Is Your College's Website Ready for Prospective Students?

High school students home on holiday breaks are often looking at college sites and lining up the schools they want to visit in the spring. The title of an article on The Chronicle site tells part of what needs to be there: "Your College's New Website Is Student-Focused, Mobile-Optimized, and Probably Long Overdue."

The article focuses on the website for Columbia College Chicago and comparisons to its early 2014 version and its recent redesign. The part of the article that caught my attention was the decision to focus on potential students, rather than current students, faculty and staff. "Outward-facing" sites are an idea that appealed to me when I was involved in a college redesign about 8 years ago, but that wasn't the trend back then.

From the article (emphasis mine):
"The new website’s home page would be aimed at only one audience: potential students. Since the home page often creates the first impression for not only the site but also the entire institution, it is the logical place to speak to prospects, says William L. Vautrain, director of digital and online strategy at Columbia.

The new home page would provide clear and easy access to what that the team’s research found potential students wanted most: information about programs, admissions, and financial aid. That information, he says, was "completely hidden away" on Columbia’s old site. The new website would be designed with mobile browsing in mind. About half of four-year colleges now have mobile-optimized websites...

The new website would be leaner and cleaner. Trying to make things simple for prospective students, and for mobile-friendly design, means a radically scaled-back site over all. Rather than paragraphs of explanatory text, a few precise sentences would have to do. And much of the content found on many university websites—departmental pages, administrative information, internal information for current students and faculty members (some of it out of date)—would be handled on separate sites or in password-protected areas. Many pages would not exist on the new site at all. The old Columbia website contained about 36,000 pages, Mr. Vautrain says. The new site has 944.

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Is Online Teaching Student-Centered?

I'm looking over a review of an article from the Higher Education Research Institute at the UCLA that has comprehensive national data sets on the attitudes and working conditions of undergraduate instructors.

The section that interested me talks about at their finding that even if professors are not embracing all-online instruction, they using methods that they feel increases student-centered learning and that is often about using technology.

They report that less than one in five faculty members report teaching exclusively online and report a "lack of movement" among faculty to teaching a course exclusively online. In their
 2012 report, 14% said they’d taught a course online and this year it was 17%. The highest percentages are, not surprisingly, at public four-year colleges where 27% have taught online. (But still up only 3% since the last report.)

Who is least likely to report teaching fully online? Full professors

Inside Higher Ed's own recent survey of faculty attitudes toward technology also suggests that despite widespread skepticism of fully-online instruction, faculty seem to be moving toward “student-centered methods.” (Based on responses from 16,112 full-time undergraduate teaching faculty members at 269 four-year colleges and universities.)

What would be examples of this student-centered shift?
- 83 percent reported using class discussions in all or most of their classes
- using student-to-student evaluation was up 18% to 28% this year
- using student-selected topics for course content went from 9-26%

But some stats - increased use of YouTube and other videos in the classroom - does not fall under the heading of student-centered for me.

Those who teach in business, engineering, fine arts and education are the ones most likely to say they “frequently" assign work requiring their students to work outside of class with classmates.

The report also points to some external pressures to make learning more student-centered, such as the National Science Foundation awarding large grants for experimentation with such techniques.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the shift is stronger with junior faculty, but that indicates that the shift is likely to increase over time.

Gettin Some SOLE

Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest.

In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

More recently, Sugata has inviting parents and teachers globally to setup their own Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) by downloading his toolkit and creating their own learning environments.

Self-directed learning is not new. Malcolm Knowles published Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. It reads like a text published last week, talking about the changing landscape of life and learning in an information age, the value of place-based learning, the need for teachers to be mentors and facilitators and project-based learning. Learner-centered education.

                    This is Mitra's 2013 TED Prize talk.

Knowles wrote that the most critical part of a curriculum is helping students learn how to learn for themselves. That seems obvious but he makes a point to contrast this as very different from learning how to learn from teachers. The latter consists largely of skills like listening, remembering, taking notes and taking tests to prove that you have done so.

Okay, that is a pretty harsh view of classrooms, but compared to self-directed learning it is quite different. The goals of SOLE or self-directed learning is to prepare for a lifetime of learning, unlearning, and relearning as knowledge changes from year to year or decade to decade.

Do most students ask great questions, establish their learning goals, devise a personal learning plan and leverage their existing knowledge? Probably not. Teachers do it for them.

Knowles was writing before the Internet and YouTube, Wikipedia, Google, online learning, MOOCs, Skype, Google Hangouts, blogging, and social media. Taking Knowles self-directed model of connecting with local resources and connect it to the Net and it might come close to Mitra's vision.

It might frighten teachers and schools to envision learning in the absence of any direct input from a teacher. This environment is no small feat to create. It needs to stimulate curiosity, allow learning through self-instruction and offer peer-shared knowledge.

Mitra is now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK). He likes to call this approach "minimally invasive education."

Could it be as simple as putting a computer in front of kids and letting them go?  No. And I don't Knowles or Mitra means it to be. The desire is to make schools prepare students to be self-directed learners by making their curriculum more student-centered.

Download the SOLE Toolkit on How to Bring Self-Organized Learning Environments to Your Community

Flipped Professional Development

The flipped classroom has been a hot topic in education for the past five years. More recently, the idea of flipping professional development has been experimented with at schools and in corporate training. The idea is to rethink what we want to spend our time with in face to face (F2F) sessions and how we can change the training that occurs before and after those sessions to be more  self-directed.

Face-to-face training time, especially with technology integration, is used most efficiently when the lower level portions are done online and offline outside those encounters.

It was only this year that the Flipped Learning Network adopted and released a formal definition for flipped learning, and their Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™ and a checklist of eleven indicators that educators must incorporate into their practice. (see the definition, pillars and indicators) They also draw a distinction between flipped learning and a flipped classroom.

“Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter.”

Prior to this, there was no consensus definition for flipped learning, flipped classrooms, flipped anything. This definition still allows for a great deal of instructor-specific style, design and delivery.

I will be doing a presentation on flipped professional development at the at the NJEDge.Net Annual Conference on November 20, 2014. This approach to professional development is a way to maximize instructor and learner's time for professional learning.

It is certainly a result of our increased use of technology and the growth in education and business of online learning and the hybrid or blended learning model. That model combines personalized and on-demand digital resources with face-to-face teaching, coaching, practice and support. This is especially true for technology integration.

I would say that the growth of the Professional Learning Network or Environment (PLN or PLE - both terms are still being used) is also a factor in the flipped approach. I see more articles about flipped professional development for teachers, especially in K-12.

Some of the points that are stressed in this type of learning are:

Documentation - maintaining consistency and accountability through record keeping

Ongoing – creating time for teachers on a regular schedule

Coached – providing teachers access to an instructional technology coach

Personalized Content - providing relevant digital resources to support learning

Collaborative – personalizing learning by creating small collaborative groups

Yes, I still see examples of the recorded "lecture" that students watch based the slide or screen capture with voiceover. That is something we have been trying to decrease the use of in regular online classes with limited success.

I do see success with having any lecture much shorter than in-class sessions (10-25 minutes) and focusing on a single concept, or a small number of concepts.

In flipped settings, some of the content delivery occurs before the F2F session and some of the followup may occur on/offline too.

Many of the issues of online learning still exist in flipped learning. Besides issues like knowing the true identity of the online student and monitoring progress online, the biggest question people always have about this approach is "What if they don't do the work they are supposed to do before the F2F sessions?" 

That problem goes back a few hundred years in education. We have always called it "homework" and teachers and trainers still need to deal with monitoring and assessing prior learning and making judgments about the competency, readiness and mastery of a learner.

I'll be looking at some ways that corporations and schools are dealing with those issues in my presentation and I will follow up here with additional information.


The Low-Cost Degree


Some thoughts after reading "What Georgia Tech’s Online Degree in Computer Science Means for Low-Cost Programs" on the Chronicle website (subscription required to read)

You may remember reading here or elsewhere back in January 2013 that Georgia State University started to review MOOCs for credit in the same way that it reviewed courses or exams students have taken at other institutions for credit. It was the heyday of MOOC madness.

Georgia Tech announced an online master’s program in computer science that grew from the MOOC movement and would be offered at a much lower price than students pay for a traditional degree. They started at the end of 2013 by pairing MOOC-like course videos and assessments with a support system of course assistants who work directly with students.

On the university website, they describe the program like this:

The Georgia Institute of Technology, Udacity and AT&T have teamed up to offer the first accredited Master of Science in Computer Science that students can earn exclusively through the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) delivery format and for a fraction of the cost of traditional, on-campus programs.

This collaboration—informally dubbed "OMS CS" to account for the new delivery method—brings together leaders in education, MOOCs and industry to apply the disruptive power of massively open online teaching to widen the pipeline of high-quality, educated talent needed in computer science fields.

The key here is not just to actually offer an online degree that is as rigorous as the on-campus version equivalent. That is something that a number of universities have accomplished in the past decades. The innovation is to offer that degree at a bargain price. The Georgia State degree costs less than $7,000 for the three-year program.

As the article points out, they don't have a graduating class yet, but researchers (at Georgia Tech and Harvard University) have been studying the students. What interested me the most was a demographic comparison.

  • online program got as many applications as traditional program

  • online acceptance rate of 50%; traditional 15%

  • average age of people enrolled is 35 years old; traditional 24

  • as with many online programs, they are more likely to report that they are working rather than being full time students

  • 80% from the USA; in the traditional program, 75% percent are foreign, mostly from India and China

  • 40% have studied computer science as an undergrad; 62% of traditional grad students majored in computer science.

  • last year's first group of students had a 3.58 GPA—about the same as the traditional students

  • in the 2014 spring and summer semesters, the pass rates of about 88 percent

  • mostly male - 14% female online and 25% female in traditional

Is the low-cost version hurting the traditional program? According to the article, "For Georgia Tech, the early data are encouraging enough. They suggest that it can offer an online computer-science master’s program without cannibalizing its more-expensive campus version."