What a weird year for news. Comic actress Melissa McCarthy won an Emmy Award for her Saturday Night Live portrayal of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. It is hard to say which was more surreal, her version of “Spicey” or the actual twisted logic used by Spicer himself.
As selected by your views of our posts, here are the issues that gained the most attention this year…
Regular and Substantive Interaction / The OIG Audit of WGU
For the sixth year in a row, Russ Poulin’s 2012 post “Is Your Distance Education Course Actually a Correspondence Course?” cracks the top ten (at number 5). The most viewed post this year was Van Davis and Russ’s attempt at interpreting what is required for “regular and substantive interaction,” written last year. The popularity of those two posts has much to do with the U.S. Department of Education’s audit of Western Governors University, which seemed to cause more confusion on the issue. Van and I again tried to make sense of it all in our series of posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) trying to interpret the finding. Departmental guidance on this issue has been lacking. While we await the final word on the WGU audit, remember our caution to “react, but don’t overreact.”
It’s odd that we are the source of the clearest explanation of the interaction requirement. But, as we said, it’s been a weird year.
State Authorization and Reciprocity
Talk about surreal. This time last year Russ received a call from the Department asking him to communicate to the world what the Department really meant when it issued its state authorization regulation. Wait, wait…he was not wearing his tin foil hat, it really happened. They confirmed it in a letter. Language that seemingly undermined the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement actually was meant to support it. We are very appreciative of the Departmental staff reaching out to us, but are still awaiting an official “Dear Colleague” letter on this issue. Despite the overwhelming sense that the federal state authorization regulation will go away, we also clarified that the “regulation is the regulation until it is not the regulation.”
Is it weird that we are providing clarifications for a federal agency?
House Releases First Version of Higher Education Act
The Higher Education Act controls the rules around federal funding and expectations of colleges, as well as the federal financial aid rules. The House of Representative’s first attempt at reauthorizing the Act includes language that would better define competency-based education, eliminate the federal (not state-based) state authorization requirements, changes distance education oversight by accreditors, and opens paths to federal aid to non-accredited providers. The fun has just begun as the Senate gets into the “Act” early next year.
It is weird that we actually like some of the edtech language. Meanwhile we are very concerned about the overall effects on higher education, student aid, and consumer protection.
In Defense of the LMS – The Top Guest Post of the Year
The award for the most popular guest blog this year goes to Sasha Thackaberry for “In Defense of the LMS.” This ended up being a bit of a controversial blog post, as we all received lots of exciting feedback. What are your thoughts on her stance regarding LMSs? Congratulations to Sasha, as it is definitely not weird that she developed a well-written, thought-provoking piece.
Sasha will help us ring in the new year with our first webinar of 2018. Register now for WCET’s “Issues and Trends in EdTech in 2018” to hear Sasha and other visionaries discuss the edtech issues and trends on the horizon.
Price and Cost of Distance Education
Racing past all the regulatory issues for a spot as one of the top three most read blog posts this year was a little number by Russ and Terri Taylor Straut introducing the WCET Price and Cost of Distance Education report. The post, Distance Ed Costs and Price: Not as Closely Correlated as You’d Think, provided background on the survey and summarized the results. Watch for a Change Magazine article on this issue early next year that will highlight the weird gap between practitioners and legislators on the costs of educational technologies.
Purdue and Kaplan
What struck some as weird, the Purdue Acquisition of Kaplan drew quite a lot of attention in 2017. Our blog post provided background, opinions, and further questions the day after the announcement. Russ also reviewed IPEDS enrollment data for each institution, and discussed questioned whether the sale would be approved and how the sale would impact other distance learning providers.
Be Careful Collecting Data from Europeans
Have you heard of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)? If you haven’t, no worries, because Cheryl Dowd has got the information covered for you in her recent post on the topic. Our institutions must be compliant by May 25, 2018, so it’s easy to see why this post almost made it to the top!
Beginning an OLC/WCET Focus on Accessibility in Educational Technologies
Decidedly not weird is WCET’s partnership with our friends at the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) to further address the challenges our members face regarding accessibility of educational technology. In addition to several conference presentations, we worked with OLC and individuals from the National Center on Disability and Access to Education and WebAIM, to jointly offer a blog on Steps You Can Take Now to Address Accessibility at Your Institution. This post was cited, frequently, as one of the most useful and important posts of the year.
Jackie Luft, Accessibility Specialist for Texas Tech Worldwide eLearning, provided incredibly useful advice for ensuring accessible design of online courses. She also reviewed the related laws and resources for helping instructors get started.
Watch for more information about accessibility from OLC and WCET in the new year.
Wishing You the Best
It has been a fun and noteworthy year for WCET and Frontiers and we look forward to supporting you in the coming year. Have great holidays and watch for Frontiers to return in 2018 with more news for you. Hey, maybe 2018 won’t be so weird?
~Russ and Lindsey