Apple CEO Tim Cook: “I am Proud to be Gay”

Dear Commons Community

We have reached a desirable point in our society where coming out by celebrities is nowhere near the big news story it was a decade or so ago. Along with gay marriage, there is a growing acceptance of the gay lifestyle in most of our institutions. However, yesterday’s coming out by Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple Corporation has the media buzzing and rightfully so mainly because he is the first chief executive of a major, Fortune 500 corporation to do so. As reported in the New York Times:

“Tim Cook’s declaration on Thursday that “I’m proud to be gay” made him the first publicly gay chief executive of a Fortune 500 company. But Mr. Cook isn’t just any chief executive. And Apple isn’t any company. It’s one of the most profitable companies in the Fortune 500 and ranks No. 1 on the magazine’s annual ranking of the most admired companies.

As Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, put it, “He’s chief executive of the Fortune One. Something has consequences because of who does it, and this is Tim Cook and Apple. This will resonate powerfully.”

Trevor Burgess, the openly gay chief executive of C1 Financial in Florida, and one of the first publicly gay chief executives of a public company, said Tim Cook used “the metaphor of laying a brick on the ‘path towards justice.’ ” But, “This is more like 600 million bricks,” Mr. Burgess said. “He has the most influential voice in global business.”

This will resonate powerfully indeed.



U.S. Department of Education Issues New Rules Regarding “Gainful Employment” Targeting For-Profit Colleges!

Dear Commons Community,

For-profit colleges with graduates unable to pay back their student loans could soon face scrutiny by the federal government.

Schools with career-oriented programs that fail to comply with the new rule announced yesterday by the U.S. Department of Education stand to lose access to federal student-aid programs.  To meet these “gainful employment” standards, a program will have to show that the estimated annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20 percent of his or her discretionary income or 8 percent of total earnings.

The Education Department estimates that about 1,400 programs serving 840,000 students won’t pass. Ninety-nine percent of these programs are offered by for-profit schools, although affected career training programs can come from certificate programs elsewhere in higher education. As reported by the Associated Press:

“Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the department wants to make sure that programs that prey on students don’t continue abusive practices.

However, Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, calls the effort “nothing more than a bad-faith attempt to cut off access to education for millions of students who have been historically underserved by higher education.”

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, that has aggressively investigated the industry, commends the new rule. He also said that the rule does little to stop colleges that offer poor quality programs where most of the students drop out.



John Medina Keynotes Online Learning Consortium’s Annual Conference!

Dear Commons Community,

John Medina (University of Washington School of Medicine) kicked-off the Online Consortium’s 20th Annual Conference on Online Learning with a well-received keynote address. The 2,000 plus attendees were riveted to what he had to say on a complex topic, How Brains Learn with Technology. He was knowledgeable, humorous, and able to relate the topic to online learning. Below is an abstract of his talk.

It was a great start for the Conference.



How Brains Learn with Technology – John Medina

The formal brain sciences are undergoing a current revolution, with new findings of potential relevance to the education community published almost weekly. This lecture explores some of these findings – focusing on three cognitive neuroscience domains. The first concerns memory formation, the power of repetition and the role so-called interleaved learning models play in creating stable declarative memory traces. The second concerns the importance of visual processing, detailing the idea that you don’t see with your eyes, you see with your mind – and describing a phenomenon known as the Pictorial Superiority Effect. The third discusses the essential role human relationships play in learning, outlining the challenge such findings play for people dedicated to creating meaningful online learning experiences.

For-Profit Grand Canyon University Considering Non-Profit Status!

Dear Commons Community

The for-profit Grand Canyon University is considering reverting back to nonprofit status, a move its president, Brian Mueller, said could spare it from the “stigma” surrounding the for-profit higher-education industry and allow it to tap into the rich vein of philanthropy that would support its Christian-focused mission. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“There are significant people in the Christian community who would like to get behind this,” Mueller told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday, just minutes after the publicly traded company that owns the university unveiled its plan to investors.

The proposed move raises some major questions, not the least of which is how a university with a current stock-market value of about $2-billion will find enough money to satisfy those investors with a buyout deal without leaving behind an institution burdened by debt.

While the company was close-mouthed with details, experts familiar with the sector said a conversion of this size would very likely involve another nonprofit entity, perhaps a religious organization, that has either deep pockets or the ability to borrow commercially or on the public-finance markets. Other for-profit colleges, including Keiser University, have gone private before, but they were smaller and privately held.

Coming on the heels of other recent events—the collapse of Corinthian Colleges Inc., the Education Management Corporation’s planned delisting from the Nasdaq stock exchange, and the federal government’s announcement on Thursday of a new “gainful employment” regulation—some observers said it could also be a further sign of a shifting tide in the for-profit higher-education industry.

“Huge education corporations as attractive growth stocks—that seems to have run its course,” said Kevin Kinser, an associate professor at the State University of New York at Albany, who studies proprietary education. “You’re looking at a year where it looks like the final chapter was written.”

Mr. Mueller said for-profit status “hasn’t really hurt our enrollment.” But as Grand Canyon increasingly competes for students with nonprofit colleges in California and state institutions in its own back yard, notably Arizona State University, that “negative stigma” becomes a bigger issue.”



Frank Bruni Previews Joel Klein’s New Book on How to Fix our Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

Frank Bruni gives a preview of Joel Klein’s new book, Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools, which is due out next week. Bruni attributes the credibility of Klein’s views on education to the fact that he was one of the longest-serving chancellors of the New York City public school system. The thrust of the Bruni’s column is the importance of the teacher.

“More than halfway through Joel Klein’s forthcoming book on his time as the chancellor of New York City’s public schools, he zeros in on what he calls “the biggest factor in the education equation.”

It’s not classroom size, school choice or the Common Core.

It’s “teacher quality,” he writes, adding that “a great teacher can rescue a child from a life of struggle.”

I agree fully that the teacher can be a most important factor but so is the overall environment of the school, the family, and the neighborhood.

“He [Klein] said that schools of education could stiffen their selection criteria in a way that raises the bar for who goes into teaching and elevates the public perception of teachers. “You’d have to do it over the course of several years,” he said. But if implemented correctly, he said, it would draw more, not fewer, people into teaching.

He said the curriculum at education schools should be revisited as well. There’s a growing chorus for this; it’s addressed in the recent best seller “Building a Better Teacher,” by Elizabeth Green. But while Green homes in on the teaching of teaching, Klein stressed to me that teachers must acquire mastery of the actual subject matter they’re dealing with. Too frequently they don’t.

Klein urged “a rational incentive system” that doesn’t currently exist in most districts. He’d like to see teachers paid more for working in schools with “high-needs” students and for tackling subjects that require additional expertise. “If you have to pay science and physical education teachers the same, you’re going to end up with more physical education teachers,” he said. “The pay structure is irrational.”

In an ideal revision of it, he added, there would be “some kind of pay for performance, rewarding success.” Salaries wouldn’t be based primarily on seniority.”

There is merit to some of what Klein says. I especially like what he says about teachers needing to master subject matter.  This is especially true at the middle and high school levels.

Klein was a lightening rod when he was chancellor often alienating teachers and parents with his rhetoric which at times was vitriolic.  I look forward to reading the book when it is made available to the public.



Pope Francis: Affirms Catholic Teaching that Creation and Evolution Can Co-Exist!

Dear Commons Community,

Pope Francis on Monday waded into the controversial debate over the origins of human life, saying the big bang theory did not contradict the role of a divine creator, but even required it. As reported by the Religion News Service:

“The pope was addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which gathered at the Vatican to discuss “Evolving Concepts of Nature.”

“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said.

“He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.”

Francis said the beginning of the world was not “a work of chaos” but created from a principle of love. He said sometimes competing beliefs in creation and evolution could co-exist.

“God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life,” the pope said. “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

Unlike much of evangelical Protestantism in the U.S., Catholic teaching traditionally has not been at odds with evolution. In 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed there was no opposition between evolution and Catholic doctrine. In 1996, St. John Paul II endorsed Pius’ statement.”

The more I see and hear Pope Francis, the more I like him.



Harvard President Drew Faust: The Case for College – It Teaches Us to “Think Slow”!

Dear Commons Community,

Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, addressed a class of teens at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, promoting the importance of staying in school and going to college. In addition to the financial rewards of a college degree, Faust mentioned the following reasons for going to college:

First, college will take you to places you’ve never been before. Some of you will choose a college or university in a different city, or state, or even country, and you will learn a lot from these new surroundings.

Second, college introduces you to people you’ve never met before. This is true both literally and figuratively. Even if you go to a school that is local and continue to live at home, your classes will be full of people you’ve never encountered, with views and experiences new to you.

Third, college helps you to discover dreams you’ve never dreamed before. College can offer you the satisfaction of hard, intellectual work—a paper or a project or an experiment—or play or a musical composition—that you are proud of.

Fourth and perhaps most important, college teaches us to “Think Slow.” No one denies the value of speed, connectivity, and the virtual world in an economy that thrives on all three. But college can also help you to slow down. And that, perhaps, is a lesson that you don’t hear taught all that often: Slow your processors down. College teaches you to sift through an enormous amount of daily information, to assess it, to use it critically. In other words, you learn to reject information as well as receive it. The ability to examine a piece of information skeptically, before deciding whether to accept it or not, is a vital skill in the workplace, and a vital skill in life. A dean at Harvard used to tell students that being able to detect when someone is talking rot was the main purpose of education.

“Information” is everywhere; but real “knowledge” and “understanding” are harder to achieve. That is what college will ask of you.

Faust concluded: “I have called this speech “the case for college” because I believe that college changes lives. It opens opportunities, …Perhaps even more important, it opens minds and worlds—in ways that stretch us—almost pull us—to become different people.”

Wonderful advice!


The Chronicle of Higher Education Database on Student Diversity at 4,725 Institutions!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has just made available a searchable database that shows the race, ethnicity, and gender of 20,642,572 students enrolled at 4,725 colleges and universities in the fall of 2012, the latest year for which figures are available. Of those, 56.8 percent were female, and 54.3 percent were white. Among minority groups, Hispanics made up the largest share, representing 13.6 percent of all students enrolled, followed by blacks at 13.3 percent and Asians at 5.4 percent.  The Source: Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

The database is quite informative and easy to use but unfortunately you need a subscription to access it.



Debate: Blackwater and Contracting Out for Military Services!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times blog today raises the question about the role of contractors in our military operations. This comes on the heels of the conviction last week of four Blackwater Worldwide guards in the slaughter of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007, that upheld that private contractors whom the government has come to rely on in war zones can no longer act with impunity. Since that attack, stricter guidelines have been adopted for private guards overseas. The question raised in the blog is:

“Does the government need to do more to change the way it uses private security contractors who do jobs soldiers once did? A sample of some of the replies:

“We want a military that takes combat as its priority. But even outside of combat, deadly force ought to be reserved for government forces.” Kori Schake, Hoover Institute

The extensive use of contractors, particularly in intelligence and surveillance, makes it possible to carelessly pursue wars on the sly. Tim Shorrock is the author of “Spies for Hire, The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing.”

Contractors remain an intrinsic part of the government’s overseas operations, but now they have higher standards and accountability. Kateri Carmola is the author of “Private Military Contractors and New Wars: Risk, Law & Ethics.”

I am definitely on the side of Schake and Shorrock, who would rather not see the contracting out of our military operations. Establishing another profit motive for going to war will only breed more war.



Traveling to Orlando for the Online Learning Consortium Annual Conference!

Dear Commons Community,

I leave today for Orlando to attend the Annual Online Learning Consortium (formerly Sloan-C) Conference. The program and speakers are first-rate and include a keynote by John Medina (University of Washington School of Medicine) on “How Brains Learn with Technology”.   Below is a welcome and quick overview from Patsy Moskal, the Program Chair.

All of the details about the program are available at the Conference website.



Dear Colleagues,

It is my pleasure to invite you to the 20th Annual Online Learning Consortium International Conference! The past two decades have seen many exciting innovations and changes in online education. This pattern continues today with current innovations in learning analytics, MOOCs, open and mobile learning, and many new and exciting  emerging instructional resources. The annual conference attracts worldwide experts and innovators in online teaching and learning. We would love to have you join us! This year’s tracks have changed slightly from previous years with the addition of a track devoted to Institutional Change and Innovations. We hope you take a look at the updated descriptions and also the sessions scheduled in each of the tracks. For those who can’t join us in beautiful Orlando in October, we hope you can join us virtually! Please join us as we celebrate 20 years of leading the way in online learning!

Patsy Moskal

Patsy Moskal, Program Chair 20th Annual Online Learning Consortium International Conference