EDUCAUSE Review - Why IT Matters to Higher Education

Various authors, EDUCAUSE Review, Sept 21, 2011
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Well, at least they're not asking "how do we do more with less," because I think it should be generally accepted by now that (a) more isn't possible, and (b) probably won't work anyways. So in this issue of Educause Review Diana G. Oblinger asks how we can do better with less. Good change of emphasis. Hrabowski, Suess and Fritz, she writes, argue "(higher education) must begin by transforming its own culture, which is reflected in the questions we ask (and those we don’t), the achievements we measure and highlight (and those we ignore), and the initiatives we support (or don’t support)." What is that change? A culture of assessment, they write, "bringing all campus members into the discussions about problems and strategies and showing them the evidence that forms the basis of our approach." I yearn for the day managers and presidents set the example by first setting standards and, as necessary, penalties, for their own assessment.

In another article, Phil Long and George Siemens write that "Learning analytics can penetrate the fog of uncertainty around how to allocate resources, develop competitive advantages, and improve the quality and value of the learning experience." What does that mean, exactly? "Analytics provides a new model for college and university leaders to improve teaching, learning, organizational efficiency, and decision making and, as a consequence, serve as a foundation for systemic change." The article is a bit shiort on specifics, but it does mention things like "learning trails, social network analysis, discourse analysis" as examples of the work done by analytics. I get the concept - but I think we're a long way away from anything really useful. It's hard to measure impact - just ask baseball writers.

Finally, we also read in this issue, from Malcolm B. Brown and Veronica Diaz, that "whereas most schools conduct some degree of evaluation work, the institutional basis for that work is limited. A campus culture for evaluation work in teaching and learning is not firmly established at most colleges and universities. The evaluative effort is carried on primarily by individual teaching and learning support units, most often without official mandate or resource support." Again, I observe that the lower down you are on the food chain, the more likely you are to be the target of evaluation and assessment programs, while if you are sitting at the top of the heap, you are pretty much exempt from any serious evaluation at all. Which, it seems to me, is exactly the opposite of the way it should be. When we can start using assessment and analytics to measure management, that will be the day I start taking it seriously.
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