Fessenden School and St. George’s: A tale of two investigations

Alumni of a prestigious New England prep school come forward, relating their experiences decades ago of being molested by faculty. The school conducts an internal investigation, admits that students were abused, issues an apology to the victims and makes counseling available to them.

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s the same playbook used by the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts after a sexual abuse scandal came to light. However, this isn’t the Fessenden School. It’s St. George’s in Rhode Island. And unlike Fessenden, St. George’s is being forced to go much further. Not only are Rhode Island state police investigating St. George’s, the school is working with victims on a separate independent investigation. The New York Times reports:

St. George’s School, an elite Rhode Island prep school embroiled in a widening sexual abuse scandal spanning decades, said Thursday that it would commission a new, independent investigation into allegations of misconduct against former staff and former students.

The investigation is to be undertaken by a third party to be chosen with the approval of a group of victims who have been critical of the school’s handling of the matter.

The school and the victims group, which calls itself “S.G.S. for Healing,” said in a joint statement that the investigation would be independent, comprehensive and not limited “in scope or time period and will be conducted in a manner sensitive to victims who may have already provided information.”

The Rhode Island State Police are conducting a separate investigation. And the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania has restricted a retired priest from his duties after the priest was named Tuesday by lawyers for former students as having molested three boys at St. George’s in the 1970s. … (more)

The contrast is striking. The police are investigating St. George’s, and the school has agreed to an independent investigation that will look into allegations going back to the 70s and possibly much earlier. Meanwhile, the Fessenden School, Fessenden Headmaster David Stettler, the current and past Fessenden board of directors, and Fessenden’s legal counsel have done everything they can to make the ugly stories and lawsuits about pedophile faculty go away. It’s been this way for years. Only recently has a crack begun to open, but the school continues to fight, delay, and deny.

I have confidence the truth about Fessenden will come out in civil lawsuits. But what really needs to happen as soon as possible is a criminal investigation by the Newton police, the Massachusetts state police, or the Middlesex County D.A., as well as a totally independent investigation, funded by the school but not run by its lawyers, administrators, or directors. The truth must come out, and people guilty of abusing students–as well as administrators, directors, or other parties who either attempted to cover it up or failed to notify authorities–need to be tried in court. If they are found guilty of crimes, they need to be sentenced to jail. The school needs to come clean, acknowledge exactly what happened, and examine the factors that led to young boys being abused and the promotion of a sick, broken culture. Only then can the real healing begin, and safeguards put in place so something like this never happens again at Fessenden or any other school.

Lives were ruined. Yet Fessenden and the people who committed pedophilia or allowed these acts to take place continue to evade scrutiny and accountability. This must change, and the situation at St. George’s shows a way to move forward.

Creating a special Google Docs resource for educators

Google Docs resource for educatorsWhen Google Drive and Docs In 30 Minutes was first introduced more than two years ago, almost immediately I noticed an interesting trend in the traffic logs to the product website. Lots of visitors were coming from schools and school districts all over the country. Then, I started getting huge bulk orders for the books from my two print distributors, CreateSpace and LSI. Emails from some teachers confirmed that their schools had ordered the books as K-12 teacher training for Google Drive for Education. In this post, I am going to discuss the creation of several new products intended to serve teachers, curriculum managers, school administrators, and educational IT professionals who are interested in providing a Google Drive/Google Docs training resource for their schools.

First off, I would like to note that Google Drive and Docs In 30 Minutes is not only about Google Drive and Google Docs. It covers the other programs in the suite, including Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Forms, and Google Drawings, as well as collaboration and other features. It is the top-selling In 30 Minutes guide, and I just released a revised and expanded 2nd edition.

That said, Google Docs for students is the top draw for K-12 educators. Primary school students are not likely to need spreadsheets or presentation software. In many school districts, starting in 3rd or 4th grade, students begin to practice typing and composition. Google Docs provides an excellent platform to practice, and its collaborative nature also allows teachers to check progress and make comments. For teachers who are new to Google Docs and are using the educators’ version of Google Drive, a book that’s like Google Docs for Dummies (but much shorter) provides an excellent starting point.

A request for a special Google Docs resource for educators

My first thought was to create bulk ordering options for educators at a steep discount. That was easy enough to do. But then I got an interesting request from a teacher:

I also want to know if your would be willing to offer a license for people to have access to it at our school. You see, there are about 150 people learning about Google drive. Maybe 30 of them are English speakers. The school might consider getting a license for people to view the .PDF, but individuals probably won’t want to shell out $4.99 since they see it as something that the school is making them do.

This was an interesting thought. How about offering an affordable license that any teacher or staff member could access on their computers, tablets, or Kindle? I put together a simple license, priced it attractively, and let it fly. The teacher recommended it to his school, and then I started getting other sales.

This month, to coincide with the release of the 2nd edition of Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes, I updated the license to include two versions: A single-edition license as well as an educational license subscription, which will provide regular updates to the text of the books as well as extra materials such as videos. You can see the descriptions and prices on the dedicated Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes page for education.






Harvard Extension School ALM in Management vs. full-time MBA

I received an email from a prospective student asking about the Harvard Extension School’s ALM in Management program. He wanted me to compare the ALM in Management vs. a full-time MBA.

In my reply, I noted that I have never taken any ALM in Management classes. My ALM concentration was history. But I have followed the Management program since it was introduced and have a full-time MBA under my belt, and feel qualified to make some comparisons.

Harvard Extension School ALM in Management vs. MBA: Where the programs differ

From my point of view, while the ALM in Management has a price that’s hard to beat, it does not compare with a full-time MBA. Here’s where I think the ALM in Management program comes up short:

  1. There is no cohort experience, vital for building a network that can serve you long after after the program concludes.
  2. Even though many of the classes are similar to those you would find in a business school, the ALM in Management degree is technically not an MBA. It’s a liberal arts degree in management (!). This fact may cause skepticism among some potential employers.
  3. Most instructors are not Harvard faculty, and there is no affiliation with the world-famous Harvard Business School.
  4. While online classes are a lot of work for students, they are not a substitute for in-person learning experiences. Extension School students have complained about some of the deficiencies in the past.
  5. Recruiters either don’t know about the ALM program, or don’t regard it as a good program because it’s part-time, mostly online, etc. Note that some recruiters view any part-time business degree with skepticism.
  6. Among recruiters, the reputation of the school has been damaged by HES graduates who have omitted their Extension School background on their resumes. In some cases graduates have innocently followed the Harvard Extension School resume guidelines, but in many cases there have been deliberate attempts to portray themselves as graduates with a Harvard MBA or Harvard College degree.

In other words, it’s a mistake to assume the ALMM is like a Harvard MBA lite. That said, I think there is real value in some of the on-campus classes that expose students to important business concepts. There are takeaways that can be brought back to the workplace, or help students shift their careers in a new direction. For students who cannot enroll in a full-time MBA program, ALM in Management classes are an attractive alternative.

Harvard Extension School ALM in Management vs. full-time MBA program
Harvard Business School has a full-time MBA program.


Experimenting with bulk orders targeting the educational market

LinkedIn User GuideThe experimentation continues. Last week, I launched a new marketing and sales experiment for LinkedIn In 30 Minutes, a LinkedIn book for newbies. It involves bulk sales of the paperback to a special audience segment: Career services offices of colleges and universities in the United States.

My hypothesis: Staff at career services offices of colleges and universities directly serve an audience we are already targeting: People who need to know how to improve LinkedIn profiles in preparation for a job search. Students and recent grads may not have much professional experience to begin with, or in the case of graduate students, they may have career gaps because they have been out of the workforce for several years. They want to present themselves in the best possible light to potential employers and LinkedIn recruiters, and having a rock-solid LinkedIn profile is critical. These are the types of readers we want for LinkedIn In 30 Minutes!

But the problem is: They may not know about the guide, or may not be looking for this type of guide. How can we reach them?

The bulk order pitch to career services offices

I decided to reach out to a few career services offices at universities, ranging from smaller schools such as Suffolk University in Boston to larger schools such as the University of Texas system. I found the contact information of some schools on the Web, and crafted a simple email pitch. Here are the elements:

  1. I am the publisher, and we have a new book. Here is a PDF sample to download for your personal review
  2. I would be happy to mail you a paperback copy. Just say the word.
  3. Here are some specific lessons that will help your students use LinkedIn
  4. Find out more on the book website
  5. We can also arrange for bulk orders

I was most interested in the response rate for the paperback book. If they asked for one, I figured that would indicate a strong interest for a bulk purchase. So, I set up some bulk purchase options for LinkedIn In 30 Minutes. Of the 5% who responded with a request for the paperback, I mailed them a copy with a cover letter outlining the bulk prices. So far, no one has indicated they want to purchase a bulk order, but I will follow up with a call next week (Update: three bulk sales so far!). I’m really interested in finding out whether the guide meets their needs, and if so, what sort of bulk purchase terms would be most suitable — for instance, payment by credit card or invoice, the size of the bulk order, etc.

Shaquille O’Neal’s UoP master’s degree brings out the haters

Shaquille O’Neal received his doctoral degree in education last week. It wasn’t an honorary award — he earned it from Barry University, a private Catholic institution in Florida. It’s an admirable achievement that required lots of hard work, both on campus and off — he took many courses through distance education, but also had presentations and other activities on campus, as in the photo provided by Barry (the other person in the photo is David M. Kopp, Chair of the Organizational Learning and Leadership and Human Resource Development Programs).

Shaq doctorate degree - Shaquille O'Neal attended UoP
Shaquille O’Neal attended UoP and later earned a doctorate degree

But I noticed an interesting thread in the Gawker story about Shaq’s graduation. The entertainer and former basketball star received a master’s degree from the University of Phoenix prior to getting his doctorate from Barry. The Gawker story only mentioned Shaquille O’Neal’s UoP degree in passing, but it brought out a lot of spirited comments, many of them highly critical of University of Phoenix degrees.

MicMutt started off the thread with this comment:

Does “a Master’s degree from University of Phoenix” even mean anything?

A bunch of sarcastic comments followed (“It means your check to the University of Phoenix cleared”, “I hope so, that’s where I received my MD. Surgery rotation was cake”, etc.). But there was a serious response, too:


Lots of companies (and government agencies) pay for their employees to return to school for MBAs and such, and a substantial number of those people end up at UoP. It’s one of the top destinations because a lot of the time the employee just needs those extra letters behind his/her name, and the curriculum isn’t really that different from any other program.

However, one UoP supporter fired back at MicMutt with this:

You know what, if I ran a business I would take a UofP MBA over a BC/Columbia MBA every day of the week. Usually the people taking online classes are doing so because they are already out in the workforce, not everyone had daddy paying their tuition.

Focus on Shaq’s UoP master’s degree highlight concern over UoP standards

From there the conversation turned into a bitter war about privilege, ability, standards, career opportunities, and whether or not UoP degrees are legit. Example:

You know what? I do run a business and, as MicMutt said, a UoP MBA counts for very little. Traditional public and private not-for-profit universities offer online programs, and there are only two reasons someone would choose UoP:
1. Couldn’t get accepted to a program with legitimate admissions criteria;
2. Not sophisticated enough to realize that UoP is among the most expensive choices and has among the worst reputations.
This is not the sort of person I am interested in hiring for anything other than low-level grunt work.

These comments are cruel and unfair to students who put in a lot of work to earn their degrees. However, they do reflect real problems with UoP standards (which are affected by its for-profit mission) and perception in the marketplace. I wrote about this issue six years ago on another blog, and the post attracted more than 100 comments from UoP supporters and critics.

My publishing company counts newer for-profit schools as well as nonprofit educational institutions among its customers, with our LinkedIn book being one of the top sellers for students from both types of schools. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Regardless of which school they attend, many grad studentswant to improve their career opportunities. It’s not just about getting a bigger paycheck, but also being able to network with other professionals and finding new job opportunities via LinkedIn’s huge jobs database.

Highlighting user stories

For years, I’ve found the best way to illustrate what’s going on at the Harvard Extension School is to talk about the students and their experiences. Through interviews, personal blogs, emails, and message board postings I have been able to highlight both the good and the bad using voices that are totally authentic.

For instance, several years ago I spotted this blog post by a student who had just finished the Harvard ALB program. He was ecstatic about his experience learning under some of Harvard’s renowned faculty:

Overall I feel that I received the best undergraduate education possible. It was a great honor to study and then be a TA under Tom Hayes and run the Physics 123 lab — I think it’s entirely possible that Tom is the best introductory circuit design teacher in the world, and I know I am in great company. It was also a great honor to study cyberlaw at the Berkman center of Harvard law — as an undergraduate, I was able to take more IP, patent, copyright and digital law classes than are available at most law schools, including Larry Lessig’s former class “The Technology and Politics of Control”. I also learned Spanish with Professora Zetterstrand, studied the history of Boston under Robert Allison, and of course studied number theory, probability, topology, calculus, linear algebra, group theory, graph theory, etc. under professors Martinez, Boller, Winters, Bamberg, Towne. Astronomy at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Physics in the science center… comparative religious ethics and modern/contemporary American fiction in Harvard Hall. Museum studies with Mary Malloy (and the future directors of a couple dozen museums in the museum studies program), game theory with Neugeboren (who himself studied under Schelling, whose son Robert is also a close personal friend), psychology under Fersch, and the history of electronic music with Marshall all were brilliant courses also. So many of these professors were the best at what they do — leaders in their fields, the ones who wrote the books. And even though this was a “night school” program, Harvard refused to lower the bar and never failed to challenge me; many of the professors talked about how the curriculum in the college vs. night school was exactly the same, and in a number of cases the student projects and work in the night school exceeded that produced by the day students.

It’s through other user stories that I’ve been able to understand the problems with distance education at the Harvard Extension School. A group of students commenting on their distance education experience lamented the lack of interaction with their professors, despite the Extension School’s promise of “Harvard faculty and rigorous academics.”

User stories in other fields

User stories aren’t just limited to higher education. Through blogs and online reviews it’s possible to learn about all kinds of products, services, and new ways of doing things. The people telling the stories are often customers and people who practice/experience whatever they happen to be talking about.

Highlighting user stories with a C. diff case study
C. diff case study

One thing I hope to do with my nascent publishing venture is to highlight the user stories of some of my readers. The books are intended to educate people on a variety of mildly complex topics, ranging from digital technologies to science and medicine. Many readers are coming to these topics and have basic questions (“What is LinkedIn” or “What is C. diff“). I have begun to highlight some of the reviews on the book websites, but have also taken the time to talk to readers and highlighting their questions. Then there is the C. diff book, which highlights real C. diff case studies.

The next frontier for such user stories may be video. I have already found one YouTube video about one of my books and I think other people will take this route to share their experiences because it’s so easy to create the videos on a phone or computer.

Should you go to grad school?

Should you go to grad school - Harvard Widener LibraryFrom running several student-oriented blogs, I know that lots of people are searching for information about grad school. The search keywords that show up in my traffic logs are telling. “Is -name of school- worth it”, “will a degree from -name of school- look good on my resume” or “will a degree from -name of school- help me get a good job” are three common examples that are typed into Google, and end up on my blogs.

But one thing I don’t see nearly as often are searches relating to the quality of the programs in question. This is unfortunate, not only because I spent years blogging about research, readings, classroom exercises, and hands-on projects (all indicators of quality and a window into the experience of the grad school programs I attended), but also because it tells me many people don’t care about quality. Rather, the focus is what hiring managers will think of seeing the diploma or school name on a resume.

It’s sad, because grad school can be a wonderful experience for people who feel passionate about a certain topic or have a hunger for learning. It’s also a hard academic journey that can derail people’s personal lives and careers. But many prospective grad school students downplay those considerations, and remain obsessed about getting the right grad school name on their resume.

Should you go to grad school: advice from The Boston Globe

Devin Cole, writing for the Boston Globe, has a nice take on whether or not someone should go to grad school. He writes:

You may be looking at grad school for engineering, art, or business. Whatever the field may be, go because you want to and are excited by thought of it. Go because you know its worth giving up whatever else you might do for a few years.

Don’t go just to boost your resume.

Don’t go because you think you’ll make more money.

And don’t go because you don’t know what else to do.

In other words, you should go to grad school for the right reasons. If it’s just about getting a few lines of text on your resume, or improving your standing in the eyes of friends, families, or coworkers, be honest with yourself about your priorities and what really matters in life.

Educational “badges” as an alternative to diplomas?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article on the rise of educational badges, a reward/accomplishment system that some online educational services like Khan Academy are using. Here’s the summary:

Educational upstarts across the Web are adopting systems of “badges” to certify skills and abilities. If scouting focuses on outdoorsy skills like tying knots, these badges denote areas employers might look for, like mentorship or digital video editing. Many of the new digital badges are easy to attain—intentionally so—to keep students motivated, while others signal mastery of fine-grained skills that are not formally recognized in a traditional classroom.

The article goes on to ask whether easy-to-understand badges that denote focused study or skills will undermine traditional diplomas, which offer very little insights into the specific skills or abilities that were attained.

In my opinion, this is unlikely, at least for some professions such as information technology. We’ve seen efforts like this in the past, such as certification programs based on in-class or online instructions. While certification exams are a prerequisite for certain occupations, they are sometimes seen as a poor indicator of how well someone will perform in real-world situations. Badges and certificates also suffer from short shelf-lives relative to the value of a diploma, which has brand power that can last decades.

It will be interesting to see how the badge system evolves, and whether it can gain strength through acceptance of widely followed standards or partnerships with testing organizations or government agencies.

Stanford free classes review: “Online lectures suck”

Stanford free classes reviewThere has been a huge buzz in the world of computer programming and online education over Stanford’s move to open up computer science lectures to the public. The ambitious move to offer free Stanford classes takes online learning beyond the model established by MIT OpenCourseWare — not only can members of the public have access to some of the highest-quality college-level instruction on the planet, but they are taking the same classes as Stanford students.

But not everyone is satisfied with the offerings. A Stanford student who tried one of the classes on machine learning says it was watered down and provided a poor substitute for in-person Stanford lectures. Here’s an excerpt of his Stanford free classes review:

… Since the video lectures were excellent in the class, I’ll start with the programming exercises. At the beginning, some of the programming assignments were challenging since I wasn’t used to matlab/octave programming or machine learning. However, the level of difficulty dropped off drastically as the quarter progressed. At its worst, I completed a few programming assignments without even knowing that the corresponding lectures had been released (I have never done machine learning in the past) …

… If these classes are going to be labeled as Stanford classes, then they should be taught as such. CS229a has by far been my easiest CS class (besides maybe the final project) I’ve taken at Stanford. Normally, I wouldn’t have had a problem with this, except now that Winter quarter registration has opened and I have found that half of my classes are now open to the public in the online format, I’m worried that the rest of the classes will follow this trend. If all of my classes suddenly become as easy 229a, I will be seriously disappointed. I came primarily to Stanford to learn and study – classes like CS229a don’t satiate that desire. Perhaps it’s a fluke and the other online classes will be much more difficult, but it is still worrisome. Stanford needs to keep rigor even in their online courses – it’s useless to lower the bar so low that it only takes a small step to get over. …

… Online lectures suck. Sure, they’re great for rainy days or people learning at a distance or people that don’t go to Stanford. However, these new classes are getting rid of in-person lectures completely. I met barely anyone in my CS229a class. Everything was done alone in my room, which is kind of crappy especially when there is such a nice campus right outside. If Stanford is going to offer these classes, then by all means offer them, but don’t make students take them as well. Have the professors teach as many students as they can in-person and the rest can watch online.”

(Be sure to read the reaction in the comments at the bottom of the post. There is more discussion of the class and Stanford’s online lectures on Hacker News)

Stanford free classes: A watered-down educational experience?

The concern about content being watered down is also valid one — the school apparently put the interests of the public ahead of its own students, which understandably does not sit well with them. However, there are several ways to serve both populations without sacrificing the interests of either group, such as not watering down the content or keeping the two groups separate when it comes to designing for-credit content.

As for issues with the online format, this post should be a wake-up call for Stanford administrators and people who assume that online coursework can be substituted for an in-class learning experience. While there are benefits, there are many pitfalls. I’ve been a critic of online education for years, based on the developments I’ve seen at the Harvard Extension School as well as my own experience taking an online precalculus class for credit at UC Berkeley.

Opening up education to everyone via the models established by OpenCourseWare and Khan Academy lets learners get access to once-exclusive knowledge, and is an admirable goal. But when watered-down online coursework is offered as an equivalent of an in-class experience, or are offered for credit, that’s when the value proposition is thrown into sharp focus.

(Interested in learning about programming with jQuery? My company publishes a book about jQuery plugin development.)

Harvard Extension School citation program killed off

Spotted recently on the Harvard Extension School website: Evidence that the Harvard Extension School citation program has been killed off:

Harvard Extension School citation program 2005-2011

The Harvard Extension School citation program was good while it lasted. It let people who wanted to concentrate in a specialized field show their accomplishments and differentiate their degree — a significant issue for people in the Liberal Arts ALM, who don’t receive diplomas that reflect their course of study.

But the rules were terribly frustrating, in terms of what counted and the relatively short window for completing it. I sent this email to the school in 2008 asking about the possibility of getting a citation, based on my coursework and research:

I am a soon-to-be ALM graduate (History), and I have a question about citations. I see from the Extension School website that the window of opportunity for a citation in East Asian Studies lasts three years, and I would like to know if the following four courses — which were all taken and completed within a three-year period, starting in the summer of 2004 — would count. They are:

  1. ANTH S-171 – Archaeology of the Silk Road
  2. HIST E-1834 – Chinese Emigration in Modern Times
  3. History S-1855 – Film and History in Postwar Japan and Post-Mao China
  4. HIST E-499 – ALM Thesis (Title: Making a Case for Quantitative Research in the Study of Modern Chinese History: The New China News Agency and Chinese Policy Views of Vietnam, 1977-1993.)

You may recall that I asked about this a few years back, but that was before I completed my thesis, under the direction of Alastair Iain Johnston, the Governor James Albert Noe and Linda Noe Laine Professor of China in World Affairs. Getting such a citation would accurately reflect my overall studies at the Extension School, considering much of my coursework and all of my thesis research at the Extension School has been on East Asian history — especially China.

The answer: No, because the thesis didn’t count. This was despite the fact that the thesis was directly related to modern Chinese history, was directed by a tenured faculty member and expert in the field, and took 10 times as much effort than any single class at the Extension School.

In addition, I had taken another eligible class in early 2003 (History E-1830: The Emergence of Modern China). But again it couldn’t count toward a citation, as it was outside of the three-year window for a citation — hardy a rare occurrence, considering most students don’t have the luxury of being able to take classes so rapidly and certain courses aren’t offered every semester.

Harvard Extension School citation vs. Harvard Extension School certificate

Back to the retirement of the Harvard Extension School citation program. According to two curt emails sent to me by the Harvard Extension School staff member in charge, the school discontinued the citations in favor of Harvard Extension School certificates.

This doesn’t make sense. Certificates have nothing to do with most liberal arts master’s degrees offered by the Extension School, which was the focus of the citations. Rather, certificates are a profitable, short-term continuing education scheme for people in various industries, although the program page notes you can apply the course credit in four out of the five programs to professional ALM degrees. Several of the certificates, such as Web technologies, are entirely online — no face-to-face contact with fellow students or instructors required!

If you are earning a liberal arts ALM, and wanted to get additional recognition for your work in a certain field, you are out of luck. But that’s no surprise. The liberal arts character of the Extension School, not to mention the in-person classroom experience taught by Harvard professors that defined the Extension School experience beginning 100 years ago, has lately been given short shrift, in favor of scalable, impersonal online coursework that limits contact with actual Harvard professors and is oriented toward profitable professional education. I won’t get into that here, but you can read more about my thoughts on these and other Harvard Extension issues.