Page 35 - Campus Technology, August/September 2017
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CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | August/September 2017
Many institutions haven’t really grown their online efforts in ways that would allow them to benefit from the economic and academic efficiencies inherent in scaling.
Foundation, which has “really good relationships with schools through past research work they’ve done,” Pugliese said, the team was able to take a subset of those schools and target them for “immediate access.”
“Getting things up and running to do this research is hard,” acknowledged Pugliese. By poking through the Gates portfolio, the researchers could fast-track that part of the work and identify those candidates “that fit a particular category: Did they bend the cost curve in lowering cost? Do parts of their portfolio have mixed institutions in terms of types — four- year, community college, private, for profit, etc.?”
Once the shortlist was developed, he added, the lab fine- tuned it further by examining undergraduate headcount, percentage of undergraduates online, how many years they’ve been implementing their programs, relative graduation rates, relative retention rates, percentage of Pell students, percentage of non-white and percentage of admitted.
The researchers felt it was important to get a cross-section of institutions that could also cover a number of criteria “We went through a lot of universities that were very willing and anxious and wanted to [participate in the study],” noted Pugliese. “They just didn’t have the capability to do it. They didn’t have the people.”
Those left standing were six in number: Arizona State, the University of Central Florida, the Kentucky Community
The idea of the study, said Pugliese, was to look at the characteristics of diverse types of institutions and then pull together a synopsis of the research “that could be easily digested by different types of institutions and people” — and that would allow them to compare their operations to others that have succeeded in scaling.
“It’s more than a best practices report,” he noted. “It’s really specific mechanics of the economic and operational efficiencies in these institutions that we surveyed that would directly translate [to other institutions].” The stress is on replicability, he pointed out: “If you can’t replicate the practice, then there’s not going to be cost savings, even at scale.”
What to Measure?
Institutional participants were carefully selected for the study. To kick off the project, the research team examined different cost scenarios associated with most scaled digital environments, Pugliese said. That part of the work examined:
Instructional delivery;
Infrastructure of the physical classroom vs. online; Student support;
Technology licensing;
Proctoring costs;
Other elements of technology, such as “bolt-on components”;
Course development labor;
Course refresh costs;
Management and administration; and
Marketing related to student acquisition.
Then the researchers drilled down on institutional criteria. Those selected to participate have implemented digital learning at scale and are “relatively mature,” said Pugliese. The percentage of digital learning undergraduate students vs. their face-to-face counterparts is “fairly significant.” And each institution produces what would be considered “best- in-class student outcomes” and serves “a large number of target population students.”
Because the Action Lab was working with the Gates

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