Participating, Planning â¦ Prioritizing
Once a time of rest and relaxation, the college "summer break" (if we get one at all) is now one of the busiest times of the academic year. In most online programs, accelerated terms (i.e., 5- to 10-week classes) continue through the summer, and campus-based programs are in the middle of their summer schedules. This is also when many instructors participate in professional development activities, plan for the fall, and try to take time off from work.
I'm teaching this summer, but that's not all, as I prepare for completion of conference and work travel, and a professional certification course before the end of this month. Vacation? Reading? Home improvement? Friends and family? These are also on my summer "to-do" list, which is always longer that what is possible in the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
What's on your summer schedule? Try not to get overwhelmed with your work and study obligations! Reserve some time and energy during these months to refresh and recharge, whether it's a taking a quick trip to a bookstore, having dinner with a friend, not setting an alarm clock once a week, or a trying a new outdoor exercise plan. Carefully consider your priorities and strive for a balance between continued work and taking a break.
New Regulations Proposed for For-Profit Schools
Unfortunately, there are still academic institutions operating fraudulently, charging tuition without being accountable for providing the experience they promised students. You've probably heard of schools that have closed recently, leaving their students with loan debt and no way to graduate. The U.S. Department of Education wants to improve the situation of students who enroll in these schools, and deter these schools from continuing these kinds of practices.
Among the proposed rules are a streamlined debt relief process for students attending schools that have violated federal regulations, closer monitoring of schools that are struggling financially, warnings that bring awareness to a school's student loan payback rates, and an end to the use of legal agreements some schools require students to sign in order to avoid a future lawsuit.
These new rules won't go into effect until November, and still need to go through the steps related to their approval and enforcement. In the meantime, students can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at no cost to explore loan payback and debt relief options. Students should research and compare all of the education options available, including for-profit institutions, to see how they meet their academic, career preparation, and financial expectations.
Accrediting the Accreditors
You are probably familiar with the advice to "make sure your school is accredited." Why is accreditation important? In short, accreditors conduct an evaluation to ensure a school provides students with a basic level of academic quality. Accreditation status is also tied to students' ability to use federal financial aid; however, not all accreditors are created equal.
The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) currently oversees the accrediting process for hundreds of institutions in the U.S., many of which are in the private, for-profit sector. The agency is drawing fire for accrediting schools that are not providing high-quality experiences for students, and those that are in financial trouble or have closed leaving students in debt and without an opportunity to complete their programs.
The relationship among individual colleges and universities, accrediting agencies, loan organizations, and the federal financial aid system is complicated, even for those of us who have been around a while. There is a call for the federal government to remove agencies like ACICS from their approved list, so that schools accredited by these organizations can't receive federal funding. This process will take time, and a lot of debate, but it's a priority higher education professionals must address.
Microsoft and LinkedIn
In June, Microsoft announced its purchase of LinkedIn. Do you have a LinkedIn profile? If not, it's one of the best places to begin establishing a professional online presence whether you are looking for your first job or advancing in your career. You may also be familiar with Microsoft products as an online student or at your workplace. Many schools now offer students access to Microsoft Office, for example, a widely used software suite that helps learners become workforce ready.
LinkedIn had already made moves in recent years to expand its platform, such as acquisition of Slideshare, a great portfolio app, and Lynda.com, a well-respected training site. Now your profile can be a sort of work portfolio, and as a registered user you can access courses to build your work-related skills. LinkedIn also revamped how the system presents information about colleges and universities to connect users to schools, alumni, and the employers who hire them.
Only time will tell how the Microsoft-LinkedIn combination will impact higher education, but there are already some predictions. EdSurge shares the potential harmony that exists in combining productivity software, skill development resources, and an online community that includes, working professionals and job seekers, academic institutions, and employers.
As I post this July letter I am in Chicago for the National Career Development Association's Annual Conference. Watch for more feedback on this event from me in August! In the meantime you can track #NCDAChicago to get an idea of what career counselors are sharing at this conference.
Although I'm not attending the following conferences in person, I'll monitor their hashtags online:
InstructureCon (July 19-21): The Canvas learning management system sponsors this annual event to connect users in K-12 and higher education. Not using Canvas at your institution? Check out the Blackboard conference (July 12-14) and the Brightspace by D2L event (July 18-19). Follow #InstructureCon.
Campus Technology Conference (August 1-4): This annual educational technology conference is focused on the use of technology for administration, teaching and learning, IT infrastructure, and research in higher education. Attendees represent a wide range of college and university roles, including instructional design, academic computing, and faculty. Follow #CampusTech.
Here are some of the ideas I explored last month by following the New Media Consortium's conference hashtag:
#NMC16 – New Media Consortium Summer Conference
- "Jargon is evolving – mixed reality, augmented reality, virtual reality." – @alexpickett
- Evolution in technology changes what we can do in education, and it all happens pretty quickly. So quickly in fact that we aren't always sure what to call it. Embrace the evolution and look at how instructors and students are making the most of new tools in different learning environments.
- How can you get your group, team, or class to think about things differently? Are you stuck in a rut with typical presentations, reports, and discussions? – @ExpertlyMade
- Take a look at LiberatingStructures.com – step-by-step guidance on 35 disruptive ways to work together.
- Can't be at all of the sessions at once? Take a look at everyone's notes! – @mcdanger
- Leave it to technology conference attendees to create an online space for taking session notes, and encourage a culture of sharing.
International Day of Friendship (July 30): Established in 2011 by the United Nations, this day brings awareness to "the ideas that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures, and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities" (UN). There seems no better time than the present to extend the reach of this message. How can you contribute? Recognize the friendships that make a difference in your life, and look for opportunities to expand your understanding of a culture that is different from yours.
If you are an online student, it's likely your courses will roll through spring, summer, and fall with little break. Fall course schedules are now available for start dates in August and September, so register before the spaces fill up – even online courses have enrollment caps. Check with your academic advisor as soon as possible to make sure you register for the classes you need to stay on track toward graduation!