Are We Less Adrift Academically?


It was 3 years ago that I posted about Richard Arum's study of student learning in higher education over a two year period to examine how institutional settings, student backgrounds, and individual academic programs influence how much students learn on campus.  He was measuring "higher order thinking skills" such as problem-solving, critical thinking, analytical reasoning and communication skills.

When he published Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses
in 2011, it caused a lot of discussion about higher education and the internal workings of colleges.

One of his overall findings was that that many
students showed no meaningful gains on key measures of learning during
their college years.

Inside Higher Ed posted about two more recent reports that challenge Academically Adrift' underlying conclusions about students' critical thinking gains in
college, and especially the extent to which others have seized on those
findings to suggest that too little learning takes place in college. The
studies by the Council for Aid to Education show that students taking
the Collegiate Learning Assessment made an average gain of 0.73 of a
standard deviation in their critical thinking scores, significantly more
than that found by the authors of Academically Adrift.

So, college does matter?

Richard Arum (NYU) made sure to note methodological differences in how the two sets of data were drawn. (For example, the newer study does not follow the same group of
students over time.)  He also says that his study (done with Josipa Roksa (UVA) never questioned the contribution that college makes to student learning, although that has been the spin given to their research by the book's champions.

Three years ago, Academically Adrift was noteworthy because it used some new assessment tools that specifically measure the "added value" that colleges impart to their students' learning, by allowing for the comparison of
the performance of students over time.

The study was criticized for relying so heavily on the Collegiate Learning Assessment as its way to suggest whether or not students have learned. The reports are full of assessment talk: average gains of 0.73 of a
standard deviation over several test administrations, or maybe it is 0.18, or less
than 20 percent of a standard deviation tracking it over two years (rather than four), or a 
gain of 0.47 standard deviation, still significantly smaller than, but closer to, the CAE finding, or maybe because they followed the same
cohort of students throughout their collegiate careers cross-sectional rather than longitudinal comparison makes it significant, because at most institutions significant numbers of the
entering freshmen will have dropped out and hundreds of
research studies over the years have clearly demonstrated that dropouts
not comparable to degree completers.

My head is spinning.

But are we less adrift than we were three years ago? I see no major movement or changes that would indicate that things are any different. But then, we can't even agree on what they were three years ago.

10 Resources on Fair Use and Copyright

More sources on learning about fair use and copyright  - collected by Bernard Bull.

1. Understanding Fair Use in the Digital World – When we start to teach about copyright, we can approach it by starting with what we can do or what we cant’ do. I happen to be a fan of starting with what we can do by teaching “fair use.” This is a good introduction to the topic.

2.Teaching Copyright – This site includes 5 60-minute lesson to teach about copyright and fair use. It is accurate, well designed, and ready to use with students.

3. YouTube Copyright School – Do you want to teach copyright through high-interest video and some checks for understanding? if so, this might be a good option for you.

4. Fair Use Tool – Use this tool to determine whether your usage scenario is fair use.

5. Copyright Web Site – If you are looking for copyright case studies and examples to use with your students, this is an excellent resource.

6. PBS Learning Media Copyright Lessons – This site has series of ready-made, high-interest lessons on copyright and fair use, designed and labeled for different ages.

7. A Fairy Use Tale – No lesson in fair use is complete without this video - funny, clever and a bit frightening tale of copyright in a Disney world.

8. Flickr – The Commons and The Library of Congress American Memory – If we are going to teach about copyright, why not include finding some great sources, like these two sites, for accessing public domain resources?

9. Find Creative Commons Resources - This is a great search engine for finding resources that you can “use, share and remix.”

10 Fair Use Letter Generator – Part of teaching copyright and fair use is learning how to request and gain the rights to use something. This page is one option.

The Invisible College

The roving College Of the RosicruciansThe Invisible College (whose emblematic image is shown here in an illustration from Speculum sophicum Rhodo-stauroticum, a 1618 work by Theophilus Schweighardt) was the Rosicrucian College, identified by Frances Yates as the "Invisible College of the Rosy Cross".

It is sometimes described as a precursor group to the Royal Society of London. It consisted of a number of natural philosophers and may have also included some prominent figures who would be later connected with the Royal Society.

This article is not meant so much as a history lesson as it is the thought that an "Invisible College" might be something we could use again today.

This idea of having an "invisible college" can be found in German Rosicrucian pamphlets in the early 17th century and another playwright of Shakespeare's time, Ben Jonson, referenced it in several plays.

It was a group of scholars meeting to discuss and learn, but without actual courses, degrees or a campus of buildings.

In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, it is noted that a group of natural philosophers meeting in London from 1645 was identified as the "invisible college" by Thomas Birch, writing in the 18th century.

It might remind some readers of other more concepts of "expert communities" such as Epistemic communities or Communities of Practice.

book infoThe concept and the term was applied to a global network of scientists by Caroline S. Wagner in her book, The New Invisible College: Science for Development.

In the book, Wagner argues that a shift from big science to global networks is creating new opportunities, especially for developing countries, to tap science's potential. Don't try to create 20th century scientific establishments and centers of learning, but use global networks of leading scientists to focus on research to address local problems.

My own thought is that some combination of online learning, MOOCs, alternative and personal learning networks - and maybe even "degrees" in some new format -                                                                      may create a new Invisible College without buildings or a home campus that grows and travels from place to place as it is needed.

The concept is mentioned in Clay Shirky's book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. It has found its way into fiction like The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

It was the inspiration for the humorous Unseen University in 13 fantasy novels by Terry Pratchett (such as Unseen Academicals).

For now, the Invisible College (preferable to the Invisible University, which smells stronger of degrees) is fiction and fantasy. Of course, both and are already owned by people who have parked the URLs for the time when...


MOOC: The Seven Year Itch

I am looking forward to speaking at NJEDge.Net's 15th Annual Faculty Showcase on March 28, 2014.

Last year, I spoke about Massive Open Online Courses just ahead of offering one myself. That was "Academia and the MOOC" which was offered with NJEDge.Net through Canvas Network last spring.

This year I will be back as the lunch plenary and I'm calling my talk "MOOC: The Seven Year Itch" since the MOOC is now 7 years old.

If 2012 was the "Year of the MOOC", then what happened in 2013 - and what will become of the MOOC in 2014?

I will give an update on the past year in Massive Open Online Courses and a sense of how they are really impacting education and training.

The morning speaker is Dr. Erin Templeton an Associate professor of English at Converse College and a fellow lover of poetry. But for this audience, it is more that she is a regular contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education blog, ProfHacker.

The Faculty Showcase is all about best practices from member institutions and is targeted to educators from K-12, higher education, institutional research, and healthcare related teaching as an opportunity to show their work to NJ colleagues.

The event features presentations and posters on technology-mediated instruction.

More event information at

Still Questioning MOOCs?

Whether you think they are a game changer or a fad, you have to admit that no other recent development in higher education has captured the imagination of the media and the attention of universities as MOOCs have done.

Are they really a disruptive innovation and, if so, how are they changing higher education? That's what a recent call for papers asks. (Submission deadline: 30 June 2014) Actually, they ask a number of questions:
Why and how do institutions decide to offer MOOCs?  
Who are the learners and what are their patterns of behaviour?   
What are the implications of MOOCs for developing countries?  
What changes are MOOCs stimulating in institutions (e.g. more online learning, shorter programmes/courses, public-private partnerships, etc.)?  
How is evolving technology changing the infrastructure required to offer MOOCs?
MOOCs have spread beyond higher education and are now being offered by a wider range of institutions and organisations – what is their experience?
Are viable business models for MOOCs emerging?

The early big pioneers of big MOOC platforms are still around. In the spring of 2012, Anant Agarwal, a professor of computer science at MIT, taught a course called “Circuits and Electronics.” The course enrolled 155,000 students from 162 countries around the world. Now the head of edX, Agarwal says MOOCs still matter. He thinks that they are a way to share high-level learning widely and supplement (but perhaps not replace) traditional classrooms. He has a vision of blended learning as the ideal learning experience for 21st century students.

Daphne Koller co-founded Coursera with Andrew Ng and got top universities to put some of their most intriguing courses online for free. They do it as a service and as a way to research how people learn.

Coursera measures each student's activity, quizzes, peer-to-peer discussion and grading gives them Big Data on how knowledge is processed.