WCET Strategic Priorities: Practice, Policy, and Advocacy

Today we hear from Peter Smith, Founding President, Open College @ Kaplan University and chair of the WCET Executive Council.  Thank you Peter for your insights today and the leadership you provide your Cooperative.

It is a tremendous honor to have the opportunity to serve as the Chair of the WCET Executive Committee, especially as the “Abbiatti Era” dawns at WCET. Once again, WCET has identified the right leader at the right time to address the challenges and opportunities that we and our members face in the educational technology space.

As those of you who have worked with Mike know, he moves quickly and surely to define objectives and create clarity of direction and purpose. Since he arrived, Mike has worked with the staff, members of the Steering Committee and the Executive Council, to list, prioritize, and select a limited number of three strategic focus areas for WCET. They represent, I believe, appropriately diverse levels and types of activity that are at one and the same time aggressive, important, and achievable.


22253314_sThere are three areas which have been identified for strategic focus, each distinct from the other two, but all intertwined in an organizational DNA that will prove extremely valuable. Historically, WCET is a membership organization which focuses on best and emerging practices in the use of technology in Higher Education at the institutional level. This will continue to be the organizing vision and purpose of WCET: to serve the practice-related needs of our institutional and other members in the use of technology. In my opinion, no one does it better than we do. But by choosing it as an explicit strategic focus area, it will drive a more operational focus, and hence improvement, going forward.


At the same time, we all know and understand that the policy arena in higher education will be significantly occupied by technology-oriented issues as well as the disruptive consequences of big data, abundant information, and new technological capacities emerging every day. Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world that WCET should lead the analysis of policy that impacts technology-enhanced teaching and learning. This year, it will undoubtedly involve the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. But as we have seen from other initiatives, such as PAR and SARA, the policy conversations of the future will be as diverse as they are, in some cases, unanticipated.


Finally, when you consider the sum total of these first two priorities, it suggests that WCET’s third area of strategic focus should be advocacy, guiding proposed regulations and policies so that they result in practices that benefit students while also balancing the needs of institutions and governments. While we can and should engage in joint advocacy with other groups, and there will be, and should be, other voices in this discussion, WCET’s membership base, focus on practice, and history in the advocacy field position us well to be a major national and global voice.

I look forward to an exciting and productive year working with Mike, his extraordinary team, the Executive and Steering Committee members and all the members who make WCET the vital and important organization that it has become. We are standing at a crossroads in higher education. The leadership opportunity in practice, policy and advocacy in and for technology –related issues has never been bigger or more important. Working together, we can seize the future.

Peter SmithPeter Smith
Founding President
Open College @ Kaplan University

Empowering Practices: 3 Steps You Can Take Now To Improve Academic Integrity

Today we welcome academic integrity expert Tricia Bertam Gallant, Outreach Coordinator at the International Center on Integrity, who will share with us how they are helping institutions employ academic integrity best practices.  The “Trusted Seal of Integrity” should help us combat issues like those addressed in this December 30 article.  Tricia and her team are making great strides, but they can’t combat integrity issues in a bubble, they need the support of the entire academic community to do so!  Thank you Tricia for the informative blog and the great work you’re doing.   

There is a rumor I frequently hear uttered (both under one’s breath and outright, as if in exclamation) — “online students cheat more than regular students!”

This rumor is uttered in traditional brick and mortar institutions by faculty who are resisting online education. It is uttered in general society by people who want, yet fear, new and expanding opportunities for people to undertake higher education. And the rumor is uttered by online instructors who worry that academic integrity will be undermined by people they cannot identify or know.

The truth is that there is no research to support the claim that online students cheat more than students who take traditional brick-and-mortar classes. The research, in fact, is inconclusive. Some online students cheat more than some traditional students, and some traditional classes have more cheating than some online classes.

Why is the Research on Online Cheating Inconclusive?

CAII_SquareICAILogoThe research is inconclusive because the research doesn’t consider the practices employed by the instructors of those courses. And the truth is that online and traditional brick-and-mortar class instructors can implement the same best practices to enhance integrity and reduce cheating. There is no secret here to what works – we just need to commit to applying them in the online educational environment.

The best practices to enhancing integrity and reducing cheating in any classroom are to:

  1. Inform and Educate
  2. Prevent & Protect
  3. Practice & Support

Inform and Educate

Generally speaking, many university bound students are ignorant of academic integrity. Yes, they may have been taught not to lie, cheat or steal, like most of us, but they have existed (and thrived) in educational environments in which almost any method for getting assignments in and passing tests is acceptable, or at least, only lightly punished.

This means that our domestic or international, online or face-to-face, younger or older students, all need to be informed and educated on academic integrity and specifically about the academic integrity “dos and don’ts” of a particular classroom, program and/or institution. And, their knowledge needs to be assessed so we can be more certain that they do share the same understanding that we do.

Prevent and Protect

We also need to take steps to ensure that our assessment practices promote integrity. Are we verifying student identity when they are demonstrating their knowledge? Are we monitoring and verifying the integrity of assessments? This is critical, of course, in both in-person and online exams.

If the online students are taking their exams in person, the institution should ensure that the testing site is employing best integrity practices, and if the online student is taking his or her exam remotely, the institution should be using technological tools to ensure that the person completing the assessment is the person who is enrolled in the class.

Practice and Support

Finally, in order to support both faculty and students in ensuring that integrity is the norm and cheating is the exception, the program and institution needs policies and procedures that are consistently implemented, equitable, and reviewed.  These policies should encourage consistent reporting of integrity violations, provide for a fair and educational process for alleged violators, provide a teachable moment, and be reviewed every 3-5 years to ensure the integrity of the process.

The “Trusted Seal of Integrity”

Trusted SealIf we manage to do these three things in online (or face-to-face) educational environments, then we will be employing best integrity practices, and, perhaps more importantly, it will be more likely than not that cheating will be the exception and integrity the norm.

To help faculty, programs and institutions employ these best integrity practices, the International Center for Academic Integrity and Software Secure have partnered to develop the Trusted Seal of Integrity program. This program provides faculty, programs and institutions with a rubric by which they can assess how well they are employing best integrity practices. And, if they are performing sufficiently, they can be awarded the Trusted Seal – a public declaration that integrity is a priority for the instructor, the program and the institution.

For more information about Trusted Seal, you can email me or visit us at www.integritytrusted.com. I’d be happy to hear from you!


Dr. GallantTricia Bertram Gallant

ICAI & Trusted Seal







Defining a Research Agenda for Distance Education

Thank you to Tanya Joosten, Laura Pedrick, and Diane Reddy for inviting me to a summit to kick-off the new National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements.  Operated by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, DETA (as they have thankfully monikered the effort) is:

“…funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, seeks to foster student access and success through evidence-based, cross-institutional online learning practices and technologies.  Moreover, the DETA Research Center looks to identify and evaluate effective course and institutional practices in online learning, including competency-based education, specifically addressing underrepresented populations.”

This effort is long overdue as I’m for anything that helps to answer the standard (but untrue) charge that “there is no research on distance education.”  When you point to the literature, then they amend it to, “there is no good research on distance education.”   As someone with a degree in educational statistics, the dirty little secret is that there is an uncomfortable amount of not-very-good research on higher education, regardless of the mode of instruction.  But, enough about my pet peeves.

DETA Will Create Rigorous, Interdisciplinary, and Standardized Research

The ultimate goal is to:

“Conduct rigorous, interdisciplinary, and standardized research to identify outcomes and influences on all students, including those with disabilities.”  

DETA Meeting February 2015According to Dr. Joosten, they plan to create research protocols that meet the “What Works Clearinghouse” guidelines.  The Clearinghouse promotes randomized trials and quasi-experimental research designs where randomization is not possible.

Monday’s summit was the first step in identifying research questions, formulating measures, and developing research instruments.   There were lively discussions across a wide range of possible research questions that included attention to inputs (student characteristics, faculty preparation, student support systems), outputs (measures of success both traditional and new), and throughputs (interventions along the way that help the student succeed).

DETA will create “research toolkits” for each research question that they choose.  In year two of the grant, they will issue RFP’s for institutions (with a possible preference to groups of institution) that will conduct the research using the toolkits.

This idea of replicability of research is a key one to me.  Quite often the research is one-off look at how a few students fared in a small number of course sections.  We could learn much by taking a research design that has been vetted as a strong research model and apply it in a variety of institutional settings and/or students representing different demographic characteristics.   We could answer the questions, “does that instance of technology-mediated instruction work?,” “in what settings does it work?,” and “in what settings does it not work?”

From the findings of the research, DETA will create effective case studies on what they have learned.  The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) is the official dissemination partner, but WCET is very interested in helping in both the formative and dissemination stages.  I’m sure our members are eager to conduct research that leads to improved student learning.

Follow DETA’s Work

Kudos to our friends at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for using a very open model for their processes.  See their grant website for more information on DETA and its progress.  The Summit website includes lists of participants, background documents, and the discussions from each subgroup.

DETA is compiling the input and will continue to keep us informed on their progress.  As WCET learns more, we will invite DETA staff to update us.

As a stats geek, it’s delightful to see that we are on the path to a solid research agenda for distance education and other forms of technology-mediated learning.


Russ PoulinRuss Poulin
Deputy Director, Research & Analysis





Federal Reg Updates: Teacher Prep, Ratings System, TEACH Act, & Net Neutrality

Last week’s blog post looked forward to the likely reauthorization this year of The Higher Education Act, the “major law that authorizes the federal programs that support colleges and universities and their students, most significantly the federal student loan and grant programs.”

Meanwhile, there are several other laws and regulations that are currently in play.  With the help of EDUCAUSE’s Jarret Cummings, we’ll update you on proposed new regulations of interest to the technology-mediated instruction community.  Update include the teacher preparatory programs, the Postsecondary Institutional Ratings System, the new TEACH Act (focusing on accessibility requirements), and Net Neutrality.

Teacher Preparation Program Accountability

OLC, UPCEA, and WCET see many barriers to distance ed in proposed teacher prep regulations.

OLC, UPCEA, and WCET see many barriers to distance ed in proposed teacher prep regulations.

The Online Learning Consortium (OLC), University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and WCET jointly submitted a letter expressing our concerns with the proposed regulations for states to oversee teacher preparation programs.  We especially focused on the concerns for teacher education programs offered at a distance.  Our objections (which we initially identified in a post last December) included:

  • The burden on states and institutions to implement the proposed regulations is greatly underestimated. The measures for burden do not seem to account for the special issues faced by distance education programs enrolling students in multiple states.
  • Few distance education programs are included in reviews conducted by states. Distance education programs will need to comply with these new reporting requirements, which will differ with each state.
  • Since each state will have different measures for the same program, this could lead to confusion for consumers and possible discrimination against innovative programs.

We also provide five recommendations on how the Department of Education might address these concerns.

We at WCET express our gratitude to those at OLC, UPCEA, the President’s Forum, and the United States Distance Learning Association for co-signing the letter.  We’re stronger together.

Postsecondary Institutional Ratings System

The Department of Education is also seeking comment on its proposed rating system that will be used for at the following purposes (taken from the College Ratings website):

  • “To help colleges and universities measure, benchmark, and improve across shared principles of access, affordability, and outcomes.
  • To provide better information about college value to students and families to support them as they search for select a college,
  • To generate reliable, useful data that policymakers and the public can use to hold America’s colleges and universities accountable for key performance measures. In the future this can be used to help align incentives for colleges to serve students from all backgrounds well by focusing on the shared principles of access, affordability, and outcomes; ensuring wise and effective use of $150 billion in financial aid.
  • In additional to federal efforts, and those of individual institutions, we believe the ratings system can help inform policy, accreditation and funding decisions by states education authorities, policies and practices of accreditors and others.”

While there is more details about what is being proposed, there is much work to be done.  The document for comment includes several questions that they are seeking to answer.

The greatest short-term concern for those who serve non-traditional students is the IPEDS completion rate, which (until now) focused only on first-time, full-time students.  Transfer students and those enrolling part-time were excluded from the counts.  While those students are now being included, the first results from that inclusion will not be available until 2017 (see page 10).  There’s one huge problem with this, version 1.0 of the ratings will be released prior to the 2015/15 school year (see page 2).  Why are they releasing results prior to having accurate data on one of the most important outcomes measures?

We urge you to comment:

“The Department welcomes comments until February 17, 2015 on the approaches and specific questions outlined in this document either publicly through the comment section of the Department’s higher education blog or by email to collegefeedback@ed.gov”

TEACH Act Compromise Efforts Ongoing

Photo of Jarret Cummings.

EDUCAUSE’s Jarret Cummings updates us on the TEACH Act and Net Neutrality.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) worked with members of Congress last year to introduce the Technology, Equality and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act (TEACH Act). The bill proposed to foster the development of voluntary guidelines for “electronic instructional materials and related technologies.” Many higher education associations support this goal, believing that voluntary guidelines could help colleges and universities continue to improve in meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities. However, they have concerns that the bill as written would unintentionally hamper the use of technology to advance learning by all students, including those with disabilities. At a meeting last October, NFB and AAP agreed to work with the American Council on Education (ACE), EDUCAUSE, and others to develop a new legislative proposal for creating voluntary guidelines that would avoid the pitfalls of the previous bill. The groups have worked since then on a shared concept outline for a bill. A few outstanding issues remain, but once those are resolved, the participating groups will move to draft the compromise bill itself, with the goal of introducing it for the Higher Education Act reauthorization process set to start later this year

Network Neutrality Process Far From Over

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) neared the release of new network neutrality rules last fall, President Obama publicly advocated that the FCC reclassify commercial Internet access services as “telecommunications services” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This would clearly establish the FCC’s authority to create network neutrality rules after federal courts had overturned previous efforts. However, it would carry with it a host of provisions developed over decades largely to cover “plain old telephone service” with utility-style regulation. Critics are concerned about the FCC’s ability to appropriately determine what and what not to apply from the Title II legacy. They believe that the FCC should use its more flexible authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to craft rules without “stifling innovation with the heavy hand of government.”

Many believe that the President’s announcement has pushed the FCC to take the Title II route, which should become apparent when the FCC chairman shares draft rules with the rest of the Commission on Feb. 5. The commissioners will then vote on the proposed rules at a scheduled Feb. 26th meeting, which FCC watchers believe will produce a 3-2, party-line vote for adoption. The telecommunications industry has made it very clear, though, that it will challenge Title II reclassification in court while also working with Congress to overturn any FCC action along those lines. The relevant committees in the House and Senate have already released a draft bill for discussion. It would create a new section of the Communications Act to establish network neutrality rules while preventing Title II regulation of ISPs. It is unclear whether Congress can pass a bill of this type, or whether such a bill could survive a presidential veto. So, it will likely be later this spring before we know what action, if any, Congress can take on network neutrality. And if the FCC’s rules clear that hurdle, we will have to wait for the courts to determine if the FCC finally has a formula that can withstand legal challenge as well.

Thank You, Stay Tuned, and Get Involved

Again, a big thank you to Jarret Cummings of EDUCAUSE for his great work on the TEACH Act (we’re indebted to him on this) and on Net Neutrality.

Keep watching for updates and get involved.  The more comments, input, and influence that we can assert from multiple sources, the better off we will be.

Thank you for your participation.

RussPhoto of Russ Poulin with baseball bat

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

Photo credits: Smartboard by Jisc – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jiscimages/436456433

If you like what we do and you’re not a member…join us!


Strong Signals for HEA Reauthorization in 2015

With great foresight into the happenings of the Hill, today Christopher T. Murray and Kenneth D. Salomon, partners at Thompson Coburn LLP, share with us what they have observed regarding Higher Ed Act Reauthorization possibilities for 2015.  WCET is currently exploring ways to work with other organizations on policy advocacy and you will hear about a joint letter we have crafted on the proposed teacher preparation regulations and their implications soon.  Thank you Chris and Ken for sharing your insights with us.

The Higher Education Act, commonly known as the HEA, is the major law that authorizes the federal programs that support colleges and universities and their students, most significantly the federal student loan and grant programs.

US-Capital-by-Stephen-MelkisethianFirst enacted in 1965, the HEA must be renewed periodically (called “reauthorizations”) or else it expires.  In the event that Congress does not fully reauthorize the HEA, it must pass a stop-gap, temporary extension so that HEA programs and funds remain flowing.  Including the original law, there have been nine iterations of the HEA, and the upcoming reauthorization will be the tenth version of the HEA in its fifty years.

Reauthorization is generally a multi-year process that provides the opportunity for Congress to renew existing programs without change, amend them, or add new programs or requirements.  Although the prevailing view outside the Beltway is that Washington is broken and that Congress has done little to move legislation forward, we are optimistic for the chances of some sort of HEA bill moving this year.

Simply stated, consider HEA reauthorization under way. 

In the Congress that ended in December 2014, the education committees in the House and Senate made much progress in getting smaller – but still important – bills passed by their chambers and signed into law.  The passage of those smaller bills in 2014 clears the way for consideration of the two behemoths under these committees’ jurisdiction: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (most recently enacted as No Child Left Behind), governing K-12, and the HEA, governing higher education.

In 2014, both committees began laying the preliminary groundwork for HEA, anticipating movement in 2015.  Most public were the committee hearings on HEA reauthorization, a typical precursor to the reauthorization of any major law.

The House passed a series of piecemeal HEA bills in 2014 that will be wrapped into a full reauthorization, largely a symbolic gesture because these bills died in the Democratically-controlled Senate.  Though symbolic, their passage, on topics like transparency and competency-based education, did send the important signal that there are areas of common ground between the parties.

In the Senate, then-Ranking Member Alexander (R-TN) convened a task force on reducing regulation in higher education, and Chairman Harkin (D-IA) introduced a draft bill in the waning days of the Congress.  Senator Harkin spent the greatest amount of time during his tenure with the gavel castigating for-profit institutions, and that posture will change vividly to a broader examination of higher education as a whole with Alexander now chair.

Two Major Changes Will Influence Reauthorization

Two major changes will influence what this Congress does in this reauthorization.  The first is the change of Senate control from the Democrats to the Republicans.  The second is the fact that three of the top four House and Senate education committee leaders are new.

Joining Chairman Alexander at the helm of the Senate education committee is Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA).  In the House, Representative Kline (R-MN) is on his last term as education committee chair, but the Committee’s longtime Democratic leader retired and has been replaced by Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA).  Senator Alexander may be the best-informed committee chairman in history on higher education, having devoted his career to education, from serving as US Secretary of Education to President of the University of Tennessee.  Both he and Kline are focused, in large part, on regulatory simplification.

Building on the initial steps taken in the last Congress, preparatory reauthorization discussions among the new committee leaders and the Administration have been going on for the past few months.  These efforts have been intended to narrow differences and identify areas of consensus, which do seem fairly numerous despite notable disputes on issues like gainful employment and the college ratings system.

Congress has two means to set aside regulations undertaken during the Obama era that they find objectionable: statutory provisions in the reauthorization bill repealing or revising them, or denying the Department funding to implement them in the Department’s annual appropriations bill.  In either case, the President could veto the legislation.  If, however, the reauthorization or appropriations bill contains enough other policies that the President wants, he may determine to sign the measure into law anyway despite some concerns.

Both chairmen have said since December that they hope to turn in earnest to the HEA by summer, once they have completed work on K-12 reauthorization, with the goal of sending an HEA reauthorization  bill to the President by year’s end.  That’s an ambitious schedule, but one that might well be achieved.

In the House, expect legislation to move quickly through the committee markup and then to the House floor for passage.  In the Senate, Chairman Alexander is looking to return to regular order to allow amendments during the committee markup and on the Senate floor, including Democrats throughout the process.  Mr. Alexander is committed to the Senate moving back to its traditional role as a deliberative body, largely absent during the tenure of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).  The result will be a complicated process on the Senate floor for amendments, but the bill will likely be more bipartisan as a result, and thus also more apt to be signed by a Democratic president.

The final step in the  process may be the most important: the conference committee.  Leaders from both chambers appoint conferees to negotiate between the two bills and hammer out a final bill.  House and Senate leaders tend to pick their A team of policy leaders, and those members then have in-depth conversations as they put the final touches on the bill.

Though the parties have disagreed on certain higher education policies over the decades, the HEA has not historically been overly partisan.  For example, the last reauthorization of the HEA occurred during the final months of the Bush Administration in August 2008 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was Speaker.

It is far too early to know whether or not Chairmen Kline and Alexander will be able to meet their aggressive HEA reauthorization timeline.  Similarly, it is too soon to say what a final reauthorization measure will or will not include.

Will Congress Address eLearning’s Concerns?

Train-Leaving-by-Elvert-BarnesOver the last two decades, Congress made changes that impacted eLearning dramatically.   The 1992 reauthorization made distance learners eligible to receive federal financial aid for the first time.  The 1998 reauthorization created the Distance Learning Demonstration Program, and the 2006 temporary extension of the HEA eliminated the 50 Percent Rule.

If there are policy objectives that the eLearning community would like to see added to or changed in current law or regulation, both education committees are looking for concrete suggestions, including proposed statutory language.  There is time, but not too much, for the eLearning community to come together with a consolidated package of recommendations.  The train is leaving the station, and the next opportunity will be many years away.


Christopher T MurrayChristopher T. Murray
Partner, Thomas Coburn LLP







Kenneth D SalomonKenneth D. Salomon
Partner, Thompson Coburn LLP







Photo Credit: US Capitol by Stephen Melkisethian  Photo Credit: Train Leaving by Elvert Barnes

Open Educational Resources in ND: A Teacher’s Perspective

In a continuation of our look into the Open Educational Resources Initiative in North Dakota, today we are excited to share Teresa Tande’s, Associate Professor of English/Humanities at Lake Region State College, story of incorporating OER into her classroom.

When my university life students didn’t see a textbook to buy for the class, they were ecstatic!  Obviously, that meant no homework.  But they soon found out they were receiving a free digital book: they still had to read and they still had to do work.  So how was an open source book different from having a text or having an online text?

The Student Perspective

Lake Region State CollegeFrom the student perspective, not having to lug a book around was definitely a bonus. But not having a book to lug around also meant that sometimes, without a book staring at them from a pile, they forgot to read an assigned chapter. No doubt that is due more to student trait, not open source textbook.

The actual reading itself didn’t seem to cause any real problem for students. The book that we used was set up very nicely, with specific objectives listed before each section.  Likewise, the end of each section contained the key points and pertinent exercises with direct application to the chapter’s concepts.

Checklists before sections allowed the students to interact with the material before they even read.  Because I converted all the pdf chapters to word documents, students were able to actually type their marks or responses within the book itself, so their answers would always be there.  Sending the work in was as easy as “Copy + Paste.”

The Teacher Perspective

From the teacher perspective, not having to lug a book back and forth between school and work was definitely a bonus.  But that also meant I always needed to have access to a computer since my phone screen is still a bit too small for reading. Even though I was able to interact with the text through highlighting or making notes, reviewing those notes again meant needing a computer for retrieval, which sometimes proves to be awkward.

When I committed to my particular online book, the extent of my resources was a digital version of the text with limited pictures.  That is such a contrast from what teachers receive with  new proprietary texts.  Instructor manuals, pre-made powerpoints, text banks, and even suggested course outlines are the expected minimum resources with traditional textbooks.   No longer does a teacher have to spend hours creating visuals, typing up tests, or designing the sequence of units.  A teacher doesn’t even have to think about what to teach, but rather, what material to use.

As nice as it is to have so many readily accessible resources, lessons take on a canned quality as convenience dominates over creativity.  But in using a text stripped of all the extra packaging, I have returned to what my early years of teaching (almost 40 years ago!) were like, where I need to rely on my creativity to conjure up lessons to help my students understand.  And even though the actual process of lesson planning takes longer, I feel a deeper connection to my lesson and a greater satisfaction knowing I crafted it.  In that sense, the OER has benefitted not only the student, but also the teacher.

My students this semester know they are part of the exploration in using OERs.  In fact, the first writing students had to do in Comp II was a response to an article on OERs. Contrary to what many might believe, our digital-savvy students don’t all prefer a digital version over the physical version of a book. It will be an interesting journey this semester discovering their positions on OERs after 17 weeks.

As for me, I will continue to do what is best for the students.  Who knows?  If textbooks are too heavy and too expensive, and if OERs are too awkward and not tactile enough, maybe I will choose not to use texts at all and have students learn by doing.  Now there’s a concept!

Teresa TandeTeresa Tande
Associate Professor, English/Humanities
Lake Region State College

OER Supported by North Dakota Legislators

Today we have the privilege of hearing from Tanya Spilovoy, director of distance education and state authorization at the North Dakota University System, as she shares with us the journey of an open educational resource initiative that has what we all want for higher education — support from legislators. 

Folks love to talk about the soaring costs of higher education and the national student debt load. We’ve had the same concerned discussions in North Dakota. Then, we decided to do something about it. A 2013 legislative interest in increasing the use of Open Textbooks kicked off a revolutionary plan in the North Dakota University System. At that time, it was estimated that North Dakota University System students spent around $1,100 per year on textbooks. I was asked to work with a team made up of faculty, a student, technologists, and provosts to draft a white paper exploring the concept of open textbooks in response to that legislative request. The stakeholders discussed the results of the white paper along with many other important issues.

NDUS_Logo_TagAfter the white paper was complete, the project lost momentum. And, I remember thinking, “Someone needs to finish the Open Educational Resources initiative.” I waited for someone to step up and do the work. And then, I realized that the “someone” was me.

I spoke with Dr. Lisa Feldner, the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Research and Information Technology about my ideas to take Open Educational Resources from concept to reality. She said, “I think you should go for it.” And, so I did.

Over the next few months, I spent a significant amount of time researching, planning, preparing presentations, and collaborating with stakeholders across the North Dakota University System. What makes the Open Educational Resources initiative in North Dakota so unique is that it is now supported by the Council of College Faculty, the North Dakota Student Association, the State Board of Higher Education, legislators who serve on the Interim Higher Education Funding Committee at the Legislature, and the North Dakota University System. Gaining the support of so many different groups has taken time, persistence, and a passion for improving higher education.

On October 2, 2014, the State Board of Higher Education included increasing the use of Open Educational Resources in its five-year strategic plan. In addition, Governor Dalrymple’s biennial budget sets aside $220,000 for funding “open educational resources.” On January 15, 2014, House Bill 1261 was introduced, proposing the creation of a higher education open educational resources incentive grant program. The initial investment and collaboration with Dr. David Ernst, the executive director of the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library, and other repositories is estimated to save North Dakota students millions of dollars in textbook costs. While the full plan to train and support faculty in developing and adopting OER has not yet been implemented, a few innovative early-adopters like Teresa Tande and Michelle Murphy at Lake Region State College and Eric Murphy at University of North Dakota, are beginning to use Open Educational Resources in their classrooms. These preliminary classrooms have produced positive results for both faculty and students.

kimberlyNDUS_OERThe Open Educational Resources initiative could have great impact for students like my friend, Kimberly Mayer-Berger. She is a single mom who recently returned to finish a degree she started years ago. She and I talk a lot about the financial and time commitments she faces by adding college to her work and parenting responsibilities. We strategize her road to graduation. Last week, Kimberly wrote a Facebook post about the high cost of her college textbooks.

While Kim’s post is sarcastic, the high cost of textbooks is no laughing matter. I know there is still a lot of work to be done in North Dakota before Open Educational Resources are commonly used in a variety of classes. The North Dakota Legislature has the final say on whether project support is appropriated – and they’re talking about it now. We’ll know at the end of the session whether Open Educational Resources funding survives.  But the possibility of lowering the cost of college attendance for students like Kimberly truly makes it all worthwhile.

Tanya SpilovoyTanya Spilovoy
Director, Distance Education & State Authorization
North Dakota University System

Connecting the Dots

Today we welcome our new WCET executive director, Michael D. Abbiatti, to his first post on Frontiers.  Many of you know Mike from his years of active participation as a member of WCET.  We invite you to take a moment and read about the policy and practice challenges and opportunities he sees for WCET in 2015.

I recently attended our son’s graduation from the Texas A&M doctoral program in Pharmacy, and was treated to one of the best explanations of the unique value of our WCET policy and practice ecosystem as we enter 2015.  A Texas Legislator, and a person with a clear vision for the future, presented the graduation address. The central message of her speech was that our collective mission in today’s complex world is to “connect the dots.” Needless to say, I was expecting a simple comparison to the children’ s coloring books that required drawing logical lines between dots to reveal a “hidden” image.  The actual presentation was not only completely different, but also an inspiring treatise on the challenges we all face in the 21st Century Global Economy. The thoughts that follow are my adaptation of the “connecting the dots” theme in the context of the opportunities and challenges for WCET in 2015.

Simple and complex connect the dots cirlces

Connecting the dots today takes different shape than in the past.

The old connecting the dots games were both fun and educational. In today’s world, we are obliged to concern ourselves with connecting a completely new set of dot categories, or domains, that may be connected in an endless number of patterns. Each pattern is unique to the personality and personal goals of the individual learner, and is also directly tied to the way each of us views our relationship to those around us. WCET members have the unique opportunity to work together to resolve the puzzles for collective benefit.

As an organization , we  are presented with at least five critical “dots “ requiring connection in 2015:

  • An increasingly complex regulatory environment
  • Diverse learner communities
  • Evolving credentials
  • Cost and price containment
  • The Internet of Things phenomenon

Complex Regulatory Environment

We begin 2015 with a complex regulatory environment that includes new requirements for digital content delivery. State Authorization, Net Neutrality, data collection and reporting requirements, and new programs to support ubiquitous Internet access present a dynamic and poorly defined set of standards we must meet.

We can expect more rules as the Federal lawmakers delve deeper into higher education structure, function, and delivery methods. Therefore, our students are faced with trying to interpret this fluid policy environment in the context of their personal need and resources. A complicating fact is that learner populations are more numerous and diverse than ever.

Diverse Learner Communities

Although technology-enhanced education is not a new concept, we entered 2014 with a somewhat predictable mix between the traditional, campus-based student population and the “non-traditional”(whatever that means) off-campus learners.

In 2015, based upon the struggling economic recovery, the military drawdown, and a myriad of other life changing events, the demand for higher education is increasing significantly. Innovative experiments such as MOOCs have shown us that the chronological age and  physical location of a given learner are no longer limiting factors when it comes to accessing needed content and skills. Furthermore, leaner populations continue to differentiate into those seeking concrete paths to traditional degrees (the “typical undergraduate and postgraduate students), learners seeking time-dependent employment certifications beyond IT ( healthcare, law enforcement, etc.), individuals and groups of all ages enrolling in free courses to secure specific information or to explore content (with or without intent to complete the course(s), i.e. the MOOC model), and an evolving series of sub-populations that are not yet defined.

Evolving Credentials

Interestingly enough, the credentials being sought by today’s learner populations are being redefined as well. In addition, the New Year will see the rise and fall of higher education credentials. We will see the life cycle of the mini-degree (i.e. the popular mini-MBA), the outcome of accumulation of “badges”(the Kahn Academy, or MIT Openstudy), the three year degree program that is at least on the minds of almost every state legislature, and a host of other creative approaches to decreasing the time requirement, cost (how much funding is needed to offer the education), price (what does a student pay) of higher education in the US. Thus, cost and price come to the forefront of the discussion.

Cost and Price Containment

2015 will see a continuation of the debate over funding for higher education at multiple levels. Federal interest in cost containment will bring about a host of both intended and unintended consequences that will eventually filter through the regions, the states, the systems, and the institutions to the pocketbooks of the individual learner. Students are concerned about the rising price of obtaining a higher education credential, and the accumulating debt associated with the process.

It is said that the Gen X students (born between 1965 and 1980) still value the more “traditional” college experience, but the Millenials (born after 1980), prefer to invest in “educational experiences” versus the physical trappings of the previous college offerings. As an active WCET member, you are well aware of the costs associated with providing fully immersive and interactive digital experiences in the “classroom” where ever it may be located.  So, how do we lower price to the students and increase the value-add of the finished product? Perhaps the Internet of Things (IoT) phenomenon holds the answers to this complex question.

The Internet of Things (IoT) Phenomenon

Wearables by IntelFreePressSimply defined for the purposes of this article, The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to connecting anything and everything that can be connected to the Global Internet.  More specifically, at a recent IoT meeting in Louisville, KY we developed an operational definition of IoT as ubiquitous Internet-connected devices linking people, processes, and data. Interestingly enough, every segment of the global business community, except one, has an IoT strategy and ongoing trend analysis.

The one critical community without a clear IoT strategy in the US is Education.

Certainly we deal with Internet-related issues on a daily basis and we employ professionals who have the skills and passion to react to unintended events. However, do we have plans to deal with the costs and consequences of connecting all of the fixed and mobile devices on our campuses to the Internet? Are we prepared to absorb the costs for required infrastructure and security when we adopt the latest and greatest online teaching and learning tools for a global audience? What is the impact of leveraging OER, collaborative degrees, and high speed networks on our staff and support structures? In short, are we prepared to make good on the promises being made by IoT as those promises relate to providing access to affordable credentials?

Our students come to campus in an Internet-enabled car, carrying multiple Internet-dependent devices, expecting educational “experiences” that are both low cost and content rich. They invest in laptops, tablets, smartphones, fitbits, and will expect the latest and greatest tool in the classroom. The most important question for our WCET membership is, “Does your institution/system/state have an actionable IoT strategy?”

Connecting the Dots with WCET

So, back to connecting the dots. The “dots” of yesterday produce a predetermined image that is the same to every person who elected to pick up a pen and connect them. The result is wholly predictable. Connecting our new “dots” will produce an “image”  that is totally individual and rapidly changing.

I challenge you to contact your WCET colleagues and resources and get busy “connecting the dots”! The outcome is completely up to you as an active member of the nation’s premier technology-enhanced education policy and practice organization – WCET!

WCET is on target, on task, and leaning forward to success in 2015 !

Mike Abbiatti

Mike Abbiatti in his new office in Boulder. Photo Credit: Megan Raymond

Michael D. Abbiatti
Executive Director – WCET
Vice President for Educational Technologies – WICHE

Top “Ten-ish” WCET Blogs from 2014

Looking back at 2014, here are some of our most popular blog posts.  There were some posts that were quite popular regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking process for state authorization for distance education regulations.  We’ve removed those that were interim updates on the negotiations.  This list reflects views of our blog posts.  Thank you to the increasing number of subscribers to our post.  We appreciate your following us.

Eight Popular Posts

New Gainful Employment Regulations Tied to State Authorization

Posted in October, the Department of Education greatly expanded the scope of the gainful employment regulation.  If the federal state authorization regulation returns, those programs subject to gainful employment rules will need to report on those outcomes throughout the U.S.  Previously, the rule only covered students in the institution’s state or local metropolitan area, if that area crossed state lines.  This will have a huge impact on colleges subject to gainful employment rules.

Cat staring intently at a computer screen.

There are more than cat videos on the Internet. See our top posts from 2014.

Virginia Tech Rethinks Instructional Design and Faculty Development Support

Posted in April, Virginia Tech has a long history of excellence in faculty development.  Even so, it was time to try something new. They report on that experiment.

U.S. Department of Education “Pausing” on State Authorization

Posted in June, the Department had been expected to publish its own regulations for public comment sometime in the summer.  After several organizations expressed concern over the direction of the proposed regulations, the Department decided to postpone proposing any new state authorization for distance education regulations until 2015.

Untangling Two State Authorization Rules: “On-Ground” and “Distance Education”

Posted in February, Greg Ferenbach of Cooley, LLP enlightens us on a second state authorization regulation (for institutions operating within their own state) that has also had a bumpy path.

State Authorization Negotiated Rulemaking: What Happened? What’s Next?

Posted in May, this is a post mortem on what happened in the Department of Education’s Negotiated Rulemaking process in considering federal regulations on state authorization for distance education.

Proposed Safeguards Against Financial Aid Fraud: Some Needed, Some Go Too Far

Posted in February, the Department of Education’s Office of  Inspector General expresses its concern over financial aid fraud, especially in distance education programs.  The Department was supposed to take action on the recommendations, but has not done so yet.

Investigation of IPEDS Distance Education Date: System Not Ready for Modern Trends

Posted in September, we partnered with Phil Hill of the e-Literate blog to analyze the Fall 2012 enrollment counts.  In that year, IPEDS recorded distance education enrollments for the first time in many years.  We found that many institutions mis-reported their distance education enrollments.

Education Department Urges Colleges to Follow IPEDS Distance Ed Definitions

Posted in October, the Department’s response to our IPEDS distance education enrollment anomalies was to suggest that institutions follow the instructions.

A Couple Oldies, But Goodies that Still Ranked High

Is Your Distance Education Course Actually a Correspondence Course?

First posted in April 2012, this one has been listed in syllabi and resource lists. It looks at the criteria used by the Department of Education in ruling that one institution’s courses were actually correspondence courses.  The institution was asked to repay  a large amount of federal financial aid funds.  This was one of our top posts for the third straight year.

10 Steps You Can Take to Begin the State Authorization Process

First posted in May 2012, Marianne Boeke (of NCHEMS) and Sharmila Basu Conger (now Sharmila Basu Mann of SHEEO) give you some key advice.

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


Photo credit:  Morgue File.

Kentucky’s Commonwealth College – United We Stand

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education has a great history of statewide elearning innovation, see Kentucky Virtual Campus, Kentucky Virtual Library, Kentucky Virtual Adult Education, and  Learn on Demand.  In a partnership among its colleges, they are increasing the capacity to assist with adult degree completion.  I was on that “national experts” panel that he cites and the progress is very exciting.  Thank you to Al Lind for this update and the entire WCET community wishes him the greatest of joy as he pursues innovative ways to enjoy retirement.
Russ Poulin

Commonwealth College is a statewide bachelor’s degree completion program in high-demand occupational areas for adults in an online, competency-based format at Kentucky public universities.

The official seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  It reads "United We Stand, Divided We Fall" with two people shaking hands in the center.The seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky consists of the words, “United we stand, divided we fall,” and the image of two diverse people clasping one another.  That is the spirit that is incorporated into the implementation of our competency-based education initiative called Commonwealth College.

I for one did not see it that way during an early organizing meeting with leading national experts on CBE.  We all agreed that a single isolated entity should be responsible for CBE bachelor degrees in Kentucky.  Clay Christenson had explained in The Innovators Dilemma, Disrupting Class and The Innovative University that it is easier to change a culture like higher education from the outside, rather than from within where tradition would trump innovation.

However, through a series of events Kentucky was prepared to involve all eight public four–year institutions equally in a special legislative appropriation of $5 million to launch Commonwealth College.  That is until an eleventh hour evaporation of the $5 million.  A strange and wonderful thing then happened. Collaboration broke out.

The University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, with coordination and support from the Council on Postsecondary Education, were compelled to continue with their own resources albeit on a smaller scale.  Why is not entirely clear, but I believe some of the reasons include:

  • Momentum had built up and was hard to stop.
  • Commitment from a small group of people ready to proceed.
  • The Kentucky public two-year institutions at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System had already demonstrated a successful model of collaborative competency-based associate degrees: Learn on Demand.
  • Demands from the business community.
  • Political leaders still desired it.
  • Kentucky’s history of leadership in emerging education policy.
  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported our collaborative approach with a Next Generation Learner Challenge – Breakthrough Model Incubator award.
  • It is the right thing to do.

The University of Louisville, with leadership from Provost Shirley Willihnganz and Associate Provost Gale Rhodes, will offer an Organizational Leadership and Learning degree with an emphasis in Healthcare Management.

Western Kentucky University, with leadership from Provost Gordon Emslie and Associate Vice President Beth Laves, will offer an Advanced Manufacturing degree.

The Council on Postsecondary Education, with leadership from Senior Vice President Aaron Thompson and Senior Academic Advisor Cheryl King, will provide coordination and the support of its Kentucky Virtual Campus infrastructure.Logo for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

The original vision of all eight public four-year institutions participating is still alive.  After the first two degrees roll out in 2015, it is hoped that Commonwealth College will scale with additional degrees from all eight institutions.

The common Guiding Principles that define Commonwealth College are that it:

  • Meets the needs of adults who started college but did not graduate.
  • Meets the needs of Kentucky employers.
  • Offers statewide nonduplicative degrees in high-demand occupational areas.
  • Benefits from ongoing employer input and involvement.
  • Uses a common brand and marketing strategies.
  • Offers clear pathways from KCTCS Learn on Demand programs into baccalaureate programs.
  • Offers credit for prior learning based on CAEL principles of effectiveness.
  • Allows students to learn at their own pace.
  • Provides personalized coaching.
  • Makes it easy and convenient to enroll, transfer credits, make payments and purchase course materials.
  • Uses a common Web portal with program, course and enrollment information; real-time employment and workforce information and data.
  • Includes 365/24/7 student support and career services.
  • Utilizes a collaborative platform among Kentucky public four-year institutions on which to build degrees that drive student enrollment .
  • Strives to offer high quality degrees at reasonable and affordable subscription-based tuition rates.

So while it will not be an easy path, we will persevere to collaborate across the university structure, across two-year and four-year institutions and across business relationships to provide working adults with a united higher education experience.Photo of Al Lind

That’s the spirit that is sealed into the Commonwealth!

Allen Lind
Vice President, Innovation and eLearning
Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education


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