The Power of Digital Inclusion

In October we opened the call for nominations for this year’s Digital Inclusion Award. The Digital Inclusion Award, co-sponsored by WCET and GlobalMindED, was first awarded last year. Today, WCET Frontiers is happy to welcome Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director of WCET  and the WICHE Vice President for Educational Technologies, to discuss the inspiration for the Digital Inclusion Award and the submission process for the award.

Technology has the power to change lives. We’re here to honor those who help learners  harness that power. Nominations for this year’s award are open until April 17th, 2018. Please nominate an individual (or even yourself!) for this award today. Please contact me at if you have any questions on this or any of our other WCET Awards.

Thank you Mike for today’s post!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

One of most elusive of all higher education goals is true inclusion. If you look up definitions of inclusion, you will find many, many definitions and contextual frameworks for assuring that everyone is offered the opportunities afforded by the pursuit of educational experiences. My favorite definition is that inclusion means cognitive diversity.

The Need: Radical Inclusion

Creating a more diverse and inclusive community of learners is one of the benefits of technology. When considering this concept, I am reminded of the Radical Inclusion as practiced by my fellow Burners (individuals who attend the Burning Man Festival in Nevada each summer).

10 principles of burning man

10 Philosophical Principles of Burning Man –

Radical Inclusion stipulates that anyone can attend and enjoy the unique event without regard to any of the commonly held biases designed to exclude people from events, activities, or opportunities. When I thought about funding a commonality that brings Burners together each year to endure a desert lifestyle, it was clear that the Burning Man Ten Philosophical Principles served to create the community (albeit a temporary one) that thrives on a common set of beliefs and tools. So, how could I relate this epiphany to our First Generation, undeserved, or otherwise disenfranchised learner populations? Well, we need to create a common set of beliefs and tools with which to build a society. These common beliefs can be structured around the development of a Digital society and technologies that empower and enable the learners to build and sustain the world they seek to enjoy. Thus, the term DIGITAL INCLUSION came to mind.

The Solution: Digital Inclusion

The natural next step was to develop a process through which we could identify, and reward individuals, programs, and organizations who have pioneered the positive uses of technology in such a way that Digital Inclusion was clearly demonstrated. Hence the WCET and GlobalMindED Digital Inclusion Award was born. GMlogoOur partners at GlobalMindED do a wonderful job of aligning worldwide support for students of all ages, ethnicity, socioeconomic level, and personal backgrounds as they seek access to educational opportunities and, therefore, economic opportunities.

Digital Inclusion has nothing to do with infrastructure or devices, but everything to do with what learners actually DO with the infrastructure or devices. The Digital Inclusion Award is unique in the emphasis on positive outcomes related to the use of technology and not simply attempting to provide funding for students to purchase technology or gain access to high speed Internet services. People of all ages are investing in personal technology at an ever-increasing rate. The time has come to recognize excellence in the use of the digital tools. The Digital Inclusion Award was created and was launched in 2017, and the application process is described below:

Digital Inclusion Principles:

Digital Inclusion is about leveraging “mindware,” not hardware/software;

Digital Inclusion is one component of a larger communications ecosystem, not a standalone concept; Digital Inclusion should be the overall goal of technological evolution.

Submission Process:

  • Candidates shall submit two (2) verifiable examples of Digital Inclusion.
  • Candidates shall submit a Statement of Digital Inclusion philosophy.
  • Self-nominations and nominations of others are both accepted.
  • All nomination materials should be submitted via our nomination form.

Digital Inclusion Selection Process:

A five (5) member selection committee will use the following requirements to select the winner of the Digital Inclusion award. Each candidate will be evaluated on a 10pt scale (with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest). Candidates should also keep the Digital Inclusion Principles listed above in mind when submitting their application.

Committee Selection Criteria:

The submission…

Encourages collaborative use of digital resources in specific activities.

  • Empowers participants to use digital resources as one component of a larger communications ecosystem, not a standalone concept.
  • Actively establishes and sustains an expectation of digital inclusion in the candidate’s operational environment.

Support for the Digital Inclusion Award has been verbalized by many leaders in the academic community.

“It’s critical that we close higher education equity gaps to ensure our future workforce and civic success. Providing accessible pathways is not only the right thing to do, but the only way to close those gaps,” says Joe Garcia, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), WCET’s parent organization. “Fortunately, some of our best scholars and practitioners are making this possible through technology and innovation. Our association with the Digital Inclusion Award is highly aligned with WICHE’s goal of increasing higher education access and affordability for all, and I’m thrilled that we can honor and champion this work.”

Glass plaque for the 2017 award winner Dr. Nader Vadiee. Plaque reads "recognizing excellence in advancing digital inclusion for all learners."

2017 Digital Inclusion Award Plaque

From Dr. Nader Vadiee, inaugural winner of Digital Inclusion Award, said the following about Digital Inclusion:

“I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that the millennial generation is going to face daunting challenges and will encounter complex problems to solve. These complex problems include the global environment, energy resources, economy, cultural, conflicts, health, etc. The good news is that they will be equipped with more powerful tools in their toolbox to face these challenges. They will understand, measure, represent, and model, with high resolution and precision, and find surgical solutions to the problems. Their tools include innovative digital and computational tools, VR, AR, and big data technologies.”

Andriel Dees, Director, Diversity and Inclusion at Capella University, and one of the judges of the 2017 Digital Inclusion Awards spoke to me about the importance of this award in bringing awareness to digital inclusion, saying that “The digital inclusion award is an important statement about taking technology into communities that have not had access and opportunity to thrive and greatly enhance our STEM fields.”

Finally, Carol Carter, Founder & Executive Director of GlobalMindED, which co-created the Digital Inclusion Award with WCET, summarized digital inclusion and the digital inclusion award perfectly when she said that… “The Digital Inclusion Award represents the heart of the GlobalMindED movement in that it recognizes the courage, the innovation and the generous leadership needed to close the equity gap through technology solutions that put students and graduates first. In the age of technology, those students who are empowered to self-direct, self-discover, self-initiate, and collaborate with others will be able to create work for themselves and others, add value to any situation, and solve the world’s most challenging problems. GlobalMindED is honored to partner with WCET to recognize those individuals who are setting this important standard for the impact and effectiveness of technology which can move the levers of access through empowering the humans to contribute at the highest level personally and professionally.”

WCET is looking forward to celebrating this year’s Digital Inclusion Award winner at the 2018 GlobalMindED conference in June. Join us for this outstanding conference!

In Summary

We all need to consider RADICAL INCLUSION as we set out to create, operate, and scale educational opportunities for an ever-increasing population of learners.  Successful Learning, like successful leadership, knows no gender, no race, no culture, no socioeconomic strata, and is intensely personal. There is no “one size fits all.” Radical Inclusion is a critical component of success in our complex society.


Headshot of Mike Abbiatti


Mike Abbiatti
Executive Director
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies




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Open Textbooks and OER in Colorado: Lots of Interest and Great Promise

This week on WCET Frontiers Blog, Tanya Spilovoy, Ed. D., Director of Open Policy for WCET, discusses the outcomes of the Colorado Open Educational Resources (OER) Council recent work in open textbook initiatives, her research and consulting role with WCET, and how OER can be leveraged to meet state higher education goals. WCET is thrilled with the accomplishments of our Z Initiative (see Tanya’s description below).

Enjoy the read!

-Lindsey Downs, WCET

“Our goal is simple. Quote: “Our goal is simple. We want to increase student affordability and success here in Colorado,” said Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “WCET has been great in supporting and informing the work of our OER Council as they developed a plan to help us get there. We’ll keep striving to be a leader in this work.”We want to increase student affordability and success here in Colorado,” said Kim Hunter Reed, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. “WCET has been great in supporting and informing the work of our OER Council as they developed a plan to help us get there. We’ll keep striving to be a leader in this work.”

Summary of the Work

Colorado college and university students could soon experience lower textbook costs due to coordinated leadership and potential state funding. This is good news for student leaders who have been advocating for lower textbook costs. “CU-Boulder has a plan, a working group, and chancellor buy-in, but we are hopeful that the legislature will fund the efforts for open educational resources on a state-wide level,” Troy Fossett, President of Internal Affairs, University of Colorado Student Government. Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) Open Educational Resources Council, a state-wide group established by SB17-258, addressed concerns and worked on a solution. As the consultant, I worked with the OER Council and WCET team to design and deploy three Colorado-wide surveys to evaluate the existing use of open educational resources by public institutions of higher education, analyze the data, and write a report with survey results and recommendations for the future. image of quote: “CU-Boulder has a plan, a working group, and chancellor buy-in, but we are hopeful that the legislature will fund the efforts for open educational resources on a state-wide level,” Troy Fossett, President of Internal Affairs, University of Colorado Student Government.The OER Council then used my report, Open Educational Resources in Colorado, to draft a plan and make recommendations to the Joint Budget Committee and the Education Committees of the Colorado General Assembly.

The OER Council requested $2,820,070 in funding to launch a Colorado OER Initiative to increase awareness, adoption, and creation of open educational resources. Recommendations include offering grants for institutions and individuals, professional development, the establishment of a permanent State OER Council, yearly reports, and a full-time staff position at the CDHE. While we eagerly await good news from Colorado’s legislature, let’s talk about how OER supports the state’s higher education goals.

What were the project highlights?

  1. Survey Participation was Remarkably High. Three surveys were used to gather input from a variety of stakeholders:
    • Colorado Public Systems of Higher Education OER Survey—This survey was designed to capture OER activities and initiatives originating from and managed by system offices. Survey instructions and questions explicitly asked system offices not to include OER activities at the campuses because each campus would respond separately.
    • Colorado Public Institutions of Higher Education OER Survey—To meet the legislative objective to “review and evaluate the extent to which each public institution of higher education is using Open Educational Resources and options for and obstacles to increasing the use of Open Educational Resources in public institutions of Higher Education.” Of the 31 separate public institutions of higher education in Colorado, 27 responded.
    • Solicitation of Individual Input OER Survey—3,009 surveys were received from a broad sample of stakeholders. Higher education students made up nearly 60% of respondents who took the solicitation of Individual Input Survey. The next largest category was “Faculty” (19.9 percent), when categories of “tenured faculty, tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty” were added together. “College parent was the third largest percentage of respondents at 9.5 percent. Photo of graph from report showing roles of those who took the survey. Nontenure track faculty, 202, 8%; tenure track, 103, 4%; tenured fac 181, 7%; college parent 232, 10%; HIgher ed student, 1464, 60%
  2. There are OER champions doing great work on Colorado campuses, but they need coordination, funding, resources and professional development to make a larger impact for students. System offices and institutions said they would support a variety of open educational resources and/or open textbook activities if they had adequate funding and support. In addition, 100 percent of system and institutions reported that they would support workshops for faculty, librarians, and campus OER champions.
  3. OER aligns with Colorado Rises, the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) Masterplan, which identifies four strategic goals to advance education and talent development in the state. The CDHE has established several student-focused initiatives focused on meeting the objective: “By 2025, 66 percent of the adult population will attain postsecondary credentials aligned with their interests, equipping them for success.”

OER can help achieve Colorado’s Goals.

“Use of OER is a very clear strategy to speak to two very important concerns/barriers to education for today’s learner populations: cost and convenience. Judiciously applying OER to these two critical decision-making issues can lower the barriers for a wide variety of students.” Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director, WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

A well-executed open educational resources initiative would help educators in Colorado meet their educational goals to improve quality, ensure affordability, and promote access to postsecondary education. Nationally, the cost of textbooks has risen more than the rate of inflation, and in Colorado alone, total student textbook costs were estimated to be around $148 million in 2016. Other states, like Georgia, North Dakota, and Oregon, have seen significant student savings in the first year of implementation; Colorado also wants to see a big return on investment.image of quote: {“Use of OER is a very clear strategy to speak to two very important concerns/barriers to education for today's learner populations: cost and convenience. Judiciously applying OER to these two critical decision-making issues can lower the barriers for a wide variety of students.” Mike Abbiatti, Exec Director of WCET

In addition to cost savings, research has shown that OER can positively impact student outcomes. Feldstein et. al found that students enrolled in courses using OER had better grades and lower failure and withdrawal rates than students enrolled in courses using traditional textbooks. Tidewater Community College students have shown to achieve higher course retention and grades in courses using OER. Adopting, adapting, and authoring OER has been shown to reduce costs for students and allows faculty the freedom to innovate and customize their curriculum.


According to Open Educational Resources in Colorado, the state is poised to launch a successful initiative due to the convergence of four factors:

  1. Colorado college students are interested in reducing their cost of college attendance;
  2. The CDHE’s Four Strategic Goals align well with an OER Initiative;
  3. Public institutions of higher education administrators and faculty are willing to explore the use of OER;
  4. The Colorado Legislative Council is evaluating options for policy and funding. I am so grateful that I was able to be part of the OER work in Colorado, and I’m eagerly looking forward to what they will do next.

If you would like to learn more about how WCET’s Z Initiative, focused on helping systems and institutions implement open textbook programs, contact me. I would love to help!


Tanya Spilovoy


Tanya M. Spilovoy
Director of Open Policy
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



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Professional Licensure Notifications & Disclosures for Out-of-State Courses/Programs

It seems like the complexity of compliance requirements increases each year. Luckily, we have WCET staff to provide updates on education regulations as we need them. Today, Cheryl Dowd, our Director of the State Authorization Network (SAN), is here to discuss requirements for professional licensure notifications and requirements for disclosures for out-of-state courses and/or programs. I appreciate Cheryl’s reminder that the focus of our programs and our compliance with these regulations is student academic success.

Thank you Cheryl for walking us through these requirements.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

Lindsey Downs, WCET

Why must institutions provide notifications and disclosures regarding professional licensure to students participating in courses and programs outside of the home state of the institution?

As an institution of higher education, faculty and staff should strive to serve the students to the best of their ability in helping those students reach academic success. This goal includes the institutional motivation to provide the information needed for the student to pursue his or her chosen career.

Photo of a smiling nurse

That responsibility extends beyond the completion of the education program to helping the student understand the steps necessary to meet the prerequisites for that career.

Compliance requirements, with the variety of regulatory agencies, entities, and boards for the out of state activities of our institutions, seem to be increasing in complexity. In addition to compliance, we need to be observant of the legal and moral obligations to our students. How do we separate these obligations and address them? We will provide four motivations for the institution to provide information and processes that serve the student to achieve their intended academic and career goals:

  • Regulatory obligation.
  • SARA obligation.
  • Liability mitigation/avoidance for the institution.
  • Institution’s moral obligation for the student.

Regulatory Obligation

As of this date, there are currently enforceable Federal regulations regarding Misrepresentation. Additionally, there are released Federal regulations that require public and individual notifications to students for distance education programs offered outside of the home state of the institution. These new required notifications are to be in place by July 1, 2018, when the released Federal regulation becomes effective.

The Federal Misrepresentation regulations maintain that an institution participating in Title IV HEA programs, must not engage in substantial misrepresentation. Misrepresentation is defined in 34 CFR 668.71 to include any false, erroneous, or misleading statement to a prospective or enrolled student and “substantial misrepresentation” is any misrepresentation on which a person could reasonably be expected to rely, or has reasonably relied, to the person’s determent. This definition has been interpreted to include passive omissions leading to misrepresentation in addition to active statements.

The Misrepresentation Federal regulation further addresses, in 34 CFR 668.72, the variety of types of misrepresentation regarding educational programs. The variety of types of misrepresentation by the institution, listed in the regulations, includes whether successful completion of the course instruction qualifies the student to pursue licensure, certification, or conditions to secure employment in a recognized occupation for which the educational program is represented to prepare the students.

In addition to Federal Misrepresentation regulations, the released new Federal regulations for state authorization of distance education (with an effective date of July 1, 2018) includes required public and individual notifications and disclosures for prospective and enrolled students participating in a solely distance education program and residing in a state in which the institution is not physically located (proposed new section 34 CFR 668.50). Among the required notifications is the disclosure of applicable educational prerequisites for professional licensure and certification for that program in the state which the student resides. Additionally, the institutions must decide whether the program meets the applicable educational prerequisites.

If the program does not meet the educational prerequisites, a statement to that effect must be made and an Individual disclosure made to the student. If the student decides to enroll anyway, the institution is required to obtain written acknowledgement from the student that she or he received the disclosure.

Therefore, a Federal regulatory obligation exists to provide professional licensure notifications and disclosures to prospective and enrolled students if the institution participates in Title IV HEA programs.

SARA Obligation

The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) addresses the SARA participating institution’s obligation to provide all students, applicants, and potential students who have contacted the institution as to whether the course or programs meets state licensing requirements. Section 5.2 of the SARA Manual indicates that SARA has no effect on professional licensing requirements.

However, it places an additional obligation on the institution to be forth coming about whether the course or program leading to professional licensure meets the requirements in the state where the student resides. The student must be provided this information in writing. If the institution, after due diligence, is unable to confirm whether the course or program meets the requirements, the institution must provide the contact information for the licensing board and advise the student to determine whether the program meets the requirements where the student lives. Some institutions have decided that they need to little work in determining licensing requirements and can leave that responsibility to the student. Discussions with SARA leadership indicate that the student option is a last resort after the institution has exhausted its options in determining the applicability of its program to a license or certification.

Liability mitigation/avoidance for the institution

From a private legal action standpoint, one may assert that the institution bares responsibilities for a program leading to professional licensure. In exchange for the student’s tuition, the institution has a contractual obligation to offer the programmatic aspects that lead the student to pursue the post educational steps (examinations, applications, etc.) to the profession as designated by the licensure board. The inability of the institution’s program to provide the required prerequisites could be a breach of contract unless there has been full disclosure that the institution’s program does not meet the prerequisites of the state where the student is located.

The new Federal regulation requires an acknowledgement from the student regarding an individual disclosure, such as the program not meeting the licensure board prerequisites. Not only would the acknowledgement be required by Federal regulation, it is a good practice to show acquiescence by the student with full knowledge of the limitations of the program. The ability for a student to claim a breach of contract is mitigated by the disclosure.

Institution’s moral obligation for the student

As we previously discussed, the institution’s goal should be to serve the students to the best of their ability to reach academic success. If a student is choosing the institution to prepare them to pursue a particular professional field, the institution must accept the moral obligation to provide the necessary information regarding the prerequisites to pursue that professional field.

students meeting Consider the inexperienced student vs. the academic department offering the program. Who do you think has better access to understand how to research and determine the prerequisites in another state? We have often heard that it should be the student’s responsibility to determine licensure applicability. But how is a student who has not taken the first course in their chosen profession supposed to know how a curriculum (which they did not design nor do they understand) matches their state’s academic requirements?

Consider also, the institution chose to offer the program in another state. Shouldn’t the institution have the responsibility to determine if the program the institution chose to offer in that state meets the prerequisites in the state? The institution is not obligated to admit or enroll that student.


Institutions have shared that this process of researching and coordinating with state licensure boards is difficult. That may be true.

There has been some progress at some institutions to coordinate this research work. At least one, if not more, institutional members of the WCET State Authorization Network (SAN) have coordinated with the academic departments to research their department’s own programs and prerequisites in the states where the programs are offered. The academic departments are then sharing the research with the institution’s compliance staff member as the central point for obtaining and managing the information to make the required disclosures. Additionally, there are many discussions among higher education associations such as WCET, SAN, and NC-SARA about reaching out to licensure boards to help them understand that the institutions are seeking this information and to make efforts to make the information accessible.

It is also true that the released Federal regulations regarding notifications and disclosures need some clarification or might not go into effect at all There have been many requests for clarification from WCET, SAN, and NC-SARA. If the new state authorization regulation is delayed or rescinded, your institution will still be subject to SARA (if you are a member), state, legal, and moral obligations.

Rest assured that these organizations will continue to seek clarification on regulatory obligations. There will also be further assistance to institutions with coordinated contacts and practice acts to simplify the research efforts as much as possible to meet the institutional obligations to supply students with the necessary information to achieve their goals.

Cheryl Dowd


Cheryl Dowd
Director, State Authorization Network (SAN)
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies




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Distance Ed Growth – Access is a Big Motivator, But It’s Complicated

Distance education enrollment data continue to show growth. But, we wondered why. Is the motivation to serve more students, to make money, both, neither, or a complex set of other issues? We had heard many theories, often delivered with absolute certainty, but little proof.

One of the reasons I wanted to ask these questions was my experience on a recent panel. Another presenter claimed that colleges had only one interest in distance education: money. I’m not that cynical. While I agree that we can’t lose money, that is a damning message about higher education. Then again, we do have college athletics, so maybe I’m wrong.

In mid-January, we asked WCET members for their opinions about the reasons for growth. And they delivered. We received 192 responses to our two-question survey. This post highlights their thinking. All quotes are verbatim. See the entire list of responses.

The Data

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released higher education enrollment numbers for the Fall of 2016. Phil Hill of e-Literate wrote a nice overview (Fall 2016 IPEDS First Look: Continued growth in distance education in US) highlighting the distance education enrollment growth since 2012, when NCES began collecting that data. Taking the data from Phil’s post, it is easy to calculate the enrollment growth over the last five years.

2012 2016 % Growth
All Students 20,237,911 20,209,781 -0.1%
Exclusive DE 2,287,168 2,974,836 30.1%
Some DE 2,694,715 3,325,743 23.4%
At least one DE 4,981,883 6,300,579 26.5%
No DE 15,256,028 13,909,202 -8.8%

As you can see, while the number and percentage of ALL students enrolled in higher education is slightly down, the number of students taking all courses at a distance has grown by 30.1%. Meanwhile, the number and percentage of students taking no distance courses has decreased.

Before getting to the results of our survey, let me provide a caveat that does not need to be stated, but I will anyway. In the comment part of the survey, several people said that the answers would vary greatly depending on the institution and local circumstances. Yup, that’s true. As with any survey, we are trying to discern trends or interesting outliers. While local experiences may differ greatly from national tendencies, we can still try to discern commonalities and trends. Oh yes, a second caveat…this survey is unscientific. Many are not, but I have the good manners to say so. On with the results…

Gauging Feelings on Cannibalization, Access vs. Money, and Hybrid Growth

first question in survey "In my opinion, the growth in students studying completely at a distance..."The first question sought to obtain member opinions about common themes that we have heard in those observing distance education enrollment growth.

Is Distance Ed Cannibalizing On-campus Enrollments?

Some respondents worry that the growth in distance education is not really adding new students, but is instead cannibalizing existing enrollments. Of those responding:

  • More than one-third (33.3%) agreed that face-to-face enrollments suffer because of the increases in distance education.
  • Close to half (45.8%) thought that distance education did not affect face-to-face enrollment and they were typically serving students whom they would not otherwise enroll.
  • Others decided not to choose either option, presumably because they thought both or neither was true. Some may have come from fully online institutions.

Graph of answers to question "growth in stduents studying completely at a distance." Expense of F2F enrollments (33.3%), does not affect F2F enrollments as distance students do not come to campus (45.8%), is primarily focused on + funding over serving new students (19.3%), is primarily focused on serving new students over + funding (27.1%), is leading to more blended/hybrid options (64.6%)Unless the institutions planned to change their enrollment patterns towards more distance education, having a third of respondents think that increases are coming at the “expense of face-to-face enrollments” may indicate a political problem on some campuses.

Is the focus on distance education focused on serving “new” students or is it a “cash cow”?

In the open-ended responses reported later in this post, both opinions are offered. Less than half of the survey-takers decided to provide a response on these two questions. That may indicate uncertainty about the motivations resulting in the growth in distance education enrollment, belief that there were other primary factors, or (as one respondent suggested) that the options were poorly worded. For those who responded:

  • One-in-five (19.3%) respondents felt that their institution was primarily interested in additional funding.
  • Just over one-quarter (27.1%) of respondents felt that the primary focus was on serving new students.

Is distance education growth leading to more blended/hybrid learning options?

The NCES distance education enrollment statistics gathered in its IPEDS surveys do not ask about blended/hybrid learning. WCET has suggested they do so, as there is much anecdotal evidence that use of these modalities is increasing. Nearly two-thirds (64.6%) of survey respondents agreed that blended/hybrid options are growing.

Members had Much to Say About the Growth in Distance Education Enrollments

question 2: please provide opinions that you have about the growth in students who are studying completely at a distance.We wanted to allow members to give their opinions about their views about growth without trying to lead them too much than we already did in the first question. And they delivered. More than three-quarters (75.7%) provided comments. Below are both the most common responses and some less common responses that provided interesting, insightful, or unique perspectives. I tried to roughly categorize the comments. Some comments counted in more than one category and other comments eluded classification.

Access and Convenience are the Primary Reasons for Growth

Eighty respondents cited access and/or convenience as the main purpose for their distance education offerings. Here is a sample of their quotes:

  • “Convenience! The growth and shift are all about focusing on the student and their needs and availability.”
  • “Students often need to be able to work while completing a degree at the same time. This often means that distance education is the best fit for this growing number of students.”
  • “I can get the exact degree that I am looking for, not ‘something comparable’ and I am more worried about getting the education over getting the ‘college experience.’”
  • “Offering distance education courses also help our face to face students complete their degrees and for some in a timely fashion. These programs do not cannibalize or compete one another, they assist students in completing their degrees.”
  • “The reality is that–at least for our institution–the majority of these students are within 100 miles of the residential campus. Last fall, this was 58%, with 38% being fewer than 50 miles from campus). Before “distance” education, they would have either commuted or just not have participated at all.”
  • “We will continue to see more distance growth than face-to-face. Circumstances of the world we live in now may require people to get more instruction throughout their lives. They are not going to keep physically coming back to universities to update their skills or change careers.”
  • “If we want an educated populace, we have to do all that we can to improve access to education. Modality of instruction is not just a technological issue, nor is it just a pedagogical issue. Perhaps most importantly, it is an equity issue.”

The number and tone of these replies was heartening to me as respondents seemed to be focused on a desire to reach more students. Additionally, respondents seemed aware of the changing nature of students – both in demographic shifts and in the experience students are seeking or require due to life’s demands.

There were some that were more focused on the money. Let’s see what they had to say.

For Some the Focus is on Growing Funding

There were just thirteen respondents who cited additional funding as the main driver for distance education. Given the huge focus by both the public and non-profit sectors in growing their enrollments, certainly shoring up eroding funding sources is part of the mix. Some of the opinions offered:

  • “From the student perspective it’s all about access and fully DE programs offer the flexibility they want and the market needs. From the institution’s perspective it’s about revenue and offering programs that will expand their ‘pie.’”
  • “My institution believes it will save it from all the state funding cuts, but it has not invested the appropriate amount of money in technology to grow at the rate it had hoped to. Distance ed is not cheap to offer.”
  • “Mainly targeting international students for the increased tuition money since the political environment does not encourage international students to come to the US anymore.”
  • “I think there are more distance students because there are more seats open for them, and these are being aggressively marketed, often with the help of OPM companies. The marketing is being done by universities looking for “cash cows.” This is an opinion that is backed by what I am hearing from my peers.”
  • “I am very in support of distance education and believe it has tremendous potential and reaches students who need it. At the same time, I’m concerned that Universities tend to view it as only the “cash cow” and it becomes a business rather than education. At the same time, that business approach has allowed a lot of new and interesting things. So, like all phenomenon, it’s never just one thing.”

It’s Not an Either/Or Between Access and Money

Several took a broader, more complex point-of-view:

  • “This is not an either/or. Offering flexible options for students leads to better retention, persistence and time to degree.”
  • “I checked both ‘…focused on funding…’ & ‘…focused on new students…’ because our university seems to be equally focused on both – we desperately need more funding, AND our mission is to serve rural areas of the state. We seem to be making reasonable progress in both areas.”
  • “I would say that it’s not as cut and dried as ‘coming at the expense of FTF.’ Most of our students take a mix of online and FTF courses. They turn to online when they cannot get classes they need on ground due to conflicts with scheduling (due in part to their own schedules) or filled classes on-ground.”
  • “I did not select either of the first two options above because each is partially true, partially false. Indeed, we are seeing a growth in exclusive DE students that does not affect our F2F enrollments, but we are also seeing an even larger growth in our resident students taking DE courses because of convenience, scheduling conflicts, and/or full classes. While this decreases the F2F enrollments, it does not decrease the overall headcount of our resident students.”

What About Quality?

There were some concerns voiced about growth and advice about how to address it:

  • “It is critically important that we ensure that the same academic rigor exists for distance learning and face to face. It is also important to provide adequate student support services to ensure student success.”
  • “Brick and mortar will have to be better to keep enrollments.”
  • “To prioritize spending in light of shrinking budgets, many institutions will need to assess whether they can afford to maintain equitable access to quality student services and support for both fully online students and on-campus/hybrid students. Service to fully online students requires different hours of operation, access modes and procedures than service to on-campus or hybrid students. Providing consistent quality support to both groups, requires investment in both operational configurations.”

Growth Has Many Additional Components

Besides access and money, respondents provided additional suggestions for factors that drive the growth of distance education:

  • Solving space problems: “As our face-to-face population grows, providing more online course delivery and hybrid courses are the only way to cope with the lack of additional classroom space. Most of our online students also come to face-to-face classes on campus.”
  • Program choices: “The discipline students are studying really make a difference. Some students who would have previously taken face to face courses now have online options which they are choosing.”
  • It’s complicated: “Ultimately, I think we are trying to herd cats here. Also, there’s too much nuance covered up in those aggregate numbers. Any attempts to convey this information should be contextualized with statements about how the Web is generally adding new modalities and new opportunities for learning, but tracking those changes is complicated.”
  • Students are more tech-savvy: “It may be because of the “digital” generation(s) and their technological savvy and/or the busy work life that many students have.”
  • Employer acceptance: “Don’t overlook the growing acceptance by employers of this modality in job preparation. As online courses are viewed as more legitimate, it makes sense that more students are willing to invest in them.”
  • Perceptions of the value of education: “The value of education has slipped; more precisely, the perception of the value of education has slipped, reducing it in our standings of personal priorities. Therefore, rather than altering one’s life to focus completely on education as priority one, education can integrate neatly and less painfully into and among other life priorities. Oddly enough, even with perceptions down, the need for expanded education has never been higher.”
  • More older students: “Can we disaggregate the IPEDS data by age? I believe the students studying completely at a distance are likely older (working, etc. also). “
  • Easier to cheat: “At my institution of 1500+ sections online each semester, only a tiny fraction use any kind of proctoring so the assessments for those that don’t use the proctoring likely have a greater number of cheaters…While the flexibility of DE is obviously of great benefit, I wonder how many take DE classes where there may be a perception (and in many cases a reality) that cheating is easier.”
  • Fewer high school students: “It is very complex, including declining numbers of high school graduates who would have traditionally taken a college prep program…”
  • Less money for students: “Fewer middle class parents have the funds to sponsor full time students thanks to the direction our government is headed in.”

The Promise of Hybrid

Respondents to question 1 indicated that they envision great growth in blended/hybrid options. Here are some of their observations:

  • “I personally believe that the best learning happens in hybrid courses.”
  • “Our face-to-face numbers have been dropping while our hybrid or online classes are rising. No one seems to want to sit in a classroom for that many hours a week.”
  • “Students are also more technically aware, sometimes more than faculty, and are asking for more web-based materials. This is encouraging the expansion of hybrid options (replacing seat time), as well as ‘web enhanced’ (no seat time replacement, but materials are available electronically).”
  • “We do see the growth of blended/hybrid combinations: 1) low-residency in-person with online, and 2) asynchronous online with synchronous distance education (video-conferencing).”
  • “College administrators and their appointed online-instruction service-providing staff still don’t understand the critical difference between blended and completely online and rely on in-service platforms (F2F workshops, synchronous webinars, etc.) that inadvertently model and promote blended instead of online practices. Their rationale is that this is what traditional teachers will respond to. The problem is that they’re playing to teachers’ fears and prolonging in-person and synchronous methods that go against the grain of the exponential growth in preference for online asynchronous (anywhere-anytime) services. Instead of dipping their toes in the online waters, colleges need to jump in and learn how to swim.”

In Conclusion…

Thank you to everyone who responded. As we can see, the answers are not simple and will vary from place to place. Additionally, there is rarely a single motivation for any action.

My takeaways…

  • Most of our members are primarily motivated to help students who were not previously within higher education’s reach.
  • We should conduct more short, pop surveys.

For you…

  • What is your take on these questions now that you have seen the responses?
  • What other issues should we examine through short surveys?



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Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis

WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies  @RussPoulin


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Senate Weighs Innovation and Access Options in Reauthorizing Higher Ed Act

The Senate is moving ahead with deliberations on its version of a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). Yesterday morning, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a hearing focusing on “access and innovation.” Much was said about such issues as competency-based education, distance education, accountability, supporting students outside the classroom, and consumer protection. We thought you would enjoy some background on the testimony provided and the main themes we were hearing.

Opening Remarks Signal a Bipartisan Effort

To begin with, the Senate will tend toward more bipartisan solutions than the House. Its version of reauthorization (the PROSPER Act) was completely a Republican product. While the Senate Committee leaders from both parties have their own points-of-view, there is a greater sense of cooperation than we see most anywhere else in the Capitol these days.

Senator Alexander (TN), Chair, HELP Committee

The Senator has been both a university president and the Secretary of Education, so he has an uncommon knowledge of higher education issues among our Congressional members. The bottom line for him is: “How can we get the Federal Government out of the way so that we can meet our students’ needs?”

Senator Patty Murray (WA), Ranking Minority Member, HELP Committee

The Senator is very concerned about expanding opportunities for low-income, minority, homeless, working adult, and other populations not well served by higher education. While she is interested in access, that is not sufficient. She seeks to help students navigate program choices, graduate on-time, and have credentials that improve their careers and the community, at large.

Accountability was a key issue. Developing appropriate “guard-rails” to protect students was a phrase she introduced and was echoed throughout the hearing. She felt online and competency-based education should be part of the conversation, but that students in these programs often are not given the help they need to succeed.text reading: PATTY MURRAY EXPRESSED CONFIDENCE THAT THE SENATE WILL DEVELOP A BIPARTISAN VERSION OF REAUTHORIZATION OF THE HIGHER EDUCATION ACT… “BUT IT WILL BE CHALLENGING.”“We cannot be allured by innovation for innovation’s sake and hurt students in the process. We must have evidence,” was another point she made that reappeared in different forms throughout the hearing.

She said that she is confident that they can find a bipartisan solution, but that it will be challenging. After Sen. Murray completed her remarks, Sen. Alexander observed: “I can tell from each of our opening statements that we are listening to each other. And that’s a good sign.”

Witnesses Provided Examples of Successful Innovations

The HEA hearing had five witnesses from a variety of institutions and organizations. Each of them provided testimony regarding their institution or specialties, and the Senators asked follow-up questions. The questions and the direction of the discussion revolved around the topics that the witnesses presented.

Dr. Joe May, Chancellor, Dallas County Community College District, spoke about career and technical education through certificates and associate degrees (and recommended that these be Pell eligible). He also championed more transparency of job acquisition information. He described Dallas County Promise, a partnership between school districts, institutions, and the local community to increase college completion through dual credit courses, saying dual enrollment decreases access barriers and reduces time to degree completion. He discussed the limitations of federal reporting structures, specifying that we should allow institutions to track all enrolled students, regardless of categorization. He recommended allowing DACA recipients to be eligible for Pell. Dr. May advised that the EQUIP program (a Department of Education Experimental Sites Initiative) allows for institutional partnerships with non-institutional education providers. Under this program, Dallas County Community College District partners with non-institutional provider StraighterLine and CHEA for quality assurance.

Ms. Donna Linderman, University Dean for Student Success Initiatives for the City University of New York (CUNY), testified about CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP). The program aims to graduate 50% of their students within three years. When started, the graduation rate was 13% (or 24% for students with no remedial needs). Since its founding in 2007, ASAP has served 33,800 students and has a 53% three-year graduation rate (compared to 25% for other programs). ASAP helps students with financial and needs “outside the classroom,” such as tuition waivers, textbook assistance, transportation. There also is great emphasis on student support, such as personalized advising, tutoring, career development. ASAP is being replicated in New York and other states. She recommended support for community colleges to adopt evidence-based models to improve graduation rates through wholistic programs like ASAP.

Dr. Barbara Brittingham, President, Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, New England Association of School and Colleges, addressed four issues.

  1. Key elements to distance education quality (institutional capacity; institutional control over academics, admission and support services; faculty and professional development; and monitoring student progression).
  2. Quality CBE programs: students should be required to reach a “competency” level. Competencies need to be equivalent to credit-hour systems (in case of transfer to another institution).
  3. “Disaggregated” faculty role: some institutions employ multiple individuals to fulfill the roles previously accomplished by one faculty member. We must ensure expertise of individuals hired in these roles.
  4. Experiments for accreditors: HEA should provide options for accreditors to experiment with assuring educational quality. Some examples include differentiated accreditation or accreditation of systems (instead of institutions).

Dr. Deborah Bushway, Consultant, Competency-Based Education Network, and Provost at Northwestern Health Sciences University, discussed the potential of CBE to increase post-secondary educational opportunities. Dr. Bushway stressed that more work is needed to standardize the definition of CBE across post-secondary education, recommended that Congress define CBE within the HEA andalso authorize a CBE demonstration project to pilot changes before attempting to deploy the innovations more broadly.

Mike Larsson, President of Match Beyond, co-founded his nonprofit (which is partnered with Southern New Hampshire University) to help students from low-income families earn college degrees. Their program acts like a “personal trainer” for students, providing enrollment coaching, academic coaching, support services such as free lunches, parking vouchers, free childcare, and career coaching. 72% of their enrolled students are on track to complete or have already finished their associate degrees.

Key Themes

Accountability, Evidence, and Outcomes

The need to change accountability measures (whether within institutions, for accreditation, or for federal aid purposes) was a strong theme. Terms such as evidence-based, research-based, rigorous evaluation, progression, graduation rates, employment outcomes, and community gains from academic programs were raised repeatedly. While these calls were pointed at gaining a better understanding about which innovations deserve continued investments, Larsson opined: “outcome data should not be just for innovation.”HEA wordcloud

The federal ban against a unit record system to help with such analyses was mentioned a few times in the hearing and was noted by several on the Twitter feed. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) noted the bipartisan College Transparency Act, which proposes to lift that ban so that better student information could be provided.

Bushway made a great point in observing that it will take time to develop effective outcomes measures, but a more robust set of demonstration projects could progress these innovations in the meantime. Brittingham also said that the credit hour is currently our only currency and that it is time to explore alternative measures of proficiency. Again, this will take time.

Student Needs Outside the Classroom

Several Senators and visiting witnesses discussed the importance of supporting student needs outside of the classroom. Institutions are trying to focus on helping students with their urgent needs, so the students can focus on being successful in the classroom. This wholistic student support approach is, as Ms. Linderman said, a “critical piece of the student success puzzle.” CUNY’s ASAP program and Larsson’s Match Beyond programs have both studied the typical barriers to student completion and provide answers to these barriers. These solutions include offering grants to cover gaps in financial aid, helping with transportation or parking costs, offering child care, providing free lunches, and providing personalized coaching for academic and career needs.

Demonstration Projects

We have reported in the past about the Experimental Sites Initiatives (such as EQUIP) that the U.S. Department of Education initiated in the past. These programs allow institutions to forego some federal financial aid regulations to implement an innovation. New America released a report earlier this week criticizing the lack of evidence generated by these Initiatives in the past. The report made recommendations on how to conduct true experiments. The expansion and improvement of demonstration projects to assess the efficacy of innovations was suggested several times.

Distance Education is Still Suspect

Sen. Murray cited the dismal research record of distance education in serving minority, low income, and other undeserved students. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (MA) remarks were all about making sure students are well-informed about their options and that they have safeguards protecting them against unscrupulous providers. Again, the tone was that innovations are suspect…and may always be so. One of the panel witnesses thought that the “regular and substantive interaction” requirements should remain for distance education but be removed for CBE.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (GA) noted how he and Sen. Mike Enzi (WY) were on a committee a few decades ago to review “web-based education.” At that time, a 50% rule was created so that less than 50% of all instruction could be at a distance for an institution to be eligible for aid. He noted that we need to update our thinking. He noted that the Army has most of its students learning via distance education and that its time to get our arms around how to define it.

In any case, we still have work to do on the story of the efficacy of distance education.

Consumer Protection

From what is written above, you probably gathered that there was great emphasis in finding the proper “guard-rails” that allow innovation, protect students, and assure that federal aid funds are spent wisely. Given the history in which a select few have used correspondence and distance education in ways that have harmed students, the Senators are wise to help protect future students. Meanwhile, several Senators are interested in removing cumbersome regulations actually inhibit student progress. It will be an interesting balancing act.Photo of a guardrail

Workforce Needs

Innovative ways to meet workforce needs were often cited, which is not surprising given this Administration. Allowing Pell grants to be used for short term certifications with value in the workplace was often suggested. Additional flexibility in aid for adults who often need to return to education in short spurts throughout their lives was suggested.

Competency-Based Education and “Regular and Substantive Interaction”

There was much support for the concept of CBE. The Senators (mostly) seemed to appreciate the flexibility for students and the attention to quality exhibited in CBE programs. Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), whose state is home to Western Governors University, was very focused on supporting CBE. Many Senators seemed to support writing a new CBE definition, and for creating demonstration programs to further develop it.

On “regular and substantive interaction,” Brittingham noted that when that definition was created in 1992, a faculty person performed all the roles of course development, instruction, assessment, and advising. Now, institutions (such as WGU) have disaggregated those roles. She said it is time to modernize interaction to keep pace with changes in faculty practices.

As noted above, it was suggested that “regular and substantive interaction” be removed from CBE but be retained for distance education. We hope that we can push forward regulatory reforms for all innovations and not pit them against each other as some are inclined to do.

In Conclusion and Next Steps…

We need to continue to observe what is happening and be active participants in the process. The Committee asked for definitions of “competency-based education,” “distance education,” and “correspondence education.” Shall we do so? Sen. Alexander invited such input.

There was discussion about an issue that we have been struggling with since the House’s PROSPER Act was released. In that bill, they replaced “distance education” with “competency-based education” in the definitions and in the accreditation oversight section. Since regulation always lags innovation, it is time for us to think bigger. Let’s create “guard-rails” that can be applied to any innovation. The one sure fact that we can’t escape: innovations that we cannot even imagine are on their way. Let’s create regulations that can work for any innovation, so we don’t have to worry about the problem of trying to define “distance education” and “competency-based education” after decades of experience with these modalities. We will think more about this and may make some suggestions in future posts.

Meanwhile, what do you think. What “guard-rails” are needed? What regulations are needed? What changes to regulations are needed? What changes to the financial aid program are needed?

 -Russ and Lindsey

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Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies  @russpoulin



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Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communication
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies @lindsey0427



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A Look Back at the 2017 WCET Member Job Posts

WCET Job Postings are a compilation of member higher education job posts, emailed directly to our WCET membership and also posted to the WCET website. Rosa Calabrese, the WCET Manager of Digital and Project Support Services shares the job posts weekly via the WCETNews email list. Over the last year, Rosa observed several items of interest regarding the job post submissions she received.

Today we welcome Rosa to discuss her observations of 2017 job posts in higher education AND announce two new features of the WCET job posts that I know you will like.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

If there is any particularly interesting take away I have from reviewing all the job posts that WCET received for our member job distribution in 2017, it’s that Instructional Designers are in high demand right now! While this isn’t particularly shocking (I think most of us have noticed that as higher ed courses become more digital, they also require more skilled professionals who understand how to translate previously offline content into an online environment), my inner sociology enthusiast is nonetheless excited to be able to witness the ways in which higher ed is changing based solely on career openings.

Two men sitting at a table talking

Photo by @liwordson from

But a substantial need for Instructional Designers is only one of many observations that I have made in looking back at the 2017-member job posts.

What Jobs Does WCET Post?

As a reminder to anyone who could use a refresher or is unfamiliar with the WCET member job posts, these are position openings at member institutions sent directly to me weekly, which we call attention to at the end of each week. Only WCET members can submit posts and only for positions at WCET member institutions or organizations.

Every Friday afternoon, I compile a list of all the positions that I received during the week and send them to our members on the members-only WCETnews email list along with weekly announcements (did you know member institutions have unlimited subscriptions to the WCET email lists? Learn more). I then add the positions to our website on the Member Job Post page, where each position stays available for two weeks. Submissions need to follow certain guidelines and each organization/institution can submit up to five positions per week.

Much Diversity in Geography, Positions, and Institution Types

In 2017, WCET received 270-member job posts, which came from 40 states plus Washington DC. On the map below, you can see the approximate number of job posts that we received from each state.

Map of the US. Each state is highlighted as submitting different numbers of job posts in 2017. Most states submitted 1-5, following by states submitting 6-20, then 0 job posts, and 21+ posts.

I also categorized all 2017 job posts (to the best of my ability) by subject matter. Of those 270 positions, 81 positions were for instructional designers or instructional technologists, the largest specific category. Other common categories I found were technical positions (17), financial positions (12), marketing positions (10), professor/teaching positions (9), accessible design positions (6), and state authorization/compliance positions (6).

However, there were about 85 positions that I broadly categorized as administration positions. Many of these positions had unspecific names such as Project Manager or Program Director, or if they did have specific topics, they mentioned things such as advising, faculty, and admissions. I placed a further 36 positions into the slightly more specific category of eLearning administration, which were similar positions as the previous category, but with an emphasis on distance education, educational technology, and online learning. Lastly, 8 positions escaped categorization by my measures.

I was pleased to see that we received quite a few high-level positions. We received job posts for 20 Managers, 29 Directors, three Executive Directors, three Chief Information Officers, one Vice Dean, seven Deans, three Vice Provosts, one Provost, and one President.

Additionally, the job posts that we received in 2017 were from many different types of institutions. We received positions from 2-year institutions, 4-year institutions, state/system higher ed offices, non-profits, for-profits, and corporations. I think that our 2017 job posts were pretty well rounded and could fit the needs of just about anyone looking for a job in higher education.

New Features of WCET Job Posts

Finally, I’m excited to unveil two new features of the WCET job posts. First, we have decided to begin allowing members to send us Adjunct Pools to be posted with our other positions, with a few conditions. Each Adjunct Pool can only be posted once every six months so as not to overwhelm the rest of our list with reposts. Additionally, institutions must resend positions themselves after six months as we will not repost unless we are asked during the week leading up to the post.

Secondly, starting today, we will now archive all positions from the past two years on the WCET website. This new Member Job Post Archive page (which can be found linked at the bottom of the main Member Job Post page) will primarily serve as a reference point for the creation of your future job posts. For example, if you are looking to hire, say, a Course Developer at your institution, you can refer to our archives to read the job descriptions and minimum qualifications for that type of position advertised at other institutions. All future job posts displayed on the WCET website will continue to be available in the archives moving forward.

So what are you waiting for? Share a job opening at your institution with us! And make sure you share our weekly posts with an aspiring job hunter you know. Happy job hunting!

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Rosa Calabrese
Manager, Digital and Project Support Services
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



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Adaptive Learning: Research-Based Principles for Developing Effective Courses

This week on WCET Frontiers, we are happy to welcome back Niki Bray, Instructor and Instructional Designer with the School of Health Studies at the University of Memphis. Niki is here today to discuss another aspect of adaptive learning: research-based principles for developing effective courses. Niki reviews why higher education leaders should have a solid understanding of the design process and principles of multimedia learning which help increase generative processing.

Thank you, Niki, for this great post!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

-Lindsey Downs, WCET

Why Do You, A Higher Ed Leader, Need to Understand Design?

That’s a great question! In my work with universities’ who are attempting to transform classroom practices, one of the greatest barriers to achieving their goals is you – the Higher Education leader!

There is an overwhelming lack of understanding of what is, or will be, required to transform the classroom by those who make decisions about the work faculty are involved in. Transforming the classroom to meet current demands by stakeholders (like our students, our faculty, our communities, etc.) is challenging work. It requires tremendous effort on the part of faculty. And if you, as an academic leader, truly care about this transformation, you need to read this blog carefully. Today’s goal: help you gain a greater understanding of what faculty, and potentially instructional designers (and other faculty support personnel), must go through to make this transformation possible. They need your support to be successful.

 The End of Poorly Designed Courses

It’s no secret that poorly developed courses abound – just ask almost any student. The good news is that we now have lots of research on how to improve the way course content is presented to learners, including those delivered using technology. In my last post, we discussed how to design courses using the Backward Design method, a process that ensures proper alignment so that we know students learn and are assessed on what we intended them to know and be able to do in the course. In this post, we will learn how to improve the content learners actually see by the end of the course. Designing an effective course is just the beginning; the hard work, the critical work, lies in the development of the content, or, what the learner actually experiences.

 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning

Let’s dig a little deeper into improving the development of the content in your fully aligned courses, by discussing the use of multimedia principles.

Before we dive in, let’s be sure we are all clear on what is meant by the term multimedia learning. According to Richard E. Mayer, “multimedia learning refers to learning from words and pictures” (2009, Loc. 155 Kindle). Pretty simple concept, huh? If it is so simple, why do most courses violate these principles time and again?

Developed by Richard E. Mayer, the 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning are based upon empirical research (The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning) and are grounded in learning science. These 12 principles are divided into the following three categories: principles that reduce extraneous processing, principles that manage essential processing, and principles that increase generative processing. See the tables below for further explanations of each principle.

1. Principles That Reduce Extraneous Processing (Causes Cognitive Overload) – “cognitive processing that does not serve the instructional goal and is caused by poor instructional design” (Mayer, 2009, Loc. 1099 Kindle).

reduce 1.PNG

reduce 2.PNG

Reduce Extraneous Processing PDF

2. Principles That Manage Essential Processing – “cognitive processing that is required to represent the material in working memory and is determined by the complexity of the material” (Mayer, 2009, Loc. 1099 Kindle).


Principles That Manage Essential Processing

3. Principles That Increase Generative Processing – “deep cognitive processing including organizing and integrating the material” (Mayer, 2009, Loc. 1099 Kindle).


Generative Processing PDF


As an academic leader, your influence is beyond powerful in transforming the classroom to better meet the demands of current stakeholders. While you have little to no direct ability to improve courses at your institution, you do have the power to support those who do.

There is pain in the transformation process and it is vital that academic leaders have a clear understanding of that pain. Having this understanding will allow you to be empathetic and supportive of those in the trenches working to redesign the learner experience and, ultimately, learning.

Understanding the importance of backwards design (or some other effective design practice) and the impact proper use of the principles of multimedia learning have on learning is the first step to transforming classrooms across your campus. The next step is providing support – be it course releases, additional stipends, or some other incentive valued by your faculty.

Those institutions having success with the transformation process across this country understand that faculty must be brought to the table on day one and more than adequate support must be provided on an individual faculty basis. Do you see why you, a higher ed academic leader, need to understand design?

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Niki Bray
Instructor|Instructional Designer
School of Health Studies
University of Memphis

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

It seems like all the cool kids are writing about last year’s trends and predicting what will come to pass in 2018. Well, we WCETers don’t want to be left out of the fun!

Over the last few weeks I’ve discussed 2017 and 2018 with some of the movers and shakers in the higher ed, edtech arena. These conversations provided unique insight into what was interesting and, in some cases, surprising, about 2017, and what we have to look forward to this year.

Thank you to those included in this article for chatting with me for this post. Our conversations were a terrific way to wrap up the year!

What Were the Biggest Surprises in Technology Enhanced Learning in 2017?

2017, was definitely a bit weird news wise, and held some surprises up its sleeves for those of us in higher education.word cloud with the words

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Michael Horn, Chief Strategy Officer, Entangled Ventures and Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation …was surprised the hype in higher education around Virtual and Augmented reality, saying that “They will undoubtedly play an exciting role in education, but I’m not yet convinced that they’ll be as easily incorporated with sound instructional design in a widespread way across colleges and universities at a reasonable expense in the near future. The early buzz may prove me wrong, but the verdict is still out.” I for one agree…  I’m excited about the possibilities of AR and VR in the classroom. But I feel without a strong focus on good teaching, we’re just using another shiny new technology tool for the sake of using a shiny new technology tool.

Distance Education Growth and Accessibility

Leah Matthews, Executive Director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission… said she never imagined that by the end of 2017 so many states would have joined SARA (48 so far!). She is thrilled to see a successful higher education grassroots solution to a thorny problem, saying “When I think back to when SARA was gaining its legs, it’s come very far and had very successful results for institutions and students. It’s a real blueprint for how a national effort can be organized.” Leah also addressed distance education enrollment; enrollment in higher education is shrinking steadily, but distance education enrollment is increasing. That tells us a lot about the demand for education in the future.

photo of a brain outlined with computer wiresLeah and I share continued concerns about digital accessibility, and while she was happy that the distance education community has embraced accessibility as a critical issue for learners, there’s still a lot of work to do in this area.

Paid OER Platforms and a Hype-less Year

Phil Hill, Co-Publisher of the e-Literate blog and Partner at MindWires Consulting…knew companies would offer paid platforms for OER at some point, but he was surprised how quickly these products were offered in 2017.

Another surprise, the lack of hype. Phil said, “the market is maturing and moving away from marketing claims of “this will change everything!”” Companies have become more realistic. This could be due to changes in the investment cycle; investors are not investing in every edtech venture and expecting magical returns. Companies are starting to work with institutions and demonstrate that their ideas will actually work.

Government Investments Spur Growth, As Do Small Innovations

Tony Bates, President and CEO of Tony Bates Associates…It would be hard to surprise Tony Bates with anything to do with online learning, but the impact of governmental policy on online enrollment did just that. Each Canadian province governs higher education differently, so Tony and his team can compare/contrast how different distance education impact enrollment. The recent survey (and resulting report) showcased the considerable variance between provinces. For example, the fastest growth rate in distance education occurred in Ontario, where the government has invested heavily in online learning. However, in Quebec, there has not been a government strategy for online learning, and enrollment decreased, at least in the college sector.

Tony was also surprised to learn about the impact of small scale innovations on student success, especially work by faculty that often goes on “under the radar” (on their own, not part of an institutional strategy).

Personalized Learning and CBE

Susan Patrick, President & Chief Executive Officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)…and I discussed several topics, beginning with the 2017 focus on personalized learning and competency based education (CBE). Currently, edtech solutions are built based on traditional models of education and are constrained by subject and the grade-level of the student. Susan has several great ideas on how to improve on the status quo this year….

Personal Devices

photo of a large pile of smart phonesMike Abbiatti, Executive Director of WCET/Vice President of WICHE... reminded me that there weren’t that many surprises for those who watch the field every day. But, he was intrigued by the interest in the non-technical aspects in of technology enhanced learning: The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), cybersecurity threats, awareness of student needs and accommodations, and an increased focus on personalized learning.

Mike also mentioned that, since technology moves from the home to the institution now, delivery of personalized learning will be through content delivered on personal devices.” Institutions must be ready to address the use of personal devices by its community.

Looking Forward to 2018

Now that we’ve closed out 2017, it’s time to look forward to this year.

2018 Technologies

What technologies could we see a focus on for 2018?

Mobile Learning

Outlines of hands holding a mobile phoneMichael Horn is excited about the developments occurring in the mobile learning space, especially regarding the instructional design processes that take place for mobile learning. Apps like Duolingo paved the way, but more is coming in this space, such as Smartly’s free MBA program, which takes place through their mobile app.

Michael Horn joins us (and other outstanding Higher Ed, EdTech leaders) this week for our “Issues and Trends in EdTech 2018” webinar. There’s still time to register!

Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity

Mike Abbiatti felt the focus will be on Virtual and Augmented Reality, which could be controlled by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and adaptive learning. These trends will be in line with personalization trend from 2017. Cyber-defense will be CRITICAL, especially as higher education is a very vulnerable community. We need to increase our education and understanding regarding the risks and benefits of curated, digital content and credentials.

Mike reminded me to consider what people bought at Christmas. Through those gifts and other purchases, we’ve made our homes “AI headquarters.” In 2018, it will no longer be what the institution wants to do technology wise. It will be the institution responding to what their community wants to do with technology.

Comprehensive Student Profiles and Micro-credentials

Susan Patrick ‘s ideas for edtech platforms that could showcase a wholistic profile of students, backed by evidence in some sort of portfolio, would be an excellent direction for vendors in 2018. These student profiles could show student’s broad range of skills and help admissions counselors or employers see readiness for college and careers. The learner profile would have to be a flexible student achievement record that considered competency based education, graduate requirements throughout secondary and postsecondary education, and what kind of edtech could support these models.

Susan and I also discussed badging and micro-credentialing for students and for adults (especially within teacher education,) and how Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will help us create engaging, complex, real-world problems for students to solve.

Changes in Education

Many of my conversations ended on the topic of changes we may see in education in general.text reads


In 2018, according to Mike, we will begin to finalize the vocabulary for what higher education delivers. We will define the curated packages of what we deliver and to whom. That will help us move forward to delivering quality, personalized education.

Distance Education Quality

On the distance education front, Leah highlighted the growing reputation of distance education and its ability to meeting the various needs of students. Leah is looking forward to more collaboration across groups that have an interest in distance education, and reminded me that WCET has been a pioneer in this effort through our partnerships with OLC, outreach/support of SARA, etc. She continued, “I’m looking forward to 2018 as a year when there is a real unity around the distance education institutions, regardless of their accreditation, regardless of their state, regardless of their mission.”

Blended Learning Best Practices

Looking forward, Tony Bates would like a standard set of best practices to be developed for faculty for blended learning, and especially guidance on when face-to-face is better pedagogically, based on empirical research. These best practices should be based on good learning theory, easy to understand, and easy for faculty to use and access. Tony’s open book on Teaching in a Digital Age suggests some ideas about how to move this area forward but he acknowledges more research and theory on blended learning is needed.

OER and Quality Teaching

Phil Hill is hoping to see a broader offering of OER and digital content in 2018. Digital content companies and publishers can do more than just offer content, but they can combine OER and digital content, and see companies come up with new models (and not do the same thing as everyone else, but maybe slightly more effectively).

In 2016 and 2017 there was so much talk about efficacy. Phil is also looking forward to the conversation shifting to teaching practices. It’s misguiding to apply efficacy to products alone. Let’s all make 2018 the year where we talk more about quality teaching.

Goodbye 2017

Scrabble tiles reading

2017 was quite a year, but, to be honest, I’m not that sad to leave it behind.

I closed each of these conversations feeling hopeful and very positive about direction of edtech and education for 2018.

I’m personally looking forward to celebrating the 30th year of WCET, did you know we’re throwing a big birthday bash in Portland this fall?!

Happy New Year and here’s to a great one!


Photo of Lindsey Downs


Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies @lindsey0427



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California Governor Envisions a New Online Community College

Image of CA Govenor Brown

CA Governor Brown

Governor Jerry Brown proposed a new community college that would be online, competency-based, offer sub-associate credentials, and focused on serving working learners. The idea was included in his budget request that he delivered to the California State Assembly yesterday.

From the website for the initiative describing the problem being solved and the proposed solution:

Economic insecurity is expected to increase over the next decade. By 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require a college credential, according to estimates by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce…Millions of Californians would benefit from sub-associate degree credentials or short bursts of additional training to move ahead in today’s economy. However, traditional higher education is not accessible for these working learners.

The California Community Colleges is responding with an online community college to provide skills and credentials working learners need to improve their social and economic mobility and move our state forward. This new, competency-based online college will be unlike any other public online education platform and will focus predominately on sub-associate degree credentials of value tailored to the needs of these working learners.

Van Ton-Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor, Workforce and Digital Futures for the California Community College System told me that: “The R&D unit being established as part of this venture will build our collective use of learning science, data science, and behavioral science in shaping educational strategies that meet adults where they are.”

How Was the Proposal Developed?

Governor Brown has a recent history of challenging the three higher education systems in his state to serve more students and to be more innovative. Resulting investments have led to California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative and efforts of the California State University to support online learners.outline of state of california in colorful dots

Brown wanted more. Unlike a few other examples that I can think of in which politicians floated half-baked ideas, this idea was researched. A Working Group represented key constituents within the colleges, the system, and the state’s Departments of Labor and Finance. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) “worked with the system stakeholders and online thought leaders to develop ‘Report on Options for an Online, Statewide Community College’ that was delivered to the governor.”

The Working Group presented the Governor with options including an institution that would assume the duties on its own or a partnership of institutions that would share the duties. The Governor favored creating a new institution.

Additional Considerations for Accreditation, Organization, and Learning

The Online Community College Proposal states that the institution will:

  • Seek “accreditation and meet requirements for students to become eligible for federal financial aid and state financial aid.”
  • Not compete with existing colleges because it is focusing on students who “are not currently accessing higher education” and “students who are unable to access or obtain an education in a traditional setting.”
  • Hire its own faculty and will transition to collective bargaining.
  • Avoid duplicating existing programs by leveraging existing online education efforts (such as the Online Education Initiative mentioned previously) already available within the system.

Sally Johnstone, President of NCHEMS told me that: “The design of the new statewide community college is based on everything we know and could find about the needs of working Californians who will require new skills and knowledge to fulfill evolving workforce demands. This college will be able to incorporate the latest information from the field of learning science to offer these students engaging and convenient ways to acquire relevant knowledge for life-long careers.”

Not Surprisingly, Questions Remain

As with any new venture, there are more questions than factsblack and red question marks. There are many details to work out.

For example, via Twitter Sean Gallagher (Founder and Executive Director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, and Executive Professor of Educational Policy) asked me “And why can’t the existing CA community colleges meet the need? I’m assuming the challenge is governance, financial model, faculty buy-in?”

I think he hit on some real challenges that might be more easily overcome with a new entity. In my opinion additional factors may be capacity (the existing colleges have had trouble keeping apace with the growing population) and the laser-focus on workforce development (which has become a favorite issue with state legislators everywhere).

Additionally, I think it is an issue about an institution’s ability to focus. I worry when a college adds a major new effort that may be the third…or eighth…or sixteenth most important item in their mission. There are other states that have adult and/or online focused institutions and they have been stellar in serving that goal. Meanwhile, I’ve worked on projects that were short-term priorities for more traditional institutions and those efforts have gone by the wayside. An example is Kentucky’s Commonwealth College, which I believe has been whittled down to nothing.

It will be fascinating to watch the press, the politics, and the progress of this idea. More to come!

What do you think? Share your comments below.

RussPhoto of Russ Poulin

Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies  @russpoulin
WCET – 30 years of serving #highered in North America



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A Look Back at 2017 for WCET Frontiers: It’s Been Weird

What a weird year for news. Comic actress Melissa McCarthy won an Emmy Award for her Saturday Night Live portrayal of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. It is hard to say which was more surreal, her version of “Spicey” or the actual twisted logic used by Spicer himself.

Here at WCET and the Frontiers blog, we were not quite as exciting. No hiding in bushes (or among the Bushes), covfefe, or “fake news” here.

As selected by your views of our posts, here are the issues that gained the most attention this year…

In orer: Interaction” Education Dept. Clarifies its Intent on State Auth Reciprocity Distance Ed Costs and Price: Not as Closely correlated as You’d Think The Federal State Auth for Distanced Ed Regulation Still Stands Is Your Distance Education Course Actually a Correspondence Course? On the OIG/WFU Finding: Part 1, When Interaction is Not Interaction House HEA Proposes Changes for Distance Ed, CBE, & State Auth Ed Dept. Confirms “Reciprocity” Definition Clarification The OIG Report on WGU: Part 2, React… but Don’t Overreact OIG Report on WGU: Part 3, A Brief History of “Regular & Substantive Interaction”

Regular and Substantive Interaction / The OIG Audit of WGU

For the sixth year in a row, Russ Poulin’s 2012 post “Is Your Distance Education Course Actually a Correspondence Course?” cracks the top ten (at number 5). The most viewed post this year was Van Davis and Russ’s attempt at interpreting what is required for “regular and substantive interaction,” written last year. The popularity of those two posts has much to do with the U.S. Department of Education’s audit of Western Governors University, which seemed to cause more confusion on the issue. Van and I again tried to make sense of it all in our series of posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) trying to interpret the finding. Departmental guidance on this issue has been lacking. Image with galaxy that says While we await the final word on the WGU audit, remember our caution to “react, but don’t overreact.”

It’s odd that we are the source of the clearest explanation of the interaction requirement. But, as we said, it’s been a weird year.

State Authorization and Reciprocity

Talk about surreal. This time last year Russ received a call from the Department asking him to communicate to the world what the Department really meant when it issued its state authorization regulation. Wait, wait…he was not wearing his tin foil hat, it really happened. They confirmed it in a letter. Language that seemingly undermined the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement actually was meant to support it. We are very appreciative of the Departmental staff reaching out to us, but are still awaiting an official “Dear Colleague” letter on this issue. Despite the overwhelming sense that the federal state authorization regulation will go away, we also clarified that the “regulation is the regulation until it is not the regulation.”

Is it weird that we are providing clarifications for a federal agency?

House Releases First Version of Higher Education Act

The Higher Education Act controls the rules around federal funding and expectations of colleges, as well as the federal financial aid rules. The House of Representative’s first attempt at reauthorizing the Act includes language that would better define competency-based education, eliminate the federal (not state-based) state authorization requirements, changes distance education oversight by accreditors, and opens paths to federal aid to non-accredited providers. The fun has just begun as the Senate gets into the “Act” early next year.

It is weird that we actually like some of the edtech language. Meanwhile we are very concerned about the overall effects on higher education, student aid, and consumer protection.

In Defense of the LMS – The Top Guest Post of the Year

The award for the most popular guest blog this year goes to Sasha Thackaberry for “In Defense of the LMS.” This ended up being a bit of a controversial blog post, as we all received lots of exciting feedback. graphic reads What are your thoughts on her stance regarding LMSs? Congratulations to Sasha, as it is definitely not weird that she developed a well-written, thought-provoking piece.

Sasha will help us ring in the new year with our first webinar of 2018. Register now for WCET’s “Issues and Trends in EdTech in 2018” to hear Sasha and other visionaries discuss the edtech issues and trends on the horizon.

Price and Cost of Distance Education

Racing past all the regulatory issues for a spot as one of the top three most read blog posts this year was a little number by Russ and Terri Taylor Straut introducing the WCET Price and Cost of Distance Education report. The post, Distance Ed Costs and Price: Not as Closely Correlated as You’d Think, provided background on the survey and summarized the results. Watch for a Change Magazine article on this issue early next year that will highlight the weird gap between practitioners and legislators on the costs of educational technologies.

Purdue and Kaplan

What struck some as weird, the Purdue Acquisition of Kaplan drew quite a lot of attention in 2017. Our blog post provided background, opinions, and further questions the day after the announcement. Russ also reviewed IPEDS enrollment data for each institution, and discussed questioned whether the sale would be approved and how the sale would impact other distance learning providers.

Be Careful Collecting Data from Europeans

Have you heard of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)? If you haven’t, no worries, because Cheryl Dowd has got the information covered for you in her recent post on the topic. Our institutions must be compliant by May 25, 2018, so it’s easy to see why this post almost made it to the top!

Beginning an OLC/WCET Focus on Accessibility in Educational Technologies

OLC logoDecidedly not weird is WCET’s partnership with our friends at the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) to further address the challenges our members face regarding accessibility of educational technology.OLC logo In addition to several conference presentations, we worked with OLC and individuals from the National Center on Disability and Access to Education and WebAIM, to jointly offer a blog on Steps You Can Take Now to Address Accessibility at Your Institution. This post was cited, frequently, as one of the most useful and important posts of the year.

Jackie Luft, Accessibility Specialist for Texas Tech Worldwide eLearning, provided incredibly useful advice for ensuring accessible design of online courses. She also reviewed the related laws and resources for helping instructors get started.

Watch for more information about accessibility from OLC and WCET in the new year.

Wishing You the Best

It has been a fun and noteworthy year for WCET and Frontiers and we look forward to supporting you in the coming year. Have great holidays and watch for Frontiers to return in 2018 with more news for you. Hey, maybe 2018 won’t be so weird?

~Russ and Lindsey

Russ looking confused

Russ looking back over a weird year…


Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies  @russpoulin







Lindsey on WCET 17

Lindsey thinking of some of the good stuff in 2017 (WCET Awards!)


Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communication
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies @lindsey0427




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