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Digital Design for Student Success

Digital Design for Student Success

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Last week the Texas A&M College of Arts & Sciences published an article regarding their participation in a collaborative digital innovation initiative to improve student success in Texas and beyond.

Rachel Knight reported that over the summer, Texas A&M faculty in the Departments of English, History, and Physics and Astronomy worked with faculty at Rice University and the University of Texas at Austin to “develop, deploy, and scale high-quality introductory college course materials that incorporate innovative instructional design, current insights from the science of learning and development, open educational resources, and a commitment to ongoing research and development.”

The initiative is part of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Digital Design for Student Success (D2S2) Project. According to Texas A&M’s Executive Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, Debra Fowler, the THECB created the D2S2 initiative in response to the shift to digital platforms due to the pandemic. It’s not surprising to me that two flagship universities (UT Austin for the UT System and Texas A&M College Station for the Texas A&M System) would be involved in an initiative like this. Including a prestigious private university like Rice in this initiative was a surprise.

Specifically, this initiative aims for faculty from the three universities to develop and share open-education resources (OER) for the arts and sciences introductory courses. Texas A&M chose introductory English, history, and physics courses because most college students across the state take those courses. All the new resources will be housed in the THECB’s OERTX.

The D2S2 Project is supported by the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund. Housing the materials in the THECB infrastructure will allow access of these materials by instructors throughout the state.

I reviewed the OERTX website and specifically looked at the curated collections. There are currently nine collections. The nine collections include:

There are more than 3,400 resources located in these nine collections. The size of the collections ranges from as few as seven resources to as many as 1,058 resources.

While clicking on each of the resources provides information adequate to determining whether you should review the resource, I think the THECB should consider finding a better way to curate the collections to make it easier to locate materials. For example, aggregating OER textbooks in a collection and course recorded lectures in another might save an instructor a lot of time searching the site for appropriate materials. Perhaps there should be a collection that groups the courses and OER materials for each of these introductory courses that were developed this summer. I also like the idea of including a notation of how many times the materials have been accessed and utilized. There is a rating for each item with no explanation about who assigned the rating to the materials.

Texas is our second largest state in terms of population. The THECB has been ambitious and transparent about its goals for the state’s citizens and its academic institutions. Given the time and money spent developing these materials, I would recommend spending a little more to logically organize and curate the materials to make them more easily locatable by faculty and students.

Many years ago, Texas Governor Rick Perry challenged the Texas higher education community to develop a $10,000 four year degree. While we continue to hear about how expensive college is, we haven’t heard about state universities creating the $10,000 degree. I believe it’s possible, particularly when you utilize dual credit courses in state high schools and build quality online courses and open educational resources. My last suggestion for the THECB would be to curate degree pathways utilizing free courses, textbooks, and other materials. It might be a way to build a lower cost, high quality degree with a higher return on investment for students. Isn’t that the best outcome?

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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