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Edubytes: Emerging trends in higher education
Welcome to the August 2019 edition of the Edubytes newsletter. Edubytes features articles that focus on emerging trends and innovations in teaching and learning in higher education.

This month, we share a summer reading list provided by members of the Edubytes editorial committee on a variety of topics including graduate students pursuing administrative work, open textbooks, and the use of student early warning systems. 

If you have any suggestions on higher education trends you would like to read more about in future editions of Edubytes, feel free to contact us at edu.bytes@ubc.ca. We would love to hear your thoughts.


Instructure DIG and Student Early Warning Systems

This eLiterate article discusses the use of student early warning systems in higher education that use learning management system (LMS) data to identify at-risk students. Early prototypes of this type of technology at Purdue University through their Course Signals project showed the potential benefit to students. Since then LMS and student information system vendors have been working to integrate similar predictive analytics tools.

While many educators see promise in these early warning systems, the article also points out three significant challenges, including student data privacy, accuracy of the predictive algorithms across contexts, as well as the ability of institutions to engage in the necessary level of interdepartmental cooperation needed to use the information in order to make meaningful interventions.

As one panel participant quoted in the article laments, “We're getting really good at predicting which students are likely to fail, but we're not getting much better at preventing them from failing.”

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Grad Students Should Consider Administrative Work

This Inside Higher Ed article emphasizes the opportunities for PhD students to work at colleges and universities, beyond faculty careers. There is indeed a variety of administrative positions available, ranging from academic program administration to institutional research, teaching and learning centres, or diversity and inclusion positions. Often, PhD students are not aware of these positions and it is important to adopt strategies to further explore these possibilities, such as attending panel discussions on administrative positions or setting up informational interviews with PhD holders who have administrative roles on campus. PhD students are familiar with the academic context - they understand the organization of the institution and its complexity - and as such can contribute largely to the success of colleges and universities.

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Should Academic Freedom Extend to Non-Faculty Academics?

The American Association of University Professors 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure states: "Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth.” The authors of this Inside Higher Ed article question whether the statement of this principle is large enough to encompass all the scholars in higher education. The norms of academic freedom (instruction and research) traditionally cover faculty, not staff. Today, the academic ecosystem has become more complicated. Therefore, many institutions now employ a large number of non-faculty academics, some of whom do research and publish scholarship. The authors exemplify instructional designers and directors of centres for teaching and learning who seek to align their practices with research-based evidence and lead the efforts to create new knowledge.

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The Radical Transformation of the Textbook

Pearson recently announced that it will be producing all its textbooks as digital products first, reports Wired. Pearson will still produce physical textbooks, but students will rent by default with the option to buy after the rental period ends. As textbook ownership has given way to rentals, and analog texts to digital, the price of textbooks has increased 183 per cent over the last 20 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, open textbooks that typically come free of charge have gained momentum in recent years, particularly as support has picked up at an institutional level. In the 2019–2020 academic year, 2.7 million students across 6,600 institutions used open textbooks produced by OpenStax, a non-profit based out of Rice University, instead of a for-profit equivalent.

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Database of 7 Million Syllabi Pulls Back the Curtain on Higher Ed

Researchers at Columbia University released the second version of the Open Syllabus Project, a database of nearly seven million syllabi from 2,500 universities, reports EdScoop. The project cross-references the syllabi — which it gathers by trawling through university websites — to its catalog of 80 million books and other publications, pulled from the Library of Congress and other sources. It uses machine learning and other techniques to extract citations, dates, fields, and other metadata from these documents. The resulting data is made freely available through its visualization tool and in bulk for academic research. The project exposes useful, searchable metadata — such as which titles are taught in certain courses, when, and how often. For example, as interest in open educational resources (OER) has grown, the project provides a filter which allows users to discover the most used open textbooks within any discipline.

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Open Educational Resources, Student Efficacy, and User Perceptions: A Synthesis of Research Published Between 2015 and 2018

A new report published in Educational Technology Research and Development synthesizes the results from sixteen open educational resources (OER) studies involving 121,168 students or faculty. The studies examined either OER and student efficacy in higher education settings or the perceptions of college students and/or instructors who have used OER. Results across these studies suggest students achieve the same or better learning outcomes when using OER over commercial textbooks while saving significant amounts of money. The results also indicate that the majority of faculty and students who have used OER had a positive experience and would do so again. The report poses the question, “Does no significant improvement in academic performance justify a $150 textbook?”

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Gender Bias in Academe: An Annotated Bibliography of Important Studies

Danica Savonick and Cathy N. Davidson, scholars at the City University of New York Graduate Center, have aggregated and summarised over forty research articles on gender bias in academia, reports the London School of Economics Impact Blog. While some studies suggest that certain fields are making a concerted effort to reverse gender imbalance in hiring and other practices, the majority of these studies reveal a consistent and continuing range of biases at each stage of the hiring, tenuring, and promotion process, as well as in peer review and teaching evaluation. The studies offer policy implications for the traditional ways that academia quantifies the processes leading to hiring, promotion, and tenure.

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