Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Online Education

“Does anyone here know what MOOC means?”  This question, posed by Dr. Krishna Aravamudham of the American Dental Association as part of her presentation on the Dental Quality Alliance to the American Association of Dental Consultants, prompted me to raise my hand.

“What is it?” she said.  “It has to do with online education.” I answered.

There may have been more in the room who know the acronym for Massive Open Online Courses, but I was in the second row and have been accused of usually being the first to have a question after any presentation I hear.  In this case I was knowledgeable because I wrote a Post on Coursera and Daphne Koller after viewing a TED presentation on YouTube two years ago.  That 20-minute clip made me an evangelist.  In preparation for today’s Post, I watched a longer 55-minute she made at Columbia, where she gave startling figures about the growth of MOOCs and what we have learned about online education. You should have links to both presentations in this Post.

My two years of evangelism have convinced me that the only long-term solution to the terrible student debt crisis that we have in this country will require enhanced online learning, where as Dr. Koller says, we can either provide a similar level of education to greatly increased numbers at a much lower cost, or an advanced level of education to greatly increased numbers at a similar cost.  At every dental meeting I attend, recognition of the effect $250,000 in debt is making on graduating dentists’ career choices overwhelms any other topic.

I have a granddaughter, with great grades from a highly-ranked high school and very good SAT scores who will graduate soon.  She has applied to several colleges. .  She also is talented in the arts and has performed on several highly recognized venues.  She eventually made a decision to live at home and attend a local (also highly ranked) Community College.  She is willing to sacrifice some of the socialization of college life for the financial security of affordability.

I have a grandson, who will be in his high school senior year this fall.  He is uncertain of what he will do when he graduates, but money is bound to be a factor in his decision.  Student debt is current news.  President Obama is calling for a reduction of the interest rate on student debt.  Universities have vowed to hold the line on tuition costs.  Coursera provides more than 300 courses and services at least 3.2 million students for no fee in 231 countries.  Starbucks recently offered free college applicable courses for employees as long as they work at Starbucks with no payback”, and Arizona State University, one of the schools my granddaughter was accepted to, offers more than 70 degree programs online for about $500/credit hour with no room and board or book fees.

Listening to Dr. Koller’s longer presentation today, I was struck by the unexpected advantages to online education, if it is structured correctly:  The socialization issue is provided by the Social Networking aspect of others taking the same course as one who is working on the same lesson at the same time.  The course builds in Peer Evaluation as part of the process, even when questions are subjective. , which enlightens students to see there are multiple approaches to problem solving. Testing is designed to meet levels of Mastery beyond what can be achieved in a classroom environment.  There is expectation that, as the mix between talent and desire begins to direct who and why someone initiates a course, Mastery levels will approach the Individual level of private tutors.

My hope is that by the time my grandson graduates, a room, similarly filled with professional people as the AADC Conference, will have 100% knowing alternatives to the educational model they experienced.

NPR recently ran a series on Heroin addiction in the United States.  Perhaps surprisingly that was the subject of another dental meeting I recently attended.  In my next Post I will explain that connection.  I hope that you will join me.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hacking Part 2

My mother would have said I got my “comeuppance”.  The ancient Greek might have felt the gods were punishing me with Hubris for predicting the future.  My peers might have smiled and said, “I got my just desserts.”  Whichever, only about five weeks after I wrote a post titled “Hackers” and drew the conclusion that privacy was an acceptable trade-off for data accessibility, I found my primary bank account raided for almost $15,000 in a two day period.

You might find the story interesting and perhaps enlightening.

On April 3rd I was about to deposit a sizeble check into the Navy Federal Credit Union account I have held for more than forty years.  Although NFCU has kept current with security measures, as evidenced that I have a random access account number that bears no relationship to any other personal information I have, financial or otherwise, and that NFCU remains one of the few institutions that does not download into my Quicken account on a real-time basis, I have not kept abreast of their concerns.  My password was not only “weak”, it also was one I used on several other sites and my mother’s maiden name and favorite pet were pieces of information that someone might find in the public domain.

I was to discover that my attitude was at best sophomoric and at worst, and there was a worst, dangerous.
When I went online to see which of the five linked accounts I wanted to deposit my check (really there are only two legitimate accounts, exclusion Mary’s, my checking or my savings, with the choice being how soon I would need to write a check against the balance.  At the time, I had several large checks either outstanding or imminent, and so I expected to deposit my check into checking.

My checking balance was not the $6000 I expected, but was less than $100.

There was history of about five transfers in my account: two from one account to another and three from my account to another NFCU member, whom I did not know.  $4,900 had been moved out of my account on April 1, and another $10,000, in two increments, was transferred on April 2nd.  Mary’s account was virtually depleted as were both my checking and savings.

How did that happen?

When the Fraud investigation at NFCO traced the NFCU transfer they discovered a common scam.  That NFCO member had probably been contacted by a Nigerian “businessman”, who told of the frustration his company has because of US money-laundering legislation.  He was probably offered $200 if he would exchange funds placed in his NFCU account for a money order, which he could buy at Walmart and send it to Nigeria.

Indeed, when NFCU looked into the account my funds were transferred to, they found the owner had sent the majority of the money as requested and still had $155 left, which NFCU seized.

Thankfully, since Credit Unions are now included under Federal Reserve FDIC protection, I received the entire $14,900 back into my account and was able to redistribute it so Mary retrieved all of her funds.
Of more interest is why was I targeted and how did the Nigerians get access to my account?

You may have read or heard recently that Anthem Health compromised some 80 million pieces of Personal Health Information.  While they do not believe that any financial information was compromised, it is hard to ignore that when I worked for WellPoint (purchased by Anthem) my checks were Direct Deposited into that very same account.  Both NFCU and I believe that was how access was obtained.  The company hired by Anthem to assist hacked members has been less than responsive but I am hopeful that I will recover incidental expenses incurred as the result of the event, such as $300+ for new checks, and interest on a few accounts where checks on the closed account were returned.

Which brings to mind the other issues from the incident:

·         I have Direct Deposit of both my military retired pay and Social Security for Mary and me.  Thankfully, because the event occurred at the first of the month I was able to get all three changed to the new account without delay.

·         Most of the checks that were returned forgave any penalties with a copy of the letter NFCU Fraud Unit provided.  This included four personal recipients and several credit cards.

·         I was able to write checks to both the IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board for estimated 2015 taxes before the April 154th deadline.  While we haven’t completed forgiveness of my returned checks, I have some optimism that I was be exonerated.

·         The Fraud Unit helped me improve the security on my new account, letting me choose a unique, strong password and teaching me to lie about my personal hints so outsiders will not be able to answer them. As an example, “What was your first school?  Answer: “Strawberry”.
I have not subscribed to a password vault yet, nor have I really changed m y thought that the Millennials treasure data convenience enough so they will risk an occasional hack, as long as they are protected from catastrophic loss.  I wonder how long it will be before I pull a ten dollar bill from my pocket and some youngster will ask, “What is that?”  My local supermarket says about 15% or customers now use Apple Money, and more are doing so every day.

In my next Post I intend to revisit a topic I wrote about two years ago or so:  online college.  I have grandchildren now who are affected, and I hope you will join me.