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Higher Education Act’s Stamp of Approval on Edtech Innovation

HigherEdStamp
This work is used under CC-PD-Mark

Recent legislative plans to overhaul education came in two forms: jumbo and bite-sized. Senate Democrats presented a 785-pages-long bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, while a House committee, equal parts Republican and Democrat, offered 11 pages of targeted proposals for reform.

When it comes to digital innovation in education—especially as it relates to Open Assembly’s mission with regard to open educational resources (OER)—here are the three sections worth checking out.

1) Section 795E recommends an innovations fund for minority-serving institutions to boost student success, in part, by assessing the needs of any given institution, then researching and prototyping educational innovations that can improve student outcomes. Those innovations can and should include OER and digital content.

2) Section 796D offers grants to states that are able to greatly increase access to higher education for and foster the success of low-income students by 2020—especially students facing such barriers to college as having no high school diploma and working more than 25 hours a week. To qualify, states have to present plans that, among other things, promote technology to increase personalized learning and student retention. This includes blended- and flipped-learning innovations.

3) Section 932 outlines ways to provide accessible learning tools to students with disabilities, though we believe that the recommended reforms must apply to all students. The proposal calls for efficiently developing and delivering these materials to post-secondary students with print disabilities, such as open textbooks and other digital resources. States would need to compete for public or private grants and contracts to implement these improvements.

The House and Senate have their mark-up period in the weeks ahead, during which they’ll add amendments to their respective proposals before they leave for their August recess. Ever a hopeful bunch, Congress hopes to vote on the Higher Ed Act reauthorization before the mid-term election.

Minoring in MOOCs

I have either the gift or curse of having eclectic interests. I major in engineering physics and environmental studies at a school that requires I take a range of liberal arts courses to graduate. Even so, I find myself interested in even more, to the point that employers have told me I have too large of a range of interests.

That’s where MOOCs come in handy. I have used online resources to supplement my education, and the ability to do this continues to grow. Since my school does not have a large course offering for engineering and I have little room to add courses that are not for my major or graduation requirements, resources such as MIT OpenCourseware (MIT OCW) come in handy. MIT OCW specifically is an amazing source, because it is not required to follow a class- although for many you can- lecture notes and videos are available just for reference! I also used MIT OCW in order to get an idea of what I would be dealing with when I took ‘Modern Physics,’ (totally mind boggling ideas in case you were wondering). From learning more about a topic I want to work with or preparing for next semester courses, their potential is invaluable.

Large universities are much more capable of providing of these courses. I have no way of taking courses specifically in nuclear energy and engineering at my home school, but online, the possibilities are endless. I can now tailor my skills to specific jobs, and while my transcript will not reflect it, I can still market myself in the workforce with the learning I have gained.

Beyond that, those of us that crave knowledge just for its sake have the opportunity to pursue it from open, high-quality sources.

Julie’s Journey: Make It Open

As in my last post concerning collaboration, I have been doing some research about Open Research. More about that in a moment.

What am I researching? My goal is to extend the thesis I will be turning in for a grade this semester into an on-going research project that collects data about air quality on my school campus. The whole point of this project is to make more people aware of greenhouse emissions, something we cannot directly see, so it is a given that my results will be open access. The end goal is to create a website with the data, similar to what UC-Berkeley has done with BeACON.

So, I have found out a few new things. What I will be doing with my project is called “open access data.” Meaning all of the data, and results models and graphs, will be available to anyone. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is a great example of efforts to create ways that data and research can be more available.

Then what makes “open research” different than what I described above? The answer: collaboration. A project can be considered open research if the “end goal,” or the final output, is likely to change, since multiple research entities are adding input and thoughts to the overall research. Besides the availability of data and results, as in open access, the experimental methodologies and techniques are also available for your studying pleasure and are open to improvement.

There are many websites that are trying to support this type of collaboration, and while Open Assembly is not specifically designed for research, it IS optimized for collaboration. As such, its tools can be adapted for any collaborative teaching or learning context. For example, with a research topic or project taking the place of an official college course and syllabus, the “Comments” feature allows other users to add notes, pertinent resources, and materials.

My current project has a certain end goal, but if you’re interested in providing input or getting a closer look, be sure to email me at julie@openassembly.com to gain access to the course and experience how I am using Open Assembly for Open Research.

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