Asking (and Answering) the Right Questions: How Doctorates Enhance Thought Leadership

As a student in CPS’ Doctor of Law and Policy (DLP) program, I’m learning about the ways in which a wide variety of public and related institutions formulate and execute policy. I spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy and have devoted my career to regulatory compliance and risk management for the information technology industry. My classmates come from many other industries—everything from national defense to human services—but what brings us together in the DLP is the opportunity to learn systematic methods of policy inquiry and applying those methods to the most pressing questions in our respective fields.

Why is this important? Take the recent string of “glitches” that have impacted electronic trading. In late August, an IT system failure stopped the $50 billion a day NASDAQ  stock exchange for three hours. Is that a glitch? When a Goldman Sachs programming error causes a $100 million mistake in a matter of seconds, is that a glitch?  A glitch is a temporary, unforeseeable failure in a piece of equipment that is quickly remedied. However, in the case of the IT failures in global trading systems, it’s not just a piece of equipment or IT that fails, it’s markets that fail; that’s not a glitch, that’s a systemic risk.

Expectations for Education: 2013

These failures have been occurring now for almost two decades. The 1987 Black Monday crash was blamed in part on computerized program trading, which has evolved to high frequency trading (HFT), in which no human is involved. The 2010 Flash Crash, a 1000 point drop in the Dow in a matter of seconds, was blamed totally on HFT. Goldman Sachs got off easy in August since under exchange rules, 80 percent of its erroneous options trades were cancelled. Last year, Knight Capital was not so lucky. It took losses on almost all of its erroneous trades, over $450 million worth– four times Knight’s annual profit. Ironically, Knight was rescued from its bad trading positions by Goldman.

In the wake of such events, several regulatory fixes have been proposed for HFT failures, but as you can imagine, formulating solutions to this complex problem is far from simple. Traders are being replaced by IT systems, and hence the risk of market failures from poor IT governance is growing. Hiring a new CIO probably won’t fix this governance problem. Ensuring that effective governance exists is a board level responsibility, and unless the corporate directors and senior executives are executing effectively their roles in IT governance and risk oversight, no matter the regulatory fixes, the problems will continue.

This is not an abstract problem. When a major exchange shuts down, billions of dollars in trades halt. If that were to happen on a day when a volatile event occurs, such as the Fed deciding to raise interest rates, panic could set in when trading resumed. This type of panic has real consequences across the entire economy.

This is why I chose the DLP. I’m surrounded by smart, curious people who may not know anything about IT security issues and high frequency trading, but they are dealing with similarly important and complex issues in their own fields, so bring their unique expertise and perspective to class. In this way, I hope, our collective wisdom will help answer the important policy questions—regardless of the industries we individually work in.

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Expectations for Education: 2013

As the conversation continues about tailoring academic curricula to meet private sector needs, a recent data set provides further food for thought.

A national survey conducted by Northeastern University polled a sample of 1,000 people, along with more than 260 hiring decision-makers from small businesses to global corporations. The results indicate an ongoing preference for educational breadth, as opposed to specialization:

[N]early two-​​thirds of Americans (65 percent) and almost three-​​quarters of hiring decision-​​makers (73 percent) believe that being well-​​rounded with a range of knowledge is more important than possessing industry-​​specific skills.

So, does that mean the debate swings toward the “well-rounded” side and away from the “industry-specific” proponents? Not quite.

Expectations for Education: 2013Americans see a shared responsibility when it comes to preparing recent graduates for success. They believe the number one reason for employers struggling to find qualified job candidates is that companies do not invest enough in training new hires. However, hiring decision-​​makers say that colleges and universities are not in tune with industry needs and not preparing graduates accordingly. In fact, 55 percent of business leaders surveyed say their firms have trained recent college graduates on skills they should have learned at an academic institution.

This article summarizes the survey’s findings and includes some quick-hit data points of note; for more information, take a look at the survey’s main page. There’s also this sharp infographic—or you can just go right to the numbers.…

Catfishing your way to a master’s degree?

As we move education into a realm that makes greater use of online learning and we ponder how we award traditional course credit for courses taken in the MOOC model, an important consideration is our ability to verify that the person receiving the credit truly is the person doing the work.

An obvious advantage that the traditional face-to-face education model has over online environments is that it’s relatively easy to gauge a student’s understanding and confirm that the person sitting in class, participating in a discussion or taking a test is actually who they say they are. The online environment presents some unique challenges in this regard: Anyone who saw the news earlier this year about Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o’s non-existent girlfriend is familiar with the concept of “catfishing” and the difficulty in validating that the person on the other end of a discussion board is who they claim to be. If such impersonation occurs in social settings where the stakes might be considered relatively low, is it unreasonable to assume that such impersonations will occur in an environment where the rewards are potentially much greater? We’re talking about awarding educational credentials that can lead to greater employment opportunities and/or higher salaries—big payoffs.

Catfishing your way to a master’s degree?

Some organizations, including Northeastern, are investigating methods to validate student identity, including remote proctoring services (for example, using the student’s video camera to record the student taking the exam) and other technology-based systems. In addition, we have tools that help to identify plagiarism such as the TurnItIn system, which we use here at the Northeastern College of Professional Studies (CPS).

All of these potential solutions rely on a human being (the professor) to validate the results and determine if further investigation is necessary. It’s also up to the professor to ensure that students are not unnecessarily investigated and penalized. Just how useful these solutions will be in an environment that relies on peer feedback mechanisms for assessment of student learning (where students grade each other against an instructor-defined rubric) is very much open to question. Some might argue that peers are more likely to identify questionable activities and be able to verify student identities without the need for technological oversight. But identity hoaxes may be hard to detect and are often accompanied by documentary “proof” (assignment work) that is difficult to distinguish from the real thing.

Much work remains to be done before we can feel comfortable that the person receiving a credential after taking online courses is actually the person who deserves it. We certainly have technology that can form the basis for identity validation, like facial recognition, and we can use audio and video recording tools to capture student-testing environments. A larger question to ponder is whether the cost of a widespread implementation of technologies like these, along with the required human validation of the results, may dwarf the cost and detract from the many benefits that accompany the MOOC model.

Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend sent shockwaves through the NFL. What impact might fake students have on higher education? Only time will tell.

Bridging the gap: students talk about connecting online learning to real-world workplaces

Last month, Northeastern University College of Professional Studies launched an innovative pilot class called Online Experiential Learning for Working Professionals. The class—a first of its kind—gives working graduate students who are pursuing their degrees online to directly translate what they learn in class to the workplace. How? By giving them the chance to craft and complete a relevant project that addresses an identified business need for their current employer.

As CPS dean John LaBrie said in his recent blog post on online experiential learning:

The romantic notion that adults come back to higher education for personal enrichment and self-directed intellectual pursuits does not hold water. …the vast majority are in it for a better life, which almost always translates to enhanced career outcomes.

The majority of online students at CPS are employed. This new pilot is designed to equip these students to further their education and grow their skills while attending classes online and putting their knowledge into practice—on the job. (For an overview of the concept behind the class, check out this recent post by Ellen Stoddard, who is coordinating the pilot program.)

Bridging the gap: students talk about connecting online learning to real-world workplaces

So what do the students think of the concept? Below are comments from some who are taking part in the pilot on why they chose this unique class.

[My] project could help leadership identify critical business issues which will aid in the process of making the decisions necessary to remain a stable and viable company in the future.

Another student sees the benefits of online participation:

Being exclusively an online student, I regularly seek to find the connections between my work toward my Nonprofit Management degree and my personal and professional life. …Participating in this experiential learning program [gives] me the opportunity to both enhance my learning and bring added resources to [my role].

“Real-world experience” means just that—and the student group represents a lot of parts of the world: Geographically, the students hail from down the street in Boston down to North Carolina and Florida, and as far away as Dubai.

The diversity of the group reflects the broad potential for the pilot’s applications. One student is working on his project at a name-brand plant in Ohio; another is employed full-time at a New England law firm. Two of the participants intend to apply their newly developed skills to nonprofit work.

As Dean LaBrie puts it, “…incorporating experiential learning into online and hybrid learning programs is not only a crucial step toward these goals—it’s an inevitable one.” This pilot is an example of taking that step; we’ll continue to share results as the pilot progresses over the next several months.

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5 Tips for Grad School Success

In just under two months, I’ll be receiving a master’s degree in Corporate and Organizational Communication, with a concentration in social media, from the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies (CPS). Based on my experiences and a desire to help others get the most out of their education, I’ve put together these five short tips for how you can get the most out of your graduate school experience.

1. Don’t go back just to go back.

Times are tough. Unemployment is still at frightening levels; the constant demand for new (read: digital) skills is rapidly increasing; and the cost of everything is skyrocketing—including an education. It’s so tempting to get that next degree in an attempt to escape the perils of today’s economy and job market. But education should never be an “out.” Think of any current or past success you’ve enjoyed and ask yourself, “Am I ready to commit to this at the same level?”

Then you should begin to look at programs. When you do, take the time to do your homework and don’t settle for a program that isn’t the perfect fit. I spent a year researching before deciding on CPS.

 2. Trust your instincts.

This is probably the most significant lesson I learned. After seriously committing to CPS and my program, I had that positive gut feeling at each key moment—the application process, the acceptance letter, the first day of classes—that I had found what I was looking for. I knew it was right.

In my classwork, I took a few outside-the-box approaches that ultimately paid off. It often felt frightening to hand in some of my projects representing this kind of alternative thinking, but I feel that if B-level work is status quo—following instructions and simply meeting requirements—A-level work means making bold moves. It pays to push the proverbial envelope; to ask “Why” (or “Why not?”) —and to make it a habit.

3. Networking is everything.

For undergrads, forming relationships with professors outside of the classroom can be rare. But don’t let that set a precedent: In grad school, strong relationships should be the rule, not the exception. You’ll study under thought leaders in your field who will open doors for you, if you show your merit—not because it’s their job to do this, but because they are professionals who understand the importance of building the future of their industries.

The same goes for your classmates. Once you graduate, you could be working alongside some of the greatest minds in your field. And before that time, any of those people could be in your classroom; whether they’re in the back of the room, wearing a hoodie and jeans, or at the head of the class in Dockers and a polo shirt. Make friends, build connections and be ready and willing to learn from your peers.

4. Think of sacrifice as a necessity.

Graduate school is going to require time and money, and these things are of even higher value to you now than they were as an undergrad. But don’t think of the cost in dollars and hours. Think of it as time away from friends and family, the vacation you can’t take, the car you can’t buy. Even if your job will pay for school, working a full-time job while going to school—even part-time—is effectively holding down two full-time jobs. And if you’re not working, that probably means you’ll take on a lot of loans that won’t be going away anytime soon.

Come to terms with it. This is a commitment with costs that cannot be measured at face value, but the same can be said for the rewards.

5. Enjoy yourself.

Graduate school was responsible for what felt like the longest stretch of my life, even compared to attending undergrad for five years at two schools, with three majors. But it wasn’t the time, the cost or the balancing act between school, work and a personal life that made it feel this way: It was the fact that I never stopped learning.

Books and articles and theories and discussions will always be around, but graduate school is a time when you can—and should!—fully immerse yourself in them. The grad school environment fosters …