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November 24th: What do distance education institutions need to prepare for in 2016?

By Kimberly Cook and Leah Matthews

At the 2015 DEAC Fall Workshop, we spent a fair amount of time discussing the changing political and policy landscape for distance education and accreditation. Our discussions addressed the sharpening focus on student learning outcomes against a backdrop of growing public skepticism, high-profile lawsuits, and uncertainties surrounding quality assurance impacting students and institutions. In consistent 2016 image for deacpolitical and legislative agendas are forcefully contributing to a cumbersome
regulatory environment. The Executive Order published on November 6, 2015 (see DEAC’s Washington Insights) adds to the growing pressure on accreditors to focus more intently on student outcomes data and loan repayment. DEAC provides an important forum for discussing what institutions can do to thrive in this atmosphere through the dialogue it fosters through in-person meetings and social media. Today, we’d like to dive deeper into actions that institutions can take to be ready for 2016 as it approaches.

Distance education institutions need to be ready for:

  1. More accountability measures regarding student achievement outcomes: We operate in an era characterized by significant attention to cost and pressure to measure the return on investment related to education. Across the spectrum of higher education, institutions with lower graduation rates are being asked to explain why. Our institutions need to be ready not only to present information about learning outcomes to the public, but also to proactively tell the story of their students’ educational achievements and accomplishments within the context of institutional mission.
  1. A continued focus on consumer protection: We know consumer protection is a high priority of all DEAC institutions but it will remain a focus of the distance education landscape for 2016, just as it did in 2015. We will continue to foster an environment of support for student learning and will require institutions to disclose outcomes in the most conscientious and responsible way possible. DEAC’s accreditation process anchors every institutional evaluation around explicitly stated ethical business practices. We also encourage institutions to maintain extensive records with metrics that support consumer protection as we continue to enhance the public’s trust in the rigor and value of accreditation.
  1. A healthy balance of quality assurance and innovation: Quality assurance will continue to be a priority of accreditation. The coming year promises to be a year of ‘pilots’ and opportunities to push the envelope of innovation while maintaining quality assurance. For example, the Department of Education is instituting programs under its Experimental Sites Initiative such as EQUIP, that would allow a limited number of partner post-secondary institution and non-traditional education providers access to Title IV student aid. Providers of education are collaborating on ways to award credit that give non-traditional or underserved learners an opportunity to build a portfolio of coursework and knowledge as they pursue a postsecondary credential or degree. Such innovations offer pathways for students to enter or re-enter the higher education system and support the arc of a national agenda for postsecondary attainment. DEAC institutions must think strategically about how to position their distance education offerings in view of growing opportunities for online learning.

Join the conversation! What else might distance education institutions need to be ready for in 2016?

Kimberly Cook is the Manager of institutional review at DEAC and is primarily responsible for coordinating the Accrediting Commission meetings and the review of institutional submissions. Leah Matthews is the Executive Director of DEAC. To find out more about the DEAC team, click here.

November 13th: Quality Matters to DEAC

By Nan Bayster Ridgeway

The Quality Matters 7th Annual Conference on Quality Assurance in Online Learning convened last week in beautiful San Antonio, Texas around the theme, “Deep in the Heart of Quality.” The conference kicked off with a welcoming reception that included an opportunity to network and even take boat tours on the San Antonio River. The hurricane rains moved out, and beautiful weather moved in, resulting in the perfect evening for a cruise highlighting the city’s rich history.

In this unique setting, the conference provided timely insights about the rapid pace at which education is changing and the steps institutions can take to keep up. The Quality Matter’s (QM) mission is to promote and improve the quality of online education and student learning. QM is a nationally recognized, faculty-centered, peer review process designed to certify the quality of online course design and online components. The QM Rubric is used in course reviews that result in continuous improvement and faculty development.

My top Quality Matters take-aways include:

  • Competency Based Education (CBE) and Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) are misunderstood. The two terms are often conflated. In simple terms, CBE is focused on the actual student learning and application of that learning to earn college credit. PLA is the evaluation and assessment of an individual’s life learning for college credit, certification, or advanced standing toward further education or training.
  • CBE has been around for about 45 years. DEAC institutions have been involved with PLA and CBE for a long time. CBE will not replace traditional education, but will provide another avenue for learning. Some individuals believe that we are at the 3rd generation of innovation in CBE, but we still have a couple more generations to go.
  • Education is becoming more student and learner centered. Measurement of student learning outcomes has replaced the traditional focus on teaching.
  • We are seeing the unbundling of courses from programs, faculty from courses and programs, and faculty and staff from administration at all levels of education.
  • Worldwide, employers, and economies need quality education and innovation. The U.S. and other national governments want more efficiency in their educational systems. As distance education grows worldwide, the infrastructure that is in place today cannot support the growing population’s need for education.
  • QM offers a host of valuable information that can be applied to all distance learning institutions. QM’s faculty-centered, peer-review process is designed to improve the quality of online, hybrid, and competency-based courses. DEAC member institutions can really add value to the important conversations taking place at the CM conference.

Almost as important, my top takeaways from visiting San Antonio include:

  • Take the Riverboat tour.
  • Walk or run the Riverwalk.
  • Visit Mi Tierra restaurant and bakery in Market Square
  • Try Schilo’s Delicatessen. Wonderful German food since 1917. Great split pea soup!
  • Walk the neighborhood of Southtown and try Rosario’s and Liberty Bar.

I hope to see you next year at Quality Matters!

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Nan Bayster Ridgeway joined the Distance Education Accrediting Commission as the Director of Accreditation in August of 2005. As Director of Accreditation, Ms. Ridgeway guides institutions through the process of initial and re-accreditation. She works to assure institutional compliance with the Commission’s published educational and ethical business standards.

October 16: How Innovation Shapes the World of Education – Five Things I Learned About Technology and Education

By Lissette Hubbard

Innovation can be defined in many ways. Some consider innovation a service that focuses on the latest technologies–wearable technology, smart TVs, and high-powered computing all come to mind when I hear the word innovation. Fostering innovation can also be viewed as an alternative way to solve an existing problem. While the conversation of innovation can be discussed long after this post is written, I had the unique privilege of seeing innovation in action as I recently attended the #DevLearn 2015 Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada.Vegas

We all know the saying…“what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, however, we’re going to make an exception right now. The conference theme this year was “Innovation in the Making”, which explored cutting edge learning technologies, how the digital space has changed the concept of learning, the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs), and the growth of digital badges. All of these emerging concepts play a major role in how higher education institutions and corporations are supporting learning as every day passes. It is important to note that whether we like it or not, the traditional style of learning is a thing of the past and there is a divergent force of innovators and educators primed to move education to the next level. Integrating innovation and continued excellence into distance education is a major priority of DEAC as the landscape shifts every day.

While attending this conference, I learned a few things about how innovation will Vegas really change the way we educate individuals for years to come. Here are 5 of my takeaways from DevLearn 2015:

  • The Internet of Things (IoT): From the convergence of wireless communications and applications, to the emergence of wearable technologies, technology has clearly changed the way people live. It’s time to understand how this concept has changed the way people learn. People are more mobile than ever and want things in real time and on-demand. This paradigm shift creates opportunity for educators to evaluate how they use technology to reach the next generation of learners.
  • At the Corner of MOOCs: Whether you like the trend or not, MOOCs are continuing to emerge and provide open access to learners to gain skills and knowledge that perhaps were not previously available. We may need to see corporate training and higher education at this intersection in the near future. But will this trend continue to advance or have we hit a tipping point?
  • Playing Games: At first glance you may ask: GAMES? Are we talking about PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? No, we’re talking about institutions and corporations looking to social gaming as an innovative solution to assess student learning and corporate training.
  • Badges Unlocked: Badges are a digital representation of achievements and skills, are interoperable, and are based on rigorous design and assessment. When issued by recognized brands and accredited colleges, open badges convey trust and serves as a means to supplement degrees, filling the skills gap. How does the integration of badges shift the accreditation landscape?
  • Connecting the Dots: In referencing the abstract strategy game named “Dots”, part of being innovative is not just seeing the dots but it’s seeing the connection between the dots. Innovators see dots beyond the status quo and are making the connections to enhance learning in diverse environments.

Join the conversation. How do you think emerging trends and innovation are impacting distance education?

Lissette Hubbard is the Manager of Institutional Development & Assessment for the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). She has been part of the DEAC team since 2007.

October 9, 2015: Five Things to Consider about Competency-Based Education from #CBExchange

cbexchangeLast week I attended CBExchange—an interactive workshop dedicated to helping institutions plan or enhance competency-based education (CBE). Through a series of facilitated sessions, there was dynamic dialogue describing competency-based programs and the desired outcomes for top programs to support learners. While CBE is not by any means a new learning model, strengthening expectations for CBE quality while embracing the diversity of learning practice is crucial to the future of DEAC as we continue to spearhead innovation in distance education.

I have five main observations from my participation at CBExchange to share that intersect with the distance education accreditation landscape:

  1. Shifting the paradigm while maintaining quality is challenging: I heard a recurring emphasis during discussion that competency-based education programs must take great care to assure that they exhibit USDE-established characteristics so as to avoid confusion with correspondence education. This ties to the experimental sites initiative and federal expectations that regular and substantive interactions between faculty and students are vital to instructional design, direct assessment practice, and competency-based education offerings.
  1. Supporting disadvantaged learners remains a huge challenge: It is still a significant challenge to match learners with their ideal CBE program. CBE programs that seek to advance the “attainment agenda” for students with less preparation must prepare to commit substantial resources to coaching, advising, mentoring, satisfactory academic progress (SAP) monitoring, and appropriate interventions for these students. Absent these critical features, CBE will only serve the exquisitely prepared high school graduates with strong writing, research and critical thinking skills as compared to learners that do not come to higher education with such preparation. At CBExchange, strategies such as weekly momentum monitoring ad offerings of mini – project management were discussed to help bolster retention and support learners from diverse backgrounds. But I cannot help but raise the question: what demographic of students are we trying to serve?
  1. There is a growing movement and need for K-12 in CBE: There is an increasing trend of K-12 systems that are moving toward a competency-based model for learning.  K-12 systems from Washington DC to Philadelphia to Maine are preparing a new generation of graduates who would desire continuing their academic pursuits in competency-based versus time-based models. Will higher education be ready for these graduates?
  1. CBE is expensive for institutions: Institutions that are able to successfully launch a CBE offering have tremendous financial support, whether through a foundation, a corporate sponsorship, or a grant.  The resources required to support a CBE program launch are significant.  I spoke to many attendees who expressed concern about the reality of costs, especially in relation to keeping CBE affordable for students.
  1. CBE results are challenging to measure: There is significant dialogue around identifying clear and concise learning outcomes for students, but much remains to be seen regarding the actual results of what students are really learning. Some institutions are in the early stages of implementing CBE but have plenty of students enrolled. Despite increasing enrollments over the last few years, little is known about true educational outcomes of students, particularly those who are receiving federal financial aid assistance. We need meaningful ways to track students’ successful entry or advancement into a profession or into furthering their education through graduate studies. With the exception of a few institutions, such as Western Governor’s University, very little is known or published about student performance in emerging forms of competency-based education.

CBE knowledge sharing occurring at conferences such as CBExchange will certainly expand the Competency Based Education Network (C-BEN) that started in 2014 and is now comprised of 30 colleges and universities and four public systems with 82 campuses. According to the C-BEN website, these institutions have been taking part in a ” research-and-development phase, funded by Lumina Foundation, to provide an evidence-based approach to advancing high-quality competency-based education capable of serving many more students of all backgrounds. Participating institutions either offer degree programs with well-defined learning outcomes and rigorous assessment or are on their way to creating them. The C-BEN Steering Committee, comprising higher education innovators from several of these institutions, will guide the work and periodically will issue additional calls for applications. ”

At CBExchange, the ten shared design elements were unveiled and represent an early result of the work of C-BEN to integrate common standards into CBE programs. While these elements are certainly “dynamic” descriptors for thriving CBE programs, these are desirable aspirations that should be integrated into any educational offering across the spectrum of higher education. As a community of educators with such a vested interest in education attainment, we should advance these ideals far beyond the competency-based movement.

Join the conversation – what do you think about CBE programs and the future of distance education?

September 29, 2015: Department of Defense Announces Opportunity to join new SOC Career and Technical Education Resource

DEAC is pleased to welcome a guest to our blog, Dr. Jeffrey Cropsey -Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and External Relations at Grantham University and President of the Council of College and Military Educators. Dr. Matthews recently chatted with Dr. Cropsey about a new opportunity for DEAC institutions.  Here’s a summary:

Did you know that the Department of Defense (DoD) recently announced the opportunity for institutions to join the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges (SOC) Career and Technical Education (CTE) Resource? In alignment with DEAC’s mission to support educational pursuits in compliment to a career, this new resource will benefit service members (and supporting institutions) by identifying streamlined pathways to career and technical education.

Some figures estimate there are more than 2.3 million active service members nationwide that would benefit from this new educational resource for service members. The SOC Program is a cooperative civilian and military effort designed to link service members to institutions that provide high quality education while 1) maximizing the proper award of academic credit for military training and experience, and alternative testing, and 2) facilitating the transferability of credits, so service members can reach their educational goals and the goals of the Services.

All current DoD Technical Assistance MoU schools can apply to join the SOC Career and Technical Education Resource, however only certificate programs that are closely aligned with the following National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium career clusters are being considered at this time:

  • Business Management & Administration
  • Health Sciences
  • Information Technology
  • Law, Public Safety, Corrections & Security
  • Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics
  • Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Programs selected for inclusion in the SOC CTE resource will reflect the needs of the military, have bright employment outlooks, and meet the criteria listed here. If your institution has certificate programs that you believe would be valued additions to the SOC CTE, please submit the program application by October 15, 2015. For questions about the CTE network or application, contact Sonja Ferguson at 800-368-5622 or fergusons@aascu.org.

We look forward to seeing everyone at DEAC’s workshop in Palm Springs and hope to see you at the CCME Conference February 15-19, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas! For more information go to www.ccmeonline.org.