Category Archives: League of Innovation 2015

Thoughts and Notes from the 2015 League of Innovations Conference in Boston.

League for Innovations 2015, Day 4

Some Closing Thoughts

As I begin thinking about shuttles and flights home and reconciling charges, I notice small things out of the corner of my eye–things that should appeal to The Suburban Professor and his sociological leanings

The social stratification is clear.  The presidents and vps in their well tailored suits are easy to spot, as they adopt various strategies to maintain buffers–mobile phone calls, eyes fixed to the distance, quick glances at name tags.

Of course there are the exceptions, which make the pattern all the more clear.  The president from one of our campuses stopped a small group of faculty to chat and laugh outside of the gift shop.  Even her dress reflects her approach: a down vest and slacks instead of the ubiquitous severe navy, black, grey business suit adopted by women in admin.

The faculty are easy to spot–whether they are wearing a pair of heavy informal khakis or dressed in a neat tweed or rocking a pair of Crocs over colorful wool socks, they are a group.  Something about the persona they adopt reflects their independence, an independence that offers as many pitfalls as it does pay outs.

The silos, though, that I have heard discussed are not limited to disciplines, departments, or divisions.  The silos include our academics, admin, faculty, and staff.

I remember how hard Dr. Totten, my old old old Thomist prof battled the notion of compartmentalizing.  Perhaps I am homesick and snarky.  Tired of weighing whether I can sneak that donut charge past my wife’s eagle eye.  But the compartments, the silos, stand out.   And they trouble me.

League for Innovations 2015, Day 4

The last day of the conference, and people are beginning to clear out.  Watching the venders pack up creates a sense of closure.  A ghost town.  But this 8:00 session on engaging adjunct faculty is well attended. Somewhere around fifty people.

I struggle with these sessions, though.  Everyone in the room is well-situated.  I would assume that all of us have our travel covered by an institution.  Our fancy meals are charged to the system.  Our nice rooms bills covered by prof dev budgets.

And here we are discussing how to handle employees whose jobs are tenuous, uncertain.  Adjuncts face a fickle, uncertain future. Like us, they have spent a small fortune obtaining their degrees.  And like us, they have spent a great deal of personal capital–sacrificing family time, leisure time, to become educated.  They have followed the very path we extol: education leads to success.

Yet they are left on the fringes.  True, some select that role.  Some do not want full time positions.  But that line of thought is a bait and switch.

All of us in this room–all of use who have had to take away a class from an adjunct at the last minute for a full time faculty, email an adjunct a to tell him that a class has not made, or call an adjunct to tell her the full time job is not hers, the committee went with an outside candidate–all of us feel the tension in the notion of “bringing them into the culture.”

And if we do not, shame on us.

The significance of the adjuncts’ contributions is reflected by the attendees.  The presenters are vice-presidents.  A president from my system is two rows in front of me.  The admin understands the tension, the struggle.   Despite the ‘best practices’ highlighted, though, the question lingers.  Is there a meaningful solution?

League for Innovations 2015, Day 3

Civitas, Part 2

Needed dinner before posting the follow up.  If you are in Boston and if you like burgers, you have to visit 5 Napkins Burgers.

Back to the topic.

The talk shifted to targeting students during heavy registration.  The insight based on data is an adage among experienced chairs: late registrations have higher attrition rates.

The question remains, though.  What other information could you gather on these later registration students to increase success?  Gather is not the right word.  According to everyone, it is there: we have it.

Instead of dropping these late arrivals into one of two bucket, look at them as individuals to shape schedules (class times, class meetings, and instructors) and courses.  We have the information to tailor our courses, our curriculum, to meet the specific needs of specific students in real time.

The Civitas rep listed the broad ranging data sources available to the company and the college. He shifted back to risk information and actionable information–identifying various actions that can be based on the data. Again, though, the ‘outreach strategies’ he listed as examples are all after the fact.  They are not preemptive strikes.

And of course in steps Valencia-“anyone can learn anything.”  “You shift the conversation to the conditions of learning.” There it is.  Valencia has created a culture of innovation that calls for encourages participation in all levels of the college.–catholic-he

League for Innovations 2015, Day 3

Analytics to Power: Measuring the Impact of Student Success Initiatives

I am sitting in the Civitas session watching.  This is the company that handles the data for our system, and one of their co-presenters is Valencia CC: a community college system extolled for its innovations.

The people filing in are admin.  The suits.  The low talks and loud laughter.  These do not have the smell, the feel, or the sound of academics.   Again, I am a newcomer, looking in.  But I am waiting to see how this group leverages the information at their disposal.

Civitas’s rep is giving a quick background, orientation–informative and useful–filled with bullet points.

  • We are relatively a young company.
  • We have been in business four years.
  • Higher education is late to the game with predictive analytics.  (He mentioned gambling–the leaders.)
  • Colleges struggle with “letting the data out.”
  • Academics has a culture of protectiveness–all of which inhibits this work.
  • We must unlock the pods of data to hear the stories this data tell.

His understanding of the silos in higher ed establishes a clear ethos–more so than the “NASCAR Slide” with logos of the colleges they service.

In the course of the introduction, he touches on getting the data into the hands of faculty but quickly slides to IR.

In some ways, this like a scene from a WWII movie, think Thin Red Line.  The lieutenants on the front lines are the ones moving, maneuvering troops.  The admin is calling in reports and listening to reports. (He just used the phrase “front line.”) They are responding after the fact.

This group has a clear grasp on the sweeping range of data available at academia.  But they are looking at it from the top down–as if they have to rely on the upper layers of management for information–gathering, disseminating, implementing.

Upper levels of admin can set the policy; the tools are there to allow the “front lines” to use the data.

The tools are there to tell the stories in a way that the lieutenants can make front line, real time decisions.  The current top down academic models, though, slow the movement of information, pushing the decision away from the present. Officers at the front have to wait for the orders to be called in on data that is a week old, a month old, a semester old, a year old.

League for Innovations 2015, Day 3

ETS has some powerful data gathering tools.

They have identified the factors tied to student performance; they have even broken down the degree to which each of those factors impacts GPAs and persistence; and they have developed surveys that target these factors.  As the speaker just noted, they are an assessment company not an analytics.  It makes sense.   They gather the players’ stats.

But.  (And there it is.  “But.”  There is always a “but.”)

Those silos have painted us (academia–faculty, admin, student services, venders) into some corners blinding  us to connections. Connections that are sitting right in front of us.

When the students take the survey online, the computer is locked (an old school academic trick to make sure the exam is pure).

In this case though it seems counterintuitive.  Why block ourselves from gathering data the students would make available by visiting our site on their computers? The old models blind us.

It is the scouts in Moneyball  despite the research they insist on past models.

I always tell my lit students, “The questions are more important than the answers.”  As far as I can tell, nobody is looking for new questions because they think they are gathering the right answers.

League of Innovations 2015, Day 2

Revisiting what a community college classroom looks like.

When I started teaching online in ’96 (it sounds like one of those movie with Gaby Hayes)–the two of use working on developing the courses felt as if we were cutting paths in an unexplored wilderness.  We did not take the time to look around us to see all of the others tackling the same innovations from other directions.

Over the last few years, those of us in THE Initiatives have been excited with the idea of reshaping the classroom.   The sense is much the same.  We are pioneers moving into new, unexplored territories.

It is still disconcerting to look up and find others populating the wilderness we assumed was uninhabited.  Other pioneers working on similar projects.  People who share our values, our goals.  At first it is threatening.  But as I listen, I hear an affirmation of what we have accomplished and a challenge to continue moving forward.