Saturday, January 30, 2010

Minn. college graduation rates going up

by Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
January 25, 2010

St. Paul, Minn. — A new state report shows graduation rates at Minnesota colleges are on the rise. Colleges say that's because they're pushing students harder to finish their degrees in six years or less.

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education says, as of 2008, 61 percent of first-time, fulltime college students got their bachelor's degrees within six years. That number has slowly crept upward over the years.

Less than a decade ago, at the University of Minnesota, less than half of students graduated in six years. Now that number is more than 60 percent.

The U's dean of undergraduate education, Bob McMaster, says that's because the college started requiring students to take more classes every semester.

"Our advisors pretty much insist, and the university insists, on taking 13 credits, and you have to have a waiver not to take 13 credits here," said McMaster.

Anything over 13 credits is free, something the college hopes encourages students to take a heavier course load and graduate sooner.

Six-year graduation rates are highest at the state's private colleges. In 2008, 72 percent of students graduated in six years or less.

"In this global economy, we can't have any of our students not completing what they started."
- Dave Metzen, Office of Higher Education

John Manning with the Minnesota Private Colleges Council says they credit that to a lower staff-to-student ratio at private schools.

"That carries over into more counseling, more attention to individual students," said Manning. "So there's more likelihood that individual students' needs will be met on an ongoing basis, to help keep them on track for a timely graduation." Another reason behind the improvement in graduation rates is more stringent entrance requirements. Schools that have raised the admissions bar in recent years see a higher caliber class of incoming freshmen more likely to finish their degrees.

State-run universities, under the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, admit students with lower test scores. Those students often take longer to get a degree.

At MnSCU schools, 48 percent of students get their degree in six years or less. That number has gone up in recent years, but still lags behind the U of M and the state's private schools.

Linda Baer, MnSCU's senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, says there's another reason students at state-run universities take longer to finish their degrees -- many of them are going to school full time while working full time.

"In fact, going to school and living your life is far more what more people are doing, and are going to be doing in the future," said Baer, "because updating their education and their competencies and skills will be the name of the game in this next decade."

Colleges are happy to see steady increases in the six-year graduation rate. But Dave Metzen, who heads up the state's Office of Higher Education, wants to see even more effort behind improving the graduation rate at Minnesota's colleges.

"In this global economy, we can't have any of our students not completing what they started," said Metzen. "This has to be a high priority for all of us in education."

While the six-year graduation rate is often used as a measurement of success, the number of students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in four years is still relatively low.

In 2008, 36 percent of U of M students and less than 20 percent of MnSCU state university students graduated in four years. The number is higher at the state's private colleges, at 59 percent.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Broadband internet can help curb rising college costs

By StraighterLine CEO Burck Smith - 01/18/10 11:53 AM ET

With the economy stuck in neutral, improving skills and increasing educational attainment remain keys to our economic recovery and long-term national health. But with tuition rising faster than inflation, getting a college degree or securing the skills needed for a 21st century job is as hard as it’s ever been.

We need to contain the cost of education by utilizing new tools to allow people to get the training they need to get a job. The good news is that we have the technology and tools to do this. The bad news is that the policies and infrastructure necessary to drive cost savings to students, like ubiquitous access to high-speed Internet access, are not in place.

Distance education is, by far, the fastest growing portion of higher education. It’s cheaper to deliver a course online than face-to-face. Students who participate using broadband place much less of a strain on an institution’s resources like light, heat, and parking lots. In addition, distance education courses typically do not have pre-scheduled lectures with required attendance. Instead, students rely on videos and other multimedia presentations. With content delivery available at the student’s discretion, students are freer to move through a course at their own pace, rather than a fixed course schedule.

By reducing costs and allowing self-paced courses, distance education enables new pricing models that can dramatically reduce the cost to the student and taxpayer. For instance, what if courses were priced by the month rather than by the course? Students who complete the course rapidly save money as do those who realize quickly that they are not ready for that particular course. For high-failure rate courses, such as remedial education, this approach can dramatically lower the debt burden for struggling students and reduce the cost to taxpayers financing state schools. In making learning less costly and less risky, the door of opportunity swings more widely open for more people.

Though such innovation and savings are possible, they are hampered by an outdated state and federal regulatory structure and, for some, lack of access to a high-speed data connection. For instance, colleges are reluctant to offer subscription pricing because it doesn’t fit how federal student financial aid and state financing are delivered. Also, colleges are reluctant to reduce the price of distance education courses because that would reduce the revenue that they use to subsidize other parts of the college, often non-academic elements. Lastly, students taking courses from course providers that do offer innovative pricing models -- such as StraighterLine, the company that I founded and run – sometimes encounter difficulties when trying to transfer equivalent credit from one college to another.

As I wrote in “Public Policy Barriers to Post-Secondary Cost Control,” a forthcoming chapter of a book sponsored by the Gates Foundation and published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), “the only way to educate more students without breaking the bank will be to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of higher education. This requires us to re-think the regulatory structure of higher education to create conditions more favorable for academic and price innovation.”

As such, we need to implement reforms that will give students more meaningful choices about where and how they take their college courses. For instance, with low-priced distance education courses, students may take dramatically more of these courses – thereby saving themselves and taxpayers billions of dollars. StraighterLine offers courses in a subscription format at prices below that of community colleges without any of the 50-70% state and federal subsidies that colleges enjoy. These courses have been reviewed and approved for college credit by a variety of accredited colleges and regulatory bodies.

With policy changes and a commitment to expanding broadband access to everyone, students and taxpayers can solve the annual complaint of ever-rising college prices and the crippling burden of student debt. Not only will this save money, but it will dramatically increase the use of distance education and quicken the pace of higher education innovation. The only way we, as a nation, are going to provide 21st century skills at a price we can afford is to create a technical and regulatory environment that allows us to innovate in ways that higher education hasn’t done in centuries.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Schools must embrace technology

The need for schools to prepare for 21st century learning was top of the agenda at this year's BETT conference.
They must embrace mobile technologies, games, podcasts and social networking, according to leading educationalist Professor Stephen Heppell.
Schools should also break away from traditional classroom and curriculum models, he argued.
The gap between those schools embracing technology and those not is getting bigger, he said.
Prof Heppell was speaking to delegates at BETT, the world's biggest educational technology show.

Technology revolution
Meanwhile the UK's minister for Schools and Families Vernon Coaker reiterated the government's commitment to putting technology at the heart of the school curriculum.
"Teachers need access to innovative services. We must prepare pupils for the future workplace," said Mr Coaker.
"Cutting edge technology is the cornerstone of our reforms," he added.
The UK's Building Schools for the Future programme will see every state secondary school in England rebuilt or remodelled over the next 15 - 20 years.
But in that timeframe there could be a big divide between schools, thinks Professor Heppell.
"There is a gap between the schools that are doing pioneering stuff and those simply doing a shiny version of 19th century teaching," he said.

Cells and bells
Much of the debate in the conference centred around how technology can be seamlessly integrated into the curriculum.
For Professor Heppell, who advises governments around the world about technology policies, the answer is both radical and simple.
He thinks schools need to move away from what he terms "cells and bells".
"We have to get away from the 35 minute timetable blocks. We need to reconfigure schools for a week of immersion in numeracy and dress the school for a learning production," he said.
"We need much longer blocks of time and to allow children to be in charge of their learning," he added.
One of the ways to do this is to integrate the tools that children are using in their lives outside of the classroom.

Skyping infants
At Lampton Secondary School in Hounslow, play is a significant part of the school ethos and children were at the conference demonstrating how games consoles such as the Wii and GPS devices can be integrated into the classroom.
Meanwhile at Cleveland Junior School in Redbridge, Year 6 pupils have been busy designing their own computer games.
"We made a storyline and introduced characters and designed the backgrounds,"explained 11-year-old Rezwana.
"More schools should use the software because you can put your own personal thoughts into the game," added classmate Pawan, also aged 11.
The games the children made were sent to a nearby infant school where Year 2 pupils played them and suggested improvements via Skype.
But not all schools are so keen to embrace technology. Many still ban the use of mobile phones and social networking sites such as Facebook.
"Turned off devices equals turned off children. Sensible schools use mobile technology to their advantage, putting up a telephone number about an issue such as bullying and getting pupils to text their views," said Prof Heppell.
Teachers may be more willing to embrace technology but the resources are not there to back them up, a survey from Intel has found.
Intel, which has ploughed £1bn into educational programmes around the world over the last decade, asked 2,700 teachers from 15 countries about technology in their schools.
While 98% felt that technology was critical in preparing pupils for the workforce, three quarters also thought governments were not doing enough.
70% of teachers thought children should be provided with a personal laptop but only 3% had such access.

Home access
"The worst thing you can do is give a child a computer without access to the internet," said Lila Ibrahim, general manager of Intel's emerging markets platform group.
In the UK the government has just launched a new scheme dubbed Home Access to offer both internet connectivity and hardware to 270,000 families on low incomes by March of next year.
Eligible families need to apply for a grant and they will receive £500 to put towards kit and connectivity from a range of suppliers.
The fact that families are in charge of what kit they get should mean it is more successful than previous schemes, thinks Stephen Crowne, chief executive of Becta, a government agency that is co-ordinating the project.
Chris Green was one of the pilot familes who trialled the scheme in Suffolk.
She has seen big improvements in her son, Colin.
"He uses it for homework and I can access the school website. I wouldn't be without it," she said.
Colin is about to take his GCSEs and is thinking about further education, something he would not have contemplated a year ago.
But not everyone is convinced the Home Access scheme is the answer.
"Home access is necessary but not sufficient. You can't just parachute technology in," said Prof Heppell.
"We haven't done a great job helping mums with how to help their children read and we need to make sure that we help them with computers.
"Unless that happens it will be nice to get a laptop but it doesn't begin to solve the problem," he added.
Schools too need to adapt or they will find more pupils rejecting the current educational system, he warned.
"Put 'virtual schools' into Google and you get 387,000 references. Children in the future will have choices about where and how they learn and if schools aren't enticing, pupils won't come."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/01/14 08:53:11 GMT

Monday, January 11, 2010

Free laptop scheme is rolled out

A scheme to give free laptops to pupils from poor backgrounds is being rolled out to 270,000 families in England.
The £300m Home Access scheme, first announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2008, has been piloted in two local areas.
It will allow some of the most in need children, those in care and from the poorest homes, to apply for a grant for a free laptop and broadband connection.
It aims to help bridge the achievement gap between rich and poor pupils.
A recent study from the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggested having a laptop at home could lead to a two grade improvement in one subject at GCSE.
But the free laptop scheme has been a long time coming, with the first hint families would be provided with computers coming from Mr Brown when he was Chancellor back in 1999.
This first scheme, which formed part of the Home Computing Initiative, involved firms leasing out free computers to their employees in return to tax breaks.
It eventually gained the support of about 60 companies but was wound up after seven years.
Under this new scheme, which was due to go nationwide last autumn and was championed by former education minister Jim Knight, the family gets the laptop to keep, but the broadband connection is funded for one year.
After that they can decide whether to keep funding the connection themselves.
Not all children on free school meals, the government's benchmark for poor children, will get computers, a department spokesman said.
But families with children aged seven to 14 will be able to apply for a grant to buy a computer and broadband connection from an approved stockist.
Children in council care and with specific educational needs will be prioritised.
Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "Families who are most in need cannot be left behind in the digital revolution we're seeing in education.
"We're leading the world with the way we use technology in learning and we've shown our commitment to this by making ICT the backbone of every lesson in the new primary curriculum.
"Because of this, it's absolutely right that we're investing £300 million so children who need the most support have access to the resources they need at home."
He said there were educational, economic and social benefits of being online at home that could not be ignored.
Computers were no longer a luxury for the few, but are as essential a part of education as books, pens and paper, he added.
The announcement comes as new research involving 200 schools and colleges suggested 80% were seeing cuts to their IT budgets.
The poll for the technology solutions provider the Stone Group also suggested just 14% of schools offered out of hours technical support to staff.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/01/11 11:00:59 GMT

Friday, January 8, 2010

Redesign Alliance Fourth Annual Conference

Do you know that it is possible to reduce instructional costs while improving student learning? In partnership with more than 150 colleges and universities, the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) has shown how this is possible through large-scale course redesign.

There is a way to deal with the budget constraints facing all of us without sacrificing the quality of our academic programs. The Redesign Alliance Fourth Annual Conference to be held March 28 - 30, 2010, in Orlando, FL, can show you how to do it. Participation in this conference is open to the higher education community.

The final conference agenda is now available at Highlights include:

· Presentations from more than 30 institutions that have fully implemented large-scale course redesigns, all of which improved student learning outcomes while generating cost savings.

· Roundtable discussions with NCAT Redesign Scholars and 30 additional institutions that are in the midst of implementing course redesigns in disciplines as diverse as biology, developmental math, economics, Spanish and technical writing about getting started and meeting implementation challenges.

· Keynote addresses by David B. Daniel, James Madison University, on effective pedagogical techniques; and Dennis Pearl, Ohio State University, on the Buffet Model of course redesign.

· Opportunities to interact with higher education's major publishers and technology companies whose products and services support course redesign.

· Networking with 300 colleagues all of whom are finding ways to increase academic quality in difficult financial times.

The registration deadline is March 19, 2010. To register, visit the conference web site at Register before February 26th and save $100. The hotel reservation deadline is February 26, 2010.

Make plans now to join your colleagues from across the country who are dedicated to improving student learning while controlling instructional costs. We look forward to seeing you in Orlando!


Carol A. Twigg
President and CEO
National Center for Academic Transformation

Ph: 518-695-5320
Fax: 518-695-5633

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Charter School Breaks Ground in "Open Education"

By Kirsten Stewart, Salt Lake Tribune (1/2/10)

Jizelle Jurquina won't tell you she's gifted. She's too modest for that.

But she's the type of student who does six math equations for every three required. The kid who is easily bored in class. The one who makes teachers swoon and, more often, sweat. She's a natural candidate for the Open High School of Utah, an online public charter school, say its administrators.

Jizelle belongs to the growing ranks of K-12 students engaged in distance learning. About 3,000 students in Utah chose the digital route over traditional brick and mortar schools last year, up 30 percent from the previous year.

But the Open High School, now in its inaugural year, is no ordinary virtual school.

Whether she knows it or not, Jizelle and her peers are on the leading edge of yet another educational trend: the open educational resources movement.

The Open High School of Utah is believed to be the first secondary school in the nation (perhaps the world) to use learning materials and textbooks that are freely available for anyone's use, remixing and redistribution. Because the materials aren't produced by commercial publishers, they can be tailored to meet students' educational needs, free of copyright or licensing restraints.

For advanced learners like Jizelle, that might mean adding an extra chapter or assignment. For others, it's about finding new ways to present hard-to-grasp ideas.

But for David Wiley, the school's founder, it's a means to a larger end: providing America's schoolchildren with more educational opportunities and variety.

"As budgets shrink and the student population grows, we must find ways to deliver education more efficiently," said Wiley, associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University.

The school has no fixed campus. Its director, DeLaina Tonks, works in donated commercial space in Salt Lake City. Students -- a mix of gifted and struggling learners, athletes, home-schoolers, concert pianists and teens with health problems or disabilities -- hail from all corners of Utah. And the school's four teachers conduct class from the comfort of their homes, sometimes responding to students' midnight queries on their Blackberries.

"It helps us be more nimble and offer a more individualized approach," a tough feat in conventional high schools with classes of 35 to 40 students, said math teacher Sarah Weston.

Weston has taught for 14 years, including a stint at East High School in Salt Lake City, where she earned a reputation for making math relevant, even entertaining.

Initially, she feared the "Sarah show" wouldn't translate online. But through the use of Skype (free video conferencing), e-mail, instant messaging and pre-recorded lectures using an electronic white board, her big personality shines through.

"When I Skype with a student, it's actually more personal. I'm right there in their home with them," said Weston.

It took some getting used to. Weston said parents were initially surprised by the frequency of contact. "Now they love it and expect it," she said.

Students, on the other hand, took to it immediately.

The school currently offers ninth grade only; its 125 spots filled up fast. Enrollment next year will double with the debut of 10th grade, but there's already a waiting list.

"Kids are computer natives," said Tonks, who thought the school would mainly attract students who failed to thrive elsewhere. The Internet is a "great equalizer" where kids are judged not by what they wear or how they look, but by their academic contributions, said Tonks.

But the flexible format has proved equally attractive to students such as Jizelle, an aspiring actress who, when she's not studying, takes Kung Fu and competes in ballroom dancing.

"I get plenty of socialization. I get out of the house and hang with friends. It's not like I'm hiding here under a rock," said the 14-year-old.

The American Fork teen logs onto the Internet each day at about 10 a.m. Prominently highlighted on her "dashboard" are alerts for new assignments, testing dates and school announcements.

It takes her until about 3 p.m. to get through reading assignments for six classes, online lectures and worksheets. She breezes through the easy stuff first, saving the "best" for last.

And when life interrupts, such as a trip to the orthodontist, Jizelle simply logs off and shuts her laptop. No need for an excused absence or tardy slip. She can always top off homework later or join a late-night study session with classmates on Skype.

"That's what I like best. You can do stuff on your own time. You can do it at 3 in the morning if you want," she said.

What Jizelle may not fully appreciate, though, is the work that teachers put into keeping instruction fresh and challenging.

On the other end of the digital stream are teachers receiving instant feedback on students' performance via a learning management system called Brain Honey.

"It's the most amazing thing. I know how many minutes students spend on a reading assignment, how successful they are on a given question or quiz," said teacher Becky Ellis, who uses that data to target tutoring and tweak lesson plans.

The curriculum must align with Utah's core standards. But Ellis is free to diverge from, even rewrite, the "text" because it's not copyrighted.

"You don't get that kind of feedback in the classroom because by the time you get your testing results, it's too late," said the 14-year veteran of California's public school system.

Wiley acknowledges the school isn't for everyone. It takes self-driven learners and skilled teachers who are well versed in their subject areas.

Relatively low overhead frees the school to woo top talent with higher salaries and a $5,000 "performance pay" bonus tied to test scores and student and parent reviews. The school has no building to maintain and outsources its legal and financial oversight, but it bears heavy I.T. costs.

Ironically, one of its biggest costs is its curricula, which the school's teachers write or purchase with a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Because the open resources movement is new to K-12 schools, there's a dearth of free instructional materials, said Wiley, who predicts that will slowly change. He recently convinced the Utah Board of Education to pass a rule encouraging Utah teachers to share their materials.

Anything created by a state-funded school should be fair game for other state-funded schools, said Wiley, who believes sharing knowledge this way breeds excellence through broader peer review.

"In kindergarten we're all taught that sharing is a good thing," he said. "Then at some point, someone convinces you that it's a foolish and naive idea."