WCET’s 7th Annual Leadership Summit

summit logoWe just got back from the annual WCET Leadership Summit in Newport Beach, CA where we deliberated on how digital learning can help higher education can embrace:

  • Equity as a demonstrated priority for the institutions’ students, faculty, and staff.
  • Accessibility as the lens through which the institution examines its resources, policies, services, and infrastructure.
  • Data and evidence-based decision making for student success and ethical questions underlying analytics engines and edtech products.

We quickly changed this from digital learning to learning in general. With that shift, we were able to truly focus on the broader aspects of the impact of equity and access programs and how we can help students succeed.

What are WCET Leadership Summits?

WCET Leadership Summits typically go beyond the conference mold. Held each spring, they designed to bring together educational leaders and practitioners actively engaged in pursuing answers on a limited number of big focused questions in higher education.

The Summits have ranged in topics, from leading innovation, credentials, adaptive learning, data, and digital learning content.

We got great feedback this year! Attendees particularly appreciated the networking opportunities, the inclusive WCET community, sharing ideas with others, the group dinners (organized reservations at local restaurants that attendees sign up to join), and our outstanding panelists. “Networking” was a common phrase used by those who indicated the biggest value of the event.

Since it is hard to communicate the learning realized from the many small group and sidebar conversations, I will review the panels and breakout sessions. Thank you to my WCET team members who contributed their notes, comments, and editing skills to today’s post.

word cloud with words: inclusion, financial aid, learning, worstudy, data, equality, faculty, studnet, diversity, skills, future, access OER, equity, digital, accessibility, success, technology, diverse, innovation, competencies, highered, worforce, education,a chievement, committment

Opening Panel – Inclusion in Higher Education: Beyond a Promise to Action

With his usual inspirational flair, Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director of WCET, opened the Summit with a challenge to all of attendees: during the sessions, networking opportunities, and reflection times, make sure to ask: “what if” and “how?” And, most importantly, make sure that we all leave the Summit with actionable plans to take back to our institutions and organizations.

Mike’s opening was followed by our opening panel. Mike remained on the stage to moderate a great start to our Summit with panelists Kim Hunter Reed, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and Jose Fierro, President and Superintendent of Cerritos College in California. Kim and Jose discussed examples from working with institutions on inclusion. Kim started by reviewing Colorado’s work to erase equity gaps. Some of this work includes using a Lumina grant and state funding to increase work study, increase need-based aid, and begin their statewide OER initiative (check out a report on this initiative, worked on by WCET’s Director of Open Policy, Tanya Spilovoy).

Cerritos College in California is a minority serving institution. 75% of their students qualify for a fee waiver, 60% of students are first generation, and 35-45% live below the poverty line. As Jose said, equity and access conversations are very real because of the population they serve. Their institution has diversity and equity plans built into hiring and student success practices. They’ve even involved their community in developing such plans. We had great discussions about hiring practices, helping students believe in their own success, faculty support, using data and metrics, and obtaining executive level/higher-up support.

What is our hope and future for higher education? Kim advised that our guiding star should be a future where education is accessible by anyone and everyone.

What a start to our summit!

Panel 2 – Institutional Exemplars: Digital Learning Implementation Strategies to Improve Student Success

The second panel of the day included the following higher education leaders:

  • Fred Corey, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Arizona State University
  • Julie Greenwood, Associate Provost, Transformative Learning, Oregon State University
  • Jon Oelke, Assistant Professor, Wheeling Campus Academic Lead, and Psychology Content Lead Pathways Program, National Louis University
  • Karen Vignare, Executive Director, Personalized Learning Consortium, APLU (moderator)

We started by learning more about each institution’s various learning programs, such as Oregon State University’s Adaptive Learning Ecosystem, National Louis’ redesigned undergraduate program, and the Adaptive and Interactive classroom learning models used at Arizona State.

The panelists also described the high impact elements of their programs. Immediate feedback through adaptive, digital technologies makes a strong and lasting effect on student success. The use of data allows institutions to analyze programs, initiatives, courses, and strategies. And if those initiatives/programs, etc. aren’t working, stop doing them! Data can tell you if you’re investing appropriately for all students. Data can also be used to find which of your instructors are having the most success and apply what they do in their classroom to other classes.

collage of the summit dinner groups. several people standing in front of restaurants or sitting at tables eating.

WCET Summit Dinner Groups

Panel 3 –  Ethical and Effective Uses of Student Data (by the Institution, Faculty, and Students)

Our first afternoon panel included:

  • John Fritz, Associate Vice President, Instructional Technology, University of Maryland Baltimore County.
  • Timothy Harfield, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Blackboard Analytics.
  • Iris Palmer, Senior Policy Analyst, Education Policy, New America.
  • Van Ton-Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor, Workforce and Digital Futures, Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges.
  • Phil Hill, Co-Publisher, e-Literate (moderator).

We learned that ethical and effective uses of student data require a sound data governance structure. This structure should include a data dictionary, so all stakeholders are speaking the same language. If a campus is using data analytics well they are extending the use beyond a single course.

A large part of the conversation centered on student data and accompanying interventions. I enjoyed the discussion of the ethics of student nudges (or the ethics of not intervening if the data seems to say you should). As our panelists asked, “what is an institutions’ ethical obligation of knowing?”

As many who participated in the Summit twitter backchannel noted, a huge takeaway from this panel was the significance of how to word interventions for true effectiveness in helping students without hurting them.

It’s also important to use data to “share a light on success,” as this is the way to “change the culture” for our campuses.

Panel 4 – Moving Towards a Campus Climate of Universal Access for All

This panel included:

  • Michele Bruno, Director, Accessibility Program, Cengage Learning.
  • Van Davis, Principal, Foghlam Consulting.
  • Mark Jenkins, Director, e-Learning/Open Education and Coordinator, Accessible Technology Initiatives, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
  • Cheryl Pruitt, Director, Accessible Technology Initiative, Chancellor’s Office, California State University System.
  • Tom Cavanagh, Vice Provost for Digital Learning, University of Central Florida (moderator).

The key takeaway for me from this session were:

  1. Every learner is in a different place in their educational journey. Our job is to give them the resources they need to be successful.
  2. I loved how the panelists focused on accessibility and universal design as an opportunity, as Mark Jenkins put it, to reflect on what you are doing from a compliance or inclusive standpoint.
  3. Often, campuses wait to act on accessibility issues until compelled to act due to a legal challenge. While litigation can be a great nudge to get us started in the right direction, isn’t it better to create proactive policies and initiatives instead of waiting for litigation or compliance issues?

Panel 5 – Reducing Equity Gaps for All Learners: How to Get Started, How to Get Everyone Involved, How to Track and Measure Success

The panelists included:

  • Andriel Dees, Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Capella University.
  • Jill Leafstedt, Executive Director, Teaching and Learning Innovations, and Senior Academic Technology Officer, California State University, Channel Islands.
  • Gonzalo Perez, Associate Vice President, Academic Affairs, Coconino Community College.
  • Sally Johnstone, President, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (moderator).

The panelists discussed how their institutions are working toward reducing equity gaps. Each of these institutions had large populations of underrepresented and underserved students. Jill made a poignant statement about the impact of education, not only for each of our students, but on their entire family tree. Students receiving an education change the lives of everyone in their family (those family members are potential students as well!). Andriel spoke of Capella’s “Pyramid of Inclusion” and how they address equity gaps through curricular cultural competency, work study programs, career development, and assistance with “anything that goes into that journey to your doctorate.”

I particularly enjoyed the video about how Coconino Community College is literally flying through the Grand Canyon in helicopters in to assist rural communities who do not have any access to education! Gonzalo also spoke about using data to highlight success rates and the outstanding success they’ve had with dual enrollment courses (which have grown 64% in the last year alone!). Their model for dual enrollment instruction (the college instructor is the instructor of record and guides the instructor, but the local high school instructor augments that instruction in the high school classroom) sounds like the best of both worlds and will address some of the accreditation challenges with dual enrollment credentialing.

Panel 6 – Thinking Beyond the Institution: Other “Actors” to Advance Ethical and Equitable Access to Education and Opportunity (a Spontaneous ‘Design Thinking” Discussion)

The panelists included:

  • Fred Corey, Vice President for Undergraduate Education, Arizona State University.
  • Jose Fierro, President/Superintendent, Cerritos College.
  • Sharon Leu, Senior Policy Advisor, Higher Education Innovation, Office of Educational Technology, U.S Department of Education.
  • Cecilia Retelle Zywicki, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Wiley Education Services.
  • Michael Berman, Chief Innovation Officer and Deputy CIO, Chancellor’s Office, California State University (moderator).

I was struck by one of the first comments of the panel: why should we care about the equity gap? Because, we’re human.

We were reminded that by 2020 60% of jobs will need a postsecondary credential. But we have a long way to go if we’re going to meet that requirement (good point Cecilia!). Jose pointed out that we need to change our funding model if we really want an educated population from one that focuses on mere headcount to equity-based funding.

Sharon advised that today’s students and today’s educational opportunities are not the same as those in the past. We cannot use the past to help us solve the problems of today. We need to change the language we use and the culture around education, so we can address systematic inequalities. Jose continued this line of thought by encouraging us to decrease the stigma around trades related education. We need to showcase the value of this education and these jobs. Finally, Fred asked us to focus our attention on students that truly need us; those who are refugees, those who are hungry or have no homes, the students that really need our societal help.

Breakout Session Conversations

photo of several attendees sitting outside under colorful umbrellas discussing topics.

Breakout group meeting outside in sunny CA!

The breakout sessions this year were a bit different. Instead of smaller sessions on different topics, the sessions were opportunities for deeper dives with the panelists. While many of the discusses entered into what I will call “no tweet zones” (and therefore, I don’t feel comfortable summarizing them here either), here are some of the topics discussed in the sessions I attended:

  • Student engagement tools: these tools are becoming more engaging. Students can become more involved and have fun in the classroom.
  • Data: the most effective use, particularly of data dashboards, is when faculty understand them and are empowered to act upon what the data says.
  • BYOD: despite many (MANY) conversations around whether to allow technology devices in the classroom, our participants believe that faculty who embrace device use in the classroom (by involving devices in their instructional activities) are more engaging and the devices become less of a problem).
  • Student accommodations: Accommodations include environment accommodations, like not using chairs that swivel or make strange sounds. Accommodations like this decrease distraction and make environments more comfortable for all learners.
  • Online education can be a great equalizer. Students with disabilities can participate in educational opportunities that were previously not open to them. But, online environments may also hide disabilities (and instructors may not know students need accommodations).
    • A suggested solution: Don’t just offer accommodations when a student discloses a disability. Instead, offer accommodations as options for all students. For example, allow students to select how they will receive feedback (via video, meeting, written feedback, etc.), or let them choose the format for their final project.
  • We learned about Wichita State’s accessibility programs, particularly their work to train students to make their class presentation accessible for all learners. “When you make material accessible for one, you make it better for everyone.”
  • When implementing a new initiative, keep in mind that the focus should be on the people and not the technology. The leadership to run an implementation can happen from all levels; from those at the top to those who are on the front lines and have the tools to make the project happen. Highlight champions to encourage grassroot efforts.
  • To use data effectively, encourage participation with your faculty and students. While many faculty may have a “gut feeling” about how their course is going, the data may not represent that. Have a conversation with faculty about data and what it means for them and their students. Data by itself is not very interesting. It’s the words, the visualization, and the contents that tells the real story.

Closing Session – Our Incoming Freshman Class of 2022. What Will Your Institution Do to Best Serve these Students? How Do Your Faculty Utilize All of the Digital Learning Resources that May Improve Student Engagement and Learning?

Our closing session focused on the future. How can institutions prepare to best serve tomorrow’s students?

The final panelists included:

  • Andriel Dees, Director, Diversity and Inclusion, Capella University.
  • Jill Leafstedt, Executive Director, Teaching & Learning Innovations, California State University, Channel Islands.
  • Kim Hunter Reed, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Higher Education.

I was particularly thrilled to experience a closing panel of all women at this conference. Conference panels often lack diversity, but I’m proud that the Summit was different.

All three panelists focused on building momentum and closing equity gaps. Is the future focused only on bachelor’s degrees? Or can we serve all our students, even those who aren’t gaining a bachelor’s?

We also discussed digital literacy and digital citizenship. We need to teach our students, starting when they are young!, how to be citizens in this digital world of ours.

A major takeaway: let’s change the thinking away from “equitable access” and focus more on “equitable success.” We’ve go to be all-in in our approach and include everyone on our campus in helping increase equity and student success.

photo of the closing panelists sitting on stage

Final/closing session with Mike

Remember Mike’s challenge? To ask the tough questions (why? and how?) and to learn practical, actionable steps to take back home? I feel the panels provided examples for those action items and the breakout sessions provided ample opportunity to ask questions.

Mike closed the Summit with some closing reflections: “This work is about people (leaders, teachers, and students) not about hardware and software. This work is about student success and empowering faculty and staff to help students succeed.”

In that spirit, it’s time to get stuff done!

If you haven’t, check out the twitter hashtag #WCETSummit for amazing quotes and comments from our attendees.

We also combined all resources mentioned during the sessions into a document. Check it out!

Thank you for a great Summit,


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



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Student Device Preferences for Online Course Access and Multimedia Learning

What technology devices do you have close to you right now? I have a desktop computer, two laptops, a Smartwatch, and a Smartphone. Students also have a numerous devices which they use for a variety of different purposes. But do you know what devices your students prefer? Do these preferences change depending on the reasons they are using the device?

Luckily, Oregon State University Ecampus recently released a study on student device ownership and device preferences. Here to tell us all about the report are Mary Ellen Dello Stritto and Kathryn Linder, from the Ecampus Research Unit at OSU.

Thank you both for telling us about this great study!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

Do you know what devices your students are using to access online course materials? Do you know why they are choosing to use those devices?

Multimedia developers at Oregon State University Ecampus were curious about the range of devices that students were using to access their online courses and to view video and other multimedia content. They were also interested in exploring why students preferred a particular device to engage in online learning.

To help answer these questions, Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit staff helped them develop a 20-item online survey to gather data to address these questions.

Oregon State University Ecampus comprises online students from all 50 states and more than 50 countries. In spring of 2017, our survey on device preferences was completed by 2,035 Ecampus students who had taken one or more online courses in the current or previous term.

The following is a summary of the key findings from this study. The full report can be downloaded from the OSU Ecampus Research Unit website.

Device Ownership

 The survey results on device ownership showed that smartphones and laptops were pervasive among our responding students. Out of the 2,035 respondents, all but two reported owning a smartphone, and more than 99% owned laptops. More than half owned tablets, but just over one-third of the respondents owned a desktop computer (see Figure 1).

Graphic showing device ownership: 99.9% respondents own a smartphone, 99.9% a laptop, 56.3% a tablet, and 34.9% a desktop computer

Figure 1: Percentage of students who owned each device type

Device Preferences for Different Purposes

Students were asked what devices they preferred to use when accessing the learning management system (LMS) homepage, when viewing video content, and when learning with simulations and games. Laptops were preferred across all purposes. Nearly three-quarters (73%) preferred laptops for accessing the LMS, 68% preferred laptops for viewing video content, and 59% preferred laptops for learning with simulations and games (see Figure 2). Less than 10% of students preferred smartphones and tablets for viewing video and for learning with simulations and games.

Chart showing Percentage of students who preferred laptops for different purposes - 73% preferred using a laptop for accessing a LMS, 68% for viewing video content, and 59% for learning w/ simulations and games.

Figure 2: Percentage of students who preferred laptops for different purposes

In addition to being asked what devices they preferred, students were also asked what devices they thought were ideal, regardless of whether or not they used the device. When asked about what devices were ideal for viewing video content, more than 60% indicated laptops were ideal (see Figure 3). In contrast, 24% indicated that desktops were ideal for viewing video content. Only 9% indicated that tablets were ideal for viewing video content.

Chart showing the percentage of students indicating devices that are preferred and devices that are ideal for viewing video content. 67.6 indicated they prefer desktop, 19% prefer laptops, 6.5% prefer tablets, and 5.5% prefer smartphones. Students were also asked which devices were ideal for viewing video content. 60.1 felt desktop computesr were ideal, 24% laptops, 9% tablets, and 5.5% smartphones.

Figure 3. Percentage of students indicating devices that are preferred and devices that are ideal for viewing video content

 Reasons for Choosing Preferred Devices

We also asked respondents about their reasons for choosing their preferred devices for accessing the LMS, viewing video content, and learning with simulations and games. Overall, regardless of what devices were preferred, effectiveness, convenience, and ease of use were all important reasons for students’ choices of preferred devices.


Of those students who preferred desktops, effectiveness was the most frequent reason chosen for preferring that device across the three purposes: accessing the LMS (82%), viewing video content (82%), and learning with simulations and games (80%). This pattern of responses was similar for those who preferred laptops, with effectiveness as the most frequent reason chosen for preferring the laptop across the three uses: accessing the LMS (73%), viewing video content (73%), and learning with simulations and games (69%).

Of the four devices, smartphones were least likely to be chosen as effective for accessing the LMS (14%), viewing video content (17%) and learning with simulations and games (17%).


Of those who chose desktops as their preferred device, between 40% and 41% indicated that convenience was the reason for preferring that device for accessing the LMS, viewing video content, and learning with simulations and games. For those who chose laptops, between 52% and 56% indicated that convenience was the reason for preferring that device across the three purposes.

While smaller numbers of students preferred tablets (range of 59 to 132 respondents) and smartphones (range of 89 to 130 respondents) across the three purposes, convenience was the most frequent reason for preferring those devices.

Convenience was a significant reason for the preference for smartphone. For accessing the LMS, convenience was chosen by 98% of those preferring smartphones, and for viewing video content, convenience was chosen by 87%. A smaller percentage of those preferring smartphones for learning with simulations and games chose convenience (70%).

Ease of Use

Across all four device types, between 42% and 52% of students indicated that their preferred devices were easy to use for accessing the LMS and for viewing video content. However, for learning with simulations and games, ease of use was chosen by 71% of those preferring tablets.

New Device Purchasing for Education

Students were also asked about purchasing a new device for different uses. The largest percentage indicated they would be most likely to purchase a new device for their education (39.3%), followed by work/job (35.5%), games/entertainment (14.6%), communication (4.9%), and other (3.6%) (see Figure 4).

Chart showing the Purpose for which students would most likely purchase a new device. Education = 39.3%, work/job 35.5%, games/entertainment 14.6%, communication 4.9%, and other 3.6%

Figure 4: Purpose for which students would most likely purchase a new device

Three-quarters (74.8%) of the student respondents indicated that they would consider buying a new device if they thought it would benefit their education.

Finally, more than one-quarter of students (26.9%) indicated they would purchase a new device to benefit their education, if they could afford it.

Results Inform Course Development

 Understanding why students use different devices can make a significant contribution to our course design and multimedia efforts.

 These data are useful for our instructional design and multimedia teams at Ecampus because they inform their work on providing high quality learning materials for our students who take online courses. Given that this study showed lower preference for mobile devices and lower ownership of tablets, these results can inform broader organizational discussions regarding the development of online course materials for the mobile environment.

For more information, see the full report.

 About the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit: The OSU Ecampus Research Unit makes research actionable through the creation of evidence-based resources related to effective online teaching, learning and program administration. The OSU Ecampus Research Unit is part of OSU’s Division of Extended Campus, which houses Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s top-ranked online education provider. ecampus.oregonstate.edu/research.


Mary Ellen Dello Stritto


Mary Ellen Dello Stritto
Assistant Director
Ecampus Research Unit, Oregon State University

Linder headshot


Kathryn Linder
Ecampus Research Unit, Oregon State University



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UDL in Action in College Online Courses

Do you have much experience with Universal Design? Today we’re thrilled to welcome a guest author who has not only implemented UDL on her own, but is assisting her colleagues in applying the principles in their classrooms as well.

Tianhong Shi, instructional designer with Oregon State Extended Campus, joins WCET Frontiers today to tell us about her journey learning about UDL, applying the concepts in a variety of learning settings, and expanding the design across the OSU campus.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

– Lindsey Downs, WCET

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a practical tool for guiding course design to ensure that every learner succeeds, based on scientific insights into how humans learn (cast.org). There are three main principles of UDL:

  1. multiple means of representations,
  2. multiple means of engagement, and
  3. multiple means of expressions.

UDL has roots in Inclusive pedagogy, which started around 1970s in the United States and as early as 1918 in the United Kingdom.

Graphic representing UL design. Three boxes reside in acircle. Box 1 says

Why UDL?

With the multiple means of presentation, engagement and expressions, UDL strives to make content accessible to all learners, it stimulates interests and motivation for learning and it provides a pathway for every learner to succeed (cast.org; udlcenter.org).

By teaching students according to their individual needs, we make sure that every student succeeds and prepare them for the future (versus preparing for our own past by teaching them how we were taught) (Katie Novak, Why UDL).

“You don’t just get kids in the driver suit of learning; you get expert drivers once you use UDL” (Bill McGrath at UDL-IRN Summit 2018).

My Journey in UDL

In 2017, as part of the ID2ID program (a peer mentoring program for instructional designers organized by EDUCAUSE and Penn State University), my mentee Irene Knokh and I identified UDL as a learning topic. We read books such as Universal Design In Higher Education-Promising Practices, completed a free Canvas UDL training course (designed and taught by Eric Moore), browsed web resources (UDL at glance, UDL Center), and attended a webinar on Implementing UDL by Thomas Tobin.

Designing Courses Using UDL Principles: Removing Barriers

After intensive self-directed learning on UDL for several months, I started to promote UDL among online instructors at Oregon State University. My greatest gratitude goes to Oregon State University (OSU) online instructors Ted Paterson, Victor Hsu, and Yvette Gibson who allowed me to share with them what I learned about UDL and started implementing the principles in their online courses in the Spring 2018 term. There are many applications of UDL design principles in some of OSU’s Spring 2018 online courses.

During my meetings with Ted, Victor, and Yvette, we identified barriers and challenges to learning and designed courses to remove such barriers.

  • For Ted, the biggest challenge is the intensive reading and writing in managing ethics study. So, we added estimated average reading time for each reading assignment and created animated videos to explain complicated yet crucially important writing assignments.Screenshot of a week one of the class. Text reads
  • For Victor, the challenge to his students was the abstractness of biophysics concepts in macromolecular structure study. To overcome this barrier, we designed simulation videos to explain the concepts and used graphics to illustrate other concepts. Students were assigned to use video, graphics, and texts to explain key concepts in meaningful ways.
  • For Yvette, the challenge was how to make learning meaningful and applicable in shrubland ecology study. We used learner-generated content as the main teaching strategy for the course and students were assigned to co-write portions of the textbook and create resources that will be published for public use upon instructor approval.

Examples of class activities in Ted’s Managing Ethics course:

  • Text reading (Chapter 1 of textbook).
  • Listening to podcast (Ponzi Supernova podcast audio from Radio-lab).
  • Watching videos of instructor lectures.
  • Watching animated video explanation of a 7-page instruction for the term writing project.
  • Discussion forums: students post answers to prompts; students reply to peer classmates’ posts.
  • Student developed Personal Ethical Action Plan (instructor provides feedback for students to incorporate prior to final due date).

Examples of class activities in Victor’s Macromolecular Structure course and Yvette’s Shrubland Ecology course:

  • Create a three-dimensional image.
  • Create a video to explain what “reciprocal space” means to the individual student.
  • Complete a literature search and review.
  • Write a letter to a relative to explain why the Fourier transform is so important to NMR spectroscopy.
  • Co-author part of course textbook.

Example of the class rubric. includes the criteria for core values, a tale of two stories exercise, and the edited copy. Next column describes the ratings for each critera/exercise. The last column has the point value for each of the exercises (38 points, 38 points, 4 points).

UDL Implementation Success Tips

Promoting the implementation of UDL is bound to be a rough journey that is full of challenges. Why is it still worthwhile to do it? By adopting UDL principles, you will aid in a student’s efforts to become expert learners.

Consider the following:

  • What challenges am I overcoming?
  • How could UDL add value to the learning design?
  • Implement one thing at a time (suggested by Thomas Tobin).
  • Consider UDL as operating system, not just as a framework (suggested by Bryan Dean) in the days when you feel your UDL pioneering journey is becoming too rough: it is at work without you noticing it!

The College STAR program offers free access to UDL- Based teaching practices for faculty and staff members to implement in their college courses. College STAR also provides Incentive funding for faculty members to join Virtual Learning Communities and submit proposals which will be developed into online modules and case studies. Learn more about College STAR.

Here is a list of some tools that can help instructors implement UDL and several additional UDL resources for you to use and share.

Poll & Reflection Sharing

I would like to end this post with a simple poll (based on Katie Novak‘s presentation at UDL-IRN Summit 18) and a reflective question for us all to ponder:

“In your UDL journey for the next two years, what would you hope to be and how would you achieve that?”

Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on this padlet wall.


author headshot


Tianhong Shi
Instructional Designer
Extended Campus – Oregon State University


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WCET 2018 Summer Reading List

Hello and welcome to WCET’s annual summer reading list! We have compiled a list of enticing reads to get you through those lazy summer days. several books standing in a bookcase

I plan on making a pitcher of iced tea, sitting back in the sun, and enjoying these great books!

Enjoy these reads and your summer!


Professional Development Reads

Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work

Author: Todd Davis

DEAC was so pleased to welcome author Todd Davis to provide the Keynote Address at its 92nd Annual Conference this past April and hear about his book, Get Better. Todd Davis rightly asserts that an organization’s greatest asset isn’t its people, but it’s the relationships between its people that make the greatest contribution to success and effectiveness. Get Better offers practical suggestions that leaders at all levels of an organization may use to improve the quality of interactions with others. I think his principles are particularly effective and relevant for organizations that use technology as their primary means of communication. This book is now one of my all-time favorite resources for effective leadership and sound communication. The insights are universal and applicable to any aspect of interacting with others. Even if you think you already know everything about effective leadership and communication, reading this book is time well spent.

– Leah Matthews, Executive Director, Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and WCET Steering Committee Chair


Wired to Resist: The Brain Science of Why Change Fails and a New Model for Driving Success

Author: Britt Andreatta, Ph.D.


As change agents in our institutions, we are always looking for ways to help our initiatives succeed. This book strikes a chord in harnessing brain science as a method for successful implementation of new initiatives. Andreatta uses brain science to provide guidance along the change management journey. From meeting people where they are to helping them climb the hill of change, she provides guidance along the way to help you be a more effective leader through change. One of the best aspects of the book is the end of chapter “Your Learning Journey” application tasks that enable you to apply what you just learned to your own work. I’d love to hear if you read and implement some of these strategies in your work over the next academic year and hear about the impact of using these brain-based strategies to guide change.

– Brenda Boyd, Senior Academic Director: Program Services, Quality Matters, WCET Steering Committee member


So You Want to Talk About Race

Author: Ijeoma Oluo

So You Want to Talk About Race is exactly what the title implies. It is a chapter by chapter description of major issues related to race in America today, how those issues have impacted the author herself, and how those issues have impacted America as a whole. Oluo explains in detail the implications of historical racism and the ways in which that history is still felt today. She explains major topics in race related discussions such as microaggressions, privilege, cultural appropriation, and intersectionality. She also focuses on issues related to the workplace, to education, to politics, and to pop culture. All these topics and settings that she discusses helps the reader to understand the ways in which race is involved with all aspects of life.

Oluo concludes her book by suggesting that talking about race isn’t enough and that it must lead to action. She gives specific advice at the end of the book regarding specific action that one can take, but the entire book contains many prompts regarding ways that talk can be made into action. Here in higher education, there are many race related conversations and actions that we should be taking, whenever possible. Personally, I cringe to think of the mistakes that I have made when discussing race in the past, and I cringe even more in imagining what mistakes I will make in the future. As Oluo notes throughout her book, the discomfort – and inevitable mistakes – that come along with talking openly about race is far from an excuse to avoid the topic. On the contrary, our discomfort shows why we need to discuss it.

– Rosa Calabrese, Manager, Digital and Project Support Services, WCET


The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters

Author: Priya Parker

I came across this book the day it came out actually (May 15, 2018). It was recommended in my Audible book recommendations, though I decided to read it on my Kindle. A book about “The Art of Gathering” definitely sound right up my alley. I’m someone who enjoys hosting get togethers at my home (enjoys and stresses about), planning large gatherings (wedding planning is a secret love of mine), and who likes to help as much as I can with our WCET Summit and Annual Meeting. The author starts by letting us know that our gatherings have become dreary, outdated, and archaic, especially those infused with tradition. Do we ever ask ourselves WHY we do some of those big traditions at various gatherings? Perhaps our traditions don’t fit the needs of today. Can we find ways to bring some of the tradition in to the modern world (or adapt the traditions to fit the needs/wants of those attending your gatherings?) Parker walks us through identifying a purpose for each of your gatherings, which will guide every detail about the gathering. The purpose must include why the gathering is different from other gatherings of a similar nature. My favorite part was when she brought up a phrase from 16th century Japan: Ichi-go ichi-e, which means “one meeting, one moment in your life that will never happen again.” While we may gather at the same place, same people again some other time, we must praise the uniqueness of this gathering today, because it will be different next time.

Parker is a great author, she has background in conflict resolution and now works with groups to plan a variety of different kinds of gatherings. She uses stories from her own childhood and examples from her work to demonstrate how to implement her suggestions. Large piles of books.With other great tips (such as spicing up a gathering by creating “an alternative world” and even some ways to make sure any kind of gathering “sucks less”), I enjoyed this book and hope to employ some of the tricks for future meetups.

– Lindsey Downs, Manager, Communications, WCET


“Fun” Reads

The Nix

Author: Nathan Hill

This book was named Entertainment Weekly’s “#1 Book of the Year” for 2016 and I finally got around to it a few months ago. Its many intertwining stories set around college life in the 1968 and in the present day. There’s a beleaguered college professor who never lived up to his initial literary promise, a woman who “attacks” (with a few pebbles) a presidential candidate, and childhood friends of the professor who have an impact on his whole life. The story travels back and forth between the past and present to uncover clues to the story’s main mystery. Warning, it does take a while to get started, but later unexpected turns are worth it…and there’s a cliffhanger moment that is left unresolved for several hundred pages.

For WCET members, I highly recommend Chapter 3, section 2 and the character of freshman university student Laura Pottsdam. Her feeling: “The reason college was so stupid was due to learning things she would never need in life, ever.” She goes on to detail how she is cheating in each of her courses:

  • For an online humanities class, she would take screen grabs of the quiz, unplug the computer (which was interpreted as network failure), she would look up the answer, and retake the quiz.
  • For the large biology class, she paid her roommate to record summaries of the lectures and she would listen to those while taking the tests next to the wall and halfway down her 300 person lecture hall.
  • For a macroeconomics class, she had a friend scan a cheat sheet onto a Lipton Green Tea bottle.
  • For her English class (taught by the beleaguered college professor mentioned above), she plagiarized a paper. When caught she finagled a way (the professor did not provide a “safe space” for her) to redo the paper. When that solution also included a mediation session with the professor, she then resorted to even more unsavory means to get him fired.

“Did Laura feel bad about all this cheating? She did not. That the school made it so easy to cheat meant, for her, that they tacitly approved of it, and moreover it was actually the school’s fault for making her cheat by (a) giving her so many opportunities, and (b) making her take so many b******* courses.”

– Russ Poulin, Director of Policy and Analysis, WCET


The Secret Life of Bees

Author: Sue Monk Kidd

I bought The Secret Life of Bees on a 45 min. layover in Atlanta. I was on the phone with Russ, juggling a too-full handbag and a venti coffee. Desperate for a book because I’m too cheap to pay for airline Wi-Fi, I scanned the table at the front of the bookstore; it had a pretty yellow cover. I put it on the counter with a Godiva dark chocolate, payed, and sprinted to my flight, all during a meeting with my boss. I had no idea what book I purchased until I was forced to begrudgingly stow my bulging Kate Spade under the seat, fasten my belt, and put my iPhone in airplane mode.

Here is why I recommend you read The Secret Life of Bees this summer:

  1. You’ll enjoy the characters. I fell in love with the main character Lily Owens. I wanted to rescue her, mother her, and keep her safe. She’s like the baby robin I once found after it had been attacked by a neighbor cat; I simply had to take it inside, grind up worms, and feed it 8 times a day. That’s how Lily hooked me—right by the heart. I found myself wishing I could spend a day with August and Rosaleen and the Daughters of Mary. I wanted to punch T. Ray in the face.
  2. You’ll learn about bees. Each chapter is prefaced with a quote about bees–something factual that also foreshadows the story. It’s a clever literary trick. And because I used quotes of poetry before each of my dissertation chapters in a similar fashion, I immediately respected Sue Monk Kidd’s writing style. Besides reading a great story, you’ll learn a lot about bees. And with world bee populations declining, we could all educate ourselves about these fascinating insects. Bees are super cool.
  3. You’ll feel some real feels. You’ll be reminded of the parent or lover who left you, the guilt of hurting someone else, loss, and the grinding angst of being powerless to fix it. There’s all sorts of angry and lonely feels in this book. But you’ll also find hope and love and redemption.
  4. It’s set in 1964 Carolina. The book is full of racial and sexist injustice. It’ll remind you of how far America has come and how very far we still have to go to achieve equality. It strengthened my resolve to make education more accessible, equitable, and inclusive. I hope it makes you want to stand up for what is right.

That’s all I should say because I don’t want to give it all away. But if you read The Secret Life of Bees, stop me at the WCET Annual Conference in Portland. We can sit and have a cup of coffee and discuss the book. I’d like to know if you think Zach and Lily will ever be together…and if she can ever truly forgive.

– Tanya Spilovoy, Director, Open Policy, WCETposter reading keep calm and read on with a pile of four books


Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel.

This book was a best seller a few years back but I’m just now reading it. It’s a great, engaging novel that explores life after a pandemic flu has wiped out most of humanity and society as we know it has collapsed. I particularly enjoy the way the author reflects on our current relationship with technology via the viewpoints of characters living 15 years after most modern technology no longer works.

– Chuck Hayward, Assistant Director, Digital Learning Solution Network, WCET


The Wright Brothers

Author: David McCollough

Thank you to Cheryl Dowd for recommending this engaging account of innovators Orville and Wilbur Wright. Cheryl lives only minutes away from the bicycle shop where the brothers gave birth to modern aviation. For those in the innovation business, this is a great story about the perseverance, ingenuity, research, trial-and-error, and guts it takes to make an impossible idea a reality. Making the reading joyful is David McCollough’s expertise in telling a story. It is always a pleasure to read great writing. The brothers, and their ever-present sister (Katherine Wright Haskell), sometimes remind me of an early-day Sheldon and Leonard (yes, that’s a Big Bang Theory reference). Once they get an idea, their lives can be consumed at devising a way to make it work. One of them pursued a law degree for the sole purpose of suing someone who wronged him. When he won the suit, he quit the practice of law. They were unlike many of their contemporaries, who opted for trial-and-error processes. The brothers would conduct enormous amount of research and would try ideas only when they had reason to believe the innovation would work…and they were not always right. WCET members will learn much about what is required to overcome the physical and political barriers to succeed.

– Russ Poulin, Director of Policy and Analysis, WCET


Other Suggestions:

  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Ronnlund, and Ola Rosling (recommended by Laura Pedrick, WCET Executive Council).
  • The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss (recommended by Laura Pedrick, WCET Executive Council).
  • Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez (recommended by Laura Pedrick, WCET Executive Council).
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (recommended by Laura Pedrick, WCET Executive Council).

From our Digital Learning Solutions Network (DLSN) members:

Recommended by Bill Gates (his “5 Books Worth Reading this Summer.” Check out his descriptions of each book):


Do you have quite a list for this summer? I know I do! Both Rosa and I are also re-reading the entire Harry Potter collection this summer, but I’m sure we’ll have space to fit in some of these other great options! Check out the 2017 list if you need even more to read.

Have additional ideas for summer reading that we missed? Comment below or tweet your recommendations to us @wcet_info!


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



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State Authorization Federal Regulation (Almost) Delayed…What’s Next?

Our holiday message arrived! The Department announced in the Federal Register on Friday, before the holiday weekend, that the Secretary proposes to delay until July 1, 2020, the effective date of the final regulations regarding state authorization of distance education that were published December 19, 2016. Several detour signs with different arrows facing different directions.The reason for proposing a two – year delay is to provide adequate time to conduct negotiated rulemaking to reconsider the final regulations and possibly revise the regulations.

Officially, the Delay Is Still a Proposal

You may be thinking, the Secretary PROPOSES a delay? You mean the regulation is not actually delayed, yet? Right, there is a process that must be followed. To change the details of any regulation (in this case to delay the effective date), there must be an actual rule created to make that change.

This process includes a short public comment period for the proposed delay. The comment period is currently open and will close on June 11, 2018. While they are accepting comments, we can’t imagine any arguments arising from the comments that would keep the Department from implementing the delay. We’ll give you more information on commenting later in this post.

Reasons for the Proposed Delay

The Department revealed that two letters specifically prompted the proposed delay. We are very pleased that one of the letters was the February 7, 2018 collaboration from WCET, NC-SARA and DEAC. In that letter, we raised concerns about public and individualized disclosures, refund policy requirements, and the definition of “residence”. We indicated that it was important to have a clear understanding of the Department’s expectations, because we were aware that the institutions we represent were desiring to comply. Because there is a cost to implement new processes, there was a need for clarification from the Department, so that the complicated processes are done correctly from the start.

Although we communicated with the Department on several occasions (both before and since the December 2016 release of the final regulations), we did indicate in the February letter that the Department had three options going forward. a small clock sitting on a wooden desk.They could: “(1) delay the rules and submit the issues to additional negotiated rulemaking or (2) issue clarification via a dear colleague letter on USDE’s expectations for compliance. A third option would require Congress to take action to delay or suspend implementation.” The Department has chosen to pursue a delay.

The announcement explains that the clarifications were so substantive that the Department did not believe that guidance would be sufficient. Negotiated rulemaking is deemed by the Department to be the desired route to address the issues that the Department admits are more complicated than they expected.

As for the Congressional option to act on this issue, it would likely come in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. We are not anticipating final passage of that legislation any time soon.

The Negotiated Rulemaking Process

The Department of Education will convene a panel to propose changes to the state authorization. As described in the Department’s FAQ on the process, the panel includes “representatives of the parties who will be affected significantly by the regulations” and a representative from the Department. All parties must agree on the ultimate proposal or the Department can create its own proposed regulation. The results are submitted to the public for comment, those comments are considered, and the Department issues a new final regulation.

We are expecting an additional announcement soon that will detail what will be considered, the timing of the negotiations, and call for nominations for panelists.

A woman in a bridal gown staring out the window.

Typically, the negotiations take place over the winter ending in the Spring. Therefore, the results of this process will probably not occur until well into next year. Anticipating the call for a rulemaking panel, we have already begun talking to National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) leadership about whom we might nominated to serve on the panel.

Commenting on the Proposed Delay

WCET, SAN, NC-SARA, and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) plan to submit a joint comment on behalf of our members in support of the delay. While we may have preferred receiving clarifications in time for institutions to act on the original deadline, a delay is the only choice now.

Should you wish to submit your own comment, remember that they are asking only about comments on the proposed delay.

comment nowWe suggest that you focus on:

  • Support for the delay, as there are several details within the regulations released in December 2016 that need to be clarified to assure that you are in compliance with their expectations.
  • It takes time and effort to obtain approvals from states for professional licensure/certification programs. While institutions are working on these approvals to meet state and SARA requirements, the Department underestimated the effort involved. Their requirements appeared to differ (we weren’t exactly sure) in significant ways from SARA requirements, but it was hard to proceed without clarity.

If you are commenting as an institution or organization, be sure to get the approval of the appropriate leadership. If you are commenting as an individual, you can mention your position and your employer, but do not submit the comment on institutional letterhead without approval. Follow the comment submission directions as described in the Federal Register announcement. Essentially, you may submit comments electronically through the eRulemaking Portal, postal mail, commercial or hand delivery. Comments by fax or email will not be accepted.

This Does Not Negate the Need to Stay in Compliance with State Authorization Laws

While the Federal regulation delay and negotiated rulemaking processes are being finalized and implemented, institutions cannot become complacent. As you have heard from WCET and SAN in the past, “the foundation of regulatory compliance for out-of-state activities of the institution is the state.” Institutions must continue to be compliant with state laws and regulations as well as SARA requirements. You may also wish to review our previous post on reasons to notify students about professional licensure requirements.

We will continue to inform you about developments along the way.


Russ Poulin smiling while holding a small bat


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



Cheryl Dowd


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



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Comparing Credentials: An Update on the Credential Engine

What does the “higher education of the future” look like? Will it be online? On campus? Virtual? Will we still have the same 4 – 7 year undergraduate degree programs? Or will alternative credentials change the higher education landscape? This future seems a bit complex!

Luckily, today we’re joined by Carrie Samson, Communications Manager for Credential Engine, to discuss credential transparency and the credential marketplace. I feel that the Registry will assist in helping decrease some of that complexity in the future!

Thank you Carrie for joining us today on WCET Frontiers!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

Preparing for the Future

How do we prepare higher education for the future? The economy is changing rapidly, potential students are looking for ways to parse through options, and employer needs are shifting—creating increased pressure on higher education. Moreover, the higher education landscape has become increasingly complex—with institutions creating new degrees, badges, microcredentials, and certificates. Higher education leaders know that they must make sense of this confusing credential landscape in order to meet all of these challenges if their institutions are to succeed. But how?

Starting Credential Engine

Launched in 2016, Credential Engine is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create credential transparency, reveal the credential marketplace, increase credential literacy, and empower everyone to make more informed decisions about credentials and their value. We believe that a transparent credentialing marketplace is the key to not only meeting the challenges students, employers, and educators face today, but to setting students up for long-term success.

What does a Transparent Credentialing Marketplace Look Like?

Imagine this: a world where students can find and compare credentials head-to-head using criteria like:

  • competencies,
  • cost,
  • time-to-completion,
  • employer preferences,
  • connections to other credentials,
  • career pathways,
  • and more.

Imagine a platform where higher education institutions can directly differentiate their programs from similar options, communicate effectively with employers about what their students know and can do, and easily identify best-in-class practices of leading credentials. Publicly launched in December of 2017, the tools and services from Credential Engine are now available to turn these possibilities into a reality.showcasing how the credential engine works (starts with common credential description language, publishing the credentials to the Credential Engine Registry, ensuring the credentials are live on the Credential Finder (a search tool), and finally developing a comunity of organizations, developers, and users who will have support and resources from credential engine staff.

Connect Credential Data in Real Time

Our work to bring credential transparency starts with our technologies. To create universal understanding around the hundreds of data points held within a credentials, we first had to create a universal language to describe credentials. Through the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL) and Credential Transparency Description Language-ASN (CTDL-ASN), there now exists first-of-their-kind credentialing languages with over 300 terms that can be used to describe credentials and competency frameworks. The CTDL and CTDL-ASN are open source, and free to access, meaning that higher education institutions can take advantage of them right now to transform their current disparate network of closed systems into one cohesive system that is built on linked data–allowing the data held in a professor’s course description about competencies to be connected to the department’s outcomes data or the business center’s employer preference data in real time.

Connect Data from Everywhere

There are more than 330,000 different credentials currently in the United States alone! Housing all of this data from the entire credentialing marketplace is no small feat.That’s why Credential Engine created the Credential Registry —a cloud-based storage system—that collects and connects data in new ways while ensuring that all credential data within the Registry is secure, accurate, and up-to-date. We have also devised a number of ways to upload data to the Registry, so we can meet an institution where their data systems are.

Expand Institutional Reach through Credentials

Credential Engine also supports an open platform for application development that opens up a world of possibilities for institutions. credential-engine_ce-logo.pngEarly interest in application development range from smoother degree verification to course catalog management, to streamlining assessment, transfer value, and more. Once we can see the credentialing landscape for what it is, and we can easily zoom in on a credential and see what’s inside. Institutions can build applications that will help them be more easily found by students, build better cases to employers looking to hire, and more responsive to departments looking to track trends.

Join In

There are numerous ways to join our Credential Engine work:

  • Publish your credentials to the the Credential Registry for free!,
  • Access the CTDL and CTDL-ASN (also for FREE!),
  • our prototype search application, Credential Finder, will always be free to use.

We already have over 2,000 credentials published to the Registry from over 170 organizations. We’re working with states, sectors, and credentialing bodies to expand the Registry and begin revealing the credential landscape. Together, we know that we can prepare not only higher education for the future, but our students, workers, and economy.

To learn more, please visit www.credentialengine.org.

Carrie Samson
Communications Manager, Credential Engine




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Federal Regulations Groundhog Day

Breaking news! The 2016 Federal regulations for State Authorization of Distance Education have been delayed. Today we are joined by Cheryl Dowd, Director of WCET’s State Authorization Network (SAN), to discuss what we do know about the delay and provide further information. Thank you Cheryl for today’s post!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

– Lindsey Downs, WCET

It’s Like Groundhog Day

The 2016 Federal regulations for State Authorization of Distance Education, initially to be effective July 1, 2018, have been delayed for two years. The Department proposes another round of negotiated rulemaking to amend regulations governing legal authorization of institutions by States and amend regulations for state authorization of distance education.

Bill Murray in the 1993 movie

Bill Murray in the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” (Photo: Columbia Pictures)

Here we go again! Déjà vu!

Does living through the Federal regulation of State Authorization of Distance Education feel like the movie Groundhog Day to all of you? Phil Connors, the hapless weatherman played by Bill Murray, re-lived the same day over and over again! So, I “googled” the movie to see how long Bill Murray was caught in the loop. The movie’s director, Harold Ramis, said that Bill Murray’s character was trapped for 10 years! We are all Bill Murray, or if you are a fan of the Broadway musical version, like me, we are Andy Karl.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Our story begins about nine years ago. The Department of Education gathers committees of experts to negotiate details of specific regulations. As the result of a “negotiated rulemaking” panel working on new rules related to the administration of title IV funds, the Department of Education released new rules back in June 2010, which included a proposed Federal Regulation for state authorization for institutions being approved by their home states. BUT, the proposed regulation did not contain the language for state authorization of distance education. The additional language (600.9(c)), regarding distance education, was released in the final regulation in October 2010. The result was many institutions found that they must scramble to be in compliance with various states’ laws and regulations for the out-of-state activities of their institutions. States became more aware of their role in oversight of activities of out-of -state institutions that occur in their states. The story goes on…

History of State Authorization

  • 1791 –States have the authority to regulate educational activities in their states. (The U.S. Constitution; Amendment X)
  • 2009 – A negotiated rulemaking committee considered specific mention of distance education in state authorization regulations but did not include it.
  • June 2010 – The Department released the 2010 Proposed Federal regulations for State Authorization for public comment, minus the language about distance education.
  • October 2010 – Final 2010 Federal regulations for State Authorization released, including language about distance education).
  • 2011 – Several Dear Colleague Letters to clarify and help implementation.
  • 2011 – The WCET/State Authorization Network (SAN) was created.
  • 2011 – The U.S. District Court struck down the distance education portion of the regulation on procedural grounds (reason: the public was not able to comment period since the distance education language was not included in the June 2010 proposed regulation.
  • 2012 – The U.S. Court of Appeals upholds the District Court’s ruling to vacate the distance education portion of the regulation. As a result, there is no enforceable Federal Regulation!
  • 2014 – The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) welcomes its first state, Indiana.
  • 2014 – A negotiated rulemaking committee did not come to consensus for a Federal regulation for State Authorization of Distance Education.
  • 2016 – The Department released proposed Federal regulations for State Authorization of Distance Education in July for comment.
  • 2016 – The Department released the Final 2016 Federal regulations for State Authorization of Postsecondary Distance Education, Foreign Locations in December. Effective date: July 1, 2018.
  • 2017 – The new Administration includes state authorization as a target of deregulation.
  • 2018 – The May announcement of a two-year delay of regulation enforcement and a proposed plan for a negotiated rulemaking committee to amend the Federal regulations.

What about 2019-2020?? – What will we see? Negotiated Rulemaking? Consensus?Lines with arrows on each end showing a never ending loop No Consensus? A new regulation? Do you have a scorecard? Can we break out of the loop?

We are awaiting an announcement from the Department, which may provide more details about the delay and proposed negotiated rulemaking.  However, the May 9, 2018, announcement from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) made the intention of the Department clear.

So, What Does This Actually Mean?

It means that although institutions are legally obligated to be compliant with the state’s laws and regulations for the out-of-state activities of the institution, the effective date of tying that state regulatory obligation to compliance with a federal regulation to participate in title IV HEA programs, has been delayed.

We cannot stress enough that the institution is still under a regulatory obligation to the states in which the institution enrolls students, offers services, or participates in activities. The compliance obligation may be met by individual state compliance or through participation in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) for SARA participating institutions, as provided in the SARA Manual.

What Do Institutions Need to Do Now?

  1. Know where your institution participates in out-of-state activities (online courses, experiential learning, marketing, recruiting, out-of-state faculty teaching online, face to face classes, brick and mortar locations, servers, etc.).
  2. Be compliant with the state laws and regulations of the states where the activities occur.
    • SARA participation provides uniform compliance for SARA participating institutions for many out-of-state activities in SARA participating states.
    • Activities outside of SARA or activities by institutions not participating in SARA may require compliance through the individual states.
  3. SARA participating institutions must follow the requirements acknowledged in the initial SARA application, renewal application, and SARA manual. (the alternative is individual state applications, fees, reporting, and renewals to obtain individual state compliance).
  4. For courses and programs leading to professional licensure, notify current and prospective students whether the course or program meets licensure board prerequisites in the state where the student is participating in the course or program.
    • Federal Regulations for Misrepresentation: 34 CFR 668.71 and 34 CR 668.72.
    • SARA notification requirements: SARA Manual Section 5.2.
    • Liability mitigation/avoidance to the institution.
    • Moral obligation to the student by the institution.
  5. Stay tuned to WCET and SAN for the latest information about the next steps in rule making by the Department!

quote: the foundation of regulatory compliance for out-of-state activities of the institution is the state.Being stuck in the Federal regulation loop, about whether title IV funds will or will not be tied to state authorization for out-of-state activities of the institution, is a challenge to explain at our institutions. However, we do have a message to share with our institutional leaderships: the foundation of regulatory compliance for out-of-state activities of the institution is the state. Breaking the federal loop is irrelevant to that message. The institutions cannot choose whether they wish to follow the laws and regulations of the state where the institution participates in activity. Institutions must be compliant in the states where their activities occur. So, the message is simple. Keep focused on state compliance including state licensure boards for the courses and programs offered out of state.

Meanwhile, unlike Bill Murray being caught in a continuous loop of 6 more weeks of winter, we are heading into summer and we will wait for the Department to give us our next dose of déjà vu!

– Cheryl Dowd, WCET

Cheryl Dowd


Cheryl Dowd
Director,State Authorization Network, WCET




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Shifting Campus Culture through Mentoring

Today’s post is an important example of how a campus culture can impact student success. WCET is happy to share this post from Sarah Torres Lugo, Research Assistant with NCHEMS and the Foundation for Student Success. Sarah is here to discuss a Foundation for Student Success project which connects model (mentor) institutions with other institutions (who become mentees) which may require a campus cultural shift to impact equity and equality of education for their campus. The group is excited to share what they’ve learned from these mentor/mentee relationships.

Thank you, Sarah, for writing this great post for us today. We’re looking forward to following this project in the future!

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

What are the key levers for shifting campus cultures to eliminate the equity gap in postsecondary education? Can this culture shift result in an increase in overall student success? Through our continuing partnership with our mentor and mentee institutions, we at the Foundation for Student Success are working towards identifying and sharing critical elements of effective student success movements.

Foundation for Student Success Mentoring Project

Founded in 2016, the Foundation for Student Success (FSS), housed at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) in Colorado, launched its first project in the Fall of 2016. The project began by identifying a small group of community colleges and public universities whose student success rates were higher than their input variables, such as Pell eligibility and high school grades of their students, predicted. The leaders at these institutions were interviewed and seven institutions were selected as mentors. Mentor leads were then identified by each mentor campus. FSS mentors include three Provosts, two Vice Presidents for Student Affairs, a Dean of Student Success, a Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, an Executive Director of Academic Success and Equity Initiatives, a Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs and Services, an Assistant Provost, and a Dean of Student Development. The selected institutions have at least 25 percent American Indian, Black, and/or Latino students. The mentor institutions were then matched with three demographically similar mentee institutions—we refer to the group of one mentor institution and three mentee institutions as a pod. The mentee institutions are in very different places on their journey to cultivate the campus culture that best supports student success and this variation reflects campus realities across the nation.

The following map indicates the geographic distribution of the mentors (darker shade) and mentees (lighter shade).

United States map indicates the geographic distribution of the mentors and mentees. Mentor states: RI, NC, FL, TX, CA. Mentee states: WA, NV, UT, AZ, NM, CO, OK, IL, MI, OH, KY, GA, VA, HY, MA

Once we matched mentor and mentee institutions, each of the seven mentors invited teams from their three mentee institutions to the mentor institution campus. The leads at each of the seven mentor institutions were in charge of creating the agenda and arranging the meeting so that the mentee teams would have an opportunity to hear from and speak with those that have been most involved in the mentor institution’s efforts to improve the way they serve students. All mentor campus visits took place between March 22, 2017 and April 28, 2017.

Sharing What We’re Learning

We have since facilitated and tracked interactions among the pods of institutions as they work together to reach their self-defined goals towards changing the culture of their campuses in order to reduce equity gaps and increase overall student success. As a means to share lessons from mentor and mentee campuses, FSS is featuring the 2018 webinar series titled “Engaging in Tough Conversations Toward Equitable Student Success”. The series kicked off with a webinar about the realities of student demographics shifts. black graduation capTwo mentor and two mentee institutions shared their institutions’ journeys toward an understanding of the shifting student demographics on their own campuses, why these shifts matter, what steps they have taken and are planning to take in pursuit of equitable educational outcomes for their students, and what strategies have and have not worked. While institutions participating in the FSS project are learning from one another, we are also learning a tremendous amount. One of the aspects we are learning about and are codifying is the critical role data plays in cultivating a campus culture that promotes equitable educational outcomes.

San Jacinto College

During the “Shifting Student Demographics Matter— How to Start the Campus-Wide Conversation” webinar, we heard from Van Wigginton, San Jacinto College Provost, and Shelley Rinehart, Dean of Student Development at San Jacinto’s Central Campus, about the transformative change their institution experienced when the institution’s focus on enrollment data was shifted to a commitment to student success and completion that involved every employee. That change in focus necessitated the disaggregation of data and has brought the institution into the space of using predictive analytics to identify and eliminate barriers to student success. Without doubt, underlying this shift in focus and commitment is the recognition that there is a shared responsibility for student success between students and all institutional actors.

Community College of Aurora

We heard Quill Phillips, Special Assistant to the President for Inclusive Excellence at the Community College of Aurora (CAA), describe CCA’s work towards shifting the campus culture using an inclusive excellence framework and equity mindset. Quill spoke about the fascinating 2013 journey they embarked on with the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California. CCA’s math department piloted the Equity in Excellence action research process during which the math department looked at their student success data disaggregated by race/ethnicity and gender. This process enabled the math department to identify disparities, raise awareness of achievement gaps, and motivate individuals and units to seek strategies and change practices in order to better serve their students. Core to the process is the idea that the solution to the problem “lies within the institution—in its culture and in the beliefs and values that influence the expectations and practices of individuals” (Massey et al. 2005, p.40). We have similarly heard from all of our mentors, repeatedly, that there is no silver bullet or secret sauce behind the reduction of equity gaps.

CCA demonstrates an understanding that not a single change in practice or tool will bring about the desired outcomes with their efforts in creating a sustainable structure supported by various intentional steps they have taken. Such steps include intensifying the Center for Urban Education work through the Equity in Instruction Leadership Academy. Through the cohort-based academy, full-time faculty are taken through the entire Center for Urban Education protocol which includes delving into the data of their own course with the largest performance gaps and then looking into areas where improvements can be made such as the syllabus and the instructor’s implicit biases that may impede a student’s learning process. Given the positive results that CCA has had with the Equity in Instruction Leadership Academy and the common exclusion of adjunct faculty in professional development programs, it is encouraging to hear that CCA will be extending participation to adjunct instructors next semester.

University of South Florida

Paul Dosal, University of South Florida’s (USF) Vice President for Student Affairs and Student Success, shared the story of their student success path that took off in 2009. To address the student success challenges that USF faced, the Student Success Task Force was launched. This task force was intentionally composed of 100 individuals representing all units in order to ensure university-wide contributions to the student success movement. This task force was divided into eight core groups and in 2010 the task force produced a lengthy set of actionable and prioritized set of recommendations that have served as a blueprint for USF’s student success movement. One of the three fundamental reforms proposed was building USF’s research capacity to support student success initiatives. In expanding USF’s research capacity, USF identified a need for a guiding body to use data and determine/implement needed policy and process changes. As a result, USF formed the Persistence Committee to focus attention on the performance of all students. USF uses predictive analytics to identify struggling students and those who could benefit from correctly timed interventions. The committee is comprised of approximately two dozen staff from across the institution that work together to adjust practices in order to eliminate barriers to student success, which are identified through USF’s continuously improved, and truly remarkable, analytics-driven case management system.

Southern Connecticut State University

Southern Connecticut State University’s (SCSU) Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management discussed SCSU’s collection of data through focus groups with students, faculty, and other stakeholder groups as well as through the President’s Commission on Social Justice Survey to broaden their work to include more intentional strategies to improve campus culture and to prepare for the continuing changes in student demographics. Some of the insights from the data gathering process were surprising to some and served as the impetus for developing intentional strategies to address well-established cultural norms that are not reflective of SCSU’s commitment to social justice. Efforts for expanding access and usage of student success data across campus are underway and data are being used to foster strategic partnerships with high school and community college partners. SCSU will be hosting a Regional Summit in the Fall of 2018, where they will bring together high school partners, community college partners, school districts, government officials, business leaders, community leaders, Department of Labor representatives, and experts on racial issues to develop an action strategy plan to support more students of color in the community that aspire to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Foudnation for Student Success logo (a hand outstretched, palm up, holding the letters FSS)Underlying this convening is an understanding that the degree attainment agenda is a joint imperative to ensure the vitality of their citizens and their economy. The use of credible data will certainly help create the impetus needed to develop the action strategy plan.

The Future

NCHEMS staff will continue to facilitate and track interactions among the pods of institutions as they work together to reach their self-defined goals towards reducing equity gaps on their campus. We will continue to share lessons being learned through three more webinars, summaries of interviews with mentee institution leaders, and white papers.

Learn more about FSS and check out our Mentor Case Studies, information about the webinar series, a video recording of the webinar discussed above, a link to register for the May 23, 2018 “Who Owns Student Success on Your Campus?” webinar, and more.

author headshot
Sarah Torres Lugo
Research Assistant,
Foundation for Student Success




Bauman, G.L., Tomas Bustillos, L., Bensimon, E.M., Brown, M.C., & Bartee, R.D. (2005).       Achieving Equitable Educational Outcomes with All Students: The Institution’s Roles and Responsibilities. Association of American Colleges and Universities. https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/mei/bauman_et_al.pdf

Sandoval-Lucero, E., White, T. D., Haynes, D. E., Phillips, Q., Brame, J. D., & Sturtevant James, K. A., (2017). Engaging inclusive excellence: Creating a college with an equity mindset. In L. Leavitt, S. Wisdom, & K. Leavitt (Eds.), Cultural Awareness and Competency Development in Higher Education, (pp. 40-60). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.



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Rio Salado: Innovation Pushes the Boundaries of Tradition

Today here on WCET Frontiers we are happy to welcome Stacey VanderHeiden Güney, the Director of the Digital Learning Solution Network. Stacey is here to discuss a recent study on higher education institutions implementing digital learning and follow-up conversations regarding one of the institutions included in the study. 

Thank you to Stacey for today’s post and a special thanks to the representatives from Rio Salado College, who held a wonderful conversation with us in preparation for this post.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

– Lindsey Downs, WCET

Recently, Rio Salado College was one of six institutions who participated in a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded study entitled “Making Digital Learning Work: Success Strategies from Six Leading Universities and Community Colleges.” The study “identified an initial list of approximately 50 candidate institutions cited as exemplars in the implementation of digital learning” (Please note this is the only place in the report where the word exemplar is used). There were some additional criteria in terms of size, scale, target population, and graduation rates. Rio Salado College (Rio) was chosen because of its unique model of serving its students.

A recent article in the e-Literate blog questions Rio’s track record in terms of aggregate academic student outcomes and how “appropriate it is to include them as an exemplar in such a case study-based report.” It went on to conclude that “at best, this is a school with mixed results that should not simply be labeled a success without caveats or explanations” and “whether it is appropriate to hold up a school with some of the lowest student outcomes measures in the country as an exemplar.”

Innovation is sometimes difficult to measure by traditional standards. In the case of Rio, the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System’s (IPEDS) Graduation Rate data represent only 0.4% of the college’s fall semester student population. With that in mind, we wanted to take the opportunity to speak with members of Rio Salado College, so they could provide some context. As Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story” may be useful to the larger populace in understanding the unique and innovative model that Rio has created.

With the exception of this introduction and the Summary section, the following sections are responses to questions in an interview with Rio personnel as well as information that was provided to me via email. Participating in the interview were:

  • Angela Felix, Faculty Chair for Languages, Faculty Senate President.
  • Janelle Elias, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Innovation.
  • Zach Lewis, Analyst in Office of Institutional Research.
  • Kate Smith, Vice President of Academic Affairs.

WCET is pleased to give Rio Salado College this forum to explain their model and their outcomes.

What makes Rio unique? (What does Rio do and how do they do it?)

Our mission

Part of the uniqueness stems from the origin of the college. We were created to be the college without walls to bring education to both the underserved and the unserved. The history of Rio is pushing the boundaries of traditional education and traditional metrics. It’s incumbent upon Rio to be ready to answer scrutiny because it’s a different model.

Rio was built to reach populations that not all institutions can reach. We work hard to make education accessible to all students: adults, military, incarcerated, high school, business, international, and more. We’ve grown throughout the years; we started with providing education in storefronts in Arizona to being an early provider of online. We have developed unique systems for how we deliver education to meet student needs.

Our master course model

We use a “one course, many sections” model that allows us to have quality assurance and provides us with data to inform what we do to better educate our students. Content experts work to provide standardized coursework with depth and focus on student learning and engagement as the number one priority. We are able to engage in different ways with students because our models allow for more time to do so.

Our rolling schedule with 48 start dates

A calendar showing various datesA flexible schedule is key to the uniqueness of the school and is a fundamental part of the model. We do not see this type of model in public community college environments. Students enroll in a similar section but can start on over 48 different start dates a year. In a recent focus group (completed by a consultant), students said because of the one-on-one focus from instructors, they feel connected, not isolated, despite the different start dates.

Our proprietary LMS

We also have our own proprietary Learning Management System (LMS). Many faculty, who were previously face-to-face teachers (and skeptical of teaching online), felt more connection to their students in this model (even when compared to their face-to-face experiences). There are personalized options for calendaring and personalized outreach.

Describe the students that Rio serves

Rio tends to serve non-traditional student populations. Students served by the unique role of Rio Salado College include active military, veterans and their families, adult re-entry students, high school students, incarcerated re-entry students, international students, lifelong learners, transfer students, university students needing additional coursework, and business, community and government partners. The median age is 29. Rio is successful at serving a traditionally underserved or UNSERVED population of students.

With that in mind, do you think that traditional metrics (such as retention and graduation rates) are the best measures of success?

Rio values traditional metrics. These hold us accountable and are used across the industry. We use those metrics to reflect on how Rio compares to others in education. The issue is not with the metric themselves, but the populations that are included in the methodologies. Specifically, with IPEDS, the cohort is so restrictive, and our student population is so diverse, that it does not capture a representative sample of students. The students included in the IPEDS metric make up less than 1% of our student population. Highlighting this lack of representation, only 113 students (0.4%) of the fall semester student population are measured by the IPEDS Graduation Rate metric. As such, normal fluctuations of even a few students can have a seemingly large impact on our IPEDS Graduation Rate percentage. Figure 1 presents a breakdown of the student populations served by Rio Salado.

Student population served vs. student population measured by IPEDS. Total unduplicated headcount 52,881, Unduplicated headcount (credit-seeking) 46,497, Part-time 41,339, Program-seeking 11,266, Full-time 5,158, IPEDs cohort measured 113Specifically, IPEDS data are not reflective of Rio Salado College’s flexible schedule. When IPEDS data are captured on the 45th day of the fall semester, many Rio Salado students have not yet enrolled because the institution starts new courses nearly every Monday and fall enrollment continues with start dates through the first week in December. A more accurate count of students actually enrolled for the fall semester would be accomplished by capturing enrollment data from the August through December start dates. IPEDS does not allow for this rolling calendar to be factored into its calculation. This single nuance in the institution’s calendar makes it difficult for Rio Salado College to identify peer institutions for benchmarking purposes.

The broadened IPEDS cohorts (including first-time full-time, first-time part-time, non-first time full-time and non-first-time part-time) are more inclusive of Rio Salado College’s student population. However, because the data collection is based on the fall census date (45th day snapshot), the metric still only represents about 43% of the college’s student population.

Rio is passionate about this known discrepancy between what IPEDS measures, who Rio serves, and how they serve students with a flexible curriculum model and therefore work to measure student intention to determine how well they are meeting their mission.

We are heavily engaged in how to understand our student’s intention very clearly, so we can have targeted support to help them meet their specific needs. Success means something very different to each student, based on their intent. For example, we have many students who are at a local university and register at Rio to only take two courses from us. We need to know what they want to do and then have a metric that allows us to assess if they were successful. Helping these students be successful allows Rio to be a very important support for our community.

In FY 2016-17, 76% of students enrolled at the institution self-reported an intention other than to complete an associate degree or certificate. Furthermore, 23% of non-degree seeking students at the institution reported themselves to be high school students enrolled in a dual enrollment program while 33% (11,628) indicated earning transferable credit as the key reason to enroll at Rio Salado College and 6% of students reported their intention as completing a certificate.

What is Rio’s academic model and how does it differ from other institutions?

Each course is designed by a subject matter expert who meets the rigorous hiring qualifications established by the Higher Learning Commission, Rio Salado College’s accreditation body. Course lesson pages integrate reading assignments, carefully curated multimedia resources, and often interactive assignments. In other words, the lesson pages are designed to be both standardized and yet also interactive, providing a substantive learning experience for the student.

All teaching faculty are hired with the primary purpose of facilitating student learning and student engagement. Because of the “one course, many sections” model, primary content and assessments have already been developed that enable the faculty to focus on supporting the learning needs of each individual student and providing content expertise to expand the learning opportunities and engagement The faculty member assigned to teach a particular section is responsible for creating content for the “From Your Instructor” to further expand upon and deepen the lesson content by either offering helpful tips or insights, asking thought-provoking questions, posting discipline-specific current events, or providing additional resources.

Faculty are to provide timely, substantive feedback on all assignments. Students are required to submit weekly assignments. Faculty feedback must be given within 48 hours of submission and must identify areas of strength and weakness in order to help guide the student to further learning. This feedback is provided in the form of annotated grading or summary feedback on each assignment, and rubric dimensions are to receive specific mention. Our learning management system provides automated alerts, calling the faculty member’s attention to students who are late with assignments or who have been inactive in the course for a prolonged period, so that the faculty can conduct targeted outreach and offer assistance to the student. Departments also require weekly roster management, a procedure by which faculty review each student’s progress and reaches out to students who are struggling.

The implementation of our asynchronous, “one course, many sections” model not only results in faculty supporting each individual student along his or her path, but also allows the institution to assess student learning across all sections of a course and implement instructional interventions at scale. This approach allows us to align content with assessment to ensure students achieve course competency and program goals. At a program/college level, we can tag assessments at interdisciplinary levels to see how students are performing at college wide learning outcomes. That’s very unique. We can see how students are performing on a wide variety of skills across the entire college. We can compare “apples to apples” because the assessment is the same across all sections. We recently received the excellence in assessment award from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.

Rio also has the ability to drill down and capture performance metrics across disaggregated student populations in pursuit of closing identified achievement gaps. The online learning space—or indeed, any other learning space—requires continuous review and scrutiny of one’s practices to increase student learning. Rio’s commitment to relentless improvement reflects our awareness of the dynamic nature of education.

The student-to-student interaction varies based on the discipline. In English, students complete peer-to-peer editing. In other courses they have group projects. In some courses, students converse using video conferencing. It may not always be synchronous – it could be a recording that another student responds to. There is not always a discussion board; they use a variety of methods which are discipline-specific to the content area. In a recent focus group, students felt discussion boards were not necessary helpful in courses. Rather, we focus on the tools necessarily to effect learning. Some students may use discussion boards effectively, but other classes may need a different tool (discipline specific, driven by learning outcomes). We try to tailor the tools we use to our students.

What are outcomes for your students?

We are looking at metrics that help us showcase success as it corresponds to our student’s intent. Because IPEDS is so unrepresentative, Rio Salado College favors the Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) published by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). It provides the college with the best tool for benchmarking to peer institutions, even if those institutions are not online and do not follow a rolling calendar. The benchmarking cohort for Rio Salado College includes 210 community colleges (noted as “peer institutions” below) that participate in the VFA across the country. Through the VFA metrics (2016 outcomes of 2014 cohort), Rio Salado College has learned:

  • Course CompletionRio Info Graphic
    • 1st semester course success rate is higher than peer institutions: Rio 94%; Peer Institutions 84% (first semester credential seeking population only).
    • After two years, full-time students at Rio complete credits at a higher rate than peer institutions: Rio 79%; Peer Institutions 74%.
  • Degree / Certification Completion
    • The 2-year graduation rate is higher than peer institutions: Rio 13%; Peer Institutions 10%.
    • The credential seeking cohort far outperformed sister institutions in completion: Rio 42%; Peer Institutions 16%.
  • Helping Underserved Populations
    • Rio helps more developmental education students (not college ready) complete college or degrees in two years than its peer institutions: Rio 11%; Peer Institutions 7%.
    • Rio students in the following demographic groups complete certificate or degrees at the two year mark at a higher rate than at peer institutions (all stats are higher and greater variance when looking at the credential seeking cohort only):
      • American Indian/Alaskan students: Rio 15%; Peer Institutions 7%.
      • Black students: Rio 11%; Peer Institutions 6%.
      • Hispanic students: Rio 20%; Peer Institutions 8%.
      • White students: Rio 12%; Peer Institutions 12%.
    • While eliminating equity gaps is of utmost importance, it is important to note that two-year transfer rates for minorities tracks well above peer institutions:
      • American Indian/Alaskan students: Rio 25.4%; Peer Institutions 12.8%.
      • Black students: Rio 28.0%; Peer Institutions 20.3%.
      • Hispanic students: Rio 28.1%; Peer Institutions 13.4%.
      • White students: Rio 32.3%; Peer Institutions 15.3%.

What areas does Rio excel at?

  • Being a certificate granting institution that supports students heading to the workforce (last year awarded 3,620 certificates). Rio helps students achieve a career, while they are working, etc.
  • Rio has a robust model with our business partnerships, supporting employers with education, training, and professional development.
  • Rio has increasing numbers of high school students who are participating in dual enrollment (over 7000 students!). This year, 103 high school students will participate in commencement at Rio, before they have graduated high school!
  • Transfer rates are quite high.
  • Students are doing quite well after their transfer, particularly to Arizona State University.

What areas remain opportunities for growth?

  • Capturing the intention and measuring intention to completion for students. This is already in our strategic planning work.
  • Continue the equity and assessment work.
  • Help community colleges tell their stories. Showcase value of community colleges, especially at the federal level.
  • Guided pathways work – particularly for part-time students. We need to know student’s plan when they first start, so we can tailor their academic and student affairs experiences to ensure we are providing the resources students need throughout their educational journey.
  • Explore emerging technologies. For example, using virtual reality glasses and how that can impact learning.


In summary, Rio Salado serves a diverse and non-traditional student population, while delivering exceptional educational experiences via distance education, as well as other innovative instructional modalities. Although these factors would traditionally contribute to lower success measures at other institutions, Rio’s outcomes are on par with or better than its peers while delivering instruction at a lower cost per student.

Rio Salado College continues its work to demonstrate a commitment to persistence and completion, and the college welcomes others to reach out and learn more about its mission, its students, its challenges, and its solutions. We at the Digital Learning Solution Network and WCET encourage other institutions to push beyond the constraints of traditional outcomes and explore innovative ways to serve their students.

WCET is pleased to be the Backbone Organization supporting the Digital Learning Solution Network (DLSN). The DLSN was created to design a network-centric approach to strengthen digital learning in postsecondary institutions with a particular focus on improved outcomes for vulnerable populations (it is funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). The DLSN seeks to foster discussions around innovation.



Stacey VanderHeiden Güney
Director, Digital Learning Solution Network



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Opening a New Path to Success – A Journey with Open Textbooks

Z Degrees (Zero-Textbook Cost Degrees) are what many consider the holy grail of Open Educational Resources (OER) accomplishments. Today’s guest blogger, Tanya Grosz, Ph. D., Dean of Graduate, Online & Adult Learning, led the open initiative at the University of Northwestern St. Paul—the first institution in Minnesota to create a Z Degree. Tanya and I met at an Open Textbook Network meeting in 2014, and we were happy to discover our similarities—English faculty, online learning geeks, interested in student achievement, and we have the same first name! I’m so proud of her leadership and success. Read all about Dr. Grosz’s journey from adopting her first open textbook to achieving a Z Degree through the implementation of more than 50 open textbook adoptions. Thank you Tanya for today’s post!

-Tanya Spilovoy, Director of Open Policy, WCET

It Started with a Question

Question mark drawn on a chalkboardBack in 2011, as a keynote speaker for the MN eLearning Summit, Dr. Cable Green, Director of Open Education at Creative Commons (the legal licensing behind open educational resources), asked a question that stopped me in my tracks: “How are your students supposed to learn with books they can’t afford and are not buying?” As a long-time English teacher who was frequently frustrated about needing to buy yet another updated edition of a pricey literature anthology that had undergone only minor changes, the question resonated deeply with me. Green went on to offer a different way forward: learning resources licensed with a Creative Commons license, which enables them to be reused, revised, remixed, redistributed, and retained (The “Five R’s of Open” according to Lumen Learning’s David Wiley).

Shortly after hearing Green’s compelling question, I was introduced to Dr. David Ernst, the founder of the Open Textbook Network, the Open Textbook Library, and the Chief Information Officer for the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He said he was on a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to promote the adoption of open textbooks through facilitated faculty workshops. When I asked if he would come to the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, a faith-based liberal arts university not far from where Ernst worked, he agreed. Northwestern soon became one of eight founding members of the Open Textbook Network, an alliance of now over 600 campuses dedicated to promoting access, affordability, and student success through the use of open textbooks.

A Shocking Financial Landscape

The financial landscape for students is fairly shocking: The average student owes approximately $30,000 in student loans. Funding for higher education keeps declining while tuition costs keep rising, and textbook prices have risen four times the rate of inflation. Mark Perry, Finance and Business Economics professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, suggests that college textbook prices have risen over 945% since 1978.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, in her book Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, provides an insightful critique of federal financial aid and the problems inherent with the outdated formula that determines institutional allocations. She demonstrates that the federal needs analysis which governs financial aid eligibility is hopelessly outdated because the financial situations of low-income students and their families are not accurately represented. These students often provide support to their families instead of the other way around. Furthermore, while tuition and fees are labeled “direct educational expenses,” everything else, such as food, rent, gas money, and textbooks, are labeled “indirect” and “noneducational.” Goldrick-Rab suggests that, “Paying tuition allows students to go to class, but they will fail if they have no books, no pencils, no gas money to get to school, and no food in their stomachs.”

The Exciting OER Solution

These and other financial realities were presented to University of Northwestern – St. Paul administration and faculty with one exciting solution: Open Educational Resources (OER). OER include any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. Open textbooks are a specific type of OER—they are textbooks licensed under an open copyright license and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers and members of the public. Many open textbooks are distributed in either print, e-book, or audio formats that may be downloaded or purchased at little or no cost.

The Open Textbook Network (OTN) came to our campus twice and facilitated faculty workshops that provided an overview of the obstacles that high textbook prices present for students and how open textbooks offer a desirable alternative. They offered a $200 stipend for qualified faculty to review an open textbook in the Open Textbook Library. As the dean over online learning and our instructional design team, I was able to allocate instructional design support for faculty interesting in adopting or adapting an open textbook or curating open educational resources. If faculty would adopt OER, our instructional designers would support them from a technological standpoint, freeing the faculty member to be the Subject Matter Expert (SME) and not have to worry about the technology behind adopting or adapting. When a fellow dean and Chemistry professor announced our first open textbook adoption in fall 2015, the class spontaneously applauded after he told them there would be zero textbook costs for their Chemistry book that semester.

Northwestern’s Three-Pronged Approach

Northwestern’s open initiative wasn’t centered around open textbooks only. We developed a three-pronged strategy; first, we had to raise awareness about student debt and the current financial realities. Second, we wanted to partner well with our rock-star librarians to ensure that we were fully utilizing already-purchased library materials when designing and revising courses. Finally, we wanted faculty to be adopting (and adapting) open textbooks. The three-pronged approach made our open initiative more inclusive, and as a result, it gained traction fairly quickly. The support of our instructional design team, I later found out, is fairly unique. I believe it’s one of the reasons that our open initiative has been so successful; faculty members are more likely to adopt and adapt open textbooks when they have the technology support to do so. Also, as the instructional design team grew in their knowledge of OER and where to find them and I garnered valuable resources from the Open Textbook Network, we began reaching out more strategically and proactively to professors about available open textbooks when a course was due to be revised, new courses were being written, or when particularly interesting open textbooks became available.

In direct response to our growing open textbook initiative, our online course launch meetings evolved. When facilitating new course development, we now have the SME (professor), an instructional designer, and a librarian present to ensure that we are choosing the best possible resources for the course. “Our faculty are finding that open textbooks truly are removing barriers to learning…Our faculty are finding that open textbooks truly are removing barriers to learning, and they love the fact that the open textbook is available to students immediately students don’t have to wait for their paycheck or for financial aid to hit their accounts to access their texts. Our Online Learning Office (which houses our awesome instructional design team) has become the “home” of our open initiative, and they are building a web presence to support open adoptions.

Adding the Student Voice

We knew that we were lacking student voices within our open initiative. Taking a cue from the Open Textbook Network, we created a video of our students talking about how high textbook prices had impacted them, and then panned to the Chemistry students talking about what they thought of their open Chemistry book. This spring, we added a video of faculty who have adopted open textbooks speaking about their perceptions of quality and student impact. Having students and faculty speak about open textbooks themselves is powerful, and it’s helpful to keep reminding our community about our open initiative. About the same time, the Student PIRGS came out with a compelling report about rising textbook costs, how those costs are negatively impacting students, and how open textbooks provide a solution in Covering the Cost: Why We Can No Longer Afford to Ignore High Textbook Prices, that I shared widely across our campus.

Minnesota’s Z Degree

Our Zero-cost Textbook Degree or Z degree, the first Z degree in Minnesota, arose quite naturally out of our growing open initiative; we learned about Tidewater Community College’s Z degree and asked, “Why couldn’t we create a Z degree?” We chose our adult undergraduate Business Management degree, had a supportive program manager collaborate with our SMEs and instructional designers, and then worked one by one through the core courses in the program to ensure there were high-quality OER available that met the objectives of each course, and when there weren’t, we looked to our library for resource support. Our open initiative has made the course design process more iterative, and I love the fact that our designers can help our professors “chunk out” resources throughout the course, placing digital chapters where they will be read within the course. The idea of openness has permeated our thinking about new projects; sharing has become our new normal. President of University of Northwestern – St. Paul Dr. Alan Cureton says, “Through the open textbook initiative, Dr. Grosz and her team have introduced an exciting innovation that benefits our students by making education more accessible and affordable. I’m proud of our Z degree, our many open textbook adoptions, and our faculty for embracing this significant educational movement toward openness.”

Concerns Surrounding Open Initiatives

Everything wasn’t always smooth sailing; certainly, there were skeptics. The two biggest concerns voiced by faculty were 1) the quality of open textbooks and 2) the curtailing of academic freedom.

The Open Textbook Network is clear in their coaching that it’s not my job to speak to the quality of open textbooks. Instead, I leave that to SMEs who review the open textbooks. I pointed skeptical faculty to the Open Textbook Library to review quality for themselves and shared a compelling study that demonstrates students in more than half of the courses using open textbooks did better according to at least one academic measure, and students in 93% of these courses did at least as well by all of the measures. Studies measuring the academic impact of open resources are proliferating, and they all point to the fact that students do the same or better as their peers using traditional textbooks.Photo of group at open textbook adoption celebration

Regarding academic freedom, I was able to speak as a faculty member and long-time teacher myself: I found it incredibly empowering that open textbooks allow me to actually augment and adapt content, thereby introducing a continuous improvement loop that certainly does not exist with traditional textbooks. In addition, it is ultimately the faculty member and academic department’s decision as to what course materials are chosen. Open textbooks provide faculty another choice, so as opposed to limiting academic freedom, I argue that they expand and augment it. However, just like any other disruptive innovation, I have welcomed the faculty who are eager to embrace open textbooks and then encouraged them to become champions of open, celebrating victories such as our 50th open textbook adoption during Open Education Week.

In addition to ensuring that I listened well to faculty concerns, I faced a campus bookstore that was understandably skeptical of the open textbook initiative, concerned about the potential loss of revenue. In retrospect, I wish that I had partnered with the bookstore prior to making any faculty presentations to help ensure understanding and support early on. David Wiley writes that campus bookstores actually don’t make very much on textbook sales, suggesting that they consider adding print-on-demand centers. At one OTN Summit, someone suggested open proponents invite their campus bookstore to the Textbook Affordability Conference. On some campuses, bookstores have partnered effectively with open proponents, and that remains my hope as well. Regular communication and sharing of positive student impact should help us make progress towards achieving that end. Regarding impact, since 2015, our open initiative has saved students $275,000, and if we maintain our current course of average adoptions per semester, we will have saved students approximately $742,000 through 2023. Total student savings in graph form. Savings ranged from 20,000 in Fall 2015 to 275K by Spring 2018.

Sharing Success

The impact has been far more than just financial, however; I found that I had opportunities to talk about open textbooks and our success openly, such as on a local television morning show, at various presentations to local university libraries, through presentations with Dave Ernst at EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s Annual Meeting and the Higher Learning Commission Annual Conference, among others. I embraced and continue to say yes to these opportunities, not because they are in my job description or because I have time on my hands, but because I believe that open is a social justice issue. According to Jhangiani and DeRosa, “When faculty use OER, we aren’t just saving a student money on textbooks: we are directly impacting that student’s ability to enroll in, persist through, and successfully complete a course.” And my interest in open has blossomed into an interest in the myriad other obstacles facing college students, from childcare costs to food insecurity. As educators, we want to make a difference, and OER have provided me an opportunity to do just that—to tell other professors, librarians, and administrators that open increases access to learning. According to Dave Ernst, creator of the Open Textbook Network, “The University of Northwestern St. Paul’s open textbook program is a great example of the impact an institution can make when they are persistent, strategic, and supportive of their faculty.”

Here’s to The Future

Where we go from here is an interesting question. Certainly, we want more Z degrees. And I’m planning to co-fund the writing and publication of our first open textbook with our library during the 2018-2019 academic year. But even more compelling, I believe, is the idea of moving toward open pedagogy so that our students can be empowered as participants in the construction of knowledge along with their professors. Becoming open content producers and curators themselves will engage our students even more fully in an active learning environment re-envisioned to be innately more impactful. DeRosa and Robison suggest that, “When we think about OER as something we do rather than something we find/adopt/acquire, we begin to tap their full potential for learning.” Slowly but surely, we are embracing an educational future that reduces barriers and increases access to learners; with OER, we are opening up new pathways to success.

author headshot tanya g
Tanya Grosz
Dean, College of Graduate, Online & Adult Learning
Assistant Professor of English
University of Northwestern St. Paul



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