WCET staff–thank you for your on-going support of the WCET Frontiers blog. Over the holidays, we wanted to offer you the chance to review posts that you may have missed but had been popular with your peers. Rather than evoking Casey Kasem with American Top 40 and just listing the posts topping the chart with the most views, we will highlight the top issues covered over the year. This way we can feature several related great posts.
As an aside on American Top 40…did you know Ryan Seacrest is still doing that show? If you are young, you might be thinking, “I know Ryan Seacrest, but who is this Casey guy?” For you, Casey Kasem was the original voice of Shaggy in the Scooby Doo cartoons.
Without further ado (or Scooby Doo), let’s get to the top of the charts…
Regular and Substantive Interaction
The new and updated U.S. Department of Education definition of “distance education” is used in the determination of federal financial aid eligibility for institutions. The key differentiator between distance and correspondence education is the concept of “regular and substantive interaction.” In the past, there were questions regarding how the Department applied this rule in practice and the Department’s interpretations seemed to change over time. For several years a post by Van Davis and me (“Interpreting What is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction”) was a great source for advice and topped the charts.
When the revised definition became effective on July 1, 2021, we needed a new take. Kathryn Kerensky (a smart, young upstart who is new to the WCET State Authorization Network staff) tops this year’s charts with the most viewed post of the year: “Regular and Substantive Interaction: Reviewing & Sharing Our Best Interpretation of Current Guidance and Requirements.” Congratulations Kathryn!
Another oldie that placed surprisingly high was a blog written by me, titled “Is Your Distance Education Course Actually a Correspondence Course?” Like a song from the distant past, that 2012 post should be relegated to a fading tune in favor of Kathryn’s new post.
Watch for more on this issue as we are expecting additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.
Changed Accreditation Review Standards
In the Spring, we heard from some of our accrediting friends about a Department of Education reinterpretation of the requirements for reviews of distance education programs. Accrediting agencies used to require reviews for programs where 50 percent of the courses were distance education or 50 percent of its students enrolled via distance education. The Department now requires an “in whole or in part” standard. Cheryl Dowd (WCET State Authorization Network) and I (really mostly Cheryl) alerted you to this news in “Department of Ed Change May Result In More Institutions Needing Distance Education Approvals from Accrediting Agencies.” We did not have much to report at that time and it was still the second most popular post of the year. An update on this one may be needed.
Equity for Students
The events of 2020-21 highlighted the inequities faced by those who have traditionally not been served well by higher education institutions in particular, or society as a whole. Changes are needed, but they should be evidence-based. WCET contracted with Tanya Joosten of DETA (the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements) to review the research. The results of the report were highlighted in the post “New Report: Research Review of EdTech and Student Success for Racial and Ethnic Groups.”
We had additional follow-up blogs on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in digital learning, including a great series of posts authored by WCET Steering Committee members:
- “Enabling Difference – Stories of Equity in Higher Education” by Chantae Recasner of Northeast Lakeview College.
- “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Digital Learning“ a review by Van Davis and Tina Parscal of Colorado Community Colleges Online.
- “What Tech Says about Your DEI Work: Barriers to Equitable Digital Learning and Ways We Can Remove Them” by Mark Porcaro of Wichita State University and Robert McGuire of McGuire Editorial Content.
- “Leveraging Analytics to Close DEI Access & Attainment Gaps” by Adam Cota, Western Governors University.
- “Leveraging the Strategic Planning Process for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work” by Janelle Elias, Rio Salado College.
- “New Tool Helps Leaders Leverage Open Educational Resources to Advance Equity” by Rebecca Karoff of The University of Texas System.
Changes to Veterans’ Benefits
Cheryl Dowd, WCET State Authorization Network and WCET’s Director of Policy Innovations, has been following the changing Veterans Administration rules regarding GI Bill benefits for veteran students. She was incredibly helpful in highlighting confusing rules and the sometimes confusing clarifications on the alterations that occurred in 2021:
- “Institutional Compliance by August 1, 2021 – When Serving Students Receiving Veterans Benefits”
- “The Round-Out Rule and What Institutions and Military-Affiliated Students Need to Know”
Emerging Technologies and Innovations
We also had some updates on advances in educational technologies and the innovations surrounding them:
- “The Promise of Blockchain in Education” – Megan Raymond of WCET has been following these developments.
- “Leveraging Regional Partnerships for a State-wide OER Community” – Regina Gong of Michigan State University Libraries and Jenny Parks of MHEC highlighted this collaboration.
“Student Device Preferences for Online Course Access and Multimedia Learning” – this is actually an older one from Kathryn Linder, but still placed highly.
Quality of Digital/Online Learning Guidelines
There were two important developments this year in updating guidelines for digital and online learning:
- “Comment Period Open for 21st Century Guidelines for Distance Education” – these Guidelines are meant to be used by NC-SARA for its institutions to affirm that they are following these good practices. The Guidelines were tabled by the NC-SARA Board, so expect more updates in the future.
- “SUNY Online is Pleased to Announce the Release of OSCQR 4.0!” – a long-distance dedication thanking Alexandra Pickett for her good work on these updates. The revised SUNY’s guidelines give new attention to the revised “regulation and substantive interaction” rules.
Professional Licensure Student Notifications
Cheryl Dowd and the State Authorization Network crew have done deep work to help us all understand the differing expectations (Department of Educations, Veterans Administration, SARA) for notifying students about whether an institution’s program meets state licensure requirements:
- “Professional Licensure Student Disclosures – It’s the One Month Warning, with No Time-outs Remaining” – this is a 2020 post, but it still provides good advice.
- “One Year Anniversary of the Federal Regulations for Professional Licensure Notifications – How are You Celebrating?” – this is the update from the summer of 2021 with revised information.
Rules for a Multi-state Workforce
As a result of the pandemic, institutions are now finding an increasing number of faculty and staff who have moved to other states. Such a move has several practical and legal implications. In “What is ‘NEXUS’ for higher ed? Considerations for a multi-state workforce,” Rachael Stachowiak, our new WCET State Authorization Network colleague, displays her fantastic research chops in detailing the regulations that come into play and suggested action steps that the institution might take in response.
Negotiated Rulemaking Aftermath
There is still lots of interest in the results of the Department of Education’s 2019 Negotiated Rulemaking, as witnessed by the popularity of several posts, many of which were written by Van Davis and Cheryl Dowd and published in 2020:
- “Surprise! Newly Released Final Regulations”
- “New Regulations #1: Regular and Substantive Interaction”
- “New Regulations #2: Credit Hour, Title IV Eligibility, & What Exactly is a Week?”
- “New Regulations #3: Direct Assessment and Competency-Based Education”
- “Final Federal Regulations for State Authorization Released!”
Have a great 2022!
If you would like to share lessons you have learned and write a WCET Frontiers blog post for 2022, let me know. We would love to have more stories from those innovating in the field or overcoming barriers in better serving faculty, staff, and students.
Well, that’s our show for this week and just remember to:
“Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”
Executive Director, WCET