Hello WCETer’s!

Today I’d like to share the highlights of the meeting from my point of view as a new WCET staff member and first timer at the WCET Annual Meeting. As I, sadly, could not be everywhere at once, Mollie and Russ kindly donated their notes to fill out this post! Thanks both of you and our active WCET Tweeters for extra info!

Before I get started, a public service announcement:

You can access meeting materials by use of the Program tab on the annual meeting website. You can also watch several of the recorded sessions. If you presented at the meeting and would like to share your materials then please email them to Megan Raymond. If you would like to add your take-aways, comments, bloopers, fun stories, etc. about the meeting please do so in the comments below!

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

The WCET 28th Annual Meeting was held October 12-14th in Minneapolis, MN. Thank you to the Marriott City Center hotel, which was a great venue and host hotel! I have to say, the food especially (and the red and green lit bar for our opening reception) was great!

I’ve attended several conferences and this was my first time attending a WCET event. While I’ve enjoyed other conferences I’ve attended, I noticed that each conference excelled at either community building or facilitate learning experiences. At the WCET Annual Meeting, not only did I meet new people but I learned valuable information during the sessions and discussed significant topics in higher education and educational technology.

The 28th Annual Meeting event overview

A majority of attendees this year were returning WCET’ers.

Chart of home states of 2016 WCET Annual meeting attendees

There were 396 attendees from 47 different states and the District of Columbia, with the most from Minnesota (way to represent!). WCET attendees represented many different job categories.

Chart of job categories of 2016 WCET Annual meeting attendees

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

The meeting started Tuesday with the WCET Steering Committee and Executive Council meetings. The Steering Committee dedicated themselves to moving the fields of educational technology and education forward. The Chair of the Committee, Nick White, said that:

“Our job is to accelerate and facilitate change. We need to think about our members and what their needs are.”

Annual Meeting Sessions

The Annual Meeting sessions covered topics from student success, Open Educational Resources (OER), Accessibility and competency-based education. Speakers presented information on change management, adaptive learning, student privacy and 21st Century Credentials.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

At the WCET Academic Leadership Forum…

…two dozen senior level academic leaders engaged in a provocative discussion of:

  • “Risk adjusted metrics” for higher education (we use them in health care, why not higher education?),
  • Using sound social science to evaluate student outcomes,
  • Higher education innovation and scale,
  • Looking for opportunities within institutions to innovate.

The opening keynote from Jaime Casap was an outstanding way to kickoff WCET 2016.

Jaime, the Chief Educational evangelist with Google, told us about the impact of education, which brought him from his hometown of Hell’s Kitchen, NY (not the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant up the street from the conference hotel), to not only speaking at the White House during the Beating the Odds Summit, but speaking to us at WCET16! He spoke of power of education to disrupt poverty and invited us to consider how we can change the focus of education to prep our students to answer “what problem do you want to solve?” instead of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Educational technology can be developed to prepare our students to be innovative creators and problem solvers.

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Thursday started early as Rosa Calabrese, WCET’s digital A four picture collage with photos of joggers and walkersand project services coordinator/extraordinaire, and I took groups for walks and jogs around downtown Minneapolis (for the record, I did not jog and thank you to my group for navigating so well!).

We had a great and chilly time and I especially enjoyed the view while going over the Mississippi River using the Stone Arch Bridge.

After a great breakfast it was on to sessions for the day!

Adaptive Learning in Higher Education: A Progress Report

Over the past three years, adaptive learning has gone from an ill-defined concept in higher education to an important category of teaching and learning technology.

Eric Frank, CEO of Acrobatiq, said that:

“when considering adaptive learning resources, he uses the refrigerator model. My refrigerator of adaptive resources includes complete meals, or all the necessary ingredients I need to make my meal, or the refrigerator is empty and has zero resources. The latter is really tough to scale! What resources does your institution have to implement adaptive learning?”

We need to fill up the adaptive learning refrigerator with resources!

The presenters reminded attendees that adaptive or personalized learning is not new. Today it’s just scalable. Adaptive products today are standing on the shoulders of giants from decades of research on brain science and learning science.

Dale Johnson encouraged allowing faculty to try adaptive learning several times, saying,

“Give faculty breathing room. Let them know it’s okay to fail.” He advises using the “Three Times Teaching” theory. Allow faculty to teach an adaptive learning course at least three times. This will allow them to truly understand how their role is different, how to use the analytics, what interventions their students may or may not need. You can also ask your faculty: If you didn’t have to lecture, what would you like to do in class?  Create? Evaluate? Analyze? Apply?”

Then, give faculty the time and space to try out those options.

An Update on A Multi Year Captioning Compliance Pilot Project

During this session, Suzanne Tapp and Justin Louder, Texas Tech University (TTU), provided updates on a Texas Tech student run captioning lab pilot (2014-2015). The lab was student run by four undergraduate students observed by a graduate student. Students were trained on best practices found in Described and Captioned Media Program Captioning Key.

Campus wide captioning processes and policies were brought up several times by presenters and attendees. At TTU they are completing their captioning policy. The policy will require that all hybrid and online classes and all face-to-face classes with a Letter of Accommodation (LOA) require captioned videos.

Video captioning is handled depending on the priority and length.

  • Classes with LOA: sent to 3rd party vendor so they are completed quickly,
  • If video is less than 15 minutes: instructor is encouraged to self-caption,
  • Video length is 15-40 minutes: sent through the student captioning lab,
  • Video length is 40 minutes or higher: sent to 3rd party vendor.

I’m looking forward to seeing Texas Tech’s publication on best practices in captioning! Visit this link for the slides from this session.

Understanding and Changing the Conversations Around ‘Regular and Substantive Interaction’

We were fortunate to have Amy Laitinen, director for higher education with the Education Policy program at New America, and Van Davis, Associate Vice President of Higher Education Research and Policy at Blackboard, update us on the latest with the “regular and substantive interaction” requirements for distance education and competency-based education (CBE). The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has issued reports criticizing two regional accrediting agencies in their oversight of competency-based programs, especially with respect to interaction regulations. A new report regarding Western Governor University’s implementation of “regular and substantive interaction” is due soon and is expected to be negative. It could be costly to WGU in terms of financial aid eligibility. Such a ruling will have a chilling effect on CBE.

WCET joins Amy, Van, and others in trying to figure out solutions in working with the Department and Congress in creating solutions. WCET will continue to update you and work on advocacy positions.

WCET Awards Lunch

The WCET Awards Lunch honored the WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) award winners and the higher education professionals who won the Richard Jonsen and the Sally Johnstone awards.

A WOW Award recognizes outstanding efforts by member institutions and organizations in applying an innovative, technology-based solution to a challenging educational need. The institutions listed below were honored for their solutions:

The videos showcasing these innovative projects (shown during the lunch) will be available soon. More information will be posted on the WOW award webpage.

Slide with Dale Johnson, winner of Sally Johnstone AwardThe Sally M Johnstone Award, named in honor of WCET’s founding executive director, recognizes a professional who has made an exceptional contribution to technology enhanced teaching and learning. The award acknowledges leadership and excellence in practice.

The inaugural winner of the award is Dale Johnson, adaptive program manager at Arizona State University.

The Richard Jonsen Award is given each year to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the e-learning community and WCET during his or her career. Robbie Melton holding the Richard Jonsen Award in front of a WCET bannerThe Richard Jonsen Award was established in 1998 to recognize the contributions of Richard (Dick) Jonsen, who, as WICHE’s executive director, founded WCET.

WCET was honored to present Dr. Robbie Melton, Associate Vice Chancellor of Mobilization and Emerging Technology for the Tennessee Board of Regents, with this award. Dr. Melton is not only known for her research on mobile apps for education, but her efforts to improve opportunities for learners and willingness to assist others in the technology community. She even helped us with taking very fun VR photos at the meeting! I agree, Robbie, “Life is good!”

21st Century Credentials: Can Higher Ed Regain The Trust Factor?

The hiring process is changing for graduates. Major industries are moving away from required degrees for positions and instead want to know what applicants can actually do.

The Credential Transparency Initiative is an organization working to is to improve transparency in the credentialing marketplace.

Panelists discussed the following:

  • The opportunity for higher education institutions to experiment with shorter, alternative, employer credentials. These are a different value proposition for student in a time when a degree seems a waste of time and effort,
  • Higher education cares about student success. Employers care about “employee success” and are looking deeply at the people skills applicants bring to the job. Higher Education must help facilitate their search.
  • Making competency data available to employers (similar to applicant tracking systems) using portfolios, competency based assessments, alternative credentials.
  • Platforms such as WOW award winner STLR we can help employers filter not only based on the skills for which they need to hire but also competencies such as global or cultural awareness and experiences.

Friday October 14th, 2016

Friday dawned with yoga for a few, a networking breakfast for most and a steering committee working meeting for others! Sessions included discussions on possible combinations of professional certifications and academic coursework, accessibility, accreditation and student metrics. WOW award winners continued to present on their solutions (WGU’s borrowing initiatives and University of Central Oklahoma’s STRL tool).

The “Ask an Accreditor” Roundtable Panel

This panel was a lively discussion with Karen Solomon (Higher learning Commission), Ellie Fogerty (Middle States Commission on Higher Education), and Leah Matthews (Distance Education Accrediting Commission). They updated us on the regional accreditors new focus on institutions with low completion rates. The panelists talked about the increased expectation by the Department of Education and Congress that accrediting agencies act as compliance officers, which is ill-suited to the accreditation model of peer review.

The accrediting agencies are eagerly awaiting the plans that the next administration will have for them. There is an “explosion” of dual credit applications and they expressed concern that some (or, perhaps many) institutions are not ready to assure the quality of their offerings.

The closing session, Innovation Hubs and Labs: Driving Change and Creativity…

The final session of WCET 2016 featured Vernon Smith as a moderator discussing higher education innovation with Missy Bye, Unviersity of Minnesota, Jeff Grabill, Michigan State, Thomas Yen, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Julie Legault, Amino Labs.

In this session we heard about the Internet of Things Lab at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where students can conduct research and hands-on experimentation in and IoT sandbox. Thomas Yen spoke about training students to connect their personal passion with what they want to do in life. So that wherever they go, whatever company they work for, they can find passion in whatever they are doing. Jeff Grabill, Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Michigan State University (MSU), introduced us to the MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology, where Spartans are working together to develop projects like the Brody Engagement Center, an art exhibit designed to showcase the connections between art and science, in spaces such as the Media Sandbox, a collaborative arena to promote creative application of media knowledge through an integrated program. Missy Bye talked about University of Minnesota’s work in the Wearable Product Design Center, a think-tank designing and producing smart clothing. Visit their page for information on their projects (the idea of smart clothing protecting our firefighters in hazardous environments really struck me!). Finally the Creative Director and CEO of Amino Labs, Julie Legault, spoke with us about her journey founding Amino Labs and her work making science and technology much more approachable and intriguing.

My three takeaways /thoughts from this session:

  • Teaching is important in successful innovation in higher education. What does this mean for faculty development at our institutions?
  • We need to train people in how to design learning experiences. And they are also building the capacity around the effective use of #edtech.
  • I love that the Amino mini lab was inspired by Tamagotchis. I also love that the design makes learning about synthetic biology intriguing and fun.

I’m so happy I had the opportunity to attend WCET 2016 and meet with other WCET’ers! I could not have asked for a better welcome as a first time attendee and as a new staff member with WCET. Thanks to all of you for the warm welcome and thank you to my team at WCET for making the time so special for me!

Want more highlights? We had a very stimulating, informative and entertaining discussion on twitter (#WCET16). Relive the chatter with the storify!

I’m looking forward to the 29th annual meeting in Denver. I hope to see you there October 25-27th, 2017,



Photo of Lindsey Downs
Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications
WCET – WICHE Cooperate for Educational Technologies



Mary Tyler Moore statue with Mary tossing her hat

Russ took this picture the Mary Tyler Moore statue. He said that “some of you will appreciate Mary tossing her hat while the younger set will need to ask their parents…or Hulu.” Thanks Russ!


Lessons Learned as a WCET’er

For the last 7.5 years I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best people in technology-enhanced higher education – the WCET staff and members. I am a better person, a better learner, and a better educator because of the experiences I’ve had and the relationships I’ve built through WCET.


WCET team at the Escape Room, Boulder CO, 2016

Since 2008, I’ve worn a WCET staff hat – the title on it changed a few times and I’ve been through 2 major grants, 1 minor grant, the birth of 2 kids, 3 dogs, 3 computers, over 12,000 tweets, and a million laughs.  I will always be grateful for my time as a WCET staffer.

But now it’s time to change hats – to that of a WCET Member.  On August 8th, I began my tenure as director of alternative learning at American Public University System. I’m ecstatic to be on the APUS team, many of whom I’ve worked closely with for years – since we embarked on Transparency by Design together – and help support learners in their pursuit of credentials together.

As director of alternative learning, I have the opportunity to put many things I’ve learned over the years at WCET into practice to help learners – from competency-based education to badges and microcredentials – I get to get my hands into the innovation I’ve been studying for years.

I will admit, when we at WCET were doing our badging and gaming initiative “Who’s Got Class?” and our Badges MOOC with Mozilla and Blackboard, I wondered “to what end?”  Sure, I worked with amazing people on those, but what I wondered all along is, “how would that possibly help our members in their practice?” Now I know.  Without these demonstration projects, I would not have the base I do to be able to build out these kinds of programs for learners.

Which is a nice segue into my Top Lessons Learned as a WCET Staffer:

  1. Participate in Demonstration Projects. Seriously, folks.  The staff work hard to put these on, and while it may seem like fun and games at the time, there is real value to be gained.
  2. Read the Articles Digests. Lindsey, the new manager of communications at WCET, will be doing all the hard work for you.  She combs through all the outlets and pulls together the things you need to know most for your practice.  When I got the DETA grant, I identified Lindsey for the articles digest role, and am so glad that she will now be on the WCET team.  I now depend on these digests and can assure you they couldn’t be in any better hands.
  3. Follow WCET on Twitter. There is even more great information shared here – not just announcements of what WCET has going on but interesting news you should know. Follow WCET @wcet_info.
  4. Engage with other WCET’ers – at the Annual Meeting, the Summit, during webcasts, and on social media. I am so grateful for my WCET colleagues all over the nation.  I learn so much with you all and value the friendships I’ve built.  I truly feel that those who gather around WCET are some of the brightest, most hard working educators in the nation.
  5. Get involved with WCET. Write a blog post about a project you have going on so others can learn from your trials and triumphs. Run for the Steering Committee. Write a Talking Point about a topic you are an expert in.  WCET is truly a cooperative – a community that comes together around excellence in technology-enhanced learning – and it is only strengthened by the contributions of WCET members.

Catalyst Camp, 2009 WCET Annual Meeting

So this is not a farewell, I will still be a part of the community, just in a new role. I look forward to seeing many of you, my people, my mentors, my friends at the WCET Annual Meeting in Minneapolis this week.

And if you’re ever in southwest Montana, near Yellowstone, be sure to drop me a line (calimorrison at gmail dot com), tweet me @calimorrison, call or me 406.580.5894.  I’d love to tell you about the spots we locals love!

Will see you in WCET circles!



Cali Morrison
Director of Alternative Learning, APUS

“We need a hero!” How Contract Cheating Works

“We need a hero!” is a recurring subject line in emails I receive from a popular contract cheating provider. In these emails, they beg me to become a “hero” by uploading my “study resources” to help others or by becoming a “tutor” to fulfill customer requests such as writing their “essay on relation between success and happiness” or completing for them “a basic rough draft for this topic”. This particular company pretends to help students “master” their classes, but a quick search of their site demonstrates that they are in the cheating business.

This is how such contract cheating providers operate. They make our students believe that if they engage with them, they are being kind and helpful because by “sharing and earning” they are providing “millions of study resources” and “homework help” to others in need.  And, if they use the services, they are being smart, good students who will deliver what their professors want – a 10 page paper with 20 references by October 20th or a great performance on a final examination. Students may also believe that if they use these services, they will be able to deliver what their parents want (good grades) and what employers want (a degree).

What is Driving our Students to Contract Cheating Providers?

The question for educational institutions is this – what is driving our students to contract cheating providers? The underlying reasons may be complex, shaped as they are by individual and situational factors, but perhaps at the heart of it, contract cheating providers deliver services that we do not—-“help” on their academic work 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. We know that our students often do not work on their assignments between 9-5, Monday-Friday, when our support services are available, so where else can they go for help.

Even if your institution does offer online services, 24-7, do your students know that and can they find them? We know that students Google to find things and when I When I Google “essay writing help”, the 7th hit is “strategies for essay writing” from Harvard’s Writing Center and the 25th hit is Purdue’s Owl site, but the rest of the hits are all possible contract cheating sites.

Here is an example of an ad your students would find in their “essay writing help” Google search:

Clip of an ad headlined "Please consider me to write your college essay or paper."

And essay “help” is just the beginning. Many of these contract cheating companies or freelancers, will offer to take exams or entire courses for your students (whether online or in person):

The point is this – contract cheating providers exist, they exist to serve your students, and your students are using them. Brad Wolverton, in “The New Economy of Cheating” (Chronicle of Higher Education, August 28, 2016, subscription required), estimates that the annual revenue for one of the largest contract cheating providers is “in the millions”. The UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) “Plagiarism in Higher Education” (August 2016) report also posits that the industry is expansive, likely involving thousands of students every year.

Picture of Tricia Bertram Gallant among the five pillars of academic integrity: honesty, fairness, respect, responsible, and trust.

Tricia Bertram Gallant upholding academic integrity.

Should  We Do Something about It?

So, should anything be done about contract cheating? Can anything be done?

The answer to both questions is a resounding yes!

First, we must do something about it. After all, this type of fraud perpetrated on the public, on employers, and on the government, could crash the knowledge economy. The knowledge economy is built on education credentials, specifically who has the grades and certifications needed to fill the jobs that fuel the economy. If these grades and certifications are fraudulent, the jobs are filled by incompetent people at best, and ethically challenged people at worst.

Survey studies have found that people who cheat in school are more likely to cheat at work, and since the rates of cheating are high (as high as 41% in some studies), that means that at least 41% of those being hired have cheated in school. And since less than 1% of students at most schools are reported for cheating, that means that at least 40% of new graduates being hired have learned that cheating is a strategy for success, perhaps even for “excellence”. It would be an interesting study to interview the recently fired Wells Fargo employees, and their managers, to find out if they cheated in school.

If students are taking grants and loans from the government to pay others to do their work for them, then our taxpayer dollars are being squandered. The federal government seems to be concerned about the financial aid fraud allegedly perpetrated by for-profit educational institutions and some Attorney Generals are concerned about the alleged fraud of Trump University.  But where is the moral outrage about the fraud perpetrated by these contract cheating providers and the students who use them?

We must do something about it.

What Can We Do about It?

So, what do we do?

Here are some basic, good general recommendations for schools, colleges, and universities:

  • Respond to cheating when it is detected in order to leverage it as a teachable moment and to ebb the normalizing of the practice.
  • Support students with academic and language support services so they don’t feel the need to do business with these contract cheating providers. If possible, make your tutoring and support systems available 24 hours/day.
  • Bolster your admissions processes to ensure that the students you are admitting have the pre-requisite skills and knowledge necessary to excel with integrity.
  • Support faculty in revamping their classes to better align with the needs and realities of the 21st This means ending the banking model of education—we don’t run the bank of knowledge anymore, the internet does. Faculty need to be supported in using engaged learning pedagogies, alternative and authentic assessments, and linking these to solid learning objectives and integrity standards
  • Employ methods to ensure that the people taking your classes or writing your exams are the same people enrolled in the class

The above are overarching recommendations.

Join Us in Action on October 19th!Woman holding white board saying "I don't contract cheat because I'm smarter than that!"

To learn more about contract cheating and what you can do about it, join the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) as we host an International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating on October 19th, Carnegie’s Global Ethics Day.

On that day, we’ll release an Institutional Toolkit with more specific tips and ideas for preventing and detecting contract cheating. On that day, institutions around the world will educate their students and faculty about contract cheating, as well as participate in Whiteboard Declarations against contract cheating and share these declarations on social media using #defeatthecheat and #excelwithintegrity.

Our actions on October 19th won’t change the world, but they might wake it up.

We need a hero!

Go to http://contractcheating.weebly.com and tell us you’ll join us on the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating.


Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D.
Director, Academic Integrity Office
University of California, San Diego
Academic Integrity Office at UC San Diego

Interpreting what is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”

As greater numbers of students move into online and competency-based education programs, we have seen new interest in understanding the Department of Education’s regulations. In particular, faculty and administrators seek to understand how the Department interprets rules requiring courses to include “regular and substantive interaction,” especially in distance and competency-based education.

Those of us in online education have long known that interaction between faculty and students as well as among students in both online and face-to-face courses can be the difference in whether a course is a quality learning experience. In fact, ensuring meaningful interactions among class participants should be a priority for any modality—be it face-to-face or online.

picture of a teacher in the front of a classroom of students seated in rows. The teacher is calling a student who is raising his hand.

A traditional view of student-teacher interaction.

Unfortunately, there continues to be a great deal of confusion around how the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General narrowly defines “regular and substantive interaction.” The purpose of this post is to outline our best interpretation of what the Department expects of accrediting agencies, institutions, and faculty in complying. In a follow-on blog post, we will provide opinions about the regulation and how it might be improved.

What sources did we use for this post?

Faculty and administrators have been charged with assuring compliance with “regular and substantive interaction” Expectations. Unfortunately, guidance has been spotty. By reviewing the actions and communications over the last several years, we have come to better understand what is intended and the changing nature of what is expected of institutions offering federal financial aid. We reviewed and often quote from the following official U.S. Department of Education documents:

Based on these documents, this post is our interpretation of what colleges are expected to do in providing and documenting such interaction.

What is the origin of the “regular and substantive interaction”?

The origins of “regular and substantive interaction” go back to an expansion of federal financial aid eligibility in 2005 (see page 6 of the St. Mary-of-the-Woods Final Audit). When  “telecommunications in courses” became eligible for federal financial aid, the term “regular and substantive interaction” was included in the definition.

Prior to 2005, there had been cases of substantial fraud in correspondence studies and there was great interest in severely limiting aid eligibility for correspondence courses. The hallmark of correspondence courses was interaction on the student’s schedule and therefore not on a regular timeline as one might find in a traditional classroom. The term “regular and substantive interaction” was included to help differentiate distance from correspondence courses. From page 6 of the St. Mary-of-the-Woods audit report where a “telecommunications course” was the precursor to what is now defined as a distance education course:

“Effective September 8, 2006, a telecommunications course also needed to include ‘regular and substantive interaction between these students and the instructor.’ (71 FR 45666 (August 9, 2006. ‘Interim final regulations implementing the Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005’)).”

When “telecommunications courses” were later defined as “distance education,” the phrase was ported to that new definition, which is the one currently in use:

Distance education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (4) of this definition to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously…” (underlining added)

In recent years, the expectation for “regular and substantive interaction” has been expanded to competency-based education (CBE) as well. In the Department’s December 2014 Dear Colleague letter stated:

“All Title IV eligible programs, except correspondence programs, must be designed to ensure that there is regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.”

Since “regular and substantive interaction” is specifically used in the definition of “distance education” and is not in regulatory language for other types of instruction, we are unclear why it would also apply to face-to-face CBE programs. A request to the Department for how enforcement of “regular and substantive interaction” was expanded to cover CBE has not been answered.

Who are the players in this discussion?

Here is a brief explanation of a very complex set of players and interactions, which include the following:

  • Congress and the President. Congress proposes and approves bills that include regulatory language. A bill passed by Congress and signed by the President becomes law. Typically, many of the higher education regulations (such as “regular and substantive interaction” help define eligibility for issuing federal financial aid.)
  • S. Department of Education. The Department enforces laws and regulations that are under their charge. Laws rarely include every detail about how it is to be enacted, so the Department will often create additional regulations that meet the Congressional intent. These regulations are subject to an extensive public comment period. Once regulations are set, Departmental staff conduct reviews and audits of institutions to assure that they are in compliance.
  • S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General. The OIG is an arm of the Department with the mission: “To promote the efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity of the Department’s programs and operations, we conduct independent and objective audits, investigations, inspections, and other activities.” The OIG is increasingly concerned about fraud and the misuse of federal aid funds by institutions of all types. After auditing Departmental activities, the OIG issues recommendations that the Department does not necessarily have to follow. The Department is expected to provide a response as to how it will implement the recommendations or why it will not do so. Congress is copied on this correspondence.

Again, these regulations are usually about expectations on institutions to remain eligible for federal financial aid. We need to closely watch these actions to remain in compliance.

Picture of a faculty person looking at a tablet with a student on video on the tablet. The faculty person is facing a blackboard with mathematical formulas and the student has a similar blackboard with formulas behind her.

How do the definitions and practice of “regular and substantive interaction” change in the distance education or competency-based education worlds?

What are the elements of “regular and substantive interaction”?

The interpretation seems to have evolved over time. From Russ’s analysis in 2011 of the St. Mary-of-the-Woods audit report, the auditors seemed to focus on the lack of use of technologies (a cornerstone of the distance education definition) in many of their courses. Additionally:

“The Audit found that ‘instructors did not deliver lectures or initiate discussions with students. Tutoring and other instruction resources were provided at the student’s discretion.”

For that audit review, there was much focus on the interaction being self-paced and initiated by the student. Over time, additional interaction criteria were outlined.

There now seem to be four criteria that the Office of Inspector General is expecting in a course for it to be considered as meeting their expectations for interaction:

1) Interaction must be initiated by the instructor.
This criterion is not written into the original definition of distance education, but (as cited above) we find it in the audit of St. Mary-of-the-Woods. The following statement is made in the December 2014 Dear Colleague letter:

“We do not consider interaction that is wholly optional or initiated primarily by the student to be regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.  Interaction that occurs only upon the request of the student (either electronically or otherwise) would not be considered regular and substantive interaction.”

This is an attempt to differentiate distance education from correspondence study. Students taking correspondence study proceed at their own pace and return assignments when they complete them. In correspondence courses, “interaction” (questions, papers, or assessments) is initiated by the student and the faculty responds. It is thought that in the traditional and distance course that the faculty member guides the flow of events by initiating a lecture or other learning activities.

The emphasis on the primacy of faculty is heightened in the WASC audit. Whereas, most prior documents talked about “regular and substantive interaction”, the WASC audit repeatedly uses the phrase “faculty-initiated, regular, and substantive interaction”.

2) Interaction must be “regular” and probably somewhat frequent.
Unfortunately the two criteria that are less defined are the two terms “regular” and “substantive.” They seem to feel the words stand by themselves, as witnessed in the December 2014 Dear Colleague letter that merely says that “the interaction is regular”.

Our best clues about “regular” is in what it is not. The Department seems to be defining “regular” as not self-paced. Myk Garn, University System of Georgia and member of the Competency-Based Education Network board, addressed this issue in his recent post on why we should stop using “self-paced” in CBE descriptions.

In the December 2014 Dear Colleague letter, in response to the question “Does each student have to engage in educational activity every week in a CBE program?”, the Department responded:

“While it is expected that students will generally be academically engaged throughout an educational program, there is no requirement that the institution be able to document academic engagement for each student for every week of instructional time.”

“However, institutions must ensure that the instructional materials and faculty support necessary for academic engagement are available to students every week that the institution counts toward its definition of a payment period or an academic year.”

We see some further evidence in the WASC audit, which on page 7 in critiquing an offending program states: “Interaction between the instructor and the student is limited, not regular and substantive, and primarily initiated by the student.”  The word “limited” seems to add some sense that there is not an opportunity for extensive interaction, but that is just our guess.

The audit of HLC also cites an institutional substantive change application to the accrediting agency. The audit cites HLC as falling short when addressing the coaches and subject matter experts used as part of CBE instruction. On pages 9 and 10, the audit notes that “coaches would connect with students once each week, on average, and serve as academic advisors, coaches, and mentors” and that “the application did not indicate whether students would regularly interact with subject matter experts if the students were not struggling.” This gives us a hint that the faculty person should be interacting with all students on a “regular” basis.

Our interpretation is that the expectation is that the instructor is expected to interact with students on a fairly set schedule and that those communications not be too far apart. As noted in Russ’s blog on St. Mary-of-the-Woods, there is much speculation about the required frequency, but little guidance. In seeking guidance, we are in the “be careful what we ask for” dilemma. Without Departmental guidance, we don’t know how to comply. On the other hand, guidance may result in expectations that do not work in every setting.

With spotty guidance from the Department on what constitutes “regular” interaction, let’s look at how Merriam-Webster defines the word:

Clip of the online version of Merriam Webster definition of "regular." The definitions are: 1) happening over and over again at the same time or in the same way : occurring every day, week, month, etc. 2) happening at times that are equally separated or 3) happening or done very often.

That might be as good as it gets and all we need.

3) Interaction must be “substantive” – of an academic nature.
In dealing with other financial aid issues, we believe that “substantive” is the easiest to understand as the Department tends to favor activities that further learning or assessment of learning over organizational or procedural communications. In the December 2014 Dear Colleague letter, in question 8 they outline “educational activities” as follows:

“For all CBE programs, including direct assessment programs, educational activity includes (but is not limited to):

  • Participating in regularly scheduled learning sessions (where there is an opportunity for direct interaction between the student and the faculty member);
  • Submitting an academic assignment;
  • Taking an exam, an interactive tutorial, or computer-assisted instruction;
  • Attending a study group that is assigned by the institution;
  • Participating in an online discussion about academic matters;
  • Consultations with a faculty mentor to discuss academic course content; and
  • Participation in faculty-guided independent study (as defined in 34 CFR 668.10(a)(3)(iii).”

“For direct assessment programs only, educational activity also includes development of an academic action plan developed in consultation with a qualified faculty member that addresses competencies identified by the institution.”

“Note that not all of the educational activities described above fulfill the requirements for regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors, as described in Q&A #9 below.”

While they added that last caveat, unfortunately they did not identify which activities meet the “regular and substantive interaction” requirements. But they do add that “merely grading a test or paper would not be substantive interaction.”

As to the other items in the list above, we believe that those activities would also have to meet the other “regular and substantive” criteria. For example a study group that does not include the instructor would not count. Which leads us to the fourth criteria….

4) Interaction must be with an instructor that meets accrediting agency standards.
This is a criterion that was not in the St. Mary-of-the-Woods audit, but appears to have been added more recently. There is a legitimate concern that an unscrupulous institution would hold classes with unqualified personnel. The requirement is outlined in the December 2014 Dear Colleague letter in the answer to question 10:

“Some institutions design their CBE programs using a faculty model where no single faculty member is responsible for all aspects of a given course or competency.  In these models, different instructors might perform different roles: for example, some working with students to develop and implement an academic action plan, others evaluating assessments and providing substantive feedback (merely grading a test or paper would not be substantive interaction), and still others responding to content questions.”

“Such a model may be used to ensure regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors.  However, in applying such a model, an institution must ensure that the interaction is provided by institutional staff who meet accrediting agency standards for providing instruction in the subject matter being discussed, that the interaction is regular, and that the amount of faculty resources dedicated to the program is sufficient in the judgment of the accrediting agency.  Interactions between a student and personnel who do not meet accrediting agency standards for providing instruction in the subject area would not be considered substantive interaction with an instructor.”

Many CBE programs have employed academic coaches or mentors. Some use highly-trained personnel while others may use upper division students. On page 9 of the HLC audit, the OIG voices its concern by citing HLC’s own Elements of Good Practice:

“While mentors or counselors may have an important role in direct assessment competency-based programs in supporting or assisting students, they should not replace faculty or instructors with subject-matter expertise.”

In sum, on the four criteria…

It appears that the Office of Inspector General, is drawing a strong distinction between instructional activities and other student support activities regardless of whether or not those activities play a role in student retention and success.

Text box with the title: "Four keys to regular and substantive interaction". Followed by: "Interaction must be; 1) initiated by the instructor. 2) "regular" and (probably) somewhat frequent.. 3) "substantive" - of an academic nature. 4) with an instructor that meets accrediting agency standards."

What’s the financial aid impact?

From 102(a)(3)(B) of the Higher Education Act of 1965:

“An institution shall not be considered to meet the definition of an institution of higher education in paragraph (1) if such institution— …enrolls 50 percent or more of the institution’s students in correspondence courses (excluding courses offered by telecommunications as defined in section 484(l)(4))…”

An institution that is completely CBE or distance education needs to make sure that it meets the “regular and substantive interaction” requirements or risk losing all of its federal financial aid.

For institutions that have only a few CBE or distance education programs, they need to be aware of this statement from page 6 of the HLC audit:

“…students enrolled only in correspondence programs may receive only a half-time Federal Pell Grant award (34 C.F.R. § 690.66), and a school may not award Title IV funds to any students if more than 50 percent of its courses are correspondence courses or if 50 percent or more of its students are enrolled in correspondence courses (34 C.F.R. § 600.7(a)(1)).”

In talking to Joan Berkes of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, there are many implications to aid eligibility when an institution and/or a student is participating in courses that have been deemed correspondence. For institutions that are not completely CBE or distance learning, you may still be able to grant aid, but the complexities grow immensely.

How sure are we? Here’s our caveat emptor…

This document is our interpretation. It reflects our best understanding based on the documents we cited. Any action that you take based on this information is at your own risk.

What’s next? Do we agree with all of this?

Veterans of the distance education wars have been struggling with the Department’s “regular and substantive interaction” regulations for over a decade as well as the pervasive myth that online education cannot also be quality education. The recent widespread conversations about competency-based education and the explosion in the number of institutions developing and offering CBE has drawn more attention to these regulations, the confusions around them, and institutional struggles to comply with the letter of the law while upholding the spirit of innovation. Further complicating the conversation are the valid and important concerns about ensuring quality and protecting students in a time highlighted by some very large and well-publicized institutional closures have left students stranded with no degree, no job prospects, and significant amounts of student debt.

Because of the complexity of this topic, this first post was meant to be an analysis of the state of this regulation. We tried to hold opinions to the availability or clarity of the guidance provided by the Department thus far.

In our next post we will talk about the intersection between the current conversations around access, quality, and consumer protection. We will suggest a pathway forward that will allow everyone to ensure that our students have improved access to high quality, affordable education that meets their needs.

Russ Poulin


Russ Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



Davis, Van
Van Davis
Associate Vice President
Higher Education Policy and Research
Blackboard, Inc.


Join us for a session on this issue at the WCET Annual Meeting in Minneapolis – October 13 at 4:30 pm.

If you like our work, join WCET!

The Future of Learning and Work

Today’s guest blogger is Jeremy Walsh of Learning House. He has spent his career helping organizations to reach their potential. As a dynamic leader, business developer, former pastor, small business owner, entrepreneur, and business consultant, he has a unique perspective on the convergence of technology and education. 

He outlines many challenges facing higher education. What do you think?
Russ Poulin

A few times a year, my friend Jeanne Meister hosts a really special gathering that brings together leaders and pioneers who are shaping the future of learning and work. I am lucky enough to be a part of it, and on a rainy Monday morning in New York City, I sat in a packed room buzzing with energy. Approximately 120 Learning and HR Executives from some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies, including corporate giants like GE, JPMorgan Chase, Fidelity, IBM and Cisco, and innovative startups, like Degreed, Smartly, Field Nation, and Udemy, were talking about the future of learning and work. We covered a lot, but the topics tended to focus on a few key areas:

  • the continued pressure in the war for talent;
  • the growth of the freelance economy and blended workforce;
  • growing disdain for the lack of preparedness of recent college graduates;
  • the emergence of technology solutions that enable and expedite learning and skill development;
  • the speed at which new skills and technologies are emerging in the marketplace;
  • the impact of AI and robotics on jobs.

Man in suit is pointing his finger to a light bulb graphic that appears to be growing. The light bulb is surrounded by a string of gears.

A Perfect Storm of Change

In July 2016, I hosted a panel discussion at the Connect 2016 higher education summit about similar topics. We brought together people from Cigna, University Health Systems and Whole Foods to discuss what strategic advantage partnerships between industry and higher education can bring in the war for talent.

I always walk away from conversations like this sensing that all the swirling and change has collided upon us today to create the perfect storm. Storms can be violent, but they also have the power to bring change. In this case, there is enormous opportunity for innovative leaders at innovative organizations, both large and small, to build something special and do something big. Those organizations that embrace innovation will bring meaningful education and learning solutions to the table to make a real impact in the marketplace and, ultimately, in individuals’ lives. While the benefits seem obvious, it can feel like they have completely eluded some of my friends and colleagues in higher education.

The Room Where It Happens

In March 2010, when I attended this same meeting around the future of learning and work, I was working for a large university. I, along with several colleagues from other universities, all were engaged in discussing what the future could and should be, looking to develop solutions along with the corporate learning and talent executives.

There was a real sense that we were shaping the future. Over the last six years, I’ve watched the demise of the higher education “voice at the table.” At the most recent meeting, there wasn’t a single representative from a higher education institution. It’s disappointing but true that colleges and universities are no longer looked at as a viable part of the solution for educating, training and preparing those entering and reskilling in the workforce.

The speed of change is so fast, and we’ve been too slow to adapt and respond. Higher education institutions are viewed as outdated, somewhat irrelevant, and mostly inadequate to provide real solutions to the challenges at hand. The irony, of course, is that preparing students for lifelong learning and ultimately to contribute successfully to society through meaningful work is exactly what those of us in higher education are passionate about doing. There is a massive disconnect between the needs of enterprise and the response of higher education.

The Future of Learning

Over the course of this two-day gathering, the catchphrases seemed to be …

  1. Microlearning: digestible, point of need, action-based;
  2. Mobile: available wherever you’re connected;
  3. Social: engaged, “Facebook meets learning”;
  4. Flexible: your time, your way;
  5. On Demand: what you need, when you need it;
  6. Adaptive: knowing how you learn and helping you learn more effectively;
  7. AI Supported: Watson, Siri, Alexa and how they can provide you first-class support.

I’m not suggesting that colleges and universities should or even can adopt all of these into our classes, programs, and models. I am suggesting that if we continue to dismiss these trends, we will continue to be dismissed.

Bootcamps and edtech companies have emerged and in many cases have secured a seat in this conversation. They are attempting to displace the common currency of the degree as the de facto standard for what determines a qualified candidate. With each passing year, I see them gain more trust and conduct more experiments that gather more data that supports their new models. Meanwhile, we are guarding our traditions and are too busy infighting about academic rigor and accessibility to be a meaningful part of the conversation.

I’m hopeful and certain that more of us are realizing our need to innovate faster, understanding that as higher education is now held to the same standards as the rest of the market, we must innovate and evolve. Do it on your own, do it through a partnership, or any other way you can find. Just make sure you are in the game. Those who aren’t will surely sink deeper into obscurity and irrelevance.

The Pioneers

The good news is we have some pioneers to look toward. For instance, in June 2014 Starbucks launched the College Achievement Plan, partnering with Arizona State University to enable Starbucks employees to earn their degree. In April 2015, Starbucks expanded the program to all employees who work at least 20 hours a week. There were several altruistic and business reasons why Starbucks established this plan, including employee retention and engagement and just creating a happier workforce.

One of the pleasant surprises was the impact that the College Achievement Plan has had on recruitment. From FY14 to FY15, Starbucks had over a 10 percent increase in new applications to work for the company, and 63 percent of new recruits cited the plan as a driver in their decision to work for the company. The latest report showed that more than 4,800 employees had enrolled, and ASU reported a 5 percent higher retention rate from these students compared to its core student population. This is just one of several examples of a higher education institution being at the table and providing real value-added solutions.

There are several other examples, like Strayer University working with Chrysler Fiat.  Cigna has been working with multiple universities and colleges, including a few of our Learning House partner schools, to provide a great education as a benefit program to its employees.

Lumina Foundation conducted an ROI study on the Cigna education as a benefit program. This study revealed many interesting trends and provided Cigna with insights to continue improving the program. One of the biggest takeaways from the study was that overall Cigna was receiving a 129 percent ROI for the program.

I believe there are even more of these opportunities happening on smaller scales in regional pockets. As these studies are beginning to demonstrate, I’m confident there is both need and opportunity right in your backyard. Organizations need our support. It likely looks different than our current model, but we can find a way to develop innovative, impactful programs that extend the reach and mission of your institution. So get out there, get involved, and add the value that we are so passionate about bringing.Jeremy Walsh in an suit jacket and no neck tie.


Jeremy Walsh
Vice President of Strategic Initiatives
Learning House


Photo credit: “Idea Gear” photo used under an iStock license obtained by Learning House.


Lights, Camera, Action! – Developing Faculty in 20 Minutes

Change begins with an idea, and in the Instructional Design department at Walters State Community College, we are not afraid of change. We realize that technology is changing our world minute by minute, and by embracing that movement, Walters State continues to be on the cutting edge of the current technology allowing us to offer new and innovative ways to make teaching and learning more effective for our faculty as well as our students.

Walters State Community College Homepage

Walters State Community College is “a learning-centered, comprehensive, public community college dedicated to increasing educational attainment and supporting economic development by providing affordable, high-quality educational opportunities for the residents of East Tennessee.”  We strive to be a leader in the educational arena by discovering new and innovative ways to not only assist our own faculty and students’ educational needs, but we also strive to support others that are outside our four campus community as well. Thus, the idea for the 20 Minute Mentor was born.

Walters State Community College - The 20 Minute Mentor homepage

What is the 20 Minute Mentor?

Every Tuesday morning at 9:30 am, Darlene Smith of our Instructional Design department broadcasts a live 20 Minute Mentor session using the free Periscope app and shares inventive ways WSCC is using technology. Darlene contacts faculty members who are effectively using mobile learning in the classroom, and schedules times to spotlight them on the weekly broadcast. Well in advance of the scheduled date, Darlene and the faculty member plan a rough outline for the broadcast so the session runs as smoothly as possible. Some of the broadcasts happen in a classroom, while others are just a one-on-one sessions with faculty members at different locations on campus. Both ways have been effective, per feedback from Darlene’s Periscope viewers. The viewers have the option of viewing live, but because the weekly broadcasts are published to a YouTube channel, viewers can replay or watch the broadcasts at a more convenient time on the 20 Minute Mentor mPage.Periscope icon

What is Periscope?

Periscope is a live streaming video app. It enables users to “go live” via a mobile device (Smartphone, iPad, etc.).  It allows “on the go” broadcasting, streaming video and audio to viewers who join the broadcast. The user sets up a Periscope account using a Twitter handle. During the broadcast, viewers can engage in real-time discussions, ask questions, and provide feedback using the “Say Something” field at the bottom of their screens. All live videos are uploaded to Twitter and remain active for 24 hours; videos can also be saved to the camera roll so the broadcaster can publish them at a later date.As you can see, Periscope definitely has many uses both inside and outside the classroom.

What lessons have we learned?

Our 20 Minute Mentor series began in the spring semester. February 23, 2016 was our first live broadcast, and the last broadcast for the spring semester was May 10, 2016. During that time, we have learned some valuable lessons.

First, have a strategy. Develop a plan by asking yourself some simple questions:

  1. What are your goals? Planning is crucial to a successful live broadcast. Decide what you want to accomplish. Determining your goals will keep you focused on your purpose. Remember, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  2. What day(s) and times are you going to broadcast? Being consistent with a day and time is a must for a successful broadcast. Oprah Winfrey was on every afternoon at 4:00 pm EST, Monday through Friday. To watch her, viewers had to be near a television at that time. We all know her show was a success, and she had a faithful audience. By being consistent with the “channel” days and times, viewers know when to have their mobile devices ready to watch.
  3. What topics do you want to discuss? Do you want to introduce a weekly web tool or app? Do you want to spotlight what is happening on your campus or in your department? Do you want to provide a “Study Hall” for students to get additional help outside of class time? Do you want to provide “How to …” broadcasts for incoming students and their parents? Deciding the topics ahead of time will help you stay organized. After deciding on the topics, create interesting titles for each. You definitely get more viewers with “catchy” titles for your broadcasts!

Second, be consistent. Jumping on Periscope every now and then will not have the impact that a consistent day and time will have. Yes, it will be fun, but it won’t grow your audience base because they won’t have time to make plans to “be there.”

Third, keep trying. Remember that Periscope is a social media platform, and with any social media platform, you have to keep using it in order to grow it. Below is a collection of data for WSCC’s 20 Minute Mentor series.

20 Minute Mentor list of topics, dates recorded, and number of viewers.

As you can see from the data above, the number of viewers fluctuated from week to week, but 609 viewers were introduced to innovative technology ideas that are being implemented on the Walters State Community College campuses. We feel that number is acceptable for our trial run of live broadcasting. We are looking forward to comparing the data from spring 2016 with the fall 2016 semester which ends in December. We will keep you posted of our outcomes! Bottom line, you may not see quick results, but over time, you will make an impact!

Finally, just have fun! David White, Assistant Dean of Distance Education and Instructional Design at WSCC reminds us often that “Sometimes good enough is good enough.”  Do a few practice runs with Periscope to get comfortable when broadcasting, but relax and have fun! Per our experience, you will be far more critical of your broadcast than your audience will.

WSCC is most proud that the broadcast uses a free app, that the person with the vision for this professional development topic is one of our own faculty members working in Instructional Design (Darlene Smith; @darlenesmithws), and that Darlene also leads the Mobile Learning Academy 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 and, therefore, knows all the faculty involved as potential presenters in the “20 Minute Mentor.” Darlene has been able to follow the presenters who have gone through her Mobile Learning Academies and has then been able to assist their growth over time as faculty using mobile learning in their classrooms and, later, as faculty training other faculty members. In addition, by having the one keystone person leading training of faculty and spotlighting faculty using mobile learning, WSCC has captured what we have produced internally and have been able to showcase it around the world to anyone with a mobile device and an interest in mobile learning.Darlene Smith and David White

Darlene Smith
Associate Professor of Education

David White
Assistant Dean of Distance Education and Instructional Design and Professor of English

Research on Distance Ed and Technological Advancements: An Update on DETA

What’s Been Up?

The National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) is wrapping up its second year of a national U.S. Department of Education funded effort to conduct rigorous research to identify key factors influencing student success in blended, online, and competency-based education.

The DETA Research Toolkit was launched in 2015 intended to help overcome the lack of research literacy in distance education practice and the methodological disciplinary DETA Logo reads "DETA Research Center"divisions by providing a common language for educators to conduct research. It contains guides on designing experimental and survey research, support for data collection through institutional warehoused data and student surveys, a student survey instrumentation packet for dozens of meaningful measures, data codebooks to facilitate merging of data sets, and more. Notably, the DETA Research Toolkit has been downloaded by almost 600 individuals in every state of the U.S. and in over 20 countries throughout the world in less than a year.  These research tools facilitate cross-institutional empirical data collection examining students, courses, programs, and institutions to identify instructional and institutional practices that influence student outcomes, in particular for underrepresented students.

As shared on the WCET Frontiers blog last fall, DETA Subgrant Awards included a competitive proposal process to identify and fund faculty and institutional partners to employ these research designs to address top questions in distance education as outlined in toolkit. These top research questions were developed at a national summit held last year bringing 50 experts from across the country to guide the DETA research agenda.  Since last fall, several institutions have partnered with DETA to conduct research at their institutions, including Oregon State University, University of Central Florida, California State University Fullerton, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Florida SouthWestern State College, San Diego Community College District, Montana State University, and WCET.  Each of these institutions collected student data in survey or quasi-experimentally designed studies in the Spring 2016 semester and completed preliminary analysis over the summer months.  Several were part of cross-institutional studies. With a good foundation of national research, we look forward to bringing on several new partners this fall.

What’s Coming Up?

We still have several studies in which we are looking for institutional partners for a fall data collection.  Interested in being a DETA Partner? The data collection consists of DETA gathering institutionally warehoused data, most likely from your student information system, and the administration of a survey to your blended, online, or competency-based education students. Please complete this form to show your interest.

We are working on preparing a series of DETA Research Briefs and DETA Webinars to help share the findings of our research. The research briefs will be 2-page documents that contain an abstract, introduction, methods, results, and conclusions.  The webinars will go into much more detail explaining the university or college demographics, particulars about their online courses and programs, description of the intervention, if applicable, recommendations for future research, and implications for practice.  This series will be coming later this fall.

We are putting together a special edition of the Online Learning Journal of DETA-supported research that will be released in 2017. The special edition will contain 8 peer-reviewed journal articles highlighting DETA research designs. Each article will discuss implications for future research and practice.

We are looking to release DETA Research Toolkit 2.0 this fall.  We are currently looking for contributors and reviewers. Feel free to email us to express your interest.

Tanya Joosten in front of a screen that reads "if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research. - A. Einstein"

Tanya Joosten explaining DETA’s research agenda and the Toolkit.

Learn More about DETA at the WCET Annual Meeting

Join the DETA Community in Minneapolis! We will be at the WCET Annual Meeting next month holding sessions to bring folks together, share research, and discuss challenges and opportunities in conducting research in an effort to build a community to increase awareness of research being conducted, build collaborations in research and funding, and support each other in conducting rigorous research. If you are interested in attending our sessions, helping facilitate a session, or presenting at one of the sessions, check out more details. There will be primarily 3 sessions that you can attend:

  1. A workshop: Creating and Diffusing Online Instructional & Institutional Practices From Data & Evidence. With a goal of discovering how we turn our research findings into practice, this workshop is a roundtable brainstorming discussions that takes findings from a cross-institutional study and challenges the participants on determining how to interpret these findings, turn them into practice, and develop diffusion processes across the institution.
  2. A lightning round session: Research in Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) (Part 1/2).  With a goal to increase everyone’s awareness of research being conducted, we will hear from awardees and others who are conducting research in distance education at their respective institutions. Each researcher will briefly describe their study in a lightning round format of 5 minutes and 5 slides per presenter.
    Note: If you are interested in presenting, please contact DETA via email. We encourage all folks conducting research no matter how big or how small to come share.
  3. A small group discussion: Research in Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) (Part 2/2).  With a goal of better understanding how DETA can support research in this area, participants will gather in small groups to discuss a) challenges in conducting research and needs of the research community, b) possible solutions or resources to meet needs and overcome challenges, and c) opportunities for funding and collaboration. In previous DETA community discussions, we identified some of the top challenges in conducting research. We have been working to identify and implement recommendations to  increase each individual’s and institution’s capacity to carry out DETA Research. Come ready to ask questions, pose problems, brainstorm solutions, share opportunities for funding or collaboration, and more!

Tanya Joosten, PhD
Director, eLearning Research and Development, Academic Affairs
Co-Director, National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The Fun of Minneapolis and #WCET16

WCET’s 28th Annual Meeting is a mere seven weeks away- October 12-14.  In no time, our community of edtech leaders and innovators will convene in beautiful Minneapolis to connect with colleagues,  exchange ideas,  and share triumphs and challenges. The WCET program is a blend of extended sessions which provide a deep dive into emerging issues, panel sessions, facilitated discussions, and networking events.  Make the most of your time at #WCET16 and in the scenic urban oasis of Minneapolis.

Minnehaha falls_ Evan Miles

Minnehaha Falls, Photo Credit: Evan Miles, flickr

WCET Activities at the Meeting
Here are a few ways to enhance your conference itinerary:

Minneapolis Highlights

Betcha don’t get to go to Land of 10,000 Lakes, very often, doncha know.  Try and achieve as many of these as you can and Tweet it with #WCET16.

We look forward to seeing you in Minneapolis in October.  If you haven’t registered yet, do so before the early bird registration rate expires on September 9. Join us.

Megan Raymond headshotMegan Raymond
Assistant Director, Programs and Sponsorship
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


Nine Organizations Partner on Official Comments for State Authorization Regulations

Nine higher education organizations partnered to submit comments to the Department of Education regarding its proposed state authorization regulations for distance education. By working unison, we provided a strong and consistent single voice in making recommendations to the Department.

The Partners

Contributing to the letter are six distance learning associations with total memberships of over 1,000 institutions:

We were pleased to be joined by the following partners who provided additional expertise and perspectives:

The Biggest IssuesThe words "state authorization surrounded by all the state names.

The letter indicates support for many of the recommended regulations. All of the partners support increased information for students and improved consumer protections. Some of the proposed regulations need clarifications for institutions to understand how to comply. Other proposed rules simply fall short in meeting the Department’s own goals.

Our comments focused on:

  • While the Department recognizes reciprocity as a means for an institution to obtain approval in a state, they want to assure that all state can still enforce their consumer protection laws. SARA allows states to enforce “general-purpose laws” that are applicable to “all entities doing business in the state, not just institutions of higher education.” The Department’s definition of “consumer protection” should mimic SARA’s or states could define it too broadly.
  • State Complaint Processes. Institutions would be denied offering aid in states without a complaint process that meets Departmental requirements. Apparently, the expectation is that out-of-state institutions will: a) know which states are out-of-compliance, b) lobby those states to change their process, and c) hope that they are lobbying for change that meet the Department’s needs. While we support all students having a reliable route for complaints, this process simply will not work. We suggest alternatives
  • Professional Licensure Notifications. The Department substantially underestimated the time for institutions to comply and the ability of state agencies to respond. A delay in enforcement time is needed
  • “Adverse Actions” Notifications. Much clarification is needed as the types of actions differ greatly by accrediting and state agencies. We also recommend that institutions be required to report actions “taken” not actions “initiated.” The latter is often an investigation that does not result in negative consequences for the institution.

Thank you to all our  partners who provide great advice and support throughout the process.

WCET and SAN Comments

We also submitted a second set of comments that reflected the interests of the WCET State Authorization Network (SAN) members. We expressed support for the issues (listed above) that were raised in the joint letter. We also included several requests for clarification that were submitted by WCET SAN members. They had very good questions about the meaning of some terms or how they might be enforced.

What’s Next?

The Department will consider the comments and has said that it will issue a final regulation by the end of the calendar year. If the final regulation is released before November 1, then the regulations become law on July 1, 2017. If they wait until November or December, then they become law on July 1, 2018. At its discretion, the Department may announce that it will delay enforcement of parts of the regulations until a later date.

Bottom Line

If you are not in compliance as an institution or for your professional programs in a state in which you wish to enroll students, don’t hesitate to do so. Avoid the rush. You could get trampled.

The state regulators or licensing boards have no incentive to hurry your application to meet a federal requirement. They do all they can, but they often have minimal staffing.

Happy authorizing!!Cheryl Dowd

Cheryl Dowd
WCET State Authorization



Russ Poulin

Russ Poulin
Director, Policy and Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


Support our work.  Join WCET.

North Dakota Open Educational Resources Initiative: A System-wide Success Story


The North Dakota University System Open Educational Resources Initiative is a 3-phased plan hinging upon a unique collaboration among the North Dakota legislature, the University System Office, and the faculty at public institutions across the state. At the intersection of these three entities are change leaders who have come together for a common goal of improving higher education by reducing textbook costs for students. A 2015 post previewed this work, and this post outlines the plan, the people, and the product.

Project Inception

The American public has called for a change.  Higher education is expensive and the national student debt load is collectively around $1.3 trillion. Lawmakers and educators in North Dakota are interested in ideas that might reduce the cost of attendance at ND public institutions. During the 63rd Legislative Session, Thomas Beadle, a young representative, sponsored a legislative study and resolution urging the North Dakota University System to increase the use of open textbooks as a way to cut costs for college students. In 2013, the Legislative council estimated that North Dakota students spent around $1,100 per year on textbooks. Rep. Beadle described how the idea came about:

“Going into the 2013 legislative session, I really wanted to focus on our students and how we can try to look at new ways of helping them.  For years we have been talking about the growing levels of tuition and fees, but we hadn’t done anything that looked at the other costs associated with going to school.  As a young, recent college grad, I remember how frustrating it was to have to buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of books each semester, and only be able to get a fraction of that cost back when I would try to sell them later on.  I knew that the internet and technology was changing the game in how content was being delivered, but I hadn’t been seeing it on my campus, and knew that as a state we could do better.”

Representative Thomas Beadle of the North Dakota State Legislature.

ND Rep. Thomas Beadle

“In collaboration with some friends of mine, who had faced very similar frustrations about rapid cost increases for books and ‘silent expenses’ that went in to their education, we came up with Open Textbooks as being a first step for North Dakota to look at in order to try and help the students of the state not only save a few dollars, but also to help them get a more active learning tool.”

“While I knew about Open Textbooks and the impact that they could have, the whole world of Open Educational Resources was very foreign to me.  Fortunately, we had Dr. Spilovoy, a very visionary leader in the ND University System who would take our resolution pushing the NDUS to explore this new technology and run with it.  When I introduced the concept, and got legislative approval, I had hoped to start a conversation and try to move the ball forward a little bit.  I hadn’t expected the tremendous snowball effect that it would create!”

Gaining Funding and Support

In order for a system-wide initiative to succeed, there had to be stakeholders involved at every level. A bipartisan and student-focused group of legislators on the Interim Higher Education Funding Committee supported the idea and provided a platform for innovation and feedback. The North Dakota University System put together a team made up of faculty, a student, technologists, and provosts to draft a white paper exploring the concept of open textbooks in response to the legislative request. Because I work with Academic Affairs and Technology at the NDUS system office, I was on the team that wrote the white paper. And after the legislative session, I was asked to lead the Open Educational Resources Initiative for NDUS. Over the next few months, I spent a significant amount of time researching, planning, and preparing presentations, and collaborating with stakeholders across the North Dakota University System.

Governance, cost, collaboration and policy considerations were paramount to the planning process. I wanted to find and partner with a repository of open education materials instead of having to create and maintain a library. The University System is built on the concept of academic freedom. Faculty own the curriculum and choose materials for the courses they teach. I knew that faculty development, support and buy-in were key to the success of the project. An effective approach would be to empower campuses to create and implement open educational resources and textbooks in a way that best suited their unique mission, vision, and faculty. Finally, I knew that funding would be necessary and that the legislature would be interested in seeing a return on its investment. I put together a project concept and presented it at the Interim Higher Education Funding Committee.A picture of a stack of textbooks

Improving Student Access, Affordability, and Academic Success

Textbook costs create a financial burden on college students that can impact their academic success and their financial health. North Dakota University System students each pay an estimated average of $1,100 per year for academic course textbooks. Open textbooks and other open educational resources can help alleviate the burden of textbook costs and reduce the cost of attendance. Open textbooks are complete, real textbooks that are licensed to be freely used, edited, and distributed. Open educational resources include peer-reviewed videos, simulations, lesson plans, and many other openly licensed materials.

By replacing traditional textbooks with open textbooks and open educational resources, the cost of attendance would be reduced without impacting the budget of the college or university. And faculty would have the opportunity to adopt open textbooks and educational materials that they can edit to best meet the needs of their students.

Concept Overview: Implement a system-wide Open Educational Resources initiative throughout North Dakota University System in three phases:

  • Phase 1. Partner with the Open Textbook Network and the University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library to build on proven success. Expand to other Open Educational Resources opportunities that would benefit our students and faculty. Phase I will introduce open textbooks to faculty with support, professional development, and stipends.
  • Phase 2. Train a trainer at each campus so that the campuses begin taking ownership to reduce textbook costs for students. NDUS would also host an Open Educational Resources Summit.
  • Phase 3. North Dakota Open Educational Resources Ideation Grant. Campuses would be challenged to design and implement their own campus-wide open educational resources initiative. Funded proposals will include support and collaboration from campus administrators, faculty, technologists, and others on campus. Proposals can include a variety of peer-reviewed open educational materials such as open and/or digital textbooks, videos, simulations, and other resources that replace traditional textbooks and reduce cost of attendance for students. Campus proposals will be funded based on actual dollars saved in student textbook costs.

The Report Prompts Legislative Action

The work between sessions set the stage for successful implementation. And in the 64th Legislative session, Representative Thomas Beadle introduced legislation to fund a project to increase the use of Open Educational Resources. The governor and legislature supported the project with funding even though overall budgets had been cut state-wide. The final budget appropriation was $110,000.

Of the legislative appropriation to support the Open Educational Resources Initiative, Rep Beadle said, “One of the benefits of a state like North Dakota, is that we are a small community.  While that can be seen as a limitation by many, it has actually helped us experience rapid success.  We are small enough to be nimble and adapt quickly. Every stakeholder knows that they need to work with others in order to get things done, and we need to develop and foster relationships to get things done well.  We have really created a strong team atmosphere that is working together to push OER in North Dakota, and to make this a success for our students, our institutions, and our state.  The buy-in and leadership we have seen on our campuses within the faculty has been tremendous, and the assistance provided by our University System office has been crucial.  As a lawmaker who is responsible to the citizens and the taxpayers, being able to see the return on investment has been crucial.  Knowing that we have the players and stakeholders all seeing benefits, and seeing ways that we can improve and operate more efficiently, has allowed us to be able to get legislative support for these initiatives, and hopefully to continue to provide that support in the future.”

Data Shows Progress

In order to show progress, cost savings, and project success, I began working on baseline project data. In 2013, Babson Survey Group released “Opening the Curriculum: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2014.” I contacted Dr. Jeff Seaman of Babson Survey Group and asked if we could collaborate on a survey report comparing ND’s baseline data to the national survey data. He responded positively, and by October, 2015, we released “Opening Public Institutions: OER in North Dakota and the Nation, 2015.”Report cover. The title of the Report is "Opening Public Institutions: OER in North Dakota and the Nation, 2015" by Tanya M. Spilovoy and Jeff Seaman. The logos at the bottom of the page are for the Babson Survey Research Group and the North Dakota University System.

Key findings from the report include:

  • NDUS faculty are more aware of open educational resources than their counterparts nationally.
  • Similar to their peers nationally, NDUS faculty are taking the initiative with OER adoption. NDUS faculty report similar barriers to adoption; however, they also report that they are currently using a variety of OERs for instruction (primarily videos).
  • More than half of NDUS faculty and those at national public institutions report that they are not sufficiently aware of OER to judge its quality.
  • The most significant barrier to wider adoption of OER remains a faculty perception of the time and effort required to find and evaluate it.
  • Faculty are the key decision makers for OER adoption. At the two-year Associates level, North Dakota University System faculty enjoy significantly more autonomy in the selection of course materials than their peers who teach at the associates level at public institutions nationally.
  • A majority of North Dakota University System faculty say that they “will” or “might” use open resources in the next three years.

Project in Motion

The NDUS joined the Open Textbook Network and began collaborating with other partner institutions already implementing open educational resources projects. I assembled a NDUS OER Steering Committee made up of a student representative, faculty members from each institution type, a legislator, and national experts in open education.  In October, 2015, I organized a system-wide Open Educational Resources Summit at Valley City State University. Provosts were asked to send campus OER leadership teams made up of innovative faculty, librarians, instructional designers, and open-minded individuals. David Ernst, Ph. D., the Director of the Center for Open Education and Executive Director of the Open Textbook Network spoke and conducted a faculty workshop on open education and the adoption of open textbooks. Faculty that reviewed an open textbook from the Open Textbook Library and wrote a peer review received a $250 stipend.

The NDUS Open Educational Resources Campus Grants Call for Proposals was announced. Campus teams left the NDUS Open Educational Resources Summit energized to create their own campus plans and submit for funding.

Return on Investment

On March 4, 2016, the OER Steering Committee met to review campus OER project proposals and give feedback. The initial state investment was $110,000. The first four funded proposals include estimated student cost savings of more than $2 million for school year 2016-2017.  Three of the campus projects will provide faculty stipends to revamp general education courses using open source materials and textbooks. One project at the University of North Dakota will make Robinson’s “The History of North Dakota” an open textbook. Another round of grant proposals is due in October, 2016 with four more $10,000 institutional grants anticipated.

The final financial impact of this initiative will be calculated at the end of the 2017 fiscal year. In the words of Senator Tim Flakoll, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, “The Open Educational Resources Initiative could well go down in history as having the highest return on any higher education investment we’ve made in the last 25 years.”


Call for Proposals: NDUS Open Educational Resources Special Projects

The North Dakota University System seeks grant proposals that implement high-impact, collaborative projects in support of open education and reduced textbook costs for students.

Applications for any amount of funding up to $10,000 are welcome from North Dakota University stakeholders, including faculty, librarians, technologists, administrators, students, and bookstore staff. Projects must involve the creation, adaptation or innovative use of Open Educational Resources (OER), which are educational materials that are openly licensed to the public to freely use, adapt, and share.

Sustainable adoption of OER is a complex issue with many parts, including course redesign, open material reviews, technology support, curriculum mapping, and much more. Project proposals will be evaluated using a rubric that balances the following criteria to prioritize impact and collaboration:

  1. Student savings on textbooks.
  2. Quality considerations such as use of peer reviewed resources, attribution/copyright clearance, and ADA compliance.
  3. Serving a campus or discipline where the availability or use of OER is underrepresented
  4. Collective commitments, such as:
    1. Department-wide commitments (for example, redesign all sections of a class, or all classes in a sequence), or
    2. Multi-institutional commitments (for example, collaborators on more than one community college campus, commitment to implement at more than one campus, or a 4-year partner).
    3. Institutional in-kind (e.g. release time) or cash match commitments (not required but may be considered favorably during the review process).
  5. Assessment plan to demonstrate improved student savings, learning, retention, and success.

Completed proposals should be no longer than three well-written pages and signed by the applicants and supervisors. The OER Steering Committee anticipates making 5-10 awards. Proposals are due 5 pm Monday, February 29, 2016. The NDUS OER Steering Committee will notify applicants by 5 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016.


Tanya’s Tips and Take-Aways

  1. Focus on Students. When leading an Open Educational Resources project, focus on making a difference for students. It is motivating to think that more people will have the opportunity to access information, and that students won’t have to go into more debt because of high textbook costs. Student associations and leaders will be excited to help promote an Open Educational Resources Initiative.
  2. Empower the Faculty. Faculty rarely get to showcase the amazing things they do in their classrooms because they are busy focusing on and teaching students. Make faculty the super stars when talking about Open Educational Resources. Ask expert faculty to talk about how they’re using open textbooks and resources in their classrooms. You will be amazed what you’ll learn from faculty. Faculty appreciate sharing ideas and collaborating. And remember that they are the experts in their field; faculty are the keepers of the curriculum.
  3. Collect the Data. You need to show a return on investment. Collect baseline data on student textbook costs, faculty needs, barriers to adoption, and faculty understanding of Open Educational Resources and textbooks. At the culmination of the project, collect follow-up data so that you’ll be able to show growth, improvement, and textbook cost savings.
  4. Customize the Message. There are many reasons why replacing high-cost textbooks with free textbooks and resources makes sense. However, different groups of stakeholders care about different things. Customize your presentations and message to reflect what folks care about. Faculty are interested in protecting academic freedom, having the autonomy to choose and customize resources, adopting quality learning materials, and helping students meet the course objectives. Talk about how OER can meet faculty needs. Legislators and administrators are interested in initiatives that will be successful and reflect positively on their state and institutions. They want to see a good return on any monetary or time investment. Remember that legislators and administrators are also parents, neighbors, and friends; everyone cares about education. Students are interested in saving money, being engaged, and the convenience of accessing learning materials in a variety of formats on any device. All of these viewpoints are valid, and you’ll find great success if you focus your presentation on what matters to the audience.
  5. Find your People. There are innovative, excited, supportive people who are interested in improving higher education. Spend time with them and absorb their energy. Listen to their ideas; ask what they think of your ideas. Give them credit when they help you. All along this journey, there have been people who have opened doors, offered encouragement, and signed on the dotted line because they believed in it. There will also be people who hate change, and/or dislike you. There might even be folks who actively work to stop or sabotage your project. That’s ok. You don’t need to waste time trying to change them or fight about it. Think of them as part of the adventure. Smile, be polite but firmly state you will continue the work, and then find a pathway around their roadblocks. I’ve discovered that many of the people who initially resisted the project are now actively working to promote it. Focus your time and energy on the people who will contribute to the project’s success. Keep your eyes on the prize, and never give up on your goal.Tanya Spilovoy


Tanya M. Spilovoy, Ed. D.
Director, Distance Education and State Authorization
North Dakota University System