Do Closed Captions Help Students Learn?

This week we are happy to welcome Dr. Katie Linder, Oregon State University Ecampus, as our guest blog post author. Dr. Linder is here to discuss a national research project on student use of closed captions and transcriptions. The important results show that while these resources are not yet widely available, many students, even those who may not need these resources as an accommodation, are able to use transcriptions and captions to increase their success. Thank you Dr. Linder for bringing these important results to our attention!

Enjoy the read,
-Lindsey Downs

Recently, the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit completed a national research project in which we surveyed students on their use of closed captions and transcripts to support learning. This study was conducted in collaboration with the closedImage of cover of report. Words read "student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts. Results from a national study. Katie Linder, PHD. Under the words is a graphic of a computer with "CC" on the screen.captioning company 3Play Media. We focused on a broad population of students from 15 colleges and universities who both need these resources for academic accommodation for disability, as well as students who choose to use these resources for access and learning purposes. About 50% of those who responded take most of their courses online.

What We Learned on Student Use of Closed Captions

This data set is one of the first we have that tells us more about how students use closed captions and transcripts in academic environments. Here are some of the things we learned:

  •  Closed captions are still not being made widely available. When asked in the survey how many videos in their courses had closed captioning or transcripts as an option, only 30% of respondents reported that closed captions were available for “all,” “most,” or “many” videos. Almost an equal number (a combined 26.7%) said that closed captions were available for “just a few” or for “none” of the videos in their courses. Over one quarter of respondents were unsure about the availability of closed captions (27%).
  • Transcripts are even less available to students than closed captions. Only 12.2% of students surveyed reported that transcripts were available for “all,” “most,” or “many” videos and 61% said that transcripts were available for “just a few” or for “none” of the videos in their courses. One in five survey respondents were not sure about the availability of transcripts (18.4%).
  • When they are made available as resources, students are using closed captions and transcripts to help them learn. When we asked about how students use these tools, their qualitative responses showed that they are using both tools as learning aids. In the case of closed captions, qualitative comments mentioned using them as a learning aid 75% of the time. In the case of transcripts, qualitative comments mentioned using them as a learning aid 85% of the time. More specifically, students use these tools to help with accuracy, comprehension, retention, and engagement.
  • Students with and without disabilities are using closed captions and transcripts. When we looked just at the group of students who did not identify as having a hearing impairment or deafness, over 70% of that group were using closed captions at least some of the time. The study clearly shows that closed captions are not just being used by those who need them for disability accommodation purposes.

What Barriers are there for Closed Caption and Transcript Use?

The study also helped us to identify some “hindrances” that students associate with closed captions and transcripts. Here are some of the most common:

  •  Closed captions are distracting or required too much cognitive load. This was the top hindrance shared in 41% of the qualitative comments on hindrances and students mostly mentioned that their attention strayed to the text rather than the visuals in the video.
  • Closed captions include incorrect information. This was the second highest hindrance cited in about 35% of the comments. In particular, survey respondents mentioned things like typos or captions being incorrectly synced with the audio.
  • Closed captions block important information. Mentioned in about 32% of the qualitative comments, this hindrance was tied to the design of captions and their placement within the videos.

In the case of transcripts, there was some overlap in the hindrance cited by survey respondents:

  • Transcripts are distracting from the video or visual cues or required too much attention or cognitive load. Almost half of survey respondents who offered qualitative comments noted this hindrance.
  • Transcripts include incorrect information such as typos, are not well-written, or are not formatted well. About one in five respondents who provided qualitative comments found the lack of accuracy or poor formatting to be a hindrance.
  • Transcripts are too long, are too much to read, or require too much time. About 12% of the qualitative comments focused on this hindrance.
  • Transcripts are costly and/or inconvenient to print out and carry around. Approximately one in ten students noted this hindrance.

One of the most important things to note is that most of these hindrances are fixable with a strong quality assurance process for the creation of closed captions and transcripts.

 Get the Full Report

Interested in learning more about our findings? The full student study report is available for download at 3Play Media’s website. While you’re there, you might also want to check out a second study we completed with 3Play Media on closed captioning implementation at U.S. institutions of higher education.


Headshot of Dr. Katie Linder


Dr. Katie Linder
Research Director
Oregon State University E-campus


Virtually Inspired Website Showcases Practical Innovations

This week we welcome Dr. Susan Aldridge, President of Drexel University Online, and Marci Powell, Chair Emerita of the U.S. Distance Learning Association, to discuss Drexel’s success in teaching and learning in virtual environments. Their story is not only “virtually inspired” and, in my opinion, just plain old inspiring as well! Thank you both for a great post,

~Lindsey Downs

Having spent the past two decades working in the online higher education space, I am proud of the progress we’ve made since the early days when course modules were little more than a series of hand-outs published and delivered online.  Back then, virtual study was, for the most part, a lonely (and shall we say, somewhat boring) experience, due, in part, to the read-only, chat or talking head video formats.  Still, for many, it was an acceptable tradeoff for the privilege of learning from anywhere, at any time.

Now fast forward 20 years and we find ourselves with an amazing array of interactive technologies at our disposal.  Technologies that can further empower us to provide our students with what research over the years has proven to be an ideal learning experience – one that is engaging and customized, authentic and measurable.  And when we succeed, our students win, because they leave us having cultivated the expert knowledge and complex skills requisite for their success.

Of course, we really need to share those success stories more often.  Because as empowering as these technologies may be, they are constantly evolving; and unfortunately, we have yet to produce much in the way of a “how-to” guide for effectively implementing, much less optimizing, them.  So in the spirit of collaborative investigation, Drexel University Online (DUO) – with my (Marci) help as an outside consultant – launched a rigorous research project, to uncover “pockets of innovation” in the technology-enhanced education arena.

Pulling the research togetherScreenshot of virtually inspired page on the Drexel University website. Shows large banner at the top of the page with words "virtually inspired."

After conducting dozens of interviews with faculty, administrators, and training officers worldwide, DUO compiled more than 70 case studies that exemplify virtual success in using some of the latest and greatest technologies to support an ideal learning experience.  But we didn’t stop there.  We created a website we are calling Virtually Inspired.  Our goal is to showcase some of the brightest minds and best practices in connected learning, and also building and sharing an evolving repository of replicable ideas.

Virtually Inspired features a series of high-quality videos that highlight some of the many ways educators are inventing the future of connected learning.  Likewise, this website will incorporate interviews with online learning experts; a section for visitors to share their own leading-edge practices; and a space for reviewing published books and articles in the field – all of which is designed to encourage ongoing collaboration, as we explore the ever-expanding frontiers of our profession.

Here is a sneak preview of three especially promising technologies we identified in our research: virtual reality, holography, and robotic telepresence.

Creating virtual worlds for real learning    Graphic image of a young male in a hospital gown sitting in a doctor's office with one shoe on. There is an empty doctor stool and medial images on the wall.

For years, educators have touted the many educational benefits of authentic learning experiences like internships and apprenticeships, when it comes to mastering expert knowledge and complex skills.  But with increasingly sophisticated skills to learn, these in-personal experiences no longer suffice on their own.  That’s why instructional designers are embracing virtual reality (VR) to enhance and, in some cases, replace them altogether, with multi-level, sensory-rich simulations and videogames.

Put simply, these VR enhancements allow students to perfect mission-critical or even life-threatening skills, by immersing themselves in a safe, but challenging environment, where they apply relevant knowledge, while considering multiple perspectives and practicing different responses.  Likewise, these virtual worlds generate a tremendous amount of data to use in assessing performance and customizing instruction.  And because they usually incorporate some sort of immediate feedback or reward, they stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, which, in turn promotes greater engagement and better knowledge recall, over time.  Take Tina Jones, for example, an avatar developed by Shadow Health, that we use at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions to help online nursing students sharpen their clinical practice skills from a distance.  This 29-year-old virtual patient responds just like any real-life patient, offering a unique chance for students to perform high-stakes, full-system, patient assessments – over and over, if necessary.  Their instructors observe the interaction online, using videoconferencing applications to provide face-to-face feedback around targeted areas for improvement.

Adding new dimensions with holography

Holography offers yet another great opportunity to engage students in interactive learning experiences and environments that are authentic, measurable and customized.  A hologram is essentially a three-dimensional, free-standing image, created with photographic projection and viewed with the help of special headsets or other wearable Holographic image of a male body shown, from a skeleton form to representation of muscular system.devices.  And with a little imagination, this technology can be used to enhance all sorts of learning activities.

For instance, holography can take videoconferencing to a physical level, by facilitating remote collaboration among students, faculty, and experts worldwide, in what feels like face-to-face interaction.  Students can also use holograms to conduct science experiments that are too dangerous, expensive, or complicated to perform in real life; or to complete a design project in three dimensions that can be reproduced on a 3D printer. Educators are also employing holography for hosting virtual field trips, enabling students to “visit” a national park or a natural history museum far from where they live.

With the help of a Microsoft Hololens headset, professors at Case Western Reserve University are transforming how students learn about the human body, a hands-on academic exercise that has always required physical labs and human cadavers.  But using three-dimensional holograms, they can now cut into a virtual human body to explore, experience and understand the intricacies of and connections among all of its systems – organ and skeletal, vascular and nervous – something that is much harder to teach without this digital enhancement.

Connecting students through robotic telepresence

Although videoconferencing has long been the “go-to” for connected learning experiences among students, faculty, and outside experts, robotic telepresence offers an even more effective way to personalize the interaction – particularly from a social or collaborative learning perspective.

In fact, independently mobile telebots (as telepresence robots are often called) add that all-important in-person dimension to hands-on learning activities that would normally require a physical or onsite presence.  Just ask the Duke University’s School of Nursing, where these amazing digital devices are paving the way for students in the fully online MS in Nursing program to work remotely with students in the campus-based Accelerated BS in Nursing program, as they engage in high fidelity, life-like clinical simulations.

Image of two hospital beds and a tablet attached to wheels (robotics) moving through the room.Using their tablets, computers, or smartphones to remotely control the robot, online graduate student preceptors can maneuver it around the room, while panning or tilting the iPad screen in basically any direction, to provide clinical guidance – from a distance – to onsite undergraduate students.  Equally important, they are all mastering the art of telemedicine, as they practice furnishing remote healthcare without losing that essential face-to-face patient connection.

Looking Ahead

Given the lightning speed with which technologies such as these are moving into the mainstream of academia, there is no doubt that the future of connected learning is well within our collective power to invent.  And in joining forces to create that future, we hope you will help us make Virtually Inspired both an ongoing source of ideas and a nexus for collaboration.

You may reach us at

Photo os Susan Aldridge


Dr. Susan Aldridge,
President, Drexel University Online





Photo of Marci Powell


Marci M. Powell,
Chair Emerita and Past President, U.S. Distance Learning Association

The Impact of Adaptive Learning on CTU’s Culture

This week we welcome Niki Bray, WCET Adaptive Learning Fellow, to discuss the impact of adaptive learning at CTU. I loved reading this post from Niki, especially the focus on one of our 2016 WOW Award Winners! For more on CTU’s adaptive learning programs watch Niki’s interview with Connie Johnson and Judy Komar from Colorado Technical University, which we’ve included at the end of the blog. Thank you Niki for this great post highlighting the outstanding work happening at CTU.

~Lindsey Downs

Adaptive Learning with CTU

In May, I had the opportunity to travel to Schaumburg, Illinois to visit Colorado Technical University’s Chief Academic Officer and Provost, Dr. Connie Johnson, with the aim of learning what makes CTU’s adaptive learning program so successful.  To date, over 32,000 students have completed at least one of CTU’s 100+ adapted courses.  Connie says what motivates CTU’s administration and faculty are student outcomes. Seeing the impact adaptive learning is having on the student’s experience and their success has permeated the entire culture at CTU. During my visit, I spoke mainly with administrators and staff who’s behind-the-scenes role has been vital to the success of adaptive learning at CTU.  Every person I spoke with was excited about adaptive learning and its impact on the lives of CTU students.

Adaptive Learning and Culture

While we never discussed culture specifically, how adaptive learning has shaped CTU’s academic culture was vividly clear. Connie gave me a tour of CTU’s campus support centerRed and White logo of Colorado Technical University, and I had the privilege of meeting numerous individuals who work tirelessly to support CTU’s adaptive learning efforts. Everyone I spoke with was enthusiastic about adaptive learning and agreed it was a transformative force at CTU.

Adaptive learning really lets students be in control and is personalized to the student experience on how they’re going to best learn and achieve what they want to out of the course.”
–Dr. Doug Stein, Vice-Provost, CTU

Adaptive learning has provided our students with a really great venue to learn across the scope of several different courses in a way that not only challenges them but is also adaptive to where they are in their learning.
-Dr. Stacia Klasen, Director of Academic Operations, CTU

Adaptive learning has been a great engagement learning tool for students.  They are getting that immediate feedback so they are encouraged as they’re going through and learning the material.  It helps motivate them to keep continue within the adaptive learning system, which has been really great.  From a faculty perspective, watching my students want to keep striving to improve.”
– Director of Learning Solutions, CTU

Adaptive learning is a progressive, up-to-date fascinating tool that not only puts learning in greater perspective for our students.  We have a lot of students who are coming back and haven’t been in classes for a very, very long time.  It gives them the opportunity to get in touch with not only their learning style but to reorient themselves with learning.  Adaptive learning has helped a lot of our students to get back into the frame of learning.  Most of the classes I have taught have used adaptive learning and all of our students have found it really fascinating.  It has its slight drawbacks because students don’t expect as much intensity, in terms of the learning, and some of them coming back, it takes them a minute to get into that mindset.  Other than that, fantastic!
– Dr. Bright Justice, Lead Doctoral Faculty, CTU

From the student advising perspective, adaptive learning tends to pull students further along than they intend.  With adaptive, it kind-of pulls you through the process so that the more you figure out that you already know or the more that you learn the more that you want to do.  So, it kind-of keeps you connected to it and makes it more interesting than just going into a book and finding interesting facts and regurgitating it.  That’s what’s been really helpful, at least for our students especially as we try to get them to engage earlier.  If we get them started on a Monday, they tend to do so much more as opposed to waiting until the weekend.  A lot of our students are coming back to something like this and it’s online and it can be difficult for students to adapt to that.”
– Jack Lewandowski VP Student Affairs, CTU

“Adaptive learning enhances the student’s learning experience.  One advantage is that students get to see their progress immediately.  It helps students drive a lot of their education pursuits.  And it has proven to be an effective learning tool for students.”
– University Dean, College of Business and Management

CTU administrators and faculty have published numerous articles describing the impact of adaptive learning on their faculty and how faculty support for adaptive learning has driven student success (Educause Review).  Additionally, CTU has won numerous awards for their work around adaptive learning, including a WCET WOW award in 2014.  The reason CTU has had success with adaptive learning is due to support from administration and staff.  While innovation in teaching is often championed from the bottom up, top down support for innovation is essential to bringing it to scale. The value of adaptive learning brings to students is well-documented, but at CTU, adaptive learning is shaping their institutional culture as well.


photo of niki bray
Niki Bray
WCET Fellow, Adaptive Learning
Instructor|Instructional Designer
School of Health Studies
University of Memphis


Will Higher Ed Regulations Weather the Perfect Storm Prepared to Sink Them?

Even George Clooney could not save the day as three storm fronts converged on his doomed fishing boat in 2000’s The Perfect Storm. Similarly, a new Republican President, Republican Congress, and an obscure law will come together to sink eight years of Obama Administration regulatory work.

As Inside Higher Ed states this morning, some regulations are headed for the bottom of the ocean. Unlike George Clooney’s boat, some regulations may be a bit harder to sink.

These Guys Hate Regulations

You probably knew that, but the 2016 Republican Party Platform states:

“The President has been regulating to death a free market economy that he does not like and does not understand.”  

Despite the hyperbole of that sentence, the Republicans have shown every indication that they plan to drastically reduce regulations in higher education and throughout government. In a brief conversation with Tim Powers of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, he told me that some regulations with be dispatched quickly while others will be much more difficult to undo.

The Little-Known “Congressional Review Act”

Prior to predicting what the future might bring, I need to geek-out a bit on an obscure piece of law: The Congressional Review Act (CRA). Signed into law by President Clinton (a little irony here) in 1996, the CRA has been only once early in the George W. Bush presidency to remove the Clinton Administration’s ergonomic regulations.

The CRA is most useful during presidential transitions from one party to another. It allows Congress may overturn “midnight regulations” enacted in the waning day of a presidential administration in anticipation of the president of another party taking office.

The CRA was written for the “perfect storm” of conditions that now exist. The provisions include:

  • Congress can review any regulation in the last 60 days of an administration. Since “days” is defined by the days Congress is in session (and the current Congress did not meet very often), the review calendar extends back to May 2016. According to the New York Times, about 150 rules of all types are “potentially vulnerable to the ax” not counting any new ones that may be issued in the coming weeks.
  • Rules are expedited so that the legislation of “Congressional disapproval” to remove targeted rules are not subject to traditional methods of delaying or killing action:
    • The legislation cannot be assigned to committees, where action could be delayed by those in favor of keeping the regulations.
    • Most importantly, the Senate cannot filibuster the legislation. Overcoming a filibuster usually requires 60 Senate votes. Under the CRA, only a majority vote is required in the Senate. Since Republicans hold the majority, they can win this vote only with members of their own party, whereas overcoming a filibuster would require Democrats to jump ship and join them.
  • Another killer provision is summarized by the Center for Progressive Reform (underlining added): Under the CRA, when Congress adopts a joint resolution of disapproval for a regulation, this not only nullifies the regulation in question, it also prohibits a federal agency from reissuing the same regulation again or from promulgating a regulation that is substantially similar, unless the new or reissued regulation is supported by a new statute adopted after the joint resolution of disapproval. It is not clear how different a new regulation must be from a disapproved old regulation in order to satisfy this requirement.” This could have long term limitations on the regulations that are removed through use of this act.
  • The Center for Progressive Reform also stated: “The CRA provides that any ‘determination, finding, action, or omission’ made pursuant to the CRA cannot be challenged in court.” Given the rule had been used only once, this provision has not been tested and very well could be in 2017.

For a more complete history, see “Mysteries of the Congressional Review Act” published a few years ago by the Harvard Law Review.

US-Capital-by-Stephen-MelkisethianWhat Else Can Be Done to Kill Regulations?

  • If not subject to the Congressional Review Act, regulations could be killed by other means such as:
  • Legislative Repeal. However, this would require overcoming a Senate filibuster.
  • Reissuing the Regulation. This involves a complex set of steps.
  • Legislative Budget Prohibition. The budget of the department in question could include a clause forbidding spending of any funds to enforce a regulation.
  • Administrative Prohibition. The new department heads could prohibit enforcement of the regulation.

…But What Does That Mean For Me?

Let’s look at the impact on several regulations we have been following…

State Authorization

The final regulation has yet to be released. See our comments on the proposed regulation. Part of me thinks that they will release it to force the Trump administration to kill it. On the other hand, if it is killed by the Congressional Review Act, the Department of Education’s state authorization regulation could be dead for a very long time. Either way, it is impossible to envision a scenario in which this regulation will be enforced any time soon.

BUT WAIT! For those who want to read this as meaning that colleges don’t need to pay attention to state authorization any longer, they are wrong. The states have always expected you to follow their laws. Several states have toughened their laws. If you are a SARA institution, that organization also expects you to follow its expectations for participation.

Teacher Prep

On October 12 of this year, the Department of Education released the final, controversial Teacher Preparation regulations. The regulation required every state to conduct additional reviews of (nearly) every teacher preparation program placing new teachers in the state. The requirements for teacher education programs offered at a distance are bizarre. The comment periods for this regulation attracted overwhelming negative response. The regulation will be subject to the Congressional Review Act and is probably toast.

For Profit Regulations

The Republicans are upset over the Obama administration’s treatment of for-profit colleges. Last week’s Inside Higher Ed said: The department wrote its regulations on gainful employment and borrower defense in response to what high-ranking administration officials and consumer advocates saw as fraud and abuse within an industry that experienced a boom after the Great Recession.” While those regulations are primarily aimed at for-profit institutions, some of their provisions have implications for other higher education sectors.

Rep. Virginia Foxx is on Trump’s transition team and is the incoming chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The article cites her as assuring that: “Republicans will do everything they can to roll back those rules.”

The Borrower Defense regulations included specific requirements for loan repayments for institutions that close. It also includes strict penalties for institutions of all types that misrepresent themselves or their programs to students. It was released only a few weeks ago and will probably be subject to CRA legislation. Again, this will be toast.

The Gainful Employment rules will not be subject to the CRA. It will take much more legislative effort to roll those back. This will be interesting to watch


I’ve heard that there will be less reliance on accrediting agencies to serve as the de facto compliance arm of the Department of Education…much to the delight of the accrediting agencies. On the other hand, the new administration’s focus on workforce skills may lead to the approval of new accrediting agencies. One outcome of such approval would be to open the door for alternative providers (boot camps, MOOC companies) to offer federal aid to their students…should they want to do so. Some of those providers are loath to have any third-party oversight.

In Conclusion…

We will watch the coming actions with great interest and will report on them to you. It will be interesting to see what the consumer protection groups do as they have worked hard for these regulations. They might turn their attention to helping students use litigation, state attorneys general, or the press to reign in abuses by institutions of all types.


Each of these regulations have sections that will definitely be missed.

Each of them went too far or were too complex.

Too bad we cannot come to reasonable compromise. We need the George Clooney with the guile of Three Kings, the cunning of Ocean’s Eleven, and the charm of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? to write a happy ending.

Want more information on how the 2016 election results will impact higher education? Join WCET for a moderated conversation about higher education in the 2017 political climate. The free webcast will take place at 1:00 PM CST, Wednesday, December 7. Bring your questions. Special thanks to Blackboard, Inc. for cosponsoring this webcast.

Register Today!  Follow the Twitter feed at #WCETwebcast.

Russ Poulin
Russell Poulin
Director, Policy & Analysis
WCET – The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies


Thank you to Ken Salomon (Thompson Coburn, LLP), Van Davis (Blackboard), and others  who have provided insights in the last few weeks. Some asked not to be named.

Education & Family Life: An Interview with a Portmont College Student

This summer before transitioning from WCET to APUS, I had the opportunity to interview Adina Martinez, who was a student at a progressive institutional upstart, Portmont College at Mount St. Mary’s.  Portmont was run in conjunction with My College Foundation and at the academic helm was Dr. Vernon Smith, now my APUS colleague. It is a small world.  Much has changed since Adina attended the program, it is no longer offered as Portmont College but the insights Adina shares are evergreen. We’ve also included several short videos Portmont made of Adina discussing her time as a student.

It’s stories like Adina’s that help us remember why we’re here, why we are a part of the WCET community so committed to finding new ways for students to succeed by using technology effectively.

Enjoy this interview!
-Cali Morrison

Interview with Adina Martinez

Adina:  I grew up here in Colorado.  All of my family is from here and I had a son when I was 18, so right at the end of my senior year of high school.  I went to work right away.  I started off as a file clerk at a credit union and within a couple of months I moved up to becoming a loan processor.  And I did that for about a year and a half, but just never really felt satisfied with that.  It wasn’t something that I enjoyed doing.

photo of a smiling Adina who is about 31 years old with shoulder-length hair

Adina Martinez

I had always disliked my hair growing up, because I have a lot of hair.  It’s very thick, it’s kind of in-between curly and straight, so it’s got a wave to it but I can’t do either – I can’t wear it straight without effort and I can’t wear it curly without effort so I just never liked it.  And I never liked the haircut that I got.  So I started cutting my own hair and doing things to it when I was about 14 and when I was 20 or so, after I had left the credit union, I decided that I wanted to go to cosmetology school. My personal experience is what led me to that.  For the last 12 or so years I’ve been in that profession.  So that’s how I met Vernon.  I’ve been focused on men’s grooming, men’s hair-cutting for the last six years and so he was a client of mine for a few years.

Cali:  That’s great! So, through that, as most stylists do, you get to know your client.  You got to know him while he was working at Portmont, which was based in Denver, CO?

Adina:  Correct. He had moved to Denver, I believe, to take on the challenge of starting that online program and that’s when I met him. We have a membership program which is a better value at our high-end barber shop.  Vernon took part in that right away which means I saw him every two weeks, allowing us to get to know each other pretty well.

Cali:  Through that relationship you learned of Portmont?

Adina:  Yes.

Cali:  What intrigued you first about the program or was there, aside from meeting Vernon, was there something else?  Had you been looking to go back to college?

Adina:  At that time I wasn’t actively looking into going back to school.  Throughout my adult life—I had always had an interest in nursing.  I basically fell in love with the idea of nursing with the experience of having my oldest son because I had never really been in a hospital or anything like that before.  I’d certainly never been a patient.  And I just felt the entire experience and watching how the nurses interacted with each and with me as a patient and my family, I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Especially labor and delivery—just being a part of a person’s life, one of the most significant times in a person’s life, it intrigued me. It’s something I’ve always thought of and always said that’s what I want to do.  But just being a young mom and things like that, it seemed like such a big commitment to make, you know, time-wise, money-wise, all of that.  That’s why I never really thought that I could do it before.

But it was something that from time to time throughout the years I would go and take some classes that would put me on the track towards some sort of degree in the medical field. At one time I thought maybe I’ll for medical assisting or go for a lower level like an LPN nurse or something like that.  But, again, I just felt I’ll always have my kids and my family and felt like I was taking away from that.  And that’s kind of why I always put it off and I was never successful.  I was also married to the father of my two boys and he wasn’t discouraging at all but he definitely wasn’t encouraging and he wasn’t as supportive as I needed somebody to be to be successful.  Because it is a challenge when you have a family to take care of.

When Vernon and I first started talking, he was really excited about Portmont and everything that it was about.  And I did everything that I could for him– leaving flyers at my station at work and talking to people about it.  But originally I believe they were targeting kids that were about to come out of high school and thought that maybe traditional college was not for them.  So this was supposed to be an alternate route.

Somewhere along the line they decided to kind of change it up and he said they were going to try to target more of the adult learners.  And that’s where the conversation started a bit more. One time we were talking about my son or just education and things like that in general.  And he threw out some statistic, and I don’t remember the exact numbers but it was basically a very high percentage of kids that go on to college straight out of high school and are successful is dependent on the fact of whether or not their mother has a college degree.  And that really just struck me, that’s what got me started.


Cali: So, Portmont allowed you to get started?  They didn’t have a nursing degree, did they?

Adina: No, they didn’t.  Their degrees were all associate degrees. I believe they had liberal arts, business, and then science or pre-health degree.  I went that route and it basically sets you up with all of the prerequisites that you need pretty much to enter any realm of health care, whether it’s veterinary school or nursing or even trying to get into med school.

Cali:  Awesome.  And then it sounds like you’ve gone on from there?

Adina:  Yeah, I’m about to enter my second quarter in nursing school.

Cali:  That’s great.  And now, are you doing that face-to-face, online?

Adina:  It’s in-class.  Every now and then—this quarter, coming up, I have a couple of classes that are online and three of them that are in class.  So, I’m pretty excited because I feel like I have somewhat of an advantage amongst my classmates because I did my entire associate degree online so I kind of know the format and the commitment that it takes.  Because I think it’s really hard to basically be a self-learner and I feel like that’s what a lot of online is.

Cali:  Yeah, you have to have that self-motivation and discipline.

Adina:  The way that I’ve experienced it and I’ve seen others—my dad’s taking classes, college courses, online now too.  In both of our schools you have assigned reading and assignments that are due and things like that, but it’s not like you have to log in at 10 p.m. on Mondays or there’s not a certain time, so it definitely takes a lot of self-discipline.

Cali: What has helped you be successful in your studies?

Adina:  One of the things that really helped and I think is helping me to be successful now on this journey in nursing school is the online format gave me what I felt like an option to try and be successful.  I have four kids.  They range in age from 15 to a year and a half.  So I actually found out that I was expecting my youngest, the baby, a few months after I had started at Portmont.  It came down to, I could use that, the fact that I was having another baby, as an excuse to say now’s not the right time, again.  Or I could continue with the mindset that I already had and just say we’ll work through it and we’ll get through it somehow.  So that’s what I decided to do.  Being able to learn online was huge for me because while it’s still a time sacrifice but if I needed to step away from the computer to make dinner or just to give some attention to my family, I was able to.  That was a big reason why I decided to pursue my education, because it felt like I could fit it into my family life.



Check out these other videos with Adina discussing her Portmont journey:

Thank you again, Adina for sharing your insights with us and we look forward to seeing you at a Metro-area hospital, taking great care of patients, in the near future.


Cali M.K. Morrison, M.Ed., Ed.D. candidate
Director, Alternative Learning
American Public University System

Meet Maura, A Virtual Intelligent Agent Answering Student Services Questions

In the spring Slight blurry photo of long lines of students sitting in desks studying or taking a test.semester of 2013, American Sentinel University was experiencing the welcomed issue of high student traffic. The university had back-to-back years of significant growth in enrollment, and new degree program requirements were being implemented in the spring, naturally creating curiosity among the student population. While we encourage and are happy to talk with our students and give them the answers they need, at the time the bandwidth of our student success advisors was beginning to be stretched thin.

Coincidentally, the success of Apple’s Siri had become mainstream. A team within our university, including then-Chief Academic Officer John Bourne and former advisor-turned instructional designer Trevor Rasmusson, were conceptualizing how similar technology could benefit our students’ experience.

The result, a virtual intelligent agent: Maura (My Anytime University Resource Aide)

Their idea:  A virtual intelligent agent, complete with a face and a voice, who lived inside university webpages and could answer the questions of American Sentinel University students. Day or night. Weekdays and weekends. 365 days a year

Young woman standing in front of a city landscape.Introduced to our students in September 2013, Maura’s avatar appeared on our registration site as well as the login page for our classroom. And while Maura received a rather warm welcome from our students (an objective analysis based on the higher than expected questions/inputs that Maura received in her first few days of going live), she did not go without some hiccups in this implementation stage.

The first, and arguably most disadvantageous, obstacle was the agent’s response accuracy.  Since most student questions previously came in the form of emails and phone calls, there was no conceivable way to catalog all questions our students could ask Maura. Therefore, Rasmusson and a team of student success advisors relied on their experience working with students to generate the content for Maura. Many of the agent’s responses were specific to frequently asked questions, such as how to register for a class to the steps necessary to complete a graduation audit. And while these questions were accounted for when Maura went live, it was impossible to anticipate all the questions (not to mention how they would be asked) our students would ask. Therefore, Maura began at a rather low response accuracy rate (around 40%).

We also had to work on acceptance from Maura’s human colleagues

This lead to a second problem: Lack of buy-in within the university. In seeing the low success rate Maura began at, there was understandable skepticism among staff and faculty as to whether this resource was advantageous to the student experience.

So, to enhance Maura’s response accuracy as well as her overall value to the university, we conducted an extensive audit process. We needed a log of as many possible questions Maura could be asked in order to create appropriate responses. We reached out to faculty and advisors, asking them to take student questions they have received and ask those to Maura. We asked for students to challenge Maura with university-related questions they could think of. These, along with other live questions our agent received, helped us to generate a much more extensive catalog of questions that Maura could accommodate for. With this, Maura was able to learn a lot in a short period, building her knowledge base to over 500 unique responses and raising her response accuracy rate to around the 80% mark.

Maura has grown and continues to learn

Since then, we review the log of questions Maura receives on a weekly basis to continue to help her learn. To make these necessary revisions, our team uses Artie™, a product of Healthcare Learning Innovations that allows users to create and revise virtual intelligent agents from scratch. While the 100% response accuracy rate may be an unachievable goal, we now proudly point to Maura’s two years of functioning at over 90% accuracy and happily call her a member of the American Sentinel family.


Gregory Dennis
Manager, Writing Center
American Sentinel University

Six Ideas to Innovate Higher Ed Conferences

Leading up to the 2016 Annual Meeting, the WCET team and Steering Committee discussed making future conferences more of an experience that includes facilitated discussions, loosely organized conversations around key edtech topics, and other session types to make the event more interactive and the content more timely. Carolyn’s recommendations support this thinking. We thank Carolyn for her thoughtful recommendations and also invite your ideas.

~Lindsey Downs

It’s Time to Innovate the Conference Experience

A recent Inside Higher Ed blog post by Joshua Kim argued that it might be time to kill the conference panel.  Having just come from WCET’s annual meeting, I agree  that it’s time to re-envision academic conferences.  Don’t misunderstand. The WCET conference was a very good experience. In fact, it was the best conference I’ve been to in about three years.  But the pace of change in higher education is too great for traditional conference models.  It’s time to innovate the conference experience.

“Innovation” is Happening Now

Consider an upcoming conference on “innovations in blended and online learning.” The call for proposals closes this week, a full five months before the April conference.  This is a standard time lapse and allows for the practical realities of putting together a conference, but it also argues against the very concept of “innovation.”  With the way things are changing in our industry, information that was ready for public viewing five months ago is likely to be outdated today.Four people sitting around a table with notebooks and one with a laptop

Even the best conferences suffer from one of two kinds of presentations: those that have stale information and those that promised more than they deliver.  No matter how we try to maneuver in the traditional conference model, we end up with many sessions that fall squarely into one of these two categories.  The more we try to address stale information, the more we risk hearing from people who thought several months ago that their project would be interesting to hear about today.  Some of these proposals pan out; others do not.

My Six Ideas

Unfortunately, seeing the problems is easier than figuring out the solutions, but here are six ideas to support innovative conference design:

  1. Allow presenters to propose flexible topic ideas. Trust your presenters to bring the best information to table once the time comes.
  2. Support more working and interest groups where attendees can work together toClose up of a dictionary entry for collaborate (to work jointly, especially in literary or scientific work), collaboration (united labour), and collaborator (one who assists another). solve current challenges in our industry.
  3. Encourage much more social media use of all kinds. We have only begun to explore the ways Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms can be used to support interaction among attendees. Use social media to highlight and validate disagreement and dissent instead of limiting conference re-Tweets to compliments.
  4. Support lasting connections among your attendees. “Networking” is not enough.  What can conferences do to help attendees take the next steps to really get to know each other professionally?
  5. Make it much easier to access and share conference presentations before, during, and after they are given. Too many conferences put that material behind a pay wall or bury it in an app. Push out all conference content as much as possible before all that content is too old to matter.
  6. Support a conference “pot luck” where attendees can each bring an idea/product/solution they want to share with others in the industry. Provide a free thumb drive or Dropbox folder to make sharing easy.

Small, lego figurines in a circle around a mini table.
As I see it, in order to innovate higher ed conferences, we need to take the focus off of information and put it on the people.  Experience supports this paradigm shift. Who among us hasn’t been in a presentation where the audience knew more than the presenter?  This isn’t a problem. It’s a solution.  The way forward is one where conferences serve to bring us together to innovate in real time.  Anything less is yesterday’s news.




What innovations would you suggest? What conference activities have you found to be fruitful?


Photo of Carolyn Speer



Carolyn I. Speer
Manager of Instructional Design and Technology
Wichita State University


University of Nebraska System Makes Its Website Marketing Online Offerings Sing

Thank you to WCET members University of Nebraska and Ranku for today’s post. The University of Nebraska Online Worldwide was seeking a solution for a user-friendly web tool enabling prospective students to search the offerings of the four system institutions. They picked Ranku, a Wiley Brand, as the solution to best fit their needs.

Enjoy the post,
Lindsey Downs


Created in 2009, the University of Nebraska Online Worldwide is a university-wide initiative with the primary goal of pulling together the collective strength of the four University of Nebraska (NU) campuses in the area of online education to provide increased access to a quality education for Nebraska residents and to people throughout the world.

In order to provide prospective students with a single destination for finding information about all NU online programs, in 2010 NU Online Worldwide launched a centralized website: This site offers students a consistent search experience to quickly find a program of interest.

The Challenge

After an initial few years of increasing traffic to the website and positive lead generation, changes in search engine algorithms and shifting student search behavior and preferences began to catch up to the NU Online Worldwide website and negatively impact these key performance indicators. NU Online Worldwide needed to make major changes to its website, and do so quickly.

The Strategy

In the summer of 2015, NU Online Worldwide partnered with Ranku, a Wiley Brand, a leader in online student recruitment technology, to redesign the NU Online Worldwide website. Objectives of the redesign included updating the site to a responsive, user-friendly, SEO-centric and lead generation-focused design with a powerful analytics backend.Image capture of NU Online new website

All aspects of the new site revolve around optimal user experience leading to lead generation. A clear emphasis was placed on displaying the depth and breadth of program offerings and quickly getting users to a program page. The homepage was overhauled with a prominent degree level filter and keyword search box, along with an interactive subject area tile feature giving users multiple ways to find their program of choice.

Once on a program page, users can easily scan key information with the introduction of the program highlights ribbon. State authorization status by program is displayed on the Admissions and Requirements tab so prospective students have this information as they enter the recruitment funnel. Programs are consistently organized with information pertinent to adult online students and content is optimized for organic search.

Information request and ‘Apply Now’ buttons have been strategically placed on the site to encourage prospective students to submit contact information.

With the introduction of campus icons, the redesign makes a distinct connection between programs and their corresponding campus, something that had caused undue confusion for prospective students in the past.Small photo of Mary Niemiec

“We had taken the first step by creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ website for prospective students to research all the online programs offered by the four campuses of the University of Nebraska,” said Mary Niemiec, Associate Vice President for Digital Education and Director of NU Online Worldwide. “The Ranku design took that concept to the next level by creating a clean, user-friendly interface that provides the kind of sophisticated search experience web users have come to expect in other areas of life.”


The Results

The foundation of the NU Online Worldwide-Ranku marketplace was based on an analysis of historical inquires and live-data patterns. By centering the design and function on the prospective student’s experience, NU Online Worldwide is able to convert significantly more of their organic traffic to inquiries. Now, the search for a degree for prospective online degree is more akin to a digital shopping experience than reading a brochure.

Small chart with an upwards, swooping arrow heading to the right with text under chart that reads 200% and Organic lead growthBy redesigning NU Online Worldwide’s website and developing a data tool to provide insight and actionable information on key performance indicators, NU Online Worldwide has surpassed its goals and significantly increased inquiries from potential online students. The partnership has been very successful in converting more of NU Online Worldwide’s most valuable source of traffic— organic traffic. Average monthly traffic has doubled since launch and monthly inquiry growth increased nearly 200%.

Ranku’s analytics have helped NU Online Worldwide identify programs to scale based on demand, and highlighting the essential role that lead nurturing plays in the enrollment management funnel. Recruiting online degree students is incomparable to recruiting campus students due to the significant difference in demographics. As a result, the strategy for recruiting online students must be adjusted to account for the ways in which this population of students obtain and use information.

NU Online Worldwide has further leveraged website data by integrating information into their Customer Relations Management (CRM) system, enabling university leaders to make better data-driven decisions, which has exponentially improved the ability to strategically market to and recruit this unique demographic.

The positive impact of improving a university’s ability to recruit online students cannot be overstated. Currently, more than 35 million adults started, but have not completed their college degree. Many of these people are seeking a way to achieve their goal of obtaining a degree in higher education, while continuing to work and provide for their financial needs. Often, prospective students seeking information about online programs become frustrated and confused by the fractured network of campus sites which often are not clearly labeled as offering programs online or on-campus. In many cases, when these prospective online degree students leave those sites, they do not go to another school – rather, they do not go back to school at all.

The Take-Away

The number one lesson learned from the partnership with Ranku is to focus on the institution’s online degree demographic and the psychology of this unique student population to improve recruitment by creating a user-centric experience. Every university has a unique demographic of prospective online students. Ranku’s technology and data analytics dashboard has allowed NU Online Worldwide to more effectively surface information and trends, enabling the institution to strategically target its efforts and better serve its students studying at a distance.


Contact information

University of Nebraska Online Logo
NU Online Worldwide:
Laura Wiese,
Marketing Director



Orange rectangle shaped log for Ranku. Under Ranku smaller text reads A Wiley Brand.
Cecilia Retelle,
VP of Central Operations


A New Year, a New Administration, a New Higher Education Act Reauthorization?

Earlier this year, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called this election a “dumpster fire.” We were reminded of this insight by Terry Hartle (Senior Vice President, Division of Government and Public Affairs of the American Council on Education) at last week’s Presidents’ Forum.

Hoping to raise the level of dialogue beyond that surrounding a dumpster fire, this annual Forum (founded by Excelsior College and co-hosted by USDLA) brings higher education innovators together to discuss current issues. The Forum has a particular emphasis on federal and state policies.

Several sessions looked to the future and how higher education innovations might fare in a new administration. There was hope (but no certainty) that a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act might be on the horizon. Below are some highlights from these discussions:

What’s Happened Without Reauthorization?

Campaign signs for Trump, Clinton/Kaine, Make America Great Again, and (inexplicably) a frog.

Once we have a new President (or new head frog?), will the Higher Ed Act finally be reauthorized?

  • Without Reauthorization the Current Administration Has Been Busy. Greg Ferenbach, Special Counsel, Cooley LLP – There has been more focus on consumer protection at the expense of innovation. While there has been on Reauthorization Act, there have been 24 major rules packages issued by the Department of Education.
  • Regulation Hurting Innovation. Vickie Shray Bridgepoint – The regulatory environment is having a chilling effect on innovation. Institutions are less willing to stick their neck out.

What Might Be in a New Reauthorization Bill?

  • Reauthorization Should “Do No Harm.” Amy Jones, Director of Education and Human Services Policy, House Committee on Education and the Workforce – Said that there is the sense in Congress that Reauthorization should “do no harm.” Citing the antiquated distance education definition, she acknowledged the need for flexibility regarding innovations. New innovations will come in the future and we don’t want to limit them.
  • Colleges Having “Skin in the Game” for Federal Student Loans. Chris Bustamante, President, Rio Salado College – In talking about his hopes for a Higher Education Reauthorization Act said that there is much interest in colleges having “skin in the game” with federal financial aid. AACC is against this proposal as community colleges are already operating on a slim margin. If colleges are to assume more responsibility, they also need the ability to limit the aid available.
  • More Attention to Privacy Regulations. Greg Ferenbach – FERPA is older than the fax machine (for those of you too young to not know what a fax machine is). It’s amazing it still works at all. There have many bills in state legislatures and in Congress to try to update privacy laws to the digital age.

Should States Reinvest in Higher Education?

  • Get States to Reinvest in Higher Education. Chris Bustamante is president of a college that was recently zero-funded by the state legislature. Is this the first of many? Can the new Higher Education Act encourage additional state investment?
  • Should Public Institutions Be Declared to Be Private? David Bergeron XXX – Public institutions are being de-funding and do those institutions still enjoy the “full faith and credit” of their respective states? Is a there a level of state funding that should be considered a minimum threshold? Once an institution falls that threshold, is it now subject to the increase rigor required of private colleges?
  • Can’t States and Federal Government Work Together? Larry Isaak, President, Midwestern Higher Education Compact – Is there a way that the federal government can work with states to come to a better understanding and agreement of their respective roles in higher education?

Graduates at their ceremony sitting in rows in their caps and gowns.What Accountability Measures Will Be Used?

  • Accountability Needs Improved IPEDS Measures. Roger Sublett, President, Union Institute and University – For accountability purposes, there need to be better measures. College Scorecard uses the IPEDS “Graduation Rate” and the regional accreditors recently announced they will conduct increased scrutiny on institutions with low percentages on this rate. Since the Graduation Rate uses cohorts including only “first-time, full-time” students, the results can be deceiving. Union recently had only seven of these students, while APUS had 36.
  • Forget Student Learning Outcomes Statements, Better Student Outcomes Measures are Needed. Robert Shireman, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation and Advisor to the Hillary Clinton Campaign – There is a long list of failed accountability measures in higher education: syllabus, grades, student satisfaction surveys, graduation rates, graduate earnings, and standardized test scores. Shireman’s pet peeve is “student learning outcomes” statements. Shireman said an alternative is using Evaluated Student Performances, which are graded reports, testes, discussions, presentations, and other performances that instructor judge. He suggested that external review of student learning be included.
  • Accreditation Turned from Carrot to Stick. Brianna Bates, Assistant Director of Academic Program Review, New York University – I response to Shireman’s presentation, she said that accreditation used to be a carrot. Peer review was a way for institutions to learn from others to improve themselves. It has now been turned into a stick to assure that institutions follow regulations.
  • New “Daily Education Index” is Coming. Carol D’Amico, Executive Vice President, National Engagement and Philanthropy, USA Funds – They felt that information was lacking on what the higher education student consumer wants and needs. USA Funds partnered with Gallup, which is interviewing 350 Americans (prospective students, current students, alumni, and those who never went to college) each day. That will be more than 127,000 interviews per year. Early in 2017 they will release the Daily Education Index. She did not elaborate on what form that will take, what data will be reported or how this could be “daily.”

What are the Political Implications?

Beyond the “dumpster fire” reference by ACE’s Terry Hartle, he provided us with insights on the political ramifications of the Obama years, the election, and beyond.

  • The Obama years brought…
    • There have been tremendous increases in funding for Pell grants, student loan programs, and veterans education benefits. The increases were primarily funded by the Department of Education assuming responsibility for running the student loan programs.
    • Federalizing the student loan program went relatively smoothly. Many who opposed the federalization thought that it could not be transitioned so well.
    • The federal goal for higher education in the U.S. was changed from access to completion.
    • There were tremendous efforts to limit the actions of for-profits. Some of these actions have had an impact on other higher education sectors, as well.
    • The administration “never met a regulatory package that it did not like.” With 24 major regulatory packages, a new one emerged at an average of one every four months.
  • Candidate Trump’s plan…
    • Student loan repayments will be contingent on income.
    • Colleges possessing large endowments will be scrutinized.
    • They will seek to curb excessive regulations and the number of college administrators.
  • Candidate Clinton’s plan…
    • Allow student refinancing of student loans.
    • Provide grants to states to encourage them to offer “debt-free” or “tuition-free” public higher education. This will be expensive and controversial. Will states participate? At least 20 states did not participate in the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
    • Provide grant programs for private colleges with high levels of Pell-eligible students.
  • Observations for the future…
    • For more on the two candidate’s positions, see NASFAA’s review of their higher education proposals.
    • The anger and dissatisfaction from the left and the right will continue. It was nearly impossible to govern since 2009. It will be even harder to govern as compromise will be difficult. Candidate Trump is now calling his campaign a “movement” and may (if successful) continue to have influence after the election.
    • The Republicans will try to re-organize. The composition of Senators up for re-election in 2018 favors the Republicans.
    • According to Hartle, President Obama had only four pieces of major successful legislative efforts in eight years. It might be tougher for a Clinton presidency.

On those happy notes, enjoy the election! And put out those dumpster fires.


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


If you are not a WCET member, come join us!

Election photo credit:  MorgueFile
raduate photo credit:  MorgueFile



Hello WCETer’s!

Today I’d like to share the highlights of the meeting from my point of view as a new WCET staff member and first timer at the WCET Annual Meeting. As I, sadly, could not be everywhere at once, Mollie and Russ kindly donated their notes to fill out this post! Thanks both of you and our active WCET Tweeters for extra info!

Before I get started, a public service announcement:

You can access meeting materials by use of the Program tab on the annual meeting website. You can also watch several of the recorded sessions. If you presented at the meeting and would like to share your materials then please email them to Megan Raymond. If you would like to add your take-aways, comments, bloopers, fun stories, etc. about the meeting please do so in the comments below!

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

The WCET 28th Annual Meeting was held October 12-14th in Minneapolis, MN. Thank you to the Marriott City Center hotel, which was a great venue and host hotel! I have to say, the food especially (and the red and green lit bar for our opening reception) was great!

I’ve attended several conferences and this was my first time attending a WCET event. While I’ve enjoyed other conferences I’ve attended, I noticed that each conference excelled at either community building or facilitate learning experiences. At the WCET Annual Meeting, not only did I meet new people but I learned valuable information during the sessions and discussed significant topics in higher education and educational technology.

The 28th Annual Meeting event overview

A majority of attendees this year were returning WCET’ers.

Chart of home states of 2016 WCET Annual meeting attendees

There were 396 attendees from 47 different states and the District of Columbia, with the most from Minnesota (way to represent!). WCET attendees represented many different job categories.

Chart of job categories of 2016 WCET Annual meeting attendees

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

The meeting started Tuesday with the WCET Steering Committee and Executive Council meetings. The Steering Committee dedicated themselves to moving the fields of educational technology and education forward. The Chair of the Committee, Nick White, said that:

“Our job is to accelerate and facilitate change. We need to think about our members and what their needs are.”

Annual Meeting Sessions

The Annual Meeting sessions covered topics from student success, Open Educational Resources (OER), Accessibility and competency-based education. Speakers presented information on change management, adaptive learning, student privacy and 21st Century Credentials.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

At the WCET Academic Leadership Forum…

…two dozen senior level academic leaders engaged in a provocative discussion of:

  • “Risk adjusted metrics” for higher education (we use them in health care, why not higher education?),
  • Using sound social science to evaluate student outcomes,
  • Higher education innovation and scale,
  • Looking for opportunities within institutions to innovate.

The opening keynote from Jaime Casap was an outstanding way to kickoff WCET 2016.

Jaime, the Chief Educational evangelist with Google, told us about the impact of education, which brought him from his hometown of Hell’s Kitchen, NY (not the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant up the street from the conference hotel), to not only speaking at the White House during the Beating the Odds Summit, but speaking to us at WCET16! He spoke of power of education to disrupt poverty and invited us to consider how we can change the focus of education to prep our students to answer “what problem do you want to solve?” instead of “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Educational technology can be developed to prepare our students to be innovative creators and problem solvers.

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Thursday started early as Rosa Calabrese, WCET’s digital A four picture collage with photos of joggers and walkersand project services coordinator/extraordinaire, and I took groups for walks and jogs around downtown Minneapolis (for the record, I did not jog and thank you to my group for navigating so well!).

We had a great and chilly time and I especially enjoyed the view while going over the Mississippi River using the Stone Arch Bridge.

After a great breakfast it was on to sessions for the day!

Adaptive Learning in Higher Education: A Progress Report

Over the past three years, adaptive learning has gone from an ill-defined concept in higher education to an important category of teaching and learning technology.

Eric Frank, CEO of Acrobatiq, said that:

“when considering adaptive learning resources, he uses the refrigerator model. My refrigerator of adaptive resources includes complete meals, or all the necessary ingredients I need to make my meal, or the refrigerator is empty and has zero resources. The latter is really tough to scale! What resources does your institution have to implement adaptive learning?”

We need to fill up the adaptive learning refrigerator with resources!

The presenters reminded attendees that adaptive or personalized learning is not new. Today it’s just scalable. Adaptive products today are standing on the shoulders of giants from decades of research on brain science and learning science.

Dale Johnson encouraged allowing faculty to try adaptive learning several times, saying,

“Give faculty breathing room. Let them know it’s okay to fail.” He advises using the “Three Times Teaching” theory. Allow faculty to teach an adaptive learning course at least three times. This will allow them to truly understand how their role is different, how to use the analytics, what interventions their students may or may not need. You can also ask your faculty: If you didn’t have to lecture, what would you like to do in class?  Create? Evaluate? Analyze? Apply?”

Then, give faculty the time and space to try out those options.

An Update on A Multi Year Captioning Compliance Pilot Project

During this session, Suzanne Tapp and Justin Louder, Texas Tech University (TTU), provided updates on a Texas Tech student run captioning lab pilot (2014-2015). The lab was student run by four undergraduate students observed by a graduate student. Students were trained on best practices found in Described and Captioned Media Program Captioning Key.

Campus wide captioning processes and policies were brought up several times by presenters and attendees. At TTU they are completing their captioning policy. The policy will require that all hybrid and online classes and all face-to-face classes with a Letter of Accommodation (LOA) require captioned videos.

Video captioning is handled depending on the priority and length.

  • Classes with LOA: sent to 3rd party vendor so they are completed quickly,
  • If video is less than 15 minutes: instructor is encouraged to self-caption,
  • Video length is 15-40 minutes: sent through the student captioning lab,
  • Video length is 40 minutes or higher: sent to 3rd party vendor.

I’m looking forward to seeing Texas Tech’s publication on best practices in captioning! Visit this link for the slides from this session.

Understanding and Changing the Conversations Around ‘Regular and Substantive Interaction’

We were fortunate to have Amy Laitinen, director for higher education with the Education Policy program at New America, and Van Davis, Associate Vice President of Higher Education Research and Policy at Blackboard, update us on the latest with the “regular and substantive interaction” requirements for distance education and competency-based education (CBE). The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has issued reports criticizing two regional accrediting agencies in their oversight of competency-based programs, especially with respect to interaction regulations. A new report regarding Western Governor University’s implementation of “regular and substantive interaction” is due soon and is expected to be negative. It could be costly to WGU in terms of financial aid eligibility. Such a ruling will have a chilling effect on CBE.

WCET joins Amy, Van, and others in trying to figure out solutions in working with the Department and Congress in creating solutions. WCET will continue to update you and work on advocacy positions.

WCET Awards Lunch

The WCET Awards Lunch honored the WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) award winners and the higher education professionals who won the Richard Jonsen and the Sally Johnstone awards.

A WOW Award recognizes outstanding efforts by member institutions and organizations in applying an innovative, technology-based solution to a challenging educational need. The institutions listed below were honored for their solutions:

The videos showcasing these innovative projects (shown during the lunch) will be available soon. More information will be posted on the WOW award webpage.

Slide with Dale Johnson, winner of Sally Johnstone AwardThe Sally M Johnstone Award, named in honor of WCET’s founding executive director, recognizes a professional who has made an exceptional contribution to technology enhanced teaching and learning. The award acknowledges leadership and excellence in practice.

The inaugural winner of the award is Dale Johnson, adaptive program manager at Arizona State University.

The Richard Jonsen Award is given each year to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the e-learning community and WCET during his or her career. Robbie Melton holding the Richard Jonsen Award in front of a WCET bannerThe Richard Jonsen Award was established in 1998 to recognize the contributions of Richard (Dick) Jonsen, who, as WICHE’s executive director, founded WCET.

WCET was honored to present Dr. Robbie Melton, Associate Vice Chancellor of Mobilization and Emerging Technology for the Tennessee Board of Regents, with this award. Dr. Melton is not only known for her research on mobile apps for education, but her efforts to improve opportunities for learners and willingness to assist others in the technology community. She even helped us with taking very fun VR photos at the meeting! I agree, Robbie, “Life is good!”

21st Century Credentials: Can Higher Ed Regain The Trust Factor?

The hiring process is changing for graduates. Major industries are moving away from required degrees for positions and instead want to know what applicants can actually do.

The Credential Transparency Initiative is an organization working to is to improve transparency in the credentialing marketplace.

Panelists discussed the following:

  • The opportunity for higher education institutions to experiment with shorter, alternative, employer credentials. These are a different value proposition for student in a time when a degree seems a waste of time and effort,
  • Higher education cares about student success. Employers care about “employee success” and are looking deeply at the people skills applicants bring to the job. Higher Education must help facilitate their search.
  • Making competency data available to employers (similar to applicant tracking systems) using portfolios, competency based assessments, alternative credentials.
  • Platforms such as WOW award winner STLR we can help employers filter not only based on the skills for which they need to hire but also competencies such as global or cultural awareness and experiences.

Friday October 14th, 2016

Friday dawned with yoga for a few, a networking breakfast for most and a steering committee working meeting for others! Sessions included discussions on possible combinations of professional certifications and academic coursework, accessibility, accreditation and student metrics. WOW award winners continued to present on their solutions (WGU’s borrowing initiatives and University of Central Oklahoma’s STRL tool).

The “Ask an Accreditor” Roundtable Panel

This panel was a lively discussion with Karen Solomon (Higher learning Commission), Ellie Fogerty (Middle States Commission on Higher Education), and Leah Matthews (Distance Education Accrediting Commission). They updated us on the regional accreditors new focus on institutions with low completion rates. The panelists talked about the increased expectation by the Department of Education and Congress that accrediting agencies act as compliance officers, which is ill-suited to the accreditation model of peer review.

The accrediting agencies are eagerly awaiting the plans that the next administration will have for them. There is an “explosion” of dual credit applications and they expressed concern that some (or, perhaps many) institutions are not ready to assure the quality of their offerings.

The closing session, Innovation Hubs and Labs: Driving Change and Creativity…

The final session of WCET 2016 featured Vernon Smith as a moderator discussing higher education innovation with Missy Bye, Unviersity of Minnesota, Jeff Grabill, Michigan State, Thomas Yen, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Julie Legault, Amino Labs.

In this session we heard about the Internet of Things Lab at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where students can conduct research and hands-on experimentation in and IoT sandbox. Thomas Yen spoke about training students to connect their personal passion with what they want to do in life. So that wherever they go, whatever company they work for, they can find passion in whatever they are doing. Jeff Grabill, Associate Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Michigan State University (MSU), introduced us to the MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology, where Spartans are working together to develop projects like the Brody Engagement Center, an art exhibit designed to showcase the connections between art and science, in spaces such as the Media Sandbox, a collaborative arena to promote creative application of media knowledge through an integrated program. Missy Bye talked about University of Minnesota’s work in the Wearable Product Design Center, a think-tank designing and producing smart clothing. Visit their page for information on their projects (the idea of smart clothing protecting our firefighters in hazardous environments really struck me!). Finally the Creative Director and CEO of Amino Labs, Julie Legault, spoke with us about her journey founding Amino Labs and her work making science and technology much more approachable and intriguing.

My three takeaways /thoughts from this session:

  • Teaching is important in successful innovation in higher education. What does this mean for faculty development at our institutions?
  • We need to train people in how to design learning experiences. And they are also building the capacity around the effective use of #edtech.
  • I love that the Amino mini lab was inspired by Tamagotchis. I also love that the design makes learning about synthetic biology intriguing and fun.

I’m so happy I had the opportunity to attend WCET 2016 and meet with other WCET’ers! I could not have asked for a better welcome as a first time attendee and as a new staff member with WCET. Thanks to all of you for the warm welcome and thank you to my team at WCET for making the time so special for me!

Want more highlights? We had a very stimulating, informative and entertaining discussion on twitter (#WCET16). Relive the chatter with the storify!

I’m looking forward to the 29th annual meeting in Denver. I hope to see you there October 25-27th, 2017,



Photo of Lindsey Downs
Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications
WCET – WICHE Cooperate for Educational Technologies



Mary Tyler Moore statue with Mary tossing her hat

Russ took this picture the Mary Tyler Moore statue. He said that “some of you will appreciate Mary tossing her hat while the younger set will need to ask their parents…or Hulu.” Thanks Russ!


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