The Perils Of Seeking Free T-Shirts

Posted October 2, 2015 By Steve

“You don’t ask, you don’t get.” — Bernard von NotHaus

Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union logo
I was at the credit union this morning and saw that they were having a promotion there where all the tellers and other people at the branch were all wearing really cool t-shirts. One of the lessons I’ve learned along the way is that if you want something you may as well ask for it, because generally the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be told no. And maybe laughed at a little. So I asked whether there were any extras, just in case there were a few still in the back or something. I knew the likely answer was, “Nice try, but no.” Still, I’m always happy to shoot for a free t-shirt.

Well, things spiralled out of control. Despite my protestations that it was merely an idle question, the lady took my information to pass on to Ashley B., their marketing manager, who later called me to say that she would be happy to get me one of the cool COFCU sporty t-shirts — but in return she’d like to photograph me in it and use the pictures in social media.

It would have seemed awfully rude to have asked that and then been unwilling to do anything in return, and besides, I’m actually happy to help them out. Most of the banks I’ve ever dealt with have screwed me sooner or later, but the people at the credit union have always done their best to bend rules or make exceptions if they were unnecessary and were between me and my money. And Ashley seemed really nice. So I told her that I couldn’t imagine how using a picture of me could possibly not chase prospective members away, but that sure, she was welcome to take some if for some reason they thought it would help.

So I suppose now I’ll prepare for my fifteen minutes of fame as a D-list local credit union celebrity. And I’ll have to amend that life lesson: If you want something you may as well ask for it… but be careful what you ask for, because you may get it.

And as a message from our sponsor, if you live, work, or shop in or near Alexandria, Virginia, and you’d rather own a small piece of a credit union than be owned piecemeal by a bank, check out Commonwealth One Federal Credit Union, and tell them the t-shirt guy sent you.

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Marco Rubio Is A Fool And A Hypocrite

Posted August 4, 2015 By Steve

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” — George Bernard Shaw

Marco Rubio with mouth wide open
I’m not planning to comment much on the U.S. presidential election process that unfortunately has already started to be foisted upon us all. In fact, I really do plan to ignore it as much as humanly possible. But sometimes a politician says something that’s so asinine and hypocritical that it simply cannot pass unchallenged.

Given who has the longest and most inglorious track record of making such statements you may think I’m talking about The Donald, but surprisingly it’s one of the other ones who’s stumbled across the tripwire of absurdity, one about whom I really didn’t know very much before today. This fool is named Marco Rubio.

I refer specifically to Rubio’s recent comments about higher education. As Bloomberg reports:

Rubio, 44, said he’d “bust this cartel” by establishing a new accreditation process more welcoming to low-cost, innovative providers. “This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition, which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students — just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy,” he said.

This is asinine because it shows that Mr. Rubio is not afraid to get up in front of large groups of people and show that he knows nothing about how innovation in higher education works. It’s true that the regional accreditors are a somewhat exclusive club, but considering that they let in any school that meets their stated criteria, including such controversial institutions as the University of Phoenix, one can hardly rightfully call them a cartel.

Moreover, there are alternative paths where organizations that don’t fit the normal pattern can be part of the higher education system. Alternative accreditors like the Distance Education Accrediting Commission exist for this very purpose, and while better known schools vary in their acceptance of schools accredited by DEAC and the like, that’s an individual decision on the part of each school, it’s not systematic exclusion. Moreover, there are not one but two organizations where even non-academic providers of education and training can have their non-academic credentials be evaluated as the equivalent to college credit and accepted in transfer: the American Council on Education and the National College Credit Recommendation Service. In other words, what Mr. Rubio is calling for so loudly has already existed for decades.

But his merely being poorly informed is hardly unique. Perhaps as a back bencher he simply cannot afford competent advisors. What is truly inexcusable is the hypocrisy and how it drives home how ill suited for leadership this man truly is. How so? He refers to market forces as part of his call for public interference in an accreditation system that is conducted voluntarily by private agencies! It may be unclear whether he has no idea what market forces are, or whether he’s just using the term as a buzzword to try to sound good to those who advocate for free markets, but either way all he succeeds in doing is demonstrating that he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the reins of true power.

I realize that he’s far from the only Republican who praises free markets with one face while calling for big government with the other. But with this example coming so early and so brazenly, if no one calls him on it then it’s not a very good sign for things to come in the next fifteen interminable months.


The Drawbacks Of Regulation

Posted July 21, 2015 By Steve

“The regulatory systems in place disincentive innovation. It’s intense to fight the red tape.” — Travis Kalanick, co-founder of Uber

Govt. Regulations
Recently, Dominica’s Director of Trade, Matthan Walter, announced that the Government of Dominica will soon implement consumer protection legislation. To most people this initially sounds like a good idea. After all, no one wants consumers to be defrauded. And Mr Walter referred to the downside of the lack of such legislation. That’s fair enough; it’s his job to explain the rationale for implementing new measures. Still, it’s also important to remember that implementing such legislation carries downsides of its own.

For example, yet another arm of government is being created here, and that doesn’t happen without tax money. Nothing in life is free: either taxes will go up, or else less tax money will be available to do other things. Will roads be repaired more slowly? Will schools have fewer resources than they would have otherwise? Also, regulations mean additional costs for businesses, which is why one of the lessons of economics is that the more regulations you have, the more prices go up.

There’s also an assumption that every aspect of this legislation is really meant to protect consumers. That’s probably true in this case, but Dominicans should beware, as in other countries this has turned out to be less and less so as this sort of legislation gets expanded more and more over time. It’s also a very short step from using regulation to protect consumers from what is clearly harmful, to using regulation to push consumers into buying what you think they should want and away from buying what you think they shouldn’t want. When government is given enough power to help you, it also has enough power to control you.

A final concern is that this legislation is basically being imported wholesale from CARICOM. This is supposedly being implemented as a trade measure when the only ones affected are Dominicans. There’s no need for an international organisation to come up with this sort of legislation for small countries to implement obediently as a treaty obligation. CARICOM should stick to discussing unambiguously international matters like implementing free trade and free movement. They are not an unelected parliament for the Caribbean, and they should be resisted when they presume to act like one. The Europeans tried handing significant political power over to a centralised bureaucracy, the EU, and as one can read in the news these days this has led to Greece teetering on bankruptcy and the UK considering withdrawal altogether. Europeans may be wealthy enough as a whole to afford that sort of commotion, but Caribbean countries are not.

Ultimately, whether it concerns this legislation in particular or CARICOM as a whole, we’d all do well to remember that regardless of who is in power, and regardless of good intentions, there’s no way to make government bigger without consequences. In some cases most people will find those consequences acceptable, and that’s fair enough, but without considering them it’s not possible to make a truly informed policy decision.


“A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” — John C. Maxwell

Over at Quartz, commentator Matt Phillips has written a piece called Face it: America’s experiment with for-profit colleges has failed. As someone who has worked in American higher education for a number of years, including for-profit and non-profit institutions, I generally agree with Mr. Phillips that many of the marketing-driven for profit schools that participate in the federal system of guaranteed financial aid are overpriced and unremarkable.

However, as with most articles about higher education written by those who don’t come from our industry, it’s an article painted with too broad a brush. Sure, there are schools like Corinthian’s, but there are also schools like Sullivan University and American Military University that are for profit and participate in the federal financial aid system, yet have earned a good reputation for delivering a decent education at a price that compares with non-profit competitors.

Ultimately I believe that universities should be evaluated the same as people — as individuals rather than as members of a group. That said, if we are going to compare universities by category, I’ve come to wonder whether it might be worthwhile for journalists and commentators to take a look at the relative behavior of schools not based on whether they are for profit or not, but to compare those that are publicly traded with those that are privately held. My guess is that we would see the lion’s share of anti-social behavior at the schools that answer to Wall Street rather than those that answer to an owning family or partnership.

Also worthy of more reporting are those for profit universities accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission that do not particulate in the federal financial aid system, and who have much lower tuition rates as a result. In fact, some of these institutions are among the best values in all of American higher education. Their very existence suggests that guaranteed federal financial aid is a contributing factor in the high cost of going to college, that when that system makes tens of thousands of dollars available to anyone with a signature and a pulse, it introduces an ocean of money that tuition rates then rise to soak up.

But will journalists and commentators who write about American higher education ever go after these higher hanging fruit? One can only hope.


Editor’s note: A friend of mine needs a few more respondents for her doctoral research. If you meet the criteria and can spare a few minutes, please contact Aine Irbe at

My name is Aina G. Irbe and I am a doctoral student at Capella University in the School of Education. I am pursuing my degree in Instructional for Online Learning. Currently, I am working on my dissertation study, titled “Application of Universal Design for Learning in Corporate Technical Training Design : A Quantitative Study.” I would like to invite you to participate in my study. You will be able to participate in the study if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are a professional who currently works in a corporate or US Federal employment setting.
  • You are a professional who has worked in the corporate or Federal employment setting in the last 10 years.
  • You have worked in the corporate environment for at least one year.
  • You are between the ages of 18-65.

The purpose of this quantitative, experimental study is to examine the application of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles as an instructional design strategy to the design of a self-paced, online course focused on technical training in a corporate setting.

The study will use a randomized two-group design to compare and analyze adult posttest (Final Quiz) results for two self-paced online trainings on a technical topic (software training); one will include the checkpoints from the three principles of the UDL principles while the other training will apply traditional instructional design strategies based on the Department of Defense Interactive Media Instruction (IMI) Guidelines. The posttest (Final Quiz) will be the same for either training.

The second part of the study will explore to what extent the application of UDL as an instructional design strategy impacts participant achievement in the cognitive and psychomotor domains. The results of this study may identify specific instructional design strategies that instructional designers working in the field of online learning could use to guide their work, guide the future of instructional design practices and processes in organizations developing online self-paced courses, change the approach for delivering training on technical topics, and inform corporations on long-term strategic planning for training programs including online learning.

Please know that participation in this study is certainly voluntary. All data will be handled securely by the researcher. Privacy will be protected using anonymity throughout the data collection process. All the information about the participants, including name, job title and name of the organization will be kept confidential. Your Final Quiz results will be presented as part of a statistical analysis, and your name or any other demographic will not be identified or related to any score or information about Final Quiz results. In any written reports or publications, no one will be able to identify individual participants.

If you decide to be in this study, your participation will take about one hour by the end of April. The study will consist of completing a 30-45 minute online course and taking a Final Quiz. You are not required to come to any location for the study activities or own any specific software; a URL will be sent to you. All communications will be conducted via email unless you have other preference (for example, post mail).

I will first send you a demographic questionnaire, then a consent form, and finally the link and log in to the course site.

Your consideration for participating in this study will be greatly appreciated. If you have any question concerning the study, please feel free to contact me at

Aina G. Irbe
Doctoral Learner, Capella University


Going Through The Journalistic Motions

Posted April 18, 2015 By Steve

“Journalism: an ability to meet the challenge of filling the space.” — Rebecca West

Recently on a LinkedIn group about international education, a contributor posted an article called Keeping up with the Digital Natives. There were so many things wrong with this article that my response wouldn’t fit as a LinkedIn comment. But not to worry, here I have all the space I need to do a complete autopsy of shoddy education journalism, and this article definitely requires it.

It might be hard to believe, but just a few years ago, analysts and insiders alike were predicting the downfall of the university system at the hands of massive open online courses.

Yes, there were some attention seekers saying that sort of thing a few years ago, but this makes it sound like everyone active in higher education believed this, when a lot of us knew immediately that this was patently ridiculous and have said so all along.

Elsewhere, studies have shown that online learners underperform against their face-to-face peers.

The author says studies, yet links to an article reporting on only one study, and a flawed one at that. For example, that this is referred to as “the first rigorous test of the effects of live versus online instruction on student performance” is absurd. Research has been conducted on the efficacy of distance learning since at least 1928 (there being no Internet then, that was studying correspondence courses), and the majority of those studies show no significant different in efficacy between a properly constructed online course and a properly constructed classroom-based course. In particular, a meta-analysis done by the U.S. Department of Education a few years back confirmed that across many studies there is no significant difference between the two — although it did conclude that hybrid learning, where both modes of instruction are used, are slightly better than either one on its own.

Moreover, this article has a whole undercurrent here that is all too common in education journalism, that of confusing MOOCs with online education as a whole. MOOCs are a small, recent segment of online education. Not distinguishing between them is an amateur’s mistake.

Hitchcock offered four points to back up his argument:

Note that the article has moved on to interview an executive of a company that provides online learning services to universities. That’s fair enough, it’s a profile piece after all, but everything he says should be considered in that light.

one, there is no economic value in a MOOC – “at some stage even a university that gets government funding needs to have some sort of revenue coming in,” he says.

MOOCs can serve many purposes for a university. Those with strong financials can offer MOOCs simply as a public service, and since they’re not credit bearing they don’t cannibalise the institution’s basic revenue model. But MOOCs don’t necessarily have to be written off as charity, because they can also be considered a marketing expense when they are promoted skillfully and attract positive attention to the institution offering them.

Two, MOOCs have huge drop out rates – up to 93 percent of starters.

That assumes that one measures completion of a MOOC as necessarily being the goal of the student. But there’s no reason to assume that. Many students are simply curious, or are interested in a few topics covered but not others. Since (real) MOOCs have no barrier to entry, there’s no reason for them to pick and choose from what’s available in a course, even if it’s just a quick overview. That’s not failure, that’s success.

Three, universities are instrumental in the transition from being a child to being a self-determining adult, he says, something you can’t get from a MOOC.

MOOCs aren’t supposed to replace the university campus experience for young adults. They’re much better at being continuing education for working professionals, or an avenue for personal development. That they have a more limited role than their most enthusiastic supports claim doesn’t mean that MOOCs don’t make sense at all for universities to offer.

And finally, the issue of accreditation – “how do you prove that person who has taken that assessment or who has been doing that work is in fact the person who signed up?”

Firstly, that’s not what the word accreditation means. Secondly, as I’ve previously written, there’s evidence that students learning online are less likely to cheat than their classroom-based peers, not more. Besides, considering the recent Harvard cheating scandal or the long time systemic academic dishonestly at UNC-Chapel Hill, even the best regarded classroom-based providers should maintain better vigilance.

The rest of this is simply a venue for the executive to praise how brilliant his own company is. Fine so far as it goes, since that’s the purpose of the article. But if Navitas’s understanding of their own industry is as flawed as their CIO’s comments make it sound, I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.


I Am A Salesman

Posted August 25, 2014 By Steve

Note: The author of this piece is unknown, although presumably is American. I myself am not a salesman, although I appreciate what they do more than most people do, in part for the reasons this author outlines.

I am proud to be a salesman, because more than any other man, I and millions of others like me, built America.

The man who builds a better mouse trap — or a better anything — would starve to death if he waited for people to beat a pathway to his door. Regardless of how good or how needed the product or service might be, it has to be sold.

Eli Whitney was laughed at when he showed his cotton gin. Edison had to install his electric light free of charge in an office building before anyone would even look at it. The first sewing machine was smashed to pieces by a Boston mob. People scoffed at the idea of railroads. They thought that traveling even thirty miles an hour would stop the circulation of the blood! McCormick strived for 14 years to get people to use his reaper. Westinghouse was considered a fool for stating he could stop a train with wind. Morse had to plead before 10 Congresses before they would even look at his telegraph.

The public didn’t go around demanding these things; they had to be sold!!

They needed thousands of salesmen, trailblazers and pioneers – people who could persuade with the same effectiveness as the inventor could invent. Salesmen took these inventions, sold the public on what these products could do, taught customers how to use them, and then taught businessmen how to make a profit from them.

As a salesman, I’ve done more to make America what it is today than any other person you know. I was just as vital in your great-great-grandfather’s day as I am in yours, and I will be just as vital in your great-great-grandson’s day. I have educated more people, created more jobs, taken more drudgery from the laborer’s work, given more profits to businessmen, and have given more people a fuller and richer life than anyone in history. I’ve dragged prices down, pushed quality up, and made it possible for you to enjoy the comforts and luxuries of automobiles, radios, electric refrigerators, televisions, and air conditioned homes and buildings. I’ve healed the sick, given security to the aged, and put thousands of young men and women through college. I’ve made it possible for inventors to invent, for factories to hum, and for ships to sail the seven seas.

How much money you find in your pay envelope next week, and whether in the future you will enjoy the luxuries of prefabricated homes, stratospheric flying of airplanes, and new world of jet propulsion and atomic power, depends on me. The loaf of bread you bought today was on a baker’s shelf because I made sure that a farmer’s wheat got to a mill, that the mill made wheat into flour, and that the flour was delivered to your baker.

Without me, the wheels of industry would come to a grinding halt. And with that, jobs, marriages, politics and freedom of thought would be a thing of the past. I AM A SALESMAN and I’m proud and grateful that as such, I serve my family, my fellow man and my country.


Meet The New Site, Same As The Old Site

Posted August 14, 2014 By Steve

New and Improved!
This is basically just a housekeeping note, but I’ve changed the name of this site to, which now the primary domain name I’ll use in my personal life. I’ve used for over a decade, but it developed a technical hiccup with Google after a specious DMCA claim, and besides, it makes it seem like I’m always looking for new employment when that’s not at all the case.

That means that my new permanent email address is But don’t worry if you forget, since all previous email addresses will still reach me indefinitely.


Racism in American Higher Education

Posted July 11, 2014 By Steve

Consider the following quote:

With white birth rates falling, a major demographic shift is coming. Are colleges ready for a more diverse pool of prospective college students? This special issue looks at efforts under way at several colleges to serve underrepresented and underprepared students, who are more likely to need additional support to graduate. Meeting their needs may help some colleges preserve enrollment levels even if it means the occasional “hand-holding” is necessary to achieve success.

Who do you think described an expected increase of students of color in this way? Was it some Secretary of Education from a state with a Republican administration? Was it some ultraconservative commentator on one of those rightwing web sites that pretends to be news? Was it an argument used by segregationists in decades past?

No, it was the Chronicle of Higher Education, selling a special publication called Diversity in Academe Spring 2014. It might sound like it belongs more in 1964, or 1864 for that matter, but unfortunately this is supposed to be the state of the art of thinking in higher education administration.

I’ve worked in higher education for over ten years. In that time I’ve worked closely with many students who were the first in their families to attend university, many of whom needed somewhere to go for extra advice. But this lack of sophistication didn’t come from their skin color. I met many students of color who were perfectly comfortable in a higher education environment, and white students who didn’t really understand what was going on and needed a bit more support. In my observation, this was a function of the level of affluence from which these students came, not how much melanin was in their skin.

Now, I’m not unmindful that if grouped together that students of color are more likely than white students to have come from a working class background. But if you really want to help someone, you look at the whole person as an individual, you don’t just start with what color they are as a lazy and inaccurate substitute for finding out who they really are and what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Ethnicity might be part of the individual experience, and some people take it very seriously, but this is dwarfed by the variation that comes from being an individual and it shouldn’t define people. For the Chronicle of Higher Education to offer advice that uses race as a starting point isn’t just doing students a disservice, it’s nothing less than the soft bigotry of lower expectations writ large.


Do Distance Learners Cheat More?

Posted May 31, 2014 By Steve

“I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating.” — Sophocles

Recently I got into a conversation on a LinkedIn group with someone who believes that cheating must be more widespread by distance learners than those learning in a classroom since only in the latter case can “trusted authorities confirm your performance and mastery because they personally witnessed it.”

Now, this argument is just about as old as distance learning itself, but there are some assumptions behind it that I think are pretty shaky, such as that assessments in both modes of instruction are only based on closed book, closed note exams; that it is not possible for classroom-based students to cheat on such exams; and that there are no processes or technologies available to verify the identity of distance learning students.

In a large lecture hall where there are hundreds of students, those administering tests don’t necessarily know the one sitting the exam is the one whose name it one it. Sure, there are best practices that minimize this risk, but not all schools use them. Harvard’s recent cheating scandal resulted from take home exams, for instance. So much for trusted authorities personally witnessing the performance of their students!

Similarly, when a student hands in a paper, regardless of whether it’s directly onto an instructor’s desk or through an online dropbox, there’s no way to know whether that student really wrote it. In fact, when papers are turned in digitally, it makes plagiarism detection easy, something that’s very challenging for assignments turned in on paper.

Either way, this is probably an area where research would be better than supposition, and interestingly, the study I’ve seen most often suggests that online students cheat less than than their classroom-based peers, not more:

The prevalence of academic misconduct among students enrolled in online classes was explored. Students (N = 225) were given the Student Academic Dishonesty Survey to determine the frequency and type of academic dishonest behaviors. Results indicated that students enrolled in online classes were less likely to cheat than those enrolled in traditional, on ground courses. Aiding and abetting was self-reported as the most frequently used method among students in both online and traditional classroom settings. Results suggest that the amount of academic misconduct among online students may not be as prevalent as believed.

To return to supposition, though, I can’t help but wonder whether a reason distance learners would cheat less often than those in a classroom would be that they are not actually necessarily peers. The classroom attracts more traditional age university students, who might not have various motivations for being there, whereas distance learning often attracts workign adults, who have gone back to school with the specific objective of learning more to advance in their careers, or to pursue various other interests. It would only make sense that such distance learners would realize that academic dishonesty would only be cheating themselves.