule,” or “Students who have not started”) and then tailor each message based on the individual student’s performance. These templates reduce the time needed for instructors to compose effective messages to address student needs, while still offering instructors the flexibility to craft personalized messages that will be meaningful and build rapport with each student.

Does U-Pace produce results? The U-Pace instructional approach has been honored with a 2014 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award. U-Pace instruction produced striking student success in multiple rigorous evaluations, including a large randomized controlled trial (where learners did not self-select their course format) funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, and a multi-institutional study funded by EDUCAUSE’s Next Generation Learning Challenges program. U-Pace has consistently produced greater learning and greater academic success compared to conventional face-to-face instruction. U-Pace students have scored higher than conventionally taught students on proctored, cumulative exams taken at the end of the course, and again six months later (EDUCAUSE Review Online). A greater percentage of U-Pace students (compared to conventionally taught students) have earned final grades of A or B (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Case Study). Furthermore, U-Pace students have shown improvements in self-regulated learning, as evidenced by a decrease in the number of attempts needed to master the quizzes over the course of the semester (Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks).

UPace charts

How do students react to U-Pace instruction? Survey data has found that, relative to conventionally taught students, U-Pace students perceive greater instructor support, control over their learning, and improvements in time management and study skills over the semester (NGLC Grantee Profile, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks). Student reviews have mirrored these findings:

“I am actually retaining the information that I learned in this course. It has helped me out so much in boosting my confidence, and actually showing me, and opening the door, and saying you are just a step further from graduation and you can succeed because you have all these skills in you that you might have never seen before.”

“I go out and try new things, and I know that that sounds really weird, that a course can change someone like that, but you know that it is, I learned the content as well, but it is not even that, it is the fact that I am learning to be myself more, and I am opening up more doors to being motivated and having better time managing skills and being more confident in myself. Outside of school, people have noticed changes in me, that I have more of a glow to me, that I am more outgoing, almost because I have that confidence that I can actually do stuff that I used to think I had no business doing.”

Bottom line. By acting upon student data recorded in the LMS, instructors can have a meaningful impact on students. U-Pace is an empirically-tested instructional approach that has shown great success in utilizing this data to motivate, engage, and improve the learning of students. By integrating the U-Pace instructional method with LMS capabilities, instructors have the opportunity to maximize the value of these tools for guiding students to success.

If you’d like to learn more about U-Pace instruction, we’d be delighted to talk with you at the WCET Annual Meeting at one of our presentations on Thursday, November 20th: Conversation about Competency Based Education (1:30 – 2:30 pm) & U-Pace Instruction: Paving the Way to College Success (3:00 – 4:00 pm)


Reddy, Diane


Diane Reddy, Co-creator of U-Pace Instruction




Fleming, Ray


Ray Fleming, Co-creator of U-Pace Instruction




Pedrick, Laura


Laura Pedrick, Executive Director, UWM Online

Education Department Urges Colleges to Follow IPEDS Distance Ed Definitions

In an extended conversation with the U.S. Department of Education (US ED) IPEDS personnel, they confirmed which distance education enrollment counts colleges should be reporting to the Department’s IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) survey.

The Department representatives also wondered why we did not highlight some of the errors made by colleges in reporting their enrollments.   They encouraged colleges to follow the IPEDS definitions and instructions and to call them if they have any questions.


A few weeks ago Phil Hill of the e-Literate blog and I reported on anomalies that we found when colleges reported their distance education enrollments to the U.S. Department of Education.  Earlier this year the Department released data from its Fall Enrollment 2012 IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) survey.  For the first time in a long time, the survey included counts of distance education students.

Upon publishing our initial IPEDS blogs analyzing distance education enrollments, we heard from some of our readers.  They told us about the following situation in reporting their numbers when they strayed from what was expected of them.

Undercounts:  Some Colleges Did Not Report All of Their Distance Education Students

photo of dictionaries

There are many definitions of “distance education.”

The first report was from a college that did not report any of their students who were enrolled in continuing education, self-support (receive no state funding) colleges.  We were surprised at this and learned that other colleges also did not report all their distance education students.

In following up, some whom we contacted were unaware that there were self-support entities on some campuses that offered for-credit courses  leading to full degrees.  They do exist.  The most common instance is with public colleges that have a College of Continuing Education.  Jim Fong, Director, University Professional and Continuing Education Association’s Center for Research and Consulting, said that his organization has about 370 members.  In a survey a couple years ago, about 91% of the respondents to his inquiry have for-credit offerings.  He did not have data on how many are self-support units.

Reasons for the Undercount

We heard different reasons for not reporting these students:

  • Misunderstanding the IPEDS instructions.  The survey instructs colleges to: “Exclude students who are not enrolled for credit. For example, exclude: Students enrolled exclusively in Continuing Education Units (CEUs).”  Of course, this instruction is intended to reference non-credit, CEU courses….not colleges of continuing education.  It is conceivable that someone may have misread the instruction.
  • They understood, but it was too difficult to do.  For some colleges the data systems for the continuing education colleges are different than those for the main campus.  Merging the data is difficult and would take calculations by hand.
  • They chose not to report the correct enrollments to IPEDS.  A college might decide that it does not wish to report different enrollment numbers to IPEDS than it reported to the state, even though the requirements for each government entity are different.
  • Their data system was not ready.  One college said that their data system simply was not ready to report the correct numbers.

Response from the Department

The Department was offered a chance to provide a written response, but they declined.  In their discussion with me they noted:

  • Most of the reasons given above were not due to the IPEDS definition, but were due to errors or inaction by the colleges.  That’s a fair point.
  • The definition asks colleges to: “Include all students enrolled for credit (courses or programs that can be applied towards the requirements for a postsecondary degree, diploma, certificate, or other formal award), regardless of whether or not they are seeking a degree or certificate.”  There is no mention of how the courses are funded or whether the courses are offered by a continuing education college.  They were very clear that students enrolled in for-credit courses in colleges of continuing education should have been included in the counts.  The Department will not issue a clarifying document, but they plan to inform the state IPEDS coordinators when they next meet.

Photo of a dictionary with the term "disclaimer" highlighted.Overcounts:  Some Colleges Using the Wrong Definition of “Distance Education”

As we talked to colleges, we learned that some colleges did not use the definition of “distance education.”  IPEDS defines a “distance education course” as: “A course in which the instructional content is delivered exclusively via distance education.  Requirements for coming to campus for orientation, testing, or academic support services do not exclude a course from being classified as distance education.”

Reasons for the Overcount

We heard different reasons for using their own definitions:

  • Misunderstanding the IPEDS instructions.  One institution said that it tried to get a clarification on the definition and was still confused even after contacting the IPEDS call center.
  • They understood, but it was too difficult to do.  The state and/or an accrediting agency may already have its own definition that differs from the IPEDS definition and it would be difficult to create another classification just for IPEDS.  A few examples:
    • The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges defines distance education as when “a majority of instruction (interaction between students and instructors and among students) in a course occurs when students and instructors are not in the same place.” By majority, colleges are interpreting that to mean more than 50% of the instruction.
    • The Texas Coordinating Board defines a “Fully Distance Education Course” as having “mandatory face-to-face sessions totaling no more than 15 percent of the instructional time.”   Therefore 85% of the instruction is at a distance.
  • They chose not to report the correct enrollments to IPEDS.  A college might decide that it does not wish to report different enrollment numbers to IPEDS than it reported to the state, even though the requirements are different.

Response from the Department

In their discussion with me they noted:

  • Most of the reasons given above were not due to the IPEDS definition, but were due to errors or inaction by the colleges.  Once again, that’s a fair point.
  • The IPEDS “distance education” definition (cited above) defines a distance education as being nearly 100% at a distance.  The definition is clearly listed in the IPEDS Glossary.  While they understand that states may have differing reporting requirements, they were very clear that they expect colleges to use this nearly 100% definition in reporting distance education enrollments.  Again, the Department will not issue a clarifying document, but they plan to inform the state IPEDS coordinators when they next meet.

In Conclusion…

Some final thoughts:

  • As shown with the “distance education” definition examples, a college in Texas would need to report distance education as 51+% of a course to SACS, 86+% of a course to its Coordinating Board, and nearly 100% of a course to IPEDS.  You can see the difficulties they face.
  • The Department did not seem to think that the errors from these anomalies were significant.  From the enrollments numbers that were reported to IPEDS, about one-in-eight students take all of their courses at a distance and about one-in-four take at least some distance courses.  Those are significant numbers and I’d like to see both colleges and IPEDS strive to make future counts as accurate as possible.
  • Those colleges waiting for a clarification from the Department will not see anything dramatic. They may want to call them if they have any questions or feel that they might not be reporting enrollments correctly.

Finally, we could ask the question as to whether the Department’s definition of “distance education” is a useful one?  On the plus side, it is a clear definition.  On the negative side, the “nearly 100%” definition does not reflect current practice.  But, that’s a question for a different day.  And it is a discussion that may need to include accreditors and states.

For now, let’s use the definitions as presented by the Department so that IPEDS has accurate data to inform federal financial aid policies.

RussPhoto of Russ Poulin with baseball bat

Russell Poulin
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
Twitter:  wcet_info and RussPoulin

Join us in Portland, OR for the WCET Annual Meeting – November 19-21.


Photo credits:
Dictionaries – Morgue File
“Disclaimer” definition – Morgue File


Intellipath for MBA preparation

Today we welcome Colorado Technical University Chief Academic Officer and Provost, Connie Johnson and CTU faculty member, Sarah Pingrey as they share what their WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) award-winning program has done to improve the student and faculty experience in MBA-preparatory courses.

One of the great pleasures that I have as Chief Academic Officer of Colorado Technical University, is to work with a large group of talented faculty who embrace new technology to improve student learning. In 2012, CTU committed to creating a personalized learning experience for our students.

Because CTU has many adult students pursuing an MBA degree that may have an undergraduate degree in other disciplines, University Dean of Business, Dr. Gail Whitaker worked with the business program committee to integrate adaptive learning into business pre-requisites. The purpose was two-fold: to ensure that students received the content that he or she specifically needed as a knowledge-base for the MBA program and to comply with prerequisite requirements prescribed by Association Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). This innovative approach, which CTU received the WCET Outstanding Work award for, provided students with a tailored learning path for topics including accounting, statistics, economics and finance.

Central to the implementation of adaptive learning technology (Intellipath) were faculty who created relevant assessments and content for each course. Intellipath provides content to students determined by an assessment and provides instructors with the ability to work with students.

The Faculty Experience

Sarah Pingrey, faculty member at CTU, shares her experience using the platform:

I started working on the adaptive learning platform Intellipath at CTU in the spring of 2012. From development to testing to piloting courses to full implementation, I’ve seen Intellipath grow into an essential learning platform for students. Throughout my teaching career other platforms have tried to woo me, but Intellipath does something different – faculty members are intimately involved in their students’ progress every step of the way.

CTU dashboard view 1Teaching in an Intellipath classroom is such a joyful experience. Training is simple with videos and documents to review and a short quiz to demonstrate competency. Once training is complete and fundamental best practices are understood, the next step is to delve deeper into exactly what Intellipath offers and how to access and use this information. With so many students entering the classroom who are scared that mathematics will be the end of their college careers, I am to be able to follow their progress through the course objectives, praise their successes, and help them immediately when they struggle. Intellipath gives me the information I need to do this and there is no way a student can fall behind without me knowing.

Intellipath contains detailed data for the entire class and for each student, and using this data effectively is crucial. The first thing I want to know is whether a student has started working on their weekly assignments. Intellipath clearly shows which students have started or completed the assignment. Also, it only takes a quick glance to find a student’s current knowledge score on the assignment, the number of objectives completed, the time spent working on the assignment, and the day that the assignment was last accessed. This information is such a treat for an instructor to have. Instructors can now motivate students who have not started the assignment and give praise to those who have.

CTU dashboard view 2Students can also easily flag difficult problems. A detailed solution is provided to every problem, but if a student doesn’t understand the solution or has a question, they can easily flag the problem by just pushing a button. The problem, the student’s solution, and the scratch work can be viewed, and I am able to leave feedback for the student. Encouraging students to use this feature is crucial and students are very likely to use it since they are able to ask questions without having to directly email the instructor: pushing a button is easy.

Intellipath has definitely led to more interaction between students and faculty. It has also changed the dynamics of synchronous lectures. Having the lectures apply to all students can be challenging when some students have already started their Intellipath assignments and have very specific questions, while other students don’t have enough foundational knowledge yet to jump into answering these questions. Having organized slides and corresponding class activities, and being able to jump around in them during the lecture, makes teaching more effective for both students and faculty.

The biggest challenge for an online professor can be making that initial connection with students. Students are struggling, but what they are struggling with is unknown until it is too late. Intellipath takes away the mystery of why a student is struggling and makes interactions between the instructor and student easy, fun, and often. I am excited for the future of Intellipath, and most of all, excited that students are truly learning!

If you’re interested in learning more about CTU’s Intellipath for MBA-preparation program, be sure to join us at the WCET Annual Meeting where Connie will share more about the program on Thursday, November 20.


Headshot of Connie JohnsonConnie Johnson
Chief Academic Officer & Provost
Colorado Technical University







headshot of Sarah PingreySarah Pingrey
Colorado Technical University


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