Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Video of Governor Pawlenty Visit

Here is the 10-minute video compilation of the highlights of Governor Pawlenty's visit to Lake Superior College on November 20, 2008 (previous post here). This video was produced by Gary Kruchowski and team from the Public Information office at LSC.

Then we have the footage (about 1:30) below which was swept up from the cutting-room floor of yours truly stepping up the podium (unexpectedly) at the end of the press conference.

A Short Christmas List

I only have one thing on my Christmas list for Santa. I want one of these.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Governor Pawlenty's Online Learning Plan

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty visited Lake Superior College today as part of his statewide sweep to announce his goal of having 25% of all MnSCU credits earned online by the year 2015. During the '07-08 academic year, the system of 32 two-year colleges and state universities had an online enrollment rate of 9.2% of the total registered credits. (Photo by Janet Blixt)

"We live in an iPod world but much of our education system is dominated by whiteboards and lecture halls. We have students with different learning styles, different backgrounds, different capabilities, and exploding interest in online opportunities and services. We need to modernize the way college courses are delivered and put Minnesota on the cutting edge of online education."

Some of the talking points of his address:

  • Improve student access and support for online courses.
  • Required online learning experience prior to high school graduation. (Possibly, but necessarily an online college course)
  • $150 bonus to the $1,200 ACHIEVE scholarship if the students completed an online course during high school.
  • Increased non-credit access to online learning for adult learners.
  • Improve the tracking of costs and benefits of online learning.
  • Online tuition reciprocity for out-of-state students (LSC offers a single-rate for online courses to all students, but not all schools do this)
  • Online readiness survey and costs calculator (these are already available but they need to be more prominent).
  • Progress toward the goal of 25% online credits will be reported annually in Minnesota's higher education accountability report, Minnesota Measures.
Lake Superior College has already met the Governor's target of 25% online enrollment. However, we will accept his challenge to continue to increase our online offerings and possibly shoot for a still higher percentage of online enrollments. In fact, we'll have to do that or there will be no chance for the system to meet his overall goal. Several schools cannot possibly meet that 25% goal, so other schools will have to be above average (in all ways, grin) and others will be below average.

I wasn't expecting to speak at this event, but the Governor called me up to say a few words. I muttered through some stuff about all the great support that we have had from employees throughout the organization chart (all true), but I missed my opportunity to say what needed to be said. With all the talk about quantity, there needed to be some focus placed upon all the efforts we have made to improve and ensure the quality of our online offerings. The Governor says he plans to return to LSC to learn more about what has put us in a leadership position in Minnesota for e-learning, so that will be the opportunity to share the story about quality with him.

During the press conference, we had a looping PowerPoint running on the monitors in the room. Those slides are shown below. Just some basic stuff about Lake Superior Connect.

Lake Superior Connect
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: lsc elearning)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New GI BIll to Punish Distance Students

As best as I can tell, students using the new GI Bill to take online courses or other types of distance education offerings will be getting the short straw as far as benefits go. Apparently, if a student on the GI Bill is taking online courses, (s)he will not quality for the housing stipend that other "traditional" students would get:

Monthly Housing Stipend

If you are enrolled in a traditional college program as a half-time to full-time student, you will be paid a monthly housing stipend equal to the monthly Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents. The average housing stipend will be approximately $1,100 a month. However, if you attend distance learning programs such as correspondence courses and online you will not qualify for this stipend.

This language can be found here.

This is clearly a bad thing, but not nearly as bad as what we first heard at the ITC Board meeting last week in DC. The rumor then was that the GI Bill couldn't be used AT ALL for online courses and programs. Apparently, that was a rumor that went a bit further than reality. The reality appears to be that the housing benefits are affected, but not online learning on the whole.

Okay, so now that we see what they have done, let's see if we can figure out why they have done this. Nope. Can't do it. I don't see any sense in this at all. Apparently, online students are supposed to live in virtual houses. No housing benefits if you take online courses. Do they realize that most online students are taking their courses from their houses? How does that make any sense?

If you leave your home and drive to school, we will help you pay your housing costs. If you stay at home while going to school, we won't help you pay your housing costs. Someone please call the Stupid Police. 

Lastly, how exactly is this to be applied? If a student takes one online course with the rest of the courses on campus (a very normal case), would they lose their housing stipend? What about the opposite? Does one on-ground course mean that you qualify for the stipend while taking everything else online. What about the student who takes the first semester in the "traditional" classroom and then starts taking online courses? Is there someone who is going to be standing guard to take away the housing stipend? Sort of makes your head spin, doesn't it?

GI Joe photo (Flickr CC) by CG76

Monday, November 03, 2008

Expecting an Argument at WCET

I'll be heading to Phoenix this week for the annual WCET conference (at the Tapatio Cliffs, right). I have a presentation on Thursday with Al Essa from the MnSCU Office of the Chancellor which should be great fun. Al will be taking the pro side and I will be taking the con side in a debate about Second Life in higher ed. (Flickr CC photo by thorinside)

Immediately after that presentation late Thursday afternoon, I'll be heading to the airport to fly back to Minneapolis so that I can drive down to Mankato for their Teaching with Technology Conference on Friday morning.

Missing the WCET sessions on Friday is most unfortunate since they will be having a panel discussion about the distance education provisions in the Higher Ed Act recently passed and signed into law. I feel a very great need to be in that room on Friday to argue against the position that WCET seems to be taking in this whole debacle.

I've already written extensively about the clarifying language in the HEA that does NOT REQUIRE us to start using spy cameras in student homes, require test proctoring for every little thing, require authetication via personal data analytics (what street did you live on in the fourth grade?), or any such nonsense. All that the HEA requires us to do is authenticate students with a Username and Password each time they access course materials.

Why then is the WCET continuing to press their members to go much farther than what the law requires? In what possible way is this the student-friendly response to the HEA? I have little doubt that these big brother tactics will serve to reduce access to education for students both because of the added costs involved and especially because of the creepiness factor involved.

Even Educause is trying to fight against the FUD of the Higher Ed Act. However, I have already seen a memo from Barbara Beno, the President of Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (an accrediting body). "One source of information on best practice will be the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET), a division of the Western Interstate Cooperative for Higher Education. I will be attending the WCET annual conference this November and will share with member institutions any resources or information that I gain from that meeting. There may also be vendors who have suggestions for how an institution can meet this new requirement."

That's great! Not only are the accreditors looking to WCET for guidance (and they are misguided on this one), but they are looking for solutions from the vendors who are absolutely salivating at the thought of being able to tap into this massive market for their fun and profit. In fact, I have been seeing examples of places where the vendors are being allowed to shape the conversation and possibly even dominate it. What the hell is going on here? I continue to be baffled and disgusted at the way this whole thing is shaping up.