Open Educational Resources (OER) can refer to free textbooks, which are usually in ebook or PDF form, and other learning objects and resources. Here are two recent articles that provide a nice introduction to the topic:

The following list provides links to providers of free or less expensive textbooks and other learning materials. Most of these would be in digital format, but some provide the option to purchase a print copy. OpenStax, which provides 40 OER textbooks, is the most popular and best-known resource. Worldwide, more than 3 million students are using their textbooks, providing an annual savings of more than $200 million.

Many of those textbooks also include instructor helps, such as PowerPoint slides, answers to textbook questions, test questions, etc. For those interested in free teaching materials to use in the classroom, check out these repositories:

An Internet search can also turn up materials. Follow these steps:

  1. Do a search in Google on the topic you’re trying to hunt down.
  2. In the results page, choose Settings / Advanced search.
  3. Scroll down to “usage rights” and pick one of the “free to use” options, depending on your needs.

The U.S. government also provides many free teaching resources.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Each year, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center releases a study titled Undergraduate Degree Earners, which “provides a demographic and educational profile for all students graduating with an undergraduate credential each year.” This year’s report, released in April, focused on 2018-2019 graduates who earned certificates, associate degrees, or bachelor’s degrees. Here are some of the interesting findings:

  • The number of students who have earned an undergraduate credential has increased from 3.4 million in 2012-13 to 3.7 million in 2018-19, a 7% increase.
  • 26% of the degree earners in 2018-19 had already earned a previous degree, which accounts for much of the overall increase.
  • Over the past six years, the number of traditional college-age (25 and younger) students who earned a degree for the first time increased by 18%, whereas the number of older graduates decreased by 22%.
  • The number of women who were first-time earners of an undergraduate degree outnumbered men by 165,731.
  • For 4-year nonprofit private institutions, the number of first-time undergraduate degree earners increased by 3.3% over the previous year, which is an improvement over the 0.1% increase of the year before.
Posted by: Gregory Linton | 11/27/2020

How do trustees view the future of higher education?

In January, the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) released its third annual Trustee Index in collaboration with Gallup. The results are based on a 10-minute web survey of college and university board members about the issues they see as most pressing for their institutions. The survey was conducted October 7-November 3, 2019, and 919 members completed the survey. Here are some interesting findings with a focus on private, nonprofit institutions when that information is provided:

  • 85% of all trustees are concerned about the future of the higher education sector, an increase from 73% in 2018.
  • 42% of all trustees are “very concerned” about the future of higher education, an increase from 28% in 2018.
  • The two greatest concerns of trustees of private institutions are the financial sustainability of higher education institutions (42%) and the price of higher education for students and their families (25%).
  • 60% of trustees of private institutions express concern about their own institution’s financial sustainability.
  • Only 35% of all trustees agree that U.S. college graduates have the skills they need to be competitive in the global economy.
  • Only 26% of all respondents feel colleges and universities have a strong understanding of what employers look for in job candidates.
  • 89% of all trustees say their institution or system is a good place for students of minority racial and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Only 35% of trustees “strongly agree” that they have a full understanding of their institution’s accreditation process.
  • 30% of trustees of private institutions think their institution is not prepared to address food insecurity among students, and 24% think they are not prepared to meet the mental health needs of students.
  • 1/3 of all trustees believe their board spends too little time on “strategic planning” and “educational quality.”
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Elaine M. Allensworth and Kallie Clark (2020) recently published an article titled “High school GPAs and ACT scores as predictors of college completion: Examining assumptions about consistency across high schools” in Educational Researcher, 20(10), pp. 1-14. Their study adds to the abundant research over the last decade that has shown that high school GPAs are stronger predictors of college outcomes than standardized test scores.

Here are reasons why grades are considered better predictors of college success:

  • They are based on a wide-ranging array of tasks.
  • They indicate a student’s effort, persistence, and performance over a period of years.
  • They capture academic knowledge, skills, behaviors, and effort.
  • They incorporate the judgment of many different teachers across many different subjects.

In contrast, standardized tests assess students on a narrow range of skills and on only a subset of what they learn in subjects such as English and math. Also, they provide results from only one type of condition (a timed test), a condition that can be affected by the test-taker’s physical and mental state at the time of the test.

Allensworth and Clark’s research, conducted in the Chicago Public Schools, concluded that “HSGPAs perform in a strong and consistent way across high schools as measures of college readiness, whereas ACT scores do not” (p. 12). They argue that student’s efforts to improve their ACT scores will not translate into greater success in college, whereas their efforts to improve their GPAs will also improve their readiness for college.

Because standardized test scores are strongly linked to the student’s family income, the mother’s education level, and race, more and more colleges and universities no longer require submission of ACT or SAT scores. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) currently lists more than 1,070 colleges and universities that do not use the ACT or SAT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor-degree applicants.

Workers in conference room
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

In January 2020, Educational Researcher published an article by Joseph A. Rios, Guangming Ling, Robert Pugh, Dovid Becker, and Adam Bacall titled “Identifying critical 21st-century skills for workplace success: A content analysis of job advertisements.” Here is their definition of 21st-century skills: “a combination of cognitive (e.g., nonroutine problem solving, critical thinking, metacognition), interpersonal (i.e., social), and intrapersonal (i.e., emotional, self-regulatory) skills that are malleable (i.e., potentially responsive to intervention) and relatively stable over time in the absence of exogenous forces (e.g., intentional intervention, life events, changes in social roles)” (p. 1). They note that today’s workers need a broad skill set to deal with the demands of technological advances and globalized workforce, but employers have criticized recent college graduates for lacking these necessary skills when they enter the workforce.

In this article, the authors try to identify these 21st-century skills through a different approach than is normally implemented. They note that previous researchers identified workplace skills in three ways: (1) relying on theorists; (2) job analyses; and (3) employer surveys. As an alternative approach, the conducted a content analysis of online job advertisements posted on Careerbuilder.com and Collegerecruiter.com.

Out of 141,941 job advertisements that they examined, they found that the five most requested fields were business (25%), accounting (14%), engineering (13%), computer science (11%), and nursing (6%). They also found that 70% of advertisements requested at least one 21st-century skill and that an average of 1.69 unique skills were mentioned in these advertisements.

The five most highly requested skills were the following:

  1. Oral communication (28%)
  2. Written communication (23%)
  3. Collaboration (22%)
  4. Problem solving (19%)
  5. Communication skills (14%)

Of course, “communication skills” could be broken down into oral or written communication skills, which would push their percentages even higher.

Other skills mentioned were social intelligence (12%) and self-direction (10%), followed by professionalism, creativity, adaptability, service orientation, continual learning, and cultural sensitivity.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 07/09/2020

What does it take to be a “master teacher”?

At the start of a new term, it can be helpful for instructors to conduct a self-examination and make plans for improving their excellence in teaching. A useful tool for this purpose is the Teacher Behavior Checklist. In 2002, a study was published that identified twenty-eight behaviors of a “master teacher,” which the authors compiled as a Teacher Behavior Checklist (TBC). A master teacher is a teacher from whom students have learned much and enjoyed the learning process. This study was the result of multiple surveys of undergraduate students and faculty members. The behaviors could be categorized into two larger categories identified by Joseph Lowman in Mastering the Techniques of Teaching: (1) Caring and Supportive Behaviors and (2) Professional Competency and Communication Skills. The Teacher Behavior Checklist has since been used as student evaluation of teaching, and many studies have confirmed its validity and utility in assessing an instructor’s teaching effectiveness.

In these studies, students and faculty agreed on the following six qualities that were most important for excellent teaching:

  • Being knowledgeable
  • Being enthusiastic
  • Being respectful
  • Having realistic expectations
  • Being approachable and personable
  • Being creative and interesting

In the Winter 2018 volume of New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Kirby, Busler, Keeley, and Buskist provided a concise history and description of the TBC (pp. 21-29). Here is the full checklist:

  1. Accessible (posts office hours, gives out phone number, and e-mail information)
  2. Approachable/personable (smiles, greets students, initiates conversations, invites questions, responds respectfully to student comments)
  3. Authoritative (establishes clear course rules; maintains classroom order; speaks in a loud, strong voice)
  4. Confident (speaks clearly, makes eye contact, and answers questions correctly)
  5. Creative and interesting (experiments with teaching methods; uses technological devices to support and enhance lectures; uses interesting, relevant, and personal examples; not monotone)
  6. Effective communicator (speaks clearly/loudly; uses precise English; gives clear, compelling examples)
  7. Encourages and cares for students (provides praise for good student work, helps students who need it, offers bonus points and extra credit, and knows student names)
  8. Enthusiastic about teaching and about topic (smiles during class, prepares interesting class activities, uses gestures and expressions of emotion to emphasize important points, and arrives on time for class)
  9. Establishes daily and academic term goals (prepares/follows the syllabus and has goals for each class)
  10. Flexible/open-minded (changes calendar of course events when necessary, will meet at hours outside of office hours, pays attention to students when they state their opinions, accepts criticism from others, and allows students to do make-up work when appropriate)
  11. Good listener (does not interrupt students while they are talking, maintains eye contact, and asks questions about points that students are making)
  12. Happy/positive attitude/humorous (tells jokes and funny stories, laughs with students)
  13. Humble (admits mistakes, never brags, and does not take credit for others’ successes)
  14. Knowledgeable about subject matter (easily answers students’ questions, does not read straight from the book or notes, and uses clear and understandable examples)
  15. Prepared (brings necessary materials to class, is never late for class, provides outlines of class discussion)
  16. Presents current information (relates topic to current, real-life situations; uses recent videos, magazines, and newspapers to demonstrate points; talks about current topics; uses new or recent texts)
  17. Professional (dresses nicely [neat and clean shoes, slacks, blouses, dresses, shirts, ties] and no profanity)
  18. Promotes class discussion (asks controversial or challenging questions during class, gives points for class participation, involves students in group activities during class)
  19. Promotes critical thinking/intellectually stimulating (asks thoughtful questions during class, uses essay questions on tests and quizzes, assigns homework, and holds group discussions/activities)
  20. Provides constructive feedback (writes comments on returned work, answers students’ questions, and gives advice on test-taking)
  21. Punctuality/manages class time (arrives to class on time/early, dismisses class on time, presents relevant materials in class, leaves time for questions, keeps appointments, returns work in a timely way)
  22. Rapport (makes class laugh through jokes and funny stories, initiates and maintains class discussions, knows student names, interacts with students before and after class)
  23. Realistic expectations of students/fair testing and grading (covers material to be tested during class, writes relevant test questions, does not overload students with reading, teaches at an appropriate level for the majority of students in the course, curves grades when appropriate)
  24. Respectful (does not humiliate or embarrass students in class, is polite to students [says thank you and please, etc.], does not interrupt students while they are talking, does not talk down to students)
  25. Sensitive and persistent (makes sure students understand material before moving to new material, holds extra study sessions, repeats information when necessary, asks questions to check student understanding)
  26. Strives to be a better teacher (requests feedback on his/her teaching ability from students, continues learning [attends workshops, etc. on teaching], and uses new teaching methods)
  27. Technologically competent (knows now to use a computer, knows how to use e-mail with students, knows how to use overheads during class, has a Web page for classes)
  28. Understanding (accepts legitimate excuses for missing class or coursework, is available before/after class to answer questions, does not lose temper at students, takes extra time to discuss difficult concepts)
Posted by: Gregory Linton | 06/17/2020

College completion rates rose in fall 2019

On December 10, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released its annual report on college completion rates. Their methodology is unique in that they track students who finish at an institution other than the one at which they first enrolled. This provides a more accurate picture of how many students who start college end up finishing within six years. This year’s report, which focuses on the 2013 entering cohort, indicates some interesting trends, as I summarize below:

  • The overall college completion rate has increased by seven percentage points in the last for yours (52.9% to 59.7%).
  • Completion rates increased for the 2013 cohort across all types of starting institutions.
  • The college completion rate for students who started at a profit nonprofit institution was 76.5%, a 5.1-point increase from the low of 71.5% for the 2009 cohort.
  • The 2013 cohort consisted of 78.2% traditional age students (<21) and 11.5% adult learners (age 25 and over). The proportion of adult learners declined by one percentage point from the previous cohort.
  • Initial enrollments at four-year institutions increased slightly while initial enrollments at two-year institutions decreased.
  • 48% of the 2013 cohort were enrolled exclusively full-time, an increase of one percentage point over the previous cohort.
  • Completions at the starting institution increased for each type of starting institution.
  • In every racial/ethnic category, the completion rate for women substantially surpassed the rate for men.
  • African American men had the lowest completion rate (42%).
  • Of the 50 college major fields defined by the U.S. Department of Education, seven fields account for 61% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded: Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support (18%); Social Sciences (8%); Engineering (8%); Biological and Biomedical Sciences (8%); Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences (8%); Psychology (6%); and Communication, Journalism and Related Programs (6%).

The March 2020 issue of Educational Researcher published an article by Joseph A. Rios, Guangming Ling, Robert Pugh, Dovid Becker, and Adam Bacall entitled “Identifying critical 21st-century skills for workplace success: A content analysis of job advertisements.” Here is their definition of 21st-century skills: “a combination of cognitive (e.g., nonroutine problem solving, critical thinking, metacognition), interpersonal (i.e., social), and intrapersonal (i.e., emotional, self-regulatory) skills that are malleable (i.e., potentially responsive to intervention) and relatively stable over time in the absence of exogenous forces (e.g., intentional intervention, life events, changes in social roles)” (p. 1). They note that today’s workers need a broad skill set to deal with the demands of technological advances and globalized workforce, but employers have criticized recent college graduates for lacking these necessary skills when they enter the workforce.

In this article, the authors try to identify these 21st-century skills through a different approach than is normally implemented. They note that previous researchers identified workplace skills in three ways: (1) relying on theorists; (2) job analyses; and (3) employer surveys. As an alternative approach, they conducted a content analysis of online job advertisements posted on Careerbuilder.com and Collegerecruiter.com.

Out of 141,941 job advertisements that they examined, they found that the five most requested fields were business (25%), accounting (14%), engineering (13%), computer science (11%), and nursing (6%). They also found that 70% of advertisements requested at least one 21st-century skill and that an average of 1.69 unique skills were mentioned in these advertisements.

The five most highly requested skills were the following:

  1. Oral communication (28%)
  2. Written communication (23%)
  3. Collaboration (22%)
  4. Problem solving (19%)
  5. Communication skills (14%)

Of course, “communication skills” could be broken down into oral or written communication skills, which would push their percentages even higher.

Other skills mentioned were social intelligence (12%) and self-direction (10%), followed by professionalism, creativity, adaptability, service orientation, continual learning, and cultural sensitivity.

Posted by: Gregory Linton | 12/12/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week

“With the avalanche of new products, new technologies, and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative in order to thrive amidst change.”—Campus Adobe, “Get Hired: The Importance of Creativity and Soft Skills,” p. 4

On November 5, Campus Adobe published a report titled “Get Hired: The Importance of Creativity and Soft Skills.” Some of the content summarizes prior research, but the report also presents new research based on analysis of 2 million job postings and 2 million resumes. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Leading employers identify the top three critical skills for the future workforce as complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.
  • A survey of Generation Z students shows that 85% believe being creative will be essential to their success, and 76% wish there was more of a focus on creativity in the classroom.
  • 97% of employers say that creative problem solving is important for students to learn in school.
  • 69% of educators agree that there is not enough emphasis on creative problem solving in today’s curricula.
  • Job postings in 18 in-demand, growing career fields show that the most highly sought skills are communication (71%), creativity (50%), collaboration (41%), and creative problem solving (15%).
  • However, an examination of 2 million resumes show that fewer than ¼ mention creativity or communication, and only 11% mention collaboration. 1% mention creative problem solving.
  • One conclusion of the study is that educators need to place greater emphasis on developing creative and soft skills so that students can succeed in the workplace.
Posted by: Gregory Linton | 12/05/2019

Higher Ed Quote of the Week: December 2-6

“The business of the college . . . is to prepare for life and not for making a living.”—Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947), President, Columbia University

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