Confessions of a Student at a Conference for Faculty and Administrators

My name is Emma. I am 25 years old and I am a part time student who is also working full time.

I have been familiar with WCET for quite sometime, however, it was not until recently that my interests aligned with their work. As I have pursued my education I have become interested in higher education policy, data management, and data analysis. Very few students understand the many layers that make up higher education as we know it today, and I hope that more students will have a chance to get involved in the future. As a student, I have been asked to share some of my first experiences while attending WCET conferences and interacting with people from across the higher education community.

I Wanted to Know More about Student Centric Models

I think it is important to understand what compelled me to attend the WCET Summit in Salt Lake City, UT earlier this year. I currently attend the community college here in Salt Lake City, Utah. I also work full time at Western Governors University.

I wanted to work at WGU to gain more insight into their student centric model and their competency based education system. Several people sitting around a table working on a data project. Poster on table reads "DATA" and is surrounded by various charts, graphs. I specifically wanted to learn how they were able to support all their students in a personal, more holistic manner.

The short answer is data. Lots of data.

I was already aware of WCET summits and their annual meetings but my position at WGU helped me understand the impact that WCET has in technology-enhanced learning in higher education. While I was doing my own bit of reading and asking around about data analysis at WGU and at my community college, I was made aware that WCET was holding their Leadership Summit in a few months: Essential Institutional Capacities to Lead Innovation. I knew that WCET would have people from other institutions speaking and that would provide more of the perspective I was hoping to gain. I actually put in my paid time off to attend within minutes of seeing the summit schedule.

Much to Learn About Institutions and Its Data

I was sitting in the session on “Making Your Data Analytics Actionable,” and scribbling away in my notebook. Mind you, I was not writing things down to recall later, I was trying to organize my thoughts. I understood bits and pieces of the conversation, but I had to remember that I was learning from the faculty perspective of student data, not the student perspective.

As a student, there I was sitting in a session about student data and realizing that I did not know exactly what student data is. Despite attending a higher education institution and working at one, I still did not understand – what is the underlying structure? What are the operations and what data do those operations collect? This was disheartening because as a student investing in higher education, shouldn’t I have the tools and knowledge necessary to contribute to a solution?

Who Gets to Use Student Data? And for What Purpose?

During the session, one of the speakers voiced their opinion regarding student data. In short, they were saying that student data should be more easily accessible to faculty and staff. The other speaker voiced their disapproval, and went on to explain that data can be a great tool but it should not be the only measure of success. I agreed. I asked if I could build on his comment. hand holding a graphic of a "ball of data"I explained that while I did not disapprove of faculty accessing my data, I would want assurances that the faculty understood the data and that it was being used for the student benefit above all else.

There was more discussion about “empowering faculty, learning engineers, and designers,” to utilize student data. While I want to be assured that the people collecting and working with my data are doing so in an appropriate manner, I want, as a student, to be empowered to identify innovative solutions with student data. Who better to come up with solutions than the students experiencing those very problems?

Inclusion Is Key

I believe that student data should continue to be used actionably and responsibly by higher education institutions. I know that, overall, student data helps an institution improve and move forward therefore better catering to the student’s needs. All I suggest is inclusion. Although people who work in higher education have been through the higher education system, it is never the same experience twice. Students who are currently in school offer the most relevant perspective. I hope that as you read a bit about my personal journey that you reflect on how far you have all come. As a student, I thank you for all that you do and all your continuous effort.

Emma Tilson Author


Emma Tilson
Student in Salt Lake City, Utah





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3rd Annual SANsational Awards

This year’s Award Season included the recognition of the award winners for the 3rd Annual SANsational Awards.

Today, we’re excited to welcome Cheryl Dowd, Director of the State Authorization Network, to introduce this year’s SANsational Award winners. Congratulations to these institutions and individuals!

Enjoy the read and enjoy the day,

-Lindsey Downs, WCET

The SANsational Awards are relatively new, but the WCET State Authorization Network (SAN) is pleased to share its history, nomination process, and the award-winning solutions created by resourceful SAN institutional staff members.


Created by WCET, the SAN organization was formed to offer its members a network to share resources and provide training and understanding of state and federal regulatory complexities as they relate to institutional compliance for out of state activities of the institution. In 2015, SAN colleagues expressed interest in developing an award to celebrate and acknowledge the innovations of SAN members in creating processes and tools to manage regulatory compliance for out of state activities of their institutions.

sansational-mediumAs we all know, state authorization compliance for out of state activities of an institution is  very complicated.  Institutions must be compliant with each of the state’s regulations where the institution’s activities occur.  These activities include: internships, online courses, marketing, recruiting, online faculty, plus more!  Additionally, an institution must be aware and notify students whether the institution’s professional licensure programs meets professional licensing board requirements in the state where the student is located. Institutions have been very creative in the establishment of processes and procedures.  The SANsational Awards recognizes outstanding efforts by SAN member institutions and organizations in developing a high-quality, comprehensive solution to a challenging state authorization issue.  This award is meant to showcase good practice in state authorization work while encouraging others to strive for continued progress.

Nomination Process

Each year the nomination review committee chooses the categories for which awards will be given.  For each of the last three years, the awards have been given in the following three topic areas:

  1. Location: How do you identify where your students are located?
  2. Institutional Authorization: Notifications and disclosures for institutional state authorization and compliance status.
  3. Licensure Programs: Notifications and disclosures for professional licensure program status in each state.

All SAN members (institutions, organization, or corporations) in good standing are eligible to be nominated for a SANsational Award.  Members may nominate themselves for the award.  The Call for Nominations is open each spring and the nomination review committee reviews the submissions and may grant a maximum of three awards per topic and reserves the right to grant fewer than three awards per topic.  The awards are presented each fall during the WCET Annual Meeting at the SAN Coordinators’ Meeting.  A press release describing the award-winning innovations is presented and shared on the SANsational webpage on the WCET website.  Additionally, the previous years’ winners and press releases are available on the webpage.

Award Winning Solutions

We are thrilled to share the following three 2017 Award Winning Solutions and are grateful for the award winners’ descriptions of their work.

Location:  How do you identify where your students are located?

The Ohio State University

lisa SAN award - Copy

Marianne Boeke, Sharyl Thompson – Chair of the nomination commitee, SANsational Award winner Lisa Siefker

Lisa Siefker
Sr. Program Coordinator
State Authorization Program


Knowing where students are located is the first step in developing a state authorization strategy. “Where are your students?” seems like a simple question.

At a large, decentralized institution, the answer can be complicated. Ohio State is made up of 15 different degree-granting colleges, each with its own unique systems and processes. It became clear that we needed to develop a consistent way to track student location, but we didn’t want to create additional work for staff, or change established processes. As a solution, we partnered with the University Registrar to develop a splash page that is completed by students in the online student service center when they are registering for classes. The splash page pops up while a student is registering, and completion of the location field is required before a student can complete registration for an online course.

Institutional Authorization: Notifications and disclosures for institutional state authorization and compliance status.

University of Missouri – Kansas City
Brandie Elliott
State Authorization Coordinator


While state authorization can be confusing to those in charge of institutional compliance, it is doubly confusing to current and potential students attempting to navigate the waters.

Brandie with MB & Sharyl - Copy

Marianne Boeke, Sharyl Thompson – Chair of the nomination commitee, SANsational Award winner Brandie Elliott

In order to make this aspect of college life less confusing for students, UMKC Online designed its state authorization page to be user-friendly—for anyone who lands on the page.

The one-stop-shop features a clickable map where students can select their home state to see which online degree programs are available. Each listed program is linked to its designated home page featuring more information on the individual program as well contact information should they have questions. Additionally, students may view consumer protection information as well as the NC-SARA status for their home state. If there are stipulations for residents of a certain state, such as Colorado, there is a statement indicating the student or potential student must contact the online advisor for that particular degree program. In order to ensure accuracy on the back-end, there is a behind-the-scenes website for the online degree program coordinators: Confluence. Here, the coordinators can find more information on the various stipulations, updated information including what states and territories UMKC is authorized to provide distance education, any news in the field of state authorization, and various charts requested by the various Schools, including advertising and recruiting information.

Licensure Programs: Notifications and disclosures for professional licensure program status in each state.

The Ohio State University
Lisa Siefker
Sr. Program Coordinator
State Authorization Program


The goal of providing professional licensure board notifications and disclosures is to keep students fully informed of a program’s authorization status and whether the program will lead to a license. At Ohio State, we developed a multi-pronged approach to reach prospective and current students in traditional and online programs. Part of the strategy involves keeping university stakeholders informed of disclosure requirements through consultations, webinars, monthly email updates, and website updates. We also worked with legal counsel to develop clear disclosure language that is included on acceptance letters and program websites. For our online programs in licensure fields, we post licensure board contact information and approval status that is searchable by state and program.

Additional Awards in 2017

Unique in 2017, SAN chose to award three Network Awards of Distinction. These awards were chosen from nominations that did not fit the categories, but were of such high-caliber that the nomination review committee agreed that in the future a broad category may be needed to acknowledge innovations that are beyond what the review committee could perceive in a specifically designated category.  SAN is pleased to share the Network Awards of Distinction 2017 award winners and their work:

Leadership Impact Award

Leslie Weibush, The Ohio State University

Leslie exhibited great creativity, diplomacy, and collaboration at a large decentralized public university to lead a team to create and implement the University Policy for Out-of-State-Education Activities.

Beyond the Call of Duty Award

Ronald Brownie, Northern State University

Kenneth Heard, III, The University of Mississippi Medical Center

Ronald and Kenny displayed innovation, leadership, and teamwork in the creation of the Professional Licensure and Certification Taskforce and Data Base (PLC).

The SANsational Awards and Network Awards of Distinction exemplify the purpose of the WCET State Authorization Network to encourage a community that creates and shares brilliant and collaborative solutions to manage compliance. Certainly, the network is strong with members who are willing to design and share. During a recent SAN exclusive webinar, SAN members had the opportunity to learn the details of these SANsational award winning solutions and ask questions about idea conception through process implementation. You can learn more about joining SAN on the SAN Webpage.

Thank you

A special thank you to the nomination review committee organized by Marianne Boeke of NCHEMS and included:  Jeannie Yockey-Fine of Cooley LLP, Sharyl Thompson of HER Consulting, Brianna Bates formerly of New York University (a 2015 WCET SANsational award winner), and Heather Jaramillo of University of New Mexico (a 2016 WCET SANsational award winner).

Congratulations to our award winners and thank you for your work and contributions to the WCET State Authorization Network (SAN)!



Cheryl Dowd
Cheryl Dowd
WCET State Authorization Network (SAN)





Lisa Siefker is the Program Manager of State Authorization at The Ohio State University. In her current role, she works toward institutional compliance by seeking and maintaining regulatory and professional licensing board approvals nationwide. Lisa earned her Bachelor of Science degree from The Ohio State University prior to earning her Paralegal Certificate from Capital University Law School.

Brandie Elliott began her career in higher education in 2008. She entered the world of state authorization in 2013 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. In her current role as the State Authorization Compliance Officer for UMKC Online, she ensures that UMKC is able to legally operate in and accept students from the various states and U.S. Territories. Brandie received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Journalism from Fort Hays State University. When she’s not scouring the world-wide web for state authorization updates and reading regulations, she can be found practicing her photography skills and traveling.

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House HEA Proposes Changes for Distance Ed, CBE, and State Authorization

In a new bill regarding higher education rules proposed in the House of Representatives:

  • all federal state authorization rules are ended,
  • competency-based education gets a boost with “regular and substantive interaction” being redefined and expanded accreditation oversight,
  • accreditation reviews for distance education are a thing of the past,
  • some confusion remains over distance and online education definitions, and,
  • there would be new tools to inform students about colleges and financial aid.
President Lyndon Johnson signing the Higher Ed act surrounded by several witnesses.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Higher Education Act, November 8, 1965. Image in public domain.

There’s still a long road ahead before the vision would become reality, but all these things are envisioned in the House of Representatives’ sweeping plan for the future of higher education in the United States.

The House’s Committee on Workforce and Education released a first draft of a bill regarding the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The PROSPER (Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform) Act. The Senate will soon release its own version.

While this is just the beginning, we need to pay attention all along the way so that we can have input before it is too late. This is especially true given the increasing tendency towards a lack of Congressional transparency.

Others in the higher education community (ACE, NASFAA, Robert Kelchen’s 3 key takeaways) have commented on the overall impact of the PROSPER Act. I’m focusing on the issues that have the most direct impact on the work of WCET members. The interpretations are my own and I take responsibility for any errors. Enjoy!

Logo with the outline of a tree with leaves and the words:

No More Federal State Authorization for Distance Education

On page 468 of the Act is a section that would repeal and prohibit the enforcement of most federal state authorization regulations. Suggested to be removed are the state authorization regulations that were issued in 2010 and updated last year. The updated parts of the regulations (set to go into effect July 1, 2018) would require institutions serving students in other states via distance education to demonstrate that they had the approval of each state where they serve those students.

Authorization focuses on “Physical Location”

In the PROSPER Act, the expectations are simplified greatly. For institutions, they would be required to:

“…provide evidence to the Secretary that the institution has authority to operate within each State in which it maintains a physical location at the time the institution is certified under subpart 3.”

They seem to be focusing authorization on the institution’s home state and other states in which the institution may have a “physical location.” Unfortunately, the term “physical location” is not defined. In looking through the Financial Aid Handbook a “location” is approved by and accreditor, is not a branch campus, and where 50% or more of a program is offered.

Presumably, the authors of this section did not understand the differences among the states in defining “physical presence” in a state. I would assume that they are first thinking of the state of domiclle (the legal home state) for the institution. For other states, they are probably thinking of an actual building that is leased or rented in another state by the institution and would probably not include such things as weekend courses in a hotel, faculty living in another state, or field trips. But, I can’t be sure.

If PROSPER becomes law, these tricky nuances of “physical location” would need to be clarified.

Authorization for Distance Education is Removed

Any expectations for state authorization for institutions serving students via distance education in other states has been removed. Many in higher education will cheer this action. I think it is a mistake as it seems to me to be a reasonable expectation that institutions follow the laws in states in which they disburse federal funds to students.

For many distance education providers, there is great angst about the new notification requirements for professional licensure programs that are set to go into effect in July of next year. If this legislation is passed, those notifications would no longer be enforced. Watch for more word from Cheryl Dowd (State Authorization Network Director) and me on this issue. Even though that requirement might vanish, colleges should do more than they are now. It is the right thing to do for students. If you want to be selfish, it’s the authorization issue that is most likely to land you in a lawsuit with students.

Meanwhile, we need to remember that (even if passed) this legislation WILL HAVE NO IMPACT ON STATE LAWS. This Act (if adopted) will not supersede state laws and that fact is reinforced on page 11 of the Act. Remember that states will still expect institutions to follow their laws when serving students located within their borders, regardless of how their education is delivered.

Support for Reciprocity for State Authorization

There is explicit support for reciprocity agreements among states, which would include the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement. On pages 11-12 is language stating that nothing in the state authorization section of this Act should be construed to:

“limit, impede, or preclude a State’s ability to collaborate or participate in a reciprocity agreement to permit an institution within such State to meet any other State’s authorization requirements for out-of-state institutions.”

That is a great addition.

No More Accrediting Review of Distance Education, But New Review for Competency-Based

Photo of the U.S. CapitolOn pages 475 and 482 are two small statements that strike “distance education” and replace it with “competency-based education.” Here is the language that would be changed taken from a section of the existing law about the federal recognition of accreditation agencies:

“If the agency or association reviews institutions offering distance education courses or programs and the Secretary determines that the agency or association meets the requirements of this section, then the agency shall be recognized and the scope of recognition shall include accreditation of institutions offering distance education courses or programs.”

If you make the change in the language, to me that means:

  • Accrediting agencies would no longer need to seek special approval from the Department of Education to be able to accredit institutions with distance education programs.
  • Accrediting agencies would no longer be required to perform special reviews of distance education courses or programs.
  • A new expectation would be placed on accrediting agencies to obtain special Department of Education approval to be able to accredit institutions offering competency-based education.
  • Accrediting agencies so approved would need to perform special reviews of competency-based education courses or programs.

This seems to be a win for distance education in being treated like all other traditional programs. This might be considered as a necessary political and consumer protective step for competency-based programs.

Along with other changes (see below) regarding competency-based education, the intent seems to be to place much weight on the accrediting agency’s oversight of what works in competency-based programs. This language appears to remedy the shortcomings in the current interpretations of federal law found in the recent audit of Western Governors University by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General.

New Definitions of Correspondence, Competency-Based, and Regular & Substantive Interaction

New definitions of “Correspondence Education” (p. 25) and “Competency-Based Education” (beginning on page 28) seem to subtly address the issues regarding “regular and substantive interaction” in the audit report of WGU. Let’s look at a portion of the new competency-based education (CBE) definition, which says that CBE:

“…provides the educational content, activities, and resources, including substantive instructional interaction, including by faculty, and regular support by the institution, necessary to enable students to learn or develop what is required to demonstrate and attain mastery of such competencies, as assessed by the accrediting agency or association of the institution of higher education.”

Notice that “interaction” and “regular” are now separated. Interaction is limited to “instruction interaction” and is not necessarily limited to being provided by a faculty person. “Regular” talks about “regular support by the institution,” which again expands the definition beyond merely instructional engagement and beyond only the faculty person of record.

On first blush, this appears to be a clever way to address the findings in the WGU audit. I worried that any legislative relief might help WGU, but not help other institutions with CBE. That does not seem to be the case. However, it does seem to help CBE while not making the same changes in the definition of distance education, possibly leaving distance education at risk of falling under the Office of Inspector General’s interpretation of “regular and substantive interaction.”

I will be curious to see how the CBE community reacts. Unfortunately, they have not been speaking with one voice. Will CBE folks accept it and will it work? Stay tuned.

Distance Education and Online Education Definitions

In one of the previews of the PROSPER Act there was a statement that the troublesome distance education definition was fixed. I was glad to hear this given my recent recommendations on the many definitions currently in use. Unfortunately, there were no magic bullet fixes or even any changes to the distance education definition. That author may have confused distance education and the above-mentioned changes to correspondence and CBE definitions (insert heavy sigh here).

There are only four mentions of “distance” in the Act. The term “online” appears 24 times. Unfortunately, references to “online education” are never defined (insert two heavy sighs here). The most notable mentions are:

  • On page 24, an institution located outside the United States that offers federal aid “may not offer more than 50 percent of courses through telecommunications.”
  • On page 48 regarding a “College Dashboard” website, additional reporting requirements for institutions that offer all their undergraduate programs online.
  • On page 95, exempting institutions that provide instruction primarily through online courses from sexual assault rules. The term “primarily through online courses” is not defined. If it is not completely online, couldn’t sexual assault still happen?

It would be good for the PROSPER Act to improve the distance education definition and/or add a definition of online education. This is an initial analysis, so I may have more specific recommendations in the future.

New Online Financial Aid Tools to Aid Studentsbinder clip holding paper that reads

PROSPER seeks to bring some financial aid practices into the digital world:

  • On page 429, beginning not later than one year after enactment of PROSPER, online counseling tools will be tested and made available for students receiving Pell Grants or borrowers of loans. The tool will be used both for yearly counseling and for exit interviews.
  • On page 433, create an online estimator tool to allow a student to enter basic information and obtain non-binding estimates of aid that the student might receive.

The Distance Education Demonstration Program is Removed

The removal of that historic remnant appears to be a housekeeping move. I cannot remember the last time that any activities were conducted under that program.

We’ve Only Just Begun

This is the first step in a long process. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee says that offering its own version of a reauthorization bill is its first priority in the new year. The leaders of the SENATE HELP Committee have a history of working in a more bipartisan manner than does the House, so there may be significant differences in what they propose.

I have seen several predictions that a final reauthorization bill might not be approved until 2019. That would be after a new Congress is seated…and, if there are significant changes, they may have their own ideas.

It is important for us to keep track of the progress and to try to get improvements or wholesale changes where we think appropriate. I recall a previous round of these negotiations during the last reauthorization. Some nonsensical items that were in the original bill made it to the final version because people kept saying it would be “fixed in the final draft.” Once these things get momentum, Congressional staff want to change as little as possible.

We need to watch closely.

We need to keep vigilant.

We need to speak up.

Again, this is a first pass at this language by me. I encourage you to go ahead and contact your Congressional Representatives now if there are items that you wish to see changed. In future blog posts, there will probably be other items within this 542 page Act on which I will comment. I also plan to make suggestions on items on which we should coalesce around a common message.

Meanwhile, have a PROSPER-ous holiday season!

RussRuss Poulin smiling while holding a small bat

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




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Financial Aid photo credit: Nick Youngson

Introducing the Online Learning Efficacy Research Database

WCET is thrilled to welcome Mary Ellen Dello Stritto and Katie Linder, from the Oregon State University Ecampus, to introduce the new Online Learning Efficacy Research Database. This database will help you find citations for higher education studies that compare different modalities of instruction (such as online versus blended courses). Read on to learn more about this important new tool.

Thank you Mary Ellen and Katie for this great post and kudos to your team for their work.

Enjoy the read,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

As researchers in the field of online education, we often receive questions about the effectiveness of online courses, specifically about the equivalency of student outcomes compared to face-to-face courses. From both internal and external audiences, we commonly are asked about the published research comparing different modalities (face-to-face, online and hybrid/blended). More specifically, the faculty we interact with are often interested in knowing about the research from their own discipline on the comparability of learning outcomes across modalities.

The results of the 2017 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology support our anecdotal observation that there is remaining skepticism among faculty about the effectiveness of online education. This report found that the majority of faculty who did not teach online courses perceived online courses to be less effective than traditional in-person courses.

In response to these concerns, we have developed the Online Learning Efficacy Research Database.

photo of someone usin the research database. Words on the front of the image say

This searchable database allows users to find citations for published studies in higher education that compare modalities of instruction (e.g. online versus face-to-face, or online versus hybrid). Users can filter results by:

  • discipline,
  • modality,
  • peer-review status,
  • publication year,
  • sample size,
  • journal,
  • education level.

How was it built?

The OSU Ecampus Research Unit staff searched for publications using published review articles, meta-studies and a systematic search of Google Scholar. We also reviewed an older database, No Significant Difference, which contains citations published through 2013.

Our overall search included an initial examination of thousands of articles, with a deeper review of more than 400 articles spanning the last 25 years.

Members from the Ecampus web development team then created the database with feedback from the Ecampus Research Unit staff.

What are the criteria for inclusion?

To be included in the database, research studies needed to: 1) include a comparison of two or more instructional modalities (face-to-face, online, hybrid/blended or web-facilitated), and 2) include measurement of at least one student performance outcome (such as exam scores, course grades or another performance outcome). The database includes publications from 1998 to the present. Prior to 1997, we found that publications primarily focused on pre-internet tele-courses and the use of technologies that are now considered outdated and less relevant for contemporary classrooms.

sceen shot of the database showing the search bar, filters (discipline), modality (traditional, web facilitated, blended/hybrid, fully online), peer reviewed.

How big is the database?

The database currently includes 186 studies published in 137 different journals, and represents research from 71 discrete disciplines. The database site also includes a downloadable list of meta-studies that synthesize research comparing instructional modalities, as well as a list of dissertations on the topic of online efficacy.

Will the database be updated regularly?

Each month, the database is updated with new citations by the Ecampus Research Unit staff. Users can sign up for an email list on the database website to be alerted about new citations being added to the database.

We welcome suggestions from users about research studies they recommend for addition to the database.

What are others saying about the database?

The database has already received positive feedback, such as the following comments on Twitter:

“Great project. Very useful work!
Surpasses and fills the void left by NSD.”
Geoff Cain

“Amazed by this awesome database for
online learning efficacy.”

– Rob Nyland

Every day we are receiving emails thanking us for this new resource, suggesting additional studies for inclusion, and asking about the kinds of studies we are conducting at the Research Unit.

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.

Mary Ellen Dello Stritto

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


Linder headshot

Kathryn Linder
Research Director
Ecampus Research Unit
Oregon State University



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E.U. Regulations that are Enforceable Against U.S. Higher Education Institutions

What do you know about the E.U.’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)? If you have not read up on this important regulation recently, never fear! Today, Cheryl Dowd, Director of the State Authorization Network, is here to provide background information and the basic components of the GDPR, so you can help your institution review and create processes to be compliant by May 25, 2018.

Thank you, Cheryl!

Enjoy the read,

~Lindsey, WCET

Does your institution or organization process the personal information of a person residing in a European country that is part of the European Union (EU)?

Does your institution have a distance education program for which your institution has been enrolling students residing in EU countries?

Has your institution received admissions from residents, or have alumni or donors in a country that is part of the EU?

Countries in the EU

Countries in the E.U. Photo credit:

What about European study abroad programs or research partnerships with residents of EU countries?

Did you say yes to any of these questions? If so, you need to read this to help your institution review and create processes to be compliant with the E.U.’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by May 25, 2018.

The GDPR aims to protect E.U. citizens from data breaches. We know, from even a casual observation of the news, that data breaches have occurred and are a significant concern for citizens outside the EU. Do the breaches at Equifax, Anthem, Target, and Yahoo ring a bell?  Higher education institutions are also ripe for breaches! Institutions in the United States and Canada may be able to benefit in our data protection practices by putting the processes in place necessary to comply with EU regulations.

WCET recently became aware of these EU regulations and their direct connection to our US and Canadian institutions and organizations. Our intent is to keep this simple to get you started. We offer you a little history, basic components, debunked myths, and some direction on steps you might take.  Our research is based on four main resources:


The EU GDPR website indicates that the E.U. Parliament approved and adopted the regulations in April 2016, after four years of preparation and debate. The enforcement date is set for May 25, 2018.  Noncompliance with the regulations is expected to carry large fines. This regulation replaces the 1995 Data Protection Directive 95/45/EC. The website further explains that the new regulations were created to “protect and empower all EU citizens data privacy and reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy.” EU FlagLindsay McKenzie from Insider Higher Ed reported in a November 6, 2017 article (E.U. Data Protection Law Looms) that Gian Franco Borio, a lawyer who spoke at a recent Educause session, believes that these new regulations provide a “significant expansion of protection for the personal data of EU residents”. The GDPR will apply to any organization worldwide that processes the personal information of EU residents.

The differences between the new GDPR and the 1995 Data Protection Directive 95/45/EC were reported by Allyssa Provazza in her article, GDPR requirements put end-user data in the spotlight, Computer, November 2, 2017. She indicated that the new regulations mandate that there be tighter requirements and justification for documenting and defining what data an organization processes. Additionally, the new regulations provide more support for the data subject regarding consent by requiring more clarity in language to ensure consent is informed and freely given. Finally, the GDPR was created to have consistent enforcement across all member countries rather than the previous enforcement in each individual EU member state.

Ms. Provazza also suggests that the definition of personal data in Europe is much broader than in the United States. The  GDPR additionally includes identifiers such as:  biometric data, political opinions, health information, sexual orientation, and trade union membership.

Basic Components

Highlights from the EUGDPR website FAQ’s indicate:

  1. Who Does the GDPR Affect? All organizations (including institutions) that offer goods or services or that processes and holds the personal data of subjects residing in the EU, regardless of the location of the organization. The Data Processor and Data Controller will be held responsible.
  2. What Are the Penalties for Non-Compliance? The maximum fine is up to 4% of the annual global turnover for breaching GDPR or €20 million.  I don’t know what 4% of annual global turnover is, but as of today, €20,000,000 equals $23,334,642.23. Note that there is a tiered approach to fines based on the degree of the infraction.
  3. What is Personal Data? The information related to the person that could directly or indirectly identify the person. The examples include: name, email, IP address, photo, bank details, etc.
  4. Definition of Data Processor and Data Controller: The controller is the person/entity that determines the purpose, conditions, and means for processing the personal data. The Processor is the person/entity that processes the personal data on behalf of the controller.
  5. What is Required?
    • Records must be kept in order per the regulations.
    • Breach notification protocols must be observed including notification to the supervising authority and data subject.
    • Consent to obtain personal information must be intelligible and in easily accessible form as well as easy to withdraw consent.
    • A Data Protection Officer (DPO) must be appointed if the organization (institution) is a public authority, organization that engages in large scale systematic monitoring, or organization that engages is large scale processing of sensitive personal data.

 Myths as proposed and debunked by Jimmy Desai in Computer  GDPR:  Five Myths You will Encounter in your Compliance Journey, June 2017.

  1. It is just about hacking. Desai explains that GDPR also offers data subjects the ability to have easier access to their personal information held by the organization.
  2. It is about avoiding fines. It is posed that GDPR seeks to avoid data breaches and the notifications that would be required. This devastating event of a data breach and required notification could cause loss of large numbers of customers and a debilitating impact on the organization’s reputation and finances. The fines would be a later concern beyond these crippling issues.
  3. It is just an IT problem. This is a common response to cyber or data problems. However, it is suggested in this article that GDPR is actually a cultural change for the organization (institution) to create a team approach of different departments to determine how personal data is used, stored, acquired, passed to others, etc.
  4. GDPR compliance is a job for the IT director. A Data Protection Officer (DPO) will be mandatory for some organizations (institutions). The organization may wish to consider that appointing the IT person as the DPO could be a conflict of interest. The conflict would arise if the IT Director is the person who processes the personal data. That person cannot be responsible for signing off on GDPR compliance regarding the processing of the data.
  5. Compliance can be achieved quickly. The team effort required to evaluate how the organization (institution) processes data will be time consuming and complicated with the variety of team players. Mr. Desai suggests that this work should include departments such as marketing, IT, finance, HR, and Legal. For higher education institutions, there will be the need to also include staff from the advising and academic departments.

Direction for Institutions and Organizations

Computer has published many articles and a one-page infographic explaining the GDPR. The infographic (GDPR:  The State of Play)  offers the seven projects that are to be implemented to comply with the regulations. An important aspect for colleges and universities to note is the statement in the bottom left corner of the infographic referring to organizations that are outside of the E.U.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the agency responsible for enforcing GDPR in the UK developed a 12-step check list to prepare for compliance of the GDPR.  Institutions may find direction by putting processes in place based on these 12 steps. In a May 2017 article, Jim Mortleman provided a summary of the ICO 12 steps in his article, GDPR:  a quick start guide.

Summary of ICO 12 Step Check List to GDPR compliance provided by GDPR: a quick start guide. Ensure senior/key people are aware of GDPR and appreciate its impact. Document any personal data you hold, where it came from, and who you share it with. Conduct an information audit if needed. Review your privacy notices and plan for necessary changes before GDPR comes into force. Check your procedures cover all individuals’ rights under the legislation – for example, how you would delete personal data or provide data electronically in a commonly used format. Plan how you will handle subject access requests within the new timescales and provide any additional information. Identify and document your legal basis for the various types of personal data processing you do. Review how you seek, obtain, and record consent. Do you need to make any changes? Put systems in place to verify individuals’ ages and, if users are children (likely to be defined in the UK as those under 13), gather parental consent for data processing activity. Make sure you have the right procedures in place to detect, report and investigate a personal data breach. Adopt a “privacy by design” and “data minimization” approach, as part of which you’ll need to understand how and when to implement Privacy Impact Assessments. Designate a Data Protection Officer or someone responsible for data protection compliance; assess where this role will sit within in your organization’s structure/governance arrangements. If you operate internationally, determine which data protection supervisory authority you come under. For more detail on each of these 12 steps, refer to the ICO guidelines.  

WCET began reporting on cybersecurity earlier in 2017. In February 2017, we offered our first Frontiers blog post, Words can be intimidating: Cybersecurity and Our Role in Higher Education, to introduce the topic area and to engage our institutional members to understand that data and infrastructure protection from breaches is just as important for our institutions as it is in the rest of the business world. Note that regrettable breaches have infiltrated major companies such as Equifax and Target.  A follow up article in April 2017, Data Privacy for Institutes of Higher Education (IHE), described recent data breaches in higher education to alert our readers that attackers target IHEs due to the institutions possessing vast amounts of computing power and education’s competing desire to provide open access to resources. Both articles echo the philosophy and goals of the GDPR for institutions and organizations to create comprehensive cybersecurity systems to protect our students, faculty, staff, and donors who entrust the institution and organization with their personal information.

Perhaps these new regulations in the EU will cause our college and university leaders to take notice and embrace a change in culture to create collaborative efforts to address data security. The result would be a comprehensive data protection plan that not only meet the expectations required by the European Union, but also better protect personal information in their care.

Stay tuned as WCET will share more about the GDPR and U.S. data protection guidance and processes as we learn about them! Meanwhile, share this information across your institution!

Cheryl Dowd


Cheryl Dowd
Director, State Authorization Network

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Engaging Faculty to Support a Student Persistence Agenda at N. Arizona University

What are the barriers on your campus to innovations that promote student persistence? That’s the question Michelle Miller, Director of the First Year Learning Initiative with Northern Arizona University, is here to discuss. At NAU, the Persistence Scholars program works with faculty to empower them become informed advocates for new practices that support student persistence.

Thank you Michelle for this great post!

Enjoy the day and enjoy the read,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

What are the biggest barriers to innovations that promote student persistence? As a course redesign veteran and someone who loves to learn about institutional reform, I’ve heard the same one mentioned time and again: getting faculty on board.

Faculty hold the keys to the student academic experience, which in turn, plays a critical role in retention and degree completion. As the eminent researcher Vincent Tinto puts it:

If institutions are to significantly increase the retention and graduation of their students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, their actions must be centered on the classroom. They must focus on improving success in the classroom, particularly during the first year and lead to changes in the way classes are structured and taught and, in turn experienced by students, especially those who have not fared well in the past. (Tinto, 2012, p. 15)

A Coordinated Institution-wide Effort is Needed, But Not Easy

We also know that the institutions that are most successful in retaining students are the ones in which there is concerted, coordinated effort across the institution to help students persist. To make the most of student persistence initiatives, everyone in the institution needs to be working together: leadership, advising, residence life and yes, faculty.

But of course, this ideal state of harmony is much easier to describe than it is to pull off. The deep institutional divisions on a typical campus – in which faculty may not even know the names of key leaders and offices involved in retention, let alone have a good collaborative relationship with them – dwarfs even the siloization we see among academic departments.

More problematic are the philosophical divisions that, if not actual, may be assumed. The perception among student support and leadership staff is that faculty are skeptical, and not in a good way, about new efforts to help students succeed.

Even if the majority of faculty don’t believe in outdated ideas, such as that college should be a weeding-out process or that the only way to promote retention is to admit better students, the more vocal critics can dominate the dialogue. And, faculty who want to advocate for student success may simply lack the skills and knowledge to act on that wish.

Our ‘Persistence Scholars’ Program Helps Faculty Become Informed Advocates

logo reading Giving faculty both the will and the means to effectively support a student persistence agenda is challenging. In response, we at Northern Arizona University created the Persistence Scholars Program, a blended-style professional development experience designed to empower faculty to become informed, effective users of and advocates for practices that support student persistence.

We designed this program grounded in the knowledge that academic persistence is an issue with a human side, but also an intellectual side, backed by a rich and informative literature about how academic persistence works among students from diverse backgrounds and in diverse settings. And, we believe, faculty are most empowered to support student persistence when they understand and care about it – something that happens when they have an opportunity to engage with the best of the academic work in the area, and hands-on experience applying what they are learning.

How do you engage faculty in a development experience like this, given all the other demands on their time? To address this ever-present problem, we turned to a blended strategy, one that offered maximum flexibility coupled with the opportunity to engage with concepts over a longer period of time. Faculty completed a set of pre-readings and a daylong interactive kickoff workshop, then enrolled in a nine-week online program focused on reading and discussing a selection of scholarly works on student persistence.

board with stick notes listing reasons students don't persist, such as family issues, lack of social support, negative experiences, lack of support, working long hours, don't ask for help

Why don’t students persist? Our kickoff workshop participants respond.

They also completed two brief, action-oriented projects: the Field Experience and the Application Plan:

  • The Field Experience was a perspective-taking and information gathering exercise in which we asked faculty to identify some aspect of student life that they could experience first-hand, then report back on what they did, why they did it, and what they learned.
  • The Application Plan asked them to articulate some way in which they would apply concepts from the program to next semester’s teaching or to some other aspect of their professional practice.

Lessons Learned from Our First Cohort

Our first group of Persistence Scholars has just wrapped up their work. What are the impacts and lessons learned, at this early stage of the game?

First, we were pleasantly surprised at the level of faculty interest in participating. With a small honorarium as an incentive, we recruited approximately 25 enthusiastic participants from a broad cross-section of programs and disciplines.

We are also encouraged by the depth and amount of engagement in the program. Participants were particularly active in creating and executing their Field Projects, and their choices reflect just how many different aspects of student life are open for this kind of exploration. These included:

  • Completing an in-person advising appointment while role-playing the part of a first-year student majoring in an unfamiliar discipline.
  • Interviewing student athletes about how they balance sports, academics, and social life.
  • Observing tutoring appointments at the student learning center.
  • Attending a class in an unfamiliar discipline.
  • Participating in a tour of an academic department from the perspective of a prospective student.
  • Touring facilities and interviewing staff at the campus center for diverse students.

Faculty were often impressed with the level of services offered to our students, and with the new things they learned about resources available at the university. Almost all said they were surprised by what they discovered about student life at our institution. And these Field Project activities were things that few faculty members would ever do outside of a structured experience such as the Persistence Scholars program.

How We Will Improve the Program for the Next Cohort and Advice for Others

Over Spring 2018, we’ll learn more about the longer-term impacts on faculty attitudes and practices as we follow-up with our alums and begin again with a new cohort of faculty. In the meantime, we can make some recommendations for institutions looking to develop similar programs:

  • Keep in mind that faculty across disciplines place a high value on empirical evidence and critical inquiry, and offer opportunities to directly engage them in the scholarship and knowledge base on student persistence.
  • To best use faculty time (truly the most limited resource there is on a university campus), employ a blended strategy and assign a carefully curated list of high-quality readings.
  • Foreground peer-to-peer discussion and dialogue through activities such as online discussion boards.
  • Encourage faculty to personalize what they’ve learned about student persistence with brief projects that emphasize experiential learning and application.

The Persistence Scholars Program has brought new enthusiasm, and new faculty supporters, to our student success efforts at Northern Arizona University. Stay tuned as we learn more about how to make the most of this unique approach!

author headshot michelle miller


Michelle Miller
Director, First Year Learning Initiative,
Professor, Psychological Sciences
Northern Arizona University




Key Readings and Resources for the Persistence Scholars Program:

Tinto, V. (2012). Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

DeParle, J. (2012, December 22). For poor, leap to college often ends in a hard fall. New York Times.

Inclusive Negligence: Helping Educators Address Racial Inequality at UWL (Video).

Yeager, D. S., Walton, G. M., Brady, S. T., Akcinar, E. N., Paunesku, D., Keane, L., et al. (2016). Teaching a lay theory before college narrows achievement gaps at scale, (13).

Cohen, D., Kim, E., Tan, J. & Winkelmes, M. (2013) A note-restructuring intervention increases students’ exam scores, College Teaching, 61, 95-99, DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2013.793168

Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Web Site:

Pennebaker, J. W., Gosling, S. D., Ferrell, J. D., Apfel, N., & Brzustiski, P. (2013). Daily online testing in large classes: Boosting college performance while reducing achievement gaps. PLoS ONE, 8, e79774.

For more information about the Persistence Scholars project, please contact Dr. Michelle Miller by email,, via her blog at, or on Twitter, @MDMillerPHD

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Steps You Can Take Now to Address Accessibility at Your Institution

This week, WCET and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), in conjunction with the National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE), a partner with WebAIM, jointly offer this blog on a topic of national interest to education communities. Thank you to Cyndi Rowland, Executive Director, WebAIM; National Center on Disability and Access to Education, for guest authoring today’s post! Cyndi is here to discuss the rise in complaints regarding accessibility of web and digital materials and the nine common action items from analysis of complaint letters and resolution letters from the Office of Civil Rights. We hope these action items will be a starting point for institutions looking to ensure accessibility of their educational materials and resources.

Enjoy the day and enjoy the read,

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

In recent years, education entities have seen a rise in complaints coming from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) specifically on the accessibility of web and digital materials. I recently heard of one advocate who has initiated almost 1,500 complaint letters into OCR. The momentum is not likely to decrease, even as the current administration shifts some funding away from these offices. The advocacy groups, and the attorneys, are still out there working to strengthen accessibility for their constituents. Logo for the National Center on Disability and Access to EducationAs a team of technical assistance providers on this issue, both WebAIM and NCDAE see a fair number of districts, boards of education, colleges, and universities who need to respond to complaints or to a formal resolution letter from OCR about the inaccessibility of their web content. When this happens, they are under the gun to make fixes, and make them fast.

About a year and a half ago, a colleague from the California Community Colleges Online shared a unique activity he had performed with OCR complaint and resolution letters. He engaged in a content analysis on letters he had seen come out of the California regional office in San Francisco. He shared 6 components that were common across these letters at the time (Sean Keegan, personal communication, 2016).

logo for WebAIM with the words "WebAIM," "web accessibility in mind," and a logo of a silhouette of a head with gears inside the silhouetteAs WebAIM and NCDAE have performed technical assistance on this topic with several entities across K-20 we took a similar tactic. Performing a content analysis on complaint letters or resolution letters yielded a common set of action items that should be shared more broadly. OLC logoWhile our list contains 9 items, and not 6, we recognize that regional offices write letters unique to their region.

OLC logoWe have shared this list in the past via presentations, panels, and webinars. Yet the opportunity to host a joint blog with WCET and OLC is a perfect opportunity to get the message out broadly to education communities seeking focus on their accessibility efforts.

Below are the 9 items we routinely see in letters from OCR:

  1. Designate a person to coordinate IT accessibility. Accessibility across the organization is a complex process with many moving parts. As such it is vital to have an individual who, as part of their role, is responsible to coordinate accessibility activities and engage in continuous improvement on behalf of the enterprise. They can coordinate and document committee meetings, identify and track issues, locate needed resources, recommend budgets, and oversee the process. They can also provide annual reporting. Moreover, this is the person who can speak to broad issues of how much progress has been made, and where you continue to be most vulnerable.
  2. Define a policy specific to IT accessibility. Organizational policy is critical to sustained progress in accessibility. Far too long, local champions made headway without placing the work inside of a policy realm. When those individuals left the organization, the work often fell to the wayside. Inculcating a specific policy enables work, and budgets to be aligned with that policy. Finally, it is also a manifestation of accessibility as a priority and a value across the enterprise. You can read more about typical elements of a policy on the NCDAE site
  3. Provide a public link to an accessibility page and describe the process for submitting complaints and feedback. A list of checkboxes being checked with a pink highlighter penHaving a place to communicate your commitment to, and work toward, accessibility is important for the community that needs access. Yet, you have to remember that your journey towards accessibility will take years. Because of this, it is vital that users with disabilities have a place they can go to submit feedback or a complaint. This enables you to make a rapid (i.e., within a day or less) fix for them. It is vital that where you link the accessibility and feedback page is itself accessible; of course, the accessibility and feedback page must be accessible as well. Some letters require this notice or link be placed on every page rather than in one place. When this happens, organizations choose to put it in their footer. If you go this route, be careful that the template itself is accessible and individuals would be able to get to the footer to use the intended link.
  4. Develop a Plan for New Content. This is essentially your implementation plan. Drawing a line in the sand, what is your specific plan for the future to make sure your content is accessible? This should be in contrast to what is happening now. This is a complex endeavor and is often done in conjunction with policy development. NCDAE has resources helpful in writing an implementation plan and many others, including the University of Montana, publically share their strategy.
  5. Develop a Corrective Action Plan. OCR has been quite clear that they don’t just want to know what you are going to do to assure that no new inaccessible content is added to your site, but what are you going to do about the inaccessible content you have right now? There are many ways organizations are addressing the need for a Corrective Action Plan. Some plan to fix it all on a specific timeline and include this in their implementation plan (above, in item 4). Some identify what will be fixed and what will be placed as an archival element in a separate part of the website. Everything but the archive is then fixed on a specific timeline. If you do this, know that archival documents cannot be edited or updated in any way. If they are, you must make them accessible and they lose their archival designation. Also, you need to have a process in place to address any accessibility requests about your archival content; these requests must be addressed in a timely way (i.e., rule of thumb, under a day is best but more than 3 days could create trouble). Finally, some have constituted a rapid response team to address any request for accessibility of existing content within a day during the period where they transition to new accessible content. These individuals are given an administrative blessing to drop whatever they are doing to address accessibility requests that come in. They are also given whatever resources they need to get the job done. It seems like the IT equivalent of a SWAT or SEAL team who could be deployed at a moment’s notice. A good solution only if you can truly constitute your staff and their assignments in such a fashion.
  6. Define a process for evaluating accessibility as part of procurement. Educational organizations procure many things that are used online. Some of these are purchased (e.g., the LMS of the organization), but some procurement is free and simply pulled in for use (e.g., GoogleDocs for collaborative work), or developed internally (e.g., open education resources for online chemistry lab activities), or even selected but the low dollar amount puts them below a purchasing threshold for review (e.g., a $50 history curriculum put out by a professional organization). Making sure accessibility is part of any organizational plan to procure, develop, use, or maintain is vital. The first rule when you want to get yourself out of a hole is to “just stop digging”. Continuing to bring inaccessible items into your enterprise for which you have accessibility responsibility creates vulnerability you do not need. It also shifts the responsibility away from the vendor or creator. At the end of the day we all want accessible products we can select to use. NCDAE has an article on the criticality of accessibility in procurement. PEATWorks publishes some great resources on procurement as well. Making sure you have accessibility requirements in all RFPs and all contract language will be critical as you turn this around.
  7. Perform a technology audit on accessibility. Certainly, if you want to know where your efforts are taking you, you must first understand where you are now. Performing an audit will give you a sense of how localized or widespread issues of accessibility are for you, and the types of issues you will need to prepare to address. A laptop sitting on a table next to a small potted plant and a cup of coffeeMoreover, the data can be helpful as you create your implementation plans (e.g., you may choose to first fix highly visited public or student-facing pages or large courses). It can also be helpful as you look at how you will fix some issues (e.g. if 5 errors appear in your web template, fixing those will positively affect thousands of pages simultaneously). Audits are typically performed on an annual basis yet some large organizations perform them in smaller units across the enterprise throughout the year with a larger sweep once a year. Be aware, however, that NO automated tool can fully identify accessibility issues. Not all errors can be programmatically determined with today’s heuristics. WebAIM and NCDAE share a recommendation that you should consider a blend of human-evaluation along with broader automated samples. The first should give you issues of depth, the second should help you understand issues of breadth. Both are useful.
  8. Specifically seek out feedback from those with disabilities. While you have a mechanism for collecting complaints and fielding issues as they come along (i.e., See item 3 above), solicit user feedback. This shows that you are being both proactive as well as appropriately reactive. Make sure to do this across those with different types of disabilities. Find individuals that experience different types of access issues. They will most likely be persons with (1) vision problems including those who are blind, have low vision, or are color blind, (2) hearing problems including those who are deaf or have poor hearing, (3) fine motor problems such that they have a difficult (or impossible time) using a mouse or keyboard, (4) cognitive or learning disabilities, (5) multiple disabilities, such as someone who is deaf-blind, or someone who has cerebral palsy and is deaf, and finally, (6) while you may have individuals with photoepilepsy, you would not want to test blinking or marquee elements on these individuals, as it could cause a seizure.
  9. Provide training to individuals consistent with their role as they create digital materials or web pages. Today, training is required well beyond web developers. That is because, quite simply, web content is being created by many. For example, a faculty member who creates a PowerPoint presentation and uploads it into the LMS has created web content. This must be accessible. The staff member who creates a PDF on employment and links it to the HR website has created web content. This must be accessible. In both instances these individuals need to understand their obligation, and be given appropriate training and support to fulfill their new role. Of course, those individuals who have technical jobs are most likely developing or creating web designs, applications, or content as well. Finally, others may require training too. This would need to be consistent with their role and your overall plans for accessibility (e.g., procurement staff, contract staff).

The OCR letters we have seen require the organization to initially complete the issues above in about 18 months once approved. However, if you were to make a decision now to address these common OCR requests, you would create greater control and flexibility over the process. It is worth it in the long run to take this important matter into your own hands as soon as possible.

Headshot of author Cyndi Rowland


Cyndi Rowland,
Executive Director, WebAIM
National Center on Disability and Access to Education




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WCET Family Reunion 2017

You really should have been in Denver at WCET’s 29th Annual Meeting…or “family reunion” as Mike Abbiatti liked to call it. If you were there, you probably did not catch every session and every conversation. Let me help.  I’m here to provide some highlights of the Annual Meeting. Thank you to my WCET team members and WCET leadership who contributed their notes and takeaways for this post.

Pie chart with meeting attendee job titles (Admin: 37%, Other?? 33%, Academic officer 9%, Instructional designer 8%, Faculty 5%, CEO 4%, IT Admin 3%)There were 436 attendees at the Annual Meeting this year representing 45 different states from all over the U.S. Attendees also represented a wide range of higher education jobs. Railing against conventions, about a third identified with the mysterious “other” category.

Wednesday, October 25th

Wednesday morning was filled with pre-conference workshops.

I was thrilled to be invited to the Academic Leadership Forum, a meeting of chief academic officers. This year Tricia Bertram Gallant, Director of the Academic Integrity Office at UCSD presented on academic integrity. My takeaways:

  • Our students are human beings, not a morally corrupt generation. They may make bad decisions under pressure and cheat in class or on an exam.
  • Cheating can be a teachable moment to help students learn from the experience (and apply to future workplace).
  • We should keep academic integrity policies fair and efficient.
  • We should reward faculty/instructors for including integrity in research and teaching.

During the opening, Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director of WCET, awarded this year’s Richard Jonsen Award to The Honorable Peter P. Smith. This award, named after the WICHE Executive Director who founded WCET in 1989, is given annually to a WCET member whose career has been committed to improving postsecondary education through innovative uses of technology and for exceptional service to WCET.

Our keynote this year was given by Mike Hess, Founder and Executive Director, Blind Institute of Technology. Mike entertained us with a thought-provoking presentation on sensory capabilities. He challenged us to become better professionals and educators by:

  1. Requesting the first half of meetings be “tech free zones.”
  2. Focusing on clarity in our communications.
  3. Embracing different presentation styles/types that meet the communications needs of everyone (leverage audio, video, tactile, etc.).

Luke Dowden, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, commented that Mike’s presentation reminded him of the FISH! Philosophy principle of “Being Present,” when he stated that our brains “are single threaded processors” and can only process “one attention rich input at a time.” Luke is refocusing his efforts of being less distracted and more present in all his meetings.

Next up: concurrent sessions, such as Accessibilities’ Role in Postsecondary eLearning, a partnership between OLC and WCET. Cyndi Rowland, Associate Director, Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University, provided a list of eight common expectations that are expressed by the Office of Civil Rights in their findings against institutions. Cyndi will continue this discussion in a post for WCET Frontiers this month. There seems to be interest in OLC and WCET presenting/developing additional accessibility resources around:

  1. What is required of institutions by law?
  2. What are best practices, regardless of what the law says.
  3. And, what influence can our members have on vendors to provide products that are already in compliance?

Purdue University’s Margaret Wu and Amy Haston provided advice and strategies for ending a relationship with an Instructional Technology. Participants discussed challenges when “calling it quits” and the presenters showcased examples of phasing out tools. Check out EdSurge’s coverage of the session.

During an Ask the Expert Session, education experts discussed state higher education regulations and policies. Both Evie Cummings (University of Florida Online) and Van Ton-Quinlivan (California Community Colleges) reminded attendees about the importance of clearly defined and applied outcomes measures for higher education.

Jessica Knott and Ryan Yang from Michigan State University described the advent of the MSU Hub for Innovation, including their agile process for large scale campus projects, open working space, project boards, and feedback processes. The MSU Hub is a great model for campus-wide, transparent collaboration.

Thursday, October 26

Thursday started bright and early for the WCET 5K crew (you go runners!).

During the general session and breakfast, we heard from inspiring, female, recent graduates in computer science, who shared stories about STEM classes and career prospects and trajectories. They suggested how we, as higher education professionals, can better support women in STEM fields: bring more coding opportunities into all classes (increase interest in tech fields for all students), increased cross-curricular collaboration, discussions about failure, and mentoring. Thank you to the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) for helping us put together this amazing session!

After he co-moderated the session, Joe Garcia, President of WICHE, announced the second annual Digital Inclusion Award. This Award is a unique recognition of an individual, organization, or program having shown significant impact on low-income and/or first-generation learner populations through digital inclusion.

I may be biased, but I enjoyed the session on the #DLNChat (granted, I was presenting). Participants engaged in an interactive workshop on using social media professionally, development of a Twitter based professional learning community, and we ran a mini-chat in the room. Thank you to Michael Sano and Renee Franzwa, my co-facilitators.

Did you know WCET members have a new benefit? The e–Literate Big Picture subscription service is designed to help institutions track the changing landscape in important learning platform topics and make sure that the decisions an institution makes today will still make sense tomorrow. Mollie McGill, WCET, and Phil Hill, E-Literate, discussed this new benefit. I understand there was also beer. And the hashtag was #BeerPuppy. What more can you ask for in a conference session?

At lunch, WCET awarded the 2017 WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Awards and the Sally M. Johnstone award.

Image of Sally Johnstone, Bucky Dodd, Dale Johnson

Congratulations to University of Central Florida, Blackboard Inc., Oregon State University Ecampus, and Healthcare Learning Innovations, a division of American Sentinel University (2017 WOW award winners) and to Dr. Bucky Dodd, 2017 Sally M. Johnstone awardee. Thank you to our wonderful MCs: Leah Matthews, Kara Monroe, Dale Johnson, and Mike Abbiatti.

Wednesday afternoon, WCET welcomed several federal higher education experts and officials to discuss administration higher education priorities and updates. According to Ken Salomon (Thompson Coburn), the House Committee on Education and Workforce will release the first version of a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in the next few weeks. The Senate is behind on working on the bill. Many feel final action is unlikely until 2019. The education technology community needs to make its wishes known with a common voice. WCET hopes to help fill this “policy void” however we can.

Our higher education press keeps us updated on higher education stories, what a big job! I was thrilled to help moderate a panel with Jeff Borden and our colleagues Jeff Young, Senior Editor from EdSurge, and Phil Hill e-Literate Co-Publisher. With questions on everything from Regular and Substantive to higher education in 2025 (college classrooms will look different due to enrollment changes and shifts to holistic student support models).

I joined other attendees to hear more about the recent Office of Inspector General recommendations regarding WGU and possible ways the distance education community can move forward. Thank you to the panelists, who discussed the history of ‘regular and substantive interaction’ and the issues raised by the audit. These findings should be of concern to all distance education providers and competency-based education institutions, whether distance or face-to-face. It is expected that the Department of Education will not accept the recommendations in the Audit Report.

I had a wonderful time at the Young Professionals meetup and sock-swap. Everyone who brought [new] socks exchanged them for a pair brought by another attendee (I got great fuzzy socks that will be useful this winter).

Thursday night group dinners, one of my favorite WCET traditions, were a blast! I enjoyed walking around Denver with my group, chatting, and eating great food.

Friday October 27

Friday morning began early for WCET yoga attendees, our Steering Committee, who met for a morning working meeting, and those who attended the networking breakfast.

I then attended the EdSurge hands-on workshop digging into the problems that can be solved through digital learning practices and products. I enjoyed hearing about challenges other institutions face. For example, my group wanted to work on retention of underrepresented/underprepared students. This workshop was an excellent example of using design thinking to collaboratively solve problems.

Honestly, my favorite part of WCET 2017 was the Stump the Expert Session. Our game show host/session moderator, Van Davis, entertained us by attempting to stump our higher education experts: Myk Garn, Stacey VanderHeiden Güney, and Tanya Joosten. Our esteemed judges, Russ Poulin, Nick White, and Cecilia Retelle Zywicki, withstood several attempts at bribery, and, I’m sure, judged our experts answers purely based on answers to several audience questions. Questions ranged from new credentials , likely uses of Artificial intelligence in higher education, and how higher education will look in 2030.

While poor Myk lost this year…

Tanya was crowned (is that the right word?) the 2017 WCET Expert!

The Annual Meeting is a once in a year opportunity to connect with extraordinary folks in higher education and have real conversations about the issues that face us. Thank you for a great family reunion.

Next year, see you in Portland, Oregon, where you can experience the original Voodoo Doughnut. Oh yes, and have another family reunion with your edtech cousins.

Enjoy the day,


Photo of Lindsey Downs
Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications, WCET


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What is Distance Education? – Definitions and Delineations

Close your eyes (not for too long) and answer the question: “What is distance education?” image reading "what is distance education?"Did you envision the same concept and experiences as I did?

Even though more than one-quarter of all higher education students in the United States and a roughly equivalent number in Canada now take at least one distance education course, it is amazing that we still have differences in how we define it.

Does it matter? 

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There could be big differences in counts for funding purposes, counts for research purposes, or in student eligibility for benefits depending on who is setting the definition.

And No. an X in a circle

Quite often definitions are close enough to not be materially different. Do we need to spend time splitting hairs?

Definitions may differ by accrediting agency, state, province, federal agency, or survey. My guess is that institutional personnel are not following all these differences to the last detail.

As you will see below…it’s a mess.

This year, the U.S. Department of Education has been turned to its Technical Review Panel to consider how to improve the collection of distance education data in its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) surveys. WCET responded with input from our members. Below is an excerpt from WCET’s response in which we highlight the differences:


Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Technical Reviews work regarding distance education data collections in IPEDS. WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) sought input from its member institutions throughout the United States. Below are our comments on the Discussion Items from the “IPEDS Technical Review Panel #53 Evaluating Distance Education Elements in the IPEDS Data Collection” document.

Discussion Item #1: Defining Distance Education

There are differences of opinion on how to proceed with definitions, but there is general agreement that this issue needs to be addressed in more detail. A sample of opinions include:

  • Ken Sauer, Indiana Commission on Higher Education, Senior Associate Commissioner and Chief Academic Officer for the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, has performed the most complete work on this topic…He commented separately and suggests a two-tiered definition for both courses and programs of:
    • 100% distance education, and
    • 80-99% distance education.
  • Leah Matthews, Executive Director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission says: “I lean toward leaving the IPEDS definition where it is at 100% because it sustains the ability to continue to track this data in a consistent manner year to year. I have found it helpful to examine data gathered for 100% distance education.”
  • Peter Smith, former college president and currently consulting with the University of Maryland University College, says: “First, the definitions of course and program requirements to determine whether a program is online, place-based, or hybrid are far too restricting. As such, they are a threat to institutions’ financial well-being as they try to enter this rapidly changing educational marketplace.”
  • The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) collects data about the enrollment patterns of its member institutions. Marshall Hill, Executive Director, told WCET staff of the many calls his staff received over confusion regarding IPEDS definitions. In an NC-SARA report…the following “reporting challenges” are cited…:

“In an attempt to standardize reporting requirement for institutions, NC-SARA relies on IPEDS definitions, schedules, etc. Unfortunately, it is clear from the comments submitted in 2017 that many institutions struggle to understand how they should report to IPEDS. And, since SARA’s basic instructions are to ‘report as you do for IPEDS, but disaggregate by state, territory, or district in which the students reside,’ those misunderstandings affect NC-SARA reporting. Over half (51.7%) of comments provided in the Comment field of 2017 survey specifically mentioned variations from IPEDS data, definitions, and concerns with how to report military students and those in the five U.S. territories.”

Definitions Used by Accrediting Agencies

The definitions distance education courses and programs used by the accrediting agencies were discussed by the Technical Review Panel. The following table is a shorthand review of their definitions. Some of the agencies do not define what comprises a distance education course or program. For those that do, there is not agreement in their definitions. All of them cite the federal definition of “distance education” as a concept.

IPEDS & Accreditors
Organization Course Definition Program Definition
IPEDS 100% at a distance (except for tests, orientation, and student services) 100% distance courses
Higher Learning Commission 75% at a distance 50% or more at a distance
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (pp. 57-60) Uses federal distance education definition, but does not define for courses. Uses federal distance education definition, but does not define for programs.
New England Association of Schools and Colleges Not defined Programs “(1) …for which students may earn 50% or more of the credits through technologically mediated instruction and/or (2) degree completion programs offered on-line”
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities A “majority” – Includes correspondence study, which is specifically excluded in federal definitions A “majority”
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools A “majority” – Separately defines correspondence education A “majority”
WASC – Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Uses federal distance education definition, but does not define for courses. Uses federal distance education definition, but does not define for programs.
WASC – Senior College and University Commission[1] Uses federal distance education definition, but does not define for courses. Uses federal distance education definition, but does not define for programs.
Distance Education Accrediting Commission (pp. 5-6) Acknowledges federal definition. For DEAC purposes includes “correspondence, online, or direct assessment.” No course definition. Acknowledges federal definition. For DEAC purposes includes “correspondence, online, or direct assessment.” No program definition.

The Impact of Multiple Definitions on One University

In 2012-13, Indiana University created a report[2] that documented the different distance education definitions to which it was subject. The following table summarizes the many differences among the agencies with oversight on the University’s activities:

IPEDS & Accreditors
Organization Course Definition Program Definition
IPEDS 100% at a distance (except for tests, orientation, and student services) 100% distance courses
Higher Learning Commission 75% at a distance 50% or more at a distance
Indiana Commission on Higher Education “80% or more of the content” at a distance “80% of requirements to meet the degree/credential” at a distance
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs If less than “two regularly schedule standard class sessions per term”[3] No definition provided.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security No definition provided. Less than “9 credits per semester for an undergraduate” are onsite



 We made several technical suggestions that I will set aside for now, but here are our primary recommendations:

  •  Let’s partner to create definitions: IPEDS should partner with accrediting agencies, state-focused agencies (e.g., NC-SARA, SHEEO), and distance education organizations to develop definitions that are more universally recognized. Peter Smith (quoted above and is also a member of the NC-SARA Board) agrees: “How can SARA and IPEDS work together to complement each other, saving time, money and confusion?” Bringing clarity to these definitions would be a great advance to higher education.
  • Collect “completions” data for distance education students: Agree with the Panel’s interest in collecting Completions data for distance education at the CIP code and award level. The sub-CIP code level is probably not necessary. However, considerable research and definition would be required. Students may have a mix of modes of instruction each term and may change that mix dramatically form term to term. The question of “what counts as a distance education completion” would need to be answered…Overall, adding distance education data to the Completions survey would assist with distance education efficacy and trend studies.
  • Collect data on hybrid/blended learning: Agree that there are multiple definitions of hybrid/blended courses, but recommend that this be added to a multi-agency discussion between IPEDS, accrediting agencies, state-focused agencies, and distance education organizations recommended…above. Creating definitions of distance education and hybrid/blended courses that are compatible and reasonable would be of great service to the higher education community.

It’s a collective mess…not just for IPEDS, but for all of us. Glad that they are at least asking the question.

Can we make it better? Should we?

What do you think about this issue?

Russ Poulin


Russ Poulin
Director of Policy & Analysis, WCET



[1] WASC – Senior College and University Commission (page 45 of Glossary does not define. Searches of the Handbook and other web resources did not uncover specific definitions)

[2] Indiana University Office of Online Education and University Student Services and Systems: “Definitions of Distance Education [Courses, Programs and Students] for SIS Coding and Compliance Review and Reporting Credit Hour Allocations”

[3] If a Veteran takes all their courses at a distance, their Basic Allowance for Housing is cut in half.

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Research Preparation and Engagement of Instructional Designers

WCET was thrilled to help recruit participants for the Spring 2017 Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit national study on the research engagement and training of instructional designers in institutions of higher education. Today we welcome the authors of the study, Katie Linder and Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, join WCET Frontiers to discuss the results and release the report. The study offers an understanding of instructional designer engagement in research on teaching and learning.

Thank you Katie and Mary Ellen!

~Lindsey Downs, WCET

About a year ago, staff members from the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit began to facilitate conference sessions on methods for conducting research on teaching and learning.

We were both surprised and pleased to have many instructional designers attend these sessions. They asked insightful questions and were clearly engaged in partnerships with faculty members and subject matter experts to conduct research on teaching and learning.

It was the instructional designers in the audiences of these presentations that first planted the seed for our national study on the research preparation and engagement of instructional designers.

A total of 311 instructional designers nationwide completed a 60-item survey to help us better understand both their experience levels with teaching and learning research and their current involvement in academic research projects. The following is a summary of the five key findings from this study. The full report can be downloaded from the Ecampus Research Unit website.

Many instructional designers want to collaborate on teaching and learning research

Instructional designers were asked about the level of interest they had in engaging in a range of research tasks. More than three-quarters (75.9%) indicated “moderate” or “high” interest in collaborating on research, while large percentages indicated “moderate” or “high” interest in disseminating results (69.8%), reading/summarizing literature (69.1%), writing up results (65.9%), and analyzing data (64.7%).

Respondents expressed their interest in collaboration with comments such as:

“Any opportunity to collaborate during a research project or experience mentoring with research experts is valuable to IDs (instructional designers).”

Faculty don’t often think of me as someone to collaborate with on research projects, although I am very interested and open to the possibilities.”

Many instructional designers feel under-prepared to engage in research

The survey asked questions about the instructional designers’ formal education in research design and methodology. More than half of the respondents (52.1%) did not take any research design or methodology courses as undergraduates.

Respondents were asked to describe the research methods and designs that were emphasized in their instructional design training. While 29% reported not having any training, about 24% described training in broad methods (i.e. quantitative, qualitative methods) with only 17% reporting training in specific methods (i.e. surveys, focus groups).

Between 36% and 64% of respondents indicated they had “low confidence” in their ability to complete six specific research tasks. These six tasks included choosing an appropriate statistical test to analyze data (64.3%); cleaning data (60.5%); validating a survey instrument (58.2%); using data for archival research purposes (52.1%); coding qualitative data (44.1%); and completing IRB paperwork (36.7%).

Respondents expressed their lack of preparation with comments similar to the following:

I don’t feel prepared, entirely, to conduct research. I wish I had more training.”

“I have ideas for research projects that will contribute to the body of knowledge in my field, but I don’t know how to get started.”

A large number of instructional designers are engaging in research collaborations

The majority of respondents (56.6%) had collaborated to conduct research on teaching and learning in the past year. However, slightly less than one-quarter of instructional designers have research on teaching and learning in their job descriptions. Slightly more than one-fifth of survey respondents are evaluated on their engagement in research on teaching and learning (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Inclusion of Research on Teaching and Learning in Instructional Designers’ Job Descriptions and Performance Evaluations

Figure 1: Inclusion of Research on Teaching and Learning in Instructional Designers’ Job Descriptions and Performance Evaluations

Respondents’ comments included ones like the following:

“I would be doing way more of this because I think it is interesting and fun but it isn’t an explicit part of my role and therefore is difficult to prioritize.”

Instructional designers face obstacles when attempting to engage in research

Respondents were asked about the barriers they encounter when conducting research on teaching and learning in their work as instructional designers. Figure 2 shows the top seven categories of barriers.

The most frequently mentioned barrier was time: finding or having enough time to do research. The second most frequent was collaboration barriers such as finding faculty to collaborate with or having their abilities underestimated.

Other respondents described not having research as part of their job description; not having enough training; logistical barriers such as having difficulty accessing data; lack of institutional commitment, including not being seen as researchers by their supervisors or other institutional leaders; and a lack of support and mentoring.

Figure 2: Instructional Designers’ Perceived Barriers to Research on Teaching and Learning Note. N=185.

Figure 2: Instructional Designers’ Perceived Barriers to Research on Teaching and Learning Note. N=185.

The majority of instructional designers think research would enhance their credibility

The majority of respondents (68.8%) indicated that knowledge in research design and methods enhances their work “quite a bit” or “a great deal” with an additional 25.1% of respondents indicating that it “somewhat” enhances their work.

About 80% indicated that the broader academic community and faculty/subject matter experts perceived instructional designers as more credible when they conduct research on teaching and learning (see Table 1). Between 62% and 80% of the respondents indicated that almost all categories of stakeholders perceive them as more credible when conducting research.


N %
Institutional leadership 193 62.1%
Direct supervisor 197 63.3%
Faculty / SME 247 79.4%
Peers within institution 213 68.5%
Peers outside of institution 229 73.6%
Broader academic community 249 80.1%
Corporate partners / vendors 133 42.8%

Table 1: Instructional Designers’ Perceptions of Whether Stakeholders Assign Credibility Based on Engagement in Research

The following quotes illustrate some of the key findings of this study:

“I have a high personal interest in participating in research but my current role is that of service and support only. As such, I am not seen as a viable candidate to assist in any research project. I am hoping to pursue a terminal degree in the near future and that, hopefully, will open more doors for research, publication, and presentation.”

“I strongly believe that research should be included as an expectation in the ID job description and role, even at a Master’s degree level. This would encourage IDs to collaborate with each other and with faculty and get published, which will help with the legitimization and increased status of the role.”

 The study informed changes at Oregon State University

The results of our study have led to changes at Oregon State Ecampus for our own instructional designers. We now offer additional training for our instructional designers, when desired, in research-related skills, and we have incorporated our instructional designers into a research fellows program housed in the Ecampus Research Unit. We look forward to seeing how these changes help our instructional designers engage in teaching and learning research at Oregon State University.

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.

Mary Ellen Dello Stritto


Mary Ellen Dello Stritto
Assistant Director of Research
Oregon State University Extended Campus




Linder headshot


Kathryn Linder
Research Director
Ecampus, Oregon State University






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