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From Setback to Success: APLU’s “Turning Points”

Imagine this scenario at a hypothetical university: it’s the early 2000s, and online learning is an emerging concept growing in popularity. The university’s president comes up with an innovative idea to get ahead of the e-learning curve, trim the university’s budget, and provide more course flexibility for the institution’s many non-traditional students.  The president instructed colleges and departments to reduce the number of classroom sections for introductory gateway courses, and replace them with online sections taught by the same instructors, with identical content.  He theorized this shift would help working students fit introductory courses into their busy schedules.

One year later, to the president’s chagrin, first-year student retention rates had dropped by 7 percent overall – and by 15 percent for first-generation college students.

This wasn’t the outcome he’d been hoping for. But the results proved critically important.

Because of early experimentation, we now know that the way online courses are implemented determines their efficacy. Pedagogy matters. Instructors accustomed to teaching face-to-face need time and guidance to adapt their courses to a new format. Like many of society’s most valuable innovations, best practices for online education weren’t developed all at once, but through an iterative process of testing, refining, and testing again.

Learning from Failure

Achieving success at scale means taking risks and pushing boundaries, and things don’t always work as planned. University leaders want to learn from those failures, but as public leaders they are often reluctant to share what they’ve learned outside their own campuses. Given the magnitude of challenges facing public higher education, finding ways to learn from setbacks and not repeat others’ missteps is of growing importance.

That’s why we need you.

At the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Annual Meeting on November 13 in Austin, Texas, APLU and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) will host a fun and engaging session in which up to five institutions, chosen through a video application, will share their stories of early setbacks that ultimately led to success – and win cash to keep their efforts going.

What is “Turning Points”?

Based on the Fail Festival concept, established by the international development community, Turning Points is a forum for universities to share how a failure or misstep triggered a later success. The Fail Festival model features short, TED-like talks that are authentic and entertaining in nature, outline key failures, why they happened, lessons learned, and how the organization turned them around.


Why Should My University Participate?

Up to five winners will be selected. Each will receive $5,000 and be invited to present their Turning Point at the APLU Annual Meeting on Sunday, November 13, at 1:45 p.m. Travel costs and registration fees will be covered by APLU. In addition, there will be up to 12 honorable mentions selected, each of which will receive $1,000 prizes but will not receive travel support. All of those chosen for the $1,000 or $5,000 prizes will have their videos on display in the annual meeting exhibition hall.

How Can I Apply?

APLU and USU member institutions are eligible to apply. If you are interested in presenting at the APLU Annual Meeting, submit a brief expression of interest to Shari Garmise with the name of the institution, a title, a 1-2 sentence description of the turning point, and the name of the university representative who would present at the APLU Annual Meeting if chosen, along with his/her contact information. Expressions of interest are due by COB, Friday, September 2, 2016. Up to three videos per institution can be accepted with each presenting a separate turning point story, but an expression of interest must be received for each one.

After the letter of intent is submitted, the next step is to develop and submit a 5-15 minute video that will serve as your application. The technical quality of the video is not important, but the quality of the presentation is critical. When the video is final, entrants should provide a link to a Dropbox or similar file sharing site that APLU can use to download the final product. Send the link to Shari Garmise by September 30, 2016.

Are you ready to share your story? If so, jot down a few ideas and send in your expression of interest today. Because failing to learn from each others experiences would be the biggest failure of all. We owe it to our students to keep innovating, learning, and changing to support their success. See you in November!


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