Online Blogucation

2009 Conference Reflections

Over the past year I’ve attended academic conferences in the U.S., Mexico, Spain, and Bahrain. Here are a few key takeaways I can offer from my perspective as a higher education assessment consultant.
Academics worldwide are debating the scholarship of teaching and learning quite intensely due largely to the disrupting change of the online for-profits, the ubiquitous acceptance of social networking, and the reality of user created content. An article in last week’s The Chronicle of Higher Education nicely summarized the online for profit sector’s impact on challenging all colleges and universities to do a better job not only of creating and tracking student learning outcomes but also for using the data collected to refine curriculum and instruction with an eye toward improving the student learning experience. Most online programs are able to track all activity in a course including page visits, class discussions, assignment uploads, exams, and grades. They are also able to standardize learning outcomes for all sections of a course to ensure comparability of data. This is the point where traditional academics will raise the academic freedom argument, however, I’ve seen traditional faculty agree on a common set of outcomes and even common assessment rubrics even though the assignments they develop to assess student progress may differ by instructor.

I also just returned from the SACS-Commission on Colleges Annual Meeting in Atlanta. I noticed that many universities were talking about course level assessment of student learning outcomes this year which was new. This is an area where I’ve been focusing for the past 18 months so it was nice to see the academy starting to recognize the importance of getting more granular in the assessment of student learning. Previously nearly everyone was satisfied with program level assessment. Program assessment is still important but it should be triangulated with course level assessment data along with indirect measures such as NSSE, CSSE, or Noel Levitz. Many institutions also participate in either the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) or the University and College Accountability Network.

The rise of social networking and user created content is another salient takeaway this year. If Web 2.0 or education gaming was in the session title you could count on a packed room. This was the case worldwide. These technologies are moving beyond the early adaptor stage and more into the mainstream. It is important for digital immigrants (those born before 1995) to recognize that digital natives are used to processing multiple channels at once and having just in time access to information. There are theories circulating that indeed even the structure of a digital native’s brain is different. This means we must adapt our method of teaching to be more of a facilitator as opposed to a lecturer who disseminates knowledge. During a Web 2.0 presentation in Guadalajara, Mexico last week I challenged participants to start using at least one new Web 2.0 application first in their personal lives and then to try to integrate the application into their teaching in the Spring semester. I’d be happy to share my presentation with anyone who’s interested. You can email me at if you’re interested.

It’s truly an exciting time in higher education. The next decade is going to bring about dramatic changes at colleges and universities. I look forward to participating in dialogue with many of you as we do our best to make education more accessible and effective for both learners and employers.

Brian McKay Epp
Academic Trainer and Consultant

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