Coming Together to Improve Education

By David Wiley, Chief Academic Officer

Improvement in post secondary education will require converting teaching from a solo sport to a community-based research activity. (Herbert A. Simon, 1986)

Photo by Perry Grone on UnsplashThe faculty Lumen work with carry an enormous workload. Some have research, grant writing, and publication responsibilities in addition to teaching their courses. Some teach five or six courses per semester. Some have committee assignments and additional service responsibilities. Some drive across town several times per day as they try to string adjunct appointments at three institutions together into a career that pays the rent. All of our faculty have expertise in their discipline. Few have formal training in teaching or learning.

Herbert Simon, quoted above, was an “above average” faculty member. He won both the Turing Award for his work in computer science and the Nobel Prize for his work in economics. But even he realized that we can’t expect individual faculty to stay at the cutting edges of their discipline, teaching and learning practice, educational research, and the ever-changing technologies that can be used in the service of learning. This is why Simon called for us to come together as a community – there are countless ways in which education needs to be improved, and no one person, institution, or organization has the time or expertise to do it all alone. We need each other.

The role Lumen is choosing to play in the community working to improve education is to enable and empower learners and faculty with highly effective learning materials that become more effective every semester. And this process of making OER more effective every semester – also known as “continuous improvement” – is where we see some of the most exciting opportunities to collaborate with faculty.

Continuous improvement is an iterative cycle. In the case of OER, the continuous improvement cycle involves:

  • Creating or selecting OER for use in your course,
  • Instrumenting the OER for measurement,
  • Measuring the effectiveness of OER in supporting student learning,
  • Identifying areas where student learning was not effectively supported,
  • Making changes to the learning design of the OER in those underperforming areas, and
  • Beginning the cycle again.

Developed with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Lumen’s Waymaker courses are designed specifically to support this continuous improvement process, and we have been refining our process for several years in collaboration with a small group of faculty. You can see an example of the difference in OER before and after we applied this internal continuous improvement process here:

While we’re still refining the tools we’ve created to support this work, we are now eager to open our continuous improvement process to all faculty members, with the goal of making it a genuinely community-based research activity. Here’s what we’re doing this fall:

  • We have analyzed data from Spring 2018 to empirically determine which learning outcomes students struggled with the most in five Waymaker courses. (Learn more about this process in this accompanying blog post.)
  • For each course, we have published a collection of “Learning Challenges  Leaderboards” listing the learning outcomes students struggled with the most, together with links to the OER that didn’t adequately support student learning.

The RISE and Shine Initiative

We invite you to engage with us in a community-based continuous improvement process. We’re calling this initiative RISE & Shine. RISE is the analysis that identifies which content needs work (you can read more about RISE here). Once we’ve identified that content, we invite faculty to Shine by contributing their expertise to the improvement of OER.

You can participate by taking one or more of these steps:

  1. Raise your hand. Complete this form to let us know you’d like to be part of conversations about improving learning with OER. We’ll share Learning Challenges updates and include you in what’s happening in your discipline.
  2. Reflect. Look at the Learning Challenges Leaderboard in your discipline. Think about what you do to make learning better for your students as you’re tackling these challenging topics, and compare that with the approach taken in the aligned OER. How would you do things differently?
  3. Share ideas. Have ideas about how we should make the OER supporting these difficult topics more effective? Share them here.
  4. Share improvements. Do you have a short video, an interactive activity, an edited version of the existing OER, or any other improved content you’ve developed to improve your students’ understanding? If so, submit them using this form. Whenever your contributions are included in Lumen course materials, your work is attributed. And you’ll be able to see the effect your contributions have on student learning in the next semester’s Learning Challenges Leaderboard update.

At Lumen we’re serious about making improving education a community-based research activity. That’s why we collaborate with faculty throughout the course improvement process, openly license the improvements we make to content, publish our continuous improvement frameworks in open access journals, and open source many of the tools we create to support our continuous improvement efforts.

However, we’re just one company. Truly transforming education will require more people and organizations to adopt a continuous improvement mindset. Given the amount of effort and the range of expertise required to engage in continuous improvement, Simon’s admonition to do this work collaboratively resonates with us as being deeply true.

We hope you’ll become part of this community-based effort with us.

October 8th, 2018|In the News, Uncategorized|