Chicago Online Learning Summit Reflections

by Christine Scherer

On Wednesday, July 13, the Learning Design team attended the Chicago Online Learning Summit. This summit included a number of speakers from the field, and the team has reflected on what they learned and how it will impact their work at SPS.

Jessica Mansbach, Learning Designer

Hunt Lambert, from the Harvard Extension School, discussed how the definition of higher education quality has changed over time. Lambert emphasized that when thinking about quality in higher education the focus should be on the caliber of the student who leaves a degree program, as opposed to the quality of the student who enters the degree program. Lambert explained that the Extension School’s earn your way in admissions policy opens up admissions to any student, particularly part-time students, regardless of their academic background. This inclusive model, Lambert said, offers many part-time students the opportunity to receive a high quality education that allows them to do high quality work and advance in their careers. I think this way of thinking about quality in higher education is interesting and allows us to expand how we think about students’ abilities.

Jacob Guerra-Martinez, Learning Designer

Of the three presentations delivered at the Chicago Online Learning Summit, I would have to say that my favorite was by Amy Shackelford from The University of Texas’ Institute for Transformational Learning. Shackleford’s presentation, titled “TEx: Transforming Education at Scale,” gave an overview of the TEx platform, which is an combination of technologies that allow students to receive a more personalized journey across their educational experience. Shackelford explained how TEx was implemented at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley to support their B.S. in Biomedical Sciences, giving an overview of the types of activities that students do, how mobile technologies came into play, and the type of support students receive from Academic Coaches. Being from the Rio Grande Valley region myself, I was especially excited to see that students were being provided technologies that they may not have had any previous experience with, thus obtaining valuable experience that can be used in their future professions.

Elizabeth Lemke, Learning Designer

Amy Shackelford from the University of Texas’ (UT) Institute for Transformational Learning presented on the the UTx System, a 14-school consortium that provides competency-based and adaptive learning experiences to better prepare for the real-world work force. She presented their robust and detailed strategy in place that focuses on creating innovative education models (continuous, industry-aligned, universal, and personalized), making education more accessible and affordable, and offering practice in knowledge and skills in high demand in the workforce. They align workforce needs and a flexible environment to meet student needs. An interesting point Amy made during her presentation was about student profiles and how there really isn’t a non-traditional student anymore. There are simply students who need and want education and there are many avenues through which they can obtain it. The education landscape is, and has been for a while, filled with diverse students with diverse needs, and TEx has created a vast learning environment that provides, in Amy’s words, “currency and value every step of the way.” For more information on this UT project, visit the UTx System website.

Krissy Wilson, Learning Designer

One key takeaway from Hunt Lambert, Dean of Continuing Education and Extension at Harvard University, was the need to serve students at many different points in their lives. In a knowledge-based economy, a commitment to lifelong learning is essential. Four years of university education used to be the norm; today, students encounter Harvard as high school students in summer programs, as adults seeking bachelor’s degrees online, as mid-career employees seeking graduate degrees or certificates, and even as retirees. The same kinds of programs are available at Northwestern, including the Center for Talent Development and the College Preparation Program for young students. At the other of the spectrum is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which serves older adults. Then the School of Professional Studies jumps in to offer whatever is needed in between, including undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as post-baccalaureate certificates and certificates of advanced study. As our idea of the typical college student changes —Dean Lambert noted that 80% of all higher education participants are “nontraditional”—we must continue to value diversity and inclusion to meet their needs in our program offerings.