University of Southern New Hampshire – The Mega-University!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an article earlier this week documenting how the University of Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) has evolved into a new mega-university.  In the past decade, enrollment has gone from 8,600 degree-seeking students in 2008 to more than 122,000 today. Its president since 2003, Paul LeBlanc, will tell you that his plan is for the university to nearly triple its enrollment over the next five years.  As reported in The Chronicle:

”The president since 2003, Paul LeBlanc, will tell you that it’s just getting started. The plan is for the university to nearly triple its enrollment over the next five years.

As audacious as that sounds — by one analyst’s estimate, it means Southern New Hampshire would have to enroll one out of every two new online students in the United States over the next five years — LeBlanc believes it might take only three years to hit that mark.

To get there, he has laid out an aggressive agenda: More short courses that appeal to employers. Low-cost, competency-based degree programs to serve tens of thousands of refugees overseas, plus thousands more underemployed young people in the United States. Artificial intelligence and chatbots handling routine student interactions. A degree program at a price of $100 a month? That’s under exploration, too.

The plans are ambitious, creative, and, in many cases, unconventional. Will they come at a cost to quality? Already, by some metrics, student outcomes have suffered. Nonetheless, the university’s moves may soon reverberate well beyond its own constituencies or even direct competitors. Southern New Hampshire isn’t just refashioning itself into an institution that’s bigger in size and broader in scope. It is also becoming one of the first of a new breed of nonprofit “mega-universities” now beginning to transform the higher-education landscape.

These new enterprises — the 100,000-student Western Governors University, which recently announced a goal of serving a million students, is another — are not elite or richly endowed or renowned for their research prowess. Yet because of their size and market power — along with their ability to brand themselves as free of any for-profit taint — they stand to increasingly influence how other colleges develop their academic offerings; recruit, advise, and teach their students; and even determine their tuition prices.

Higher education’s leadership has yet to reckon with the potential of these emerging mega-universities, or even to determine how to define them. (Does fast-growing Liberty University count? What about National University?) There’s no formula for becoming one. For Southern New Hampshire, several strategies stand out. Among them: comfort with being better known for advising than for academic matters, a willingness to invest in its capacity to grow and innovate, and a reliance on corporate-style practices in activities as diverse as marketing, faculty oversight, and employee training.

It’s still anyone’s guess how the mega-university might change the market dynamics for colleges with smaller programs, established niches, or hopes of making innovations of their own. Already, however, it’s clear that online institutions in the shadow of major players like Southern New Hampshire are struggling to compete.

Twenty years ago, Charter Oak State College, in Connecticut, was about the same size as Southern New Hampshire. With about 1,400 students, the degree-completion institution remains small today, and as acknowledged by its president, Ed Klonoski, it’s not thriving. “You can’t be a small online player,” he says. LeBlanc built Southern New Hampshire for scale, Klonoski says, and then went ahead and scaled it. “I’m an admirer,” he says. And now “he’s killing me.”

SNHU (it embraces the acronym, pronounced “snew”) never set out to put the Charter Oaks of the sector out of business. But it has been consciously restructuring itself from the inside out over the past several years with the expectation that operating at a substantially larger scale will help it better weather the changes LeBlanc sees coming. In the future, he believes, “higher education will surrender its monopoly on credentials, transcripts, and delivery of education.” In the new environment, colleges could find themselves as much in the role as assessors of students’ knowledge as education providers.

SNHU is preparing for that future by gobbling up market share — and exposing a new population of students to a new vision of higher education. Many experts believe the day is not far off when five or six such institutions, plus a few companies that manage online programs, will dominate the online-education landscape — and perhaps eventually other aspects of higher education as well. They also have little doubt that Southern New Hampshire will be among them.

As Klonoski puts it, “If they get large enough, they’ll block the sun.”

“Future-proofing:” That’s one of the ways Paul LeBlanc describes the changes Southern New Hampshire has been undertaking. If that sounds like corporate lingo … well, that’s part of the point.

LeBlanc is not the least uncomfortable that some of the university’s approaches might, in his words, “make traditional academics roll their eyes.” One example: As a culture-building exercise, SNHU invites academic advisers, admissions representatives, and other employees to sign posters — one says “Our Vision,” another “Our Brand Behaviors” — that adorn the walls of the converted mill that serves as headquarters of the online operation.

Under the president’s watch, the university has made a point of hiring key personnel from outside academe’s traditional pools. SNHU’s senior vice president for technology and transformation ran IT for the Boston Consulting Group; the chief marketing officer was a top marketing executive at the American Lung Association and Verizon; the head of human resources came from a major insurance company. LeBlanc calls it “breaking out of the higher-ed echo chamber.”

Breaking out of the chamber indeed!


Jean Twenge Gives Awesome Keynote Address on Final Day of OLC’s ACCELERATE!

Dear Commons Community,

Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and the author of more than 140 scientific publications including the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, gave the best conference keynote address I have heard in years. Her talk focused on the iGen (those born after 1995) and the first generation to spend their adolescence with smartphones.

With a plethora of charts and data, Dr. Twenge demonstrated how iGen’ers spend more time online and less time with each other in person, are growing up more slowly as adolescents, and are more extrinsically and less intrinsically motivated. Of great importance to the ACCELERATE audience, these attributes necessitate new strategies for reaching them as learners, and an awareness of how generational differences affect non-traditional age online learners in both positive and negative ways. She went on to provide a number of practical teaching suggestions such as using blended learning models, videos in teaching and for assignments, and requiring shorter length textbooks.

Her conclusion, with this new group of young people growing into adulthood, we all need to understand them: Friends and family need to look out for them; businesses must figure out how to recruit them and sell to them; colleges and universities must know how to educate, guide them, and identify how these strategies can apply to all types of learners.  And most important, as we learn to understand this new generation, perhaps we can all learn more about ourselves. Because where iGen goes, so goes our nation—and the world.



At ACCELERATE: Student Attrition/Retention, Women in Digital Learning Leadership, and Designing Video for Blended Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday at the OLC ACCELERATE Conference, I attended sessions on student attrition and retention in online courses,  adopting video in blended learning classes, and a panel discussion on women in digital learning leadership.  The last was a standing room only event with several of my colleagues (Patsy Moskal, Mary Niemiec, and Liz Ciabocchi) sharing their career experiences as technology leaders.  My own session on Theories and Frameworks for Online Education: Seeking an Integrated Model  went well and I had an attentive audience. In the evening, twelve of us (see above) went out to dinner at Kimonos, a Japanese restaurant.


P.S.  I did feel guilty listening to the weather reports  back in New York as I was enjoying 80-degree weather here in Florida.  I hope all my friends and colleagues fended well during the first snow storm of the season.

At ACCELERATE: Come By My Session Today – Theories and Frameworks for Online Education: Seeking an Integrated Model

Dear Commons Community,

OLC’s ACCELERATE Conference is in full swing. Yesterday I attended sessions on adaptive learning, blended learning, and gamification.  The keynote given by game designer and author Jane McGonigal was a provocative look at gaming and its proliferation in the not-too-distant future.  Twelve of us went out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant and congratulated Peter Shea who had just received word from his provost that he was promoted to full professor.  Congratulations, Peter.

I will be doing a session today entitled,  Theories and Frameworks for Online Education: Seeking an Integrated Model.  Below is the abstract, time and place.  Please stop by if you are at the conference. I would love to see you!



Theories and Frameworks for Online Education: Seeking an Integrated Model

Date: Thursday, November 15th
Time: 1:30 PM to 2:15 PM
Track: Research
Location: Oceanic 7
Session Duration: 45min

Brief Abstract:

The purpose of this presentation is to examine theoretical frameworks relevant to the pedagogical aspects of online education. It starts with a consideration of learning theories and funnels down to their specific application to online education. The presentation concludes with a proposal for an integrated model for online education based on pedagogical purpose.

This presentation is based on an article published in the Online Learning Journal in September 2017 and was named the 4th most important article on online education published that year by the National Institute for Digital Learning.  See:



OLC ACCELERATE and How Will Unresolved Research Questions Get Answered?

Dear Colleagues,

I am at the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) conference in Orlando.  Yesterday was mostly business meetings.  Nine of us associated with OLC went out to dinner last night.  One of my colleagues and I engaged in a discussion about foundation funding for research on instructional technology and especially online learning.  I mentioned that Inside Higher Education had published an article last week that  cites several of us associated with OLC.  The full article is available online at:

The reporter for Inside Higher Education, Mark Lieberman spoke with me and the following from the article reflects some of our discussion.

“Digital learning research got an aggressive kick start in the early ’90s from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Researchers working today talk in glowing terms about the Foundation’s interest in funding digital learning initiatives that would later serve as test cases for new formats and modalities.

But when the Foundation’s longtime president, Ralph Gomory, stepped down in 2007, the organization’s focus eventually shifted, ceding ground to organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which see education innovation as part of a larger effort to drive broad societal transformation.

Those groups’ pockets are deep but not infinite. And they’re not always on the same page with academics. Anthony Picciano, a professor in the School of Education at Hunter College and at the City University of New York Graduate School’s Ph.D. program in urban education, said he’s recently shied away from working with foundations like Gates, as well as technology companies including publishers, because he often finds that their goals aren’t in line with his ambitions.”


Amazon Coming to New York City and Arlington, Virginia!

Image result for amazon new york

Dear Commons Community,

It’s official, Amazon will build two new major corporate facilities on the East Coast in New York City and Arlington, Virginia, a Washington, D.C. suburb. As described by the New York Times and other media:

“Amazon laid out its plans for two of the biggest economic development projects in the country today, announcing that it will put major  outposts in New York City and Arlington, Va.

The two locations, in Long Island City in Queens and the area around Crystal City in Arlington, just outside of Washington, will eventually house at least 25,000 employees each, the company said in agreements with the local and state governments. Amazon also said the new sites, which it is calling headquarters, would require $5 billion in construction and other investments.

The company also said it will develop a smaller site with 5,000 jobs in Nashville that will focus on operations and logistics.

Amazon, which is based in Seattle, could receive more than $2 billion in tax incentives in New York and Virginia, the company said in its announcement. Up to $1.2 billion of that will come from New York state’s Excelsior program, a discretionary tax credit. In Virginia, the company could receive up to $550 million in cash incentives from the state. Both programs are tied to the number of jobs the company creates — if Amazon’s hiring falls short of projections, the incentive payments will be smaller.

 “These two locations will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said in a statement that “with Amazon committing to expand its headquarters in Long Island City, New York can proudly say that we have attracted one of the largest, most competitive economic development investments in U.S. history.”

The project is a “transformational opportunity to diversify the economy” of Northern Virginia, which is heavily dependent on government contracting, said Stephen Moret, president and chief executive of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “The majority of our entire package is a historic investment in doubling the tech talent pipeline in Virginia.”

The announcement capped a frenzied, 14-month competition among cities across the country looking to lure the tech giant for what executives had initially billed as a second headquarters, or HQ2. Many politicians saw it as an opportunity to remake their city or a neighborhood for the tech era. Critics warned against using public money to help one of the most valuable companies in the world, and of the potential for higher housing costs and traffic problems.

Instead of choosing one site, Amazon decided on two. The decision will let the company tap into the labor markets of New York and Washington and retain bargaining power with two localities for decades. In tandem, the new major sites will make Amazon one of the largest private tech employers on the East Coast and may, ever so slightly, help shift tech talent eastward, away from Silicon Valley and Seattle.”

I congratulate our elected officials who made this happen.  As a life-long resident of New York, I hope both the State and the City will plan carefully with Amazon to make its move here as graceful as possible without seriously disrupting local residents and businesses. 


In Orlando at the OLC ACCELERATE 2018 Conference!

Dear Commons Community,

I am in Orlando to attend the Annual Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C)  ACCELERATE Conference. The theme of this year’s conference is Back to the Future of Digital Learning.  The program and speakers are first-rate and include keynotes by Jane McGonigal (Director of Game Research & Development for the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California) and Jean Twenge (San Diego State University).  All of the details about the program are available at the Conference website.

Below is a welcome and quick overview from the Program Co-Chairs, Sherri Restauri (Coastal Carolina University) and Beth Rubin (Campbell University). I will be giving a session on Thursday afternoon.  Please stop by.



Dear Colleagues,

It is our pleasure to invite you to OLC Accelerate 2018! The theme of this year’s conference is “Back to the Future of Digital Learning“. 

The OLC Accelerate 2018 conference marks our 24th year as the premiere international conference in digital learning. The conference team has updated many aspects of this year’s program, including an expansion of innovative and creative venues and sessions. We are excited about OLC Accelerate 2018 and promise it will carry forward its tradition of excellence in offering quality content which we hope will inspire you to engage, collaborate, and innovate. 

Online learning professionals are challenged to keep up with trends and advances in the field that continue to evolve and expand at such a fast pace. Join us at OLC Accelerate as we come together to build and strengthen our global network of expertise, increase collaboration and engagement among researchers and practitioners, share and discover new and emerging effective practices, and test and evaluate technologies for teaching and learning online. Our community cannot thrive without your active participation! We invite you to join the conference onsite or virtually.

New this year – Global Quality Summit and Graduate Student Discovery Session types are included in the CFP, and we have an updated track focusing on Leadership and Institutional Strategies. Not sure which track applies? Check the keywords listed for each track to help figure out to which track your proposal is most suited. The tracks for 2018 are:

  • Research
  • Professional Development and Support
  • Leadership and Institutional Strategies
  • Learner Services and Support
  • Learning Effectiveness
  • Innovations, Tools and Technologies

Please join us at OLC Accelerate 2018 onsite or virtually — we look forward to your participation!


Sherri and Beth

The OLC Accelerate 2018 Program Co-Chairs


Democrat Kyrsten Sinema Declared the Winner in Arizona Senate Race!

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press, the New York Times and CNN started reporting earlier this evening that Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has won Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat, beating Republican Martha McSally.

The race between Sinema and McSally was one of the most closely watched in the nation. Sinema was declared the winner as her lead grew insurmountable during Arizona’s lengthy vote-count.

Sinema is a former liberal activist who became a centrist member of Congress. Her win follows years of Democratic shutouts at the statewide level in Arizona and shows that the longtime Republican bastion is becoming a swing state.

McSally hammered Sinema over her former liberal stances and claimed she was pretending to be a centrist.

Sinema criticized McSally’s vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and kept her distance from national Democrats.

Sinema succeeds Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who opted not to run.

Without a doubt, this is a major win for the Democrats!


Brooklyn High School Students Protest “Summit Learning,” an Online Program Designed by Facebook Engineers!

Students from the Secondary School for Journalism during the protest.

Dear Commons Community,

Nearly 100 students walked out of classes at the Secondary School for Journalism in Park Slope last week in protest against “Summit Learning,” a web-based curriculum designed by Facebook engineers, and bankrolled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Amy Chan.  As reported by the New York Post:

“It’s annoying to just sit there staring at one screen for so long,” said freshman Mitchel Storman, 14, who spends close to five hours a day on Summit classes in algebra, biology, English, world history, and physics. “You have to teach yourself.”

Summit stresses “personalized learning” and “self-direction.” Students work at their own pace. Teachers “facilitate.” Each kid is supposed to get 10 to 15 minutes of one-on-one “mentoring” each week.

Mitchel said his teachers sometimes give brief lessons, but then students have to work on laptops connected to the Internet.

“The distractions are very tempting,” he said. “I have seen lots of students playing games instead of working.”

Kids can re-take tests until they pass — and look up the answers, he added: “Students can easily cheat on quizzes since they can just copy and paste the question into Google.”

Two other Department of Education schools have started using Summit Learning: M.S. 88 Peter Rouget in Park Slope, and the Academy for College Preparation and Career Exploration in Flatbush.

But the Park Slope students raised awareness of it with a raucous hour-long demonstration.

Last summer, Summit trained 9th and 10th grade teachers, paying for four nights in a Newark, N.J, hotel plus meals.

But senior Kelly Hernandez, 17, who organized the walkout, said her Environmental Science teacher wasn’t trained, leaving kids adrift.

“It was bad enough that we were lost, the teachers were lost,” Kelly said. “We have done absolutely nothing in that class.”

Senior Akila Robinson said she couldn’t even log onto Summit for nearly two months, while other classmates can’t or won’t use it. “The whole day, all we do is sit there.”

Despite doing no work, Akila’s report card shows she received a passing 70 for the first marking period.

A teacher who requested anonymity said Summit glitches include system crashes, poor wifi in the old John Jay HS building, and a lack of laptops.

What’s worse, the teacher added, many students hate it. “It’s a lot of reading on the computer, and that’s not good for the eyes. Kids complain. Some kids refuse to do it.”

David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor, said the online system “fits the Facebook business model,” but came into city schools with little input or review.

“It’s educational experimentation on our kids,” he said.

At a school meeting last week, SSJ parents also voiced concerns about privacy in light of recent Facebook data breaches. Summit collects a wealth of information on each student, from age, ethnicity, and extracurricular activities, to grades, test scores and disciplinary penalties. It insists the data is safe.

The DOE said late Saturday the school will immediately drop the Summit program in 11th and 12th grades. Administrators will ” continue to be in communication with students, staff, and parents about the new strategies over the next few weeks,” said spokeswoman Danielle Filson.

Officials also confirmed that another school, the Bronx Writing Academy, has already dumped the Summit program.”

It appears that poor planning and a lack of trial testing of Summit Learning doomed its implementation at these schools.



100th Anniversary of the Signing of the Armistice that Ended World War I

Dear Commons Community,

Today at  11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month of 2018, scores of world leaders will gather in Paris to mark 100 years since the armistice that ended World War I entered into force, and to celebrate peace.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was approximately 41 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians. Below are several brief stories that The Associated Press published on Nov. 11, 1918.




Armistice signed.



WASHINGTON, MONDAY, NOV. 11 (AP) — The Armistice between Germany, on the one hand, and the Allied governments and the United States, on the other, has been signed.

The State Department announced at 2:45 o’clock this morning that Germany had signed.

The world war will end at 6 o’clock this morning, Washington time, 11 o’clock Paris time.



WASHINGTON, NOV. 11 (AP) — The greatest war in history ended Monday morning at 6 o’clock Washington time, after 1,567 days of horror, during which virtually the whole civilized world had been convulsed.

Announcement of the tremendous event was made at the State Department at the capital at 2:45 o’clock Monday morning and in a few seconds was flashed throughout the continent by the Associated Press.

The terse announcement at the State Department did not tell anything of the scene at Marshall Foch’s headquarters at the time the Armistice was signed. It was stated, however, that at 6 o’clock Paris time, the signatures of Germany’s delegates were fixed to the document which blasted forever the dreams which embroiled the world in a struggle which has cost, at the very lowest estimate, 10,000,000 lives.



WITH THE AMERICAN ARMY ON THE SEDAN FRONT, NOV. 11, 2 P.M. (AP) — Thousands of American heavy guns fired the parting shot to the Germans at exactly 11 o’clock this morning.

The line reached by the American forces at 11 o’clock today was being staked out this afternoon.

The Germans hurled a few shells into Verdun just before 11 o’clock.

On the entire American front from the Moselle to the region of Sedan, there was artillery activity in the morning, all the batteries, preparing for the final salvos.

At many batteries the artillerists joined hands, forming a long line as the lanyard of the final shot. There was a few seconds of silence as the shell shot through the heavy mist. Then the gunners cheered.

American flags were raised by the soldiers over their dugouts and at the various headquarters.

Northeast of Verdun, the American infantry began to advance at 9 o’clock this morning, after artillery preparation, in the direction of the Ornes. The German artillery responded feebly, but the machine-gun resistance was stubborn. Nevertheless, the Americans made progress. The Americans had received orders to hold the positions reached by 11 o’clock, and at those positions they began to dig in, marking the advanced positions of the Americans when hostilities ceased.

Along the American front, the 11th hour was like awaiting the arrival of the New Year.

The gunners continued to fire, counting the shells as the time approached. The infantry were advancing, glancing at their watches. The men holding at other places organized their position to make themselves more secure.

Then the individual groups unfurled the Stars and Stripes, shook hands and cheered. Soon afterwards, they were preparing for luncheon. All the boys were hungry, as they had breakfast early in anticipation of what they expressed as the greatest day in American history.


Courtesy of the AP Corporate Archives.