Adaptive Learning: Research-Based Principles for Developing Effective Courses

This week on WCET Frontiers, we are happy to welcome back Niki Bray, Instructor and Instructional Designer with the School of Health Studies at the University of Memphis. Niki is here today to discuss another aspect of adaptive learning: research-based principles for developing effective courses. Niki reviews why higher education leaders should have a solid understanding of the design process and principles of multimedia learning which help increase generative processing.

Thank you, Niki, for this great post!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,

-Lindsey Downs, WCET

Why Do You, A Higher Ed Leader, Need to Understand Design?

That’s a great question! In my work with universities’ who are attempting to transform classroom practices, one of the greatest barriers to achieving their goals is you – the Higher Education leader!

There is an overwhelming lack of understanding of what is, or will be, required to transform the classroom by those who make decisions about the work faculty are involved in. Transforming the classroom to meet current demands by stakeholders (like our students, our faculty, our communities, etc.) is challenging work. It requires tremendous effort on the part of faculty. And if you, as an academic leader, truly care about this transformation, you need to read this blog carefully. Today’s goal: help you gain a greater understanding of what faculty, and potentially instructional designers (and other faculty support personnel), must go through to make this transformation possible. They need your support to be successful.

 The End of Poorly Designed Courses

It’s no secret that poorly developed courses abound – just ask almost any student. The good news is that we now have lots of research on how to improve the way course content is presented to learners, including those delivered using technology. In my last post, we discussed how to design courses using the Backward Design method, a process that ensures proper alignment so that we know students learn and are assessed on what we intended them to know and be able to do in the course. In this post, we will learn how to improve the content learners actually see by the end of the course. Designing an effective course is just the beginning; the hard work, the critical work, lies in the development of the content, or, what the learner actually experiences.

 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning

Let’s dig a little deeper into improving the development of the content in your fully aligned courses, by discussing the use of multimedia principles.

Before we dive in, let’s be sure we are all clear on what is meant by the term multimedia learning. According to Richard E. Mayer, “multimedia learning refers to learning from words and pictures” (2009, Loc. 155 Kindle). Pretty simple concept, huh? If it is so simple, why do most courses violate these principles time and again?

Developed by Richard E. Mayer, the 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning are based upon empirical research (The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning) and are grounded in learning science. These 12 principles are divided into the following three categories: principles that reduce extraneous processing, principles that manage essential processing, and principles that increase generative processing. See the tables below for further explanations of each principle.

1. Principles That Reduce Extraneous Processing (Causes Cognitive Overload) – “cognitive processing that does not serve the instructional goal and is caused by poor instructional design” (Mayer, 2009, Loc. 1099 Kindle).

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Reduce Extraneous Processing PDF

2. Principles That Manage Essential Processing – “cognitive processing that is required to represent the material in working memory and is determined by the complexity of the material” (Mayer, 2009, Loc. 1099 Kindle).


Principles That Manage Essential Processing

3. Principles That Increase Generative Processing – “deep cognitive processing including organizing and integrating the material” (Mayer, 2009, Loc. 1099 Kindle).


Generative Processing PDF


As an academic leader, your influence is beyond powerful in transforming the classroom to better meet the demands of current stakeholders. While you have little to no direct ability to improve courses at your institution, you do have the power to support those who do.

There is pain in the transformation process and it is vital that academic leaders have a clear understanding of that pain. Having this understanding will allow you to be empathetic and supportive of those in the trenches working to redesign the learner experience and, ultimately, learning.

Understanding the importance of backwards design (or some other effective design practice) and the impact proper use of the principles of multimedia learning have on learning is the first step to transforming classrooms across your campus. The next step is providing support – be it course releases, additional stipends, or some other incentive valued by your faculty.

Those institutions having success with the transformation process across this country understand that faculty must be brought to the table on day one and more than adequate support must be provided on an individual faculty basis. Do you see why you, a higher ed academic leader, need to understand design?

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Niki Bray
Instructor|Instructional Designer
School of Health Studies
University of Memphis

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

It seems like all the cool kids are writing about last year’s trends and predicting what will come to pass in 2018. Well, we WCETers don’t want to be left out of the fun!

Over the last few weeks I’ve discussed 2017 and 2018 with some of the movers and shakers in the higher ed, edtech arena. These conversations provided unique insight into what was interesting and, in some cases, surprising, about 2017, and what we have to look forward to this year.

Thank you to those included in this article for chatting with me for this post. Our conversations were a terrific way to wrap up the year!

What Were the Biggest Surprises in Technology Enhanced Learning in 2017?

2017, was definitely a bit weird news wise, and held some surprises up its sleeves for those of us in higher education.word cloud with the words

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Michael Horn, Chief Strategy Officer, Entangled Ventures and Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation …was surprised the hype in higher education around Virtual and Augmented reality, saying that “They will undoubtedly play an exciting role in education, but I’m not yet convinced that they’ll be as easily incorporated with sound instructional design in a widespread way across colleges and universities at a reasonable expense in the near future. The early buzz may prove me wrong, but the verdict is still out.” I for one agree…  I’m excited about the possibilities of AR and VR in the classroom. But I feel without a strong focus on good teaching, we’re just using another shiny new technology tool for the sake of using a shiny new technology tool.

Distance Education Growth and Accessibility

Leah Matthews, Executive Director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission… said she never imagined that by the end of 2017 so many states would have joined SARA (48 so far!). She is thrilled to see a successful higher education grassroots solution to a thorny problem, saying “When I think back to when SARA was gaining its legs, it’s come very far and had very successful results for institutions and students. It’s a real blueprint for how a national effort can be organized.” Leah also addressed distance education enrollment; enrollment in higher education is shrinking steadily, but distance education enrollment is increasing. That tells us a lot about the demand for education in the future.

photo of a brain outlined with computer wiresLeah and I share continued concerns about digital accessibility, and while she was happy that the distance education community has embraced accessibility as a critical issue for learners, there’s still a lot of work to do in this area.

Paid OER Platforms and a Hype-less Year

Phil Hill, Co-Publisher of the e-Literate blog and Partner at MindWires Consulting…knew companies would offer paid platforms for OER at some point, but he was surprised how quickly these products were offered in 2017.

Another surprise, the lack of hype. Phil said, “the market is maturing and moving away from marketing claims of “this will change everything!”” Companies have become more realistic. This could be due to changes in the investment cycle; investors are not investing in every edtech venture and expecting magical returns. Companies are starting to work with institutions and demonstrate that their ideas will actually work.

Government Investments Spur Growth, As Do Small Innovations

Tony Bates, President and CEO of Tony Bates Associates…It would be hard to surprise Tony Bates with anything to do with online learning, but the impact of governmental policy on online enrollment did just that. Each Canadian province governs higher education differently, so Tony and his team can compare/contrast how different distance education impact enrollment. The recent survey (and resulting report) showcased the considerable variance between provinces. For example, the fastest growth rate in distance education occurred in Ontario, where the government has invested heavily in online learning. However, in Quebec, there has not been a government strategy for online learning, and enrollment decreased, at least in the college sector.

Tony was also surprised to learn about the impact of small scale innovations on student success, especially work by faculty that often goes on “under the radar” (on their own, not part of an institutional strategy).

Personalized Learning and CBE

Susan Patrick, President & Chief Executive Officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)…and I discussed several topics, beginning with the 2017 focus on personalized learning and competency based education (CBE). Currently, edtech solutions are built based on traditional models of education and are constrained by subject and the grade-level of the student. Susan has several great ideas on how to improve on the status quo this year….

Personal Devices

photo of a large pile of smart phonesMike Abbiatti, Executive Director of WCET/Vice President of WICHE... reminded me that there weren’t that many surprises for those who watch the field every day. But, he was intrigued by the interest in the non-technical aspects in of technology enhanced learning: The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), cybersecurity threats, awareness of student needs and accommodations, and an increased focus on personalized learning.

Mike also mentioned that, since technology moves from the home to the institution now, delivery of personalized learning will be through content delivered on personal devices.” Institutions must be ready to address the use of personal devices by its community.

Looking Forward to 2018

Now that we’ve closed out 2017, it’s time to look forward to this year.

2018 Technologies

What technologies could we see a focus on for 2018?

Mobile Learning

Outlines of hands holding a mobile phoneMichael Horn is excited about the developments occurring in the mobile learning space, especially regarding the instructional design processes that take place for mobile learning. Apps like Duolingo paved the way, but more is coming in this space, such as Smartly’s free MBA program, which takes place through their mobile app.

Michael Horn joins us (and other outstanding Higher Ed, EdTech leaders) this week for our “Issues and Trends in EdTech 2018” webinar. There’s still time to register!

Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity

Mike Abbiatti felt the focus will be on Virtual and Augmented Reality, which could be controlled by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and adaptive learning. These trends will be in line with personalization trend from 2017. Cyber-defense will be CRITICAL, especially as higher education is a very vulnerable community. We need to increase our education and understanding regarding the risks and benefits of curated, digital content and credentials.

Mike reminded me to consider what people bought at Christmas. Through those gifts and other purchases, we’ve made our homes “AI headquarters.” In 2018, it will no longer be what the institution wants to do technology wise. It will be the institution responding to what their community wants to do with technology.

Comprehensive Student Profiles and Micro-credentials

Susan Patrick ‘s ideas for edtech platforms that could showcase a wholistic profile of students, backed by evidence in some sort of portfolio, would be an excellent direction for vendors in 2018. These student profiles could show student’s broad range of skills and help admissions counselors or employers see readiness for college and careers. The learner profile would have to be a flexible student achievement record that considered competency based education, graduate requirements throughout secondary and postsecondary education, and what kind of edtech could support these models.

Susan and I also discussed badging and micro-credentialing for students and for adults (especially within teacher education,) and how Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will help us create engaging, complex, real-world problems for students to solve.

Changes in Education

Many of my conversations ended on the topic of changes we may see in education in general.text reads


In 2018, according to Mike, we will begin to finalize the vocabulary for what higher education delivers. We will define the curated packages of what we deliver and to whom. That will help us move forward to delivering quality, personalized education.

Distance Education Quality

On the distance education front, Leah highlighted the growing reputation of distance education and its ability to meeting the various needs of students. Leah is looking forward to more collaboration across groups that have an interest in distance education, and reminded me that WCET has been a pioneer in this effort through our partnerships with OLC, outreach/support of SARA, etc. She continued, “I’m looking forward to 2018 as a year when there is a real unity around the distance education institutions, regardless of their accreditation, regardless of their state, regardless of their mission.”

Blended Learning Best Practices

Looking forward, Tony Bates would like a standard set of best practices to be developed for faculty for blended learning, and especially guidance on when face-to-face is better pedagogically, based on empirical research. These best practices should be based on good learning theory, easy to understand, and easy for faculty to use and access. Tony’s open book on Teaching in a Digital Age suggests some ideas about how to move this area forward but he acknowledges more research and theory on blended learning is needed.

OER and Quality Teaching

Phil Hill is hoping to see a broader offering of OER and digital content in 2018. Digital content companies and publishers can do more than just offer content, but they can combine OER and digital content, and see companies come up with new models (and not do the same thing as everyone else, but maybe slightly more effectively).

In 2016 and 2017 there was so much talk about efficacy. Phil is also looking forward to the conversation shifting to teaching practices. It’s misguiding to apply efficacy to products alone. Let’s all make 2018 the year where we talk more about quality teaching.

Goodbye 2017

Scrabble tiles reading

2017 was quite a year, but, to be honest, I’m not that sad to leave it behind.

I closed each of these conversations feeling hopeful and very positive about direction of edtech and education for 2018.

I’m personally looking forward to celebrating the 30th year of WCET, did you know we’re throwing a big birthday bash in Portland this fall?!

Happy New Year and here’s to a great one!


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Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies @lindsey0427



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California Governor Envisions a New Online Community College

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CA Governor Brown

Governor Jerry Brown proposed a new community college that would be online, competency-based, offer sub-associate credentials, and focused on serving working learners. The idea was included in his budget request that he delivered to the California State Assembly yesterday.

From the website for the initiative describing the problem being solved and the proposed solution:

Economic insecurity is expected to increase over the next decade. By 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require a college credential, according to estimates by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce…Millions of Californians would benefit from sub-associate degree credentials or short bursts of additional training to move ahead in today’s economy. However, traditional higher education is not accessible for these working learners.

The California Community Colleges is responding with an online community college to provide skills and credentials working learners need to improve their social and economic mobility and move our state forward. This new, competency-based online college will be unlike any other public online education platform and will focus predominately on sub-associate degree credentials of value tailored to the needs of these working learners.

Van Ton-Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor, Workforce and Digital Futures for the California Community College System told me that: “The R&D unit being established as part of this venture will build our collective use of learning science, data science, and behavioral science in shaping educational strategies that meet adults where they are.”

How Was the Proposal Developed?

Governor Brown has a recent history of challenging the three higher education systems in his state to serve more students and to be more innovative. Resulting investments have led to California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative and efforts of the California State University to support online learners.outline of state of california in colorful dots

Brown wanted more. Unlike a few other examples that I can think of in which politicians floated half-baked ideas, this idea was researched. A Working Group represented key constituents within the colleges, the system, and the state’s Departments of Labor and Finance. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) “worked with the system stakeholders and online thought leaders to develop ‘Report on Options for an Online, Statewide Community College’ that was delivered to the governor.”

The Working Group presented the Governor with options including an institution that would assume the duties on its own or a partnership of institutions that would share the duties. The Governor favored creating a new institution.

Additional Considerations for Accreditation, Organization, and Learning

The Online Community College Proposal states that the institution will:

  • Seek “accreditation and meet requirements for students to become eligible for federal financial aid and state financial aid.”
  • Not compete with existing colleges because it is focusing on students who “are not currently accessing higher education” and “students who are unable to access or obtain an education in a traditional setting.”
  • Hire its own faculty and will transition to collective bargaining.
  • Avoid duplicating existing programs by leveraging existing online education efforts (such as the Online Education Initiative mentioned previously) already available within the system.

Sally Johnstone, President of NCHEMS told me that: “The design of the new statewide community college is based on everything we know and could find about the needs of working Californians who will require new skills and knowledge to fulfill evolving workforce demands. This college will be able to incorporate the latest information from the field of learning science to offer these students engaging and convenient ways to acquire relevant knowledge for life-long careers.”

Not Surprisingly, Questions Remain

As with any new venture, there are more questions than factsblack and red question marks. There are many details to work out.

For example, via Twitter Sean Gallagher (Founder and Executive Director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, and Executive Professor of Educational Policy) asked me “And why can’t the existing CA community colleges meet the need? I’m assuming the challenge is governance, financial model, faculty buy-in?”

I think he hit on some real challenges that might be more easily overcome with a new entity. In my opinion additional factors may be capacity (the existing colleges have had trouble keeping apace with the growing population) and the laser-focus on workforce development (which has become a favorite issue with state legislators everywhere).

Additionally, I think it is an issue about an institution’s ability to focus. I worry when a college adds a major new effort that may be the third…or eighth…or sixteenth most important item in their mission. There are other states that have adult and/or online focused institutions and they have been stellar in serving that goal. Meanwhile, I’ve worked on projects that were short-term priorities for more traditional institutions and those efforts have gone by the wayside. An example is Kentucky’s Commonwealth College, which I believe has been whittled down to nothing.

It will be fascinating to watch the press, the politics, and the progress of this idea. More to come!

What do you think? Share your comments below.

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Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies  @russpoulin
WCET – 30 years of serving #highered in North America



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A Look Back at 2017 for WCET Frontiers: It’s Been Weird

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.

Here at WCET and the Frontiers blog, we were not quite as exciting. No hiding in bushes (or among the Bushes), covfefe, or “fake news” here.

As selected by your views of our posts, here are the issues that gained the most attention this year…

In orer: Interaction” Education Dept. Clarifies its Intent on State Auth Reciprocity Distance Ed Costs and Price: Not as Closely correlated as You’d Think The Federal State Auth for Distanced Ed Regulation Still Stands Is Your Distance Education Course Actually a Correspondence Course? On the OIG/WFU Finding: Part 1, When Interaction is Not Interaction House HEA Proposes Changes for Distance Ed, CBE, & State Auth Ed Dept. Confirms “Reciprocity” Definition Clarification The OIG Report on WGU: Part 2, React… but Don’t Overreact OIG Report on WGU: Part 3, A Brief History of “Regular & Substantive Interaction”

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. Image with galaxy that says 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. graphic reads 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

OLC logoDecidedly 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.OLC logo 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

Russ looking confused

Russ looking back over a weird year…


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







Lindsey on WCET 17

Lindsey thinking of some of the good stuff in 2017 (WCET Awards!)


Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communication
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies @lindsey0427




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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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