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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    The UC Regents will meet next week. On the agenda: a discussion of online education at the University of California.

    That discussion will serve as a follow-up to Governor Jerry Brown’s speech at the November meeting. Then he argued that technology was poised to “disrupt” higher education, much as it had done the post office and the newspaper industry. (Well, he describes the offices of newspapers he recently visited as looking like a “neutron bomb” went off — so that’s not exactly disruption, that’s obliteration…) The university must move online more rapidly, Brown insisted. Technological progress demands it. The budget demands it.

    “[But] just while people were talking I went to my iPhone and I went to Google and I typed in ‘university education online’ and there’s a lot there and we don’t have to wait until January, or February, or March. We can have it right now. So that’s the world we live in…. The newspaper, the Post Office, the university. We can build the most fabulous buildings, we can have the teachers, professors, all this kind of stuff. But if other people come along and offer the same, or better, when they want it, you’re going to find there’s pressure out there."

    Pressure indeed, and a backdrop to yesterday’s Rebooting California Higher Education event sponsored by the Twenty Million Minds Foundation (a California non-profit, run by former Senator Dean Florez, which helped push through recent legislation supporting openly licensed college textbooks).

    The day-long event gathered together many key players in California higher education: Faculty Senate and faculty union representatives, administrators, politicians, vendors, students. Its purpose was “to raise the awareness and discuss key issues regarding the potential for online education to lower the costs for higher education in California.”

    I storified the event, after live-tweeting it, as did Tiara Kelly. Below, I touch on some of the themes that struck me:

    Lowering the Costs (For Whom)

    There were objections from some corners that we shouldn’t simply talk about online education in terms of cost-savings. “It’s not about cost,” insisted Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, although he admitted that much of the conversations about the future of California’s higher education have stemmed from budget discussions. “I want to focus on quality and access. I want to maintain our status as the finest system of public education in the world,” he said. Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun echoed these sentiments in his presentation, arguing that higher education will be faster, better, and cheaper, although he admitted that so far the interest has been on the “cheaper” aspect, and not focused on the “better.”

    UCLA union representative Bob Samuels wondered if in fact the move to online education would really save colleges and universities money as some have promised. (Koller revealed that it takes between $25,000 to $50,000 to develop a course for Coursera.) Samuels expressed his concerns that all this hype about online education might just serve as a rationale to further cut universities’ funding.

    No doubt, when we talk about cost-savings and higher education, we need to clarify: cost-savings for whom? For the institution? For the state? For the student?

    What is “Quality” Higher Education?

    The first panel of the day addressed the quality of online higher education and the day ended too with a debate on this question, although it was broadened to include the quality of offline and the quality of K–12 education.

    ASU Online’s Phil Regier insisted the the classes that his university offers online are as good as the face-to-face versions. San Jose State’s Mo Qayoumi and Ping Hsu also argued that students seemed to perform as good or better in the blended classes that the university was offering in conjunction with edX. Again and again, some of the panelists sought to counter this notion that online is inferior.

    Lillian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association, who was on the final panel, also wanted to counter the notion that online educators are the only ones who care about quality. She was also one of few who questioned how we were defining “quality.” She asked if we were comparing new learning technologies to some of the worst ways to teach (that “is, the sage on the stage") just in order to justify online as “okay.”

    But what is quality higher education? Completion rates? Knowledge or skill accumulation? Competency? Support? Job placement? Experience? What does quality education (quality teaching and quality learning) look like offline? What does it look like online?

    And what does “quality” mean to the California higher education system? To the different institutions? To the students, the faculty, alumni?

    What is the Purpose of Higher Education?

    Much like the (unspoken) disagreements about how the panelists at the event define “quality,” I felt there were huge disagreements about how we define the purpose of higher education. I was struck in particular by the statement by Western Governors University’s Steve Klingler in explaining why there are no electives there: “They don’t add value.”

    (That’s a qualitative judgment, right? It’s also a judgment about purpose.)

    Klinger maintained that that the curriculum that WGU students study has been approved by corporations in the fields that will employ them. And no doubt that reflects a lot of the way in which we talk about higher education today: career readiness, workforce training.

    ASU Online’s Phil Regier seemed to bristle at this, making the case that students take classes they don’t want to, for course requirements outside the major — for electives. But no one really spoke directly to the need for a “liberal arts education” (no one on the panel at least). 

    Accreditations & Regulations

    Coursera announced today that it was introducing “Signature Track,” a way for students to verify their identities so as to receive Verified Certificates for (certain) Coursera courses. While not “official” credit, this is certainly another step towards alternative credentialing. (Coursera is also working with ACE to secure credit equivalency for its courses.)

    Coursera’s Daphne Koller didn’t reveal the Signature Track news yesterday (hmm, I wonder why not?), but others did bring up the subject of credits and credentials quite a bit. One of the student panelists argued that her and many of her peers taking online classes was motivated by not having offline courses available — and if you’re not enrolled in enough credits, of course, you don’t get financial aid. And you don’t graduate on time. Perhaps you don’t earn a diploma (back to the question of “what is the purpose of higher education” again).

    The assertions by Straighterline’s Burck Smith might have been the most provocative on this front. Invoking Baumol’s cost disease, Smith asked what the biggest obstacles were to productivity improvements in higher education. Answering his own question, he said “regulations.” By that, Smith meant the regulations that restrict what “counts” for college credit — who “counts” as a college. Smith argued that the “tax-payer supported” accreditation system made it very difficult for new players to enter the education market.

    I can’t help but wonder how the politics of education technology will play out here — particularly surrounding this question of credentialing, particularly considering those gathered at the event. That’s not a subject I expect Governor Brown to tackle in front of the UC Regents. I suspect it’s something that many of these online education vendors will take up with the state nonetheless.

    (In related, interesting news, Dean Dad observes that the University of Phoenix might be on the cusp of losing its accreditation. Last summer, the California Student Aid Commission decreed that students at the for-profit university would no longer be eligible for state financial aid.)

    Incongruent Inevitabilities

    The move to online education “might not be faculty-driven,” said the University of Wisconson’s Ray Cross, “but it’s reality-driven.” Change is inevitable — that’s the sense I got from many of the speakers — and technology is accelerating it. Indeed, I think that’s the dominant narrative right how about higher ed. “The Campus Tsunami” and whatnot.

    But what changes will higher education make and to what end? Are the funding cuts inevitable, as suggested by The Chronicle’s Jeff Selingo, who pointed out that if trends continue, by 2059 no American universities will receive public funding? What technologies will be adopted and how and by whom?

    I don’t think we have a clue what the future holds for higher education -- despite assertions that "everything will be different in 30 years" -- and it seemed as though every speaker at the event had a different vision (and a different stake) in what that might look like.

    Who Was Missing?

    In his opening remarks, moderator Phil Hill noted that the people in the room would help steer the future of the state’s higher education system. I looked around the room and sighed. So many people, so many voices were missing. Among the notable ones: 2U (formerly 2tor, which has a partnership with USC); Pearson (which now runs Cal State Online); edX (its member schools includes UC Berkeley); more faculty (those with online teaching experience and those reticent to make the leap); people of color; more students (particularly “non-traditional” ones); and international institutions and/or scholars.

    The Rebooting California Higher Education event had, nevertheless, a pretty packed agenda. And I imagine it’s left lots to discuss for next week’s UC Regents’ meeting (and then the following week, the USC Regents’) with the Governor, where apparently online education providers will also offer presentations. How much input faculty and students will have in any of this, however, remains to be seen.

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    Law and Politics

    Michelle Rhee’s new ed-reform lobbying effort “StudentsFirst” released a report card this week, with grades for all fifty states plus Washington DC based on their education laws and policies. The best grades went to Louisiana and Florida — they earned B-’s. No relation between these grades and how well students perform. Just how well politicians there conform. Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker has a great read on the Rhee-report-card meaning and methodology.

    The first to take full advantage of California’s “parent trigger law,” the parents at the Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California have voted to convert their neighborhood school into a charter school. The Hechinger Report has a more detailed look at the two-year battle to do so.

    St. Vrain Valley School district in Colorado plans to implement a GPS-tracking system on students’ bus passes so that the district will be able to tell when and where students get on and off the bus. The system will cost about $131,540. Parents will be able to sign up for messages alerting them to their children’s whereabouts. Train ‘em young to accept the surveillance state, right?

    And in other tracking-kids-like-cattle news, a student who was suspended from a Northside ISD school in San Antonio for refusing to wear her RFID’d ID has lost her lawsuit against the district. The student and her family had sued the district, claiming that her first amendment rights were being violated (she claims the RFID tag is “the mark of the Beast”), but the school removed the RFID chip from her ID and the court found that that was a reasonable accomodation.

    Launches and Upgrades

    One of my picks for the top ed-tech startups of 2012, Baltimore’s Digital Harbor Foundation, has announced that its new Tech Center will be a site for the Maker Education Initiative’s Maker Corps.

    One Laptop Per Child demoed its latest device at CES this week (The Verge has the nice glossy photos of its hands-on.) The biggest surprise might not be the look or feel or “oomph” of the machine, but the fact that it will appear in U.S. retail stores in March.

    Also timed with CES, LEGO Education unveiled the next generation of its Mindstorms Robotics Kit: the EV3. You can read my write-up on the news here.

    Also at CES, McGraw-Hill demoed its “SmartBook,” a textbook that promises adaptivity to the needs of individual students. According to The Wall Street Journal, “All readers essentially see the same textbook as they read for the first five minutes. But as a reader answers review questions placed throughout the chapter, different passages become highlighted to point the reader to where he or she should focus attention.” McGraw-Hill says the adaptive textbook will be available for about 90 courses in the spring.

    Edmodo says it’s updated and clarified the language in its Terms of Service. (Wow, still pretty unclear to me. And it says that schools and not Edmodo are responsible for complying with COPPA — is that right?!)

    Free online graphing calculator Desmos has added a very cool new feature: tables of data. Creating tables of data is an important step in understanding and solving equations, statistics, and so on. And this is definitely something your handheld TI calculator doesn’t do.

    The education startup Pathbrite can made a marketing deal with Pearson so that its portfolios will be available to those who use Pearson LearningStudio. More details on investor Tom Vander Ark’s blog.

    The learn-to-code site Codecademy has added new lessons with training on using the YouTube, NPR, Stripe,, and other partner APIs.

    RRKidz, the startup that now runs the Reading Rainbow brand, has announced that it’s partnering with National Geographic Kids to bring more content to its iOS apps. The School Library Journal has more on the news — and let me editorialize here that I’d sure rather listen to the old Levar Burton who told kids to find books in their local library than the new Levar Burton that tells them to find them on their iPads.

    The digital textbook app-maker Kno has added a new feature, Kno Me, which offers students a dashboard to track their own reading engagement as well as ways to follow other students to compare and contrast study habits.


    Barry Diller-owned media company IAC has acquired (Terms of the deal were not disclosed). IAC already owns a lot of great domain-name-businesses, including and Some folks in the tech press seemed awfully excited about this, arguing that this means that the algorithms used in IAC’s dating sites (including OKCupid) would now be used to match students and tutors. Cue lots of usage of the word “revolution,” something that seems to overlook the fact that private tutoring services aimed at parents are apt to increase the achievement gap.


    The Chronicle of Higher Education now hosts the data from the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced project to identify the pay and working conditions for higher education’s mostly adjunct labor force. Inside Higher Ed also took a look at adjunct labor this week, which was a big topic at this year’s MLA. (Thank you, Michael Bérubé and MLA.)


    Because it wouldn’t be a weekly news roundup without some MOOC news: Coursera unveiled SignatureTrack— its plans to verify students’ identities so that it could confidently award “certifiable course records” (for a fee). How will it identify you? In part through “your photo ID and unique typing pattern.”

    “The University of Wisconsin System is experimenting with a new ‘flex’ program that allows non-traditional students to obtain course credits through massive open online courses (MOOCs), online classes, and assessment. The first 100 students to participate in a pilot program may receive those credits free,” writes Campus Technology’s Dian Schaffhauser.


    Kudos to the teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle who are refusing to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to their students. The teachers cite flaws with the reading test’s design (“the test’s margin of error is greater than the gains … students are expected to make”) as well as what it covers. The MAP test is given two to three times per year to Seattle students and is used to measure student and school performance — and starting this year, teachers’ performance too.

    Research and Data

    Statistics guru and FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver held an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit this week, and interestingly, the most popular question was in regards to using data to evaluate teachers:

    Q: What are your thoughts on data-driven metrics for teacher evaluation? Do you think a system that accurately reflects teacher value could ever be created, or will it always be plagued by perverse incentives (teaching to the test, neglecting certain types of students, etc)?

    A: There are certainly cases where applying objective measures badly is worse than not applying them at all, and education may well be one of those.

    In my job out of college as a consultant, one of my projects involved visiting public school classrooms in Ohio and talking to teachers, and their view was very much that teaching-to-the-test was constraining them in some unhelpful ways.

    But this is another topic that requires a book- or thesis-length treatment to really evaluate properly. Maybe I’ll write a book on it someday.

    According to the latest Babson Survey of Online Learning, more than 6.7 milion university students — about a third — took an online course for credit in the fall of 2011. The increase in enrollment — 9.3% — is actually the smallest percentage increase since Babson began tracking this figure a decade ago. And despite all the MOOC-related frenzy from last year, just 2.6% of higher education institutions say they offer one with just 9.4% more saying they’re planning to do so. The full report is available here.

    After spending $45 million on a three-year research project, the Gates Foundation says it’s figured out what makes a good teacher. And as such it says it’s recommending its own special blend of assessment tools to identify them: test scores plus classroom observation. More from Rutgers University’s Bruce Baker on the methodology and politics.

    Because K–12 teachers shouldn’t be the only ones who have all the fun of being rated and evaluated, Rick Hess and Education Next have released this year’s “RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Presence” rankings. “The metrics, as explained here are designed to recognize those university-based academics who are contributing most substantially to public debates about K–12 and higher education.” It’s a weird list, definitely skewed with some disciplinary biases (no one from the MLA — no Michael Bérubé, for example, and no Kathleen Fitz — and nobody from the MOOC-hoopla — no Sebastian Thrun, Daphne Koller, Andrew Ng, or Anant Agarwal) — but hey, who am I to suggest Hess has biases, right?

    The longer students stay in school, the less engaged they are. That’s the finding of a recent Gallup Student Poll which found that while 76% of elementary school students are engaged, just 44% of high schoolers are. (I can’t tell how they defined “engagement” in their polling questions or analysis but hey, with a headline like “The School Cliff” and a downward graph like this one…)


    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott have launched a “Gap App Challenge,” a contest with over $104,000 in prizes that asks developers to submit games and other applications to help middle schoolers learn math. I’m sure that these apps will end “The School Cliff,” aren’t you?

    Accreditation (Or Not)

    Buried in the fifth paragraph of a story by Bloomberg News on the latest earnings from Apollo, the parent company of the University of Phoenix: “The company is also expecting to receive a draft report from its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, said Gregory Cappelli, Apollo’s Chief Executive Officer, during a conference call with analysts and investors. He said the company believes it will be placed on notice, which would require follow-up reports and action.”

    Image credits: Tony Bowden

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  • 01/14/13--20:15: Update
  • All the amenities

    Today I counted the number of posts I’ve written on Hack Education since January 1: only 7. I’m on track — well, as of Week 2 of 2013, ha ha ha — to blog here half as often as I did in 2012.

    But that’s okay. I’m writing a book. (More details to come…)

    It's likely I will be updating Hack Education less frequently throughout (if not the year then) the duration of this book-writing process. Yes, of course, I’ll still be blogging here. This remains the site where I write and rant about education. Duh.

    But in case there are periods of extended silence here, in case you're curious: here’s a list of the other places where you’ll be able to track me (and track what I’m tracking…)

    News Elsewhere: A subsection of this blog. When I read smart, interesting, relevant education technology stuff, I share it — with just a bit of commentary — here. Or follow the Hack Education News Ticker on Twitter.

    Weekly News: I’ll continue to post every Friday my roundup of all the education technology news of the week.

    Newsletter: I send a weekly email newsletter (And yes. I’m sorry. Ugh. Email.) once a week. Sign up here.

    Speaking:Find me at EduCon, API Strategy & Practice Conference, SXSWedu, and elsewhere…

    Podcast: Steve Hargadon and I will continue to record our podcast (Schedule TBD).

    Tumblr: I don’t update my personal Tumblr blog all that frequently. But I do use Tumblr to track links about robots with maniacal regularity (That's a hint re: my book).

    Personal Blog:

    Twitter: Your best bet for staying in touch: follow me on Twitter: @audreywatters. (Twitter is a real-time communication network. Email is not. Use accordingly.)

    Photo credits: Audrey Watters

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    Take note, folks. It’s here: “MOOCs” for credit.

    California Governor Jerry Brown, San Jose State University President Mo Qayoumi, and Udacity co-founder and CEO Sebastian Thrun held a press conference this morning to announce a pilot program that marks a first for the state: San Jose State will award college credits for special versions of select Udacity classes.

    The pilot program will be available to a group of 300 students from San Jose State, community colleges and high schools, but it’s really aimed at the latter two groups — in the hopes of boosting students’ “college readiness” and with the recognition that the wait lists for California’s community colleges make it incredibly challenging for these students to get into introductory classes. (In the fall of this school year, The LA Times reported that some 470,000 California students were on waiting lists for community college classes.)

    The pilot will offer 3 classes — remedial algebra, college algebra, and statistics — and will do so too at a cost one-tenth the tuition of regular classes (cost: $150), according to Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, who quipped that “This is the single cheapest way in the country to earn college credit.”

    But as Thrun stressed at last week’s Reboot CA Higher Education event, the emphasis must be on making education better not just cheaper.

    The Year of the “MOOC”?

    I can’t help but notice that even The New York Times didn’t use “MOOC” the its headline or URL for this story: “California to Give Web Courses a Big Trial.” I’d quibble, I suppose, that California has tried Web courses before now, but there you go. Even San Jose State itself has offered blended learning classes in conjunction with edX. But heck, “MOOC” isn’t mentioned in the NYT story ’til sentence number 4.

    As for me, I’ve put “MOOCs” in scare quotes throughout this piece. Perhaps it’s clear by now that the evolution of these “new” online courses has veered away from the original MOOC vision— both the cMOOC and the xMOOC variety. There are now registration restrictions and enrollment caps; the content is not openly licensed; classes have offline components; they are not free.

    Sebastian Thrun describes these iterations as “MOOC 2.0” and says Udacity has come to recognize that most learners require more than simply the videos and exercises that the xMOOCs have offered thus far. “They need mentors,” he told me in a phone interview this weekend; “peers and professionals” as he described it at the Reboot California Higher Education event last week.

    The mentors for the pilot program will be hired and trained by Udacity. There will still be professor involvement in the classes (SJSU professors are the "faculty of record"); and while I cannot imagine that there won’t be some pushback, Thrun stresses that this pilot program has the approval of SJSU's faculty members. He stresses too that even though Udacity is offering more human support versus just the algorithmic feedback offered through the Web interface, that this all will still “scale.”

    Remediation and Research

    The additional support offered by the Udacity-SJSU pilot program aims to reduce the high rate of attrition from most “MOOCs.” As it currently stands, some 90% of those who enroll in MOOCs fail to complete the class. Whether you see the lower barriers to sign up and drop out as a feature or a bug, it’s not a statistic that will work with more formalized classes (particularly with new language in Governor Brown’s 2013–2014 budget that seeks to tie community college funding to course completion rather than course enrollment).

    Indeed the high dropout rates from “MOOCs” might be particularly troubling for the program that Udacity and San Jose State are promising to offer — one that focuses on college prep and college remediation. No doubt there is a big demand for remedial classes — more than half of incoming CSU students need to take them, and these classes cost them tuition (and financial aid) dollars but do not count towards graduation. But it’s not clear that “MOOCs” are the right solution here. These students are, quite likely, a different group than those self-motivated learners who are successfully completing “MOOCs” in their current format.

    Of course, this hasn’t stopped other groups from investigating/investing in the possibilities of “MOOCs.” The Gates Foundation gave a grant to edX to offer community college courses and has made additional funding available to those who develop remedial MOOCs. (I don’t want to make too much of the competition between edX and Udacity and Coursera here, but it’s probably worth noting, if even in passing.)

    Much of the debate about “MOOCs” — how/if they will work; how/if they will work for the novice or struggling learner; how/if they will lower costs; how/if they will expand access; how/if they will boost quality — is now being framed in terms of “research.” Many of the panelists at last week’s Rebooting California Higher Education echoed this. (We need “rigorous research” into online learning, said Lillian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association. "We owe it to the students.”) “This is,” as Thrun explained in our phone interview, “an experiment.”

    While experimentation and research are both necessary, I do think we should consider exactly where — on whom?— this occurs and how it’s being framed. I think there are many questions to ask here about what high school students and community college students need to succeed in college — about the best ways to teach algebra and statistics, for example, about the support services students need, about what “MOOCs” can and cannot provide (and at what cost savings). I’d argue too that some of these things aren’t really “research questions”; the answers are already available (perhaps locked away in closed access academic journals, I suppose). We do know a lot about teaching and learning online and offline. There is expertise in high schools; there is expertise at community colleges; there is expertise at university campuses. Much of that expertise — be it in instruction, in instructional design, in student support services — has been stripped due to budget cuts. Can MOOCs really address this? And do we want for-profit companies to be the ones who try?

    Thrun dismisses the hype about “MOOCs” as a silver bullet for all our budgetary and educational woes. But as he took to the podium with Governor Jerry Brown today to announce “MOOCs for credit” at one of California's oldest and largest public universities, the politics that push for silver bullets do seem glaringly obvious.

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  • 01/16/13--19:36: Hack Education Podcast
  • I'm writing a book this year, and as such I'm going to blog less. But I don't think that's going to affect the podcast that Steve Hargadon and I record weekly(ish).

    We'll continue to record it weekly(ish) as I really do find our conversation to be one of the most thought-provoking exchanges I have. As I try to pull my thoughts on ed-tech together for blogging and for book-writing, this is ever-so-important for me as I think and talk and write through ideas about the future of learning.

    Steve and I chatted today for the first time in 2013. As such, we caught up on a couple of weeks' worth of news and blog posts and such. We had a great conversation about hedgehogs and foxes and Aaron Swartz and open data and technology freedom and robots and Seymour Papert and AI and politics and stuff. 

    The link to the MP3 of the show is below, and/or you can subscribe to the podcast feed. You can also find the podcast in iTunes, as part of Steve's EdTechLive series.

    January 16, 2013

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    Boston Wiki Meetup

    RIP Aaron Swartz

    One week since the suicide of 26-year-old hacker-activist Aaron Swartz, we are still reeling from the loss. Early Redditer, founder of Demand Progress, and co-developer of many important Web technologies including RSS, Swartz was facing multiple federal charges for allegedly “stealing” some 4 million digital documents, downloaded from JSTOR while on the MIT campus. MIT has announced an internal investigation, led by Hal Abelson, into its role in the prosecution.

    College Credits

    San Jose State University has partnered with the online education startup Udacity to offer 3 online classes for credit. Although Udacity has been at the forefront of the recent MOOC-hype, these classes aren’t really “MOOCs.” They aren’t massive — just 100 students apiece. They aren’t open — they’re limited to a select group of SJSU, community college, and high school students. They aren’t free. The credits will cost $150 a piece. MOOCs or not, this is pretty big news. My write-up is here.

    In related news, ACE (the American Council on Education) will evaluate 4 Udacity courses for credits. ACE announced in November that it was similarly evaluating Udacity’s competitor Coursera to see if its courses could be eligible for credit.

    AP classes will no longer count towards college credit at Dartmouth, the Associated Press reports. A recent story in The Atlantic called the AP exam “a scam” but with David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core State Standards now running the College Board, the organization that offers both the AP and the SAT, somehow I doubt that standardized testing — such a very profitable endeavor— is going away any time soon. After all, this won’t take effect at Dartmouth ’til 2018.

    Updates and Upgrades

    A cool new vending machine, of sorts, at Drexel University allows students to check out laptops while they’re in the school’s library.

    Google Chromebooks come in a new flavor with the unveiling this week of the Lenovo ThinkPad version. Despite a heftier pricetag than other Chromebooks ($429) Google is marketing these to schools and plans to showcase them at FETC.

    GigaOm’s Ki Mae Heussner looks at a non-profit that’s being sput out of the Minerva Project, a recently founded for-profit college. (I covered news of its $25 million seed investment here.) The Minerva Institute for Research and Scholarship will help “create new programs to finance students’ education and recruit top-level teaching talent,” writes Heussner. Former Senator Bob Kerrey, who served as the President of The New School, will head the institute.

    PBS will begin airing specially-made-for-TV TED Talks this spring. The first one will focus on education and will be given by the person TED has crowned world’s leading expert on the subject, Bill Gates.

    Inkling founder Matt McInnis penned a blog post this week titled “Unseating the Giant.” In it, he decries Amazon’s control of the e-book market arguing that “there are umpteen reasons this is bad for everyone.” So perhaps to compete a bit better with Amazon’s giant marketplace, Inkling and the publishers it works with have now agreed to allow Google to index the full contents of Inkling titles. That means that book content will show up in Google searches, and people will be able to buy the chapters or the whole book they’re viewing in the search results.


    It’s time again for Google’s Doodle4Google contest, its annual program that asks K–12 students to create a drawing for the search engine’s home page. More details, along with the entry form, here.

    Hires and Hoaxes (and Football)

    There’s a job opening at the University of Oregon for Head Football Coach as Chip Kelly is headed to the Eagles. Wait, why is Audrey writing about college football on Hack Education? Well, in part because the UO is my alma mater. And in part because it was a very weird week for college football -- and not because Kelly would actually want to coach a Philadelphia sports team. If you haven’t read this story on Deadspin about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and his fake dead girlfriend then you haven’t been paying enough attention to the Internet, college sports, or journalism this week.

    Research and Data

    Here’s a website containing links scraped from Twitter to all the PDFs that were shared as part of the #PDFTribute to Aaron Swartz. (And some thoughts from Dan Cohen on why we need to do more to open access to scholarly research than just tweet links to PDFs.)

    A survey from Scholastic finds that the number of kids reading e-books has nearly doubled since 2010. Despite the interest expressed by those age 6 to 19 about e-books, 80% said that they still read books for fun “primarily in print.”

    A study commissioned by Duolingo — one of my picks for the top education startups of 2011 — found the language-learning startup to be effective in helping folks, well, learn a language. According to the study, students “would take on average 26 to 49 hours of study with Duolingo to cover the materials for the first semester of college Spanish” (as tested by the vocabulary test WebCAPE, at least).

    A study conducted by Intel and the United Nations examines the gender gap with regards to Internet access. There’s a gap of 4% between men and women in the US who use the Internet; but in the developing world, that increases to 23%. Wired has more details.

    Oops. It appears as though there was a sampling error in the recent PISA tests, meaning that the United States’ scores were lower than they should have been. According to Stanford University’s Martin Carnoy and the Economic Policy Insitute’s Richard Rothstein, the PISA scores didn’t correctly account for the class inequalities in this country. “Because social class inequality is greater in the United States than in any of the countries with which we can reasonably be compared, the relative performance of U.S. adolescents is better than it appears when countries’ national average performance is conventionally compared.” So it's not so much that “public education in this country is failing." It’s that social justice is.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    The richest man in the world backs Khan Academy. (No, not Bill Gates. He’s number two.) Mexico’s Carlos Slim, via the Carlos Slim Foundation, will give Khan Academy support for an Education Alliance “para dar acceso gratuito a la población de México y Latinoamérica a educación de clase mundial.” No dollar figure has been announced, but the foundation says it will pay all the expenses to support Khan Academy’s activities in Mexico, including the translation of videos into Spanish. Khan Academy has previously received money from Google and others to help translate videos, partnering with Universal Subtitles in 2011 to crowdsource their translation.

    Elsevier In Advanced Talks To Buy Mendeley For Around $100M To Beef Up In Social, Open Education Data” reads the headline in Techcrunch. “Open Education”?! "Disruption"?! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! See also: Elsevier and SOPA, Elsevier and the Research Works Act, and Elsevier and arms fairs.

    The online education website has raised $103 million in funding — the first outside investment for the 18-year-old company. Why now? Shrug. Why not?

    EdSurge reports that the assessment tool MasteryConnect has raised $4.125 million in funding. (The startup, whose products include an app to auto-grade bubble sheets, just announced it had raised $1.1 million last month.)

    According to Campus Technology, a Stanford computer science class has 7 corporate sponsors that, for a $75,000 “affiliate fee” apiece, get to suggest the projects that the students work on. According to the course website for "Project-Based Software Design, Innovation, & Development,” the fee “covers all costs and includes university infrastructure charges, teaching team time, laboratory services, travel, telecommunication services and any prototype fabrication requirements.” (As I read that, the students all still have to pay tuition. Suckers.)

    And because it’s been such a wild week for education and sports, let’s end with this gem: according to a new report from the American Institutes for Research, “Division I universities and colleges tended to spend roughly three to six times as much on athletics per athlete as on academics per student, with the ratio exceeding 12 times in the Southeastern Conference, home of the last seven NCAA national champions in football.” Go team.

    Photo credits: Sage Ross

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    I'm one of the signers of the document below, which was written collaboratively following a small gathering in Palo Alto last month. I'm posting it here unedited and in its entirety, with my comments in a separate post. 

    Two Hand Crafted Wood Writing Tools Made by Friends


    Work on this Bill of Rights & Principles began in Palo Alto, California, on December 14, 2012. We convened a group of people passionate about learning, about serving today’s students, and about using every tool we could imagine to respond better to the needs of students in a global, interactive, digitally connected world.

    The Internet has made it possible for anyone on the planet to be a student, a teacher, and a creative collaborator at virtually no cost. Novel technologies that can catalyze learning are bubbling up in less time than it takes to read this sentence. Some have emerged from universities, some from the private sector, some from individuals and digital communities. In the past year, Massive Online Open Courseware, or MOOCs, have become the darling of the moment–lauded by the media, embraced by millions–so new, so promising in possibility, and yet so ripe for exploitation.

    We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide, whether young or old, learning for credit, self-improvement, employment, or just pleasure. We believe that online courses can create “meaningful” as well as “massive" learning opportunities.

    We are aware of how much we don’t know: that we have yet to explore the full pedagogical potential of learning online, of how it can change the ways we teach, the ways we learn, and the ways we connect.

    And we worry that this moment is fragile, that history frequently and painfully repeats itself. Think of television in the 1950s or even correspondence courses in the 1920s. As we begin to experiment with how novel technologies might change learning and teaching, powerful forces threaten to neuter or constrain technology, propping up outdated educational practices rather than unfolding transformative ones.

    All too often, during such wrenching transitions, the voice of the learner gets muffled.

    For that reason, we feel compelled to articulate the opportunities for students in this brave electronic world, to assert their needs and–we dare say–rights.

    We also recognize some broader hopes and aspirations for the best online learning. We include those principles as an integral addendum to the Bill of Rights below.

    Our broad goal is to inspire an open, learner-centered dialogue around the rights, responsibilities, and possibilities for education in the globally-connected world of the present and beyond.

    I. Bill of Rights

    We believe that our culture is increasingly one in which learning, unlearning and relearning are as fundamental to our survival and prosperity as breathing. To that end, we believe that all students have inalienable rights which transfer to new and emerging digital environments. They include:

    The right to access

    Everyone should have the right to learn: traditional students, non-traditional students, adults, children, and teachers, independent of age, gender, race, social status, sexual orientation, economic status, national origin, bodily ability, and environment anywhere and everywhere in the world. To ensure the right to access, learning should be affordable and available, offered in myriad formats, to students located in a specific place and students working remotely, adapting itself to people’s different lifestyles, mobility needs, and schedules. Online learning has the potential to ensure that this right is a reality for a greater percentage of the world’s population than has ever been realizable before.

    The right to privacy

    Student privacy is an inalienable right regardless of whether learning takes place in a brick-and-mortar institution or online. Students have a right to know how data collected about their participation in the online system will be used by the organization and made available to others. The provider should offer clear explanations of the privacy implications of students’ choices.

    The right to create public knowledge

    Learners within a global, digital commons have the right to work, network, and contribute to knowledge in public; to share their ideas and their learning in visible and connected ways if they so choose. Courses should encourage open participation and meaningful engagement with real audiences where possible, including peers and the broader public.

    The right to own one’s personal data and intellectual property

    Students also have the right to create and own intellectual property and data associated with their participation in online courses. Online programs should encourage openness and sharing, while working to educate students about the various ways they can protect and license their data and creative work. Any changes in terms of service should be clearly communicated by the provider, and they should never erode the original terms of privacy or the intellectual property rights to which the student agreed.

    The right to financial transparency

    Students have a right to know how their participation supports the financial health of the online system in which they are participating. They have a right to fairness, honesty, and transparent financial accounting. This is also true of courses that are “free.” The provider should offer clear explanations of the financial implications of students’ choices.

    The right to pedagogical transparency

    Students have the right to understand the intended outcomes–educational, vocational, even philosophical–of an online program or initiative. If a credential or badge or certification is promised by the provider, its authenticity, meaning, and intended or historical recognition by others (such as employers or academic institutions) should be clearly established and explained.

    The right to quality and care

    Students have the right to care, diligence, commitment, honesty and innovation. They are not being sold a product–nor are they the product being sold. They are not just consumers. Education is also about trust. Learning–not corporate profit–is the principal purpose of all education.

    The right to have great teachers

    All students need thoughtful teachers, facilitators, mentors and partners in learning, and learning environments that are attentive to their specific learning goals and needs. While some of us favor peer learning communities, all of us recognize that, in formal educational settings, students should expect–indeed demand–that the people arranging, mentoring and facilitating their learning online be financially, intellectually and pedagogically valued and supported by institutions of higher learning and by society. Teachers’ know-how and working conditions are students’ learning conditions.

    The right to be teachers

    In an online environment, teachers no longer need to be sole authority figures but instead should share responsibility with learners at almost every turn. Students can participate and shape one another’s learning through peer interaction, new content, enhancement of learning materials and by forming virtual and real-world networks. Students have the right to engaged participation in the construction of their own learning. Students are makers, doers, thinkers, contributors, not just passive recipients of someone else’s lecture notes or methods. They are critical contributors to their disciplines, fields, and to the larger enterprise of education.

    II. Principles

    The following are principles to which the best online learning should aspire. We believe the merit of specific courses, programs, or initiatives can be judged on the strength of their adherence to these principles and encourage students and professors to seek out and create digital learning environments that follow and embody them.

    Global contribution

    Online learning should originate from everywhere on the globe, not just from the U.S. and other technologically advantaged countries. The best courses will be global in design and contribution, offering multiple and multinational perspectives. They should maximize opportunities for students from different countries to collaborate with one another, to contribute local knowledge and histories and to learn one another’s methods, assumptions, values, knowledge and points of view.


    The function of learning is to allow students to equip themselves to address the challenges and requirements of life and work. Online learning can serve as a vehicle for skills development, retraining, marketable expertise. It can also support self-improvement, community engagement, intellectual challenge, or play. All of these functions are valid. The best programs and initiatives should clearly state the potential contexts in which they offer value.


    Students should have many options for online learning, not simply a digitized replication of the majors, minors, requirements, courses, schedules and institutional arrangements of conventional universities. The best online learning programs will not simply mirror existing forms of university teaching but offer students a range of flexible learning opportunities that take advantage of new digital tools and pedagogies to widen these traditional horizons, thereby better addressing 21st-century learner interests, styles and lifelong learning needs. Ideally, they will also suggest and support new forms of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary inquiry that are independent of old gatekeepers such as academic institutions or disciplines, certification agencies, time-to-degree measurements, etc.

    Hybrid learning

    Freed from time and place, online learning should nonetheless be connected back to multiple locations around the world and not tethered exclusively to the digital realm. This can happen by building in apprenticeships, internships and real-world applications of online problem sets. Problem sets might be rooted in real-world dilemmas or comparative historical and cultural perspectives. (Examples might include: “Organizing Disaster Response and Relief for Hurricane Sandy” or “Women’s Rights, Rape, and Culture” or “Designing and Implementing Gun Control: A Global Perspective.”)


    Learning is emergent, a lifelong pursuit, not relegated to the brick walls of an institution or to a narrow window of time during life; it has no specific end point. The artificial divisions of work, play and education cease to be relevant in the 21st century. Learning begins on a playground and continues perpetually in other playgrounds, individual and shared workspaces, communities and more. Learning can be assessed but doesn’t aim itself exclusively toward assessment.


    Both technical and pedagogical innovation should be hallmarks of the best learning environments. A wide variety of pedagogical approaches, learning tools, methods and practices should support students’ diverse learning modes. Online learning should be flexible, dynamic, and individualized rather than canned or standardized. One size or approach does not fit all.

    Formative assessment

    Students should have the opportunity to revise and relearn until they achieve the level of mastery they desire in a subject or a skill. Online learning programs or initiatives should strive to transform assessment into a rich, learner-oriented feedback system where students are constantly receiving information aimed at guiding their learning paths. In pedagogical terms, this means emphasizing individualized and timely (formative) rather than end-of-learning (summative) assessment. Similarly, instructors should use such feedback to improve their teaching practices. Assessment is only useful insofar as it helps to foster a culture of success and enjoyment in learning.


    Experimentation should be an acknowledged affordance and benefit of online learning. Students should be able to try a course and drop it without incurring derogatory labels such as failure (for either the student or the institution offering the course). Through open discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of programs, the industry should develop crowd-sourced evaluative guides to help learners choose the online learning that best fits their needs.


    Courses should encourage interaction and collaboration between students wherever it enhances the learning experience. Such programs should encourage student contributions of content, perspectives, methods, reflecting their own cultural and individual perspectives. Online learning programs or initiatives have a responsibility to share those contributions in an atmosphere of integrity and respect. Students have the right and responsibility to promote and participate in generous, kind, constructive communication within their learning environment.


    Open online education should inspire the unexpected, experimentation, and questioning–in other words, encourage play. Play allows us to make new things familiar, to perfect new skills, to experiment with moves and crucially to embrace change–a key disposition for succeeding in the 21st century. We must cultivate the imagination and the dispositions of questing, tinkering and connecting. We must remember that the best learning, above all, imparts the gift of curiosity, the wonder of accomplishment, and the passion to know and learn even more.

    DATE: January 25, 2013


    • John Seely Brown, University of Southern California and Deloitte Center for the Edge 
    • Betsy Corcoran, Co-founder, CEO, EdSurge ( 
    • Cathy N. Davidson, Distinguished Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies, Co-Director PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, Duke University, and cofounder Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory ( 
    • Petra Dierkes-Thrun, Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Stanford University; blogs about literature and digital pedagogy at 
    • Todd Edebohls, CEO of careers and education service Inside Jobs ( 
    • Mark J. Gierl, Professor of Educational Psychology, Canada Research Chair in Educational Measurement, and Director, Centre for Research in Applied Measurement and Evaluation, University of Alberta, Canada 
    • Sean Michael Morris, Educational Outreach for Hybrid Pedagogy ( and Part-time Faculty in the English and Digital Humanities Program at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR 
    • (Jan) Philipp Schmidt, Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU, and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow 
    • Bonnie Stewart, Ph.D candidate and Sessional Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada 
    • Jesse Stommel, Director of Hybrid Pedagogy ( and Director of English and Digital Humanities at Marylhurst University in Portland, OR 
    • Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Udacity (, Google Fellow and Research Professor in Computer Science, Stanford University 
    • Audrey Watters, Writer, Hack Education (


    To join the discussion, visit one of the many platforms where this Bill of Rights and Principles is being published and blogged about (each of us, and each of the platforms, will likely create a different sort of engagement). We invite further discussion, hacking, and forking of this document. On Twitter, please use the hashtag #learnersrights when you share your versions and responses. Finally, and most importantly, this document can’t be complete (can never be complete) without continuous and dynamic contributions and revising by students. We invite students everywhere to read this beginning, to talk about it, to add to it.

    Additional resources: We have not included reading resources here but invite you to add the ones most meaningful to you in the public, crowd-sourced version of the Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age. Collective contribution is the principle we espouse in this document. We look forward to your participation.

    Image credits: Alan Levine

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    Journal Entry

    I was one of a small group invited to participate in a “MOOC summit,” sponsored by Sebastian Thrun, in Palo Alto in December of last year. Those present have affixed our name to a document that was released publicly today. (Link)

    One of the goals of that December gathering was to write some sort of document about the future of (digital) learning. The first suggestion was we write a manifesto; instead we wrote a “bill of rights.” (I have some thoughts below on important distinctions between those genres.)

    Much of the text in the document came out of smaller, follow-up writing sessions (and further conversations that happened at MLA, I think); we began commenting and editing the final version this week with a Friday publication deadline in mind. But if you know how the press operates, you know that embargoes don’t really last. A story about this was published on The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning.

    Although all of us present have signed the document, there was — there remains — some substantial disagreements. Do we refer to “learners” or “students,” for example? What, if anything, do we want to say about accreditation, about assessment? I don’t think the disagreements are a bad thing; I don’t think this means that the document isn’t interesting or worthwhile. It is, if nothing else, a work-in-progress.

    From the outset, we agreed as a group that this document should be hackable. As such, I’ve posted a copy to GitHub. The text is openly licensed. You are welcome to fork it. Download. Edit. Remix. Translate. Please note the bugs. Hack hack hack.

    I think the document raises some crucial issues, and I'm thrilled to see the conversations that have already spun out of it (check out the #learnersrights hashtag on Twitter). Nevertheless here are the issues I’d submit:

    Issues of Genre

    The first suggestion was we write a manifesto; what the group came up with instead is a “Bill of Rights.” The former is a genre that I happen to like very much — enough to write a dissertation about it. Or, um, start to write a dissertation. The latter is a different sort of genre — legally, rhetorically, aesthetically.

    A manifesto typically contains a list of grievances and a list of demands. A Bill of Rights is a list of, well, rights. It’s an appeal not from the avant-garde but to the government. It’s an appeal to a certain form of government too, I think.

    Who governs the Internet? Who governs “online learning”? What rights do we have online?

    And what rights, really, do we have as learners — on or offline? Yes, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that we have a right to “free and compulsory primary education.” But note the “compulsory” piece there. And note too this right is geared towards young children — towards “students” and not (necessarily) “learners.”

    Issues of Globalization

    If I’m wary about invoking the notion of “rights” here, it’s in part because I feel as though a “Bill of Rights” is a fairly American formulation. And I am concerned with the ways in which Internet technologies facilitate globalization. Yes, the Internet helps expand our abilties to communicate and collaborate, but it may also serve to spread aspects of American culture and politics — particularly of Silicon Valley — worldwide. I'm particularly concerned about how this will affect education.

    As such how do we address something like a “student’s right privacy,” for example, when notions of privacy — laws specifying privacy rights — are not universal?

    And if as some folks argue, there are to be only a handful of instructors (and perhaps a handful of offline campuses) in this brave new digital learning world, what does that look like for the the Global South, for the developing world? What does that look like for non-US universities and for non-US students? What happens to local knowledge, to local expertise? Will this be a new form of intellectual colonialism?

    There were Canadians at this Palo Alto meeting (and let’s agree right now, when we talk about MOOCs, let’s do invite the Canadians to the table), and there were Germans. But the group gathered was mostly US-ians, all white and from the northern hemisphere.

    Issues of Voice

    There was one student present at the gathering in Palo Alto — and a grad student at that. Even with the group’s best intentions to give voice to students, students didn’t have one in the creation of this document. (That makes this sentence — “Finally, and most importantly, this document can’t be complete (can never be complete) without continuous and dynamic contributions and revising by students” — incredibly important).

    One of the debates we had in editing the document was whether we should use the word “learner” or “student.” (We use both. For those keeping score at home, “learner” is mentioned 9 times; “student,” 41.) Although I suppose a thesaurus would suggest these words are interchangeable, I’m not sure they really are — particularly vis-a-vis “rights.” Students in the U.S., for example, have rights under FERPA. Those rights involve the students’ control over their data (something I’m very pleased that this document advocates strongly for) and their privacy — but it does so in relationship to educational institutions that receive federal funding.

    How do we crack open this notion of “learning in the digital age” so that we are not as reliant upon traditional institutional definitions (and power relations) of “teacher” and “student”? I'm not sure the document is successful here.

    A MOOCFuturist Manifesto?

    I’m not sure why, but I found myself re-reading The Futurist Manifesto last night when I was browsing the final edits on this document set to be published today. “We have been up all night, my friends and I…”

    I thought about Franco Marinetti’s 1909 manifesto and its celebration of speed and technology and youth, about its rejection of museums and libraries.

    “We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.”

    I thought how easy it would be to slip in to this song here another chorus or two reflecting rhetoric I hear from the technology industry (and technology press) about the Internet, smartphones, phablets and — of course — MOOCs.

    Then I wondered — with a nod here to Tim Carmody’s “Bookfuturist Manifesto”— what a MOOCfuturist Manifesto should/could look like. (Would it look like this Learners’ Bill of Rights? Why or why not?)

    As Carmody writes, bookfuturists are “usually more interested in figuring out a piece of technology than either denouncing or promoting it. And we want to make every piece of tech work better. We’re tinkerers. We look to history for analogies and counter-analogies, but we know that analogies aren’t destiny. We try to look for the technological sophistication of traditional humanism and the humanist possibilities of new tech.”

    I think there’s much more tinkering to be done here — and I don’t mean just with the document itself. And I doubt we can both tinker and codify rights. In many ways, I think much of what the future of learning looks like has to be personal and negotiable, not universal and inalienable. And even with all the flaws — politically and practically — that come with the genre, I feel like we might be better served with making manifesto-ish demands as learners — bold, unattainable, visionary, and wildly inappropriate demands — than with a small group of us (ha! an "avant garde") enumerating these things as rights for all.

    Disclosure: Travel to Palo Alto for the MOOC Summit was paid for by Udacity. Image credits: Joel Montes de Oca

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    Law and Politics

    California Governor Jerry Brown gave his State of the State address this week. Among the topics he covered: education (no big surprise), including a proposal to change the formula for school (supplemental) funding so that monies are distributed “based on the real world problems they face.” The Washington Post has the transcript of what Brown said about education.

    TorrentFreak reports that a Dutch math teacher has been convicted of facilitating copyright infringement as he linked to “pirated” PDF versions of copyrighted worksheets on his website.

    Court documents filed as part of a class-action lawsuit against the for-profit education company K–12charge that the company“used dubious and sometimes fraudulent tactics to mask astronomical rates of student turnover in its national network of cyber charter schools.”

    3 laws have been introduced in the Texas legislature that, if passed, will ban RFID tracking of students.

    This happened.


    Ahmed Al-Khabaz, a 20-year-old computer science student at Montreal’s Dawson College, has been expelled after he discovered a major security flaw in a computer system used by many of Quebec’s universities. Al-Khabaz reported the issue to the school’s IT, which said it would fix it, but then two days later when he ran a program to test whether the vulnerabilities still existed, the school accused him of launching a cyber attack.

    Launches, Updates, and Upgrades, one of my favorite education startups of 2012, has successfully “unglued” two more books: Lauren Pressley’s So You Want to Be a Librarian and Dennis Weiser’s The Third Awakening. These previously published books are now available DRM-free under a Creative Commons license.

    Another week another breathless but unresearched education-related fluff piece in Techcrunch. (Actually, there were probably multiple of these…) This one focuses on a new non-profit called that “launches to help make computer programming accessible to everyone.” There’s an infographic, so you know it’s gonna be hugely disruptive.

    Courses and Credits

    Georgia State University will offer course credit to students who take MOOCs, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Students will have to work with the university and departments to demonstrate mastery over the course material, and if they can will get credits without having to pay additional fees.

    Another week, another new MOOC venture: Academic Partnerships, a company that helps universities offer online courses, unveiled MOOC2Degree, which will allow its clients to offer MOOCs for credit. The universities involved include the University of Arkansas system, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing, the University of West Florida, and Cleveland State, Florida International, Lamar, and Utah State Universities. “Under the arrangement,” writes The New York Times, “Academic Partnerships will handle recruitment for MOOC2Degree and will receive an undisclosed share of the tuition the universities get from students who continue into a degree program.”

    “The world’s most popular professor,” MIT’s Walter Lewin, will teach a MOOC— 8.02x Electricity and Magnetism — through edX. Lewin’s course materials (published through MIT Opencourseware) and his lecture videos (on YouTube) have been incredibly popular. The latter have had over 11.4 million views.

    Funding, Acquisitions, and Quarterly Earnings Reports

    The learning management system Desire2Learn has acquired DegreeCompass, a project built at Austin Peay University that offers a recommendation service to students, suggesting courses to them based on their grades and transcripts.

    Top Hat Monocle, a startup that makes classroom response systems, has raised another $1.1 million, a follow-on investment to the $8 million it raised in July. More details in GigaOm.

    Pearson adjusted its earnings forecast downward this week, saying that times are tough and the market is difficult for the education publishing giant. Crocodile tears. Crocodile tears.

    McGraw-Hill has acquired a 20% equity stake in Area9, its long-time partner in adaptive learning technologies. Area9 helps power the LearnSmart line of products, including the recently acccounced adaptive textbook.

    Techcrunch reports that the math startup KnowRe has raised $1.4 million in funding.

    Techcrunch reports that Internmatch— a startup that, as the name suggests, matches college students with internships — has raised $1.2 million in funding.

    Techcrunch reports that the online education platform WizIQ has raised $4 million in funding.

    Techcrunch wrote 18 blog posts this week on the Apple earnings report. There’s no education angle here, I confess. Just making note of the tech press’s coverage of money.

    The International Finance Corporation — an investment arm of the World Bank — has invested $150 million equity investment in Laureate Education, a or-profit education company that, according to Inside Higher Ed, “operates 65 career-oriented colleges in 29 countries.”

    The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann posts about the 38 states that have slashed their higher education spending since the recession. Topping the list: Arizona, which has cut funding by 36.6% since 2008.


    The learning management system Schoology has launched a challenge to Student Information System vendors, offering a $25,000 bounty to those who build and open an API so that the startup can integrate with it.

    Research and Data

    According to statistics released this week by the Census Bureau, “From 2002 to 2012, the highest rate of increases in education attainment levels were doctorate and master’s degrees. …The population with a doctorate grew by about 1 million, or 45 percent, while those who held a master’s climbed by 5 million, or 43 percent.”

    Data released by the Department of Education this week finds that the U.S. graduation rate (based on the 2009–2010 school year) is up — 78.2% — the highest it’s been since 1974.

    Investment research firm CB Insights released a report on the 2012 venture capital activity in the education sector: some $1.1 billion in funding. But the firm says this isn’t an indication there’s an ed-tech bubble, noting that “the reality is that these companies are raising pocket change in the grand scheme of things. And if these Ed Tech companies are unable to raise Series A, B, etc funding, that is a sign of a market that is actually working.”

    Moody’s Investors Service issued a pessimistic forecast last week for higher education, arguing that all its traditional revenue sources are facing some sort of pressure. “Moody’s analysts caution that revenue streams will never flow as robustly as they did before 2008,” writes Inside Higher Ed.

    Are charter schools better able to fire low-performing teachers? The Shanker Blog’s Matt Di Carlo looks at research Joshua Cowen and Marcus Winters, recently published in the journal Education Finance and Policy. (The answer to the question, based on this study at least: no.)

    Photo credits: Audrey Watters

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    White House

    Laws and Politics and Patents

    President Obama unveiled his proposals for major immigration reform this week in a speech in Las Vegas. Among these, expedited citizenship to undocumented immigrants who have been brought to the country by their parents and who are in college (or have served in the military for at least two years). Another proposal would expand the visas for workers with advanced degrees in STEM fields by automatically granting them green card status upon graduation from “qualified U.S. universities.” Inside Higher Ed has more details on the how the immigration plan would affect education.

    The supposedly “private” photo-sharing social network Path has reached a $800,000 settlement with the FTC over its violation of COPPA. More details at Ars Technica.

    In The Public Interest, a privatization watchdog group, released emails that it had obtained through public records requests, detailing the relationships between Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Education Excellence, government officials, and various education technology corporations. It’s certainly not the first time that questions have been raised about Bush’s foundation, political influence and profits. (It’s not the first time a Bush has been accused of such things either. Ignite! Learning anyone?) See last fall’s reporting in the Portland Press Herald for details on what has happened in Maine. This week’s emails come from Maine, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Florida.

    The for-profit DeVry University has been hit with a lawsuit alleging that school officials tried to bribe students as it attempted to work its way around federal regulations.

    TorrentFreak reports that the University of Illinois is disconnecting the Internet of students who are accused of piracy after their first warning. “When copyright holders send a DMCA notice informing the university about unauthorized BitTorrent downloads, the student’s dorm room is immediately cut off from the Internet.”

    13 U.S. government agencies and NGOs signed a “Declaration of Learning” this week, formally announcing their partnership as members of the Inter-Agency Collaboration on Education, an initiative spearheaded by (now former) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    In another end-of-term announcement, Clinton unveiled the Open Book Project, an initiative of the State Department and the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization to provide more OER in Arabic. I couldn’t really find any details on what content is going to be translated or openly licensed, so is it wrong if I’m a little suspicious of this?

    The New America Foundation issued a report this week with a series of proposals to change how federal financial aid is dispersed. Among the 30 some-odd recommendations, the government should make the funding for the Pell Grant program an entitlement in the federal budget and should up the amount of individual grants. More thoughts from Dean Dad here.

    The patent system in the U.S. is broken. Case in point, the awarding this week of a patent to the University of Phoenix for its Academic Activity Stream, an educational news feed. There’s lots of prior art here, including Facebook’s patent on the news feed itself. Phil Hill offers more thoughts on e-Literate. Will ed-tech soon see round 2 of the great LMS patent wars (Blackboard v Desire2Learn) with the University of Phoenix going after those who use news feeds in their software (namely Instructure, Edmodo, Schoology, Pearson’s OpenClass…)?

    Launches and Upgrades

    Welcome to the beta of Scratch 2.0. There are lots of new features (which I haven’t had a chance to dig into yet, I confess), including new blocks and a new block editor.

    A very cool initiative out of Chicago: Starter League (a learn-to-code startup formerly known as Code Academy that I covered here) is going to teach Web development to Chicago Public School teachers, with the hopes that, in turn, they'll teach Web literacy to their students.

    As a general rule, I find the whole learning management system thing “meh” at best. But this is an interesting project: LearnDash, a WordPress plugin that lets you create courses, set up quizzes, and track user info. It also takes advantage of the TinCan API (which I wrote about here).

    iversity, an online course collaboration tool, has unveiled a number of updates to its platform, including an improved Q&A section and more robust student portfolio. (I covered iversity here.)

    The University of Reddit, a subreddit that lets teachers offer online classes and communicate with students, announced this week its plans to create a non-profit called Open Compass, to leave the Reddit platform, and to build out a new platform for — you guessed it — offering MOOCs.

    From the makers of the bibliographic tool EasyBib another aid for research and writing: ResearchReady. This tool is meant to support students in learning how to conduct research and in particular how to avoid plagiarism.

    Another week, another ed-tech accelerator launches. This one is in Boston: LearnLaunchX. The accelerator program will run for 3 months, and the participating startups will get $18,000 in funding in exchange for giving LearnLaunchX a 6% equity stake in their companies.

    And proof that Boston really likes to add “X” to the end of all its ed-tech initiatives, the city announced a partnership with Harvard and MIT and edX to launch BostonX. “The goal of BostonX is to make free online courses available through Internet-connected Boston neighborhood community centers, high schools and libraries. The project will bring together innovators from the country’s center of higher education to offer Boston residents access to courses, internships, job training, and placement services, and locations for edX students to gather, socialize, and deepen learning.”

    Venture Funding and Student Debt

    The wonderfully cheap and hackable Raspberry Pi (one of my favorite ed-tech startups) announced this week that it had received a grant from Google Giving to provide some 15,000 Raspberry Pis to schoolkids in the U.K.

    Who were the top ed-tech acquirers last year? According to data from CB Insights, reported by GigaOm, the biggest ed-tech deals of the year were made by John Wiley & Sons, Pearson, Blackboard, and Vista Equity Partners.

    Techcrunch reports that the “crowdsourced college counseling” startup Mytonomy has raised $250,000 in seed funding from New Schools Venture Fund and Kapor Capital.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a third of the $900 million in outstanding student loan debt was held by subprime borrowers. Furthermore, “33% of all subprime student loans in repayment were 90 days or more past due in March 2012, up from 24% in 2007.”

    Pluto Media, which describes itself in a press release as a “leading tablet edutainment company,” has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Learn Capital and New School Ventures Fund.

    How did the Walton Family Foundation (one of the big 3 philanthropies in U.S. education) spend its education reform dollars in 2012? Some $60 million went to shape policy, $72 million went to “create quality schools.” The organization, run by the family of the Walmart founder, spent a total of $158,142,809. Recipients include the startup investment fund New Schools Venture Fund ($1.1 million) and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst ($2 million).

    Details of the funding weren’t disclosed but The Next Web reports that the Brazilian online learning startup Descomplica (which makes online videos and tests) has raised money from Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Valor Capital Group and EL Area, Dave McClure’s 500Startups, and Social+Capital Partnership.

    The Bangalore-based ed-tech startup CodeLearn has raised $150,000, according to The Times of India.

    The non-profit WorldReader, which helps promote literacy in the developing world by distributing Kindles full of e-books, has received a $500,000 donation from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Some days, it’s hard to not be so very deeply cynical about all this ed-tech stuff.

    NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now the biggest university donor in the U.S., thanks to the $1.1 billion he’s given to his alma mater Johns Hopkins. (Ian Bogost offers an interesting juxtaposition between this donation and another billionaire, Mark Cuban’s claims — issued the same day as Bloomberg’s announcement — about the dismal prospects of universities.)

    Human Resources

    John Danner, founder of the Rocketship Education chain of charter schools, is stepping down as CEO. His resignation, announced this week and effective immediately, will allow him to pursue his next startup, an online learning company. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Danner’s no-name company – which besides himself includes two programmers in Bulgaria – will begin testing its first prototype next week at one of Rocketship’s schools.”

    You’ve probably missed the job application deadline by now, but a bit of a kerfuffle in the Texas ISD over a Craigslist listing posted by Pearson. The education giant was looking for folks to grade the written portion of the state’s standardized tests. $12 an hour. “Bachelor degree required – any field welcome.”

    ”Research” and “Data”

    Bill Gates says that data will save us. Phew!

    “Study: Nearly half are overqualified for their jobs” read the headline in the USA Today. It was a story, nicely fitting into the "college is a bubble" narrative" and perfectly designed for uncritical Facebook sharing. Few folks asked questions about the organization behind the study, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. (Oh. It’s a Koch Brothers-supported “libertarian think tank” more than happy to defund education.) Few took the time to ponder why taxi drivers might be such a highly educated population. (A significant number of cabbies are immigrants, who come to this country with college degrees but struggle to find work.) Mike Caulfield has a great take-down on the whole thing

    Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum has the best headline: “Big Surprise: Yet Another Ed Reform Turns Out to be Bogus.” You know how everyone has pointed to the San Jose Unified School District as an example of how higher standards for students produce better results and how forcing more students to take college prep before they graduate high school means more students actually go to college? (You know how many schools have followed suit with similar policies?) Yeah, well it turns out the San Jose Unified officials have overstated their accomplishments and touted a lot of false data. The LA Times has the full story.

    According to a new CREDO report, the first 3 years of a charter school are pretty indicative of how well it will succeed in the future. “Our research shows that if you start wobbly, chances are you’ll stay wobbly. Similarly, if a school is successful in producing strong academic progress from the start, our analysis shows it will remain a strong and successful school.” More from the Educated Reporter Emily Richmond here.

    The Department of Education released school-level assessment data this week for all schools for the 2008–9 to 2010–11 school years. According to the DOE’s press release, “They provide information on the total number of students who were assessed and received a valid score, along with the calculated percent of those students who score at or above state grade level proficiency. Information is presented on student subgroups at each grade level assessed within the school, along with information on the school as a whole.” The assessment data, available for math and reading, is available at

    According to the latest report from the Book Industry Study Group, more college students say they prefer digital to print textbooks— “the popularity of digital textbooks may have hit a tipping point,” says the BISG. Maybe. It used to be that 72% of students said they prefer print. The latest figures now have that at just 60%.

    Tony Bates takes a closer look at recent U.S. Census data, noting its potential impact on online learning. More than half of college students work more than 20 hours a week, and almost half of grad students work full-time. That certainly means that the flexibility that online classes offer are going to be very, very appealing.

    Some very interesting demographics from a recent Coursera class on Computational Investing. And okay, granted, this isn’t an introductory class. But for those proclaiming that MOOCs will “revolutionize” who has access to university material, take note: 4.8% who enrolled completed the class. Of those (who responded to the survey and) completed the class, 34% were from the U.S. and 27% from non-OECD countries. 70% were white. 92% were male. Over 40% already had a Master’s Degree. Viva la MOOC revolucion!


    With all the hype and hullaballoo about ed-tech revolutions, let’s stop a minute to remember the digital divide, eh? It’s a divide that includes access to broadband connectivity, something that millions of Americans still don’t have at home. The Wall Street Journal reported this week on students who study at McDonalds (which offers free WiFi) after the local library closes.

    There’s a similar story in Techdirt this week: the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia has abandoned its $2 million online textbook program “after running into system requirements that prevented some of its students from taking advantage of the digital books.” One requirement: broadband or DSL at home.

    Competitions and Classes

    It’s time for the 2013 Google Science Fair, an online competition for those age 13 to 18. Deadline to enter is April 30.

    You know what’s gonna make college easier? Facebook Apps. I guess. So reads this story in Techcrunch announcing the winners of a recent Facebook and Gates Foundation app contest. Congrats to the winners, don’t get me wrong, but I gotta note cynically here that neither Techcrunch nor Facebook nor the Gates Foundation could actually get the count right on the number of winners. 17? 20? 21? So here’s hoping that these apps help with arithmetic, eh?

    IBM’s Watson— best known for its win on Jeopardy — is headed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the company says. “At RPI, the Watson system will give professors and students an opportunity to find new uses for the technology, allowing students to gain experience with big data analytics and, in turn, deepen the system’s abilities,” according to The Chronicle.

    (Sorta makes me feel like I’ve picked a really good time to write a book on AI and ed-tech, eh? And as such, my apologies once again for the light posting here on Hack Education.)

    Photo credits: Audrey Watters

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    2013 is off to a bit of a crazy start, and despite our best intentions to record this podcast weekly, Steve Hargadon and I simply haven't been able to do so. That means that when we finally have a chance to sit down and chat, as we did today, we have a lot to catch up on and talk about.

    But we managed this week just to focus on The Learners' Bill of Rights. We had a great discussion about it, in which we talked about the origins and the promise and the flaws and the biases and the ongoing conversations about the document.

    The link to the MP3 of the show is below, and/or you can subscribe to the podcast feed. You can also find the podcast in iTunes, as part of Steve's EdTechLive series.

    February 2, 2013

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    Based on some pushback on my Storify of the conversation I held at EduCon about the “politics of ed-tech,” I wanted to expand and clarify my thoughts on the topic. Plus, it was a pretty interesting week, with lots of great examples to talk about...

    Clown Justice

    The most well-known of Melvin Kranzberg’s “6 laws of technology” states, “Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral.” One of Kranzberg’s less frequently cited laws adds, “Although technology might be a prime element in many public issues, non-technical factors take precedence in technology-policy decisions.”

    What are these factors? Well, we are talking policy decisions here — so, no surprise, these factors are political. They’re influenced by special interests and social interests and organizational interests and financial interests. They’re shaped by history and by power.

    So when someone like Marc Andreessen — famed technology entrepreneur, CEO, and investor (and investor in several ed-tech startups, including Udacity and Kno) says that “software is eating the world,” we must recognize that this isn’t simply a matter of technological change. Moreoever, the things that we’re increasingly expecting computers to deliver — efficiency, scaling, speed, data, automation, accessibility, networked communication, control — aren’t simply technological; they are cultural, economic and incredibly political.

    What does this mean for education? What are the politics of education technology?

    As I’ve written previously, education is always political:

    …inherently so and despite the protestations from some quarters when what happens in our schools, in our textbooks, in our brains “becomes politicized.” Education is political not simply because of the governmental role — federal, state, local — in school funding and policies. It is political because of the polis— the connections between education and community. Education is political because learning is at once personal (and, of course, “the personal is political”) and social; it is both private and public.

    Sometimes the politics of ed-tech are pretty obvious.

    Take, for example, the release this week by the non-profit project Partnership for Working Families of emails between former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and various state and corporate officials. FEE has an explicitly political mission — “to ignite a movement of reform state by state to transform education for the 21st century” — as does the labor and community group-backed Partnership for Working Families — its concerns about privatization and profiteering. And many of the education reforms that Jeb Bush and FEE push involve initiatives that are explicitly “ed-tech”: online learning, computer-based learning, digital textbooks and assessments, cyber charter schools, and the like. (See the op-ed penned by Bush that appeared on on Wednesday.)

    The FOIAed emails show the close ties between Bush’s foundation, its donors, profits, and policies. It shows how the foundation helped craft and guide state legislation. It shows how corporate lobbyists and donors sought to be close to members of the FEE’s “Chiefs for Change,” a group of powerful conservative superintendents. As a story in the Portland Press Herald about the foundation’s activites in Maine describes it, “So was a partnership formed between Maine’s top education official and a foundation entangled with the very companies that stand to make millions of dollars from the policies it advocates.”

    Or, take Bill Gates’ 2013 Letter, also released this week, and its pronouncements that big data will “save American schools.” As with Jeb Bush’s foundation, I’m not sure there’s anyone would argue that Gates’ philanthropic efforts aren’t political; many of The Gates Foundation’s proposed education reforms have been adopted by and many of its staff hired by the Department of Education after all.

    Nevertheless, it’s probably worth reiterating here that “data” and the invocation of data science in the grading of schools and teachers are neither a-political nor objective. As mathbabe Cathy O’Neil reminds us, “Don’t be fooled by the mathematical imprimatur: behind every model and every data set is a political process that chose that data and built that model and defined success for that model.”

    If the machinations of Jeb Bush and Bill Gates demonstrate what’s obviously and recognizably political about ed-tech — the ways in which money and influence shape education (technology) policies — there are many more ways in which ed-tech’s politics are more subtle and/or more complex.

    And let’s be clear. I’m not suggesting here that the politics of ed-tech are necessarily corrupt or conservative or corporate. Oh hell yes, we need to “follow the money” — we should investigate closely who’s investing, who’s lobbying, who’s profiting, and who’s shaping the narratives (in the media, in the legislature, in the board room) about education and education technology.

    But we also need to examine more broadly and more critically our own politics of ed-tech too — as builders and buyers of technology, as creators and consumers of content, as citizens and community members, as learners and teachers alike. (What, for example, can we say about the politics of xMOOCs or the politics of cMOOCs and — to pick another story from this week’s news — how does this manifest itself in the #etmooc lip dub?)

    Education is always political — those politics operate at a global level, a federal level, a state level, a local level, a school level and of course on a personal level. As such, if it’s impossible to escape these politics, how do we at least begin to evaluate our own complicity with — to paraphrase Kranzberg’s Laws — the goodness and badness and never-neutrality of education technology?

    Image credits: Audrey Watters

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    Here is a (rough) transcript of my talk today at the ELI Annual Meeting in Denver. I've also Storified some of the tweets from the session and included a link to my slidedeck. Special thanks to Jentery Sayers (UVic) and Tim Owens (UMW) for the use of their photos from their respective campus makerspaces.

    Open Source

    This is not a talk about MOOCs.

    This is not a talk about online learning.

    This is not a talk about learning analytics or learning management systems, or any of the ed-tech apps that have investors and entrepreneurs, administrators and professors both intrigued and reticent, and/or students fairly indifferent.

    This talk isn't about David Brooks and his "campus tsunami" nor is it about Thomas Friedman and his "MOOC revolution" nor is it a response to the technology tabloid Techcrunch and its gleeful pronouncement that this all marks "the end of the university as we know it."

    Except that this talk is about all these things just as it wants so desperately to point to something else.

    This is not to deny the existence of MOOCs and the like nor to refute their significance. This is a talk that, even when focusing elsewhere, recognizes the hype and the opportunity and the challenges faced by teachers and learners and by educational institutions.

    But this talk hopes make a case for schools looking to the Maker culture rather than markets to help them reinvigorate themselves, to help keep them relevant, to help student be engaged and to make their learning meaningful and empowered.

    Much of the punditry I hear lately about ed-tech hails this as the moment when teaching and learning will move online. We all know here, of course, that that trend actually isn't all that new. Computers are decades old. The internet is decades old. Ed-tech is decades old. 

    Ed-tech, so one argument goes, will make education more efficient, more scalable, more personalized. It will liberate students from those wretched large lecture halls… by videotaping the lectures and putting them on the Internet.

    Now, whether or not you believe that this will be efficient or scalable or personalized -- and I think we need to debate all of these, quite frankly -- this is the promise from some say we're being offered. And moreover, thanks to the move online and to digital, we'll now be able to do something "different" in our face-to-face learning environments.

    But what does that "different" look like?

    Now clearly, despite the Internet, despite computers, we can make the case to for offline, face-to-face learning -- for better offline learning, I hope. And I think we can make a case for physical learning spaces -- for better, beautiful learning spaces.  

    This is a very long-winded introduction to my case for the campus makerspace. It's a case that invokes some of the educational practices that we know work well: small group discussion, collaboration, participatory, project-based, and peer-to-peer learning, experimentation, inquiry, curiosity, play. These practices, their values as we help students learn to build and make their own knowledge.

    The makerspace is something that has grown out of what's called the Maker Movement, a loose affiliation of software and hardware hackers and hobbyists of all sorts. 

    The Maker Movement is a contemporary version, if you will, of the old punk ethos and its DIY culture -- just with newer technology. Perhaps you remember the old illustration that said "here's three chords, now form a band" -- today, it's "here's a motherboard and some cables, now go build a computer." 

    Makerspaces are a newer version of the old Silicon Valley "home-brew computer club," whose members included Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. 

    But the makerspace takes a more public-facing, more community-oriented form than we've seen with individual DIY hobbyists or small hobby groups --  those who work in basements and garages and sewing rooms and living rooms and workshops. 

    The Maker Movement brings them out into the open, into the public to share and to learn together. 

    The Maker Movement is closely associated with Make Magazine -- sometimes described as a 21st century Popular Mechanics -- and the Maker Faires that the publication helps organize around the world. But there are many resources and traditions makers draw from and many places where makers gather.

    I recently recognized the Maker Movement as one of the most important ed-tech trends in 2012, and although it is making inroads into schools I think it's notable here that much of what we see in the Maker Movement is the joy of learning -- lifelong learning -- in informal rather than formal environments. 

    Those of us who work in formal educational settings thus need to ask ourselves: why does the joy and interest lie there and not here?

    What does the Maker Movement "get right"? What can we learn from it?

    Makers work with Arduino, paper mache, Legos, cardboard, robots, rockets, welding machines, gears, circuit boards, computer-assisted drawing software, string, vinyl cutters, LED lights, the command line, string, rubber bands, wire, duct tape, play dough, steamworks, sensors, hot glue guns, scissors, Raspberry Pis, gyroscopes, tesla coils, musical instruments, fire, water cannons, plastic, wood, motors, solar power, wearable computers, and 3D printers. For starters.

    It's the latter, arguably, that's spurred much of the imagination and excitement about the possibilities for a new form of low-cost and local manufacturing. 3D printers will bring about the next industrial revolution, say both the Economist and New Scientist magazine. They will revive American manufacturing, says Forbes.

    Now depending on your geography and/or the composition and the focus of your engineering or business departments, your school may or may not give a damn about the future of American manufacturing as part of its curricular mission. There might be faculty on your campus that roll their eyes at all the talk from politicians and pundits about STEM education and STEM majors and STEM jobs; there might be those who are (rightly) concerned what all this STEM talk will mean in terms of budgetary decisions for other non-STEM, i.e. not-21st-century departments.

    I'd argue that we all should give a damn about the future of manufacturing. As Make Magazine founder Dale Dougherty says, we must see manufacturing as "a creative enterprise,” not something “where you’re told to do something but where you’re invited to solve a problem or figure things out.” And, despite our disciplinary backgrounds, we should all give a damn about the future of science, technology, engineering, and math. Indeed the Maker Movement and makerspaces aren't something for just those in the engineering or computer science or design departments. They aspire to be openly democratic and participatory.

    That is one of their great beauties.

    Steve Jobs once said that Apple's innovation was a result of the company's existence at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. 

    With that in mind, I'd argue that we can do more to situate colleges and universities at that intersection too -- not by buying iPads and certainly not by scrapping the humanities but by welcoming the maker ethos onto our campuses.

    For many years now, we've talked about what it means to have "writing across the curriculum." We've decided as institutions that all students -- no matter their degree program, should write well, should write critically, should write often. 

    And so I ask, what would it look like to have "making across the curriculum"?

    The opportunities for hands-on learning are so few in modern-day education. Few and getting fewer. Our education system has forgotten -- or ignored, perhaps is a better word -- John Dewey and his argument that we "learn by doing." At the K-12 level, woodshop, metal shop, sewing, cooking, art, heck even science labs -- they're going away to save money and to make more time in the school year for "college prep" and for standardized testing.

    Learn by doing. Learn by making. Not learn by clicking.

    Makerspaces give students -- all students -- an opportunity for hands-on experimentation, prototyping. problem-solving, and design-thinking.

    By letting students make -- whether they're digital artifacts or physical artifacts -- we can support them in gaining these critical skills. By making a pinball machine for a physics class, for example. Making paper or binding a book for a literature class. Building an app for a political science class. 3D modeling for an archeology class. 3D printing for a nursing class. Blacksmithing for history class. The possibilities for projects are endless.

    And the costs for creating makerspaces needn't be that high.

    And let me reiterate: the project-based component of making is important. "Making" rather than "writing" final projects for a class still demand students research and plan. But it also demands they prototype in ways that neither an essay or an exam really do. Making projects can be -- horrors! -- relevant and relevant. It can be experimental. And it can be technological -- or it can have used tech tools in its construction. It can be technological whether you're a classics or a computer science major. And arguably, these days it should be.

    Makerspaces expose students to cutting edge technologies that could in turn lead to employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. And because of makerspaces' connection to open source hardware and software, students aren't learning just how to use proprietary tools. They aren't just learning a specific piece of software. Instead, they learn how to find resources and -- this is key -- they learn how to learn. 

    Having some technical know-how -- tech literacy, sure, but also a comfort level with technical experimentation and with tinkering -- is becoming increasingly fundamental for all of us, as technology shapes how we learn, how we communicate, how we play and how we work.

    There is a growing number of makerspaces that support these sorts of learning and building experiments. Some charge a membership fee. Some charge a materials fee. Some are for-profit. Some are not-for-profit.  Regardless of their tax status, makerspaces tend to be community-oriented. No surprise then, makerspaces are popping up in libraries and community centers. They're popping up in K-12 schools. And they're popping up on college campuses.

    The ThinkLab at the University of Mary Washington. The MakerLab at the University of Victoria. The garage at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The science library at the University of Nevada, Reno. The library at Valdosta State University. The Open Hardware Makerspace at North Carolina State University. The FabLab at Stanford.

    One recent estimate put the number of makerspaces on college campuses at about 60, which for those keeping score at home is not quite double the number of college campuses that have partnered with Coursera.

    By and large, these makerspaces are not associated with any one department. Indeed, that's the argument that many librarians are making about opening makerspaces with them. The library is already open to the entire campus community -- students and faculty of all disciplines.

    This openness -- openness to the public and openness to all disciplines and skill levels -- makes the makerspace very different than the science lab, for example, or the art studio -- the two places that are perhaps the closest -- in terms of equipment at least -- to the makerspace. 

    But you needn't take a series of prerequisite classes to gain access to the tools in a makerspace, although they do typically offer instruction and help with the equipment to those who are interested. Classes in makerspaces are casual and usually not-for-credit -- and this offers lots of possibilities too, particularly when it comes to something like learning to code or learning to solder -- skills that students might not have the confidence or opportunity to pursue otherwise.

    A makerspace is a safe place to learn.

    And unlike the sorts of scripted experiments that often happen in the undergraduate science lab -- look at this slide, identify this rock, add this chemical, measure this arc, and so on -- the experimentation in the makerspace is inquiry-based. It is learner-driven. It is cross-disciplinary and as such undisciplined in the best possible way.

    The flourishing Maker Movement shows us that people are hungry for this. We want to play and build and hack and make. Of course we do. We're human.

    Informal learning opportunities are widely available -- "you can learn anything you want to online" as the adage goes. And in many ways, these opportunities are a lot more attractive than the formal ones, which at colleges at least can cost a lot of money and often come with a slew of requirements and mandatory assignments. You must study this then this then this to pass the class, to fulfill your major, and so on.

    But making can happen at any level with any materials. Caine's Arcade -- a an elaborate cardboard arcade built by a 9 year old in his dad's auto-parts store -- is a brilliant example of what you can do with some cardboard and a rich imagination. 

    And this isn't just for 9 year olds. From a blog post from Tim Owens' freshmen seminar Makerbots and Mashups at the University of Mary Washingotn, the following:

    "Signing up for my freshman seminar class I had no idea what “Mashups and Markerbots” would entail. All I knew was that I needed another class on Tuesdays and Thursdays sometime after 3:15. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the class title with a typo really meant something cooler: 3D printing. Now imagine my even greater surprise to find out the second day that we were to make something out of cardboard. Yes, there were very few directions for this first assignment. Just make something out of cardboard… and it has to move.

    Most people started working on their “cardboard automata” by looking at well made ones online and then drawing out exactly what the box would do, how the box would do it, and what the box would look like. I, on the other hand, decided to start making the box without a single idea in my mind.

    The first parts I made were gears. I figured I could probably figure out a use for them while cutting them out. After they were made I attached them to wooden rods and put them together to see how they’d work.

    After about 10 minutes of playing around with them to see how I could incorporate them into the box, I decided to trash the idea all together and go for new idea."

    I'd say that's a fairly big lesson on planning and prototyping for day 2 of your freshman year in college -- a lesson learned via cardboard. A lesson learned via making

    Let me repeat something I said at the beginning of this talk: "ed-tech, so one argument goes, will make education more efficient, more scalable, more personalized. It will liberate students from those terrible large lecture halls… by videotaping the lectures and putting them on the Internet." 

    The ed-tech that fuels makerspaces does something different. It recognizes that learning is messy. It recognizes that small and local still matters. And unlike the adaptive learning software tool, this isn't "personalized" learning as a marketing message. This is personal learning. And yes, sure, by all means, a makerspace can provide an alternative to those large lecture halls -- not via the Internet, but on the campus itself.

    What does it mean to create an informal learning space on a college campus? Are the Maker culture and academia even compatible? An interesting question, I'd say, to which I'd respond they may be more compatible than markets and academia.

    Regardless: What sort of institutional support will students need -- if any -- to participate in makerspaces? How can we make sure everyone feels welcome? Will some students only want to "make" for a grade or for credit? Does having "making" as a course requirement impact students' willingness to experiment? Does the college campus itself alter the making? Perhaps.

    But perhaps too, by bringing makerspaces to college campuses, the influence will flow the other way. The Maker Movement can help shift the academic landscape away from a teacher-focused endeavor to a more learner-centered one. It can prompt us to rethink our assignments. It can prompt us to evolve our expectations of what college students can do.

    With makerspaces on campuses we will see more experimentation, and I think too more risk-taking, more iteration. We will see more cross-disciplinary interactions -- the 3D printer is the new water cooler. More sharing. More relevant, more technical projects. 

    And most importantly here, these technologies are in the hands of the learner. Makerspaces mean that students are not the objects of technology, they're the subjects. They have agency in a makerspace. They are not the consumers of technology, they are creators. They are makers and builders and thinkers.

    And really isn't that what we want all learners to be?

    Photo credits: Tim Owens

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    Classes and Credits

    In a massively ironic online disaster, the Coursera/Georgia Tech course Fundamentals of Online Education was cancelled this week, following a lot of technical and pedagogical hiccups. You can read more about the class from students enrolled — Debbie Morrison’s “How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix It,” for example. Lots of finger-pointing here about whose fault this was — the platform, the instructor, the university — and questions about the lack of quality control as well as the lack of respect for the students’ work that was already ongoing in the system but that suddenly became unavailable when the course was closed.

    But good news, nevertheless, for Coursera this week when the American Council on Education announced that 5 Coursera classes are approved for credit recommendations: Pre-Calculus from University of California, Irvine; Introduction to Genetics and Evolution from Duke University; Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach from Duke University; Calculus: Single Variable from the University of Pennsylvania; and Algebra from the University of California, Irvine. Students will now be able to request that their schools accept these credits. But as Doug Lederman notes in Inside Higher Ed, neither Duke nor UC Irvine plan to let their own students use these classes for credit.

    Law and Politics

    Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban, has spoken publicly for the first time — and despite the attempt on her life, she continues to push for the rights of girls to be educated. Malala remains in the hospital in the U.K. where she is recovering from multiple surgeries.

    An Idaho state senator — and chair of the state senate’s Education committee — has introduced a bill mandating all Idaho students read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and pass a test on it before they can graduate high school. [Insert joke here about how this violates the 8th Amendment.]

    Despite the fact that it’s sitting on an endowment worth about $20 billion, Yale University is now suing former students who have failed to repay their loans, reports Bloomberg. Other schools are doing the same, including the University of Pennsylvania which filed over a dozen lawsuits against former students last year.

    At the White House Tech Inclusion Summit last week, 5 initiatives were unveiled to help make sure everyone can learn tech skills, particularly girls and women and those from historically underrepresented communities. I mentioned one of the initiatives in last week’s write up— the partnership between Starter League and the Chicago Public Schools that will help train teachers on Web development so they can in turn teach these skills to their students. The White House blog lists the other initiatives unveiled at the meeting.

    The Prince George County (Maryland) Board of Education is proposing a new policy that would give it copyright over teacher and student work. While the latter is fairly common practice under “work-for-hire” agreements, taking control over students’ work is far more controversial (and I’m not a lawyer, but I’d add that it’s of questionable legality too). The district says that it wants to make sure that it, and not teachers and students, is positioned to make money off of creations. Ugh.

    The Chronicle’s Jen Howard writes that the fair use case pertaining to electronic course reserves is entering the appeals phase. Publishers sued Georgia State University for copyright violation, but a judge ruled last year that the university had only violated copyright in a handful of the 99 instances in question. Publishers are appealing, and there's some concerns over indications the Justice Department plans to weigh in.

    A librarian at McMaster University wrote that “The Edwin Mellen Press was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices,” and now the publisher is suing for libel and seeking $3 million in damages.

    Launches and Upgrades

    In conjunction with FETC this week, Google’s edu-evangelist Jaime Casap touted some of the company’s edu-related accomplishments, including the fact that some 2,000 schools now use Chromebooks, “twice as many as 3 months ago.”

    GigaOm’s Ki Mae Heussner reports on the first cohort — 8 new education startups — who are participating in NYC's newly launched ed-tech accelerator program, Socratic Labs.

    The Shared Learning Collaborative, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative to create a data storage and sharing infrastructure for schools, has rebranded itself. While the non-profit has a new name — inBloom— it insists that its mission and plans remain the same.


    It was a rough few days for many of the campuses that use Desire2Learn last week as a malfunction brought the learning management system down for a quarter of the company’s clients, including UC Boulder and the University of Waterloo. No data was lost in the outage, says D2L.

    Markets, Contracts, Funding and Acquisitions

    The global market for education is $4.4 trillion, according to the investment bank IBIS Capital, which predicts that the e-learning segment of this market will grow by 23% between now and 2017.

    New Zealand-based startup Hapara, which offers a platform to help schools manage their Google Apps for Education systems, has raised $3.2 million in funding.

    Turkey is planning a $4.5 billion tablet initiative with plans to buy devices for some 15 million Turkish schoolchildren. Apple wants the contract (no surprise), according to Mac Rumors, and company executives met last week with the Turkish president.

    The Partnership for LA Schools announced this week that DirectTV is helping it make a $200,000 investment in the math software ST Math. More details on the Getting Smart blog.

    The LMS Haiku Learning has acquired the online grade-book ActiveGrade. Financial details were not disclosed.

    Techcrunch reports that the education marketplace Skillshare has raised $1 million in funding (bringing the startup’s total investment to over $4 million). The money will be used to help expand Skillshare’s staff and its course catalog.

    Hires and Fires and Disciplinary Measures

    Lo Toney, formerly the general manager for Zynga Poker, will join the learn-to-code startup LearnStreet as CEO, reports PandoDaily.

    Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator and governor, has stepped down from his position as President Emeritus of the New School, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. Kerrey recently took up a position with a non-profit research wing of the Minerva Project, a new for-profit university.

    Some 70 students at Harvard have been disciplined for their part in what’s described as the school’s “largest cheating scandal in memory.” There’s been some pushback on whether the students were cheating at all or whether they were simply “collaborating” — many claim that the course instructions and expectations weren’t clear. The students are not being expelled but only have to withdraw from the university for a short time. Their infraction can be absolved if they hold down "a full-time, paid, non-academic job in a non-family situation” for at least half a year.


    Congratulations to the 20 grand prize winners of the 2012 Google Code-in, Google’s annual coding competition for teens. Winners get a trip to Mountain View to visit the Googleplex.

    Research and Data

    The 2013 Horizon Report for Higher Education was released this week. On the horizon in the short term: MOOCs and tablets. Go figure, eh.

    PBS Learning has released a survey detailing K–12 teachers’ use of and attitudes towards education technology. Among the findings, interactive whiteboards remain the most popular and desired technology in the classroom. Asked why they use technology, 74% of the educators responded “to reinforce and expand on content.” The same percentage said “to motivate students to learn.” Awfully transformational, this ed-tech stuff, eh.

    “Widespread use of Khan Academy could also save precious tax dollars” and could help address the “government monopolistic control over education,” according to a fawning report titled "One World School House vs Old World Statehouse," written by the libertarian think-tank Pacific Research Institute. (PDF) My favorite parts, I admit, are when the report tries to address the many critics of Khan Academy, including Stanford math professor Keith Devlin. “Devlin’s case against Khan Academy seems like so much ivory tower pontificating and academic turf protection.” Take that, you math expert! What do you know?! “Overall,” the report says, “the arguments of critics remain unconvincing when compared to Khan’s documented impact and what Khan truly believes.” As math professor Robert Talbert, one of those ivory tower pontificators mentioned in the report argues in response, “Not nearly as unconvincing as arguments based on anecdote and personal feelings, which is what most of the authors’ defense of Khan seems to consist of.”

    Image credits: Nite Owl

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    Card catalogs closeup

    Building an Student Data Infrastructure

    The Shared Learning Collaborative, a Gates Foundation-funded initiative, rebranded itself this week. There’s a new name — inBloom, Inc.— but the mission and plans remain the same, the new non-profit insists.

    That mission is to build an open source, cloud-based education data infrastructure in the hopes of addressing a number of problems schools face: the lack of data interoperability between the various databases and software systems that they utilize and the merits of spending money to update outdated administrative IT (versus, say, buying instructional — or other — tech and/or versus spending money on something altogether non-tech).

    While we’re seeing an explosion in the number of technology tools that schools utilize (hardware, software, apps, the Web), these tend not to “talk” to one another nor to the student information systems that store students’ education records. That makes for a lot of bureaucratic inefficiencies with teachers and staff manually downloading, uploading, re-entering student information — rosters, grades, and so on — into various applications. All this also means that it’s difficult to build a full profile on students and to track and support their progress.

    The latter is of increasing interest to schools and to states and to service providers, particularly now that education is supposed to be more “data driven.”

    Concerns about Sharing and Storing Student Data

    “Data driven” — that’s code for more standardized testing, some folks fear. More testing, more hiring and firing of teachers based on testing, more surveillance. In that light, it’s no surprise that the Shared Learning Collaborative — now iBloom — has faced some pushback from those who link it to corporate education reform, After all, it’s a project with some $100 million in funding from the Gates and Carnegie Foundations and built (in part) by News Corp-owned Wireless Generation, with a new CEO who comes from Promethean, maker of interactive whiteboards.

    A number of organizations — the Massachusetts ACLU, the Massachusetts state PTA, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Class Size Matters, and others — have expressed their concerns about the project, arguing that the initiative will have schools sharing “confidential student and teacher information with the Gates Foundation. The information to be shared will likely include student names, test scores, grades, disciplinary and attendance records, special education and free lunch status.” According to Leonie Haimson, executive director of the NYC organization Class Size Matters, this data grab by the Shared Learning Collaborative — now inBloom — is “unprecedented.”

    Haimson contends that this initiative, currently being piloted in 9 states (Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina), has been undertaken without parental consent and furthermore will open access to students’ data to third-party vendors, again, without parental consent. “‘Open access,’ ‘open source’ and ‘open this’ and ‘open that,’” Haimson told me in a phone interview on Friday, suggesting that the interest in student data was more about “opening for business” and appealing to startups than it was addressing a demand by teachers or parents.

    Haimson also cites concerns about privacy and security in the cloud, as schools move their data storage and servers from a local to a virtualized environment, pointing to inBloom’s privacy and security policies that state that the company “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored in inBloom or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted.” “I wonder if NY state and the other states involved realize that they may be vulnerable for multi-million dollar class action lawsuits if and when this highly sensitive data leaks out,” Haimson wrote in a recent blog post, “especially since Gates and inBloom appear to have disclaimed all responsibility for its safety.”

    Empty card catalog

    But Sharren Bates, the Chief Product Officer for inBloom, insists that “of course, data privacy and security are our number one concern.” InBloom’s infrastructure and the access it affords to student data is FERPA compliant, and there are rigorous security procedures in place, including encryption, to protect data from theft or tampering.

    (It’s worth noting here, I think, that no system is completely secure, and schools — whether they store their data in local servers or in the cloud — are already quite vulnerable to data breaches. And remember too: one of the biggest hacking stories of last year — the near erasure of Wired reporter Mat Honan’s entire digital life— was as much a matter of social engineering than it was any failed technical security measures.)

    With the inBloom infrastructure, schools and states do get to control who has access to the data that’s stored and transmitted, as well as what type of access is granted. Someone in the role of “teacher,” for example, will be able to see the data of the students in her or his class and be able to update assessment and assignment information; someone in the role of “principal” will be able to see the data of the students in her or his school, but not be able to update assessment or assignment information; a district or state-level “super administrator” will be able to determine which third-party application providers can connect to the infrastructure and what information they can access.

    Better Data Privacy, Security and Transparency

    Fact of the matter, third-party providers — websites, games, textbooks, assessment tools, learning management systems, magazines, email, search engines, student information systems, social networks — already have a lot of student data. And that student data isn’t simply name, grade level, date of birth, grades, and/or attendance dates that we've long construed as part of the FERPA-protected "education record." Student data now includes the “data exhaust” we increasingly leave behind when we use computer-based applications — our queries, our location (via GPS or RFID), our length of time on a task or on a site, our keystroke patterns, our networked relationships.

    Many companies hoard this data — particularly the incumbents in the industry, particularly those that are hoping that big data will be "the new oil." To unlock the full potential of learning analytics, we must unlock the data.

    inBloom says that it’s mission is to help schools and teachers tap into all of this data: “Better, more integrated technology and data analytics can help by painting a more complete picture of student learning and making it easier to find learning materials that match each student’s learning needs. Unfortunately, creating the technology infrastructure to do this is often too expensive for most states and school districts.”

    While “personalized learning” may be the stated goal of inBloom, it’s easy to see that this sort of data infrastructure can (and will) also be used to enable surveillance — monitoring and assessing students and in turn teachers and in turn schools. (Once again: “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral” — Kranzberg’s first law of technology)

    Card catalog sculpture

    But such are the trade-offs we are increasingly making when it comes to living (and learning) in a digital world: to fully participate in it, to reap the (purported) benefits, we find ourselves giving up our privacy — or at least we give up control of a lot of our data. It's a matter of both consent and coercion.

    That is, we hand over our data with varying levels of informed consent — we do so begrudgingly and willingly and unconsciously. We do that, we adults. And as such we must ask how well we help children make choices about their own data — ownership and privacy. We must consider what decisions we make — as parents, teachers, schools, app-makers — on their behalf. We must weigh when and why control over data rests with the institution (with schools, with districts) and when it rests with the app-maker (the big companies and the little startups) and when it rests with the individual.

    Along with questions about privacy and security of student data, then, and the demands we do our best to protest these, should be questions about and demands for transparency. Who controls education data and to what end? What data? Can a student (or parent), as FERPA outlines, request access to review and amend her data? (All her data.) And (even better) can she control it herself?

    The data infrastructure being built by inBloom doesn’t necessarily answer any of these questions. It might revolve some; it might exacerbate others. Such are the politics of education data, if you will. The non-profit has said, however, that it intends to make its technology open source. It remains to be seen if this will be sufficient so that it can be leveraged by schools and teachers and the students themselves for the students themselves— and if a more efficient data infrastructure doesn't exist simply to "spur innovation," which is too often code for generating sales among third party ed-tech providers.

    Image credits: Sage Ross

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    Every week (or so), Steve Hargadon and I sit down (virtually) to talk about the latest ed-tech news and the stories that I've written here on Hack Education. In this week's recording, we talk about the talks I recently gave at Educon and ELI on the politics of ed-tech and makerspaces on university campuses respectively. We also talk MOOCs, patents, and more.

    The link to the MP3 of the show is below, and/or you can subscribe to the podcast feed. You can also find the podcast in iTunes, as part of Steve's EdTechLive series.

    February 11, 2013

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  • 02/13/13--20:51: Whose Education Data Is It?
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    The State of the Union (per Obama)

    President Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday (text via White House blog). In it, he offered praise and outlined proposals for technology and education. Among them:  

    Law and Politics Elsewhere

    A proposed bill in Oregon would require that high school students take college credits in order to graduate. Is it just me? Or does this make no sense at all?

    The OER textbook startup Boundlessmade headlines last fall when it was sued by a group of textbook publishers for copyright infringement. The startup responded this week to the suit, denying the allegations of infringement and demanding a jury trial.

    The Chicago Public Schools released a preliminary list of schools that face possible closure — some 129 schools. More on the controversial decision in the Chicago Tribune.

    Upgrades and Downgrades and Such

    I’m not a fan of the “X Changes Everything” headlines, and the launch this week of the new open access journal PeerJ sure prompted several. PeerJ boasts an interesting business model — a sliding scale membership plan where you can print a number of journal articles a year — as well as Internet guru (and publisher) Tim O’Reilly as an investor. Not sure that “changes everything,” but there you go — more OA alternatives.

    Textbook app-maker Kno unveiled “Advance,” its new publishing platform that promises to turn any PDF into “an interactive e-book in minutes at no cost.”

    And because one good textbook app-maker announcement deserves another, Inklingtook to the stage at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change publishing conference to tout its Habitat publishing platform and its new (Google) search-engine-optimized features.

    Top Hat Monocle, a cellphones-as-clickers company, announced this week that it’s partnering with Pearson, a discount on the Top Hat Monocle subscription, according to Betakit, for students who buy Pearson textbooks. (CBM) announced this week that Estonia would be the first country to incorporate its math curriculum. CBM was founded by Conrad Wolfram, brother of Stephen Wolfram (the creator of the math software Mathematica and the computational search engine Wolfram Alpha). I haven’t looked at the curriculum yet, so can’t say much other than rewrite a press release: “enthusiasm.” “potential.” “computer-based mathematics.” and such.

    Ask Bill Gates Anything

    Bill Gatesheld an AMA on Reddit this week. He answered a range of questions, from his disappointments in Microsoft product history to his thoughts on how he was portrayed in Pirates of Silicon Valley— you know, the way important stuff. Two favorite things from the AMA. 1) this Q&A: “Since becoming wealthy, what’s the cheapest thing that gives you the most pleasure?” “Kids. Cheap cheeseburgers. Open Course Ware courses.” and 2) the photo posted at the end of the chat.

    Grants, Investments, and Acquisitions

    Here’s the euphemistic description that The New York Times gave for Snapchat: “A Growing App that Lets You See It, Then You Don’t” — it's a sexting app, folks. An app that promises your messages and photos will disappear after they’re read. An app that’s quite popular with teens. It announced this week that it’s raised $13.5 million. Ka-ching, or something.

    Edsurge reports that Macmillan has invested in the Brazilian startups Veduca and Easyaula. The former is an educational video platform; the latter a marketplace for classes.

    In other funding news, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made donations to political campaigns in the upcoming LAUSD election, reports LA Weekly— some $1 million to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Coalition for School Reform.

    Congratulations to the winners of the 2013 Google RISE (Roots in Science and Engineering) Awards, including the Level Playing Field Institute, CodeNow, and Girls Who Code.

    $89 million will go to New York State schools as part of a settlement with Microsoft (something stemming from a 2006 antitrust lawsuit). The money will go towards technology spending in some 1878 low-income schools, reports the Gotham Schools blog.

    The online learning site (which recently raised $103 million in its first round of outside investment) has acquired the European video training company video2brain. See the press release for more details.

    Shuffling the Human Resources

    Wendy Kopp, CEO and founder of Teach for America, announced this week that she’s stepping down. Her replacements come from within the organization: current President Matt Kramer and Chief Operating Officer Elisa Villanueva Beard will become co-CEOs. Kopp says she’ll retain a seat on the TFA board and will focus her work internationally via another non-profit, Teach For All.

    Former Texas House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler has a new gig: as a lobbyist for Pearson. Pearson has a $468 million, five-year contract with the state to run its standardized tests. Eissler has previously proposed legislation to curb standardized testing, but told the Texas Tribune that “many thought, I think erroneously, that I was against testing, but I was really trying to save it.” So he’s gonna be a great lobbyist, I can tell already.

    Research and Rants and Regurgitated Press Releases

    So much cheering and jeering for MOOCs.

    Phil Hill is right when he calls the recent report from Duke UniversityThe Most Thorough Description (to date) of University Experience with MOOC.” The report (PDF) addresses Duke’s creation of a course on the Coursera platform. Among the findings: “Over 600 hours of effort were required to build and deliver the course, including more than 420 hours of effort by the instructor.” “At the time of enrollment, one-third of enrolled students held less than a four year degree, one third held a Bachelors or equivalent, and one-third held an advanced degree.” Read the whole thing.

    In other open online education news (and hot on the heels of being one of Bill Gates' favorite cheap things, too!): MIT Opencourseware is seeing record levels of usage: “an all-time record in January with 2.25 million visits from 1.3 million unique visitors. We also set an annual record in 2012 with 22.3 million visits from 11.8 million visitors.” Massive! 

    The Pew Research Center released its latest survey data about Americans’ usage of social networking sites. Some 67% of adults over 18 do use them — well, some 67% say they use Facebook. 16% Twitter, 15% Pinterest.

    Because numbers make good headlines, you get stories like this — no questions asked (really. no questions asked): “UC Irvine says Apple’s iPad helped students score 23% higher on exams” — via Apple Insider.

    Duck Duck MOOC

    I have long said that the University of Oregon needs to offer MOOCs in sports marketing. And news this week from the UO Senate Committee on Courses shouldn’t discourage it. Sure, I realize that the committee rejected for credit all the classes that a generous donation to the Knight Law School had subsidized — classes like “Conflict in Sports Teams” and “Football and Conflict” and such. But take a look at the multiple choice test that someone’s posted here and realize: this could be a huge branding opportunity. Go Ducks. Or something.

    Open Source Hacking

    College students: as you make plans for the Summer of 2013, don’t forget the Google Summer of Code, which will once again offer internship opportunities for students working on open source projects. More details here.

    Join the Creative Commons, the Open Knowledge Foundation, and the open science community for an education hackathon on February 23. The goal is to build an open online course, the Introduction to Open Science.

    Who Is Eisenhower, Who Is Socrates, and Other Jeopardy Questions

    Congratulations to Leonard Cooper with his drop-the-micJeopardy Teen Tournament win.

    Philosopher Alain de Bottoncalled out Harry Styles, a singer in the teen pop group One Direction, this week. Botton told the London mag Metro that “people such as Harry Styles“ could benefit society by ”[recommending] to everyone they read Proust and Hegel, which would achieve more in five minutes than the Arts Council achieves year in, year out.” So to prove he's all sweetness and light, Styles tweeted out to his 10 million some odd Twitter followers that “Socrates, born in Athens in the 5th century BCE, marks a watershed in Ancient Greek philosophy.” Online learning FTW, I guess.

    Other Online Ramblings

    A reminder as I’m blogging less (because I’m book-writing and speaking and such) that I curate links drawn from all the smart stuff other folks write about education and technology here: News Elsewhere. And a reminder too that this site is ad-free… really… no affiliate links, I promise.

    Photo credit: Keven Law

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    Tesla Electric Car - TEDx Oil Spill - Washington, DC

    The “NYTimes article about Tesla range in cold is fake,” Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday. “Vehicle logs tell true story that he didn’t actually charge to max & took a long detour.” Disputing John Broder’s article “Stalled on the E.V. Highway,” Musk said he had data to prove that the journalist had distorted his experiences with the electric car and the company’s new charging stations, and Musk posted the vehicle logs from Broder’s trip to the Tesla blog.

    The back-and-forth has ensued all week. Broder has rebutted Musk’s rebuttaltwice now. Other publications and pundits have offered their interpretations of the data. And The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has weighed in— although not with “the definitive word,” she cautions — on the various “claims and counterclaims.”

    This is a story that has nothing to do with education technology, I suppose you might argue. But to the contrary, I think it has quite a lot to do with it, as does raise some interesting and important questions about technology, data, and journalism — all increasingly relevant as education becomes more "data-driven."

    So a couple of observations:

    Data as Truth

    Following Musk’s release of the vehicle logs from the journalist’s trip, several Silicon Valley investors (among others too) were quick to defend Tesla, arguing that the data revealed “the truth” and that Broder had lied. In response to “deceitful journalism,” they argued, Musk had provided “clear facts” and a “data-driven rebuttal.”

    But clearly “data” is not equal to “the truth.” Neither journalists nor data are objective. The various reactions to the Tesla vehicle logs highlight this: there’s Musk’s reading of the data; there are other journalists’ interpretations; there’s Broder’s recollection of the road trip and his (re)contextualization of the data gathered by the electric car’s sensors.

    There are other narratives at play here too, ones that neither are supported or refuted by the Tesla vehicle logs necessarily, but that shape our responses to the story nonetheless: that The New York Times is an old media dinosaur, unfriendly to the high-tech future that Tesla symbolizes and perhaps unaware of the power or ubitquity of data; that Elon Musk is a visionary but oft-maligned CEO, one who must be defended from the old guard — be that the NYT, the automotive industry, or Mitt Romney, who famously called Tesla a “loser company” during the 2012 Presidential campaign.

    As David Weinberger, author of Too Big to Know, writes of the still-unfolding story,

    “Not all of these narratives are equally supported by the data, of course — assuming you trust the data, which you may not if your narrative is strong enough. Data signals but never captures intention….

    But the data are not going to settle the hash. In fact, we already have the relevant numbers (er, probably) and yet we’re still arguing. Musk produced the numbers thinking that they’d bring us to accept his account. [The Atlantic’s] Greenfield went through those numbers and gave us a different account. The commenters on Greenfield’s post are arguing yet more, sometimes casting new light on what the data mean. We’re not even close to done with this, because it turns out that facts mean less than we’d thought and do a far worse job of settling matters than we’d hoped.

    That’s depressing. As always, I am not saying there are no facts, nor that they don’t matter. I’m just reporting empirically that facts don’t settle arguments the way we were told they would.”

    And yet we have all the assertions — from some very loud and powerful voices, I should add — that more measurements and more data will save us.

    Public Data and Public Debate

    Weinberger adds, “there is something profoundly wonderful and even hopeful about this case that is so typical and so remarkable.” He contends that the very public debate we’re having about the data and the Tesla story — a debate occurring in the pages of The New York Times, on Twitter, in other publications, and so on — is incredibly important. From it, “we can see just how inadequate any single investigator is for any issue that involves human intentions, especially when money and reputations are at stake. We know this for sure because we can see what an inquiry looks like when it’s done in public and at scale.”

    “‘Open source’ the driving logs,” says The New York Times’ public editor. Make all the data openly available so that the public — not just the CEOs and the journalists and the investors and the experts — can look at it, hack at it, and interpret it themselves.

    “Open source more data,” I’d add. And let’s not just have these discussions about the range of electric cars (as riveting and relevant as this is for some folks, I realize, holy crap there are more important data-oriented discussions we could have).

    Like Tim Stahmer, I wish we would have these debates — more publicly, more critically, more often — about education data, particularly about our reliance on “test data as truth.” As Stahmer asks, “How often do we ask even the subjects of our testing to analyze the data we’ve gathered from them? Why are then not included in the development of the assessment instruments? When do we include at least a few of the thousands of other factors that affect student learning in our interpretations?”

    Whose Data Is It?

    Admittedly, my first reaction to the Tesla story was, "Wait, there were vehicle logs? Who owns that data?" Tesla, it seems in this case. Who has access to it? Does the driver know what data is being recorded, for what purposes, and with whom it can and will be shared?

    Elon Musk tweeted that “Tesla data logging is only turned on with explicit written permission from customers, but after Top Gear BS, we always keep it on for media.” And I wonder, in light of all of this, how product reviews and product logs might be handled in the future. Will there be more data-tracking, purportedly I guess, keep journalists “honest” or “in line”? Will we see more of this sort of appeal to the data logs when (negative) stories are published?

    How do we balance the call for more data — to help us monitor marketing claims, to help us make better decisions, and so on — with expectations about power, privacy, security, surveillance, transparency, and data ownership? And I ask again a question I posed earlier this week: "Who owns education data?" And to what end and by whom are education data (whatever's the equivalent to the Tesla vehicle logs) invoked?

    Photo credits: Kris Krug

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