As I write this, I am attending the UB Tech 2015 conference in Orlando, Florida. This is my third consecutive year of attending and presenting at this higher education technology conference.
This year I've been particularly pleased to see an increased focus on student success. They've even labelled it: “UB Thrive“. Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about important Higher Ed mainstay technology topics like optimizing infrastructure, new audio-visual solutions, supporting the growth of mobile learning, etc., but this time around there are a larger number of sessions and solutions geared towards student success in its many permutations.
Models of Excellence
Where this renewed focus is probably most evident is in this year's Models of Excellence Awards. UB Tech has been running a program like this for years (the title has changed over time), but the theme of this year's awards is, “A national recognition program honoring student success”.
I attended a panel discussion yesterday featuring eight of the winners from some of the recent awards rounds (UB Tech runs these awards twice a year). I only wish there was more time to listen and learn from these passionate administrators who are playing important roles in their institution's programs.
Many different approaches to helping ensure that students are successful were shared, covering the student life cycle from enrollment through life long career achievement. Here are few examples:
- A low cost program to increase first year retention for African-American Males at Central Piedmont Community College (learn more here)
- A financial education program at Indiana University that has led to, among other benefits, a 16% drop in student borrowing (learn more here).
- The “Success Connect” program at University of South Carolina, in which first year students are all assigned success coaches, they use an early alerts system to identify struggling students, and more (learn more here). This effort struck a familiar chord, as we use similar techniques at The College of Westchester.
- A program that I thought was particularly unique is the one at the University of Baltimore which is all about career success. Their four-phased approach covers discovery of direction, exploration of the world of work, communication of personal brand and creation of opportunities (learn more here).
If you click over to the University Business “MOX” Awards page, you can drill down into these stories and learn more about these award-winning efforts, and possibly come away with some ideas for approaches you might wish to try on your campuses.
Faculty Perceptions of Learning Spaces
Another session that I attended and found to be quite informative was this one delivered by Dr.'s Doyle Friskney and Paul Czarapata. These gentlemen shared insights into research and surveys that make it clear that collaborative learning is generally more engaging, and that faculty are interested in teaching in collaborative, flexible learning spaces. In addition to the many research articles they shared, and their own survey findings, experiences with moving towards these types of spaces in their institutions were discussed. One clear testament to interest in this topic was the attendance at the session – it was packed.
This resource was shared, which offers examples of Learning Space Designs, as well as vendors, videos, tool kits, and guides focused on learning spaces.
KeyNote by Donald Farish, President, Roger Williams College
President Farish made it clear from the start that he was out to “terrify us”, and that he did. His honest presentation reviewing the huge challenges higher education faces in today's landscape reminded us all that we are under siege and need to push back.
One observation that struck me as particularly worth emphasizing is the misunderstanding of student debt in America. While the media and population at large have grasped on to the idea that student debt has surpassed credit card debt and harangued about it until they are red in the face, they are missing the fact that this is in many way an apples and oranges comparison.
A college education is clearly an investment, not some simple “consumer good” like the purchases on those credit cards. A better comparison would be to the other significant investment American's make that typically comes with a huge debt – a home. Did you know that Mortgage Debt accounts for about 70% of our debt, while student loans only account for about 9%? (that credit card debt everyone discusses is about 7%). Those of us in higher education should remind folks of this when this media-sensationalized misconstruction comes up in conversation.
Another overblown issue is all the hand-wringing about students with over a $100,000 in debt – this is actually less than 3% of the student population (average student debt was under $30,000 in 2012).
Looking forward to Day 2!
I'm looking forward to exploring new topics in today's sessions, and to delivering my own session this afternoon, 3BOW Time Accounting – Know Where IT Staff Time Goes and Plan Better (I am also writing a series of articles on JobberTechTalk about this).
It's a bit ironic that after 5 years of delivering presentations at conferences like these, this year I chose to do my first-ever session on an operational topic, yet as it turns out, this particular conference got closer to my passion – using technology as a powerful aid in the delivery of instruction and engaging lessons.