Smart Groups

We started in a conversation about an interesting grant seeking to help students from low-income families through OpenCourseWare and providing them better information. An Open Source LMS != open coureseware. OSLMS is running students through online classes. OCW is providing the content so anyone can download and use it. The better information section sounded to me suspiciously like SHERPA, which uses preferences students have previously made to guide them to resources and classes. George pointed out in the past people predicted the death of universities in just a few more years over people being able to learn the information for any course just by downloading it. Unfortunately, only some people can just take texts and videos then naturally know how to build upon them. The more powerful method to reach students seems to be making the content relevant to solving real-life problems, especially one where the learner benefits over or with another.

Next, I diverted the conversation off on a tangent about how a book recommended managers build teams by evaluating the attitudes, habits, and personalities and then place the members so they cover each others weaknesses. This article about social cooperation skills trumping intelligence has been mulling about in my head for a couple weeks.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that collaborative groups who conversed easily with equal participation were more efficient at completing sets of given tasks — and produced better results — than groups dominated by individuals.

It occurred to me what universities should try towards solving retention is to devise methods of helping students build teams. Take something like eHarmony which is based on helping people find others with similar values, but instead have it look at traits useful for learning and solving problems and cooperation. Then make it easy for students to meet each other in classes and work together. The student who is good at locating lots of information from research but weak in logic is paired with one who is weak in research but strong in logic. Learning together, maybe they would end up better students, more engaged, and more productive.

Merge Historically Black Colleges With White?

Retention is one of those numbers higher education leaders tend to review to determine how effectively the faculty reaches the students. Historically black colleges and universities were created because students found it difficult both to get into “neutral” colleges and graduate from them. That latter part sounds like they were created in part to solve a retention issue.

Enter Georgia Senator Seth Harp who suggests a couple HBCUs in Georgia should merge with their neutral neighbors. The idea is to save money by not having more than one college in a town. Are black students as successful at “neutral” colleges as their white counterparts? If not, then the reason these schools exist has yet to be solved.

If we want to eliminate HBCUs, then we should have colleges and unviersities where all students succeed regardless of race (or gender, religion, or other factors).

RE 2007: GeorgiaVIEW Meeting (Pre-Conference)

I am blogging from the pre-conference GeorgiaVIEW meeting @ Rock Eagle yesterday afternoon and this morning. I enjoy connecting with people around the state of Georgia who use our Vista system. Most of them do not make it to BbWorld. Some hot topics:

  • Alternatives to Blackboard Vista
  • Training
    • Content repository
  • Returning Reports and Tracking to instructors.
    • Some reports still failing. One approach may be to remove tracking data from Vista database and make it available elsewhere.
  • Upgrade to Vista 4. People want a timeline, access to a training instance ASAP, please not do an in-place upgrade.
    • Limited shelf life on internals of Vista 3 / 4.0 – 4.1.2
    • More of customers have moved or are moving to Vista 4 / CE 6 than a year ago.
    • Can take advantage of new tools available in Vista 4.
    • Data retention – policy, reponsibilities (faculty, campus, OIIT)
    • Phased approach – parallel environments, at some point Vista 3 goes away and no longer available.
    • End of Fall 2008 or Spring 2009.
  • People are both quite happy we are going to Vista 4 and disconcerted at the prospect of having to move to Vista 4 in even over a year from now (at the worst by April 2009).
    • Export / import of non-SIS created users.
    • Training

Lovely (yeah a real person and she is) says Lovely Freelove would be one of the best names ever.

False Panacea

I ran across Jon Udell’s post on The once and future university which pointed to Mike Caulfield’s post with the video (Transcript).

Technology, I think, is a false Panacea. The role of information technology is to better aggregate information for whatever it is we do. Such aggregation draws disparate sources together, but the sources fail to fit together well which makes work with them more challenging. True, higher education in general lags behind by years, but there are individuals taking these new technologies and applying them to teaching. Not every technology helps students to learn just by using it. A DVD player, for instance, requires an educator to determine when to use it: what materials are applicable to the class, which students need to see it, are the students ready to comprehend the content, etc. Its not, “Oh, there is a DVD player in the classroom, so lets play anything.”

You might be thinking I am a Luddite. These kids were only online 3.5 hours a day. I am online 8+ hours a day including weekends! We like technology because it can be very useful. The students writes thousands of emails a years. Great! Now, what did they learn out of those emails? I’ve taken an email based class and boy was I confused by the end. Of all the classes I still refer to this day, that class is never one of them. Of course, I can say the same of many email discussions I am involved to this day.

There is no single piece of technology by which everyone will benefit 100% information comprehension in every use. Some people find the same piece intuitive while others will become bogged down by frustration in the lack of usability. I suspect part of this is in how people learn. I learned a long time ago, there were people I could email a set of directions describing what to do and they could do it. Others might need screen shots. Others might need someone over the phone or face-to-face speaking words about what to do. Some required doing it right that instant so the motor action of each click would become ingrained. So many disparate ways to comprehend creates a need for the same information to exist in many different forms.

The teaching assistant or professor lecturing on a topic adequately meets the needs for some students. Its been ironic to me educators and Educational Psychologists have been studying this for years and implementing fantastic solutions in K-12 classrooms, but in universities these solutions barely make traction. I have faith they will. Technical schools, private colleges, and professional education institutes make use of the solutions. Retention has become an important measure of university success. Universities have responded by attempting to fix everything but the ways content is learned. As students fail out of the universities and find success with these higher education alternative, these students the universities failed will have children whom they encourage to find an alternative.

Graduation Rates

Systemwide, only 48 percent of the students in Georgia’s four-year public institutions earn a degree within six years of enrollment, compared to a national average of 54 percent. Even allowing eight to 10 years, the percentage of students earning degrees climbs only slightly. In contrast, the Georgia high school graduation rate is between 56 and 60 percent.
–AJC, Degrees are a critical goal

I kept reading this article to find some insight about the problem. All I got was Maureen’s opinions about the thoughts and opinions of universities without even so much as a quote to at least confirm them. For example: “Often times, colleges blame the lack of degree completion on students’ academic shortcomings….” Such a bold accusation has to deserve a report, a quote, something!

I realize the AJC focuses on paper sales, but would it kill you to put a link to the 2005-2006 University System of Georgia Annual Report Card you cited since it is on a web site? As the only documented source, it would be good for others to eyeball the same information. I want too much information not too little. 🙂

The annual report cited has several sections. It covers three measures of the Regents’ Exam, three different kinds of graduation rates, and the freshman retention rates.

I know while I was working at Valdosta State University, freshman retention (report) was huge. A great effort was put towards making sure students learned as much as they could to be successful. Across the system, the freshman retention numbers look pretty good compared to the graduation rates. However, they are for the 2004 cohort and not the 1999! In such a report, I’d like to see the data on a single cohort to be able to compare.

So, what are some of the nuances in all this? It seems a simple Google search led me to an Insidehighered.com piece in 2005 titled, “Missing the Mark: Graduation Rates and University Performance“. It points out:

  • Students may transfer between schools. In Georgia, this is usually thought of as from the smaller schools to the flagships: UGA and GT.
  • Students who take classes part-time while working full-time may take much longer than even 6 years to graduate.

From the same article:

When we use graduation rates to compare campuses and infer from these comparisons that one campus is doing a better job of educating students than another, we exceed the value of the data point. It may be that the campus with a high grad rate is simply giving away its degrees (after all, a diploma mill has a 100 percent graduation rate). It may be that the campus with a low rate is working with high risk students. Or, it may be that the high rate campus is doing a superb job of advising and the low rate campus is ignoring its students.

The grad rate doesn’t tell which answer is right. The right answer requires a detailed analysis of what happened to the students who dropped out, and that takes more than one data point. If the campus improves its own graduation rate, that is probably a good thing, but comparisons of grad rates among campuses usually produce more distortion and misunderstanding than progress.

If we overemphasize graduation rates, colleges may suffer the temptation to do whatever it takes to get the high percentages celebrated by rating agencies and trustees. One way to help improve the rate, after all, is to inflate grades so that all students are above average, and water down the curriculum so everyone can get a degree — not outcomes of much interest to the policy makers, board members, or politicians who tout graduation rates as the touchstone of college performance.

My brother is hurting his school’s graduation rate. His university doesn’t have the degree he seeks. Where he intends to transfer and get that degree doesn’t have the degree his fiancee seeks. Rather than they spend time apart at separate schools, the plan is for her to finish where they are both going to school while he part-times out his degree. After they get married, they will go live where he can finish his degree at the other school.

UPDATE: I like this College Results Online tool to make comparisons.