CC SlideI will warn you this post has little to do with higher education and more to do with something that has been annoying me. I would like to tell you it is something really important to world peace, betterment of mankind, or even something witty. Nope. It is about credit card commercials and the close-up shot of their card being swiped by a customer.

It’s backwards! The card is scanned so the logo of the credit card is visible, but when it is swiped this way, the magnetic strip is not going through the credit card machine. It started with Chase Freedom. I am a Chase customer and it drove me crazy every time I watched the commercials. Now, Tina Fey is doing it with her AmEx!  While I am a loyal customer of American Express, I shudder when I am forced to watch this atrocity happen over and over again in their #EveryDayMoments campaign.

So what is the deal? Do they think we don’t care? Truth is, my guess is that the general public doesn’t care. Is it vanity? Is their name so important that if we didn’t see their logo we would not believe the message?  Is this tactic designed to inspire me to leave my comfy spot on the couch to go shopping with my American Express card?  Not today, AmEx.

Enough of this rant. By the way, Disaronno, stop spinning the square lid on your Amaretto bottle clockwise to remove it.  Guess no one ever told their advertising agency about leftie loosie, rightie tightie.

When it comes to ways of assessing student learning, we in higher education typically fall into a couple of tried-and-true, boring and inefficient ways methods. We tend to gravitate to the old standbys: tests, quizzes, and the occasional written assignment. But we try not to use too many of those written assignments because, heaven forbid, they do not self-grade in the LMS.

Check out the Periodic Table of Storytelling.

Periodic Table of Storytelling

Periodic Table of Storytelling
You can get this for your use. Click on the image to go to the website to order.

Harkening back to the dreaded periodic table of elements from chemistry class, this is a new spin on storytelling. One of my colleagues at Colby Community College, Dr. Michael Thompson, uses storytelling in his classes and has found it to be an effective way of determining a student’s acquisition of knowledge. When I viewed the table, I chose the Rad – Getting things past the radar element as it appealed to my penchant for trying to get things past the radar, or at least fly under it.

So, next time you are trying to assess student learning, have your student select one of the elements from the chart and write a short story about the content they are being assessed upon. Although it’s true that it will not self grade, you might be pleasantly surprised by the stories your students tell!


Publish or Perish Cartoon

Publish or Perish Cartoon

Academic research is often seen as the basis for promotion through the faculty ranks and the golden ticket to tenure. Turns out, most of it is a waste of time. Although there still remains a small contingency of academics who believe tenure should be based on a professor’s ability to teach students rather than how often he or she is published in academic journals, the old adage of “publish or perish” prevails. A study conducted by Indiana University found that 90% of papers published in academic journals are never cited by anyone else and as many as 50% of papers have only seen the eyes of their authors, referees and editors.

In an effort to see how my limited academic publishing has impacted the world, I used to search for references to my academic research. Among with some non-academic articles, I found my dissertation. I am proud to say at least five committee members, plus my advisor (and a few editors I bribed with beer) consumed this bit of brilliance. I figure about ten other people have feasted on my writing, albeit probably by accident. According to my calculations, approximately three times as many people have read my literary contributions than have read the vast majority of most other academic authors. BOOM.

As I neared the end of the short list of citations, I was surprised to see a reference in a book entitled Redemption Concluded written by Van G. Gill and published in 2012 by Friesen Press. I was thrilled to see my work being used by a fellow scholar and to learn how my study of the personal characteristics of effective turnaround presidents at private, not-for-profit institutions would fit into this book. Maybe the non-traditional characteristics I discovered in my dissertation were finally getting noticed and were being validated by the academic community! While I eagerly read though the citation, which correctly identified me as the (former) VP for Institutional Advancement at Sterling College, I learned the author of “Dispensationalism” is, in fact, the Reverend Mark Sarver, a title no one has ever mistakenly bestowed upon me.


So, although I was cited in an academic work, it was in error. But don’t tell Friesen Press – they may want those royalty checks back.

Publish or Paris Cartoon

Publish or Paris Cartoon

Student Loans

5 Second Rule SpongeBobWe all know the rule. If you drop food on the floor and pick it up in less than five seconds, the food gods will keep it safe from the germs, microorganisms and general dirt-laden carnage on the floor.  The rule has expanded beyond food; I have personally witnessed a young mother scoop up her progeny’s pacifier from the floor and pop it back in the baby’s mouth and shout out, “Five-Second Rule!”  And that makes it OK.

Turns out, according to a study conducted at Ashton University in Birmingham, England, the five-second rule actually has some research-driven science behind its validity. Not that I really needed evidence to support my own personal comfort with the five-second rule, but I do feel somewhat better now.

Cocaine and the sexual habits of quail,

Cocaine and the sexual habits of quail

But not all research conducted by American universities (whose funding comes from the taxpayers albeit through government agencies) is as valuable. Consider some of the grants that have been funded for research at our illustrious institutions of higher education, like the 2010 award of $181,406 to Dr. Chana Atkins at the University of Kentucky to study how cocaine enhances the sex drive of Japanese quail, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.

Not sure who wrote that grant, but I would like them to write a grant for the study of stupid studies at American Universities. And the justification for quail grant, which I am sure was written much more eloquently in the Statement of Need, was that there appears to be a tendency for people who use cocaine to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Really? And the birds, turns out Japanese quail have sex a lot in the lab, even without the cocaine.

Student LoansThe government just released the new amount for Pell Grants next year – $5,730.

That means that if the Department of Education would have given this money to deserving students instead of buying cocaine for horny birds, thirty-one more students could have had the opportunity to go to school.

That makes my head hurt.  Maybe Dr. Atkins would like to research that?

Confusion of MOOCs

Shaky CheeseWhen I was little, one of my favorite meals was a big bowl of spaghetti with extra Parmesan cheese on top.  My mother always let me shake the green can of cheese over the steaming pile of pasta, and I would shake until I had a perfect dusting of cheesy golden deliciousness.  We gave it the nickname “Shaky Cheese.”

Recently, a movement gained traction at the trade talks with the European Union to limit the use of common food names that are based on European cities, regions or even culture. If this comes to pass, then only cheese that is made in Parma, Italy can be sold as Parmesan cheese. Such a fate also looms large for Feta, Asiago, Gorgonzola, Fontina, Grana, Muenster, Neufchatel, Romano –and that’s just the cheeses! What travesty lies in store for Greek yogurt, Valencia oranges and Black Forest ham?

So why the push to limit others from using these names that we in the United States consider generic? It’s financial. The EU sees these “imposters” as cutting into their business and reducing their sales.

Maybe those of us that have been in the online education for years should get the EU to advocate for MOOCs to stop using Online as part of their name. How can it be fair that we have been doing it for years but they are getting the attention?  Oh wait, MOOC providers have yet to figure out a business model that really works, so the EU probably won’t help us. And, besides, MOOCs really are not cutting into our business or reducing our sales; if anything they are bringing validity to online education in some twisted fashion.

MOOCs Confusion

MOOCs Confusion

I will continue to think about this over lunch – a tasty near the black forest ham sandwich and chips. Guess we will need a new word for sandwich, too.

It is so awesome that our Senators in Washington want to help fix accreditation. You know the adage – The worst thing you can hear is “Hi, I’m from Washington and I am here to help.” Let’s not forget it was our friendly Senator from Iowa that got this whole state authorization mess started, ostensibly in an effort to stop the spread of for-profit institutions. We all know how that bit of “help” has played out.

Now, Senator Mike Lee from Utah and Mike Rubio from Florida are proposing legislation that will “overhaul accreditation,” their words not mine. As we look at their proposals, you will see it is less about an overhaul and more about a giant uninformed mess on the horizon.

First, Senator Lee is proposing the HERO Act, which his website touts will make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible. How? By allowing all 50 states and the District of Columbia to develop their own systems of accreditation. This makes state authorization look like kids’ play. He also feels this will “open the floodgates of innovation.” Yeah, states play so well together. Can you imagine the transferability issues?

School of Hard Knocks Not AccreditedAnd Senator Rubio called for a “swift overhaul of accreditation.” Again, sounds like something I have been advocating for a while. And how is the good Senator going to do this? By creating an independent accrediting body to accredit free online courses. Great, so now we have regional accrediting bodies, national accrediting bodies, state accrediting bodies and now an independent accrediting body. Tell me again how this reduces costs?

Hey Washington! If you want to help, do away with the Department of Education and allow those federal funds to stay in the states. The states that want a competitive workforce will fund their schools and students. This of course would eliminate all ties of federal funds to regional and national accreditation. Ever wonder how many institutions would be regionally accredited if their Title IV funds were not tied to this antiquated model?

Share what your thoughts are with me below. I’d like to know I’m not alone…

Medical ErrorsAs I was traveling by car to my parent’s home in West Virginia, I was listening to NPR on the radio. I am not sure which program or even the name of the guest because of the lack of reception in the mountains, but I listened in amazement as the host and a physician discussed a study published in the September 2013 Journal of Patient Safety.  The study revealed that the number of patients that die each year from preventable negligence caused by the hospital or medical provider ranges between 210,000 on the low end to over 400,000.

That makes medical errors the third leading killer of Americans behind heart disease and cancer.

My brain was spinning. Think of the amount of money spent to inform the public about the behaviors and foods that contribute to heart disease and cancer and the next biggest killer is the health care system itself!  Naturally, my thoughts turned to training and education. Numerous studies have shown the way we train physicians is ineffective and harmful. Hours working with little to no sleep, using patients as human Guiney pigs and the volumes of information medical students commit to memory in order to seem prepared for rounds. What could possibly be the reason we continue to train doctors this way? Mostly because their teachers, the doctors in the teaching hospitals, were trained that way: a right of passage they too must pass.

How about if we applied technology? My daughter became very ill several years ago and we rushed her to the emergency room in a small rural Kansas hospital. The young ER doctor that came in to examine her had a very troubled look on her face after her initial examination. She reached into her lab coat and pulled out an iPad and began searching. I must admit I was a bit worried. Did she not remember the stuff she learned in medical school? Was my daughter so sick that she had to look up some rare condition?

The doctor saw my expression and quite frankly stated they don’t get many cases like this in their hospital and she wanted to make sure her treatment plan reflected the most recent medical developments. Although I consider myself to be a technology evangelist of sorts, I was humbled by my lack of confidence in this young doctor because she was supporting her knowledge with technology. If you have seen my presentations or keynotes, you know that I am a huge advocate of changing our education system to teach students how to acquire information instead of memorizing it, which is precisely what the actions of this young doctor exemplified.

As the doctor on the NPR program pointed out, it is not about throwing money at the problem; rather it is about a systemic overhaul of the healthcare system. Imagine what could be achieved if higher education leaders stop throwing money at their problems and start changing the way we teach.

Worried about online authentication for your students? I’m excited to share this case study published about eduKan in Community College Week’s Spring 2014 Technology SupplementClick here to download the case study to find out how this biometric technology from BSI has helped cut operational costs, student proctoring fees and deters online cheating by students.

CCWeek Case Study: eduKan and  BioSig-ID

CCWeek Case Study: eduKan and BioSig-ID

CCW’s 2014 Technology Supplement features case studies, and the development and use of mobile Apps in community colleges.

SiestaMy grandfather immigrated to the United States from Spain in 1917. I remind everyone of this when I recline in my office for a much-needed afternoon nap, the Siesta. For me it is hereditary, that is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

But now, the very existence of the Siesta is in jeopardy. With Spain in an economic crisis, the government is now taking seriously a push to end the afternoon two-hour lunch and nap, in an effort to make the country more productive.

Productivity NapsIn a recent New York Times article, Ignacio Buqueras, an outspoken advocate of eliminating the Siesta states, “Spain has to break the bad habits it has accumulated over the past 40 or 50 years.” This is followed by comments from a working mom and Lawyer, Paula Del Pino, “Spanish society is still old-fashioned. The ones who rule are old-fashioned, and here, they like it like it is.”

Wow, I think I have said those exact words about higher education! If Spain actually jettisons the Siesta, there might be hope for change in higher education. Until then, I need a nap. Wake me up if there is any change.

Last month President Obama convened over 100 college presidents and leaders of organizations, foundations and companies that service higher education. The goal was to increase the opportunities for low-income students to attend college. The 47-page report released after the meeting is rife with humor if you understand the dynamics of the changes in higher education. If you are not aware of the changes, it has all of the components of a great political gathering to “share ideas”.

Here is what the White House gives as reasons why improving access to higher education is important for low-income students:

  • The share of jobs that require postsecondary education has doubled over the last 40 years, as jobs require more skills.
  • In 1990, the U.S. ranked first in the world in four-year degree attainment among 25-34 year olds; today the U.S. ranks 12th.
  • While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do.
  • Colleges have grown more competitive, restricting access. While the number of applicants to four-year colleges and universities has doubled since the early 1970’s, available slots have changed little.

And the interventions proposed:

  1. Connecting low-income students to colleges where they can succeed
  2. Increasing the pool of students prepared for college
  3. Reducing the inequalities in college advising and test preparation
  4. Breakthroughs in remedial education

Call me silly, but isn’t this that what community colleges do already? While the White House will not release a list of the attendees, you can see by the list of those signing commitments there are very few representatives from community colleges on the list. One explanation given is because community colleges are already doing this, the White House needed commitments from those who are not actively focused on low-income students. Again, why give the attention to those who are doing it or have them present to the group what is working in the field? Nope. Let’s have a summit and gather those with little or no experience to help set the policy and focus.

Frois Gras for Everyone

Foie Gras for Everyone

Second, the College Board – you know the group that administers the SAT test and who also runs test prep programs to help students score better on their tests – well, the College Board has agreed to provide four college application fee waivers to income sensitive students who take their test. How about the College Board waiving the cost for the test to low-income students? And if the College Board was really going to go all in, why not give low-income students the test prep for free also? Oh wait, that cuts into their profits. Low-income students don’t have the resources to pay for expensive test prep programs like wealthy kids and this in itself puts them at a disadvantage. Maybe colleges should stop using SAT tests for low-income students as part of the admission process. This is a novel idea!

And good news! Yale, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia are teaming up to send 300 low-income students back to their home communities to talk about their experience. Plus, they are going to mail 20,000 pieces of direct mail to low-income students and hold 18 sessions in cities where Ivy League applications are historically low. It’s a bit like taking foie gras to a soup kitchen and telling them this delicious meal is what they should be eating. Are these schools opening up more slots, displacing legacy students and high income, high SAT students? Yeah, that’s funny too.

More to come on this topic but please, White House, consider hosting a summit for community college presidents, faculty and students if you really want help with reaching more low-income students. Maybe the biggest laugh yet. I kill me.