PDXEdTech Meetup: The Future of Higher Education

For over five years, Clarity Innovations has been a proud organizer of the PDXEdTech Meetup (a function of Northwest Education Cluster): a regular forum open to anyone working in the Educational Technology space. Meetup attendees include designers, developers, content creators, and business leaders. PDXEdTech Meetups usually begin with networking before digging into a pertinent topic of interest to today’s ed-tech community.

One of the highlights of the PDXEdTech’s summer series was OER and the Trials of Higher Ed . Kim Thanos, Founder and CEO of Lumen Learning, spoke to the engaged group of 35 about the future of learning materials in higher education. She posed important questions such as: "Why are so many students dropping out of college?" "How can we decrease cost barriers to students?" "What kind of engagement keeps students enrolled all the way to graduation?"

Kim’s presentation made clear the squeeze on today’s higher-education students: an increasing over-reliance on test scores while completion rates drop, especially with minority groups. Higher education is also facing declining budgets: state spending, for example, is well below 2008 pre-recession levels. There is also the issue of declining enrollments. One reason for the high cost of higher education, according to Kim, is the price of textbooks, with price increases wll over consumer prices. She suggests borrowing a page from digital streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify to create something affordable and powerful: a case of digitization over dehumanization.

Lumen provides open educational resources (OER) to create well-designed and low-cost course materials that replace expensive textbooks. The company works with more than 150 institutional partners. During 2017 alone, 170,000 students saved over $15 million using Lumen-supported course materials.

To help students stay on top of it all, Lumen Learning is experimenting with automated email notes called “nudges" that are sent to students when they are doing well or needing support. Lumen is noticing increased retention and graduation rates as a result.  

Another effective Lumen Learning innovation are their Waymaker courses: OER combined with high-touch personalized learning tools aim to strengthen metacognition and student success. Waymaker uses open source technology like H5P interactives to solicit student responses more often so there is less opportunity to tune out or become disengaged while reading. When student intervention methods such as Waymaker and nudges come together, Lumen has seen significantly fewer students dropping courses: a difference of 24%. About the same number of students pass with a C or better. This means Waymaker courses are keeping more students in class who would otherwise have dropped the course.  

With Waymaker courses, Lumen Learning has been able to close the gap between disadvantaged Pell-eligible students and their wealthier peers. Federal Pell Grants are awarded most often to students whose families have a total annual income below $20,000.

Kim sees Open Educational Resources (OER)—resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others—as the logical future of education. OER frequently are published using Creative Commons licenses. This licensing allows others to use this content in unique and important ways for educational purposes: what Kim refers to as the 5Rs: Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute, Retain. OER are freely available in some form, and organizations may choose to pay for technology or services that make it easier or more effective for them to use the OER.

So thanks to Kim and Lumen Learning for an eye-opening look into the challenges—and considerable opportunities—of higher education.  

We hope to see you at our next PDXEdTech Meetup!