When Accepted Students Don't Show Up at College

I had a discussion with some colleagues after listening to an episode of NPR's Hidden Brain podcast about research that shows that between 10% and 40% of the kids who intend to go to college at the time of high school graduation don't actually show up in the fall.

I'm doing some consulting for a community college this summer and I asked if this seemed accurate for that school. It turned out that the previous week staff at the college had been asked to "cold call" students who registered for fall courses but were dropped for non-payment and never re-registered. The college's enrollment is down 10% and it is a big concern.

meltingThis phenomenon is sometimes called "summer melt."

It is puzzling why kids who made it through the admissions process and were accepted to a college of their choice, applied for and received financial aid, never showed up for classes.

 

At my urban community college, financial aid was the most common reason. They registered, but aid did not come through in time to pay the bill. The odd part - the "melt" - was that when their aid did come through, they didn't re-register.

Why? Some had lost interest or felt discouraged by the process. Some reevaluated going to college. Some were just lazy. A few staffers were able to walk students over the phone through re-enrolling, so part of the problem might be information and support from the college.

In the podcast, Lindsay Page, an education researcher now at the University of Pittsburgh who did research while at Harvard, said "The rate with which kids who are college-intending do not actually get to college in the fall is surprisingly high. In one sample that we looked at in the Boston area, we find that upwards of 20% of kids who at the time of high school graduation say that they're continuing on to college don't actually show up in the fall."

This nationwide loss of seemingly college-intending students is particularly evident for those from low-income backgrounds.

But research has also identified relatively low cost interventions that can have a significant impact on alleviating the summer melt phenomenon and increasing college enrollment rates.

Page's research at Harvard was published in the "SDP Summer Melt Handbook: A Guide to Investigating and Responding to Summer Melt." In the report, they use “summer melt” to refer to a "different, but related phenomenon: when seemingly college-intending students fail to enroll at all in the fall after high school graduation. 'College-intending' students are those who have completed key college-going steps, such as applying and being accepted to college and applying for financial aid if their families qualify. In other cases, they have concretely signaled their intention to enroll in college on a high school senior exit survey. We consider a student to have “melted” if, despite being college-intending, she or he fails to attend college the following fall."

Some of their interventions go back to students' high school day and records, such as senior exit surveys, and survey high school counselors. They also provide examples of summer task lists, both personalized for specific institutions and generic, and sample documents for proactive personal outreach, such as an initial outreach checklist, assessment meeting checklist, intake form, and counselor interaction logs. 

Download the report and other resources at sdp.cepr.harvard.edu/summer-melt-handbook 

LISTEN to the Hidden Brain podcast on this topic  npr.org/2017/07/17/537740926/why-arent-students-showing-up-for-college

After the MOOC Revolution

MOOC revolutionIn 2008 when I read about a professor making his course "open learning," I wasn't prescient enough to see the rise of MOOCs or any coming revolution in learning, especially online. 

The term MOOC, for Massive Open Online Courses, became the popular terminology for the concept behind that 2008 experiment. Almost everyone was saying it was a revolution that would disrupt universities. Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, famously predicted that in 50 years there would be only 10 higher education institutions.  That didn't happen. 

I wrote a book chapter with my wife a few years ago about whether or not the "MOOC Revolution" was in fact a revolution or rather an evolution of learning and learning online.  And recently I saw that Jeffrey Young, author of that 2008 piece, has posted this year asking "What if MOOCs Revolutionize Education After All?"

His new post and podcast on EdSurge focuses on Barbara Oakley, a professor of engineering at Oakland University, who thinks a lot about how people learn particularly because she has been teaching a lot of them in one of the most popular online courses ever. "Learning How to Learn" has had more than 2 million participants and teaching it has her believing, despite the cooling of the MOOC Revolution hype, that free online courses might still lead to a revolution in higher education.

 

Professor Oakley thinks that MOOCs will enhance classrooms and also serve as competition, which will force schools to jump over a higher bar.

In our chapter on MOOCs, we said that "Most technological change involves massive disruption whereas economic ‘bubbles’, like the trillion-dollar student loan bubble in the U.S., tend to burst, not slowly deflate. Initially, the disruption of the MOOC may have appeared to be a rapid revolution just a few years ago, but it seems more likely to become a gradual evolution over the course of the next decade." I think that prediction is holding true.

Through this blog and a LinkedIn group called "Academia and the MOOC" that I started in 2013, I have met many people from around the world who are using MOOCs. The group is for or anyone interested in how MOOCs have impacted education and how they might in the future, and it began with members of the MOOC of the same name hosted in the Canvas Network in Spring 2013 and taught my myself, my wife, Lynnette Ronkowitz and Mary Zedeck.

On of the people I have met virtually is Muvaffak Gozaydin. He contacted me last fall about a "crazy idea" he had to provide no-cost graduate degrees using MOOCs. He contacted me again this summer to tell me that his crazy idea was launching. He wants to offer "professional learners" the opportunity to get an MS degree online by selecting courses offered already courses from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Duke, Yale and other top schools. His site is at mguniversity2017.org and he has organized it to direct students towards a course catalog for five degrees currently. His project is not accredited in any country, but all the universities and courses offered are accredited and he hopes that holders of "degrees" from MGU can use them to find or advance in jobs internationally. 

Is his idea crazy? He asked me that again this year before he launched his site. It reminded me of something Dhawal Shah, the founder of Class Central, has said recently: "...there’s been a decisive shift by MOOC providers to focus on 'professional' learners who are taking these courses for career-related outcomes. At the recently concluded EMOOCs conference, the then CEO of Coursera, Rick Levin, shared his thoughts on this shift. He thinks that MOOCs may not have disrupted the education market, but they are disrupting the labor market. The real audience is not the traditional university student but what he calls the 'lifelong career learner,' someone who might be well beyond their college years and takes these online courses with the goal of achieving professional and career growth."

That last sentence was one of the conclusions of our book chapter. Maybe the revolution is bigger than disrupting universities. Maybe the revolution is about learning and not only in schools at all grade levels but also in business, industry and professional learning. All will be disrupted.

Shah, Gozaydin, Thrun and others have concluded two things about the MOOC revolution:  1) The real audience is the professional learner working in a field and with an undergraduate degree who wants to advance.  2) There are already plenty of online courses available from top universities and other providers to offer in packages (call them degrees, certificates, mini-degrees etc.) either free or with a fee smaller than that of a traditional university that carries some evidence of quality and completion.

The biggest issue with the truly open and free online courses, massive or not, has been since the beginning using them for advancement, either towards degrees or professional advancement. If you are looking to advance your own knowledge and skills without concern for official "credits," the MOOC is ideal. 

You can find more than 1,250 free courses listed at openculture.com, but what does a learner do with those courses? Minimally, which is not to say inconsequentially, is that Gozaydin has done the work of organizing the many scattered MOOC offerings of the world into five intelligently planned paths for learners to coursework from the leading universities all on one web page. 

Learning and Working in the Age of Distraction

screensThere is a lot of talk about distraction these days. The news is full of stories about the Trump administration and the President himself creating distractions to keep the public unfocused on issues they wish would go away (such as the Russias connections) and some people believe the President is too easily distracted by TV news and Twitter.

There are also news stories about the "distraction economy."  So many people are vying for your attention. The average person today is exposed to 1,700 marketing messages during a 24-hour period. Most of these distractions are on screens - TV, computers and phones.  Attention is the new currency of the digital economy.

Ironically, a few years ago I was reading about "second screens," behavioral targeting and social media marketing and that was being called the "attention economy." There is a battle for attention, and the enemy is distraction.

Google estimates that we spend 4.4 hours of our daily leisure time in front of screens. We are still using computers mostly for work/productivity and search. We use smartphones for connectivity and social interactions. Tablets are used more for entertainment. My wife and I are both guilty of "multi-screening." That means we are part of the 77% of consumers watching TV while on other devices. I am on my laptop writing and researching and she is on her tablet playing games and checking mail and messages. It is annoying. We know that.

Of course, the original land of distraction is the classroom. Students have always been distracted. Before the shiny object was a screen full of apps, passing notes was texting, and doodling in your notebook and the cute classmates sitting nearby were the social media. But I have seen four articles on The Chronicle website about "The Distracted Classroom" lately. Is distraction on the rise?

If you are a teacher or student, does your school or your own classroom have a policy on using laptops and phones? If yes, is it enforced?  Anyone who has been in a classroom lately of grade 6 or higher knows that if students have phones or laptops out in class for any reason they are texting, surfing the web, or posting on social media.

Good teachers try to make classes as interactive as possible. We engage students in discussions, group work and active learning, but distractions are there.

Banning devices isn't a good solution. Things forbidden gain extra appeal.

distractionsA few books I have read discuss the ways in which distraction can interfere with learning. In The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World , the authors say that distraction occurs when we are pursuing a goal that really matters and something blocks our efforts to achieve it. Written by a neuroscientist, Adam Gazzaley, and a psychologist, Larry D. Rosen, they join other researchers who report that our brains aren't built for multitasking. This compares to a time a few decades ago when being able to multitask was consider a positive skill.

It seems that the current belief is that we don't really multitask. We switch rapidly between tasks. Any distractions and interruptions, including the technology-related ones - act as "interference" to our goal-setting abilities. 

But is this a new problem or has our brain always worked this way? Is the problem really more about the number of possible distractions and not our "rewired" brains?

Nicholas Carr sounded an alarm in 2011 with The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains, arguing that our growing exposure to online media means our brains need to make cognitive changes. The deeper intellectual processing of focused and critical thinking, gets pushed aside in favor of the faster processes like skimming and scanning.

Carr contends that the changes to the brain's "wiring" is real. Neural activity shifts from the hippocampus' deep thinking, to the prefrontal cortex where we are engaged in rapid, subconscious transactions. Substitute speed for accuracy. Prioritize impulsive decision-making over deliberate judgment. 

In the book Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom  the author asks questions such as Why Do Students Remember Everything That's on Television and Forget Everything I Say? and Why Is It So Hard for Students to Understand Abstract Ideas? and gives some science and suggestions as answers. But these are difficult questions and simple answers are incomplete answers in many cases.

Some teachers decide to use the tech that is being a distraction to gain attention. I had tried using a free polling service (Poll Everywhere) which allows students to respond/vote using their laptops or phones. You insert questions into your presentation software, and that allows you to track, analyze, and discuss the responses in real time. The problem for me is that all that needs to be pre-planned and is awkward to do on-the-fly, and I am very spontaneous in class with my questioning. Still, the idea of using the tech in class rather than banning it is something I generally accept. But that can't be done 100% of the time, so distracted use of the tech is still going to occur.

bubbleAnd the final book on my distraction shelf is The Filter Bubble. The book looks at how personalization - being in our own bubble - hurts the Internet as an open platform for the spread of ideas. The filter bubble puts us in an isolated, echoing world. The author, Eli Pariser, subtitles the book "How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think." Pariser coined the term “filter bubble.” The term is another one that has come up o the news in talking about the rise of Donald Trump and the news bubble that we tend to live in, paying attention to a personalized feed of the news we agree with and filtering out the rest.

Perhaps creating a filter bubble is our way of coping with the attention economy and a way to try to curate what information we have to deal with every day.

Then again, there were a number of things I could have done the past hour instead of writing this piece. I could have done work that I actually get paid to do. I could have done some work around my house. But I wrote this. Why? 

Information overload and non-stop media is hurting my/our discipline for focus and self-control.

Michael Goldhaber defined the attention economy in this more economic way: "a system that revolves primarily around paying, receiving and seeking what is most intrinsically limited and not replaceable by anything else, namely the attention of other human beings.” In order for that economy to be profitable, we must be distracted. Our attention needs to be drawn away from the competition.

As a secondary school teacher for several decades, I saw the rise of ADHD. That was occurring before the Internet and lack of attention, impulsivity and boredom were all symptoms. It worsened after the Internet was widespread, but it was there before it and all the personal digital devices.

Back in 1971,  Herbert A. Simon observed that “what information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

We are collectively wiser than ever before. We have the wisdom of the world in a handheld computer connected to almost everything. But it is so difficult to filter out the distractions and garbage that we don't have a lot of success translating information into knowledge. People used to say that finding out something on the Internet was like taking a sip from a fire hose. Search filtering has helped that, but so far the only filters for our individual brains are self-created and often inadequate.

 

Alternative Postsecondary Learning Pathways

arrowsSeveral bills that recently came before the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide funding for people to enroll in alternative postsecondary pathways. As one article on usnews.com points out, this funding comes at the same time as a new study that looks at  the quality of these programs and the evidence of their efficacy.

That report, "The Complex Universe of Alternative Postsecondary Credentials and Pathways" authored by Jessie Brown and Martin Kurzweil and published by American Academy of Arts and Sciences, evaluated alternatives that I have written about here: certificate programs, market-focused training, work-based training, apprenticeships, skills-based short courses, coding bootcamps, MOOCs, online micro-credentials, competency-based education programs and credentials based on skill acquisition rather than traditional course completion.

The report is wide-ranging and worth downloading if these are educational issues that concern you. If they don't concern you and you plan to work in education for another decade, you should really pay attention.

I'm not at all surprised that the earning power for "graduates" of alternative programs varies widely depending on the subject studied. A computer science certificate program graduate, for example, can expect to earn more than twice what a health care or cosmetology certificate recipient will receive.

Who pursues these programs? Certificate programs, work-based training and competency-based programs tend to attract older, lower-income learners who have not completed a college degree. But 80% of bootcamp enrollees and 75% of MOOC participants already have a bachelor's degree.

What do the authors of this study recommend? Policy changes to collect more comprehensive data on educational and employment outcomes and to enforce quality assurance standards. Also to devote resources to investigating efficacy and return on investment. The U.S. News article also points out that 19 organizations have promoted greater federal oversight of career and technical education programs in a June letter to the House of Representatives about the Perkins Act Reauthorization.

Machine Learning :: Human Learning

AI - “artificial intelligence” - was introduced at a science conference at Dartmouth University in 1956. Back then it was a theory, but in the past few decade it has become something beyond theoretical. been less theory and more in practice than decades before.

The role of AI in education is still more theory than practice.

A goal in AI is to get machines to learn. I hesitate to say "think" but that is certainly a goal too. I am reading The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution currently and in that history there is a lot of discussion of the people trying to get machines to do more than just compute (calculate) but to learn from its experiences without requiring a human to program those changes. The classic example is the chess playing computer that gets better every time it wins or loses. Is that "learning?"

But has it had an impact on how you teach or how your students learn?

It may have been a mistake in the early days of AI and computers that we viewed the machine as being like the human brain. It is - and it isn't.

But neuroscientists are now finding that they can also discover more about human learning as a result of machine learning. An article on opencolleges.edu.au points to several interesting insights from the machine and human learning research that may play a role in AI in education.

One thing that became clear is that physical environment is something humans learn easier than machines. After a child has started walking or opened a few doors or drawers or climbed a few stairs, she learns how to do it. Show her a different door, drawer, or a spiral staircase and it doesn't make much of a difference. A robot equipped with some AI will have a much steeper learning curve to learn these simple things. It also has a poor sense of its "body." Just watch any videos online of humanoid robots trying to do those things and you'll see how difficult it is for a machine.


Then again, it takes a lot longer for humans to learn how to drive a car on a highway safely. And even when it is learned, our attention, or lack thereof, is a huge problem. AI in vehicles is learning how to drive fairly rapidly, and its attention is superior to human attention. Currently, it is still a fall back human error in mist cases, but that will certainly change in a decade or two. I learned to parallel park a car many years ago and I am still lousy at doing it. A car can do it better than me.

Although computers can do tasks they are programmed to do without any learning curve, for AI to work they need to learn by doing - much like humans. The article points out that AI systems that traced letters with robotic arms had an easier time recognizing diverse styles of handwriting and letters than visual-only systems. 

AI means a machine gets better at a task the more it does it, and it can also apply that learning to similar but not identical situations. You can program a computer to play notes and play a series of notes as a song, but getting it to compose real music requires AI.

Humans also learn from shared experiences. A lot of the learning in a classroom comes from interactions between the teacher and students and student to student. This makes me feel pretty confident in the continued need for teachers in the learning process.

One day, I am sure that machines will communicate with each other and learn from each other. This may be part of the reason that some tech and learning luminaries like Elon Musk have fears about AI

I would prefer my smart or autonomous vehicle to "talk" to other vehicles on the roads nearby and share information on traffic, obstructions and vehicles nearby with those quirky human drivers only.

AI built into learning systems, such as an online course, could guide the learning path and even anticipate problems and offer corrections to avoid them. Is that an AI "teacher" or the often-promoted "guide on the side?"

This year on the TV show Humans, one of the human couples goes for marriage counseling with a "synth" (robot). She may be a forerunner of a synth teacher.

Humans TV
The counselor (back to us) can read the husband's body language and knows he does not like talking to a synth marriage counselor.

 

What Is a Modern Learning Experience?

social on mobile

Jane Hart, who I have been following online for many years, is the Director of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning, which she set up to help organizations and learning professionals modernize their approaches to workplace learning. Reading her online Modern Workplace Learning Magazine has alerted me to trends outside academia and outside the United States.  

She recently posted an article titled "Designing, delivering and managing modern learning experiences" and that made me consider how I would define "modern learning." It would include school experiences for some of us, but for most people today it is more likely an experience that occurs in the workplace and on our own. That itself seems like a big shift from the past. Or is it?

If in 1917, someone had wanted to become a journalist, he could go to college, but he could also get a job without a degree - if he could show he was a good writer. He could do some freelance writing with or without pay to get some experience and samples. Move 50 years to 1967, and the path was more likely to be a school of journalism. What about today?

As Jane points out, the modern learning experience path for the workplace probably includes using: 

  • Google and YouTube to solve their own learning and performance problems
  • social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn to build their own professional network (aka personal learning network)
  • messaging apps on their smartphones to connect with colleagues and groups
  • Twitter to participate in conference backchannels and live chats
  • participating in online courses (or MOOCs) on platforms like Coursera, edX and FutureLearn

The modern learning experience is on demand and continuous, not intermittent, and takes place in minutes rather than hours. It occurs on mobile devices more than on desktop computers.

Jane Hart believes it is also more social with more interacting with people, and that it is more of a personally-designed experience. I don't know if that is true for educational learning. Is it true for the workplace on this side of the pond? Does the individual design the learning rather than an experience designed by someone "in charge."

Modernizing classroom learning has often been about making learning more autonomous (self-directed, self-organized and self-managed) but that model does not easily fit into the model used for the past few hundred years in classrooms.