Focus on Student Success – WCET Summit ’17 Recap

WCET’s 6th Leadership Summit engaged institutional leaders in strategic discussions regarding alignment and support of their institution’s human capital and technology investments, Picture1and how to develop a content strategy to sustain innovation in teaching and learning. In my opinion, boy was it successful!

This was my very first WCET Leadership Summit, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. From the invigorating sessions and outstanding conversations, fun outings complete with concerts or yummy dining options, to the thrillingly active social media backchannel. Today, I’d like to recap the event and bring up some of the topics that I hope will continue to inspire future conversations, project ideas, and events.

Hearing from Leaders Who Think about Innovation

The Summit started with Nick White, Director, Competency Based Learning Solutions for Capella University and chair of the WCET Steering Committee, facilitating a panel with Jeff Borden (Chief Innovation Officer, Saint Leo University) and Michelle Weise (Executive Director, Sandbox Collaborative, Southern New Hampshire University) on driving institutional innovation. We learned about what Nick hates when it comes to innovation and the Twitter backchannel fired up rather quickly (and remained very active, check out the Storify). Michelle and Jeff discussed innovations on their campuses: Southern New Hampshire University’s Sandbox Collaborative and Saint Leo University’s Lions SHARE. Both noted that innovation is hard! To encourage innovation, they recommended bringing people on board slowly, raising awareness of innovators in action, and making sure to reward and celebrate failure (meaning, take advantage of failure as a learning opportunity).

Want to experience the magic of that session? Watch the recording of this session.

The breakout sessions this year included presentations and interactive discussions about hiring and cultivating talented employees, designing teaching and learning centers, aligning investments to support student success, educational content strategies, and data analytics. For more information on the presentations and the presenters, please check out the summit agenda.

Identify the Talent You Have, What You Need, and Where to Discover Candidates

Lauren Mason Carris -Western Governors University, Pat James -California Communication Colleges Online Education Initiative, Laura Pedrick -UWM Online

The focus on student success was clear during this session, and is accomplished by ensuring we have the right talent on the team and we take the time and the resources to develop that talent.

The presenters opened the session by telling stories about their experiences with talent management and mentoring. They emphasized the creation of a talent focused organization. We must look for opportunities to re-skill or re-motivate (vs. disciplining), model good leadership or work habits, and provide space to our team members to grow. Student success should be the guiding mission for your team. Pat commented that she always makes sure to ask one question when considering new projects, programs or initiatives. Does it support student success? If it doesn’t support student success, why are you doing it?

 Today’s Learning Design Infrastructure

MJ Bishop -University System of Maryland, Christina Anderson -Wiley Education Services, Jay Hollowell – MaxKnowledge, Inc.

Centers for teaching and learning not only provide development opportunities for faculty, but can enable innovation. The role of these centers is not to fix broken faculty, but to share what’s working to improve student learning.

The learning environment of today is changing from sitting in a seat, listening to select information, to an environment of experiences and unlimited access to information. Today’s learners have more life experience, are more diverse, and are “on” 24/7. How can we prepare to meet the needs of these students?

There are new and emerging faculty roles today as well. They are now planners, preparers, facilitators, coaches, and evaluators. Institutions are reorganizing to better support faculty and students in technology enabled learning initiatives.

Aligning Investments to Support Core Functions

Rhonda Blackburn –LoudCloud Systems, Stefanie Crouse -Montgomery County Community College, Paul Thayer -Colorado State University

How do you align your resource investments to ensure you make a difference to student retention and completion?

During the general session, Paul talked about how advising at Colorado State was broken, so they created a new model. CSU created a unified vision connected to student success and made sure they had top level support (five vice presidents) and institution-wide involvement.

Rhonda asked, how do we ensure student success for online students? What services are different for online students and what services the same? Most important, what needs to be improved? Rhonda also provided a wonderful resource with a checklist of student support services, including “ethical services,” which includes academic integrity.

Lastly, we discussed redesigning advising at Montgomery County Community College. Advising had been like urgent care: quick visits with different advisors each time. After the redesign, students were assigned advisors based on their major/program of study. Montgomery adopted a wholistic approach including educational and career planning. They based their model on the SSIPP model for serving students: Sustained, Strategic, Integrated, Proactive, and Personalized – from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University.

I enjoyed their closing activity to determine who would be “at your table” when starting something new on campus. We decided that we need to bring in IT, institutional research, marketing, advising, students, etc. into the room to talk about the problem and brainstorm solutions.

Data Security and Privacy and Systems Thinking in Higher Education.

Just before and after lunch we attended general sessions, the first of which focused on tackling the higher education data security and privacy challenge. We were introduced to the topic by John Lopez, WICHE. Sadly, the tales of hacking and data loss are not just scary bedtime stories. bedtime story.PNGWe heard about Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Advisory Program from Harley D. Rinerson, which can help assess essential cybersecurity performance or check out your cyber hygiene (scan to assess vulnerabilities). We remembered a time when all this tech stuff only kept one person up at night: our institution’s Chief Information Officer. Today, we all must take responsibility for data security. WCET’s Mike Abbiatti reminded us that protecting data is a strategic issue. We can’t talk about innovation in higher education without first talking about cybersecurity.

We must inform and education our campus communities about data and privacy protection. The new culture of innovation should also be a culture of protection and preparedness. Learn more by watching the recording.

The second general session turned toward fostering innovation through design thinking. Kathleen deLaski, Education Design Lab, introduced us to journey mapping new ideas. They use the map to visualize patterns and understand how ideas blossom or get sidetracked. The Ed Design Lab’s model of design thinking for higher ed innovation includes: understand, ideate, prototype, launch.

Sean Hobson, EdPlus, ASU, believes that successful innovation at ASU has been possible due to a strong vision by a strong and inspiring leader. Their success stems from moving from an institutional focus to a student focused model. This model forced them to develop new partnerships and new values to create and foster those ideas.

Manoj Kulkarni, RealizeIt, commented on the language problem with the verbiage used when discussion innovation. Most people understand the structure or concept of innovation but not the entire process of what it means to innovate. We need to develop a shared meaning of the process of innovation. Miss this session? You’re in luck, because we recorded it!

Summarizing Day One

At the end of the day, Jeff Borden provided an entertaining and thought-provoking recap of day one. I thought his comments about considering innovation without technology were so important. Innovation doesn’t always have to be centered around technology. Miss it? Check out the recording!

Group dinners followed for many of us, and, and some of us also attended the outdoor concert at Salt Lake’s Gallivan Center (or listened from our rooms, as the concert was right outside the hotel).

Day two, Thursday June 15

We were welcomed to day two by Kelvin Bentley, the Vice Chair of the WCET Steering Committee and vice president of academic affairs, TCC Connect Campus, Tarrant County Community College District.

Our opening session included lessons on supporting innovation, from a panel that included Stacey VanderHeiden Guney -Aims Community College, Kara Monroe -Ivy Tech Community College, Vernon Smith -American Public University System, Paul Thayer -Colorado State, and facilitated by Luke Dowden -University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Their theme: do you fail at scale or do you pilot to tell? Luke referenced his recent blog on the same title, which inspired the presentation for WCET. file-3The panelists discussed their successes and failures in innovation. First, Kara’s discussed their recent, faculty led, LMS RFP process and rollout (communication was key). Vernon talked about the iron triangle within higher education (quality, cost, access) and how these cultural constraints can keep us from innovating. American Public University System is a Z degree, zero cost for textbooks, institution. This increases affordability and access for students. Next, we learned about the ACCelerator from Stacey VanderHeiden Guney. Her suggestion was to look “at old things in new ways.” Such as looking at an old shopping mall and turning it into a campus. Paul Thayer described a long-term project (student success initiatives) aimed at increasing graduation rates, especially for low income students. Transformation of advising to academic guidance was a huge part of this project.

Hearing about these exceptional programs from these very cool experts (as Luke Dowden named them) was a terrific opportunity. The recording is available for binge watching this weekend!

After a lovely beverage break, we were released for more breakout sessions.

Education Content Strategy

Jason Hales -VitalSource, Shannon Meadows -EdMap, Meredith Schreiber -Chemeketa Community College, Kim Thanos -Lumen Learning

An educational content strategy is an institutional plan for the procurement and delivery of course materials to achieve affordability, access, and retention goals. When developing your content strategy, as advised by Shannon Meadows from EdMap, keep in mind that it should be “flexible to accommodate emerging pedagogical and institution changes, such as personalization, adaptive, interactive content, and/or analytics.”

We discussed using Open Educational Resources as a content strategy. There are some challenges to address when it comes to OER (quality, maintenance, technology, etc.). Kim brought up the example of Cerritos College, where access to personalized learning and OER has helped with their retention (rates increased from 67% to 89%)) and student performance (.75 grade pints better in personalized courses).

Meredith advised that many question her work on OER (because of the potential impact to her job at the bookstore), she says we should think of ourselves as Blockbuster. That’s a distinct perspective! She worked to streamline low cost textbook adoption process and provide direct digital access to content. While this impacted her bookstore revenue, students had access to educational content day one at a reduced price. Remember: Blockbuster. We can work toward this change, keeping student success as our goal, or we can help ourselves become obsolete.

Jason had a similar story. Their model ensures day one access to learning materials at a lower cost. They are facing some issues with content as well such as too rapid of growth, differential pricing, offline access, and data analytics.

Making Your Data Analytics Actionable

Jeff Aird -Salt Lake Community College, Mike Sharkey -Blackboard, Inc

How well does higher ed do at making sure that the data we have is actionable? I’ve always felt that if you don’t have an actionable reason to pull data, then why are you pulling it?

This session focused on how to use our data to identify innovative solutions to higher ed’s biggest issues. We need to progress from descriptive data (simple reports and dashboards), to insights (storytelling and analysis), to action. Data provides opportunities for engagement. We can use the data to redesign courses (and hopefully decrease the need for interventions for at risk students). Data should be used to provide purpose and information to your faculty and staff.

Leadership, Vision, and Sustainability

Connie Johnson -Colorado Technical University, Patrick Rossol-Allison -Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bryan Setser -rpkGroup

Innovation involves change, and much of that involves a change in culture. Higher education may need to consider taking a mindset similar to innovators in other industries (like an “intrapreneur” vs and entrepreneur).

Communication during a change process is important. When leading change, we should develop a sense of urgency, provide evidence for why we need to change (especially important when working with faculty), and celebrate success (even the small ones!). You should obtain and analyze data and adapt your plan as you move through the change process. Do quarterly assessments to check the health of your change process…don’t wait to do an autopsy once your initiative failed.

Summarizing Day Two

Peter Smith led us through a recap of day two, thank you Peter! He had a few aha! moments during the meeting, and my favorite was his comment about calling students learners instead of students. To me, it is much more empowering to be a learner. Listen to his other aha moments in the recording.

We asked at the end of each day for ideas on how we can help you innovate on your campus. I know the team is looking forward to developing additional resources, initiatives, media, etc. We may reach out to partner with you on some of your ideas!

What did you think about #WCETSummit17? If you loved this event (or were jealous because you couldn’t attend) then you should join us in Denver for the WCET Annual Meeting. Registration just opened!banner-meeting-registration


Enjoy the day,


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Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications, WCET



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Introducing WCET’s ‘Z Initiative’ on Open Textbooks and OER

Drum roll please! Welcome to WCET’s new Director of Open Policy, Tanya Spilovoy! Tanya is here on WCET Frontiers today to introduce the new WCET Z Initiative and her work with OER and Open Policy.

We’re quite excited to have Tanya on the team and see where this work takes us and our WCET members. Take it away Tanya!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,


Hi. I’m Tanya Spilovoy. You might remember me from such WCET hit roles as “State Authorization Network state regulator,” “SARA Portal Agent,” ‘WCET Steering Committee,” numerous webcasts, and annual conference presentations.

You may also remember me from WCET Frontiers Blog blog posts (What are Institutions Doing (or Not Doing) About State Authorization: 2014 Survey, OER Supported by North Dakota Legislators, North Dakota Open Educational Resources Initiative: A System-wide Success Story) related to my Open Educational Resources(OER) project in North Dakota. With a small investment from the state legislature, my leadership at the system office, and support from faculty, postsecondary students saved $2 million in textbook costs during the 2016-17 school year. Implemented effectively, OER can lower cost and increase access for students.

Announcing My New Role at WCET

Now I’m excited to announce a new role leading the WCET Z Initiative as Director, Open Policy.

photo of several hardcover books“What’s a ‘Z Initiative’?” you wonder? I’m glad you asked. “Z” stands for “Zero”-as in “Zero Textbook Cost courses and degrees.” A successful Z Initiative means that proprietary textbooks are replaced with openly licensed learning resources (OER) in courses and postsecondary degree programs. Eliminating textbook costs, which can average $1,200 per year per student, reduces the overall cost of attendance. Students in Z courses have access to learning materials the first day of class, regardless of their financial situation.

After years teaching on campus and online courses, I’ve seen how students struggle when they don’t have the textbook.  Eliminating textbook costs eliminates a barrier to completion.

Z Degrees are already being successfully implemented in many states and institutions. Tidewater Community College was the first to launch an OER degree and also coined the term “Z Degree.” University of Maryland University College won the 2015 WCET WOW Award for eliminating publisher textbooks in all undergraduate courses. Achieving the Dream and partners (Lumen Learning, the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER), and SRI International), helped 38 community colleges in 13 states remove the financial burden of textbook costs. This action increased the likelihood of degree completion for thousands of students.

Since 2002, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been encouraging the increased use of open educational resources to reduce the cost of education and increase access to information for millions of people world-wide. With the work of WCET’s founding director, Sally Johnstone, WCET was one of the original organizations to champion OER. Just last year, the WCET Steering Committee identified OER as one of its priorities and there were many sessions on OER at the Word jumble including these words "resources, students, zero, cost OER, access, textbook, education, text, initiative, policy, open"WCET Annual Meeting.

My position at WCET is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and although there isn’t funding available to WCET member OER projects, we will offer an array of services and opportunities for engagement.

What will I be doing as WCET’s Director, Open Policy?

I’ll be working with policy-makers and change agents at the state, system, and institution level to increase the use of OER and decrease the price of higher education for post-secondary students. In my first few months, I’ll be doing research, strategizing, networking, and creating materials that focus on best practice in policy and implementation. I’m also meeting and working with other OER pioneers and Hewlett grantees so that WCET compliments their awesome work. A wonderful trait of the Open Community is that we share and help each other.

I know many of you are excited to get involved, and I can’t wait to meet with you, listen to your ideas and brainstorm ways to work together. WCET is committed to serving the needs of its members. I’m proud to work in a nationally-respected organization with a long history of collaboration and innovation in educational technology.

I’ll need a little time as Russ Poulin (WCET’s Director, Policy & Analysis) and I work out the many details, so please be patient. The grant does not provide for subgrants for individual implementations. As we fully develop our menu of services, I’ll keep you updated on our progress.

Feel free to send me an email. Stay tuned for more as Russ and I roll out the WCET Z Initiative.

Tanya Spilovoy

Tanya Spilovoy
Director, Open Policy, WCET




Glossary of Terms

Open Educational Resources (OER)

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation defines OER as the following: “Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”

Open Textbooks

According to the Open Textbook Library, “open textbooks are textbooks that have been funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed.”

Z Degrees

Z Degrees replace traditional textbooks with a variety of Open Educational Resources, thereby eliminating textbook costs for students.

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Financial Aid: Tips and Tricks for Working with Non-Traditional Students

In the second of our series on financial aid issues, Brittany Hackett of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Officers (NASFAA), gives us a look at aid for non-traditional students. She also highlights some of NASFAA’s tip sheets for different types of students, such as adults or military/veterans. Join us our webcast on June 22 covering financial aid fraud in distance education.
– Russ Poulin, WCET 

When you think of college students, who are you picturing? Probably someone who just graduated from high school and is headed off to an ivy-covered campus, living away from home for the first time. While that’s still the reality for some, financial aid administrators know that today’s average college student is anything but traditional.

Non-traditional students are “students who, by choice or by life circumstances, haven’t lived life in a straight line from high school to undergrad to graduate or professional school,” Mendy Schmerer, assistant director of the Office of Student Financial Aid at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center explains.

And the non-traditional student population is quickly becoming the largest cohort of college students in America. In fact, 2015 data from the National Center on Education Statistics showed that 74 percent of all 2011-12 undergraduates had at least one characteristic that labeled them as a non-traditional student.

But non-traditional students face barriers and obstacles that other students may not.  The way many financial aid programs are designed typically addresses the need and characteristics of traditional college students, and do not often take into consideration the needs of the non-traditional student population.

As the population of non-traditional students grows on campuses around the country, here are some important things you should keep in mind to make their educational path a little easier, particularly when it comes to financial aid.

Be Aware of What Their Lives May Look Like Outside of School and Be Flexible.

shutterstock_262131680For many non-traditional students, school is not their only, or even their biggest, priority. Bearing this in mind can help you tailor your communications and messaging to better assist this group.

Non-traditional students most often are older and have families, work experience, and are independent financially. It is more accurate to consider that non-traditional students are any students who have unique circumstances or who did not matriculate directly to postsecondary education after completing high school or its equivalent. So, while this group often includes older, working adults, it also can include veterans, homeless and foster youth, and undocumented students, among other groups.

“Their characteristics vary just as widely as their circumstances do,” Schmerer said. “Some have a sharp sense of focus because they’ve spent several years figuring out what they don’t want to do, but others are still wandering, which may be the very reason they have started, stopped, and restarted their educational pursuits.”

Explore New Ways and Tools to Serve Students

Between work, families, and other obligations, it can even be difficult for them to find a way to attend classes or complete assignments, let alone interact with campus offices like the financial aid office or academic advisors. By devoting some time and resources to thinking of new ways to reach students who are often not on campus during the day can make it a bit easier for these students and help set them up for success

For example, consider changing your office hours to accommodate those who work during business hours, or extending your hours into the evening or weekend. Or you could leveraging technology to make your office and services more accessible, such as video conferencing or live chatting with students who are unable to be on campus when they need assistance.

The internet also makes it easier than ever to host forms, documents, and other information in a way that is more accessible than having to visit an on-campus office, either on a website or in a portal students can access. Some schools are even beginning to experiment with using online payment systems to collect tuition and fees electronically. This is an excellent way to reduce yet another burden on already busy students.

And while email continues to rule when it comes to campus communications, leveraging other mediums to get your messages where students are most likely to see them can go a long way.illustration of an email “We recognize that email is not where everybody is,” Angela Johnson, vice president of enrollment management at Cuyahoga Community College, said. “We use an integrated perspective so that same content and branding is provided in multiple mediums,” including email, robocalls, social media, and text messaging, she said.

Consider Their Need to Quickly Complete Their Degree and Re-enter the Workforce

It is not unusual for college students to want to complete their degrees quickly, not only so they can enter the workforce, but so they can leave school with as little student debt as possible. This is particularly true for non-traditional students who may, in Mendy Schmerer’s words, “have household expenses that made perfect sense before returning to school, but now are awfully difficult to deal with when trying to also budget for tuition and books.” They may turn to you for guidance on what can help them to graduate quickly with the least amount of debt or what course load makes the most sense for them, both based on their personal time constraints and financially.

When it comes to financial aid, the entire process – from filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to entering student loan repayment – can be a challenge for non-traditional students. Because many non-traditional students are considered “independents,” many assume they are not eligible for federal financial aid programs such as the Pell Grant or student loans. Avoiding jargon when discussing their financing options is key, Schmerer recommends, adding that any digital communication efforts should be clear, concise, and proactive, especially for programs that enroll high populations of adult learners.

It’s also important to consider how non-education expenses can affect non-traditional students. As mentioned before, these are students who often have families, household expenses, and other financial obligations that can be challenging to meet when they are working and attending school. One way to help students, especially low-income students, is to connect them with community resources and public benefits that may alleviate the financial strain of attending college.

Seek Advice When Faced with Special Circumstances

While it is easy to offer general advice and tipNASFAA logos, anyone working in higher education knows that students have specific questions about their individual circumstances.Over the years, NASFAA has developed and maintained several tip sheets that are designed to help unique student populations overcome challenges to successfully navigate the financial aid process and access higher education. Tip sheets are available for military/veterans, undocumented students, adult learners, and homeless and foster youth, highlighting specific questions they will have to answer on the FAFSA.

Some tips that are useful to administrators who may get questions from these students include:

  • Knowing the definition of what a “ward” of the court is, and how it impacts a student’s financial aid applications;
  • Under which circumstances an undocumented student may be eligible for non-federal student aid or in-state tuition;
  • How bankruptcy or student loan default may impact an adult learner’s financial aid prospects; and
  • What financial information an active-duty servicemember must include on his or her FAFSA.

Check out NASFAA’s tip sheet for unique student populations and other financial aid information and resources for students and families by visiting our Students, Parents, and Counselor’s resource pages.


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Brittany Hackett
NASFAA Reporter & Multimedia Coordinator





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Finding Your Way Through Financial Aid

This month WCET is focusing on a complex component of student participation in higher education: financial aid. We are very appreciative of our friends at the National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) for providing two blog posts giving us a great background on the topic. Later this month we turn our attention to financial aid fraud in distance education. Join us for our webcast on June 22. Thank you to Joan Berkes, Allie Bidwell (for today’s post), and our NASFAA friends for their support. WCET staff think it is a good idea to get to know your financial aid officer, before any problems arise…or, better yet, to alleviate problems before they occur. Thank you,

— Russ Poulin, WCET

Each year, billions of dollars in financial aid are distributed to millions of college students. Financial aid administrators at colleges and universities across the country play a critical role in ensuring those funds make it into the hands of studentpink piggie bank with coinss who need the money to pay for a postsecondary education.

But administering financial aid is much more than simply checking names off a list and sending emails to students. The typical financial aid administrator wears many hats, and provides resources not just to students and families, but also to the larger community, the institution as a whole, other campus administrators, and even to lawmakers and their staff.

Here are some important things you should keep in mind when it comes to understanding financial aid, and what aid administrators do each day.

Financial Aid Comes in Many Shapes and Forms

Paying for college can be confusing, but it’s important to understand where the money comes from, and that financial aid awards aren’t just a lump sum. Both the sources and types of aid can vary for each student.

Each year, for example, the federal government doles out about $150 billion in student financial aid, which can come in the form of a grant, a loan, or a work-study allocation. Grants are essentially “free money” that does not need to be repaid, unlike a loan, which will be repaid with interest over time. A work-study award is just like what it sounds: students work, often on campus, to help offset their costs.

Financial aid administrators know what aid is available, who is eligible, how the aid is distributed, and if there are any requirements for students to keep that aid in the future. In addition to the federal government, states, institutions, and other organizations can also be sources of student financial aid.

Communication Is Key

Making sure students understand the details of their aid is critical to their success.

student aid info graphic (click for larger version)

Keeping in constant contact with students – even before they start classes – can help them make responsible decisions.

“We try to use as many communication channels as possible,” says Tim Layman, vice president of student financial services for the College of Online and Continuing Education at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Whether it’s through a phone call, email, a text, a live chat, or even social media, the financial aid office tries to determine which point of contact is best to reach each student, particularly for those who attend part-time or online.

The aid office often also plays a role in teaching students about financial literacy – making sure they understand their award letters, that they make responsible financial choices, and that they make informed decisions when it comes to borrowing.

It’s Personal

Each student is unique and has a different experience when it comes to attending college. Because it’s their own individual journey, bringing money into the equation makes it even more important that financial aid administrators keep in mind the particular needs of different types of students.

“There’s always going to be the human interaction because it’s personal to them,” says Bob Collins, vice president of financial aid at Western Governors University (WGU). “It’s about their money. It’s very personal. You have to provide that personal touch.”

At any given institution, the students come from all walks of life. While some students have never attempted attending college before, others might have already begun their academic journey and taken a break somewhere along the way.

“When we serve those students, there are sometimes preconceived notions or experiences,” says Will Pena, associate vice president for student financial services, finance and administration at SNHU. “There is a certain measure of communications overhead that has to take place. There’s almost a reorienting period when that student comes to us for the first time.”

Technology Counts

Regardless of whether a student is attending college on campus or online, there’s a benefit to automating as many transactions as possible, according to WGU’s Collins, and providing a self-service functionality wherever possible.

“Students should be able to find whatever it is they need to know and what actions they need to take,” Collins says. “You have to provide the live support.”

It also helps to deliver a clear and personalized message to students. One of the most common questions financial aid administrators receive is about a student’s award status – “really low-hanging fruit,” according to Collins. Having a personalized landing page for each students, and a self-serving functionality can help get those questions answered in a more timely manner, and in some cases the students can find the answers themselves.

We Work Outside the Numbers, Too

Many people don’t realize the financial aid office is also responsible for keeping the institution in check with many federal regulations, including issues that WCET has followed, such as: last day of attendance reporting, student notifications, regular and substantive interaction, and state authorization. The aid office monitors all the different checkpoints to ensure financial aid programs are being administered in a compliant manner. When other departments streamline their processes and make them as efficient as possible, it can help reduce call volume all around. Working cooperatively can help ensure resources are used wisely, and that students remain the focus.

And don’t forget – if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask! Financial aid administrators are here to help.

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Allie Bidwell
NASFAA Reporter




Registration is open now for WCET’s June webcast “Combating Financial Aid Fraud.” Join us June 22!

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Relaunching the EdSurge Product Index

Hello! This week we welcome Sunny Lee, the Senior Product Manager with Higher Ed at EdSurge. The EdSurge HigherEd team just completed a total relaunch of their courseware product index, which is a system to help higher education administrators search and find courseware. It’s been great to learn more about this relaunch, as well as the process the team took to complete the refresh of the system.

Thank you Sunny for sharing this blog post with us!

Enjoy the read and enjoy your Monday!


The EdSurge HigherEd team recently relaunched our courseware product index to help college leaders search for courseware to meet their teaching and learning needs. Through the index you can filter your search for courseware products, compare product features, and review case studies.

Our Research in Relaunching the Index

The index relaunch was a result of consulting with college leaders for more than a year, to deeply understand their current processes as they search for courseware solutions and the problems they encounter. The interactive filters are inspired by the Courseware in Context (CWiC) Framework, which was created by Tyton Partners and a collaboratory of higher-ed institutional partners. The goal is to help decision-makers more effectively navigate the market of courseware products.

In the first wave of our user research, which began in early January 2016, we started with a relatively blank slate. We embarked on a series of in-depth user interviews to define key higher ed-leader personas and the journey they take during their edtech search, discovery, evaluation and selection process.

We interviewed 49 institutional leaders and established four key representative personas:

  • Paul Braverman, R1 Digital Learning Senior Administrator
  • Clyde Alonzo, Instructional Research administrator with faculty duties at a community college
  • Cosima Sanders, Faculty for undergraduate entry level courses at a 4 year state university
  • Kimiko Murasaki, Instructional Designer at a 4 year public institution

Through those interviews, we learned about the needs and drivers of higher education (HE) leaders and were able to start articulating them.
HE leaders want:

  • clarity around what tools do and what they look like in action.
  • want to cut through the marketing jargon provided by the companies.
  • want to make defensible decisions around edtech products and solutions.

We also were able to pull out emergent themes from our conversations:

  • Navigating the growing landscape of products is often overwhelming.
  • Peer networks are critical for product discovery.
  • Flood of inbound outreach by vendors is often unwelcome and difficult to navigate.
  • Getting institutional buy-in is onerous and takes a significant amount of time.

From Personas to User Testing

As we learned more about our key personas, the jobs they needed to get done, their motivations and drivers—as well as pain points—we started user testing mockups to gauge features of the index with HE leaders.

You can see an overview of our process along the timeline below:

Process flow leading up to launch of product index

These were the initial set of work-in-progress mockups we started out with for user testing purposes:


The questions we focused on during our user-testing sessions, in addition to the user experience of the mockups, included:

  • What are the filters that are most important to you?
    • This was trying to get at basic requirements that HE leaders would need to consider a product such as system level integrations including LMS compatibility, accessibility, important product features, etc.
  • What are key considerations for you when evaluating a courseware product?
    • This was trying to understand data points critical to the HE leader in the evaluation of a product such as how many peer institutions use it, peer reviews, price, customer service, ability to demo etc.

Our Initial Launch

After thorough synthesis of all the user interviews and user testing sessions, we launched our initial courseware product index in July of 2016 which you can see below:


Additional Lessons Learned from the CWiC Framework Development Process

Following this launch, we continued to be a part of the effort to simplify and improve the CWiC framework, shepherded by Tyton and collaborating institutions. As the framework matured and relaunched in October 2016, it became obvious that our index was not taking full advantage of the lessons learned by being a part of this endeavor.

For example, the three filters we launched with were courseware features, LMS integrations and discipline. From our earlier interviews, many HE leaders expressed these as important baseline considerations during their initial search and discovery process. However, it was clear these filters didn’t take advantage of critical teaching-and-learning considerations that are important to the successful rollout and implementation of courseware that are outlined by the framework.

Through another round of user interviews, we found that institutional leaders often overly rely on operational requirements like LMS integration, discipline, and content sources to select courseware products without considering what important features are necessary to meet their teaching and learning goals. The CWiC Framework was precisely the protocol developed to encourage college leaders to think about their pedagogical goals as they evaluate courseware products. By not interweaving elements of the CWiC framework into the index, we were leaving out an important untapped user experience need.

Our challenge then was to figure out how to simplify a framework that had nine different functional capabilities (with each having an average of five sub-capabilities for a total of 45 different filtering possibilities). This wasn’t even counting the table stakes capabilities, aka operational requirements critical for systems integrations, like LMS, accessibility standards, browser support as well as other important factors in the search process including discipline, content source, modality and institutional use cases etc. There was a clear tradeoff we needed to reckon with – Do we aim for thoroughness by surfacing all the possible filtering capabilities represented by the CWiC framework at the expense of usability or vice versa? Or was there a middleground we could strive for?

We began to take a look at the CWiC framework data submitted to us by approximately 30 companies in the courseware product index and measured variance in responses. Then we ranked the capabilities based on level of variance. For instance, there was a high level of variability in the responses to the adaptivity capability by the 30 companies, meaning if a user selected any of the subfilters under adaptivity, products would be noticeably pared down narrowing the selection possibilities.

Meanwhile, there was rather low variability in the responses to the usability capability. Most companies self reported on the CWiC framework survey that their product had a high level of usability. While usability might be an important consideration in the courseware selection process, if by selecting that filter, products are not further eliminated from the long list, we determined that’s not a very effective filter for the user and thereby not a great user experience.

With such variance in the data at hand, we pared down the functional capabilities from nine to six. We determined a good combination of the CWiC-framework-derived functional capabilities filters, as well as operational requirements filters, would guide HE leaders to effectively shortlist courseware products that both met their technical needs as well as their pedagogical goals.

Applying What We Learned to the Penultimate Product Index

With that in mind, our next step was to design a user experience around these new filters that would be engaging and intuitive to use. We came up with two design directions; a guided diagnostic and enhanced filters which we tested with various HE leaders at this year’s SxSW Edu in Austin:


Interactive Filters:

Interactive-Filters-1.jpgThe goal of the diagnostic was to guide the user through important considerations in the courseware selection process that encourages the HE leader to think beyond operational requirements and more about teaching and learning needs. Many users told us that they appreciated the guided aspect of the diagnostic as well as the educational moment to learn about key features of a courseware that affect teaching and learning in the classroom that ought to be given more weight in the selection process.

Those same users also conceded that the diagnostic felt like a wonderful first-time user experience that would start feeling redundant as the user grew more familiar with the capabilities. Some also expressed concern about the “blackbox” nature of the diagnostic. One does not know which products they are leaving behind by selecting a certain sub-filter of adaptivity for instance. Meanwhile, the enhanced filters encouraged active exploration and immediate feedback through dynamic filtering based on the selections made by the user.

From the user-testing session, we concluded that the diagnostic, while effective as a first-time user experience, would become tired once the user started getting familiar with the filters. It became clear from the feedback that being able to dive in and explore the filters immediately was a better long-term experience. So we decided to build out the enhanced filter version and table the diagnostic.

The Final Product Index is Now Available

The relaunch of our courseware product index in April 2017 was a result of user research and testing that is very much built into our product development process. Immediately after the relaunch, we lined up additional conversations with members in our community to get feedback in order to prioritize ways in which we would further improve the experience.

All of this work is driven by our goal at EdSurge to understand, empathize with, and help higher education leaders get the information they need to make defensible edtech decisions. Through the courseware index we hope to accomplish the following:

  • Inform HE leaders with the evolving landscape of courseware products.
  • Enable HE leaders to cut through the marketing jargon and get to the key features important for their consideration.
  • Provide HE leaders with product information that is helpful in evaluating whether it will fit their teaching and learning needs as well as their operational requirements.

Through the dozens and dozens of user research conversations we’ve had with HE leaders, we have come to more deeply understand the jobs they need to get done, the pain points they experience, and the desire they have to help students accomplish their educational goals and succeed in their higher ed careers. We have a strong level of appreciation and admiration for these HE leaders and hope the courseware product index, in its latest iteration, provides value for them and is a tool that can better inform their courseware searches.

If you would like to share any feedback, please reach out to!

Sunny's headshot


Sunny Lee
Sr. Product Manager, Higher Ed at EdSurge





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State Authorization Resources! Updated and New!

This week, WCET Frontiers welcomes Cheryl Dowd, our Director of the State Authorization Network. Cheryl is here to announce a new set of helpful state authorization papers. These documents will serve as excellence resources for our colleagues working in state authorization, or for those who may want to learn more about the topic. Thank you Cheryl for bringing us these great resources.

Enjoy the read (especially that cute elephant!) and enjoy your day!

~Lindsey Downs

Sometimes our friends working on state authorization have trouble making your voices be heard above the din. We thought we would amplify your voice with some new and updated state authorization papers!

Seven years ago, the U.S. Department of Education (US ED) brought attention to state authorization through the release of a federal regulation for state authorization of distance education (§ 600.9(c). Although the 2010 federal regulation was struck down by the federal courts on procedural grounds, our story does not end there.image of a grey elephant facing forward

Like the Who’s in Dr. Seuss’s classic tale who were not heard on Horton the Elephant’s clover, state regulations existed quietly, albeit enforceable, before the release of the federal regulation. That is, until the mighty “YOP!” of the release of the 2010 federal regulations that caused institutions to hear the states say, “we’re here!”  The states were indeed “here” and with enforceable state regulations for which the institutions were legally obligated to be compliant for their activities that occurred in those states.

During this early time, many institutions were perplexed about how to coordinate their compliance plan. Other institutions were in denial that another state would have any regulatory control of their institution’s activities in that state. Like Horton’s companions, they simply can’t see or hear the consequences. WCET embraced this issue by providing white papers called “Talking Points” and by creating a support organization called the State Authorization Network (SAN).

With new resources, institutions began to embrace the inevitable and followed expert advice and developed strategies for the state by state compliance requirements. Like the invention of the lightbulimage of several vintage lightbulbsb, radio, and air conditioning, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) was created and became a household name making compliance easier for the institutions who participate in SARA.

Years have passed with a flurry of federal activity including a 2014 US ED Negotiated Rulemaking Committee that did not result in a new federal regulation for the state authorization of distance education. However, in December 2016, the USDOE released new federal regulations for the state authorization of distance education with an effective date of July 1, 2018.

SAN Talking Points Resources

In honor of the continuing evolution of state authorization compliance, SAN offers updates to six already published Talking Points and offers three new Talking Points. The authors are experts in this topic area and are familiar friends of SAN. The papers are available in web form on the WCET website and available to download and share as PDF documents.

10 Steps You Can Take to Begin the State Authorization Process (5th Anniversary Edition)

Authors:  Terri Taylor-Straut and Beverly Wade


New paper, but original blog release: May 2012; Original Authors:  Marianne Boeke, Sharmila Mann, and Russ Poulin

The Intersection of State Authorization Agencies and the Professional Licensing Board

Author:  Sharyl Thompson


Original Release:  February 2015

Institutional Disclosures Regarding State Authorization and Professional Licensure Track Programs 

Author:  Sharyl Thompson


Original Release:  April 2015

Newly Published Federal Regulations and Professional Licensure Disclosures

Author:  Sharyl Thompson


New Paper

State Authorization: What is a Supervised Field Experience and Where is it Regulated?

Author:  Sharyl Thompson


Original Release:  December 2015

State Authorization and MOOC’s

Author:  Sharyl Thompson


Original Release:  April 2014

State Authorization, the State Authorization Network (SAN), and the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA): Academic compliance requirements and valuable management tools

Authors:  Jenny Parks and Cheryl Dowd


New Paper

State Authorization and Non-Credit Courses and Programs

Authors:  Marianne Boeke and Jeannie Yockey-Fine


Original Release:  April 2014

State Authorization and Military Students

Authors:  Marianne Boeke and Jeannie Yockey-Fine


Original Release:  November 2013; Original Authors: Matthew Johnson, Jeannie Yockey-Fine and Marianne Boeke



We hope you enjoy the papers and find them useful! SAN is very grateful to our authors who are listed with each paper.

And a reminder to our compliance friends from Horton’s sage advice: “a person is a person, no matter how small.” Make yourself heard.

Happy Reading!

Cheryl Dowd



Cheryl Dowd,
Director, State Authorization Network

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WCET Summer Reading List

poster reading keep calm and read on with a pile of four booksHappy Summer!

Welcome to WCET’s 2017 Summer Reading list! This year we asked for several recommendations from the WCET team, our leadership committees, and friends, and compiled this exciting list of reads. We recommend grabbing your summer hat, sunblock, some yummy sparkling water and basking in the sunshine while getting lost in one of these great books!

The books are organized into several categories: Personal and Professional Development, Education, Technology, and Fun and/or Somewhat Relevant in a Weird Way.

Enjoy the summer and enjoy these reads!


Personal and Professional Developmentyellow sticky note reading professional development

Our first section of books are those that fell into the category of personal development OR development of your professional skills and attitudes. From helping you ‘do more with less,’ to the power of exercise on cognition, and strategies to become better achievers.

Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less -and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined

by Scott Sonenshein

Doing more with existing resources requires you to change your thinking yet empowers you to see the potential in your personal and professional life. Stretch brings science and storytelling together to illustrate how people and organizations can be successful and competitive with little and others with greater resources fail.

Chasers are in pursuit of more. More money/capital, more talent, more possessions, bigger titles, more time. Stretchers embrace what we have and learn how to uncover dormant talents and resources and creatively approach challenges, opportunities, and threats. Stretch is full of examples in business, education, and more, of resourcefulness that reshapes our thinking and guides us to desire to do more with less.

This is an enlightening read that empowers you to stop chasing and recognize the potential in what you have, both personally and professionally.

-Megan Raymond, Assistant Director, Programs and Sponsorship WCET

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations

By Clay Shirky

In a writing style similar to Malcolm Gladwell and the Freakonomics guys (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner), Clay Shirky draws on simple examples and social change to demonstrate the impact of technology on individuals, communities, and society at large.  I recommend it here because we spend a lot of time talking about the information age, student preferences for experiences over facts, and patterns of student technology use – but we don’t always think about leveraging the patterns that are already integrated into our students’ (and her perhaps our own) lives. This book isn’t about education – but it is a look at how the students we are educating view the power of technology, and when I read it, I couldn’t help but think about applying those concepts to teaching practices and administrative decisions.  It’s an enjoyable read, and one that’s easy to either read all in one sitting or that can be picked up and put down without missing anything.

-Lynette M. O’Keefe, Senior Associate Director, CLEAR, University of North Texas

Brain Rules

By John Medina

I always knew I worked smarter and felt happier when I kept a regular exercise routine, but I didn’t know why until I heard John Medina give the keynote at a conference. He began his talk after we had eaten a big lunch; we all sat sluggishly in a large, dark, windowless room (a traditional learning environment).  Medina had been asked to tell the ed tech audience how to engage students and maximize learning in online classes. He told us that the majority learning environments were not designed with the brain in mind.  His advice? “Install walking desks for all your students. Exercise improves cognition.” In his book Brain Rules, Medina, a molecular biologist, explains how brain science affects the way we work, learn, and live. The problem, he said is that “So much of what we do in our modern world ignores these Brain Rules.” Everything he said about the brain’s optimal operating mode is applicable to teaching, learning, leadership, and relationships.

As you’re sitting at your desk, reading my book recommendation to pass the time till you can go home, check out to read more about Medina’s work. You can also “like” his Facebook page to get posts, and order a copy of Brain Rules from Amazon to read in full. And then get out of your cushy chair, tell your boss that you’re going to boost your brain power, and go for an invigorating walk.

-Tanya Spilovoy, Director, Open Policy, WCET

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

By Angela Duckworth (also available from Audible)

I have to say that although I was familiar with the work of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck, I hadn’t read their books.  So, in preparation for a keynote presentation, I got an audio version of “Grit” and played it in my car whenever I went somewhere—even while running errands.  Having Angela read her own work, was amazing.  If you are interested in the psychology of achievement at all and even if you’re not sure this is an interest of yours, give it a try!  She reads it so that it feels that she is in the room (car) with you telling you her story. My presentation was about what we can do with providing access to online education by going beyond the idea of “you can afford college” to “you can DO college”.

-Pat James, Program Consultant, California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative
graphic of graduates in graduate regalia


The books in the education section relate to improving education, innovative education, or ideas for developing strong learning techniques.



“Proof,” Policy & Practice: Understanding the Role of Evidence in Improving Education

By Paul E. Lingenfelter

I am a fan of the podcast Stuff You Should Know. If you’ve never heard it, it is put together by two guys who choose a topic, do their reading and then spend 45 – 65 minutes talking about the topic in a very engaging manner.  They are rarely experts in the myriad of topics they choose to cover but I always learn more than I knew and begin to think about things in different ways.  Paul Lingenfelter’s book does the same thing except he is an expert.  Paul manages to guide his readers through a wide range of perspectives on how we can get gain a better understanding of the types of evidence that are actually useful in driving the creation of public policy about education.  While he includes examples from all sectors, he offers higher education professionals much to consider, and he does so in a very engaging manner.  If you are ready to think differently about what really works at your campus and how you know it works, you’ll enjoy this summer read.

-Sally Johnstone, NCHEMS

This one is so good, it got two recommendations:

Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science

By Rajiv S. Jhangiani and Robert Biswas-Diener editors

Open Educational Resources (OER) have gone from an idea that many brushed off as a fad, to a movement that has gained credibility and won over many supporters.  This book serves as a good primer for those interested in learning more about the concept of open education, a resource for those considering or adopting OER, and an analysis of pertinent issues for those already involved in open pedagogy and practices. This book doesn’t just discuss openness in education, it is published as an open access book available for free at

PDF download: From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open (Robin DeRosa and Scott Robison)

-Wm. Preston Davis, Ed.D., Director of Instructional Services, Northern Virginia Community College


Affordable education. Transparent science. Accessible scholarship. These ideals are slowly becoming a reality thanks to the open education, open science, and open access movements. OPEN: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science describes the emergence of several “open” movements in higher education, including the creation and adoption of open educational resources, the publication of research in open access journals, and the increasing need for open science practices. Written in an accessible, conversational style and with chapters from leading voices in each of these movements, this book makes a powerful case for enhancing access and agency in support of justice and progress. The best part? The book was itself published with an open license and is free to download, edit, and share forever. So go grab a copy at No subliminal marketing necessary.

-TJ Bliss, Education Program Officer, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

All of these books are 1980s/1990s vintage, but were significant in the evolution of technology-enhanced education. All three of these gentlemen are legends who took the time to provide me with insight that continues to guide my impact my life in every way:

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

by Professor Seymour Papert (founder of the academic movement called Constructivism). He always wanted to know how Nan, my wife, was dong whenever we chatted.

Being Digital

by Nicholas Negroponte, Greek Architect and founder of the MIT Media Lab. Nan taught Nicholas how to eat Soul Food.

The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT

by Stewart Brand, a well-known Futurist. He never met Nan, but would have liked her better than me, just like the other two.

-Mike Abbiatti, Executive Director, WCET

The New Science of Learning: How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain

By Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek

We know the science behind learning and how to improve your learning skills, but do we ever really discuss the best way to learn with our students (before they attempt to embark on the journey by themselves?). I loved this little book. It won’t take long to read and it has wonderful tips to help us, as humans, understand more about the science behind the learning process. The ideas are easy to understand and I feel like this would be a terrific book to provide to students at the beginning of their college career. Particularly, I liked the section on what our bodies need to learn well (proper nutrition, hydration, sleep, exercise), the discussion of multitasking, tips for concept mapping, and, finally, the final tip of finding balance in life. Hey 18-year-old me…you should have read this book.

-Lindsey Downs, Manager of Communication, WCET



The following books deal with technology trends, edtech trends, and also what may happen if technology gets a little too trendy.

The Inevitable

by Kevin Kelly

Do you like reading about tech trends with the sand between your toes? Do you like thinking about whether higher ed is prepared for the future and if we are preparing students for the future? While this book is not about higher education, its focus on the future of technologies in our everyday lives raises many questions for those who like some deep thought over the summer. Kelly highlights twelve “inevitable” technologies. It’s hard to say that something will happen with certainty, but many of these trends are already well entrenched in existing tools and practices. The “inevitable” is like that fungus that is already on your foot, but will grow out of control if you don’t wash properly after that dip in the lake. Examples of “inevitable” trends include: artificial intelligence is doing away with many jobs, screens will be on every surface everywhere, and it will be possible to personalize almost every good. Some of the more unsettling trends include even more tracking and recording of every aspect of our lives and (following Moore’s Law) computing powers will soon possess unimaginable speed and capabilities. Controllable or scary?

-Russ Poulin, Director, Policy and Analysis, WCET

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World

By Jane Mcgonigal

Games, in the twenty-first century, will be a primary platform for enabling the future.” While I’m not very good at it… I do enjoy playing video games on various platforms. From collaboration games on PS4 or Nintendo Wii to massive online platforms like World of Warcraft (especially during our long, cold Montana winters!). It makes sense then that one of my favorite research topics in education is gamification of courses. In Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal argues that games will empower us to change our world. She says games will reduce stress, increase life satisfaction, fix education, and even help fix global issues such as poverty. She describes why games make us happy, discusses the rapidly changing (and her discussion is slightly outdated), and finally, discusses how big games, can change our world. We can use new participation and collaboration environments to work together and help invent a better future. And we’ll enjoy it, because we’ll change the world while having fun playing a game. Check out her TED talk on the topic:

-Lindsey Downs, Manager of Communication, WCET

Player Piano

By Kurt Vonnegut

Player Piano is Vonnegut’s first novel which imagines a futuristic world that is run primarily by machines and the only people with real jobs either create the machines or overlook the machines, leaving most of the rest of society to simply receive a government stipend because machines have replaced their jobs. While the absence of the Internet in a machine-based world is at times a glaring issue (it was published in 1952), the way that Vonnegut imagines the social and political structure of such a world is better than many others books that imagine a similar future. It brings up questions about the purpose of technological advancements and who they are designed to benefit. In looking at our own society, and specifically at the evolving world of educational technology, what inventions are useful for us to create? And meanwhile, what have we created already that is no longer helping students as it should?

-Rosa Calabrese, Coordinator, Digital and Project Services, WCET

Fun and/or Somewhat Relevant in a Weird Way


Finally, we couldn’t resist including a few fun books!

While these may not be 100% relevant to edtech

or higher education, we hope they will make enjoyable summer reads!

The Only Rule is It Has to Work:  Our Wild Experiment Building a New Kind of Baseball Team

by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

A book about baseball, bloggers, and statistics? Count me in. Wait, don’t stop reading. This is an amazingly fun read about two bloggers who talk the owner of an independent league baseball team to let them try their crazy schemes. They use their statistical analyses to go against the ancient wisdom of the baseball gods in selecting players, juggling line-ups, and positioning defenders. The suggestion to use the closer before the 9th inning makes the manager’s head explode. Why do I recommend it here? It’s about change management. The biggest problem is convincing the managers and players that their crazy evidence-based ideas might just work. WCET members experience this feeling everyday as they try new things and face the inevitable skepticism. It’s funny, wonderfully written, and unintentionally deals with a question I like to ask: “What happens if we’re successful?”

– Russ Poulin, Director, Policy and Analysis, WCET


Roadside Picnic

By Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic was written by two brothers in Soviet Russia. I was hoping to find a connection between this book and edtech, but it was a pretty big stretch—this book is about aliens. Or more accurately, this book is about what happens to a society after aliens have invaded and then left. It is an interesting new take on the whole alien invasion genre and is extremely creative as it describes humans discovering the remains of extremely advanced technology left in the wake of aliens. At least it may get your creativity going while you try to understand the interesting and bizarre happenings that the Strugatsky brothers describe. It’s a quick read and a lot of fun!

-Rosa Calabrese, Coordinator, Digital and Project Services, WCET


By Margaret Atwood (re-telling of The Tempest by William Shakespeare)

According to The Guardian’s review, “this retelling of The Tempest is one of four novels so far released as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare initiative. It joins Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale), Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name (The Merchant of Venice) and Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), with Tracy Chevalier’s Othello, Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and Edward St Aubyn’s King Lear to come” (Groskop, 2016).

Being a Shakespeare buff, I was very excited to revisit some of The Bard’s tales, written by some of today’s more innovative authors. I started with The Tempest, more because I wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s take on this tale versus my enjoyment of the original. I as much more excited to read the new takes on Merchant of Venice and Hamlet. However, I completely enjoyed Atwood’s spinning of tale. I laughed, I cried, I cringed (a lot). This book will entertain both those who know the original and who don’t. Our modern-day Prospero, the grieving Felix, is a set upon and wronged artistic director of a theatre festival, set aside, and just waiting for revenge. It’s wonderfully weird and you’ll enjoy the influences between the original story and some cultural references for today (or, at least, last year). This is “such stuff as dreams are made on!” (WS, The Tempest).

-Lindsey Downs, Manager of Communication, WCET

What do you think of our recommendations? What books would you add? We’d love to know if you read any of our suggested items. We’d love to hear your recommendations too! Let us know in the comments and tweet us @wcet_info with the hashtag #WCETSummerReads so we can chat about these great books!

Enjoy your summer filled with these fabulous reads!

Photo of Lindsey Downs


Lindsey Downs
Manager of Communication

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Photo credits: J_O_I_D
laptop kitty: Jake’s blog

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Using Artificial Intelligence for Personality Insights

This week WCET Frontiers is excited to offer something a little different…

We all know and love WCET’s Russ Poulin. Here at WCET, several of us are excited about innovative activities and developments in Artificial Intelligence. This week, Rosa Calabrese puts IBM’s Watson to the test, to see if Watson can analyze and accurately capture Russ’ personality.

Thanks Rosa for this week’s post, especially your concluding insights on the future of AI.

Enjoy the read and enjoy your day,


Do you think you could analyze Russ Poulin’s (WCET’s Director of Policy & Analysis) personality based solely on his last six blog posts? A machine can—or at least it thinks it can.

According to IBM Watson’s Personality Insights tool, Russ is “excitable, particular, and strict.”

Five traits that Russ scored high on: intellect, curiosity, sympathy, achievement-striving, and altruism.

Five traits that Russ scored high on: intellect, curiosity, sympathy, achievement-striving, and altruism.

He is also “likely to like historical movies” and he is authority-challenging and takes very little pleasure in life.

Five traits that Russ does not seem to have in abundance: cheerfulness, warmth, pleasure in life, helpfulness, and stability.

Five traits that Russ does not seem to have in abundance: cheerfulness, warmth, pleasure in life, helpfulness, and stability.

He sounds peculiar.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere these days. Amazon Echo is answering all our questions and helping us organize our lives, Google has created a tool to recognize our bad drawings and turn them into clip art, and company chatbots are handling front line customer service.

AI has also been used to alter human faces (which sometimes yields offensive results), merge Internet images into (sometimes disturbing) new ones, and create new recipes that I think most of us would pass on.

While artificial intelligence does have some pitfalls related to issues such as inadequate data sets or faulty algorithms, we are still entrusting machines to do more and more tasks for us, even here in education. Because of this, I thought it would be fun to put artificial intelligence to the test to review WCET’s Russ Poulin, as most of us are well familiar with his communications on the blog, at conferences, and on our email lists.

IBM has kindly made artificial intelligence tools available in the palm of our hands through Watson Analytics. And while my programming skills are limited, I was able to use their in-page demo to try out some analysis of my own in the Personality Insights app.


First I copied text from Russ’ last six blog posts that were written solely by him and not in collaboration with anyone else. I removed basic headlines, image captions, and quotes from external sources. Then I inserted the text into the Personality Insights demo.

In seconds, Watson created a “strong analysis” of Russ with a breakdown of more than 50 personality traits as well as a small paragraph and bulleted list description of him.

The analysis was interesting, but overall didn’t seem to necessarily describe Russ, as shown by some staff members openly laughing at the results. Each trait is given a percentage that designates how high the trait is. According to Watson, Russ is high on intellect, curiosity, and sympathy; but was low in categories such as emotionality, self-expression, and harmony. Meanwhile, the summary seemed at times to almost be descriptive of how we hope that WCET is seen by our members:

“You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are assertive: you tend to speak up and take charge of situations, and you are comfortable leading groups … Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery … You prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. And you care more about making your own path than following what others have done.”

Points to Russ on his ability to convey the WCET spirit well through his writings on our behalf.

A Wider Look:

Since the text I used from Russ is information that he wrote on specific issues and events related to ed tech, I wondered if it didn’t really define him personally. I decided to analyze a secondary writing sample from Russ to see if I could get better insights on him rather than on his writing on behalf of WCET.

For anyone who reads Russ’ Announcements on the WCETnews email list, you will know that at the end of each announcement for over a year he has tagged on a brief movie recommendation. I collected thirteen of these paragraphs written over the past year, which added up to 2,568 words to be analyzed (a “decent analysis” according to Watson). In summary, this version of Russ is simply “unconventional.” He also is “likely to like musical movies,” and is “unlikely to prefer style when buying clothes.” This version of Russ has a much wider imagination than “blog post Russ,” but has a lot less self-efficacy. It’s unclear if this version of Russ is actually a better or even decent representation of the real thing. In fact, Russ suggests that we might be better off just reading his horoscope.

To properly demonstrate all the strange machine analyses of both versions of Russ, I created the graph below with a breakdown of the most interesting categories:

graph showing the personality traits of Russ (authority challenging, self efficacy, imagination, self discipline, prone to worry, warmth, taking pleasure in life, cheerfulness)

Apparently, despite his many trips to the movies, Russ is still doing a poor job of taking any pleasure in life.
Then again, it’s unclear exactly what Watson was looking for with this trait, and whether it understands the concept of going to the movies.

In Conclusion

Russ looking confused

I’m not sure what to make of the overall results.

There are certain results that do make sense:
Russ does have a high intellect, and when critically clarifying the Education Department’s definition of ‘reciprocity,’ why shouldn’t he be authority-challenging?

Alternatively, the results that do not describe Russ could be explained with the fact that I used a small data set and that neither writing sample necessarily defines him very well.

Perhaps, it is still concerning to imagine how we can be using machines to analyze people on a large scale when the results are still so imperfect. Perhaps, we need more samples. Perhaps we should see this as a cautionary tale that we should be careful how we use these immensely powerful tools.

Or maybe this could just be a hilarious new way to look at our beloved, bat-wielding, policy guru, Russ Poulin.



Photo of Rosa


Rosa Calabrese
Coordinator, Digital and Project Services





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Oh, What’s in a Name? – Definitions of Distance Ed

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rosePhoto of a red and pink rose in a garden
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

And by name, I mean definition. And by definition, I mean the definition of distance education.

There are a myriad of definitions for “distance education,” “distance education course,” and” distance education program.” Various agencies, which require reports from colleges and universities on the numbers/types of distance education courses, have somewhat different perspectives on what “counts” as distance ed.

Over the last few weeks I chatted with a few of our WCET friends about their thoughts on the variety of definitions and what, if anything, they would recommend changing.


We’ve come a long way from what distance ed used to be: correspondence courses where one could learn new information through the mail. This has rapidly shifted, says Tony Bates in a recent blog post, from text-based LMS’s, and with “more synchronous approaches either replacing or being A vintage STUDY AT HOME correspondence course newspaper adcombined with asynchronous learning (another definition of ‘blended’), and the increasing use of streamed audio and video.” He is currently conducting a survey pilot on online or distance ed courses and programs at Canadian postsecondary institutions, where he discovered there is very little general agreement on terms such as distance education, online courses, blended course, hybrid courses, etc.

Last week, we released our analysis of the most recent distance education enrollment counts from IPEDS, the U.S. Department of Education’s series of surveys.  IPEDS defines distance education as “education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated for the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously. Technologies used for instruction may include the following: Internet; one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcasts, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite or wireless communication devices; audio conferencing; and video cassette, DVDs and CD-ROMs, if the cassette, DVDs, and CD-ROMs are used in a course in conjunction with the technologies listed above.”

This definition is consistent with the Code of Federal Regulations, and some of the accrediting agencies build on that definition. Putting aside that the definitions, like those used by other entities, may be slightly outdated for today’s technologies.

Definitions of distance education courses are more diverse. It seems the biggest difference between these definitions is the amount of the course delivered via some sort of distance technology. The amount varies from 100%, to 75%, 50%, etc. Some do not give a set percentage.

Institutions are required to report to various agencies, such as their accreditors, on the programs and courses. These staff report different data to different agencies due to the variety of definitions or pick one definition and report it to everyone.


I sent the following questions to be mulled over by a few, select higher education experts.

  • What is your opinion of distance education definitions from IPEDS, accrediting agencies, states, and institutions?
  • What works and does not work for you regarding those definitions?
  • How would you improve the definition?

Marshall Hill, Executive Director, National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA), told me that it is unfortunate that such variations exist. There are different perspectives that led to the variety of definitions, but he feels we should be able to agree upon a single definition. He advised that while it is important for a set standard, it’s also important to allow for flexibility so institutions can be innovative in the realm of distance education and serve their students in unique ways.

Marshall brought up a specific area that needed improvement (saying that the definitions today don’t seem to match the reality of what is happening in education): blended or hybrid courses (which I anecdotally believe are becoming more and more popular). As Tony Bates said in his blog post, the “terminology often struggles to keep up with the reality of what is happening…”

Jon Becker, Director of Learning Innovation and Online Academic Programs & Associate Professor, Educational Leadership with Virginia Commonwealth University’s ALT Lab, took a practical approach to his recommendations. Jon concentrated on how students would schedule and attend courses and chose place and time as classifiers. Courses are fully or partially online (based on whether a student is ever physically in the class location) and the course is either synchronous or asynchronous. This creates a grid, which categorizes courses:

Synchronous Asynchronous

Ever face-to-face

Fully online C D

Jill Buban, Senior Director of Research & Innovation with the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), mentioned that there has been a buzz on this topic at recent higher education conferences. Distance education as a term still depicts the overall variety of offerings that can fall under that umbrella, as a field, we use these various offering definitions interchangeably (i.e. blended, online, hybrid, etc.). There is a lack of unified terminology that we can all use, and the clarity is needed. Jill and I discussed how she has noticed that recent accreditation standards (which have the same requirements for outcomes for face-to-face and online classes) are starting to make institutions push the envelope a bit. It’s easier to have all students (whether face-to-face or online) use the same digital tools and platforms rather than having different tools based on location. This is bringing digital learning, a phrase that is also causing a buzz in higher ed, to all types of distance education courses and programs.

Ken Sauer, Senior Associate Commissioner and Chief Academic Officer Indiana Commission for Higher Education, has examined this issue extensively and provided excellent the background information to me on this topic. Ken explained the major complications affecting higher education administrators due to the definition quandary. He was motivated to conduct research in this area when he compared lists of distance education programs in Indiana to the list of programs with their regional accrediting agency; they were different. Ken recommends a definition of distance education programs based on the percentage of the course which is online versus in a physical location. One of his major considerations: assessment of distance education and how proctored exams impact whether a course is deemed fully online.

Based on his research and conversations with multiple individuals, organizations, and institutions, Ken has developed a set of recommendations in this area to begin the conversation toward developing a common definition of distance education. These will be released shortly, and WCET is excited to be involved in that conversation. Watch for more information on Ken’s research and recommendations.

What’s our Focus? What’s our Goal?

Near the end of our conversation Marshall Hill centered this entire debate for me: our focus here should be on how to best serve students. Colleges and universities should not decide how to deliver education based on what they need to report, but rather what will best meet their student’s needs. And then we (meaning accreditors, government agencies, policy geeks, etc.) should figure out how to count that. Not the other way around.

Closing thoughts

Ken’s question about assessments is important. If a class is 100% online but requires face-to-face, proctored exams, then does that change the percentage?

Jon provided a wonderful quote that he used on the cover letter for his application for his current job:

“… If formal schooling had existed in the U.S. when Gutenberg invented the printing press, would there have been lots of discussion and hand-wringing about the inevitable move towards print-based learning? Would formal learning organizations have created new units and positions around print-based learning? …I begin wondering if, someday, we will look back upon the present time and laugh at the idea that we used terms like “online learning” and/or “hybrid courses.””

Should we differentiate between distance education and other types of education? Is education simply… education whether you are physically in a classroom or not?photo of two light pink roses

It turns out, my Shakespearian inspiration is not quite apt in this case. Can we use a blanket term like “distance education” to refer to the assorted forms of distance education that exist (or will it even exist in the future)?

What would or wouldn’t you change about the various definitions of distance education out there? Let me know in the comments or tweet us @wcet_info!



Photo of Lindsey Downs


Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communication – WCET





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Photo Reference: Ad published in The Practical Druggist and Review of Reviews, volume 35, number 2, February 1917. Photo from

New Digital Learning Compass Shows Distance Ed Enrollments Trending Upwards

Higher education enrollments for all students fell, but more students enrolled in distance education courses than ever before. This is one of the findings of the new “Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017” released by the new Digital Learning Compass partnership.

The report uses data for the 2015 U.S. Department of Education IPEDS Fall Enrollment survey. Since the Fall term of 2012, IPEDS has collected distance education enrollment data. In the report, released today, analysis of both the most current year’s data (2015) and the trends over the past few years are examined. The distance education community is thankful that the Department continues collecting this data.

Who is Digital Learning Compass?

WCET is pleased to partner with the Babson Survey Research Group and e-Literate to update you on distance education enrollments. Together, the three organizations form the Digital Learning Compass, which seeks to be the definitive source of information on the patterns and trends of U.S. postsecondary distance learning. This work is made possible by the sponsorship of Online Learning Consortium, Pearson, and Tyton Partners. Thank you sponsors!

Prior to the IPEDS data collection, Babson conducted its own surveys. Since the IPEDS release, the three organizations worked together and separately in their analyses. We decided that we could accomplish more by partnering. We also like geeking-out on the numbers together.

The Percentage of Students Taking Distance Courses Increases

Again this year, the percentage of students studying exclusively at a distance and those enrolled in some distance courses increased over the previous year. Altogether, more than six million students were enrolled in distance courses in the Fall of 2015.

Title: Percentage of students taking distance courses, 2012-2015. For 2012, 12.6% were exclusively distance and 13.3% were some distance. For 2013, 13.1% were exclusively distance and 14.1% were some distance. For 2014, 13.9% were exclusively distance and 14.2% were some distance. For 2015, 14.3% were exclusively distance and 15.4% were some distance.

The percentage increase is due both to growing enrollments in distance education and decreased enrollments in non-distance course participation. On-campus enrollment has fallen by 5% since 2012. Note that these statistics do not include blended or hybrid courses that replace some of the face-to-face time with online activities.

Distance Education Enrollment Trends Vary Greatly By Sector

The public and the private not-for-profit sectors continue to enjoy healthy growth in distance education enrollments. Meanwhile, the for-profit sector continued its trend of losses. For the for-profit sector, it is important to note that a majority of institutions in that sector actually increased enrollments. A small number of the larger for-profit institutions account for the downturn in the overall numbers for that sector.

Title: Year to year change in distance enrollments, degree-granting institutions, 2012-2015. For 2012 to 2013: Publics increased 161,242 students, non-profits increased 98,480, and for profits declined by 73,577. For 2013 to 2014, publics increased by 113, 154, non-profits increased by 97,976, and for-profits decreased by 27,281. For 2014 to 2015, publics increased by 207,348, non-profits increased by 109,469, and for-profits decreased by 90,442.

While public institutions enjoyed the largest growth, the increases represent a 13.4% change from 2012 to 2015. Over the same time period, the private not-for-profit sector has grown distance education enrollments by 40.0% and private, for-profit institutions have lost 18.0% of their enrollments. Hmmm….guess those numbers will really change in the future if Purdue acquires Kaplan!

It is interesting to note how different sources treat these numbers. One very recent article cited that “fierce competition has tamped down the once-frantic pace of growth,” while another trumpeted growth with a headline declaring that “colleges rush to ramp up online classes.” Are you feeling frantic or rushed…or just confused? Growth is sustained only when done thoughtfully.

What’s Next?

If you would like to learn more, I suggest going to the Digital Learning Compass site and download the full report. Many thanks to WCET’s Rosa Calabrese and WICHE’s Jon Fellers for the work on creating this website!

You can watch an archive of a WCET webcast in which the results were discussed.

Later this year, we will be releasing additional “in-depth” reports that examine particular aspects of the data. If you would like to sponsor such a report, let me know.

Next week watch for interviews regarding the differences in distance education definitions.

My Digital Learning Compass friends and I encourage your feedback and questions.


Russ Poulin holding a baseball bat.Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies    @russpoulin


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