Higher Ed’s Digital Skills Gap: Faculty & Students

railway-1758208_1920“Digital technology is an ally for higher education” —Professor Mary McAleese, Teaching and Learning in Irish Higher Education (2015)

Most educators today possess the digital skills needed to function in academic life. There’s the basics—managing email, using the Learning Management System (LMS), uploading papers to plagiarism checkers among others. Yet some faculty still struggle with basic LMS functions (Straumsheim, Jaschik & Lederman, 2015). Then there’s the ever-expanding array of apps, online platforms, collaborative digital tools to consider and the latest trend—messaging platforms that are replacing traditional methods of communication like email and face-to-face meetings. The skill level that’s required of faculty to keep current with the changes in technology is expanding. There’s a gap between existing skills and what’s needed; there’s a pressing need for educators to learn how to harness the best of digital technology in order to remain relevant, improve leaning outcomes for students and to manage their teaching practice efficiently and effectively. But it’s not just faculty lacking digital skills.

The Student Skills Gap
Intuitively we think it’s faculty over students who need the most support for expanding their digital capacity. It’s tempting to say so when students appear more tech savvy than us. Though students may have mastered social media quite well they lack the breadth and depth of skills to thrive in a global economy where there’s an abundance of knowledge and digitization is transforming business and social institutions. A survey by the Association of American Colleges and University lays bare skills students lack. Employers and college students surveyed on their perceptions of how prepared college graduates were for the workplace reveal that students lack skills in: i) locating, organizing and evaluating information, ii) staying current on technologies and iii) staying current on global events; a significant shortfall (chart below).

survey data from report Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success
Chart from “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success” by Hart Research, 2015

The Skills Needed
What then is the answer? I suggest the skills gaps need to be addressed at the institutional level for students and educators. The goal should be for students and faculty to thrive in a digital and social economy. The starting point for closing the gap is articulating what faculty and students should be able to do;  what digital skills they need to thrive.

Below are lists of digital skills for both students and faculty. They are designed as starting points; the goal is to get institutions thinking about how to raise the skill level of their students and faculty. The lists are inspired from a variety of sources: i) OECD’s Ministerial Declaration on the Digital Economy; a set of recommendations established by the group of 41 countries to support the recent (and significant shift) to a digital economy and a handful of reports surveying faculty digital skill level (Straumsheim et al. 2015, Wise & Meyer, 2016). 

Digital Skills Required of Students in order to:

  • Locate, curate and organize digital information for academic, personal and/or professional use
  • Create digital web content, websites, blogs, artifacts etc. to communicate concepts and messages effectively
  • Discern credible news from digital sources to keep current on scientific, business and political events from the global to community level
  • Leverage employment opportunities and explore career paths across digital platforms
  • Participate in professional development and lifelong learning using online platforms and digital applications
  • Contribute to and engage in community and national events, causes and initiatives
  • Protect digital identify and privacy, determine how personal data is used and protect accordingly
  • Create and participate in a personal learning network leveraging digital platforms

Digital Skills Required of Faculty/Teachers in order to:

  • Locate, curate and organize digital information for academic, personal and/or professional capacities
  • Leverage digital tools and online platforms following sound pedagogically principles to support student learning
  • Locate and implement open education resources to support student learning
  • Use digital tools, platforms and institution’s learning management system (LMS) to support efficient and effective teaching activities
  • Use LMS and other platform data to identify students requiring additional services and learning support (services provided by institution or faculty)
  • Participate in professional development and lifelong learning using online platforms and digital applications
  • Create and participate in a personal learning network leveraging digital platforms

A Digital Framework In Action
As mentioned, the aim of this post is to get institutions thinking about creating their own framework and strategy for building the digital capacity of faculty and students. Many are already well on their way. A group of universities in Ireland for example have built a digital skills framework, All Aboard, an initiative funded by Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in partnership with a handful of universities. The goal of the program “to increase digital capacity, not only of students but teachers and staff, by empowering students and their educators to flourish in digital world”.  They’ve created an interactive map modeled after a metro map that sorts the competencies of major skill sets into branches, where branches are like routes on a subway. For example there’s Tools and Technologies skill area (grey), Teach and Learn, (blue) and Identity and Well being (black). Along the route of each branch, are sub-sets of skills that support each skill area.

map_no_topics-1024x724This type of visual map is a good tool; it makes sense of the breadth and depth of skills needed for digital proficiency. It’s a good starting point for the novice outlining the skill paths, but it still serves as a tool for planning and organizing how to advance the experienced person’s skills, or for developing a framework for professional development.

Closing
Closing the digital skill gap for faculty and students appears a daunting task—daunting, but not impossible. The starting point is determining the skills needed then creating a plan to tackle each, ideally within a framework as the All Aboard initiative did. Easier said than done, but it’s critical for supporting faculty and college graduates so both groups can thrive in a digital world.

References

Need-to-Know News: A Radically Different Transcript in Higher Ed & LinkedIn Launches Personalized Learning Platform

light-bulb-978882_1280The Radical Transcript
For its Spring graduating class, Elon University of North Carolina is launching a radically different student transcript—the Visual Experiential Transcript or Visual EXP.  It’s a significant departure from the traditional. This document aims to provide a holistic snapshot of a student’s undergraduate learning, on and off campus extracurricular activities and leadership experience. All are encapsulated into five domains: internships, research, leadership, service and global education (page 2), in addition to a student’s course work (page 1). So what’s so radical? Student grades aren’t the focus, nor are credit hours.

Elon University’s Two-Page, Visual EXP Transcript

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Screenshots (above and below) Elon University’s ‘Visual Experiential Transcript’ launched to its graduating Class of 2016. Transcript development initiative funded by the Lumina Foundation.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-2-18-23-pmElon University’s revision to the traditional transcript is an exercise other higher education institutions may want to consider in the near future. Institutions need to show value of the undergraduate experience; value over and above courses completed and grades earned. This new transcript aligns with what many scholars are calling for in higher education—innovation and transformation. This was the message at the recent ‘International Seminar on Innovation in Higher Education’ held last month. Panelists discussed how higher education institutions need to transform and innovate their traditional practices. One example of transformation is demonstrating the value of an undergraduate education; value not only in terms of value to employers, but the contributions undergraduates can make to their field and to society.

Talking about the fact that it’s not that we are preparing students for a career, but we are adding value to their lives, we are adding to society, we are adding to the corporate sector. We need the metrics at hand, showing the real contribution of higher education to society — International Seminar on Innovation in Higher Education (2016)

Elon’s transcript is an excellent example of transforming traditional practices in academe. Conventional transcripts need an overhaul given the narrow emphasis—grades and credit hours. Stanford University’s registrar went on record last year stating the transcript is “a record of everything the student has forgotten” (Mangan, 2015). Another reason for a revamp is to highlight students’ value to potential employers. Employers want to know more than a student’s GPA. They are increasingly interested in what a student can do, what knowledge and skills a student developed while working through his or her undergraduate education (Davidson, 2016). It’s time for a transcript overhaul and Elon University is a good example of how an institution aligned its transcripts with their core values. Other schools can do the same.

Further Reading:

NEW: Personalized Learning on LinkedIn

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Screenshot of LinkedIn’s new Learning Lab interface

Personalized and lifelong learning is an expanding market as evidenced by the rise of MOOCs, offerings of nano degrees, micro masters, and alternative credentials. LinkedIn is getting in the game with a new platform Learning Lab, launched last week. Last year LinkedIn purchased Lynda.com for $1.5 billion (Kosoff, 2015); it’s now the foundation for LinkedIn’s new platform. It consists of a suite of learning videos on a variety of topics, from web development, to digital marketing to leadership. But LinkedIn Learning is adding another layer to the 9000+ videos. It’s developing algorithms with the data they’ve acquired from the millions of LinkedIn members to personalize learning for premium subscribers.

LinkedIn Learning creates personalized recommendations, so learners can efficiently discover which courses are most relevant to their goals or job function. Organizations can use LinkedIn insights to customize multi-course Learning Paths to meet their specific needs. We also provide robust analytics and reporting to help you measure learning effectiveness. – LinkedIn, The Learning Blog (2016)

LinkedIn plans to expand its focus beyond individual subscribers and reach the corporate sector. Businesses will be able to buy subscriptions for employees and customize ‘Learning Paths’—multi course bundle courses targeting a specific skill set. Human resource managers will be able to use LinkedIn’s analytics tools to monitor employees progress, recommend learning paths, as well as look at which courses their employees are engaging with.

With Learning Lab, LinkedIn is going beyond it’s role as a professional networking site to a skill and career development platform. Sound familiar?  Coursera recently launched ‘Coursera for Business‘ , as did Udacity, with Udacity for Business and edX with Professional Certificates. MOOC providers are already tapping into the employee development market with skill specific, just-in-time learning that is available anytime, anywhere. This type of skill development—personalized learning that is accessible and inexpensive is essential for developing skills and preparing a workforce for economies moving towards automation and sectors that are focused on technology and energy. LinkedIn’s new Learning platform might be part of the solution to meet the challenges of delivering just-in-time learning for focused skill development to meet the needs of a new workforce.

Further Reading:

Image credit: Light bulb, by geralt on Pixabay

Need-to-Know-News: Takeaways for Online Educators from LinkedIn’s Students App, Georgia Tech’s MOOC Master’s Degree 3 years Later & Open Textbook ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

unnamed1. Takeaways from Career Planning App
College students are digitally connected and social media savvy. LinkedIn is also savvy, they’re capitalizing on this cultural phenomenon among college students with a newly launched app that helps graduating seniors with their career search—now, there’s an app for that. The LinkedIn Students app provides job search checklists, job postings, salary info, profiles of companies that hire from student’s school and profiles of alumni. A key feature—the app sends recommendations daily to the student’s phone.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 1.51.05 PMLinkedIn’s app looks and feels much like other social media apps popular among the college-age demographic, such as Tinder; students can browse through LinkedIn info on their phones with an easy swipe. The marketing is strategic. LinkedIn highlights the app’s relevance, how it fits into students’ lives—conveniently:

You can chip away at your job search checklist in any of your in-between moments – walking between classes, waiting in line at the coffee shop or taking a study break. What initially felt like an insurmountable undertaking will morph into a manageable daily to-do list and, before you know it, you’ll no longer be asking “How do I find a job that’s a fit for me?,” but “Which of these jobs is the best fit for me?” — LinkedIn Official Blog, April 18, 2016

Insight: LinkedIn’s app is smart. It’s thoughtfully designed, meeting a need common to its target group—the career search process for busy, often overwhelmed college seniors. There are takeaways the education sector might consider and apply to online learning programs where retention and engagement is frequently a challenge. LinkedIn designed the app so it’s appealing, meets a need, and meets its users where they are→on their mobile device. Core principles could be applied by education institutions who by analyzing their student populations, can leverage technology and customize delivery of education components to meet the needs of their students. Instructors might also take advantage of existing technology to communicate with students, meeting them on their devices using apps such as ‘Celly’, communication via group text messages, collaborative bookmarking and annotation platforms (e.g. Diigo), or digital  bulletin boards (e.g. Padlet)—all which can be tailored to a group or class.

2. Three years Later: Georgia Tech’s Master’s Degree MOOC
Readers may remember the launch of Georgia Tech’s radical and concerning to many, Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) program in 2013. It was first of its kind—a master’s program from a prestigious university using the MOOC format (large classes, fully online) at a total cost to students for less than $7,000. Three years later Georgia Tech has graduated it’s first class last year, twenty in total, with another handful this year.

The program has fallen far short of its projected numbers, though Georgia Tech leaders are optimistic, calling it a success. Initially the goal of the program was to have 10,000 students by the third year, a number required to cover costs and generate a profit. The program’s business model was built on the program’s scalability.

“We will start another program,” Georgia Tech President G. P. Peterson said during a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed. “We’re very pleased with the success of the program, and we’re looking to expand it into other areas”. — Georgia Tech’s Next Steps, Inside Higher Ed

Insight: Georgia Tech (GT) is a pioneer. While others took a wait-and-see approach, Georgia Tech chose to lead.  Education institutions can benefit from GT’s initiative if they examine GT’s program in light of advancing their own education programming. The profile of students, enrollment numbers, the cost of course development and technology used by GT can provide helpful insights. Analyzing other institutions digital education initiatives can inform decisions, help create effective and customized strategies that address our digital culture and student demand.

Print3. Open Textbook – “Teaching in a Digital Age”
Tony Bates’ most recent book “Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning” is published under the Open Ed textbook project; it’s free to download in a variety of formats and can be read online. Bates completed the book this April.  I’ve read only two chapters to date, but don’t hesitate in recommending it highly, not only because of Bates expertise in the sector, but because of the books’ comprehensiveness, the breakdown of topics, the ease of navigation, the clean and streamlined interface, the writing tone and style. It’s approachable and accessible. Each subsection concludes with an activity, which usually includes questions to consider and prompts for further research.

Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 6.39.49 PM
Table of Contents, “Teaching in a Digital Age”. A.W. (Tony) Bates

Reading the book on my web browser I found several unexpected benefits. The format of open fosters an interactive experience; it allows for sharing on Social Media platforms (Twitter and Facebook), the ability to comment and interact with other readers, and to annotate individually or within groups using the hypothes.is platform. This could be the future for text books.

Pew Research Reveals Three Barriers to Lifelong Learning

overcoming-barriers-to-technology-assisted-reviewPew Research Center’s recent report, “Lifelong Learning and Technology” gives insight into how Americans perceive and engage in lifelong learning (Horrigan, 2016). It’s a worthy read. It contains valuable data and insights for stakeholders involved in education planning and decision-making. Yet I’ve identified three themes I consider most instructive and compelling; three significant barriers that the education sector as a whole needs to acknowledge and address in order to improve and move online education programs forward.

Three Barriers
1) Limited Access: online education has not, up to this point, democratized education—adult learners with limited education do not engage, for various reasons, in learning aided by technology, 2) Lack of familiarity with online learning options persists among all adult learning groups; for instance only 14% are “very familiar” with even the concept of distance learning, and MOOCs—only 5% are “very familiar”, and 3)  Learning gap: there’s a significant gap between how some adults view learning in general and their actual lifelong learning behaviours—the majority of Americans (87%) believe learning new things is “very important” yet only 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners.

1. Online Education Fails to Democratize
We’ve long heard how digital education platforms such as Coursera and edX will democratize education by overcoming barriers associated with higher education by lowering costs and reaching populations with limited education. Yet Pew’s findings suggest otherwise. It reveals that these same groups, those with low levels of education and household income, are less likely to engage in any form of online learning. One finding is particularly telling—less than half of respondents with a high school education or less have used the internet for personal (43%) or job-related learning (49%) (Horrigan, pg. 7). This suggests that education providers need to determine how to leverage and implement technology as a learning tool to serve the groups that need education most.

2. Limited Awareness of Digital Platforms for Learning
Quite surprising is the fact that the majority of adult learners are not familiar with digital learning options. While most readers of this blog are likely (very) familiar with MOOCs and for-credit online courses, it’s startling to consider that most adults, even those with higher education levels are not (see screenshot below for details). This phenomenon has implications for educators and institutions; the most pressing is the need to inform the general population about digital learning options. Going further, there’s also a need to educate adults how to learn effectively in a digital world. Accomplishing this will require a strategic and concerted effort by education institutions involving a multi-pronged approach, utilizing multiple communication channels to promote learning options. Other alternatives may require forming partnerships with unrelated institutions as Khan Academy did with Bank of America for their Better Money Habits® program. There is much work to be done.

PI_2016.03.22_Education-Ecosystems_5-03
Lifelong Learning and Technology, John Horrigan. Pew Research Center (section 5).

3. The Learning Gap
According to the report Americans value learning greatly. It indicates that 87% of adults state that it’s “very important that people make an effort to learn new things about their jobs”. Yet the same survey finds that 73% of adults agree that “I think of myself as a lifelong learner” applies “very well”. The numbers suggest there’s a segment of the population who view learning as very important, yet they don’t engage in lifelong learning activities for their own personal or professional growth. Why? It’s worth further examination. There is an opportunity to reach a group of adults who value learning greatly but don’t engage for whatever reason. The report does identify factors that play a role in lifelong learning activities, e.g. household income, education attainment, etc (section 2). One avenue to consider is the role educators could play in closing the gap.  Possibly by instilling skills and modeling behaviors associated with lifelong learning in elementary and/or high school, granted the logistics of ‘how’ is a barrier in itself.

There is no easy solution to closing the gap, and it is closely linked barriers one and two.  Yet this gap deserves special consideration—further discussion among educators involved in all levels of education. How can we as educators encourage and develop skills and behaviors in students, young and old where learning is self-directed and lifelong—where students forge their own learning path based upon their, interests needs, and passions?

Closing
The Pew Report yields important and helpful insights that can drive meaningful dialogue about education: professional, elementary and higher education. Also the role of technology in education, it’s reach, and shortcomings. The report hopefully will serve as a catalyst for action, action by education institutions and individuals to advance and improve institutions and platforms reach and impact, to build and grow engaged communities of lifelong learners.

 

MOOC Quality Comes Down To This: Effective Course Design

“Design brings forth what would not come naturally”
                                —Klaus Krippendorff, Professor of Cybernetics, Language,and Culture

designThere’s little data to go on to determine the quality of learning outcomes in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Traditional education measures the quality of learning with a variety of assessment methods against a set of established criteria or objectives. But MOOCs don’t fit into the traditional education mold and given it’s usually unclear what the intended outcomes are for MOOCs, assessment is challenging (Gaebel, 2013). If the objective is to deliver quality learning there’s little to go on except for low completion rates and even smaller percentages of student rankings of their perceptions of learning (via end-of-MOOC surveys). A recent study attempts to address MOOC quality by assessing instructional quality of 76 MOOCs—50 xMOOCs offered on dedicated MOOC platforms and 26 cMOOCs or connectivist MOOCs (Margaryan, Bianco & Littlejohn, 2015). My aim in this post is to share results of the study and outline the framework used to evaluate the MOOCs in an effort to highlight how a course design framework is critical to developing quality learning experiences within MOOCs.

Factors Affecting Quality Course Design
Course design is a critical to delivering quality learning through online courses and MOOCs, yet it’s rarely mentioned in literature and articles discussing MOOC and online course outcomes. This study fills a gap. It determined that while most MOOCs were well-packaged, design quality was low. Out of a possible 72 points that each MOOC could score, not one MOOC scored above 28 points (p. 82).  Reasons vary, but I see it as absence of one or a combination of: skill set of course designer(s), time, and/or a structured process that includes a course design framework.

My view is that an online course takes on a persona of the instructor where the course guides and promotes part of the learning process as an instructor would. This thinking requires a different design approach—a different mindset than one used for traditional courses. A well-designed course also provides a learning path that students can follow and influence. A path that includes: quality, varied and curated resources, methods that encourage active learning whether individually or within self-selected groups, places for students to engage and share where they also act as contributors to the course. The latter is key—students should be able to shape the course through application of course concepts using their existing knowledge and experience.

Overview of the Study & “First Principles of Instruction”
The study analyzed quality through the lens of the Merrill+ model, a framework based on the “First Principles of Instruction” framework of David Merill (2002). Merill’s model is remarkably thorough, detailed and thoughtful in its inclusion and application of learning theories and approaches incorporating components of R. Gagné and H. Gardner’s theories as well as models of instructional design. First Principles also aligns closely with Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theory andragogy, which I’ve discussed in previous posts. There’s significant research in support of Merrill’s theory suggesting it’s a credible, perspective tool to evaluate curriculum design of traditional, online courses and MOOCs (Frick et al. 2007; Margaryan et al., 2015).

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 11.15.33 AM
Merrill’s’ model is grounded in the practical as shown by figure 1 which describes how his five principles focus on problem-focused learning (Merrill, 2002).

Ten Principles of the Merrill+ Model
Margaryan and Collins added five additional principles to Merill’s First Principles to create Merrill+ Model which builds on Merrill’s philosophy and synthesizes contemporary instructional theories and practices (2014). The 10 principles of Merrill+ Model:

Learning is promoted…

  1. Problem Centered Learning: …when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems
  2. Activation: …when learners activate existing knowledge, experience or a skill set as a foundation for creating new knowledge and/or skills.
  3. Demonstration: …when learners observe a demonstration [that includes learning of new knowledge via a primary resource] of the skill [knowledge] to be learned.
  4. Application: …when learners apply their new knowledge or skill through discussion, written work, or creation of an artifact to solve a problem.
  5. Integration: …when new knowledge is integrated and into the learner’s context
  6. Collective knowledge: …when learners contribute to the collective knowledge of a subject or topic
  7. Collaboration: …when learners collaborate with others to expand knowledge of individuals and a community of practice
  8. Differentiation: …when learners are provided with different avenues of learning, according to their need, e.g. scaffolding
  9. Authentic resources: …when quality learning resources are curated from and applicable to real world problems
  10. Feedback: …when learners are given expert feedback on their performance

Closing Thoughts
There are other course design frameworks that can be used as alternatives to the Merrill+ Model, Khan’s e-Learning Framework (I’ll be writing about Khan’s Framework next month) and the Dick and Carey model for instance. Some institutions develop their own course design model as Purdue University did with its IMPACT model. The key to MOOC quality is selecting, then following a framework grounded in learning theory that supports an effective course design process that delivers quality learning experiences.

References

  • Frick, T., Chadha, R., Watson, C., Wang, Y., & Green, P. (2007). Theory-based course evaluation: Nine Scales for measuring teaching and learning quality. Retrieved from  http://www.indiana.edu/~tedfrick/TALQ.pdf
  • Gaeleb, D. (2013). MOOCs: Massive open online courses. (Tech.). European University Association. Retrieved from http://www.eua.be/Libraries/publication/EUA_Occasional_papers_MOOCs
  • Margaryan, A., Bianco, M., & Littlejohn, A. (2014). Instructional quality of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Computers & Education. 80. 77–83. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2014.08.005
  • Merrill, D. M. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 50(3), 43-59. doi:10.1057/9781137394644.0012

Need-to-Know News: Universities On Board with Micro Credentials, MOOC Report Highlights Pressing Issues & App Rewards Tech Non-Use

job-education

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

job-education1) Group of Seven Universities Collaborating on ‘Alternative Credentialing’
“The idea is to create an “alternative credentialing process that would provide students with credentials that are much shorter and cheaper than conventional degrees” — David Schejbal, Dean of Continuing Education, Outreach and e-Learning at Wisconsin Extension.

A group of seven universities are in early stages of collaboration on a joint platform that will offer skills assessments, services including tutoring and advising to students online—though the platform’s primary purpose will be to provide ‘alternative credentialing options’. This is significant. It’s the first time a group of brand-name universities (that include Northwestern and Georgia Tech) have formed their own consortium in the micro credentialing market at this scale. Up until now it’s for-profit platforms such as Udacity with their Nano Degrees partnering with corporations such as AT&T, Coursera with their Specializations offered as a ‘pathway to expertise’, and edX (non-profit) with their xSeries programs.

These programs are vocational in nature, with a focused sequence of courses that provide students with a set of skills in a specialty area. This type of credentialing differs significantly from undergraduate education—the undergraduate degree focusing on breadth rather than depth, emphasizing critical thinking with applicability to a range of career pathways. Yet recently there’s been discussion in far-reaching media outlets including the New York Times, that micro credentials are a viable alternative to traditional higher education—“it [nano degree] may finally offer a reasonable shot at harnessing the web to provide effective schooling to the many young Americans for whom college has become a distant, unaffordable dream”.  Even Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity was quoted as saying, “It [nano degree] is like a university…built by industry” (2014).

Insight: The fact that micro credentials are viewed as an alternative to or even replacement for an undergraduate or an associate’s degree is concerning. Even more so now with universities coming on board and (potentially) promoting this option as ‘shorter and cheaper than conventional degrees’. Micro credentialing serves a different purpose than undergraduate education, targets a different and expanding student population—working adults looking for professional development and a route to enhance job-related skills. Though there is need for higher education institutions to transform and adapt to the complex challenges the higher education sector is facing, offering a ‘mini-degree’ as a replacement to the rich and diverse education that an undergraduate degree can provide is misguided and deeply troubling.  Alternative learning pathways such as micro-credentials is a positive outcome of digital innovations, yet using it as an alternative to ‘fix’ undergraduate education is not reasonable or responsible.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.40.46 PM2)  New MOOC Report Highlights Current Issues
This week UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for higher education released a concise, informative report “MOOCs and Quality: A Review of the Recent Literature” that highlights topical issues with useful, current references.  It’s instructive, informative and provides a summary of key areas of concern specific to MOOCs that are also applicable to higher education including non-completion rates, quality, instructional design, and data use for analysis of student engagement. What’s most instructive are the issues highlighted—it draws out for the reader the most pressing issues worthy of consideration going forward.

As with each new learning innovation, MOOCs present the possibility of new approaches to education, but the promises now need to be evaluated to see what can be delivered in the longer term, on a sustainable basis and with what implications for HEIs and for the assurance of quality  (Creelman et al, 2014).

Insight: Discussions should be moving from MOOCs as disruptors to deeper issues such as how can MOOCs help us improve teaching and learning, reach more students with quality education, and support change within the higher education sector. This report can be a catalyst for such discussions, providing a starting point with its reference list of recent research that provide a foundation for informed discussion.

3) New App Gives Points to Students for Not Using Personal Tech Device
A mobile app targeted to high school and college students called ‘Pocket Points’ gives students rewards for not using their phones during class. Students gain points by opening up the application and locking their phone. It works when the school signs on with Pocket Points and sets up the software and the rewards program.  Students can use points to get discounts at local and online businesses—primarily for food. Currently Chico State and Penn State University use the program.

Insight: A unique idea, though I see more potential for this application with younger children, for parents to use with their children ages 9 through 13—helping kids learn how to manage their screen time.