Thursday, November 29, 2012

Learning Hasn’t Changed; social learning and facebook don't really add much

A few years ago I was asked for my annual prediction my e-learning magazine and I predicted the death of m-learning. I was attacked by everyone. Funny we don’t hear so much about m-learning any more.
Learning is a field that is very trendy.  There is always the latest greatest that everyone must do. Today this is “social learning” and “on the job learning.”

There is one problem with this. None of this stuff is ever new in any way. Learning hasn't changed in a million years. Did I say a million? Too conservative. How do chimp babies learn? Socially? Of course. They copy what their mothers do and what their playmates do. (Amazingly they do this without Facebook.) 

Do they learn on the job? Apart from the fact that chimps don’t actually have jobs, that is the only way they learn. In the process of doing something they either fail and try again or someone helps them out.

Mentoring. Another learning innovation, Except there has always been mentoring, Parents,  big brothers, helpful neighbors, all there to help you when you are in trouble. None of this is new.

But suddenly big companies have discovered it. Good for them. Better than classrooms and books (which are very new, if you think about it, cavemen didn’t have either.)

I play softball regularly. When I first started playing in this league I noticed a guy who was the best hitter I ever saw. I asked him questions. He gave me tips. I asked for criticism. He gave it to me. The other day I was hitting really well. I was congratulated by my team. I told them I owed it all to him. They didn’t know what I meant. I said I had appointed him my personal coach ten years ago.

What confuses me is why this has to be institutionalized in big companies. It is not that complicated. Tell everyone they need to spend an hour a week mentoring and an hour a week being mentored. Let them say officially whom they have chosen. Create a culture where mentoring is the norm. It is the norm in sports. My mentor has never has asked for anything back. I am sure people mentored him over the years.

On the job learning is more complicated. Why? Because the right tools might not be available to do it. What are the right tools:

  1. someone to ask who can give just in time help
  2. a short course that one can take just in time and that one is allowed to take when it is needed
  3. a group that is available for discussion

I will explain each.

Just in time help has always been available to most of us. It is called mom or dad. Even today I get “help” calls from my grown children. They know I will stop my day and help them. I always have. 

How do we institutionalize this in the modern world? By recording all the help type stories that an expert has and making them available to anyone just in time. It sounds complicated and it is. We have built such a system. It is called EXTRA (experts telling relevant advice.) Every organization needs one. Experts move on and their expertise goes with them. Capture it and learn how to deliver it just in time in short bits that last less than 2 minutes.

Stories from experts matter. Not in the form of long lectures but in the form of a conversation that happens when there is an interest in hearing the story.

To put this another way, mentoring is not driven by the mentor. As a professor of PhD students for 35 years I served the role of mentor to a lot of people. They showed up in my office once a week because I told them they had to. After that I told them nothing. Instead I listened. Maybe I asked a few questions to get them to talk if they were shy. But learning happens when someone wants to learn not when someone wants to teach.

I did the same when I taught classes. I set up questions and listened. I encouraged students to argue with each other. I chimed in at the end when they were ready to listen.

Apprenticeship is the other side of mentoring. An apprentice takes on jobs assigned to him. A good mentor lets the apprentice drive every now and then. Surgeons let interns make the first cut after they have watched the process many times.  

In the end there is always a story. In the modern era we can deliver stories when a someone needs one. (When they ask or search or we simply know what they are doing and what would help them do it.) But, the old method still works. Talking.

The problem with big companies is that they set up training sessions that last for a week instead of mentoring sessions that last for an hour. Once a week everyone should meet with their mentor for an hour and talk. Just talk. Maybe a beer would help.

And what do they talk about? A good mentor knows that the mentee drives the conversation. Maybe the mentor saw the mentee make a mistake and could comment on it, but younger people know when they are struggling and are always ready to learn if they respect the person who is helping them.

Formal training really has never been a good idea. The army does it for new recruits but they do it because they are trying to create soldiers who don’t think and just follow orders. At the higher level of army training, at the Army War College for example, officers sit around and talk.

There do not have to be mentors in such situations. People who work together should have the opportunity to exchange “war stories.” This should just happen late at night in bars. It is the most important training there is. But there has to be time made for it. And no it doesn’t require Twitter or Facebook. Social learning has always been how we learn. It is in fashion again and that is nice but it is nothing new. The elders have always gathered around the campfire to discuss the day’s events.

Do we need to teach people how to mentor and how to discuss? Yes and no. Excessive talking, lecturing and such, has never been a good idea and is never tolerated in societies that are truly cooperative. The key is learning to listen. 

Listening, oddly enough, does need to be taught, Most people don’t really know how to do it. They learn the hard way that listening works as they get older. Should we teach it? Yes. How?

We need to put people in situations where listening is demanded of them and where they are likely to fail to do it. (Training is one such place where people tune out. That is why that is why there are tests, but tests usually don’t test anything important.)

Having to perform is the best test.

Summarizing: Short courses delivered just in time are better than training sessions. Gathering a company’s expertise and delivering it via tools like EXTRA matters a great deal. 

But most of all, learning to listen and advise well is what separates winning teams from from losing ones. To listen and advise an organization must formally make time for it, otherwise it won’t happen. Do it on twitter if you like.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Learn where menu and toolbar commands are in Office 2010 and related products

I just recently posted an article with Free Computer Training Resources and another one with a Collection of free training resources for Windows, Office, Google Apps, and more as I've been collecting resources for our staff, faculty, and students.

I just found another great resource on Microsoft Office. We are transitioning from Office 2003 to Office 2010 and, as many of you know, there are major menu changes in terms of where commands are located.

Microsoft has a great site that has tutorials and interactive guides to find where the commands are in Office  2010 products. It is easy to use and the interactive guide walks you through finding specific commands.

One caveat - it uses Silverlight so you have to use Internet Explorer to access the interactive guides.

This is a great resource to share with anyone learning Office 2010.

Free computer training resources and courses

As technology changes and schools upgrade software, add new apps, change hardware or operating systems, and more, faculty, staff and students need training and support. GCFLearnFree is a program of Goodwill Industries of Eastern NC and provides quality online learning courses for free. They have a large amount of free computer training resources that are well designed, easy to use and understand, and great for sharing with faculty, staff, and students. The Office 2010 course is great and I am sharing it with our users to help them transition from Office 2003 to Office 2010 because of the different menu system.

The computer courses page  has 19 courses including Computer Basics, Email, Internet, Social Media, Google Apps, iPads, and much more.

This is a must bookmark, must share resource. 


Collection of free training resources for Windows, Office, Google Apps, and more

Shared Governance in UW System

One week ago, a group of concerned faculty, staff, and students organized a forum at UW-Madison to discuss shared governance: what it is, how it's been challenged in the past, and what current risks it's currently facing.  The forum, held at 5 pm on the Monday before Thanksgiving, drew more than fifty people to the Wisconsin Idea Room in the School of Education. Speakers included former chair of the University Committee, Judith Burstyn, Professor Emeritus of History Jim Donnolly, Professor of Political Science Don Downs, David Ahrens of the Wisconsin University Union, and Chad Goldberg, Professor of Sociology.

There was a robust conversation about the precedent set by the famed Spoto case in establishing the importance of joint decision-making in shared governance, a process that in the University of Wisconsin System goes well beyond simply advice and input.  The key takeaway: when faced with an impasse between faculty and administration on an issue over which faculty have primary domain (e.g. academic affairs), both parties must continue to negotiate until an agreement is reached. Until then, no action can be taken by either side.

My sense is that leaders all over campus-- administrators, faculty, staff, and students-- misunderstand this key attribute of shared governance. The buck simply stops without agreement. There is no right to "move on" without compromise.  Simply collecting input, providing information, holding listening sessions, etc, that's all wonderful but also entirely insufficient without explicit agreement.

It's nearly impossible to overstate the importance shared governance to the University of Wisconsin System, to maintaining high academic standards, crafting an engaged body of teaching and learning, and ensuring operations that are high quality and cost-effective.  We have no faculty union -- no collective voice-- while shared governance is a collection therefore of individuals, it is what we have.

I will end with a wonderful talk given by Chad Goldberg during the forum. He's quite the wordsmith, so I'm grateful to him for allowing me to post it in full.

"Current Challenges to Shared Governance at UW-Madison" 
Chad Alan Goldberg
November 19, 2012

"I’ve been asked to speak about current challenges to shared governance. I will talk about two kinds: external challenges, from outside authorities, and an internal challenge, from faculty disengagement. Ultimately, I will suggest, the latter encourages and reinforces the former.

The external challenges, though predating the current HR Redesign Project, have been thrown into stark relief by the Administration’s handling of it.

To be sure, the HRDP has been participatory in a certain sense. The Administration formulated the “Strategic Plan for a New UW-Madison HR System” based on the recommendations of eleven work teams on which many employees served, and it followed up the release of the plan with information sessions at which further feedback was elicited. Notwithstanding the problems that David Ahrens and others have noted, including disproportionate representation of OHR on the teams work teams and dependence on their technical expertise, this attempt to gather input from employees was commendable. I availed myself of some these opportunities, as did many others. However, providing feedback and input is no substitute for shared governance, especially when people must rely on an atomistic and aggregative mode of producing public opinion that demobilizes them.

Furthermore, the language in the “Strategic Plan for a New UW-Madison HR System” was itself problematic. Shared governance was redescribed there as giving “input” and “feedback.” We did not want to see this definition of shared governance fixed in place by the plan and, worse yet, endorsed by the Faculty Senate itself.

We moved to postpone endorsement of the “Strategic Plan” at the November 5th Faculty Senate meeting for two reasons. First, we were asked to vote on a plan before it was finalized. As my colleague Sara Goldrick-Rab put it, this would be like signing off on a master’s thesis before it was finished. Second, we were asked to endorse a plan despite ongoing controversy about and significant resistance to specific changes affecting the job security and wages and compensation of other university employees. Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell’s comments to some of the Faculty Senators calling for postponement were revealing. The Vice Chancellor asked why we were doing this, and he expressed concern that postponement would deprive the faculty of a chance to vote on the plan before it was sent to the Regents. Not only did these remarks reduce shared governance to a plebiscite, they also implied that the plan’s executive sponsors can act unilaterally, without agreement from the faculty.

I see these external challenges to shared governance as part of a broader erosion of the rights of faculty, staff, and students to participate in decision-making on campus. Another instance of this erosion is the evisceration of collective bargaining rights by Act 10. While the Administration cannot be held responsible for Act 10, it can be criticized for its unwillingness to commit itself to a “meet-and-confer” process in the absence of collective bargaining. In addition, current disputes over WISPIRG funding indicate that students are also facing an erosion of their rights. As I understand it, WISPIRG funding requires, in addition to student approval, a contract with the University, which has been signed by previous chancellors in the past. Interim Chancellor David Ward has yet to grant the contract that the Associated Students of Madison requested almost a year ago to keep WISPIRG in existence. His refusal appears to stem from a legal dispute about the process by which student government should identify student needs and act to meet them. Should the Administration prescribe this process on the basis of its interpretation of the relevant statutes? Surely students ought to have the right to determine how best to identify their needs and to decide where their fees go. What do students learn about democratic citizenship when those rights are denied?

Alongside these external challenges to shared governance, the HR Design Project has also underscored an important internal challenge. Insufficient faculty engagement in the HRDP is symptomatic of what, many years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville called individualism: the tendency that “disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself.”

Insufficient faculty engagement in the HRDP is a kind of abdication of responsibility for the university’s public affairs—not an abdication by all faculty, and certainly not by the University Committee, but by a significant portion of the faculty and even, I suspect, by some members of the Faculty Senate itself.

There are many reasons for this abdication. Faculty are extremely busy people, which leads to a desire to delegate: let Pushkin do it, where Pushkin in this case is the Administration or OHR or perhaps the UC. The perception that the HRDP affected faculty less than other university employees also no doubt discouraged faculty engagement. And we generally trust the groups to which we seek to delegate such matters. Trust is not a bad thing. As a sociologist, I know institutions and organizations cannot operate without it. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind the old Russian folk saying: trust but verify.

I’m not suggesting that faculty have the time or expertise to design the university’s personnel system ourselves, but we need to be engaged in the process, and not just as individuals but collectively, as a body, through the Faculty Senate.

Why is individualism a problem? Because the alternative, as Tocqueville pointed out, is guardianship and tutelage. Bad guardians use their power to make decisions with which citizens may not agree and which may even be detrimental to their interests. But even in the best case, when benevolent guardians have our best interests at heart, guardianship gradually degrades our capacities to think, feel, and act for ourselves in matters that affect us and for which we have a legal responsibility."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another great feature of Evernote - integrated in Outlook

I love Evernote. It's no surprise. I use it for everything and even more now in my new job as Chief Information Officer of the district. It allows me to keep everything - notes, files, and more all accessible anywhere on any device. I use the web clipper, Livescribe SkyPen, Android App, web app, and Windows Desktop App.

Outlook icon

As a teacher, we all used the web version of Outlook. Administration and office staff use the desktop version of Outlook because we utilize more features. I had always used the web version of Evernote as a teacher and now use the desktop version (more features that I need). After installing Evernote, I noticed an Evernote logo on Outlook. What a great surprise. I can easily and quickly save any email (and attachments) or contact right to Evernote from Outlook.

This has become invaluable to me as I get organized and keep track of information, contacts, and resources. Instead of setting up a bunch of mail folders, desktop folders, and Evernote notebooks, I just put everything into Evernote. It also means I can access all of this from anywhere, very easily. I have my important personal and work notebooks set up to offline sync on my smartphone and Nexus 7 tablet so I can always access them, and I have the desktop versions of Evernote at work and home for offline access and backup.

Once again, Evernote has made my life easier and more organized.


Evernote for Educators Resources

Livescribe SkyPen - automatically sync your handwritten notes and audio recordings to Evernote via WiFi.

Nexus 7 Android Table Review

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Collection of free training resources for Windows, Office, Google Apps, and more

I was putting together a list of free training resources and decided to share it with everyone. If you have some good ones, please share them in the comments.

Free Training Resources


Windows and Office - great help with Windows and Windows applications - free help and training from Microsoft on their products. Scroll to bottom for older versions. - lots of great resources and tips for teachers. 

Google Apps for Education

Great resources on learning Google Apps and using Google Apps in the classroom.

Chromebooks (see Google Apps also)

Misc. EdTech Resources - list of tech skills for educators and resources to learn them. - Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone/Mobile, and webOS resources, help, tips, and more. - Great resource from Discovery Education on educational technology. HP Teacher Experience Exchange - tips, lesson plans, tech help, and more. one tech tip for each school day each year. great tips on all kinds of technology

Monday, November 19, 2012

Revised HR Design Plan

The Chancellor just released the revised HR Design plan. Lest anyone wonder "Why did we postpone the vote at Faculty Senate," here's your answer.

The red-lined version of the Plan and the list of changes should be read in full.  But there is clear evidence on the pages as to why a strong pushback at Senate was smart and appropriate.  For example:

p. 4  and 41 Mandatory placement of laid off employees has been restored!

p. 42 Right of return has been restored (for up 30 days)!

p.10 A commitment to using HR to achieve excellence in all disciplines and to emphasize learning is now included

p.25 and 26 Internal equity is now explicitly included as a factor continuing to affect compensation (see Strategic Plan Components #1 and the following paragraph on p. 26)

p. 28 Living wage for contracted employees is officially under consideration again

But the language on shared governance is still too weak. This is ironic given tonight's forum (which I'll write about tomorrow!)  "Advice and input" was replaced with "engagement," and "participation" and "involvement" and "review" which are still incredibly passive terms (e.g. p. 24, 32). I'd prefer to see "joint decision-making authority" and "approval" used instead.  Spoto sets the precedent here-- no changes to faculty compensation should be made without the explicit agreement of BOTH the faculty and the administration.


This is a major improvement on the prior iteration of the plan and it is responsive to nearly all of my recommendations and requests. However, this language, authored by Noah Feinstein, should be added in order to ensure Faculty Senate approval:

"A commitment to shared governance extends to direct participation of governance groups in relevant decision-making. This must include guarantees that any future results and recommendations of the ongoing HR Design process, including especially the title and total compensation study, will be subject to approval by all affected shared governance bodies without which approval they will not proceed."

Scott Walker's Latest Agenda for Wisconsin Higher Education

With a headline like that, I bet you're assuming this is going to be one scathing post! The last time Scott Walker had ideas for Wisconsin public higher education, they involved separating UW-Madison from the rest of System. Or at least, so Biddy Martin told us.

This time, the issue is performance funding for higher education. Walker recently declared his interest in the model, and many people are naturally on the defensive. The common list of concerns is already being circulated (e.g. it will fail to distinguish between institutions with different missions and student bodies, intrude on institutional autonomy, and excuse cuts in regular state funding of higher education), but this is my favorite: Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, a Democrat, said that Walker's plan sounds like "social engineering" that would force students to study "what industry wants" rather than what students want.

Ouch!  Sounds godawful.   But here's the thing-- this is not Walker's idea; it's an old, fairly passe idea, which he seems to have finally gotten around to reading about. (And by the way, most students simply want jobs-- which may be the same thing industry wants. Given the narrow k12 system we're putting them through, we can't be surprised at this outcome.)

The current higher education funding model is built on "butts in seats"-- the more students you enroll, the more money you get, up to a point. In this system, degree completion rates could be 25% or 90% and institutions would still get paid the same. If you believe graduation rates have anything to do with institutional effort, and there's some evidence that they do, this is a problem.  The policy shift from a focus on enrollment to a focus on completion occurred over the last 10 years, and has finally reached Wisconsin.

Is that a good thing? Not entirely. Is it a bad one? Not entirely either.  I've written about the problems with how higher education tends to ignore the college completion challenge; instead of accepting responsibility for completion rates, institutions tend to blame the students. If an 18-year-old freshman drops out of college, it's the student's "fault" but if a 17-year-old junior year in high school drops, it's either the parent or the teacher's "fault." This is an old model, from a time when college enrollment was fairly uncommon and clearly a "choice" rather than an economic necessity embraced by the vast majority of Americans as "required."  We have to catch up.

So let's try taking the focus on completion as a good thing -- AT LEAST FOR STUDENTS-- and worry instead about the devilish details that could screw it up. (Yes, this is a big assumption-- it's not clear the completion agenda is good for students, and it's obviously not always good for educators, but I have to start somewhere!)

(1) The focus on completion must not sacrifice the focus on enrollment.  Sound impossible? Only to educators. In fact, people in the job training realm have thought about this issue for years and managed to craft metrics that encourage programs to both open their doors and do a good job at providing training and access to high quality employment.  The key is crafting metrics to prevent creaming -- the phenomenon that occurs when a college says "Want us to jack the college completion rate? We'll just increase our admissions bar."   If the measure requires the institution to raise completion rater while not changing admissions standards, this can be prevented. Similarly, if you want the completion rates to rise while not locking out in-state students, that must be built in. One option is a variation on "risk-adjusted metrics" or "value-added" metrics though these are currently incredible flawed and should not be simply imported from national initiatives since they still largely fail to distinguish institutional characteristics (and missions) from student inputs (maybe because it's near-impossible given the strong feedback loop between the two).

(2) Process measures should be included to ensure quality is maintained. Colleges can raise graduation rates by simply reducing the number of credits required to graduate and/or making it easier to pass our courses. This isn't desirable, and close attention to these process measures will help. Tennessee and Washington State provide some examples, though I prefer Maryland's far more sophisticated model of reform.

(3) Completion alone is not enough. Coupling the graduation metric with assessments of both learning and job outcomes will help ensure the provision of a well-rounded education leading to both short-term employment and long-term job security. It doesn't help Wisconsin to have its colleges and universities turned into job-training shops that prepare people for the jobs of today -- as demanded by current employers.  We need to prepare people for the jobs of tomorrow and the days after that--we want them to get and keep jobs and have careers-- and research clearly demonstrates that critical thinking skills and the ability to find multiple solutions to problems, the sorts of things that liberal arts education teaches incredibly well, are essential to doing this.  Governor Walker wants a legacy-- and so should focus on that long-term horizon, thinking forward and far to imagining how public higher education can help rebuild the state's economy.

(4) If you want real action, make the measures meaningful.  Study after study shows that implementation is everything-- policy agendas fail if the actors don't buy in. They have to find the metrics meaningful and know how to meet those standards.  Getting buy-in from the workhorses of higher education-- the faculty-- requires avoiding a top-down approach and going with the "Wisconsin local" approach to metric creation.  Again, don't bother with importing metrics from outside initiatives. These may be a useful starting point for local creators, but they are also unproven.   Walker has thousands of bright minds throughout the state capable of building smart metrics. As Tom Friedman recommended in yesterday's New York Times he can help link up faculty and business in an exchange of ideas and good things will result.  With real leadership, business will come to see professors as mostly useful people who are already focused on getting students the skills they need to succeed-- we are simply different in our focus on longer-term skills.  That may indeed be too narrow; some programs will need professors who see business's desire to have people trained in today's requirements. Both can and do have space in Wisconsin higher education, between the technical colleges and UW System.

(5) Tie money to metrics carefully.  Lessons from other states indicate that success has been achieved when performance has resulted in incentive funding-- a lift up-- rather than the reduction in base funding-- a leveling down. One step at a time rather than massive change that leads to marches on the Capital rather than productive action would be a smart way to go.

There is plenty of indication that Wisconsin higher education administrators saw this coming. Locally, David Ward's Year of Innovation at UW-Madison is quite reminiscent of Michael Crow's efforts at Arizona State- a place I suspect Walker finds appealing.  It is less effective thus far than hoped, in my estimation, mainly because it's come across as a top-down effort focused on the bottom line rather than a botton-up excitement among faculty to find new ways to do their current jobs.  (Imagine, what if the Year of Innovation had been pitched as a way to make teaching more enjoyable, flexible, and easier to integrate with research-- rather than more profitable?)

Certainly, it's hard for any thoughtful educator to recommend with a straight face that we embrace ideas stemming from Walker's office.  But the focused effort on completion accompanied by institutional accountability isn't coming from Walker's office. It's part of a national agenda endorsed by President Obama.  Those on the Left should not uncritically accept it (and I definitely don't) but they must remember that fact.

My recommendation to Wisconsin public higher education:  Instead of fighting this effort, through shared governance get the faculty, staff, and students together and begin to work on approaches to completion and accountability that are mutually productive.  This is not easy to do and if anyone pretends that it is, call them out on a foolish agenda.  But, I believe, this is necessary engagement if you want to improve both the quality of higher education in this state and its financial support. 

ps. Step 1: Invite Jane Wellman , Brit Kirwan, and leaders from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education together to visit and stimulate conversation and action.

pps. I highly recommend this quick overview of performance funding for those new to it.

Why are universities so afraid of on line education?

A climate of fear is enveloping our major universities. One after the other they are signing up for being part of well capitalized venture financed operations that are offering free on line courses. The companies are paying the universities so, of course, the universities are taking the money. What do they have to lose?

New offerers appear regularly, the latest being one that wants students to attend classes remotely and pay full tuition for the privilege of doing this.

Something important is going on, but it is not quite obvious what. Well, it is to me.

The universities are desperately afraid. Of what?

The university that started all this was MIT when it announced over a decade ago that they would put all their course materials on line, free for all to use. The press made quite a fuss about this, but I said at the time that they just wanted to appear to be doing something, when MIT well knew that the course materials that professors prepare constitute a very unimportant part of what it means to receive an MIT education. (What is important at MIT? Working with faculty and students to create new ideas and new projects.)

I was asked if I wanted to head up that operation and told MIT that I would make real course offerings to create a world wide MIT on line delivery system. I was never called back.

I built a series of on line masters degrees for Carnegie Mellon University a decade ago and was not only not praised for doing this but was immediately fired.

I was explicitly told that Carnegie Mellon didn’t want to sully its brand by having too many Carnegie Mellon degrees out there. They want to be an elite brand name, as do all the major universities.

But, suddenly it seems the game had changed. Every university wants to go on line. But, this is not really the case.

To understand this, you have to think for a moment about courses and what they are all about. Most students take four or five courses at a time as full time students at a university. While they are doing this they play football or work for the student newspaper, or maybe even hold down a real job. Plus there a great many social events to attend, in addition to the constant action of dormitory life.

In the life of your average college student, a lecture course is something to be barely paid attention to at best, or slept through at worst. The fact that a friend can make a video recording of them for you means you can skip them all together.

And this, of course, is the origin of on line courses. As long as someone is making his recording of the lecture available to his friends why shouldn't the university do that and say that that was they wanted to do in the first place. Add a quiz or two, and no one ever has to show up. Voila! Coursera!

But why do the universities agree to this? The answer, as always, seems to be money.

But really the answer is fear. The issue is understanding what they are afraid of exactly.

Here are four things universities are deathly afraid of:

  1. What if the model that “everyone must go to college” stops being pushed by employers and governments?
  2. What if they simply can no longer charge large tuition fees to students?
  3. What if professors, who at top universities are primarily researchers, were actually made to have teaching be their primary activity?
  4. What if the students stop showing up on campus?

The money issue is a big one. Tuition amounts have risen way ahead of inflation supported by readily available student loan programs and by the belief that anyone who doesn’t go to college is more or less useless. We fail to observe how many successful people have never graduated college, including Bill Gates, who never stops promoting school standards, teacher evaluations, and now on line courses. Mr Obama wants to everyone to go college as do the authorities in the U.K. Why exactly? Because the universities are afraid and are lobbying hard for this. When you need a PhD to work in McDonalds however, the model will fall apart, and we are headed in that direction.

All that tuition revenue, and donations from alumni who fondly remember the great football teams and parties, help sustain what is actually an absurd model and every university knows and fears the downfall of that model.

The model is what I like to call the “superstar system.” Top universities compete for superstars in the same way that baseball teams and movie producers do. There are only so many big names and the university that has the most wins. If Harvard has more Nobel Prize winners than Yale, Yale is thinking about this all the time. (I say this as someone who was on the Yale faculty for fifteen years.)

Research universities want to sustain the model that has made them great places to live and work. I loved working at them for 35 years. But the students were, and are, being cheated. Some professors care about the undergraduates at an Ivy League school I am sure. I certainly didn’t.

I was once yelled at by an undergraduate who said he paid big tuition to Yale and I should meet with him at times other then my few and far between office hours. Of course he was right. But the incentives at the research universities are all about publishing and international fame, not about happy undergraduates. 

(I did meet with him by the way and he eventually became a researcher at a major university where the undergraduates find him to be very hard to find.) 

Just the other day, Northwestern University where I ran the Institute for the Learning Sciences for many years announced proudly that they would let people attend classes remotely if they met admission standards and paid full tuition. They should be ashamed of themselves. There are still plenty of people at Northwestern who know how to do on line education correctly. We pretty much invented it there.

But, what we invented was using the computer as a learn by doing device, eliminating lectures and classrooms, and replacing them by projects one could do on the computer with the help of faculty and other students.

I am slowly finding universities who want to use this model on line but the faculty always object to it. No lectures? No theories? Just learning by doing? Oh, the horror. The faculty might have to teach.

So, don’t be too impressed by MOOCs non-MOOCs and any other nonsense that keeps courses with a teacher talking still the staple of university education. Students put up with that because they get degrees they can brag about, not because of all the wonderful stuff they learned. It is not any more wonderful if you are at home in your pajamas.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen - very handy in my new job

Two weeks ago I started a new job. I'm the Chief Information Officer for my district. In this capacity, I oversee the IT department and coordinate technology issues with all other departments, as well as advise on educational technology issues, products, and pedagogy.

This job entails a lot of meetings, issues, and challenges. One way I have been able to keep up with things is through my Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen. With this smartpen, I'm able to take notes in meetings on paper, which is very efficient, especially with my note taking style, which incorporates sketches, symbols, arrows, and more that don't translate well with a keyboard. The smartpen saves all of my notes and syncs them to Evernote over WiFi. This means that all of my notes are stored in Evernote so that I can access them anywhere. They are even searchable. I can also record audio in important or fast moving meetings to make sure I don't miss anything.

I have used it extensively and it has made me more efficient and organized. I am able to take notes quickly, and then have them saved and accessible from anywhere.


Livescribe Sky WiFi Smartpen - save notes and audio via WiFi to Evernote
Evernote for Education Resources

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

InstallFree Nexus & Rndr shutting down - any know of alternatives?

Nexus Logo

InstallFree Nexus and Rndr were two free applications that I found very useful. Unfortunately, they are shutting down on November 15th (tomorrow). 

InstallFree Nexus allowed you to use Microsoft Office or LibreOffice on an iPad, Android Tablet or Chromebook and access your files from a variety of cloud services to edit. 

Rndr enabled any browser to render plugins like Java that may not be compatible with the device. This is very useful for Google Chromebooks, since many educational sites use Java. 

I have not found an alternative for them yet. I'm really hoping for one for Rndr, as it made Java sites accessible on Chromebooks. 

Below is the notice from InstallFree:

November 9th, 2012

To our dedicated customers,
Seven months ago, we launched our InstallFree Nexus and Rndr platforms -- the first services of their kind that enabled users to work with full-featured Windows applications, and access their cloud-stored files, from any device with a web browser.
Unfortunately, we have not been successful in turning these services into a sustainable business for our company and must therefore reconsider our strategy. While this process is going on, we must make the painful decision to shut down these services.
The InstallFree Nexus and Rndr services will shut down on Thursday, November 15th, 2012.
I would like to thank the tens-of-thousands of customers currently using our Nexus and Rndr services. If you are currently subscribed to one of our InstallFree Nexus Premium plans, your subscription fees will be refunded.
We have also prepared a FAQ that you should review at 
For any questions, please contact us at

Online Tech Tips - free online tech help and tips

Online Tech Tips is a great resource for anyone who uses computers. The site has great information on tricks, tips, updates, and fixes for your computer.

There are tips for Windows, Mac, smartphones, and much more.

The site is well designed and easy to use and the tips are written in a way that most computer users can understand. It has a huge variety of information and resources that are very useful.

The site offers RSS feeds and email subscriptions so that you can keep up with any new tips.

Some recent articles that are very useful include: OTT Explains – Is It Better to Log Into Websites using Facebook, Google or Twitter Accounts? and OTT Guide to Understanding Google Chrome Advanced Features.

This site is great for anyone who uses technology.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Prezi Interactive Presentation Tool gets a new interface

Prezi, the zooming presentation editor, has a new version of it's interface. Prezi is a nice alternative to things like PowerPoint for making presentations. Instead of slides, you create presentations using any thing as the basis, from a word to an image. You can change how the presentation moves from part to part and integrate video directly into the presentation.

The new interface is cleaner and standardized and looks more similar to other apps. It is easy to use and easy to find commands and features. The new design also allows for continued expansion and addition of features.

show mode, path mode-1

Path mode

The web version of Prezi is free and you can download your presentation to your computer for offline access. The pro account adds more features and a desktop app.


PreziU - educational community for Prezi in education

Google Lesson Plan Search - easily find great lessons

Google, one of my favorite resources (in addition to Evernote) has lots of great things for education, including free apps and services. They also have a great library of lesson plans for educators. There are thousands of lesson plans available and all are searchable and sortable. Sorting can be done by type of Google product used, subject, or age group. The search and sorting is almost immediate and there are some great resources here.

The Lesson Plan Search is a great way to find free lesson plans and ideas to use in your classroom.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Shared Governance at UW-Madison -- In Jeopardy?

Since last week's Faculty Senate meeting, my email inbox has grown cluttered with letters from faculty, staff, and students who are experiencing violations of shared governance at UW-Madison.  All are afraid to speak out with their names included, fearful of responses from the Administration.  I can't tell you how upsetting this is, especially given my own Biddy battles during the term I was up for tenure.

In any case, one brave soul has decided to allow me to quote from his letter.  I hope you'll consider his words (below) and then decide to join us next week for a discussion of the past and future of shared governance at Madison.

There will be a FORUM on these issues held on Monday November 19 from 5-630 pm in the Wisconsin Idea Room of the School of Education. Sponsors include WUU, TAA, WISCAPE, and UFAS.  You can rsvp here.


Hi Sara,

The biggest issue for me now is the apparent demolition of faculty governance. Wisconsin has a long history of egalitarian democracy and shared governance. It's one of our hallmarks compared to other universities.

The HR redesign process has been most offensive to me in its top-down dictatorial nature. It's like someone asking for you to sign a blank check and saying "trust me" when asked what dollar amount and payee will be written in.

That's like when Noah Feinstein says "the devils that lurk in the details yet to come."

At the last faculty meeting, after the sham representation we received from the University Committee, I thought this whole vote is a sham. They are saying "it's like a courtesy we are being asked to render an opinion, but don't expect to play more than an advisory role."

My immediate thought was to make a motion to postpone so they have to show their cards and reveal it's a sham. When Chad Goldberg beat me too it, and so eloquently too, and you made the ten-faculty-needed-for-a-paper-ballot motion -- well it was one of my happiest days at a faculty senate meeting in my life!

So, I think the bigger issue here is the move by the administration to subvert faculty governance. More people will be outraged by that that the HR redesign.

I liked Noah's statement that faculty governance is the ability "to approve or reject policies - not merely offer advice and input to some uncertain end."

That to me is the crux of the issue.

Crisis in Academic Governance & Standards at CUNY

The following is a guest posting by Robin Rogers, associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). Robin authored the popular "Billionaire Education Policy." She can be reached via email at
Follow her on Twitter: @Robin_Rogers

The City University of New York (CUNY) is in the middle of a clash over budget-driven higher education reform that could rival the Chicago Public School strike, and that is bad for everyone. The epicenter of the crisis right now is in the small, unassuming English department of Queensborough Community College (QCC). 

At issue is CUNY’s implementation of a new program known as Pathwaysthat aims to make transferring among CUNY colleges, particularly from the community colleges to the senior colleges, easier and to improve graduation rates. It is also an attempt to make the CUNY system more cost-effective. All of this seems very rational. In fact, when I first heard about Pathways, I thought it might work. What is happening now, however, is tearing CUNY apart and threatens to diminish the noble CUNY system, with its unmatched diversity, which has been a center of both academic excellence and accessibility for decades.

Before getting into the decidedly local, and very shocking, details of what is happening at CUNY, and which reached a boiling point last week at QCC, I want to make it clear that CUNY is not a unique case. Similar dynamics are at work throughout higher education and, thankfully, some universities are handling it with  grace and wisdom. (For an example see, THIS is What Shared Governance Looks Like! ) That bodes well not only for those universities but also for the future of the institution of higher education.

As with all major events, the CUNY Pathways crisis has a long history and many facets. I’ll start with the event that was significant enough to merit coverage in the New York Times on September 17th. Here is what happened.

On September 12th, 2012 Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs at Queensborough College, Karen Steelecame to the English Department’s faculty meeting to discuss a proposed change to the department’s composition courses that would make it a 3-hour course rather than a 4-hour course and thus compliant with the new CUNY Pathways rule. According to a faculty member present, “She also brought a host of threats, including some of the ones that she later put into writing in her infamous emailwhich essentially threatened to dissolve our entire department.  It was clear that she expected our department to roll over and vote to pass the new courses – if you can call something a vote when only one outcome is acceptable and the other outcome results in the termination of your employment.
Professor David Humphries, then the Deputy Chair of the English Department was quoted in the Times as saying “It’s hard to understand how teaching less English, less math, less science and less foreign languages could be good for students,” Echoing concerns expressed by many other faculty across CUNY campuses, including myself, Humphries continued, “Under the guise of streamlining transferability we’re actually watering down the students’ education.
It gets worse. Much worse.
The English department voted against dropping the fourth hour of instruction on the grounds that it was academically unsound; their students needed more time. Then they elected David Humphries as Chairman of the English Department by an almost 3/4th majority faculty vote.
On November 6th, Election Day -- one hopes this simply reflects President Call’s finely honed sense of irony -- Queensborough College President Diane Call rejected the vote for Humphries. Instead, she replaced the faculty-elected Humphries with her own self appointed interim chair (who was brought out of retirement to take on the task) and announced that she would be conducting a national search for a new department chair. The interim chair would take over administrative tasks, while Vice-President Karen Steele – yes, you do remember that name – would assume tasks such as bringing faculty members up for promotion and tenure.
The English Department issued an open letter demanding that President Call reverse her decision and respect faculty autonomy in departmental governance. A petition is also being circulated, which you can sign and circulate online.
The events at QCC are only a part of what is happening at CUNY.  Now there is a lawsuit against Pathways by the faculty union. There very well may be another lawsuit over Call’s recall of a department chair, which appears to violate the bylaws of the faculty that requires that a petition to the Faculty Executive Committee be signed by a majority of the full-time faculty members of the department. Last week, Staten Island College faculty voted to reject Pathways. Other colleges and departments are taking similar action. Foreign languages, classics, and philosophy – the core of the traditional humanities – are extremely limited under Pathways. And so much more.
This promises to be an interesting and important week for higher education and for CUNY. If you want to follow what is happening on twitter, you can follow #CUNYPathways.
Full disclosure: I worked with Professor Humphries almost ten years ago when he was at Queens College, and I have the highest regard for him.

Update: 11/13/11

The following email was sent to members of the Queensborough Community College English Department late this morning:

It is my decision to accept the recommendation forwarded by the English Department for Dr. David Humphries to serve as its Chairperson, effective November 14, 2012.
In a lengthy meeting with Dr. Humphries yesterday, he expressed his willingness and ability to advance the important work of the English Department in curricular and personnel matters. I have confidence in and appreciate his sincerity to unite the department as a community, in the best interests of the College and our students.

Thank you.
Dr. Diane B. Call
Interim President
Queensborough Community College