Lifelong Learning in Europe Article: A Critical Reflection of the Current Research in Online and Blended Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

Lifelong Learning in Europe (LLinE) has just published my article entitled, A Critical Reflection of the Current Research in Online and Blended Learning.   The purpose of this article was to comment on the state of the research on online education.   A brief review of the literature is provided followed by critical issues for conducting research in blended learning environments. It concludes with suggestions for those contemplating conducting research in this area. Followers of this blog who are interested in research in online education might find it interesting.


New York City: A Time for Expressions of Sympathy and Understanding Not Inflammatory Rhetoric!

Dear Commons Community,

In light of the horrific killing of two NYPD police officers over the weekend, a New York Times editorial calls on City officials and community leaders to find common ground and understanding. What we need the least is anymore inflammatory rhetoric as expressed by Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association. It will only breed “more hostility and suspicion.” Below is the full text of the editorial.



Killing of New York Police Officers Tests Promise of ‘One City’

New York Times Editorial, Dec. 21, 2014

First, the grieving. The horrifying killings of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday shock the soul of the city and require us all to stop to honor the dead, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. Police Commissioner William Bratton, looking stricken at a news conference at Woodhull Hospital, reminded us that behind each blue uniform is a family. Officer Liu was newly married. Officer Ramos had a wife and 13-year-old son. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the officers’ deaths “an attack on everything we hold dear.”

Next, the reckoning: The attacker, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, apparently said he was driven to assassination as retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. There is no evidence that Mr. Brinsley, holder of a long criminal record who also shot a former girlfriend and killed himself, had any connection to the recent months of peaceful protests for police reform. But he linked those earlier tragedies to his hateful words and unspeakable act, fatally coloring how others will perceive it. There is no more important job ahead for Mr. de Blasio than to lead and unite the city. He cannot allow it to fracture into opposing camps of those who support outraged protesters and those who stand with aggrieved cops. Never has his “one city” promise been so urgently and so sorely tested.

The city’s divisions are already keenly felt, and on Saturday night found expression in open contempt for the mayor. Many officers silently turned their backs on Mr. de Blasio as he walked down a corridor at the hospital. Their union leaders were more explicit. “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the officers’ union. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor.”

The best response to those inflammatory words is to take them as expressions of grief and shock, and to ignore Mr. Lynch’s calls for deeper hostility and suspicion. Mr. de Blasio and other city officials, along with responsible police leaders and protesters, should now summon the city to stand on common ground. No one wants to fall deeper into a grotesque cycle of grievance and vengeance, where all that grows is blindness and hate. The answer to violence is love, as reflected in a statement from the grass-roots group #BlackLivesMatter deploring the officers’ killings and calling for “a complete transformation of the ways we see and relate to one another.”

Officers Ramos and Liu were patrolling in Brooklyn not to oppress but to serve and protect. Those who live and work in New York should unite in gratitude for their service and sacrifice, and commit themselves to a city where all feel safe. That is a movement everyone should join.


The Challenge of Teaching and Learning at a Community College!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday’s New York Times had a featured article about teaching and learning at a community college. The article provided insights from Eduardo Vianna, a professor at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, and a student, Mike Rifino, who was required to take remedial courses to start his higher education. Here is an excerpt:

“After having spent an entire semester without speaking in class…the following semester Mr. Rifino turned up in Dr. Vianna’s developmental psychology course. This time he took a seat closer to the front of the room. Taking that as a positive sign, Dr. Vianna asked him to join a weekly discussion group for students who might want to talk about big ideas in economics, education and politics, subjects that might cultivate a sense of intellectual curiosity and self-understanding among students whose backgrounds typically left them lacking in either.

“The group met on Friday afternoons,” Dr. Vianna said, “and Mike’s friends were asking him why he was wasting his time; the students who came weren’t getting any credit.”

At the time, Mr. Rifino was working as a cashier at a Gap in a mall on Queens Boulevard, and feeling despondent about it. Dr. Vianna then introduced him to Erich Fromm’s writing on Marx, and something in Mr. Rifino ignited, as he began to examine his own sense of alienation. He quickly finished his work at LaGuardia, and transferred to Hunter College in 2012. In the fall he began a doctoral program in psychology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.”

The article provided this perspective from Dr. Vianna:

“As a specialist in developmental psychology, Dr. Vianna has spent much of his career examining the way young people from disadvantaged backgrounds acquire knowledge and use it, the way the identities they have forged in the face of myriad deprivations can influence and impede the process of learning. At LaGuardia, where some of the city’s least-prepared students land, and where he has taught for 10 years, he is, in some sense, involved in a near-constant project of professional development. His classroom is his laboratory.

One enormous challenge for community college instructors is that many students arrive with the notion that a college education is essential, but remain unconvinced that what they will learn during the course of their studies is equally so. To create a world of young people skilled at analysis you first need to create a world of young people receptive to complexity, and many of Dr. Vianna’s students, he said, “cringe at complexity.”

“There’s a mistrust and antagonism between teachers and students because authority hasn’t traditionally been good to them,” he said. “Their experiences in the education system have been coercive. It’s not really clear to them what the value of academic knowledge actually is. If they come here with the goal of doing something very specific — to become a stewardess, or a makeup artist — they may think, ‘What’s the point?’ ”

The article provides a number of other gems about the life of a teacher and student in a typical community college. Well worth the read!



Troubled Career Criminal Kills Two NYPD Officers in Brooklyn after Making Statements on Social Media about Eric Garner and Michael Brown!

Police Officers Shot December 20 2014

Dear Commons Community,

Sadness descended over New York City yesterday when two NYPD police officers sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn were shot at point-blank range and killed on Saturday afternoon by a man who, officials said, had traveled to the city from Baltimore vowing to kill officers. The suspect then committed suicide with the same gun, the authorities said. As reported in the New York Times:

“The officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were in the car near Myrtle and Tompkins Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the shadow of a tall housing project when the gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, walked up to the passenger-side window and assumed a firing stance, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said. Mr. Brinsley shot several rounds into the heads and upper bodies of the officers, who never drew their weapons, the authorities said.

Mr. Brinsley, 28, then fled down the street and onto the platform of a nearby subway station, where he killed himself as officers closed in. The police recovered a silver semiautomatic handgun, Mr. Bratton said.

Mr. Brinsley, who had a long rap sheet of crimes that included robbery and carrying a concealed gun, is believed to have shot his former girlfriend near Baltimore before traveling to Brooklyn, the authorities said. He made statements on social media suggesting that he planned to kill police officers and was angered about the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases.”

Commissioner Bratton also commented: “Quite simply, they were assassinated…Both officers paid the ultimate sacrifice today while protecting the communities they serve.”

We grieve for the families and friends of Officers Liu and Ramos!



President Obama Ends Year on a High Note!

Dear Commons Community,

President Obama is ending 2014 on a high note. Actions (or inactions) he has taken are looking better and better as December 31st approaches. Several media sources are commenting that Obama has his swagger back and that his decisions are showing boldness as well as thoughtful analysis. As an example, Timothy Egan in a New York Times column, entitled Obama Unbound, comments:

“On normalizing relations with Cuba, on a surprising climate change initiative with China, on an immigration gamble that’s working, and executive orders to protect the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery in Alaska or try to root out gender pay disparities, Obama is marching ahead of politicians fighting yesterday’s wars. In setting an aggressive agenda, he has forced opponents to defend old-century policies, and rely on an aging base to do it…

And speaking of oil, the incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed, as one of his first orders of business, to push forward Keystone XL, the proposed pipeline to move Canada’s dirty oil though the American heartland. There’s one problem: With low energy prices, the pipeline may no longer pencil out. It’s a bust, potentially, in a free market awash with cheap oil.

With the Cuba opening, one of those events that seem obvious to all the minute it takes shape, the president has Pope Francis as a diplomatic co-conspirator. This leaves Republican opponents of fresh air in Havana lecturing the most popular man on the planet. Even after that all-dogs-go-to-heaven thing turned out to be something that was lost in translation, the pope’s blessing of the Cuba initiative will beat hot air from a half-dozen senators.

Obama’s trademark caution in a crisis still serves him well. He kept his head during the Ebola meltdown when everyone else was losing theirs. Had we gone jaw to jaw with Putin over Ukraine, rather than building the case for sanctions, the world would be far messier. But in finally learning how to use the tools of his office, Obama unbound is a president primed to make his mark.”

If Obama keeps this up, America will have a most Happy New Year!



The Professor and the Waitress: One and the Same!

Professor and Waitress

Dear Commons Community,

Brittany Bronson, an adjunct English instructor at UNLV and a waitress at a chain restaurant, has an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, describing her dual identities.  Unlike some sad commentaries on the plight of adjunct faculty who struggle to make ends meet, Ms. Bronson finds benefits in being able to work as waitress as well as a professor.

“Indeed, for a young academic like myself, the job market is bleak. I’m pursuing advanced degrees and a career in the academy despite the lack of employment prospects, because my first and true love is learning. However, it will take earning a doctorate — and thus several more years of work — before I can earn a sustainable income in my chosen pursuit.

Living these two supposedly different lives, I’ve started to see their similarities. Whenever I’m trying to meet the needs of my more difficult guests (“Do you have any smaller forks?” “You don’t carry wheat bread? What kind of restaurant doesn’t carry wheat bread?”), I recite, along with my colleagues, the collective restaurant server mantra: “I need a real job.” The same thought gets passed among adjuncts in my department: “I need a real teaching position. I need to publish a book.”

She concludes:

“…not all my restaurant co-workers are college dropouts, and none are failures. Many have bachelor’s degrees; others have real estate licenses, freelancing projects or extraordinary musical and artistic abilities. Others are nontraditional students, having entered the work force before attending college and making the wise decision not to “find themselves” and come out with $40,000 in debt, at 4.6 percent interest. Most of them are parents who have bought homes, raised children and made financial investments off their modest incomes. They are some of the kindest, hardest-working people I know, and after three years alongside them, I find it difficult to tell my students to avoid being like them.

My perhaps naïve hope is that when I tell students I’m not only an academic, but a “survival” jobholder, I’ll make a dent in the artificial, inaccurate division society places between blue-collar work and “intelligent” work. We expect our teachers to teach us, not our servers, although in the current economy, these might be the same people.

If my students can imagine the possibility that choosing to work with their hands does not automatically exclude them from being people who critically examine the world around them, I will feel I’ve done something worthwhile, not only for those who will earn their degree, but for the majority who will not.”

What an inspiring outlook on life and people.


President Obama and the USDOE College Ratings Plan Takes a Small Step Closer!

Dear Commons Community,

College administrators have anxiously been awaiting the Obama administration’s new college ratings plan. They will have to wait a bit longer even though the USDOE released a “plan” yesterday that is more progress report than plan. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

“The college-ratings plan that the Education Department is releasing today can best be described as incremental.

The plan, the product of more than a year of discussion and debate, is less a proposal than a progress report—an update on metrics the department is considering using in its system. It’s unlikely to assuage colleges’ concerns, but it’s unlikely to increase their anxiety, either.

Which measures might factor into the ratings? The list includes a number of expected metrics, like a college’s average net price, its students’ completion rates, and the percentage of its students receiving Pell Grants. It also includes labor-market outcomes and loan-repayment rates—measures that proved controversial during the protracted fight over the “gainful employment” rule.

But there’s a lot that the “framework,” as department officials are calling it, does not do. It doesn’t assign weights to each metric. Nor does it offer a plan for how similar institutions will be grouped.

It doesn’t say what format the ratings will take, and it doesn’t clarify whether the department will publish a single, composite rating, or a series of ratings.

Those gaps have left colleges “a little mystified,” said Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations and policy at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which has opposed the ratings…

Publication of the much-anticipated draft comes almost three years after President Obama used his State of the Union address to put colleges “on notice,” stating that his administration would not continue to subsidize rising tuition. He announced his plan to rate colleges the following year, during a three-campus “college cost” bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania.

Since then, the administration has proceeded cautiously, holding a series of public meetings and forums to solicit feedback from experts and advocates on how to construct the ratings. Mr. Mitchell estimated that the department has talked to 9,000 individuals about the plan.

The president’s goals are threefold: to help colleges improve, to help students make better decisions about which institutions to attend, and to allow policy makers and the public to hold institutions accountable for their outcomes. Ultimately, the administration wants Congress to tie some portion of federal student aid to the ratings.

But Republicans, who will control both chambers of Congress come January, aren’t likely to go along. They argue that the federal government has no business rating colleges and have threatened to cut off funding for the effort.”

Given the USDOE intrusion into K-12 education during the Obama adminsitration, American higher education is not putting out the welcome mat out for this plan.



Gov. Andrew Cuomo Announces that New York State Will Ban Fracking!

Dear Commons Community,

It was announced yesterday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will ban hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in New York. As reported in the New York Times and other media:

“The question of whether to allow fracking, which involves injecting large amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressures to release oil and natural gas from rock formations, has been one of the most divisive public policy debates in New York in years. Fracking is occurring in many states, and has boomed in places like Pennsylvania and Texas. Environmental advocates, alarmed by the growth of the practice, pointed to New York’s decision as the first ban by a state with significant natural-gas resources.

“I will be bound by what the experts say,” Cuomo said at a press conference.

Cuomo lamented the emotionally charged nature of the debate over fracking, a process that uses a high-pressure blast of water, sand and chemicals to tap into natural gas reserves contained in shale formations. “Let’s bring the emotion down and let’s ask the qualified experts,” said Cuomo, who quickly turned the press conference over to state health and environmental officials.

The officials said the potential health and environmental impacts are too great to allow fracking to proceed in the state at this time, and pointed to a dearth of studies regarding the long-term safety of hydraulic fracturing. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will issue a legally binding, supplemental environmental impact statement next year outlining its findings on the issue.

The potential adverse impacts of fracking are “widespread,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said at the press conference. He added that the prospects for fracking in New York are “uncertain at best,” and the economic benefits are “far lower than originally forecasted.”

Governor Cuomo took a pounding during his recent re-election campaign for his inaction on fracking. While it took a while, this is a win for those of us concerned about the environment.



AFT Asking for Us to Take Action Against Proposed USDOE Teacher Education Regulations!

Dear Commons Community,

Below is a request from Professor William Buxton (SUNY Cortland and the AFT) calling on faculty to raise their voices against the new USDOE regulations of teacher preparation progams. As the request makes clear, this is another example of the testing fanaticism that has engulfed much of K-12 education and is now working its way into higher education. Teacher preparation now, other programs later.




There are new proposed regulations out from the Department of Education. They focus on teacher preparation, and they’re not good. The Education Department wants to use unreliable, out-of-context data like K-12 standardized test scores and employment numbers to punish teacher preparation programs. We have until Feb. 2 to comment before the department goes into the process of writing the final regulations. Who better to tell them what we need than educators like you?

Tell the Department of Education that testing and other invalid measures will not work to determine the success of teacher preparation programs.

The way the department wants to judge programs is complicated, so here’s an example. Sasha goes to UCLA to become a teacher. After graduation, Sasha gets a job as an eighth-grade English teacher in East Los Angeles. To judge whether UCLA’s program was good, California will use the standardized test scores from Sasha’s students. If the students’ scores aren’t high enough, UCLA will get a bad grade.

Crazy, right? And it gets worse. Because of the use of employment numbers, when a recession hits and Sasha is laid off due to budget cuts, UCLA can get another bad grade.

And those bad grades come with punishments. Schools with poor ratings can lose federal resources, like student grants and aid. Using these measures also means that preparation programs whose graduates teach in high-need schools are more likely to receive those punishments, because of lower test scores and higher teacher turnover in those schools. As a result, preparation programs could be discouraged from preparing students to take on tough assignments, and may even steer students away from jobs in high-need schools. The last thing we need is a system that makes it HARDER to recruit teachers for our highest-need students!

Tell the Department of Education that this test-and-punish style of accountability is not a route to improvement, just as it has not improved K-12 education.

What is wrong with the proposed regulations? K-12 test scores were not designed to rate teacher prep programs. Cash-strapped states will have to build new data systems. And these regulations don’t set a level playing field for all programs. Alternative preparation programs, for example, where teachers learn on the job, are rated differently, giving them an advantage.

The AFT supports a rigorous, professional preparation process for aspiring teachers, as laid out in our Raising the Bar report. We believe that our system for preparing and licensing teachers should ensure that every teacher is fully trained and ready on their first day in the classroom.

We want systemic improvement, and we want the information that will help us to get there, including multiple measures of student performance and data on who enters the teaching profession and who stays. But taking this data out of context, and then attaching high-stakes consequences, isn’t the answer.

Teaching and learning in the K-12 system will improve when we invest in the teaching profession—investing in high-quality teacher preparation and supporting teachers before and while they are in the classroom.

In unity,

William Buxton, Associate Professor, State University of New York Cortland

New York City Teachers Score Highly Under New Evaluation System!

NYC Teacher Evaluation

Dear Commons Community,

Nine out of 10 New York City teachers received one of the top two rankings in the first year of a new evaluation system that was hailed as a better way of assessing how they perform, according to figures released yesterday by the New York State Education Department. As reported in the New York Times:

“The system, enacted into state law in 2010, was created, in part, to make it easier to identify which teachers performed the best so their methods could be replicated, and which performed the worst, so they could be fired. Although very few teachers in the city were deemed not to be up to standards, state officials and education experts said the city appeared to be doing a better job of evaluating its teachers than the rest of New York State…

The findings are based on the evaluations of 62,184 teachers in New York City that were reported to the state and 124,693 evaluations of teachers from the rest of New York State.”

Congratulations are in order for New York City teachers, the school principals who guide them,  and the schools of education especially here at City University of New York that trained them.