WCET Summer Reading List

poster reading keep calm and read on with a pile of four booksHappy Summer!

Welcome to WCET’s 2017 Summer Reading list! This year we asked for several recommendations from the WCET team, our leadership committees, and friends, and compiled this exciting list of reads. We recommend grabbing your summer hat, sunblock, some yummy sparkling water and basking in the sunshine while getting lost in one of these great books!

The books are organized into several categories: Personal and Professional Development, Education, Technology, and Fun and/or Somewhat Relevant in a Weird Way.

Enjoy the summer and enjoy these reads!


Personal and Professional Developmentyellow sticky note reading professional development

Our first section of books are those that fell into the category of personal development OR development of your professional skills and attitudes. From helping you ‘do more with less,’ to the power of exercise on cognition, and strategies to become better achievers.

Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less -and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined

by Scott Sonenshein

Doing more with existing resources requires you to change your thinking yet empowers you to see the potential in your personal and professional life. Stretch brings science and storytelling together to illustrate how people and organizations can be successful and competitive with little and others with greater resources fail.

Chasers are in pursuit of more. More money/capital, more talent, more possessions, bigger titles, more time. Stretchers embrace what we have and learn how to uncover dormant talents and resources and creatively approach challenges, opportunities, and threats. Stretch is full of examples in business, education, and more, of resourcefulness that reshapes our thinking and guides us to desire to do more with less.

This is an enlightening read that empowers you to stop chasing and recognize the potential in what you have, both personally and professionally.

-Megan Raymond, Assistant Director, Programs and Sponsorship WCET

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

By Clay Shirky

In a writing style similar to Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics guys (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner), Clay Shirky draws on simple examples and social change to demonstrate the impact of technology on individuals, communities, and society at large.  I recommend it here because we spend a lot of time talking about the information age, student preferences for experiences over facts, and patterns of student technology use – but we don’t always think about leveraging the patterns that are already integrated into our students’ (and her perhaps our own) lives. This book isn’t about education – but it is a look at how the students we are educating view the power of technology, and when I read it, I couldn’t help but think about applying those concepts to teaching practices and administrative decisions.  It’s an enjoyable read, and one that’s easy to either read all in one sitting or that can be picked up and put down without missing anything.

-Lynette M. O’Keefe, Senior Associate Director, CLEAR, University of North Texas

Brain Rules

By John Medina

I always knew I worked smarter and felt happier when I kept a regular exercise routine, but I didn’t know why until I heard John Medina give the keynote at a conference. He began his talk after we had eaten a big lunch; we all sat sluggishly in a large, dark, windowless room (a traditional learning environment).  Medina had been asked to tell the ed tech audience how to engage students and maximize learning in online classes. He told us that the majority learning environments were not designed with the brain in mind.  His advice? “Install walking desks for all your students. Exercise improves cognition.” In his book Brain Rules, Medina, a molecular biologist, explains how brain science affects the way we work, learn, and live. The problem, he said is that “So much of what we do in our modern world ignores these Brain Rules.” Everything he said about the brain’s optimal operating mode is applicable to teaching, learning, leadership, and relationships.

As you’re sitting at your desk, reading my book recommendation to pass the time till you can go home, check out brainrules.net to read more about Medina’s work. You can also “like” his Facebook page to get posts, and order a copy of Brain Rules from Amazon to read in full. And then get out of your cushy chair, tell your boss that you’re going to boost your brain power, and go for an invigorating walk.

-Tanya Spilovoy, Director, Open Policy, WCET

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

By Angela Duckworth (also available from Audible)

I have to say that although I was familiar with the work of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck, I hadn’t read their books.  So, in preparation for a keynote presentation, I got an audio version of “Grit” and played it in my car whenever I went somewhere—even while running errands.  Having Angela read her own work, was amazing.  If you are interested in the psychology of achievement at all and even if you’re not sure this is an interest of yours, give it a try!  She reads it so that it feels that she is in the room (car) with you telling you her story. My presentation was about what we can do with providing access to online education by going beyond the idea of “you can afford college” to “you can DO college”.

-Pat James, Program Consultant, California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative
graphic of graduates in graduate regalia


The books in the education section relate to improving education, innovative education, or ideas for developing strong learning techniques.



“Proof,” Policy & Practice: Understanding the Role of Evidence in Improving Education

By Paul E. Lingenfelter

I am a fan of the podcast Stuff You Should Know. If you’ve never heard it, it is put together by two guys who choose a topic, do their reading and then spend 45 – 65 minutes talking about the topic in a very engaging manner.  They are rarely experts in the myriad of topics they choose to cover but I always learn more than I knew and begin to think about things in different ways.  Paul Lingenfelter’s book does the same thing except he is an expert.  Paul manages to guide his readers through a wide range of perspectives on how we can get gain a better understanding of the types of evidence that are actually useful in driving the creation of public policy about education.  While he includes examples from all sectors, he offers higher education professionals much to consider, and he does so in a very engaging manner.  If you are ready to think differently about what really works at your campus and how you know it works, you’ll enjoy this summer read.

-Sally Johnstone, NCHEMS

This one is so good, it got two recommendations:

Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science

By Rajiv S. Jhangiani and Robert Biswas-Diener editors

Open Educational Resources (OER) have gone from an idea that many brushed off as a fad, to a movement that has gained credibility and won over many supporters.  This book serves as a good primer for those interested in learning more about the concept of open education, a resource for those considering or adopting OER, and an analysis of pertinent issues for those already involved in open pedagogy and practices. This book doesn’t just discuss openness in education, it is published as an open access book available for free at http://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/books/10.5334/bbc/

PDF download: From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open (Robin DeRosa and Scott Robison)

-Wm. Preston Davis, Ed.D., Director of Instructional Services, Northern Virginia Community College


Affordable education. Transparent science. Accessible scholarship. These ideals are slowly becoming a reality thanks to the open education, open science, and open access movements. OPEN: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science describes the emergence of several “open” movements in higher education, including the creation and adoption of open educational resources, the publication of research in open access journals, and the increasing need for open science practices. Written in an accessible, conversational style and with chapters from leading voices in each of these movements, this book makes a powerful case for enhancing access and agency in support of justice and progress. The best part? The book was itself published with an open license and is free to download, edit, and share forever. So go grab a copy at bit.ly/openbookproject. No subliminal marketing necessary.

-TJ Bliss, Education Program Officer, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

All of these books are 1980s/1990s vintage, but were significant in the evolution of technology-enhanced education. All three of these gentlemen are legends who took the time to provide me with insight that continues to guide my impact my life in every way:

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

by Professor Seymour Papert (founder of the academic movement called Constructivism). He always wanted to know how Nan, my wife, was dong whenever we chatted.

Being Digital

by Nicholas Negroponte, Greek Architect and founder of the MIT Media Lab. Nan taught Nicholas how to eat Soul Food.

The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT

by Stewart Brand, a well-known Futurist. He never met Nan, but would have liked her better than me, just like the other two.

-Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director, WCET

The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain

By Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek

We know the science behind learning and how to improve your learning skills, but do we ever really discuss the best way to learn with our students (before they attempt to embark on the journey by themselves?). I loved this little book. It won’t take long to read and it has wonderful tips to help us, as humans, understand more about the science behind the learning process. The ideas are easy to understand and I feel like this would be a terrific book to provide to students at the beginning of their college career. Particularly, I liked the section on what our bodies need to learn well (proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, exercise), the discussion of multitasking, tips for concept mapping, and, finally, the final tip of finding balance in life. Hey 18-year-old me…you should have read this book.

-Lindsey Downs, Manager of Communication, WCET



The following books deal with technology trends, edtech trends, and also what may happen if technology gets a little too trendy.

The Inevitable

by Kevin Kelly

Do you like reading about tech trends with the sand between your toes? Do you like thinking about whether higher ed is prepared for the future and if we are preparing students for the future? While this book is not about higher education, its focus on the future of technologies in our everyday lives raises many questions for those who like some deep thought over the summer. Kelly highlights twelve “inevitable” technologies. It’s hard to say that something will happen with certainty, but many of these trends are already well entrenched in existing tools and practices. The “inevitable” is like that fungus that is already on your foot, but will grow out of control if you don’t wash properly after that dip in the lake. Examples of “inevitable” trends include: artificial intelligence is doing away with many jobs, screens will be on every surface everywhere, and it will be possible to personalize almost every good. Some of the more unsettling trends include even more tracking and recording of every aspect of our lives and (following Moore’s Law) computing powers will soon possess unimaginable speed and capabilities. Controllable or scary?

-Russ Poulin, Director, Policy and Analysis, WCET

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World

By Jane Mcgonigal

Games, in the twenty-first century, will be a primary platform for enabling the future.” While I’m not very good at it… I do enjoy playing video games on various platforms. From collaboration games on PS4 or Nintendo Wii to massive online platforms like World of Warcraft (especially during our long, cold Montana winters!). It makes sense then that one of my favorite research topics in education is gamification of courses. In Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal argues that games will empower us to change our world. She says games will reduce stress, increase life satisfaction, fix education, and even help fix global issues such as poverty. She describes why games make us happy, discusses the rapidly changing (and her discussion is slightly outdated), and finally, discusses how big games, can change our world. We can use new participation and collaboration environments to work together and help invent a better future. And we’ll enjoy it, because we’ll change the world while having fun playing a game. Check out her TED talk on the topic:

-Lindsey Downs, Manager of Communication, WCET

Player Piano

By Kurt Vonnegut

Player Piano is Vonnegut’s first novel which imagines a futuristic world that is run primarily by machines and the only people with real jobs either create the machines or overlook the machines, leaving most of the rest of society to simply receive a government stipend because machines have replaced their jobs. While the absence of the Internet in a machine-based world is at times a glaring issue (it was published in 1952), the way that Vonnegut imagines the social and political structure of such a world is better than many others books that imagine a similar future. It brings up questions about the purpose of technological advancements and who they are designed to benefit. In looking at our own society, and specifically at the evolving world of educational technology, what inventions are useful for us to create? And meanwhile, what have we created already that is no longer helping students as it should?

-Rosa Calabrese, Coordinator, Digital and Project Services, WCET

Fun and/or Somewhat Relevant in a Weird Way


Finally, we couldn’t resist including a few fun books!

While these may not be 100% relevant to edtech

or higher education, we hope they will make enjoyable summer reads!

The Only Rule is It Has to Work:  Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team

by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

A book about baseball, bloggers, and statistics? Count me in. Wait, don’t stop reading. This is an amazingly fun read about two bloggers who talk the owner of an independent league baseball team to let them try their crazy schemes. They use their statistical analyses to go against the ancient wisdom of the baseball gods in selecting players, juggling line-ups, and positioning defenders. The suggestion to use the closer before the 9th inning makes the manager’s head explode. Why do I recommend it here? It’s about change management. The biggest problem is convincing the managers and players that their crazy evidence-based ideas might just work. WCET members experience this feeling everyday as they try new things and face the inevitable skepticism. It’s funny, wonderfully written, and unintentionally deals with a question I like to ask: “What happens if we’re successful?”

– Russ Poulin, Director, Policy and Analysis, WCET


Roadside Picnic

By Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic was written by two brothers in Soviet Russia. I was hoping to find a connection between this book and edtech, but it was a pretty big stretch—this book is about aliens. Or more accurately, this book is about what happens to a society after aliens have invaded and then left. It is an interesting new take on the whole alien invasion genre and is extremely creative as it describes humans discovering the remains of extremely advanced technology left in the wake of aliens. At least it may get your creativity going while you try to understand the interesting and bizarre happenings that the Strugatsky brothers describe. It’s a quick read and a lot of fun!

-Rosa Calabrese, Coordinator, Digital and Project Services, WCET


By Margaret Atwood (re-telling of The Tempest by William Shakespeare)

According to The Guardian’s review, “this retelling of The Tempest is one of four novels so far released as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare initiative. It joins Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale), Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name (The Merchant of Venice) and Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), with Tracy Chevalier’s Othello, Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and Edward St Aubyn’s King Lear to come” (Groskop, 2016).

Being a Shakespeare buff, I was very excited to revisit some of The Bard’s tales, written by some of today’s more innovative authors. I started with The Tempest, more because I wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s take on this tale versus my enjoyment of the original. I as much more excited to read the new takes on Merchant of Venice and Hamlet. However, I completely enjoyed Atwood’s spinning of tale. I laughed, I cried, I cringed (a lot). This book will entertain both those who know the original and who don’t. Our modern-day Prospero, the grieving Felix, is a set upon and wronged artistic director of a theatre festival, set aside, and just waiting for revenge. It’s wonderfully weird and you’ll enjoy the influences between the original story and some cultural references for today (or, at least, last year). This is “such stuff as dreams are made on!” (WS, The Tempest).

-Lindsey Downs, Manager of Communication, WCET

What do you think of our recommendations? What books would you add? We’d love to know if you read any of our suggested items. We’d love to hear your recommendations too! Let us know in the comments and tweet us @wcet_info with the hashtag #WCETSummerReads so we can chat about these great books!

Enjoy your summer filled with these fabulous reads!

Photo of Lindsey Downs


Lindsey Downs
Manager of Communication

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Photo credits: J_O_I_D
laptop kitty: Jake’s blog

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Using Artificial Intelligence for Personality Insights

This week WCET Frontiers is excited to offer something a little different…

We all know and love WCET’s Russ Poulin. Here at WCET, several of us are excited about innovative activities and developments in Artificial Intelligence. This week, Rosa Calabrese puts IBM’s Watson to the test, to see if Watson can analyze and accurately capture Russ’ personality.

Thanks Rosa for this week’s post, especially your concluding insights on the future of AI.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,


Do you think you could analyze Russ Poulin’s (WCET’s Director of Policy & Analysis) personality based solely on his last six blog posts? A machine can—or at least it thinks it can.

According to IBM Watson’s Personality Insights tool, Russ is “excitable, particular, and strict.”

Five traits that Russ scored high on: intellect, curiosity, sympathy, achievement-striving, and altruism.

Five traits that Russ scored high on: intellect, curiosity, sympathy, achievement-striving, and altruism.

He is also “likely to like historical movies” and he is authority-challenging and takes very little pleasure in life.

Five traits that Russ does not seem to have in abundance: cheerfulness, warmth, pleasure in life, helpfulness, and stability.

Five traits that Russ does not seem to have in abundance: cheerfulness, warmth, pleasure in life, helpfulness, and stability.

He sounds peculiar.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere these days. Amazon Echo is answering all our questions and helping us organize our lives, Google has created a tool to recognize our bad drawings and turn them into clip art, and company chatbots are handling front line customer service.

AI has also been used to alter human faces (which sometimes yields offensive results), merge Internet images into (sometimes disturbing) new ones, and create new recipes that I think most of us would pass on.

While artificial intelligence does have some pitfalls related to issues such as inadequate data sets or faulty algorithms, we are still entrusting machines to do more and more tasks for us, even here in education. Because of this, I thought it would be fun to put artificial intelligence to the test to review WCET’s Russ Poulin, as most of us are well familiar with his communications on the blog, at conferences, and on our email lists.

IBM has kindly made artificial intelligence tools available in the palm of our hands through Watson Analytics. And while my programming skills are limited, I was able to use their in-page demo to try out some analysis of my own in the Personality Insights app.


First I copied text from Russ’ last six blog posts that were written solely by him and not in collaboration with anyone else. I removed basic headlines, image captions, and quotes from external sources. Then I inserted the text into the Personality Insights demo.

In seconds, Watson created a “strong analysis” of Russ with a breakdown of more than 50 personality traits as well as a small paragraph and bulleted list description of him.

The analysis was interesting, but overall didn’t seem to necessarily describe Russ, as shown by some staff members openly laughing at the results. Each trait is given a percentage that designates how high the trait is. According to Watson, Russ is high on intellect, curiosity, and sympathy; but was low in categories such as emotionality, self-expression, and harmony. Meanwhile, the summary seemed at times to almost be descriptive of how we hope that WCET is seen by our members:

“You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are assertive: you tend to speak up and take charge of situations, and you are comfortable leading groups … Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery … You prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. And you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.”

Points to Russ on his ability to convey the WCET spirit well through his writings on our behalf.

A Wider Look:

Since the text I used from Russ is information that he wrote on specific issues and events related to ed tech, I wondered if it didn’t really define him personally. I decided to analyze a secondary writing sample from Russ to see if I could get better insights on him rather than on his writing on behalf of WCET.

For anyone who reads Russ’ Announcements on the WCETnews email list, you will know that at the end of each announcement for over a year he has tagged on a brief movie recommendation. I collected thirteen of these paragraphs written over the past year, which added up to 2,568 words to be analyzed (a “decent analysis” according to Watson). In summary, this version of Russ is simply “unconventional.” He also is “likely to like musical movies,” and is “unlikely to prefer style when buying clothes.” This version of Russ has a much wider imagination than “blog post Russ,” but has a lot less self-efficacy. It’s unclear if this version of Russ is actually a better or even decent representation of the real thing. In fact, Russ suggests that we might be better off just reading his horoscope.

To properly demonstrate all the strange machine analyses of both versions of Russ, I created the graph below with a breakdown of the most interesting categories:

graph showing the personality traits of Russ (authority challenging, self efficacy, imagination, self discipline, prone to worry, warmth, taking pleasure in life, cheerfulness)

Apparently, despite his many trips to the movies, Russ is still doing a poor job of taking any pleasure in life.
Then again, it’s unclear exactly what Watson was looking for with this trait, and whether it understands the concept of going to the movies.

In Conclusion

Russ looking confused

I’m not sure what to make of the overall results.

There are certain results that do make sense:
Russ does have a high intellect, and when critically clarifying the Education Department’s definition of ‘reciprocity,’ why shouldn’t he be authority-challenging?

Alternatively, the results that do not describe Russ could be explained with the fact that I used a small data set and that neither writing sample necessarily defines him very well.

Perhaps, it is still concerning to imagine how we can be using machines to analyze people on a large scale when the results are still so imperfect. Perhaps, we need more samples. Perhaps we should see this as a cautionary tale that we should be careful how we use these immensely powerful tools.

Or maybe this could just be a hilarious new way to look at our beloved, bat-wielding, policy guru, Russ Poulin.



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Rosa Calabrese
Coordinator, Digital and Project Services





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Oh, What’s in a Name? – Definitions of Distance Ed

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rosePhoto of a red and pink rose in a garden
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

And by name, I mean definition. And by definition, I mean the definition of distance education.

There are a myriad of definitions for “distance education,” “distance education course,” and” distance education program.” Various agencies, which require reports from colleges and universities on the numbers/types of distance education courses, have somewhat different perspectives on what “counts” as distance ed.

Over the last few weeks I chatted with a few of our WCET friends about their thoughts on the variety of definitions and what, if anything, they would recommend changing.


We’ve come a long way from what distance ed used to be: correspondence courses where one could learn new information through the mail. This has rapidly shifted, says Tony Bates in a recent blog post, from text-based LMS’s, and with “more synchronous approaches either replacing or being A vintage STUDY AT HOME correspondence course newspaper adcombined with asynchronous learning (another definition of ‘blended’), and the increasing use of streamed audio and video.” He is currently conducting a survey pilot on online or distance ed courses and programs at Canadian postsecondary institutions, where he discovered there is very little general agreement on terms such as distance education, online courses, blended course, hybrid courses, etc.

Last week, we released our analysis of the most recent distance education enrollment counts from IPEDS, the U.S. Department of Education’s series of surveys.  IPEDS defines distance education as “education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated for the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously. Technologies used for instruction may include the following: Internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcasts, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite or wireless communication devices; audio conferencing; and video cassette, DVDs and CD-ROMs, if the cassette, DVDs, and CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with the technologies listed above.”

This definition is consistent with the Code of Federal Regulations, and some of the accrediting agencies build on that definition. Putting aside that the definitions, like those used by other entities, may be slightly outdated for today’s technologies.

Definitions of distance education courses are more diverse. It seems the biggest difference between these definitions is the amount of the course delivered via some sort of distance technology. The amount varies from 100%, to 75%, 50%, etc. Some do not give a set percentage.

Institutions are required to report to various agencies, such as their accreditors, on the programs and courses. These staff report different data to different agencies due to the variety of definitions or pick one definition and report it to everyone.


I sent the following questions to be mulled over by a few, select higher education experts.

  • What is your opinion of distance education definitions from IPEDS, accrediting agencies, states, and institutions?
  • What works and does not work for you regarding those definitions?
  • How would you improve the definition?

Marshall Hill, Executive Director, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), told me that it is unfortunate that such variations exist. There are different perspectives that led to the variety of definitions, but he feels we should be able to agree upon a single definition. He advised that while it is important for a set standard, it’s also important to allow for flexibility so institutions can be innovative in the realm of distance education and serve their students in unique ways.

Marshall brought up a specific area that needed improvement (saying that the definitions today don’t seem to match the reality of what is happening in education): blended or hybrid courses (which I anecdotally believe are becoming more and more popular). As Tony Bates said in his blog post, the “terminology often struggles to keep up with the reality of what is happening…”

Jon Becker, Director of Learning Innovation and Online Academic Programs & Associate Professor, Educational Leadership with Virginia Commonwealth University’s ALT Lab, took a practical approach to his recommendations. Jon concentrated on how students would schedule and attend courses and chose place and time as classifiers. Courses are fully or partially online (based on whether a student is ever physically in the class location) and the course is either synchronous or asynchronous. This creates a grid, which categorizes courses:

Synchronous Asynchronous

Ever face-to-face

Fully online C D

Jill Buban, Senior Director of Research & Innovation with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), mentioned that there has been a buzz on this topic at recent higher education conferences. Distance education as a term still depicts the overall variety of offerings that can fall under that umbrella, as a field, we use these various offering definitions interchangeably (i.e. blended, online, hybrid, etc.). There is a lack of unified terminology that we can all use, and the clarity is needed. Jill and I discussed how she has noticed that recent accreditation standards (which have the same requirements for outcomes for face-to-face and online classes) are starting to make institutions push the envelope a bit. It’s easier to have all students (whether face-to-face or online) use the same digital tools and platforms rather than having different tools based on location. This is bringing digital learning, a phrase that is also causing a buzz in higher ed, to all types of distance education courses and programs.

Ken Sauer, Senior Associate Commissioner and Chief Academic Officer Indiana Commission for Higher Education, has examined this issue extensively and provided excellent the background information to me on this topic. Ken explained the major complications affecting higher education administrators due to the definition quandary. He was motivated to conduct research in this area when he compared lists of distance education programs in Indiana to the list of programs with their regional accrediting agency; they were different. Ken recommends a definition of distance education programs based on the percentage of the course which is online versus in a physical location. One of his major considerations: assessment of distance education and how proctored exams impact whether a course is deemed fully online.

Based on his research and conversations with multiple individuals, organizations, and institutions, Ken has developed a set of recommendations in this area to begin the conversation toward developing a common definition of distance education. These will be released shortly, and WCET is excited to be involved in that conversation. Watch for more information on Ken’s research and recommendations.

What’s our Focus? What’s our Goal?

Near the end of our conversation Marshall Hill centered this entire debate for me: our focus here should be on how to best serve students. Colleges and universities should not decide how to deliver education based on what they need to report, but rather what will best meet their student’s needs. And then we (meaning accreditors, government agencies, policy geeks, etc.) should figure out how to count that. Not the other way around.

Closing thoughts

Ken’s question about assessments is important. If a class is 100% online but requires face-to-face, proctored exams, then does that change the percentage?

Jon provided a wonderful quote that he used on the cover letter for his application for his current job:

“… If formal schooling had existed in the U.S. when Gutenberg invented the printing press, would there have been lots of discussion and hand-wringing about the inevitable move towards print-based learning? Would formal learning organizations have created new units and positions around print-based learning? …I begin wondering if, someday, we will look back upon the present time and laugh at the idea that we used terms like “online learning” and/or “hybrid courses.””

Should we differentiate between distance education and other types of education? Is education simply… education whether you are physically in a classroom or not?photo of two light pink roses

It turns out, my Shakespearian inspiration is not quite apt in this case. Can we use a blanket term like “distance education” to refer to the assorted forms of distance education that exist (or will it even exist in the future)?

What would or wouldn’t you change about the various definitions of distance education out there? Let me know in the comments or tweet us @wcet_info!



Photo of Lindsey Downs


Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communication – WCET





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Photo Reference: Ad published in The Practical Druggist and Review of Reviews, volume 35, number 2, February 1917. Photo from https://nyamcenterforhistory.org/tag/pharmacy/

New Digital Learning Compass Shows Distance Ed Enrollments Trending Upwards

Higher education enrollments for all students fell, but more students enrolled in distance education courses than ever before. This is one of the findings of the new “Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017” released by the new Digital Learning Compass partnership.

The report uses data for the 2015 U.S. Department of Education IPEDS Fall Enrollment survey. Since the Fall term of 2012, IPEDS has collected distance education enrollment data. In the report, released today, analysis of both the most current year’s data (2015) and the trends over the past few years are examined. The distance education community is thankful that the Department continues collecting this data.

Who is Digital Learning Compass?

WCET is pleased to partner with the Babson Survey Research Group and e-Literate to update you on distance education enrollments. Together, the three organizations form the Digital Learning Compass, which seeks to be the definitive source of information on the patterns and trends of U.S. postsecondary distance learning. This work is made possible by the sponsorship of Online Learning Consortium, Pearson, and Tyton Partners. Thank you sponsors!

Prior to the IPEDS data collection, Babson conducted its own surveys. Since the IPEDS release, the three organizations worked together and separately in their analyses. We decided that we could accomplish more by partnering. We also like geeking-out on the numbers together.

The Percentage of Students Taking Distance Courses Increases

Again this year, the percentage of students studying exclusively at a distance and those enrolled in some distance courses increased over the previous year. Altogether, more than six million students were enrolled in distance courses in the Fall of 2015.

Title: Percentage of students taking distance courses, 2012-2015. For 2012, 12.6% were exclusively distance and 13.3% were some distance. For 2013, 13.1% were exclusively distance and 14.1% were some distance. For 2014, 13.9% were exclusively distance and 14.2% were some distance. For 2015, 14.3% were exclusively distance and 15.4% were some distance.

The percentage increase is due both to growing enrollments in distance education and decreased enrollments in non-distance course participation. On-campus enrollment has fallen by 5% since 2012. Note that these statistics do not include blended or hybrid courses that replace some of the face-to-face time with online activities.

Distance Education Enrollment Trends Vary Greatly By Sector

The public and the private not-for-profit sectors continue to enjoy healthy growth in distance education enrollments. Meanwhile, the for-profit sector continued its trend of losses. For the for-profit sector, it is important to note that a majority of institutions in that sector actually increased enrollments. A small number of the larger for-profit institutions account for the downturn in the overall numbers for that sector.

Title: Year to year change in distance enrollments, degree-granting institutions, 2012-2015. For 2012 to 2013: Publics increased 161,242 students, non-profits increased 98,480, and for profits declined by 73,577. For 2013 to 2014, publics increased by 113, 154, non-profits increased by 97,976, and for-profits decreased by 27,281. For 2014 to 2015, publics increased by 207,348, non-profits increased by 109,469, and for-profits decreased by 90,442.

While public institutions enjoyed the largest growth, the increases represent a 13.4% change from 2012 to 2015. Over the same time period, the private not-for-profit sector has grown distance education enrollments by 40.0% and private, for-profit institutions have lost 18.0% of their enrollments. Hmmm….guess those numbers will really change in the future if Purdue acquires Kaplan!

It is interesting to note how different sources treat these numbers. One very recent article cited that “fierce competition has tamped down the once-frantic pace of growth,” while another trumpeted growth with a headline declaring that “colleges rush to ramp up online classes.” Are you feeling frantic or rushed…or just confused? Growth is sustained only when done thoughtfully.

What’s Next?

If you would like to learn more, I suggest going to the Digital Learning Compass site and download the full report. Many thanks to WCET’s Rosa Calabrese and WICHE’s Jon Fellers for the work on creating this website!

You can watch an archive of a WCET webcast in which the results were discussed.

Later this year, we will be releasing additional “in-depth” reports that examine particular aspects of the data. If you would like to sponsor such a report, let me know.

Next week watch for interviews regarding the differences in distance education definitions.

My Digital Learning Compass friends and I encourage your feedback and questions.


Russ Poulin holding a baseball bat.Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu    @russpoulin


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The Purdue Acquisition of Kaplan – Background, Opinion, and Questions

There was quite a bit of surprise in the higher education world yesterday when Purdue University (a large land-grant university in Indiana) announced that it was essentially acquiring Kaplan University (a large for-profit institution). Lots of questions arise. This blog post includes some facts, opinion, and questions to keep the discussion rolling.

Purdue “Purchases” a For-Profit University

For $1, Purdue University will buy Kaplan University and, legislature willing, will operate it as a new Indiana public institution. In addition to the dollar, Kaplan will receive a cut of the income over the next 30 years.

Indiana Has Been a Pioneer Before

In 2006, then-Governor Mitch Daniels spearheaded a controversial move to lease a toll road in the state to a foreign company for a one-time payment of $3.85 million. In 2010, Indiana created Western Governors University, Indiana, the first state-based affiliate of the institution. Again it was Governor Daniels who used and an executive order to form the partnership focused on expanding offerings to adult learners in Indiana.

In June 2012, the former Governor was selected as President of Purdue University. As a hallmark of his Presidency at Purdue, Mitch Daniels has frozen tuition increases and sought cost-saving efficiencies in University administration. In my opinion, it is harder to point to meaningful academic or structural changes implemented during his tenure. Until now.

Why Did Purdue Pursue this Option?

In his presentation yesterday to the Purdue Board of Trustees, President Daniels showed that:

  • Purdue was 10th among 14 Big Ten institutions in distance enrollments.
  • Purdue was one of only four Big Ten institutions without an undergraduate degree available at a distance.

He also listed three “realities:

  • There are millions we do not serve. There are millions of Indianans with no college credit or with some credit but no degree.
  • The growth of online education. The percentage of those studying exclusively at a distance has grown.
  • We can’t build it ourselves. It takes Purdue 36 months to take a program from concept to implementation.

Purdue is too far behind to wait in an already crowded market. This move allows them to “fulfill their land-grant mission” of serving students more quickly than other options. You can see more in a brief introductory video featuring Daniels:

Others have created autonomous units before, such as the University of Maryland University College and Colorado State University Global Campus. Others have also created strong units that are less autonomous, such as Penn State Global Campus and, more recently, University of Florida Online. All of those examples built these entities rather than purchasing an existing one.

Purdue and Kaplan – By the Numbers

On Tuesday of next week, the new Digital Learning Compass (a partnership of Babson Survey Research Group, e-Literate, and WCET) will release its analysis the most recent US Department of Education IPEDS distance education enrollment numbers. With the help of Babson’s Jeff Seaman, I pulled some numbers on these two institutions:

IPEDS divides enrollments into three categories: students enrolled in no distance courses, students enrolled in some distance courses, and students enrolled exclusively in distance courses. For Fall 2015:

  • The overall enrollments are similar: 55,931 for Purdue and 51,062 for Kaplan.
  • Kaplan students were overwhelmingly enrolled exclusively at a distance, while Purdue students were overwhelmingly face-to-face.

Purdue wanted to make a major splash in online education. In terms of mode of instruction, they certainly found their mirror opposite in Kaplan University.

IPEDS has collected enrollment data since 2012.

———– Kaplan ———– ———– Purdue ———–
Enrolled in Distance Courses 2012 2015 2012 2015
None 4,016 1,182 46,899 45,026
Some 2,500 4,500 6,805 7,153
Exclusively 48,373 45,380 2,791 3,752
Total 54,889 51,062 56,495 55,931

The trends over that time are:

  • Overall, both institutions lost a small percentage of enrollments.
  • Kaplan University bucked the trend witnessed in some of the larger for-profit institutions that lost many enrollments in the last few years. As you will see in the report to be released next week, while a few for-profit institutions suffered significant enrollment decreases, the majority of for-profits increased enrollments since 2012.
  • Since 2012, Purdue’s has witnessed minimal growth in distance enrollments with a 348 student increase in students taking some distance courses and a 961 student increase in students enrolled exclusively at a distance.

On national enrollment rankings…

  • In 2012, Kaplan’s main campus enrolled the 6th most students taking at least one distance education courses.
  • In 2015, that campus fell to having the 9th greatest enrollment.
  • Not surprisingly, Purdue was nowhere in sight of the top 50 distance education institutions in either year.


Burck Smith is the CEO of StraighterLine. He has been vocal about the changing landscape of the economics of public and private higher education. The following tweets provide a succinct analysis:

Three tweets. #1 reads "Can we stop pretending that non-profits don't have a profit motive?" #2 reads "Try to apply to other industries. State subsidized tax-exempt provider buys for-profit, tax-paying competitor." #3 reads: "In general, publics and non-profits using better brand & subsidy power to fill the market niche that for-profits filled in the last decade."

Questions (with a Few Comments)

Will the Indiana legislature approve this move? President Daniels is a beloved figure and the odds are good.

Will the Higher Learning Commission approve this move? They will be under tremendous pressure to closely scrutinize the agreement.

Is this just another ploy by a for-profit to become a non-profit? Could be.

Will the consumer groups object vociferously? Probably.

Will this fulfill the land-grant mission? In my interview with EdSurge yesterday, I was asked about their plan to “turn a large profit.” My response: “Profit is not a big part of the land-grant mission.” That does not mean that they shouldn’t profit, but raises even more questions.

Is this only the first of several similar agreements? We will keep you posted.

Will this lead to more competition and scrutiny for the rest of the distance learning providers? A good guess would be yes.


Photo of Russ Poulin

Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu    @russpoulin

OLC and WCET Ask: “What Keeps You Up at Night?” – Part 2

This is the second in a two-part series on a partnership between the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) to obtain feedback from some of our members. Part 1 focused on the outcome of that general question at two sessions last fall. Part 2 is the results of a more targeted discussion at a recent OLC Innovate session. The participants were small groups who attended our conferences. Now we would like to open the conversation and hear from you.

Continuing the Conversation at OLC Innovate

Kathleen Ives (CEO of OLC), Karen Pedersen (Chief Knowledge Officer at OLC),OLC logo and Russ Poulin (Director, Policy and Analysis at WCET) reviewed the results of your input as outlined in the Part 1 blog post. At OLC Innovate 2017 in New Orleans, we conducted a follow-up session. BOLC logoased on results from the two Fall conferences, this time we focused strictly on issues surrounding accessibility. It was one area for which there was great concern expressed and for which our organizations could collaborate to better serve our members…and students.

To glean insights from the group assembled at Innovate, we asked “as a leader navigating accessibility issues on your campus, what is the one issue/challenge that keeps you up at night”?  The insights were encapsulated into three primary trends focusing on students, faculty, and systems.

  • Student Focus:Young women with computer
    • Students want more media – things read to them and more students have different needs (e.g., returning veterans).
    • Accessibility is also a moving target – “if you meet one student with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you have only met one”.
    • A focus on building courses and/or changing existing content with accessibility in mind can help all students.
  • Faculty Perspectives:
    • We need faculty change agents or “champions” – work to change culture.
    • Faculty sometimes aren’t sure about the research behind solutions – they need training.
    • Is there an impact on innovation? – Some faculty are afraid to innovate and/or use new teaching strategies or technology because of accessibility concerns.
  • System Insights:
    • We need an expert to help navigate – “I don’t understand the rules and need to know more about what is required or what is enough.”
    • Often accessibility offices are over-taxed.
    • Administratively the institution needs to understand the consequences – but find solutions in collaboration with faculty.

We then did a deeper dive and asked “What resources do you rely on today and what resources would you like to have for tomorrow?”  Excerpts from attendees on this two-part question included:

  • What resources do we rely on today?
    • Lean heavily on W3C Accessibility
    • Consulting companies that do accessibility compliance reviews.
    • Rely on accessibility offices (however, they may not have the awareness of online) who often interface with legal staff.
    • Faculty taking the lead.
    • Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).
  • What resources would you like to have for tomorrow?
    • Rules “cheat sheet” in simple, easy-to-understand language.
    • Decision making flow chart.
    • Simple check for a common standard or minimum viability for accessibility – “you might lose some degree of granularity, but it might help with 80%”.
    • Repository for knowledge and resource sharing – every institution is reinventing the wheel.
    • Content repository of already compliant resources.

More Feedback Wanted. What’s Next?

We greatly appreciate the input from those attending the OLC Innovate session. It was a small group and we would like to expand the conversation.
we want to hear from youDo these accessibility topics resonate with you? Please add comments with insights or perspectives you would like to share.

We are in talks now about next steps. We are thinking about better methods to track the “what keeps me up at night” question in the future. We are also talking about shared resources focusing on accessibility issues.


Kathleen Ives
OLC Chief Executive Officer and
Executive Director

Karen Pedersen
OLC Chief Knowledge Officer

Russ Poulin
WCET Director of Policy and Analysis

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OLC and WCET Ask: “What Keeps You Up at Night?” – Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series resulting from a partnership between the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies). These posts provide you timely insights from your peers and seek to obtain your feedback. Through a series of conference presentations, we literally asked, “What Keeps You Up at Night?”

This post focuses on the responses to that question collected from small groups of attendees at two sessions in fall 2016. Part 2 will share the results of a more targeted discussion with a small group of attendees at an OLC Innovate 2017 session.

  Enjoy the read!

Kathleen Ives (CEO of OLC), Karen Pedersen (Chief Knowledge Officer at OLC), OLC logoand Russ Poulin (Director, Policy and Analysis at WCET) wondered about ways in which our organizations could collaborate. We wanted to hear from you. Get your ideas.

To learn about the issues you face in your everyday work, we literally asked “What’s keeping you up at night?” At the fall 2016 convenings of OLC Accelerate and the OLC logoWCET Annual Meeting, we used a modified form of “brain writing” to gather ideas from attendees to two questions.

We understand that this is sample only of those attending the sessions. It is not meant to be representative of the entire OLC and WCET memberships. Even so, we found it useful to obtain feedback from attendees in a very engaging format. Below is a summary of some of the top responses from those sessions.

Question 1:  As a leader navigating the online/digital higher education space, what is the one topic that keeps you up at night?

  • Compliance. Does institutional leadership understand the compliance issues with federal and state regulations. Do they understand the associated risks? Is the entire campus leadership and faculty on board?
  • Accessibility. Are we able to meet the needs of the students requiring accessibility assistance? Are we meeting the regulatory requirements? Tired man holding a pillow next to a clockWhat are those requirements? Can we work collectively to exert pressure on publishers, hardware, and software providers to do a better job?
  • Growth and Sustainability. Will our enrollments continue to grow? Can we keep up with growth? How can we financially and structurally sustain the growth? What if we’re in an institution where overall enrollment is decreasing?
  • Faculty Buy-in. How do we get faculty to participate and give the time necessary for quality courses? How can we better work with faculty? How can we help faculty before the institutions decides it is better to move forward without those who participate?
  • Working Collaboratively across the Campus. How do we get buy-in from the leadership? How do we get collaboration between academic and support units to provide necessary student support? How do we increase the flow of communication across campus units?
  • Faculty Development. What faculty development makes a difference in student learning? How can we keep up with changing technologies and methods?
  • Ability to Innovate and Evolve Quickly. How can we best manage change? How do we keep up with technological evolutions and revolutions? How do perform change management, including the interpersonal aspects of change? How do we respond to the “too many options” problem?

word cloudWCET respondents mentioned compliance and accessibility issues more often than their OLC counterparts. OLC respondents tended to gravitate towards faculty development and buy-in issues.

Other interesting responses that did not receive as many mentions include:

  • Improving student outcomes,
  • Obtaining administrative buy-in,
  • Curtailing academic cheating and dishonesty,
  • Addressing the “regular and substantive” interaction expectations,
  • Paying attention to the student experience,
  • Maintaining quality courses, and
  • Assuring privacy and data security.

A note about the responses: Participants could have written anything they wished in response to the question. We tried not to lead them in any direction. The classifications below are our own, but it was clear that there were seven topics that outpace all the others. We would like you to review these topics and let us know if they resonate with you.

Question 2:  In 2025, what will keep you or your successor up at night?

We picked 2025, as it is in the future, but not the horribly distant future. It’s only a little over 6.5 years, 401 weeks, and 2,806 days away from the publication of this post. Looking back 6.5 years, we had not yet enjoyed the “Year of the MOOC” and Southern New Hampshire University enrolled fewer than 20,000 students. Things can change. Here’s what conference participants predicted for 2025:

  • The Future of Higher Ed. What does the future of higher education look like? What will “doing it right” entail? What will be the impact of the alternatives to higher education, including new providers? This topic was mentioned more often by WCET than OLC respondents. Some good quotes:
    • “What is the point/role of college? If you want to learn something, go online.”
    • “Will we be competing with non-academic providers, like Amazon?
    • “Do we even need higher education or can people download “knowledge” directly to their brain?”
  • Student Success. Do we need to redefine what a well-educated student looks like? What competencies will be relevant in 5 years? How do we educate people for jobs and a world that does not currently exist?
  • Technology. How will technology evolve? What will be needed to maintain the technologies? How will we manage innovations, especially if they are increasingly outsourced? How to keep up with technology innovations.
  • Funding Models. Given the pressures on higher education funding sources, especially in the public sector, how will higher education be funded? What new funding models are needed?
  • Scalability. Will online and digital learning continue to grow? How do we scaling faculty and support systems to handle the increased demand and changes that future innovations will bring?
  • New Curricular Models. What will be the impact of new credentials, shorter times to credit, shorter times to degree, ignoring the agrarian-based academic calendar, blended learning, and innovations we don’t even know about yet?

OLC participants and their WCET counterparts seemed to agree on many of these items except for “new curricular models.” That topic arose only in the WCET discussion.

Other interesting responses that did not receive as many mentions include:

  • Determining the skills necessary for faculty development,
  • Addressing social changes in an increasing online and disconnected student population,
  • Adopting a “customer service” attitude,
  • Sharing programs and resources across institutions,
  • And these three insightful observations on what will keep them up:
    • The Unknown.
    • The Parking.
    • How to get me to retire!

Now It’s Your Turn. What Keeps YOU up at Night?

We greatly appreciate and value the perspectives our conference attendees provided during these sessions. We understand that these were small groups, so we wish to expand the conversation. While OLC and WCET serve slightly different audiences, there is much overlap. Our goal with the sessions was to understand how our two organizations could bring our collective resources to the table to support institutions and address issues YOU are facing on your campus today.

Do these topics resonate with you? Please provide your comments via this form with insights or perspectives you would like to share.

We would love to hear your answer to the question: “What keeps you up at night?”

Kathleen Ives                                  
OLC Chief Executive Officer and
Executive Director

Karen Pedersen
OLC Chief Knowledge Officer

Russ Poulin
WCET Director of Policy and Analysis

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The Federal State Authorization for Distance Education Regulation Still Stands

The federal state authorization for distance education regulation released in December 2016 will likely survive a little longer. Late last year, we reported that this federal regulation would likely be a victim of the Congressional Review Act (CRA). That rarely-used Act allows Congress to remove recently released regulations simply by passing a bill through both houses by a simple majority and having it signed by the President.

Vince Sampson, attorney with Cooley, LLP, informed us last week that: “It appears that Congress may have exhausted the number of CRA bills they can (or wish to) pass. The politics of CRA legislation are complicated, particularly with the Senate, and it appears that they are moving on to other battles.”

This leaves us with a new refrain: “The regulation is the regulation until it is not the regulation.”

The Fate of a Trio of Regulations Hated by the Deregulators

On January 30 2017, a notice in the Federal Register announced a delay in the effective date of some other regulations so that thePile of papers Department of Education could “review” them. In that notice, there was a paragraph stating that further actions would be forthcoming on three different regulations:

  • Teacher Prep – The expanded requirements for states to review programs that prepare K-12 teachers have now been completely removed via the Congressional Review Act and the President signed the resolution on March 27, 2017.
  • Borrower Defense – This complex set of regulations defines “acts or omissions of an institution of higher education a borrower may assert as a defense to repayment of a” federal student loan. I’ve heard that this regulation will be subject to additional future rulemaking or actions to align it with the priorities of the current Administration.
  • State Authorization – Neither the Department nor Congress have released details on the fate of this regulation.

The Dilemma Facing Colleges

The enforcement date for the state authorization regulations is July 1, 2018. By that date, each institution must be able to demonstrate that it is authorized in any state in which it enrolls student to whom it disburses federal financial aid. Clock faceMore problematic is a set of notification requirements for institutions that enroll students in programs that lead to professional licensure or certification in other states. Institutions need to be able to notify students if their distance program meets the academic requirements of the professional oversight boards in those states.

Getting that information can be challenging. The Department of Education massively underestimated the time it takes to determine these requirements and, if needed, to navigate the approval process in each state. Some institutions have waited to move forward on this work, hoping the regulation would go away. Should they proceed or wait?

Our Advice to You

Don’t wait.

Four reasons why follow:

  1. First, if you are a SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) institution, a similar notification is already required (SARA Manual, p. 27) of SARA member institutions. The notification must be done in one of two ways:
    “a. The institution may determine whether the course or program meets the requirements for professional licensure in the state where the applicant or student resides and provide that information in writing to the student, or”
    “b. The institution may notify the applicant or student in writing that the institution cannot confirm whether the course or program meets requirements for professional licensure in the student’s state, provide the student with current contact information for any applicable licensing boards, and advise the student to determine whether the program meets requirements for licensure in the state where the student lives.”
    Some have interpreted the second bullet to mean that you can just not have done the work and you can say you “don’t know.” That is not the intent. In conversations with Marshall Hill, Executive Director of NC-SARA, that option is intended to cover only those cases where the institution has made every reasonable effort to determine whether its programs meet licensure requirements in the particular state and cannot obtain that confirmation from the relevant licensing board. According to Dr. Hill: “We’ve always regarded this as a ‘last resort’ option, only available after all attempts to determine whether a program meets the state’s requirements have failed. This is important information that states and institutions should be able to provide to students.”
  2. Student Action. Second, you may wish to avoid lawsuits from students and actions by states for misrepresenting your program. Students are rightfully angry to learn they cannot complete their internship or sit for a licensure exam after their institution has collected tens of thousands of dollars from them. Student looking bored.
    One of the new federal regulation’s notification requirements is in regards to a student who decides to enroll in a professional program even after learning that the program DOES NOT meet the licensure prerequisites for his or her state. The institution is expected to obtain a written statement acknowledging that the student understands that the institutions does not have the approval. Some institutional personnel have gone apoplectic over that requirement. I disagree. It is legal protection for the institution. While no protection is perfect, having written documentation that the student was notified and understood that notification is much better than having no evidence in the event of a future lawsuit.
  3. The third reason is that it is the law.
  4. The fourth and final reason is that it is the right thing to do.

Is it easy? No.

Is it the cost of doing business? Yes.

Where Do We Go from Here?

We will continue to keep you informed about any developments.

As for the federal state authorization regulation for distance education, my guess is that it will likely be addressed again as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. Some hearings have already been held on reauthorization. I hear that reauthorization will not be a priority for Congress until next year. That’s my guess, as well, but I’ve been pretty bad at guessing lately. There are other options, including a possibility of a delay in enforcing the regulation. The problem is that many of those options would require action by the Department (there are almost no policy staff in place) or by Congress (they are busy with other priorities).

Additionally, we have many questions about how certain provisions of the regulation will be interpreted or enforced and feel that some language is just plain incorrect. We waited on formalizing our observations because it appeared the regulation might be killed. Now that it appears to be surviving the Congressional Review Act ax, watch for more information on our questions and concerns. If you have some you would like us to include, let me know.

Meanwhile, remember that the regulation is the regulation until it is not the regulation. And, even if the federal regulation goes away, the state regulations remain in force.

Many thanks to Cheryl Dowd, Terri Taylor Straut, Marianne Boeke, Greg Ferenbach (Cooley, LLP), and Vince Sampson for their contributions to this post.


Russ Poulin holding a baseball bat.

Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies
rpoulin@wiche.edu    @russpoulin

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Data Privacy for Institutes of Higher Education (IHE)

Data privacy and protection is becoming an increasingly important topic on a personal and professional level and in all fields -not just higher education. Lately stories about hackers gaining access to important data has filled my news feed. We need to focus on ways to decrease higher education institution’s vulnerabilities and safeguard our information. To that end, this week we welcome Stephen Orr, Adjunct Assistant Professor with the Computer Networks and Security (CMIT) department at the University of Maryland University College. Stephen is here to discuss recent data breaches in higher education and includes some suggested solutions. Thank you Stephen for beginning this important discussion for us and our members!

Enjoy the read,

~Lindsey Downs


We recently celebrated the eleventh Data Privacy Day in the United States. According to Wikipedia, the purpose is to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices. We are also honoring the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection. This treaty was signed January 28th 1981 at the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data.

Thinking back to January 28, 2017, how did you celebrate? Odds are you didn’t. In fact, you probably have never heard about Data Privacy Day. Image of a peice of cakeThe day passed with no party, no thought of data privacy, and sadly, no cake.

While we are a few months removed from January, it is never a bad time to celebrate, and at the very least reflect on what Data Privacy Day means for institutes of higher education (IHE).

The Challenge

In 2016 there was a 40% increase in data breaches from the previous year. Perhaps one of the most infamous examples was the OPM data breach, where personally-identifiable information – such as names, dates and place of birth, addresses, medical history, even Social Security numbers and fingerprints – of more than 20 million US citizens was stolen. The cybersecurity threats faced by institutes of higher education (IHE) are no different than the threats faced by any other industry. In fact, it is well documented that attackers specifically target IHE for exploitation. A targeted exploit can be through the use of a phishing email whereby the user is tricked into clicking on a malicious link, which in turn exploits and provides the attacker access to the computer. After exploitation, the attackers can find the data of interest, and steal it. Per the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, IHE are subject to exploitation for two reasons: (1) they possess vast amounts of computing power; and (2) they allow relatively open access to those resources. Although IHE have traditionally been considered more academically open‘ by nature, there needs to be a balance with cybersecurity.

In July of 2013 it was reported that 72,000 student’s identities were stolen from the University of Delaware. This was estimated to cost about $19 million. In 2014, it was reported that 300,000 records at the University of Maryland College Park were copied. The information taken included names, social security numbers, dates of birth, and university identification numbers. Also in 2014, North Dakota University system reportedly had their computer systems exploited, providing access to 290,000 past and present student records.2

There are many other IHE breaches that could be listed, but you get the point. Between 2005 and 2014 there were 727 reported IHE breaches with 27,509 being the average number of records exposed. If interested, you can visually interact with the biggest IHE data breaches from 2005 to 2014 by visiting the following webpage.

So what happens after these breaches? Usually a public apology followed by a promise to focus on the organization’s cybersecurity posture, and the promise of credit monitoring for all of those affected. All of which comes at a significant financial and reputational cost.

Perhaps we should be more proactive and not wait for the data breach?

The Solutions

So what is an IHE to do? There are many details that are beyond the scope of a single blog post. That being said, let’s explore what these are at a high level.

First, it is of utmost importance to plan for when, not if. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a Data Breach Response Guide to assist when the worse should occur.

Second, focus on cybersecurity fundamentals. Don’t focus on the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) or zero-days. Advanced persistent threat attacks can be traced as far back at the 1980s, with notable examples including The Cuckoo’s Egg, which documents the discovery and hunt for a hacker who had broken into Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It’s hard, if not impossible to stop a well resourced APT with a zero day. According to Gartner’s Top Security Predictions, 99% percent of vulnerabilities exploited will continue to be ones known by security and IT professionals for at least one year. It stands to reason that focusing on the 99% (fundamentals) should be the focus.

The fundamentals include a comprehensive cybersecurity system, which must have locks (perimeter defenses), waiting rooms (for behavioral analysis), ears (for listening for abnormalities in huge streams of data from many sources), eyes (for scanning for abnormalities), a brain to make sense of all of this information, and arms and hands to take action to remediate the threats. There are many public and private organizations that offer advice on how to accomplish this goal. For example, NIST and the NSA Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) offer freely available resources for any organization to use.

Third, protect the data stored at rest and in transit across the ‘secure systems’. Image of a padlock on a stickynoteStrategy (how), policies (course of action), technical solutions (encryption, hashing, salting), and skilled human capital (implementation) are all needed to be successful. To be clear, this is not a one and done proposition. Data privacy requires vigilance and constant monitoring. It may even be prudent to establish a Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) to centralize and streamline the privacy and protection of the IHE data.

In summary, know what data you have, know where it is, know who is in control of it, know the policies and procedures the dictate how and by whom it can be used, know the technical safeguards, and know what the plan is when all of the best attempts to protect the data fails.

Stephen Orr Headshot


Stephen R. Orr IV, Ph.D.
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Computer Networks and Security (CMIT)
University of Maryland University College



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How Open Educational Resources Give Faculty and Students What They Want

Undergraduate costs are on the rise and student loan debt is a huge issue impacting today’s society. How can we, as higher education professionals, help limit the costs for students while also ensuring and promoting their success? This week we welcome Sandy King, Professor of Communications with the Anne Arundel Community College to discuss her suggested solution: Open Educational Resources (OERs). Sandy gives us some background information on OERs and also explains her personal experiences with incorporating OER into her teaching. The resources she provides on OER are outstanding, and I was so excited to hear about the gaming elements she had included in her course!

Thank you Sandy for this educational and inspirational post!


In June of 2014, I attended Maryland OER (Open Educational Resources) Day, and I heard some statistics that has changed the way I teach. In their presentation, Una Daley and James Glapa-Grossklag shared the following:

  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, undergraduate costs rose 42% at public institutions between 2001 and 2011.
  • In 2013, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, in Forbes, federal student loan debt was $1 trillion, with the average student loan upon graduation $25,000.
  • College textbook prices have risen 812% since 1978, and according to the Center of the Public Interest Research, 65% of students have sometimes chosen not to buy the textbook, even though 94% of students believe it will affect their grade.

Lowering Student Costs Through OERs

Although these statistics are sobering, there is a solution: OERs.

The U.S Department of Education defines OERs as:

“teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others.”  

OERs include full textbooks, course materials, modules/lessons, videos, images, animations, teaching objects, tests, software, and other ancillaries used for instruction. OERs are digital, which makes them easy to use in eLearning courses. They are available to redistribute and reuse, and most often, can be revised or remixed. A key appeal of OERs is they are usually free or available at very low cost.

For further research, please visit the following:

The Community College Consortium for Open Resources: http://oerconsortium.org/ 

The Community College Consortium for Open Resources Finding Resources Page: http://oerconsortium.org/find-oer/ 

The Open Education Consortium: http://www.oeconsortium.org/ 

MIT Open CourseWare:  https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/

Tufts Open CourseWare: http://ocw.tufts.edu/

Saylor Academy: http://www.saylor.org/ 

Open Stax: https://openstax.org/

My Personal OER Journey

While some faculty simply switch from a publisher textbook to an open text, I chose to build my intercultural communication from scratch using OERs, so that all the material for the course was found in the LMS, Canvas. This gave us some powerful advantages:

  • The cost of the text went from $160 to 0.
  • Available Sooner. Moreover, all of the students have the course materials from the first day. No one is waiting to purchase the text, waiting for a text purchased online to arrive, using the wrong edition of the text, or has misplaced or lost the text.
  • It enabled me to present the content in a more engaging way as well, which was helpful to both the native speakers in the course and students in the course for whom English may be the second, third, or even fourth language. Instead of over 400 pages of text, I was able to present the same concepts with much less text by using video, charts, interactive elements, animations, and links to engaging content presented on websites by authoritative sources, such as the Hofstede Center and the University of Pittsburgh website on Folklore and Mythology. Through video, my intercultural students can visit other cultures and meet their people, such as the following on stereotypes of African men: https://www.facebook.com/filmsforaction/videos/10153063886365983/
  • Creating the course this way also permitted me to make all of the content housed in Canvas accessible. The hard copy of the text I was using was inaccessible to students with vision impairments, and the electronic copy of the text wasn’t formatted for a screenreader, giving students who might need this accommodation no clear option.

And I Added Gaming and Badging

It also gave me the opportunity to theme each module so that I could incorporate some gaming elements, such as badges, to my course. Three of the badges – the Cultural Iceberg, the Dia de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead” Project, and Nonverbal Communication – are shown below.

badge showing an iceberg with the words "visable culture" at the top of the iceberg, "unseen culture" under water, with a larger portion of the iceberg, and "deep culture" far under water.A badge showing an individual wearing traditional day of the dead garb such as flowers and the sugar skull maskbadge showing a women wearing a headscarf or hijab and a bindi with her palms together, smiling toward camera.

Students earn a badge by receiving a 90% score or higher on an assignment, and a badge is available in every module of the course, so there are many opportunities for success. Badges are psychic or intrinsic rewards, which rely on the pure joy and satisfaction of achieving a goal, rather than basing motivation solely on the extrinsic reward, achievement for a grade.

With a Storyline

Additionally, using OERs allowed me to add a storyline to the course.  In each module, students assist Francisco, a recent immigrant to the U.S., to acclimate to a new culture. The students provide Francisco with advice and help as he makes his intercultural journey. By helping Francisco gain the knowledge and skills to be interculturally competent, students demonstrate that they, too, have learned the required knowledge and skills.

OER is Liberating

Incorporating OERs has been liberating for me. Now that I’m no longer dependent on publisher content, I can keep the course up-to-date and easily make revisions as needed.  As more open resources become available, my intercultural course will continue to improve.

Sandy King headshot


Sandy King
Professor of Communications
Anne Arundel Community College




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