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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    Greetings from South Tyrol

    Law and Politics

    President Obama has put forth his 2014 budget, and the education portion proposes to wipe away all outstanding student loan debt, fund free preschool for all children, bring about an end to high stakes standardized testing and an end to Race to the Top, provide free health services for students, and earmark more money for arts and music programs, libraries, and school counselors. Sike!

    PBS's John Merrow has uncovered "a missing memo" that suggests that former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was fully aware that there was widespread cheating on standardized tests. Merrow's 4500-word piece, "Michelle Rhee's Reign of Error" is worth reading, and I'd add too that investigative journalism in education is worth supporting.

    Mark Zuckerberg, along with other Silicon Valley tycoons, has launched a SuperPAC,, which will tackle immigration reform (particularly for those “most talented and hardest-working people” — that is, tech types) and education reform (that is, “higher standards and accountability in schools, support for good teachers and a much greater focus on learning about science, technology, engineering and math”). Many of those on board with the SuperPAC are investors in education technology startups and charter schools, so this should be fun to watch how they “hack” policy.

    Inside Higher Ed reports on a proposed law in North Carolina that would remove the state income tax break for parents who allow their college student children to register to vote in the towns where they attend school. Because, ya know, “democracy.”

    Tennessee lawmakers have tabled their proposed legislation that would cut families’ welfare benefits if students didn’t perform well in school. A shout-out here to 8-year-old Aamira Fetuga who followed the lawmaker behind the bill, Rep. Stacey Campbell, around the Capital asking him questions about his incredibly mean-spirited proposal.

    A bill in California called the Textbook Relief Act is moving on to committee. The title of AB–479 sounds great, sure, but reading the fine print raises lots of questions. The bill will exempt from state sales tax just those textbooks sold by university bookstores or “textbook-only” stores in the state. (So purchases from Amazon, for example, are ineligible.) And “textbook” in this case, “does not include books on audio tape, computer disc, cd-rom, or similar storage media.” Well played, college bookstores. Well played.

    Florida legislators are working on a bill, akin to one proposed in California, that would let officials in the state bypass the regional accreditation process and accredit individual courses on their own – including classes offered by unaccredited for-profit providers. I can’t imagine anything would go wrong with that. Can you?

    Launches and Upgrades

    The learning management system Instructureunveiled its new App Center this week (although it won’t officially launch ’til InstructureCon, its annual conference, this summer). The App Center will offer teachers, students, and administrators a one-click installation of a variety of apps (100 at launch) into Canvas.

    Khan Academy is teaming up with Bank of America, the good folks who helped bring about the banking/mortgage crisis, to teach us all “Better Money Habits.” I used up all my snark about this news on Twitter, which was greatly enhanced by a response from the BofA customer service, asking me to DM them with my property address and my concerns.

    NextGenU had its official launch this week. It provides a portal for free online courses (for interest or for credit) in the health sciences. More details here.

    Amplify, the education division of News Corp, is teaming up with the education startup Clever. The latter will help integrate Amplify’s tablets with schools’ student information systems, reports Edsurge, which calls this a “huge deal” for Clever. Indeed, paying for data integration instead of just hacking phones to get what you want seems like a huge deal for News Corp too.


    On the heels of its acquisition of the language-learning community Livemocha and its promise to move “to the cloud,” Rosetta Stonesays it’s closing down the last of its famous airport and mall kiosks.

    Obligatory MOOC News Section

    EdX and San Jose State Universityannounced this week that they’re collaborating on an initiative that would expand the offering of a “blended” version of the MOOC platform’s Engineering Circuits and Electronics to 11 other California university campuses. According to the press release, “San Jose State will concurrently establish a Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning to train faculty members from other campuses interested in offering the engineering course and other blended online courses in the future.” More details from the press conference here (where my question — “is edX charging schools money for this?” was answered in the affirmative.)

    Coursera is making money — $220,000 in the first quarter, reports Inside Higher Ed. That revenue comes from those in the “signature track,” who pay for a “verified certificate” in classes they complete. At a Coursera-focused conference at UPenn, the company revealed that “70 or 80 percent of paid users are finishing courses.”

    Other Classes and Standards

    The Next Generation Science Standards were released this week. Developed by 26 states and many science organizations, the new standards aim to cover fewer ideas (including -- gasp! -- climate change) but in more depth, with an emphasis on hands-on learning and not just memorizing facts.

    The Atlantic offers a look at libertarian, former Congressman, and two-time presidential candidate Ron Paul’s new homeschool curriculum, which includes info on starting a home business, building a website, defending the free market, and understanding basic science. If he’d just called it a MOOC, I bet he could’ve got VC funding.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    The evil Elsevier has acquired the much-loved Mendeley. OK, that’s a bit of a polemical way to describe the news, but reading the responses from many academics, it’s fairly clear that the acquisition isn’t popular. As danah boyd explains in a blog post on why she’ll now abandon Mendeley’s bibliographic tool for the open source alternative Zotero, “Elsevier published fake journals until it got caught. Its parent company was involved in the arms trade until it got caught. Elsevier played an unrepentant and significant role in advancing SOPA/PIPA/RWA and continues to lobby on issues that undermine scholarship. Elsevier currently actively screws over academic libraries and scholars through its bundling practices.”

    The learn-to-code startup Treehouse has raised $7 million in Series B funding from Kaplan Ventures. More details at Techcrunch.

    And the learn-to-code startup Tynker has raised $3.25 million in funding from 500 Startups, NEA, Felicis Ventures, NewSchools Venture Fund, Cervin Ventures, GSV Advisors, XG Ventures, and others. More details at Techcrunch.

    Ashai Net International has acquired the Sakai Division (that is, the learning management system division) of rSmart. More details on the acquisition on e-Literate.

    From the HR Department

    Education Week reports that Jim Shelton, the Department of Education’s Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, is in line to become the department’s Deputy Secretary, replacing Tony Miller.

    Research and Survey Data

    The National Center for Education Statistics has released a report on federal student loan debt for those who do not complete their degrees. Among the findings, “the cumulative amount borrowed per credit earned was highest for non-completers in for-profit institutions ($350 per credit, compared with $80 to $190 per credit” at public and private non-profit schools). Also “in 2009, the median cumulative federal student debt for all non-completers amounted to 35 percent of their annual income; debt burden was highest for students in 4-year private nonprofit institutions (median debt equaled 51 percent of borrowers’ annual income). Debt burden among non-completers who started in for-profit institutions increased from 20 percent to 43 percent of annual income between 2001 and 2009.”

    Among the findings in a new survey (PDF) commissioned by the Association Of American Colleges And Universities, “employers recognize the importance of today’s colleges and universities providing a liberal education—one that focuses on both broad knowledge in a variety of areas and knowledge in a specific field of interest, as well as intellectual and practical skills that span all areas of study and a sense of social responsibility.” When given this description of a “liberal education,” 94% of those employers said that it was important that colleges provide students with this. I'm sure Zuckerberg's SuperPAC will lobby accordingly.

    Photo credits: Harald Hoyer

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    The empty classroom.

    As the chorus crescendoes: “Don’t go back to school,” I’m fairly happy to sing along.

    I mean, I didn’t finish high school in the US (was sent to school in the UK instead), dropped out of college (then got pregnant), finished my Bachelors with my baby (then toddler) in my arms, went to grad school (LOL), and proceeded to drop out of a PhD program, two chapters into my dissertation. I owe a fair amount of money in student loans, and now I’m a freelance writer.

    So really, I get it. Don’t go. Skip college. Ditch grad school. The debt. The depression. The dismal job market.

    Despite the dominant cultural narrative that “everyone should go to college” and the attitude among many employers that “everyone should have a degree,” I’m still happy to counsel against it. Because it’s true: school (in the US at least) is incredibly expensive. School might not be the best place for you to learn. School might not be the best place for you to network. School might not be your best bet for credentialing.

    But then again… it might be.

    That’s the problem with a lot of the “don’t go back to school” arguments. They’ve done some back-of-the-envelope math that demonstrates college is not a good investment. How much you pay in tuition. How much you’ll have to borrow. How much you’ll earn when you graduate. No doubt, these are calculations anyone looking at pursuing higher education — whether an undergraduate or graduate degree — should make.

    But these figures are frequently predicated on a particular socio-economic status as the starting point and value a particular socio-economic status as the outcome. They’re really just one way to run the numbers— assessing higher education in terms of income, expenditure, and debt — and as such, just one way to determine if school is “worth it.”

    They make for a pretty compelling calculation, don’t get me wrong. But often the advice — “don’t go!” — simply stops there. Or it is accompanied with a fair amount of mocking of those who do, not to mention a fair amount of wand-waving at what’s supposed to happen to those who don’t.

    And this is where the “don’t go to school” chorus can be quite tone-deaf. A veritable cottage industry has sprung up to pen the “don’t go back to school” books, blog posts, articles, and op-eds. But the advice — “don’t go!” — frequently comes with some trite recommendations of what to do in lieu of formal education: “Need a job? Invent it.” Or “Want to learn anything? Write a personal learning plan.” Or “budget $150 a month” to take smart and interesting people out for coffee. Or “open up 20 or so tabs in your Web browser.” “You can learn anything you want on the Internet!” — except, let’s be honest, you can’t. And even if you could, so what?

    The exception to the decidedly unhelpful or unrealistic "don't go!" guides and diatribes might be Kio Stark's recently published Don't Go Back to School, unique not because it offers a diagnosis of what's wrong with formal institutions of learning (there's lots of that out there) or because it offers a solid list of resources of where to go to learn "independently" (her list is a particularly good one though. It includes this blog). What makes Stark's book different are her interviews with 20-some-odd successful professionals — "people who rejected school early on as well as those who loved school and then graduated into passionate learning without it. They'll tell you how they do it and what drives them to learn." The book contains the personal experience narratives of journalists, artists, scientists, technologists, and entrepreneurs — their own learning experiences written in their own words. And these stories highlight how varied, how messy, how complicated, how lucky, and — to invoke a cliche — how "lifelong" the process of learning-without-school can be.

    Pursuing a four-year degree, in other words, might be a lot simpler.

    Indeed I’ve watched my 19-year-old son struggle since high school graduation. He opted to not go to college, and despite the promise of saving tens of thousands of dollars and debt, the decision has hardly made things easy. “Take a MOOC!” “Learn to code!” “Start a business!” These aren’t necessarily helpful or applicable alternatives to college, and when you’ve just got a high school diploma, “find a job!” can be an extraordinarily difficult challenge.

    My son doesn’t really see himself as an “autodidact” — although I’d argue that when he’s learning about something he’s passionate about, he is. Indeed, we all are. But the “don’t go to school” narrative doesn’t do much to help people get from here to there, particularly when “do what you’re passionate about” doesn’t pay the bills. Nor does the increasing hype about online learning opportunities help people realize, as Stark points out in her book, that "independent learners are interdependent learners."

    But it isn't simply about "learning" to "learn together," either. The “don’t go to school” narrative is often quick to brush aside the ways in which gender, race, class, and ability afford privilege and complicate alternatives. Stark does address this in Don't Go Back to School, noting that doing things "by the book" — that is, getting a college degree — may be necessary for those who are "already at a disadvantage in the race for jobs." No doubt, most of us do not live the lives of the “don’t go to school” poster-boys (and yes, they are boys) — Gates, Zuckerberg, and the like. In touting the “age of the Internet” as “age of the autodidact,” we’re quick to overlook the networks (and let's be frank, the K-12 education) that many of these so-called “self-taught” and “self-made” men were already privy to.

    These networks are powerful — they can be political, professional, regional, and yes, school-affiliated. They are, I would contend, more powerful than the informal learning networks fostered by the Internet. Perhaps that will change. Perhaps justice and social mobility can be leveraged through them. But as we sing the "don't go to school" song, I wonder how we do best to ensure that there are opportunities for everyone — not just the exceptional or the elite — to learn and grow and live meaningful, productive, and sustainable lives. Because even with all the ills of higher education, just telling folks "don't go to school" hardly feels like a sufficient or responsible response.

    Photo credits: Terrapin Flyer

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    Mockingbird on fountain

    Politics and Pursestrings

    Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley (R-Iowa) is seeking to defund the Common Core State Standards. Grassley’s asked Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to include verbiage to that end in the Department of Education’s funding measure.

    A bill to create a “New University of California,” an exam-centric, credit-delivery school with no professors, is dead, as its sponsor Assemblyman Scott Wilk has pulled the legislation.

    Another piece of legislation in California, Senate Bill 520, lives on. The bill, which would require the state’s public universities to accept online courses for credit for certain classes, has been amended due to pushback from faculty concerned about the outsourcing of curricular decisions. The language of the bill now reads: the new California Student Access Platform“shall be developed and administered by the President of the University of California, the Chancellor of the California State University, and the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges, jointly, with the academic senates of the respective segments.” More details via the Remaking the University blog.

    Lousiana superintendent John White has pulled student data out of inBloom, reports The News Star. Louisiana was one of the states participating in the pilot program — a Gates and Hewlett Foundation-funded project to build a nationwide data infrastructure. (For more information on inBloom’s plans for student data, see my latest story on the non-profit startup.)

    The Philadelphia School District has put forward what it describes as a “catastrophic” budget. The district’s $304 million deficit means a budget with no money for counselors, librarians, sports, extracurricular activities, aides, summer school. Some 3000 employees could be laid off.

    The Department of Education has approved Southern New Hampshire University’s plan to offer federal financial aid to students enrolled in its self-paced online program called College for America. The university describes this as ““the first degree program to completely decouple from the credit hour.” More via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    A bill in West Virginia would make science fiction compulsory, in order to "stimulate interest in the fields of math and science.” Because nothing stimulates kids’ interest in something more than making it a school requirement.

    Patents and Lawsuits

    Apple has been awarded a patent for its “virtual university” (aka iTunes U). PatentlyApple has the details: the patent is “about systems, methods, and computer program products for accessing e-learning courses from an online resource. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) allow students to enroll in online courses or collections of other media (e.g., video files, presentations).” Because if it weren’t for the Apple GUI, clearly there would be no online education.

    The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Florida Education Association, the Florida teachers’ union, is suing the state, alleging that merit and performance pay violate employees’ rights to due process. The suit claims that district employees are being evaluated for students they did not teach.

    Launches and Upgrades

    The Digital Public Library of America has launched! There’s so much to love here: a portal that links together the libraries, museums, and archives of the US; open source and openly licensed code and metadata; mapping and discovery tools that help us rethink how we might “browse the stacks” in a digital space.

    The educational wiki providers at Wikispaces have launched a new product, Wikispaces Classroom, which expands on the existing wiki capabilities but adds new features — like a news feed, mobile capabilities, and assessment tools — and a new look.

    Learn-to-code startups continue to pop up. This week, it’s Hopscotch, which offers an iPad app for for those 8 and up. (iTunes link) The app looks a lot like MIT’s Scratch (as do many of the recent entries in the market).

    A golf clap for for the Boy Scouts of America who proposed on Friday — at the height of the media fixation with the search for the Boston Marathon bomber — to lift its ban on gay members. It will continue to exclude gay adult leaders.

    Verbling Brings Immersive Language Learning Into Your Living Room (Exclusive),” reads the Venture Beat headline. I confess I only kinda skimmed through the story because “immersive language learning in the living room” doesn’t seem terribly exclusive. But I guess the big news is there are Verbling Courses now, which are different than Verbling Classes, which launched in December. Read more at Venture Beat.

    Scholasticrolled out what it’s calling its “largest education technology product launch” in the company’s history — a suite of tech tools including MATH 180, iRead, and Common Core Code X.

    Downgrades and Closures

    On Friday afternoon (news burial alert!), Yahoo announced it was closing down a number of services, including Yahoo! Kids (formerly Yahooligans) in 11 days. As Internet archivist Jason Scott tweets, “Good job there. Countdown to parents finding kids browsing cool new shit!” Yet another good time to ask who owns kids’ data, as well as for parents to think about how they plan to keep an archive of all of it.

    The MOOC News Just Keeps on Comin’

    The faculty at Amherst have voted down a proposal to join edX, reports The Amherst Student. Professors said they were “underwhelmed by the tools edX currently offered, that edX seemed too new and unreliable a program, that there were better things to spend money on and that the requirement to offer certificates, either immediately or after the first time the course is offered, was against the College’s interests.” More details via Inside Higher Ed.

    The online learning startup Udacity is expanding its partnership with San Jose State University, offering 5 for-credit classes this summer: Intro to Programming, Intro to Psychology, Elementary Statistics, College Algebra, and Entry-level Math. The classes cost $150 and will offer transferable college credit.

    Because it appears you can never have too many MOOC initiatives out of Stanford: NovoEd launched this week. Formerly known as Venture Labs, NovoEd was founded by Stanford management sciences professor Amin Saberi and PhD student Farnaz Ronaghi and offers a “team-based, collaborative, and project-based approach” that “helps learners foster the core competencies of leadership, collaboration, and communication.”

    P2PU and the Open Knowledge Foundation kicked off their School of Data MOOC this week to help teach journalists, non-profit folks, and citizens how to gather, clean, and use data

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Learnzillion has raised $7 million, reports Techcrunch, in its Series A round. Learnzillion is building a Common Core State Standards-aligned platform that offers lessons and videos for teachers (made by teachers). (See my story from June 2012 for an introduction to the startup).

    Houghton Mifflin has acquired Montreal-based Tribal Nova, which according to the press release means “in-house game development expertise” for the textbook publisher. Wheee.

    The online learning startup Echo360 has acquired Thinkbinder, a tool that’s still in beta that helps students communicate and collaborate. Sounds unique. More details at GigaOm.

    From the Human Resources Department

    Karen Cator, formerly the head of the Department of Education’s Office of Ed-Tech, has taken on a new role as the CEO of Digital Promise, a Congress-created initiative to enhance teaching and learning with technology.

    FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced the appointment of Michael Steffen as Director of Digital Learning. Steffen will help lead the charge for better broadband access at schools and more digital learning stuff via this newly created position. (The FCC handles E-Rate, the federal fund that helps make schools’ and libraries’ Internet affordable.)

    The National Louis University has cut its full-time faculty by nearly half, according to the AAUP. The school, which is facing revenue shortfalls (but um, seriously, who isn’t?!) has laid off 63 faculty members, including 16 tenured professors, and has closed four departments: English, fine arts, mathematics and natural sciences. Ditch the reading, writing, and arithmetic; hire more adjuncts. Brilliant.

    Research (and Retractions)

    The education reform think-tank Education Sector and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni have retracted a report they issued last month that claimed that university faculty teaching loads have gone down by 25% — something they argued had led to the increased cost of college. Oops. Could have been worse, I guess. (See: Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s famous 2010 study ”Growth in a Time of Debt” — a report invoked to argue for austerity policies — and the apparent Excel spreadsheet mistake they made.) Maybe we should hold off on dismantling public institutions ’til we’ve checked each others’ work or something.

    According to a new study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, one out of every four of black students, nearly one out of five students with disabilities and one out of five English language learners were suspended in the 2009–2010 school year. More on this story at The Nation.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a study that’s found that examining students’ criminal histories and running background checks on college applicants does not accurately predict whether students will pose a threat once on campus.

    Project Tomorrow has released its annual Speak Up Survey that asks parents, teachers, principals and students about their thoughts on education technology. Among the findings: 34% of school technology leaders said that bandwidth was their most challenging technology issue.

    According to the 2012 ACT National Curriculum Survey, high school teachers think their students are ready for college at a far higher rate than college professors do. “89 percent of high school teachers think report their students are ‘well’ or ‘very well’ prepared for college-level work in the subject they teach, while just 26 percent of college instructors say incoming students are ‘well’ or ‘very well’ prepared for entry-level course,” writes Education Week.


    Pearson has admitted major errors in its scoring of the test it offers to parents to see if their children are eligible for New York’s Gifted & Talented program. Gotham Schools has more details, including the apology letter that Pearson sent to parents. They are, of course, "truly sorry" that "errors were made."

    Across the nation, it’s been a shitty week, compounded in schools everywhere by standardized test-taking time. So in my best Edward R. Murrow voice, I wish you all "Good night. And good luck."

    Image credits: andymw91 via Flickr

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    all you need is an apple


    Maine’s Department of Education announced that Hewlett Packard has been awarded the contract for the state’s laptop program, making it the "primary technology and learning solution." Students will begin receiving their Hewlett Packard ProBook 4440s running Windows 8 in the fall (there will be some leeway to purchase others among the five finalists -- and Apple products, both the iPad and the MacBook are on that list -- although the price point of choice). Apple has had the exclusive contract to provide equipment for the state’s one-to-one laptop program since 2002. I guess it’s time to think different, or something.

    Minnesota legislators have voted to end high-stakes testing in the state. Rather than tests that are required for graduation, the bill that passed the State Senate this week “switches to a new testing system that is focused on career and college goals,” reports the Star Tribune.

    The LA Times reports that the state of California will adopt performance-based funding for its universities and colleges under a proposal that Governor Jerry Brown has drafted. The funding would tie budget increases to certain metrics, including graduation rates.

    Florida has approved new online-only degree programs to be offered through the University of Florida. The state, which already offers fully online K–12 education, is the first in the country to offer this via a public university. The courses will, according to Reuters, “cost no more than 75 percent of in-state tuition for regular classes.”

    The Guardian reports that Lego will build its first-ever school in Billund, the Danish city where the corporation is headquartered. The school will focus on inquiry-based learning. The school “is just one of a long line of projects in a town of 6,000 people sponsored by the Lego family. The family has also paid for an airport – the second largest in Denmark – and worked with the council to construct a church, community facilities, a library and a theatre.”

    The state of Washington has passed and signed into law HB1472, a bill that creates initiatives to “improve and expand computer science education” in the state. In part, the legislation will allow CS to count as a math or science requirement towards high school graduation.


    Pearson is being sued in China for stealing trade secrets. Certiport China “claims that Pearson stole its client list under the pretense of an audit and informed customers of the change without prior consent of the other shareholders of Certiport (China).”

    News Corp’s education wing Amplify is suing the education publisher Greenwood Publishing for patent infringement. (Sorry I don’t have any further information on this story… I’ll keep sleuthing.)

    Launches and Upgrades

    IncitED, a new crowdfunding site for education-related initiatives, launched this week. Featured campaigns at launch include “Open Road Learning Community for Teens" and “Street Poetry Outreach.”

    Mozilla has released the draft version of its Web Literacy standards. Feedback is welcome.

    Lego has announced the release date for its latest Mindstorms kits for classrooms: August 1. (You can read my write-up of The Mindstorms EV3 here.)

    The latest version of MinecraftEDU (the official version of Minecraft designed for teachers and students) has been released. It’s based on Minecraft 1.5.1 and includes a number of upgrades, including improved teacher’s “Give Menu,” better server displays, and improved Mac support.

    The Tin Can API has reached version 1.0. (For more details about the Tin Can API, see my article from last year.)

    Online tutoring company Varsity Tutors now acceptsBitcoins, a crypto-based currency. If this sounds appealing to you, heartily recommend some lessons on economics.

    EdReach, an education-oriented podcast network, has partnered with Stitcher Radio to distribute the former’s content.

    Downgrades and Closures

    InBloom has clarified the news that the state of Louisiana has pulled out of its pilot program, strangely with a letter posted to a Colorado school district. According to CEO Iwan Streichenberger, Louisiana has “decided to pause their fast-track implementation" in order to have “conversations” and to continue the move away from using Social Security numbers as students’ ID in state records.

    The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art — one of the last tuition-free universities in the US — announced this week that it would charge undergraduates tuition. The university was founded in 1859 with the mission of educating working class New Yorkers at no cost.

    Ooops. Bad timing for an outage for digital textbook provider Coursesmart as it experienced a “service interruption” during what was, for many students who took to Twitter to complain, apparently finals week.

    Obligatory MOOC News

    Universities from 11 European countries have joined forces to launch the MOOC initiative OpenupEd. It will offer 40 classes, taught in 12 different launches.

    Bravo to Mozilla for remixing the meaning of the MOOC acronym — a “Mozilla Open Online Collaboration.” You can join the organization’s MOOC “Teach the Web,” which will help folks learn how to teach digital literacy and webmaking skills and starts May 2.

    According to a study conducted by the Instructional Technology Council and released at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges, just 1% of community colleges offer credits or certificates for MOOCs while 44% say they are “beginning to explore options” to do so. More details via Inside Higher Ed.


    The American Council on Education’s College has recommended 5 classes offered by Sophia Pathways for ACE Credit: Human Biology, Introduction to Psychology, Introduction to Statistics, College Algebra, and Introduction to Sociology.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Pearson has acquired Learning Catalytics, which the press release describes as “an advanced, cloud-based learning analytics and assessment system developed by Eric Mazur, Brian Lukoff, and Gary King of Harvard University.” Mazur popularized the idea of “peer instruction,” and according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Learning Catalytics uses data-mining techniques to find the right partners for them, he said. It also provides instructors with real-time information about student learning on a graphical dashboard display. In the last year or so, the start-up company has proved to be very popular, Mr. Mazur said. In fact, it was too popular for just three people to handle.”

    The student portfolio startup Seelio has raised $900,000 in seed funding, reports Techcrunch.

    The education-focused startup incubator ImagineK12 announced this week that it’s moving to a rolling admissions process, as well as increasing the amount of funding it makes available to participants. In addition to the $14,000-$20,000 that startups currently receive, new companies will be eligible for $80,000 in convertible debt funding.

    The online speech therapy startup PresenceLearning has raised $8 million in funding led by New Markets Venture Partners, reports Techcrunch.

    The for-profit DeVry Universityannounced this week that its third quarter profits were down 15% due to lower enrollments.


    The New America Foundation and Education Sector have released a report called State U Online, detailing the history and the future opportunities for public universities moving online.

    Research from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College has found that community college students prefer face-to-face classes over online ones, particularly for ones they think will be difficult, important, or interesting. More details on the study at Inside Higher Ed.


    The deadline for entries for this year’s Google Science Fair is Tuesday April 30 (so hurry!).

    The Minerva Project, a for-profit university startup, is offering a $500,000 prize — what it dubs a “Nobel Prize for Teaching” — “to a faculty member at any institution in the world who has demonstrated extraordinary, innovative teaching.”


    Happy 20th birthday to the Mosaic browser — not the first Web browser, but arguably one that helped popularize the Web. Built at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, it’s a excellent example of the innovations created by public universities.

    I lost track of all the faculty this week who announced new jobs and/or promotions, after hearing updates from Mark Sample,Tom ScheinfeldtDave Parry, and Jeff McClurken. Bravo to them, and to those I missed.

    President Obama honored the Teacher of the Year at the White House this week — Zillah, Washington science teacher Jeff Charbonneau.


    Unbelievably ridiculous and awful news from Brian Kelly who posted a picture on his blog this of his redundancy letter, effective end of July. Kelly, along with 23 others at UKOLN (the UK Office for Library and Information Networking), have had their positions eliminated, thanks to budget cuts. UKOLN was established in 1989 and has been a leading force for innovative digital practices. I can't begin to express my thanks for all the hard work of Kelly and his peers have accomplished, nor can I really find the words to say how devastating this loss of expertise will be for open education.

    Photo credits: B E R N A

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    I gave my first (and probably last) TEDx talk this weekend at TEDxNYED on the topic of ed-tech, science fiction, and ethics. Unfortunately (or fortunately -- depending on how you view things), the livestream wasn't working. I'll post a video if and when it becomes available (although I'm not sure my talk will past TED muster). But I've posted below a rough transcript of my talk, along with a couple of the slides I showed:

    The drive to create a machine that duplicates the human mind, that duplicates the human body has ancient roots. It has roots in mythology and in literature far older than humans’ ability to build this sort of machine through science, engineering, and technology.

    But here we are. 2013. And there are almost daily headlines to this end — robots — designed to replicate, enhance, and automate some function of our lives, of our world.

    Robots on the factory floor. Robot game show contestants. There are robots that offer medical advice, that perform surgery Robots that play heavy metal music. Lunar robots. Robots on Mars. Robot cheetahs. Robot cockroaches. Robot lawyers. Robot sparrows. Robot spies. Yes, robots in our classrooms. Robots to defend us and watch us and teach us and attack. And drones. My God, the drones.

    There are robots that can debone chickens.

    This is the development that’s been stuck in my head, I confess. And it is actually quite a remarkable one, as one of the things that has prevented robot chicken de-boning in the past is, as the sub-header reads here, that all chickens – even factory-farmed chickens – are slightly different. As such it’s been a challenge to engineer a robot that can make the necessary allowances and exceptions as it plucks and carves and de-bones.

    The de-boning and the butchering, however, standardizes the meat.

    And perhaps tying this chicken deboning robot to standardization and teaching and learning and technology requires a bit of a conceptual leap — but this is a TED Talk, so what the hell.

    Here’s a link: we have reached the level where we can train robots to beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy and to recognize all the anatomical differences in chickens’ bone structures, but are we able to recognize and cultivate differences elsewhere – oh say, the cognitive differences and intellectual capacities in humans, in students?

    In other words, can we build and train robots to help us – in all of our uniqueness – learn? What sort of standardization, what sort of differentiation would that entail? More testing, more data-gathering?

    And this is the more important question: even if we can build automated instructional software, do we want to? Why?

    Gratuitous chicken de-boning image here, my apologies, let’s agree that there might just be cause for concern when it comes to robots. Take one look at this image and you have to shout, “Oh my God. Do we really want to train robots with precise knife-wielding skills?!”

    No doubt our fears about what will happen if we build automatons are as old as our drive to build them. But the word “robot” is itself quite new. It was coined in 1920. It comes, not from engineering but from theatre — “Rossum’s Universal Robots” by the Czech playwright Karel Capek. Capek credited his brother for the invention of the word, but in Czech “robota” means “forced labor.” In the play, robots take over factory work and eventually the world, leading to the extinction of the human race.

    Much like Frankenstein’s monster sought to destroy his creator, many literary robots have aimed to overthrow their human masters.

    But there is another possibility as science fiction fans who’ve read their Isaac Asimov will reassure us, “Of course, we can train robot chicken de-boners and remain safe as humans, as long as we maintain the 3 laws of robotics.”

    Law 1: A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    Law 2: A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    Law 3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

    The Zeroeth Law: A robot may not harm humanity, or by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

    In other words — in Asimov’s framework, at least — robots are programmatically and thus necessarily protective of human safety, of human life. They are here to help us not harm us.

    But not all robots know these rules, of course. And let’s be clear — the 3 Laws do not resolve all ethical questions regarding robots. They just reassure us that there will be fewer knife-wielding robot rebels.

    Nor do all robots appear as theatening as robot chicken de-boners. The robots in education technology certainly don’t. Sure, there are the battle-bots in robotics competitions. But most of what the field of artificial intelligence has brought into the classroom is software: adaptive learning software, intelligent tutoring systems, automated assessment tools.

    We have authored no “three laws of ed-tech robotics” in response — neither in science fiction nor in our district tech procurement guidelines. We rarely ask, “what are ethical implications of educational technologies?” (Mostly: “will this raise test scores?”) We rarely ask, “Are we building and adopting tools that might harm us?”

    I frame this as a science fiction question in part because science fiction helps us tease out these things: the possibilities, horrors, opportunities of technology and science. I turn to science fiction because novelists and researchers and engineers and entrepreneurs construct stories using similar models and metaphors. I refer to science fiction because what our culture produces in the film studio or at the writer’s desk is never entirely separable from what happens in the scientist’s lab, what happens at the programmer’s terminal. We are bound by culture. And there are some profoundly important — and I would add, terribly problematic — views on teaching and learning that permeate both science fiction and technological pursuits.

    The view of education as a “content delivery system” for example appears as readily in ed-tech companies’ press releases as it does on the big screen. Take The Matrix, for example, where Keanu Reeves utters one of his finest lines as a computer injects directly into his brainstem all the knowledge he needs:

    “Whoa, I know kung fu.”

    Or take the behaviorist B. F. Skinner’s “teaching machine” — a mechanical device developed in the 1950s to offer “programmed instruction” — it’s a vision that appears in many SF novels (Enders Game, for example) and one that isn’t that different from many ed-tech products on the market today.

    Or take the latest craze, these massive open online courses or MOOCs — many of which have their origins in the university AI lab — Udacity and Coursera in Stanford’s AI department and the head of edX from MIT’s AI lab. Many of these rely on automated grading mechanisms alongside their video-taped lecture lessons. The leap — as a metaphor and as a model — from Google’s robotic, self-driving car to the self-driving online course is not that far — literally – it’s built by the same fellow.

    The automation of teaching and learning – the development of teaching machines, robots in the classroom — is a long-running plot line in science fiction and a long-standing goal of AI itself: the creation of artificial intelligence-backed machines that claim to automate and “personalize” lesson delivery and assessment. Many remain crude, using mostly multiple choice for the latter.

    But last year, the Hewlett Foundation sponsored a contest to get some of the best minds in the world of machine learning — a revealingly named subsection of AI — to design a programmatic way to automate, not the grading of multiple choice tests, but the grading of essays. They put a $100,000 bounty out for an algorithm that grades as well as humans. And it was a success; the bounty was claimed. Not only is it possible to automate essay grading, researchers contended, robots do this just as well as human essay-graders do.

    Investors, big testing companies, and all those unemployed robots with degrees in rhetoric and composition, were thrilled.

    Robots grade more efficiently. Robots — unlike those pesky human English instructors and graduate students — remain non-unionized. They do not demand a living wage or health care benefits.

    A computer can grade 16,000 SAT essays in 20 seconds, I’ve heard cited, and if teachers don’t have to worry about reading students’ work they can assign more of it. They can also have more — massively more — students in their classes. Hundreds of thousands more.

    Not everyone is sold on the idea that robot graders are the future. Many critics argue that it’s actually pretty easy to fool the software. That’s because robots don’t “read” the way we do. They do things like assess word frequency, word placement, word pairing, word length, sentence length, use of conjunctions, and punctuation.

    But robot essay graders might reveal something else – as writing professor Alex Reid argues, “If computers can read like people it’s because we have trained people to read like computers.”

    Let’s look closely at the human graders that these robots in the Hewlett competition were compared to. The major testing companies hire a range of people to grade essays for them. They don’t have a personal relationship with the students they’re grading, obviously. These graders are given a fairly strict rubric to follow – a rubric that computers, no surprise, follow with more precision. Human graders are discouraged from recognizing “creative” expression.

    Robot graders, of course, have no idea what “creative expression” even means.

    What does it means to tell our students that we’re actually not going to read their papers, but we’re going to scan them and a computer will analyze them instead? What happens when we encourage students to express themselves in such a way that appeases the robot essay graders rather than a human audience? What happens when we discourage creative expression?

    Robot graders raise all sorts of questions about thinking machines and thinking humans, about self-expression and creativity, about the purpose of writing, the purpose of writing assignments, the purpose of education, and the ethics of education technology and of robots in the classroom.

    And what are the implications of automating the teaching and learning process? Why does efficiency matter so much? Why do we want the messy and open-ended process of inquiry standardized, scaled, or automated? What will all of this artificial intelligence drive us to do about human intelligence?

    Do robot essay graders violate the Laws of Robotics?

    The promise from the proponents of these technologies — from adaptive learning companies, and AI professors, and MOOC startups and the like — is that someday we’ll have efficiency and order and standardization and scale. I find that chilling.

    As the French philosopher Jacques Ellul argued in the 1960s — not too long after the creation of B. F. Skinner’s “teaching machine” or Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot in fact, the drive for efficiency is all-encompassing and a dominant force in our technological age,

    “The human brain must be made to conform to the much more advanced brain of the machine. And education will no longer be an unpredictable and exciting adventure in human enlightenment but an exercise in conformity and an apprenticeship to whatever gadgetry is useful in a technical world.”

    What “use” will our technical world have for us, for our students?

    And I think this is why I like the Laws of Robotics very much — not for answering these questions in form of a simple plot device or character restraint, but for prompting us to ask questions. The Zeroeth Law in particular reminds us about the potential of harm to humanity.

    This isn’t simply about “the survival of the human race” with or versus the machine – it’s about our humanity. Indeed humanity and learning are deeply intertwined – intertwined with love, not with algorithms.

    I’m not sure we need to devise laws of ed-tech robotics — not exactly. But I do think we need to deliberate far more vigorously about the ethics and the consequences of the technologies we are adopting.

    It’s clear that building teaching machines has been a goal in the past. But that doesn’t mean that doing so is “progress.” What is our vision for the future? Either we decide what these new technologies mean for us — what our ethical approach to technology will be — or someone else will.

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    I was a keynote speaker at this week's Ed-Tech Innovation conference in Alberta, Canada, and the transcript from that talk is below.

    I wanted to give a talk that expressed my deep gratitude to Canadian educators and researchers -- particularly those that created MOOCs -- alongside my concerns about the rewriting of education technology history that diminishes, if not erases altogether, their contributions. It's a larger problem too, I'd argue, with many tech entrepreneurs laying claim to education innovation with nary a reference or a nod to those who've shaped the field. It's disingenous and dishonest and deeply, deeply troubling as how we frame the past helps us think about the direction of the future. Oh and it pisses me off too. Clearly. So I cussed -- 8 times according to D'Arcy Norman's tally.

    On November 4, 1979 a group of Islamist students and militants took over the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Six Americans escaped, eventually taking refuge in the homes of Canadian diplomats, including that of the Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor.

    In order to rescue the 6, a CIA agent named Tony Mendez devised a ruse that would explain their presence in Iran. They’d pretend to be Canadians — everyone loves Canadians, you know — in Iran doing some on-location scouting for a big-budget Hollywood film. With a good cover story and Canadian passports, the 6 were able to escape Iran in late January, 1980 — about a year before the 52 others held hostage at the US Embassy were freed.

    Perhaps you’ve heard of this story… In fact, I’m almost certain everyone has as Argo, the 2012 film based on the “Canadian Caper” premiered at the Toronto FIlm Festival and then won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture for director and star Ben Affleck.

    And I’m certain that many in this audience know too, with the politest indignation that Canadians can muster, that the film downplays and distorts the role of the Canadian government in safely rescuing the 6 Americans. Instead, the film posits that the extraction from Iran was the brainchild of and a victory for the CIA and, no surprise, a victory for Hollywood.

    Now it’s easy to argue — as Ben Affleck himself has done — that “because we say the film is based on a true story rather than this is a true story, we’re allowed to take some dramatic license.” And I get that. The final scenes of Argo, while almost entirely fabricated, certainly keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

    But we should be wary nonetheless of these sorts of alterations and amendments, especially when the revision of history helps further a particular narrative or ideology — history revised by an industry for an industry; whether it’s a narrative designed to keep us on the edge, to thrill and entertain us, to downplay or overplay characters’ roles, or to deliver scripts with solutions far sexier and shinier than reality has offered.

    I want to talk to you today about narratives and histories and ideology and innovation. And I start with Argo for a number of probably obvious reasons, least of which being the film’s treatment of Canada. Indeed, the initial postscript to the film suggested that the Canadian ambassador was only given credit by the US government for his role “for political purposes” – something that even prompted President Jimmy Carter to balk when he viewed the film. According to Carter in a CNN interview, “90% of the contributions came from the Canadians.” “And the main hero, in my opinion,” said Carter, “was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”

    Now truth be told, I bring up Argo because of the Canadian angle, but also because I really want to invoke one of the best lines from the film — the line that first occurs at a press junket staged to help make the CIA’s fake film appear real. There a reporter asks the producer Lester Siegel, played by the wonderfully curmudgeonly Alan Arkin, “What does Argo mean?” “I don’t know,” says Arkin, as he grabs some hors d’oeuvres from the buffet and tries to walk away. “Is it the Argonauts?” the reporter continues. And Arkin replies, his mouth full of food, “It means Argo fuck yourself.”

    The phrase is repeated by Arkin’s character and by Affleck’s. It’s used not just as an admonition to “go away” or “eff off” but in lieu of saying “cheers” and “thank you” — a combination of gratitude, congratulations, and insolence. I love phrases with multiple complex and yet singularly obvious meanings — take the name of my blog “Hack Education” as an example — and in this case “Argo fuck yourself” seems to be particularly relevant to the relationships among the film’s cast of characters who manipulate politics and media… but also relevant to education and technology and politics and media today. There are times for euphemisms and polite small talk, but I have to say, this ain’t one of them.

    I could, I suppose, tie “Argo” to other meanings — its mythological roots as Jason’s ship. I could call this talk something like “Chasing the Golden Fleece of Ed-Tech Innovation.” Or perhaps quite aptly, I could use a little punning and word-play I could call this talk “The (Golden) Fleecing of Education.” But instead, I’m sticking with “Argo fuck yourself” as my title and chorus. I do apologize.

    And I hope it’s clear why I want to start this talk with Argo too – not just for the f-bombs or the historical legacies of our countries working together, but frankly because, much like its retelling of the history of the “Canadian Caper,” we’re witnessing a concerted retelling of the history of MOOCs. It’s one that erases almost all contributions made by Canadians. Stephen Downes. George Siemens. Dave Cormier. Alec Couros. Much like Ambassador Ken Taylor, their contributions have become a postscript to a story that gives Silicon Valley in this case, not Hollywood, all the excitement and glory and agency and innovativeness.

    More broadly too, we’re witnessing a retelling of the history of education and education technology that eliminates contributions from almost all educators, researchers, and theorists, particularly those outside of elite US institutions (namely Stanford, Harvard, and MIT) and outside of the US. The movie Argo, incidentally, suggests that the British embassy turned away the 6 refugees. Not true. They actually stayed with the British early on but the location was unsafe. And similarly if the roles of the Canadians in the history of online learning have been downplayed, then the role of the British — particularly at the Open University — has been almost entirely erased from the dominant narrative. But that’s an argument for another keynote I suppose…

    History is, of course, always partial, always situated, always contested. There is no “official story” about the Iran hostage crisis or about MOOCs or about education technology more generally.

    And just as with politics, when it comes to education and technology, our notion of history is heavily influenced by the media. Although bits of the story had already been published, the movie Argo was based largely on a 2007 article in the famous technology publication Wired Magazine “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.”

    I don’t dare predict what Hollywood blockbusters we’ll see in 5 years time that stems from the 2011 Wired article “How Khan Academy Is Changing the Rules of Education” or the 2012 story, “The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever.”

    But Hollywood blockbuster-in-the-making or not, these technology stories are helping to shape and steer our conversations about the future of education. When the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia voted to fire President Teresa Sullivan last summer, for example, it was not because of something they’d read in academic research journals; it was apparently not due to conversations they’d had with the university’s education technology experts or its professors or its students. The Board were moved by the news, by the mainstream media — they cited op-eds by David Brooks and articles in The Wall Street Journal as their rationale for why the university under Sullivan’s leadership was moving far too slowly. And in doing so, the Board of Visitors ignored all the innovative digital projects that were already occurring on the UVA campus – many that might have fit their narrative about thhe necessity for radical transformation of higher education. The University of Virginia’s leadership in the digital humanities, for example. The Scholars Lab. The pending partnership with Coursera, already in the works just as Sullivan was being fired for not having brought MOOCs to campus.

    “Argo fuck yourself,” indeed.

    Late last year, Khan Academy’s Sal Khan sat down with Forbes writer Michael Noer and recorded a video on “The History of Education.” It’s the history of education “from 1680 to 2050” told in 11 minutes, so needless to say it’s a rather abbreviated version of events. It’s not titled “The History of Education in the United States,” and that would be much better — because contributions to education from the rest of the world are absent.

    Well, except the Prussians. Sal Khan loves to talk about the Prussians.

    Our current model of education, says Khan, originated at the turn of the nineteenth century: “age-based cohorts” that move through an “assembly line” with “information being delivered at every point.”

    “This is the Prussian model,” the Forbes writer Noer adds, “and it’s about as inflexible as a Prussian can be.” But Khan notes that there were benefits to this as “it was the first time people said, ‘No, we want everyone to get an education for free.”

    Then “Horace Mann comes along about 1840” and introduces this concept to the United States. By 1870, says Khan, public education is pretty common “but even at that point it wasn’t uniform” with different standards and curriculum in different states and cities. So in 1892, “something that tends to get lost in history,” a committee of ten — “somewhat Orwellian” adds Noer — meet to determine what the twelve years of compulsory education should look like.

    “It was forward looking for 120 years ago,” says Noer, “but what’s interesting is that we’ve basically been stuck there for 120 years.” Education has been "static to the present day,” agrees Khan.

    And from 1892, the story they tell jumps ahead, straight to the invention of the Internet. “The big thing here,” says Noer as the two skip over one hundred-plus years of history, “is what you’ve done” with Khan Academy. “One person with one computer can reach millions.” This revolutionizes lectures, Noer argues; it revolutionizes homework. “Class time is liberated,” adds Khan. This changes everything — Khan Academy changes everything — that has been stagnant and static since the nineteenth century.

    Now history told this way certainly helps explain some elements from this week’s Canadian-free visualization in The Chronicle of Higher Education of the “Major Players in the MOOC Universe.” Of course Khan Academy has to be there — that’s where “one person” reaching “millions” with video-based instruction all began, right?

    “This notion of ‘flipping the classroom’ was around before Khan Academy existed and clearly wasn’t my idea,” Khan admits in his recent book The One World Schoolhouse, but he then fails to cite or mention any of those whose idea it actually might have been. It’s the same pattern as he chronicles the insights he’s gained on learning by starting his non-profit — nary a mention of other educators, researchers, or theorists, past or present. Project-based learning, constructivism, behaviorism — all apparently discovered by Salman Khan.

    This sort of ahistorical and individualistic posturing isn’t terribly uncommon among ed-tech entrepreneurs (or Americans writ large) eschewing as Silicon Valley tends to do “the past” in order to look to “the future.” And when historical antecedents are pointed out, there’s always the easy shrug that “clearly wasn’t my idea” to fall back upon, often neglecting to cite their sources along the way.

    “Argo fuck yourself.”

    Where do we get our stories about education and technology? From personal experience. From Hollywood. From the news — on TV, in print, online. From technology blogs. From Wired Magazine. From — god forbid — books. And yes, from Wikipedia — even Sal Khan admitted on the satirical news show Colbert Report that he uses Wikipedia as his main resource for teaching history.

    In his defense, Khan did add that “I click on the footnotes” to which Colbert wittily responded “I’m responsible for some of those."

    Colbert was referring, of course, to his critiques of Wikipedia and “truthiness” and the term he’s coined to describe it — “wikiality” — “truth by consensus” rather than by fact, based on the approval-by-consensus format of Wikipedia. Colbert once suggested that viewers change the entry for elephant to add that number of African elephants had tripled over the course of six months. The edits were reversed — not a surprise to anyone who’s actually tried to update a Wikipedia entry, whether based on accurate information or not — and the username “Stephencolbert” has been banned indefinitely.

    So what is the “wikiality” of education’s history? What is the “wikiality” of ed-tech history and innovation? And what is the “wikiality” of the history of MOOCs?

    The Wikipedia entry for Massive Open Online Course was created in July 2011. One of the earliest versions of the entry read, “A Massive open online course (MOOC) is a course where the participants are distributed and course materials also are dispersed across the web. This is possible only if the course is open, and works significantly better if the course is large. The course is not a gathering, but rather a way of connecting distributed instructors and learners across a common topic or field of discourse.”

    The entry then proceeded to list examples: David Wiley’s Intro to Open Education and Alec Couros’ Social Media & Open Education in the Fall of 2007 (listed as “pre-MOOCs”), George Siemens and Stephen Downes’ Connectivism in 2008 as “the first MOOC,” the latter two courses offered via Canadian universities.

    Needless to say, some 600-plus edits later, the MOOC article is quite different today. The first paragraph of the entry now reads, “massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aiming at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and TAs. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education. Features associated with early MOOCs, such as open licensing of content, open structure and learning goals, and connectivism may not be present in all MOOC projects, in particular with the ‘openness’ of many MOOCs being called into question.” A wordier opening paragraph to be sure, but also a very different definition.

    The difference between then and now, in and of itself, is hardly surprising. There have been many developments in the past 18 months surrounding MOOCs. Hardly a week goes by without some MOOC thing happening — the launch of Udacity, edX, and Coursera; more classes; more colleges joining one of the MOOC-provider platforms; countries and regions creating their own MOOC partnerships in response; learning management systems offering “open classes”; venture funding announcements; philanthropic funding announcements; proposed legislation; college credit offerings; college credit denials; class cancellations; faculty protest; Thomas Friedman and David Brooks op-eds galore; and on and on and on.

    But what’s fascinating about the “wikiality” of MOOCs is not that the Wikipedia article has expanded to include all these new developments — Wikipedians are, after all, famously fast at updating entries for trending topics. Rather what’s interesting is that the article has been incredibly contentious — almost from the start — and that contentiousness has grown alongside the increasing popularity of MOOCs and has targeted the contributions of – you guessed it – Canadians.

    Indeed in July 2011 shortly after it was created, the MOOC entry was flagged for deletion: “It is proposed that this article be deleted because of the following concern: no evidence that it meets the notability criteria for websites.” A few months later, when the Stanford engineering department offered 3 courses online for free and for anyone to enroll in and when hundreds of thousands of people signed up to take them, MOOCs had clearly become Wikipedia-worthy.

    But since that initial charge that the Wikipedia entry offered “insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject,” many involved in some of the early MOOCs have contributed to the article, fleshing it out with theoretical roots, the instructional design approaches, the pedagogies and practices, the experiences of participants, and the benefits and the challenges of open online learning. MOOCs, the updated and clarified article made clear, were based on connectivist principles, including the importance of remixing, sharing, and aggregation — providing “a starting points for a massive amount of content to be produced in different places online, which is later aggregated as a newsletter or a web page accessible to participants on a regularly basis. This is in contrast to traditional courses, where the content is prepared ahead of time.”

    In July 2012, one year after it was marked for deletion, the Wikipedia entry for MOOCs was flagged again. The warning: “This article appears to be written like an advertisement for the works of Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Lisa Lane who created the neologism MOOC for their own purposes and link to their own content self-promotionally.”

    “Argo fuck yourself.”

    “Please help improve it by rewriting promotional content from a neutral point of view and removing any inappropriate external links.”

    For what it’s worth, Downes has edited the MOOC page 4 times. Siemens 3 times. And Dave Cormier twice. Perhaps the 200-some-odd others that have also edited the page are their minions. That’s the power of connectivism for you, or something.

    In all seriousness: This warning highlights one of the great dilemmas of the crowdsourced encyclopedia – “wikiality” if you will – and it’s something that many, many authors and researchers have faced. Novelist Philip Roth, for example, felt compelled to publish “An Open Letter to Wikipedia” last year in The New Yorker as when he tried to propose corrections to the entry on his book The Human Stain— addressing the question of his inspiration for the novel — he was told by a Wikipedia editor “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work, but we require secondary sources.”

    In the case of MOOCs, Downes and Siemens and Cormier and others are both the subjects of the entry, sources themselves, and experts in the field. So their strong presence on the MOOC page is not surprising. Indeed it is as it should be, you could argue, as the first MOOCs were theirs and not Sebastian Thrun’s. The “wikiality” of MOOCs history, however, would say otherwise.

    Indeed this question of “the first MOOC” is also up-for-debate in the Wikipedia entry. In November of last year, Wikipedia user Kmasters0 wrote on the MOOC “Talk” page that “The opening paragraph of this section makes the claim that ‘David Wiley taught what ostensibly was the first MOOC, or proto-MOOC, at Utah State University in August 2007.’ There is no reference for this, and the description is simply of a free course that was open to people around the world. This, by itself, does not make it a MOOC. And, if that description is enough for it to be taken as a MOOC, then it certainly does not make it the first. (Using a meaningless concept such as “proto-MOOC” could apply to any form of web-based instruction.) For the statement to be taken seriously, far more independent information and references need to be supplied, otherwise it smacks of someone retrospectively laying claim to something, and should be removed.’”

    “Argo fuck yourself.”

    Later, that Wikipedia editor added “It has been three weeks since I suggested that this paragraph be removed, and there have been no arguments against it. I have removed it, but have copied here, so that, if there is a valid counter-argument, it can be restored.”

    Then just last month, Downes chimed in saying “The reason the Wiley course was in the article was that it was referenced as an influence by both George Siemens and myself in our creation of the first MOOC. For example, I cite it in ‘The MOOC Guide’ which a reference of early MOOCs… I would recommend reinserting it.” As of yet, that edit has not stuck.

    While the role of Wiley is contested by Wikipedia editors, it’s worth pointing out, the role of Khan Academy is not. “The short lecture format used by many MOOCs developed from “Khan Academy’s free archive of snappy instructional videos.” — Wikipedia cites that quote from the 2012 article in The New York Times, “The Year of the MOOC,” which mentions Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Wiley, Couros et al exactly zero times.

    Now perhaps this all sounds like historical minutiae. Does it matter what David Wiley gets credit for? Does it matter what Salman Khan does? Does it matter if folks know the difference between the connectivist MOOCs and the corporatist ones? Does it matter that MOOCs originated in Canada?

    Yes, of course it does.

    It matters for accuracy, for inquiry, for legacy. And relevant to the topic of this conference and for broader discussions about the shape of the future of education, it matters for the narratives that we adopt or resist about innovation.

    As the Wikipedia entry on MOOCs reads, “MOOCs are widely seen as a major part of a larger disruptive innovation taking place in the higher education industry.”

    The phrase “disruptive innovation” was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in the mid–1990s and is invoked constantly these days — almost to the point of being utterly meaningless. Christensen has applied the concept to education in a book published in 2008, Disrupting Class, and he has fueled some of the MOOC hype himself lately with his assertion that in 15 years time, half of US universities will be bankrupt.

    That’s what “disruptive innovations” purportedly do — they start at the low end of the market, often with an inferior product, but a product that is accessible to consumers who previously have not had access. In Christensen’s framework, disruptive innovations then reshape and transform the market and eventually displace existing players. Are MOOCs “disruptive innovation”? I don’t know…

    I’m not sure I care. Because this process isn’t a scientific rule. Disruptive innovation doesn’t work like Newton’s Second Law. “Disruptive innovation” is a business school model. More importantly, it’s a narrative. Just because it looks like a teleology – just because a Harvard professor puts it forward – doesn’t mean that the future is preordained.

    Much like the narrative in Argo that posits that it was Hollywood and the CIA who orchestrated the rescue of the six American diplomats and not the Canadian government, it’s a carefully constructed narrative — one that invokes certain events from the past and pieces together tidbits from the present, in order to make some folks appear heroic, to frame the world ideologically, and to point to and shape the future.

    So what are the narratives we hear about “disruptive innovation” — or even just innovation — in education? They include things like “education is broken.” The incumbent players in the sector — teachers, schools, professors, universities, textbook publishers, and pencil manufacturers — are largely “resistant to change.” “Education has not changed” in — depending on who’s talking — decades, centuries, millennia. Someone from the outside — and this is key to this narrative — someone from the outside will provide the disruptive innovation that upsets, dare we say “revolutionizes” the entire sector. Technology — here’s another key piece of the dominant narrative — technology has changed, will change everything. Education is broken; technology – particularly from Silicon Valley, particularly proprietary and for-profit tech – will fix it.

    But this is just a story — a powerful one, for sure. But one that — as we’ve seen with Argo and Khan Academy and Wikipedia — has been crafted and told in a certain way, to a certain end.

    We need to get better at asking who is telling these stories. We need to ask why. We need to think about how we plan to tell our stories – our narratives and our counter-narratives. How do we make them “stick”?

    Because there are other stories about the past and the future of education — ones where building human capacity trumps adding tablet capacity; ones where agency matter more than algorithms; ones where innovation comes from students, from professors, from librarians, from researchers; ones where new ideas are not driven by commercialism but by care; stories and initiatives that are local and will not scale but need not scale; and yes, stories and expertise that are Canadian.

    To some of the mainstream stories we’re being fed instead, well, you know by now what I’d say to that… “Argo fuck yourself.”

    Image credits: Wikipedia/US State Department

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    Prison cell

    MOOC News

    Professors in the philosophy department at San Jose State University penned an open letter to Harvard professor Michael Sandel, famous for his class on “Justice.” ““There is no pedagogical problem in our department that JusticeX [the edX version of the Justice class] solves, nor do we have a shortage of faculty capable of teaching our equivalent course,” they write. “Professors who care about public education should not produce products that will replace professors, dismantle departments and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.”

    Courseralaunched a set of professional development courses for K–12 teachers this week. I’m struggling to reconcile PD-via-MOOCs with the increasingly popular, local and teacher-driven “edcamps.” But as The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, some of these new courses will be part of Coursera’s Signature Track (the classes that offer special certification for a fee), so I guess that explains a lot of it.

    According to a Galluppoll of college presidents, only 3% surveyed believe that MOOCs will improve the learning of all students. 2% said they think MOOCs will solve universities’ financial troubles. More details via Inside Higher Ed, which worked with Gallup on the survey.

    MITx announced this week that “Mechanics ReView” will offer eight Continuing Education Units through a collaboration with the American Association of Physics Teachers. The credits will be available at a cost of approximately $250. For more details on the class contents and pedagogies, see the MITOCW announcement.

    Law & Politics

    Lamar Smith (R-TX), the new chair of the House of Representatives science committee, has drafted a bill that would replace peer review at the National Science Foundation (NSF) with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress. And because the Republican Party hates science and learning and researchers, the bill would also extend the criteria to other agencies. The bill is called the “High Quality Research Act,” because nothing says “high quality” like letting the idiots in Congress decide what scientists should pursue.

    The Department of Educationannounced changes to the FAFSA form, the application students use for college financial aid. For the first time, starting in 2014, students whose parents are unmarried but living together, as well as those whose parents are married gay and lesbian couples, will be able to list both parents when applying for aid. The change is meant to better reflect a student’s financial need by better reflecting the way in which families actually look.

    AFT President Randi Weingarten called for a moratorium this week on stakes associated with Common Core State Standards assessments. “I am proposing that states and districts work with educators,” she says, “to develop clear tasks and a clear timeline to put in place the crucial elements of Common Core implementation. And until then, the tests should be decoupled from decisions that could unfairly hurt students, schools and teachers.”

    A “parent trigger” bill has failed in the Florida State Senate. Again. The bill purported to give parents more say in the fate of a “struggling school,” allowing them to gather signatures via petition, and then those signers would vote on a turnaround plan for the school.

    The Edmonton Public School Boardvoted to shutter the district’s 40-year-old extracurricular music program due to budget cuts. Some 650 children who participate in the after school Music Enrichment Program will be affected.

    The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed suit against the California Department of Education, alleging that the CDE is failing to provide students — an estimated 20,000 — learning English with adequate (and legally required) assistance.


    A school in Oregon held a surprise “readiness drill” recently, hiring masked gunman to charge into the school and fire blanks. It was an inservice day and no students were present. As if that makes this okay…

    Florida high school student Keira Wilmotwas arrested and charged with a felony after she caused an explosion in her science class after experimenting with combining toilet cleaner and aluminum foil. Many scientists took to Twitter and confessed all the explosions they’d inadvertently caused — in solidarity with Wilmot and to help make clear that this is how we criminalize Black students in this country and foster a school-to-prison pipeline.


    Hooray for computers in schools, right? Well, except when they’re used for standardized testing. And except when the systems used for computer-based standardized testing fail in the middle of exams. Such was the case in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma where thousands of students have been affected by glitches in the system — postponing tests and likely impacting scores.

    Launches and Upgrades

    Washington State’s Open Course Library has released openly licensed course materials for 39 university courses (it released 42 others a year and a half ago). Along with the release of materials, the state’s student public interest research group says that it’s found that the “The Open Course Library has saved students $5.5 million in textbook costs to date, including $2.9 million during the 2012–2013 academic year alone.”

    OpenStax College, a Rice University OER initiative, says it plans to double the number of fields that its open textbooks cover by 2015. More details via Inside Higher Ed.

    P2PUannounced this week that badges earned on its site are now “OBI compliant,” meaning that they can be pushed into Mozilla’s Open Badges backpack.

    The study-group startup has launched a new initiative it’s calling a “MOOD” — a massive open online discussion. It’s a little bit like Quora and a little bit like Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything.” The first MOOD is with Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet and a professor at UT Austin.

    Curious, a marketplace for online learning videos, launched this week. The site has a number of tools to help instructors make and sell their videos. More details via The New York Times.

    Downgrades and Endings

    Duke University has pulled out of the consortium associated with 2U and its Semester Online initiative. Semester Online, announced late last year, offers small, online, for-credit courses available for enrolled students at the partner universities. Duke’s Arts & Sciences Council voted 16–14 against plans to allow Duke students earn credits this way. More details on the decision via Inside Higher Ed.

    Funding (the non-profit wing of “game”-maker Zynga) and NewSchools Venture Fund are joining forces to create a “learning games” accelerator program. On stage at the NSVF annual summit, CEO Marc Pincus says that Zynga has helped farmers learn about farming via Farmville, so I’m betting this new partnership will be profoundly transformative. I mean, allthe techblogs wrote it up to make it sound that way.

    As part of its annual summit, NewSchools Venture Fund also announced that it’s struck a deal with the venture capital firm Rethink Education. More details on the “innovative deal” via Edsurge (which has itself received investment from NSVF).

    Edukwest reports that ResearchGate, a social network for scientists and researchers, has raised $20 million. The company has not made an official announcement about this latest investment.

    The Miami-based English learning company Open English has raised $65 million in its Series D funding. (The company has raised $120 million in total.) The company targets Spanish and Portugese speakers in Latin America with online, real-time courses, and it says that the new funding will help it expand to new countries.

    Michelle Rhee’s advocacy group StudentsFirst has raised $8 million from the Walton Family Foundation. Because “grassroots.” LOL.

    Edsurge reports that Whipsmart Learning has raised an “undisclosed six-figure seed round” from an “eclectic chorus of angels.” The startup is building an “adaptive literacy platform focused on non-fiction content (such as news articles) and Common Core-aligned assessments, to be rolled out this June.”

    Hires and Fires and HR Changes

    Some changes at the Saylor Foundation, a non-profit that builds free online courses: the director Alana M. Harrington is moving to an advisory role, and Louis C. Pugliese, formerly president of Moodlerooms, will join the foundation as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

    Edsurge reports that Education Elements, a “blended learning” startup, has laid off a “significant portion” of its staff. “While the company employed 45 people a year ago, it’s now down to 23. The majority of last week’s layoffs came from the sales staff.”

    Education writer Dana Goldstein chronicles the dismissal of teachers at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles — namely those who worked at the school-within-a-school there, the Social Justice and Law Academy. The layoffs include “activist teacher” Alex Caputo-Pearl, and “according to Crenshaw sources who have seen a list of dismissed teachers, 21 of the 33 are African American, and 27 have over 10 years of experience. These teachers will be placed into a candidate pool and will be allowed to apply for open positions at other schools. But for educators who have dedicated their careers to improving Crenshaw, and who have deep well-springs of support among parents and students, the dismissals are devastating.”

    Survey Says…

    Pearson hired Harris Interactive to conduct a survey of students about their thoughts on mobile devices and education. Among the findings, 76% of elementary students, 75% of middle school students, 61% of high school students, and 43% of college students said they’d like to use mobile devices more in class. Younger students expressed a greater interest in tablets than older students (not surprising), the latter indicating they prefer laptops.

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report on “Parents, Children, Libraries, and Reading” this week. The findings highlight the use and utility of libraries by families — 94% of parents say libraries are important for their children. (Full report PDF)

    The Atlantic is fairly pro with the education-related pie-charts. This week’s comes with the click-worthy headline“You’ll Be Shocked by How Many of the World’s Top Students Are American.” “Among OECD nations in 2006, the United States claimed a third of high-performing students in both reading and science, far more than our next closest competitor, Japan. On math, we have a bit less to be proud of – we just claimed 14 percent of the high-performers, compared to 15.2 percent for Japan and 16.2 percent of South Korea.”


    It’s time to vote in Google’s annual Doodle 4 Google competition. Some 130,000 entries were received by Google, and it’s picked the 50 state finalists. The winner gets her doodle featured on the Google homepage.

    Image credits: Aapo Haapanen

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    George Veletsianos (an Associate Professor in the School of Education and Technology at Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC) and I have submitted an application for Iversity’s MOOC production fellowship program. If funded, we will co-teach a course titled “Foundations of Educational Technology.” (If not funded, we’ll figure something else out…)

    The course will tackle something that I continue to write and rant about: a lack of understanding of the history, research, practices, and debates of education technology.

    It isn’t simply that, as Santayana famously said, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — it’s also that folks might misdiagnose the present and as such misdirect us in the future.

    In order to improve education and ed-tech, we think it’s important to know the answers to a number of questions including

    • how do people learn? 
    • how does technology/pedagogy impact learning? 
    • why have educational technology efforts failed/succeeded in the past?

    Our course will explore some of the answers to (in part by highlighting the debates surrounding) these questions. The class will draw on openly-available content and on the pedagogies and practices of cMOOCs.

    The recipients of the Iversity MOOC fellowship will be chosen through a combination of peer review and public voting, and George and I would love your support for the latter. To vote for our proposal, you do have to register on the platform (ugh) first. You can also read more about the class there.

    George has more details on his blog too, including an awesome list of other friends, colleagues, professors, and grad students who’ve volunteered to help.

    Photo credits: Romana Klee

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    The fugitive sun - Ήλιος δραπέτης

    The online learning startup Coursera and a handful of textbook publishers announced today that they’re teaming up to make certain digital course materials available to students enrolled in Coursera’s classes. Cengage Learning, Macmillan Higher Education, Oxford University Press, SAGE, and Wiley will offer versions of their textbooks via an e-reader provided by Chegg.

    For certain courses, students will be able to access all or parts of textbooks for free. The materials are restricted by DRM: students will not be able to copy-paste or print, and access to the textbooks will be revoked when the course ends. As the press release reads, of course, “students will also be able to purchase full versions of e-textbooks provided by publishers for continued personal learning.”

    The partnership aims to encourage professors to assign more reading in their Coursera courses. As it currently stands, many only recommend rather than require course readings. (The emphasis instead is on video lectures.) A survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education of professors who’ve taught MOOCs found that just 9% asked their students to buy a physical book and 5% asked that an e-book be purchased — and it seems likely that the lack of course readings contribute to those respondents’ reluctance to have these online classes actually count for formal credit.

    Commenting in The Chronicle, Chegg CEO Dan Rosenweig said that the agreement with Coursera is “empowering students, giving educators a chance to affect more students, improving learning outcomes, and lowering costs.”

    But I think it signals other things too about the rapidly changing MOOC landscape…

    A Business Model — For MOOCs, For Publishers, For Professors

    The Chegg/Coursera partnership isn’t the first one struck between a MOOC startup and a publishing company. Last year, Elsevier announced that it was making one of its textbooks available for free to students in the edX 6.002x Circuits and Electronics course.

    That Elsevier textbook, it’s worth pointing out, was co-authored by Anant Agarwal, one of the instructors for 6.002x and now the President of edX. And while MOOC-related course recommendations could obviously drive sales for publishers, taking a cut of that certainly offers the MOOC startups like Coursera and edX a possible revenue stream too. And it also provides one for the authors of the textbooks — authors that are, in many cases, the professors of the MOOCs as well.

    Super-professors. Super-textbook-authors. There's a Venn Diagram to be drawn there, I'm sure.

    In a recent blog post, George Mason University history professor Mills Kelly explores this particular angle of the “what’s in it for me” lure of MOOCs for faculty — in addition, of course, to the altruistic “sharing knowledge with the world” rationale — noting that of a random selection of 8 Coursera courses he examined, "five of the eight professors recommended or suggested as optional books that they had written, ranging in price from $8 to $110.” (emphasis mine.)

    Do the math: even if just a small fraction of students buy the book, it’s likely to make for a nice royalty check.

    As Kelly notes, different institutions and states have different provisions on whether or not professors can require students buy the books they’ve authored; but it’s not clear if any of these would apply (legally) to MOOCs.

    It is clear, however, why traditional publishers would be eager to jump on board with this partnership and find a way to have their textbooks be a part of, rather than supplanted by the MOOC hype. Indeed, as Mike Caulfield and others have pointed out, in its current form “a MOOC isn’t really as a class brought to your doorstep — it’s more a textbook with ambitions.”

    A proprietary, DRM’d textbook, that is. Despite the growing number of openly-licensed textbooks and course packages that are available — via OpenStax, the Saylor Foundation, and MITOCW, along with the growing pressure for scholars to publish in open access journals — it’s notable that Coursera has partnered with traditional © publishers.

    Digital Textbooks and Student Data

    But what about learners, right?

    In survey after survey, college students indicate that they prefer print textbooks. Why? Even though they’re notoriously expensive, print textbooks aren’t DRM’d. They don’t expire when the course ends. They can be bought used and resold at the end of the semester. They can be rented at a discount from sites like Chegg, which boasts that some 30% of US students are its customers.

    Unlike its popular textbook rental service, the Chegg e-reader that Coursera will utilize has almost all of the features that students continually report that they dislike: namely, locked-down content that expires and an inability to share notes, highlights or the books themselves.

    Of course, it is worth asking here if the students who enroll in Coursera students actually match those “traditional college students” (whoever those are) that are surveyed about their textbook frustrations. Will Coursera students be less apt to worry about sharing notes? Will they be less concerned if they lose their highlights and notes when access to the textbook expires? Will they be likely to purchase a book at the end of the course — particularly since access to a Coursera course also disappears at the end of a term?

    While students remain indifferent (at best) about digital textbooks, publishers seem quite excited about the possibilities of gleaning interaction data from them. As a Wiley editor told The Chronicle, “Because the free versions of the books will be read through an e-reader, we’ll also get information about usage. How students use the electronic text, how they use the material, will be tracked through software." And Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller added that this data might be used by professors for “a more personalized, data-driven experience for instructors, too, allowing Coursera to improve courses in real time.”

    It’s hard to know how much of the data gleaned from these and similar sorts of student textbook-tracking applications will really be terribly useful, particularly given the great variety in interactions and intentions of students enrolled in these classes. But there sure will be lots and lots of student data — MOOCs are “massive” if nothing else.

    I have the increasing sense here too — as with many of other aspects of our digital world — that students aren’t simply the consumers of the MOOC product; they are the product. Or their data very well could be.

    The Portal and the Anti-Platform?

    At last week’s Ed-Tech Innovations conference in Calgary, Stephen Downes quipped that “Coursera is the last gasp of the standalone education application.” Even learning management systems — once the pinnacle of isolated and restricted education applications on the Web but never of the Web — have recognized the importance of becoming a platform and have opened up APIs in order to connect to third-party applications.

    But not Coursera. It runs counter to the early MOOCs that Downes and others created that grew from and exemplified the theory of connectivism— learning on the Web, from the Web, of the Web. The Web was the original MOOC platform. Coursera seems to be the education anti-platform.

    Coursera aims to keep the activity of its students and professors on its site, with little recognition of the other online places where interactions (Q&A, discussions, collaboration) might occur. Indeed, the Terms of Service clearly state that “You may download material from the Sites only for your own personal, non-commercial use. You may not otherwise copy, reproduce, retransmit, distribute, publish, commercially exploit or otherwise transfer any material, nor may you modify or create derivatives works of the material.” And the Honor Code says that “I will not make solutions to homework, quizzes or exams available to anyone else. This includes both solutions written by me, as well as any official solutions provided by the course staff.” Posting code from a class to GitHub, for example, counts as “cheating.”

    That makes a partnership with Chegg, one of the most well-funded education startups, a particularly interesting one. (Chegg has raised over $195 million in investment.) While the company was fairly quiet last year, 2010–2011 saw it acquire a number of other education startups — Cramster, CourseRank, Notehall, Zinch, Student of Fortune, 3D3R Software Solutions, that is a number of tutoring, note-sharing, course scheduling, and HTML development tools.

    And it’s all in the service of building an education portal — a one-stop-shop, if you will, for college students to purchase or rent textbooks, identify interesting courses, buy college swag, hire tutors, find answers to homework, and so on. This isn't about opening up APIs or utilizing RSS to foster partnerships across the Web. Oh no. It's about acquisition, consolidation, enclosure. Much like Coursera, Chegg is on the Web, but not of the Web. Think Yahoo. Think AOL. “The last gasp of the standalone education application.”

    The Edu-Enclosure Movement

    All these things feel incredibly far afield from the original vision of MOOCs, particularly when it comes to that most contested letter in the acronym, O for Open.

    While the addition of the free textbooks via Chegg can be couched in terms of keeping the costs low or zero for students, choosing proprietary content is quite different than choosing openly licensed content. The licensing is different. The access is different. The Terms of Service are different. The ability to share, remix, experiment is different. The ability to participate anonymously is different. The data collection is different.

    It’s different for the student; it’s different for the professor. It's different for publishers. It's different for the Web.

    What was a promise for free-range, connected, open-ended learning online, MOOCs are becoming something else altogether. Locked-down. DRM'd. Publisher and profit friendly. Offered via a closed portal, not via the open Web.

    Photo credits: Elena

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    Cthulhu License Plate

    Obligatory MOOC News

    Coursera, textbook publishers, and Chegg are teaming up to give students access to digital course materials for some Coursera classes. Those materials will be DRM’d, content can’t be copied, pasted, or printed, and access will go away at the end of the course. Viva la ed-tech revolution.

    The union representing professors at San Jose State University (which has worked closely with both edX and Udacity) penned a letter regarding its administration’s MOOC embrace. The full letter is available on The Chronicle. Among the choice quotes: “While Anant Agarwal of edX and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom describe a stereotype of classroom teaching based on some hackneyed Hollywood script of a teacher writing on the blackboard while his students sleep in boredom…”

    San Francisco State University’s Academic Senate also wrote a letter (PDF) stating their opposition to State Senator Darrel Steinberg’s SB 520 bill that would require credits be granted by online providers for “closed” classes. “First [and let me interject and editorialize here… FIRST] there is no access crisis at San Francisco State University.”

    The administration at American University have issued a “moratorium on MOOCs,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. “American is purposely avoiding experimentation before it decides exactly how it wants to relate to the new breed of online courses. ‘I need a policy before we jump into something,’ said Scott A. Bass, the provost, in an interview.”

    The University of Pennsylvania is working on language for policy that would restrict what faculty could do vis-a-vis online freelance teaching work (aka non-sanctioned MOOCs, I guess). More details via Inside Higher Ed.

    Testing Testing Testing

    The ACT will move towards computer-based testing, says The New York Times. “High school students will take the ACT college admissions exam by computer starting in the spring of 2015 — but at least for a while, the paper and pencil version will be available, too.”

    There are still more errors on New York City’s Gifted and Talented screening test, report GothamSchools. Last month, the city’s Department of Education admitted that test-provider Pearson had made multiple errors, resulting in 5000-ish students getting lower scores than they deserved. Today’s news adds another 300-ish students to that pile. This is Pearson’s first year administering a $5.5 million contract for the screening program. Renewal will be a) unlikely b) ridiculous c) ludicrous d) all of the above.

    Law and Politics

    Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) has proposed a bill that would set the interest rate for federally subsidized student loans to .75%, the same rate as the Federal Reserve gives to banks.

    ProPublica details some of the fallout of the US government’s sequestration, including the loss of 70,000 Head Start slots, major budgets cuts at schools on Indian reservations, and thousands of fewer NSF grants.

    A group of young boys at Driver Elementary School in Virginia were suspended by district officials for pointing pencils at each other and making shooting noises. The district has a “no tolerance” policy for violence and “there has to be a consequence,” said a district spokesperson.

    The Louisiana State Supreme Court ruled this week that the state’s funding for its school voucher program is unconstitutional. The program was part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s education reforms.

    Launches and Upgrades

    The University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Labreleased a new version of Prism this week, “a web-based tool for ‘crowdsourcing interpretation” and a good reminder, I’d add, for the school’s Board of Visitors that if you get your news about UVA from David Brooks and not Bethany Nowviskie, then you have no idea what innovation looks like.

    Educator and entrepreneur Adam Bellow had officially launched his site Educlipper, which Free Technology for Teachers’ Richard Byrne aptly describes as ‘What Teachers Want Pinterest to Be.”

    One of the very best learning tools available, Scratch, invoked the 2.0 postscript this week, moving the learn-to-code software onto the Web. Finally. There are lots of new features in the updated release, including better ways to credit other users, easier cloning, and much more. Good job, Scratch Team.

    The learning management system Desire2Learnlaunched a new “Learning Suite” this week that includes the “power of predictive analytics.” The company acquired Austin Peay State University’s “Degree Compass” earlier this year, and it says that the course recommendation engine will be part of its new “Student Success System.” End press release speak.

    USA Today reports that Xerox is getting into the grading papers business with a new product called Ignite “that turns the numerous copiers/scanners/printers it has in schools across the United States into paper-grading machines.” The article invokes the phrase “game changer” so there ya go.

    PBS aired a one-hour special of TED Talks on education this week, featuring Bill Gates. The Gates Foundation’s list of grants awarded to PBS is here.

    Downgrades and Closures

    More pushback against the Gates Foundation-funded data infrastructure inBloom? Speaking at a Republican Party breakfast, Georgia Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge said that “while Georgia agreed to be part of the collaborative, it will not share the student data with InBloom. He also said while he’s heard that InBloom staff have asked individual school systems to share the student data, the state will not be part of that.”

    And according to Reuters journalist Stephanie Simon, an inBloom spokesperson says that Phase II of the project is off; “there are no plans” to bring in Delaware, Georgia or Kentucky. And she cites Bob Swiggum, CIO for Georgia DOE, saying that “ furor over student privacy makes states wary of database: ‘I don’t know how inBloom will survive this.’” $100 million well spent, Mr. Gates. Good job, team.

    Bloomberg reports that textbook publisher Cengage Learning might file for bankruptcy. “Cengage reported an operating loss of $2.77 billion for the three months ended March 3.” But hey, at least it’s partnered with Coursera to give MOOC students free textbooks, right?

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Okay, this isn’t VC money. It’s your tax dollars at work. But Deadspin asked a good question this week (and answered it in the headline too): “Is Your State’s Highest-Paid Employee a Coach? (Probably)” More details on salaries and funding of athletic versus instructional staff via Inside Higher Ed.

    The organization that I was fairly convinced for most of the week had to be a joke, Black Mountain SOLE, announced that it’s raised $5 million (although the press release doesn’t say where the money actually came from.) So it's real. I guess. Black Mountain SOLE is responsible for MOOC Campus, a $15,000/year initiative that lets you live in a North Carolina YMCA while you take classes online. Because freedom. And disruptive innovation. And self directed learning. And rich white kids. And stuff.

    Fidelis announced that it has raised $6 million in its Series A round. The startup, at launch, focused on military personnel’s transition into formal academic institutions, but the company has pivoted to a broader technology platform, still focused on mentorship.

    JoyTunes, an app-based music education startup, has raised $1.5 million in Series A funding, according to Techcrunch.

    Vator News reports that Logical Choice Technologies, a company founded in 1994, has raised $5 million in funding. Logical Choice Technologies is “a technology solutions company for K12 and college that offers a wide range of products and services, from leading brands of mobile devices, projectors, and interactive whiteboards, to installation services and classroom curriculum”— as well as augmented reality Common Core curriculum. Seriously.

    Prague-based CourseDirector, which provides an LMS-like layer on top of Google Apps for Education, has been acquired by LingApps, a Danish ed-tech company (and maker of the assistive tech AppWriter.

    Interactive whiteboard maker Promethean World announced its first quarter results this week — “in line with expectations” reads the headline, with revenues down 22.5% from £35.9 million last quarter to £27.8 million. “Market conditions will continue to be challenging throughout 2013,” said the company. Um, yeah.


    Hispanic high school students are more likely than whites to enroll in college, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center. 69% of Hispanic graduates from the class of 2012 and 67% of whites enrolled in college that fall. College graduation rates for Hispanics, however, remains lower.

    Photo credits: Pete Toscano

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  • 05/13/13--22:07: On 'Viral" Education Videos
  • There’s a lot to like about the cellphone recording of 18-year-old Duncanville High School student Jeff Bliss — particularly if you view this as a viral video that demonstrates our desperate need to recognize students’ voice and agency in education.

    As Bliss is (apparently) being kicked out of class (for an infraction that the video never makes clear), he delivers a passionate speech about teaching, learning, care, and connection, all of which he juxtaposes to the “packets” and passivity of the classroom and his teacher.

    You can only glimpse a few seconds of her in the 87 second video. But there she sits, walled off from her students, behind a fortress of a desk. She doesn’t stand up to dismiss Bliss from class, although the dismissal of him and his viewpoint can be heard in her voice. “Bye,” she repeats wearily. “Just go.”

    On her desk sits a computer, a monitor, a printer, textbooks. On the students’ desks, nothing. No books. No “packets.” No projects. Just a few kids on their cellphones, with one apparently savvy enough to hit the “record” button just as Bliss erupts. The video portrays an intellectually empty space — no indication of learning or engagement.

    No surprise, the video struck a nerve. An early copy posted to YouTube has over 2 million views. Another posted to WorldStarHipHop has over a million.

    The Myth of the Viral Video

    It’s striking that our discussions of viral videos and Internet memes are often presented in the passive voice, as in “That Psy video went viral.” The subtle suggestion of this sentence construction is that these are naturally-occurring phenomenon — without subjects of sentences, without human orchestration. Stories, videos, animated GIFs are replicated on their accord — something akin perhaps to TED’s motto “ideas worth spreading.”

    And yes, of course, people spread those TED ideas (just like people watched and shared “Gangnam Style” and the Jeff Bliss videos). But let's not forget, TED events are attended by a certain demographic and the organization is a powerful media entity in its own right, actively promoting certain ideas and certain videos over others. The ideas are TED ideas; TED spreads.

    And such it is with the vast majority of the videos and messages that quickly propagate online — that “go viral.” It takes a lot of clicking effort for a video to rise above “the noise” of other online content and become so meme-ishly popular and widely shared. According to the latest statistics, some 72 hours of video are upload to YouTube every minute. Most — obviously — do not “go viral.” Those that do — like certain TED videos — tend to have major media promotion. It isn't simply that they "strike a chord." Viral videos have often been designed at the outset to be “worth spreading” and are spread in turn by those who have (financial, political — vested) interests in promoting the message.

    That’s even the case with the stories and videos that appear to be the most “grassroots,” as Kevin Ashton highlights in a fascinating story tracing the popularity of the video hit “Harlem Shake.” As Ashton argues, that trend “had nothing to do with community and everything to do with commerce.”

    Now Jeff Bliss certainly invokes a populism in his videotaped speech, his subsequent media appearances, his newly created Twitter feed and Facebook page. But is this “viral video” really a “popular uprising”? (Or put another way, whose "popular uprising" is this?)

    The Forensics of a Viral Video

    The cellphone video of Jeff Bliss was, by his admission and other media reports, filmed on Monday, May 6. Bliss claims he was not aware of the recording but was shown it by a classmate on Wednesday, the day the video was uploaded to the Web. Bliss told the Dallas Morning News that “When a classmate showed it to him, he figured it would go viral. In his school.”

    What happened next isn’t clear. (This is the best of my Web forensics here.) Well, except the "it went viral" beyond Bliss's school part...

    Someone — it’s not clear who — uploaded the original cellphone video to YouTube. But that original YouTube copy was apparently taken down for reasons that are also unclear. (By extension, this probably means the person who recorded the video in Duncanville High School on Monday is not earning any of the ad revenue on its widespread popularity. Keep this in mind when praising "student agency" demonstrated therein.)

    Another individual — not the student who filmed Bliss’s rant — James Smith, re-posted the original cellphone video to his YouTube page too. I contacted Smith, asking him if he was a classmate of Bliss or the person who originally captured the footage. He said he was not, but that he wanted to make sure that the original YouTube video, already pulled offline by Wednesday morning, was seen by others.

    The video was also submitted to the popular content aggregation site WorldStarHipHop, best known for “shock” videos, by user liquidiamondz. WorldStarHipHop posted another copy in turn, watermarked with its own logo, to YouTube.

    Smith’s copy of the video on YouTube received millions of videos, but yesterday was taken down due to “copyright claims.” Smith himself pulled the video (that is, YouTube did not yank it following a DMCA claim.) Other duplicates of the original remain, including the WorldStarHipHop and OnlyTheBestVideos13 accounts’ versions.

    It’s the link to Smith’s copy of the video that seems to have been posted first to Reddit. After personal details about the teacher were posted to Reddit, comments to that thread were disabled, but not before gaining 19,317 up-votes and 3973 comments. (The rapid action on the part of Reddit moderators comes on the heels of the Internet vigilantism on the site after the recent Boston Marathon bombings.)

    The first tweets about the video stem from roughly the same time of the post to Reddit (Wednesday, 10:30am PST - lunchtime at Duncanville High School), and these tweets link to Smith’s copy on YouTube.

    For his own part, Bliss has only tweeted a link to the WorldStarHipHop version asking former Texas Representative Ron Paul, libertarian talk-show host Adam Kokesh, Louisiana Tech professor Drew McKevitt, and host Alex Jones (tweet deleted) to view the video there. (, a site that charges money to guarantee video views, also tweeted the link to the WorldStarHipHop version.)

    By Wednesday evening, many other publications and news outlets had picked up the story and embedded the video including Gawker, WFAA, and FOX Dallas-Fort Worth. And by Thursday, the school district had announced the teacher in the video had been placed on administrative leave.

    What “Goes Viral”?

    Unlike the story that Kevin Ashton tells about the corporate (record label) forces behind the sudden and scripted popularity of “Harlem Shake,” there is no one clear financier behind or promoter of the Jeff Bliss viral video (that’s not to say there isn’t someone making money off the online videos — such is the nature of pageviews and online advertising — but as noted above, the profiteer is probably not the student who captured the video).

    The number 3 most-trafficked website in the US YouTube, the number 52 website Reddit, and the number 207 website WorldStarHipHop picked up and promoted (via both human and algorithms) this story. And the story “went viral.”

    It’s hard not to see that virality in light of a number of powerful political and social narratives about the current state of education — about teachers and students and the system alike: Education is broken. Students are bored. Students are disrepectful. Students have no voice. Teachers are lazy. Teachers’ hands are tied. Teachers are tired and dispirited. No one has any agency. Standardized testing and standardized curriculum — “packets” — have destroyed curiosity and engagement. Without standards, there is no accountability. We should install video cameras in every classroom. We should ban cellphones at school. And so on.

    Lots of stories. Lots of competing stories. Lots of competing stories that have been able to align themselves around a short and utterly decontextualized view into one social studies classroom in Texas.

    The competing stories, along with the varying interpretations of Bliss's actions — was he heroic? disrepectful? — should probably give us some pause about any assertions we make about the meaning behind the video's popularity.

    What sorts of stories hit the front page of Reddit? What are the consequences — not just in pageviews but in people’s lives when they do? What sorts of stories are popular on WorldStarHipHop, a site that charges a range of fees ($2500 for infomercials, $5000 for XXX clips, $850 for videos “dissing popular artists,” etc) to post and promote content there? What are the ideologies of these sites and their members? (For what it’s worth, these two sites do share a young male demographic — 18 to 24-ish — although those visiting the latter tends to be overwhelmingly African-American and are much more likely to access the site from school.)

    What sorts of stories resonate there and why? And how do the popular stories on heavily trafficked sites (particularly on Reddit) then spin out elsewhere and get picked up by other media (and social media) outlets and spread further? How? Why? Whose stories?

    As I noted at the beginning of this article, “There’s a lot to like about the cellphone recording of 18-year-old high-school student Jeff Bliss if you view this as a viral video that demonstrates our desperate need to recognize students’ voice and agency in education.” It’s just as possible to view this as a video that highlights all the worst stereotypes about the teaching profession too.

    And as videos don't simply "go viral," it's worth thinking about who benefits — politically, financially, rhetorically — from promoting this story. It's worth thinking about who loses.

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  • 05/16/13--10:08: The Comments Are Closed
  • No Comment

    I’ve decided to no longer have comments on this blog. It’s been something I’ve been considering for a while now. Here’s what I wrote on my personal blog back in November as I weighed the decision. I’m copying it at length because my thoughts really haven’t changed much since then:

    I’ve been debating lately whether I should ditch the comments on Hack Education. Just the thought makes me wince as it feels as though it’s a move that runs contrary to much of my reasoning for writing online and in this blog format: I want to engage intellectually and openly with others. To remove comments would mute that engagement, sending the signal that I’m not listening only writing.

    Comments on the Internet are, of course, notoriously terrible. Exhibit A: YouTube, where even the sweetest of videos can elicit the vilest of responses.

    The comments on Hack Education aren’t YouTube-level bad at all, don’t get me wrong. I do get very thoughtful responses to my articles, and these responses in turn help me clarify my own arguments — just as I’d hope they would by being part of a discourse community. Of course, commenters also point out when I’ve made spelling or HTML errors — always nice to know. But some of the posts I’ve written have resulted in some pretty awful comment threads. When I write critically about Khan Academy or Apple, I know I’ll hear an earful — and it isn’t simply an earful of disagreement. The comments get incredibly hostile, the attacks personal.

    Often I dread seeing the email notifications from Disqus, the tool I use to host blog comments, informing me that someone has responded to what I’ve written. (This isn’t a fault of Disqus, I should clarify, as I do like how it handles profiles across multiple sites. I’d never use Facebook comments as I think they’re profoundly anti-privacy, unfriendly to teachers and anyone who works at a site where Facebook is blocked, and unsympathetic to anyone who wants to leave an anonymous comment.) If the email from Disqus tells me there’s a comment related to a particularly controversial post, I often delete it without reading it. I don’t visit Hack Education to read it either. And that’s hardly engagement now, is it?

    When I mentioned the other day on Twitter that I find the negative comments (and the personal attacks) to be exhausting, someone said I should just write less negative blog posts.


    No Community

    I’ve been blogging for a very, very long time now, and in doing so I have found incredible support online — found myself part of many intellectual, personal, and professional communities. But the “community” — that is, the commenters and my interactions with them — on my early personal blogs was quite different than what exists on most the technology blogs I’ve since worked and written for. More often, it’s not “community” at all.

    And as Hack Education has gained a larger readership, the commenters have become more like the latter (like tech sites) than the former. Yet, Hack Education remains my personal (albeit education-focused) blog. It’s just me here. No other staff. No “social media editor.” No “community manager.” That makes the comments — particularly the hostile ones — harder to deal with.

    It’s become increasingly clear to me that I am not building any sort of community through the comments on this site. If nothing else, I just don’t have the time (or the stomach) to moderate and respond. And moderation of comments is absolutely necessary.

    That’s not to say I don’t believe in engaging with my readers and my peers and my friends and my colleagues online. That’s not to say I don’t believe in engaging with my critics. That’s not to say I’m uninterested in hearing feedback (or copy-editing) on my stories. But blog comments just aren’t the place that this is happening.

    This makes me sad.

    When I wrote the blurb above back in November, I decided that “the good” of keeping comments outweighed “the bad.” But I can’t maintain the argument any longer. Mostly, I can’t maintain the comments.

    Of course, you can still always send me an email. You can reply when I post a link to on Google+,, LinkedIn, or Facebook. You can talk to me on Twitter (@audreywatters) — frankly, that’s probably your best bet if as I’m most active and “engaged” there. And if you have something more to say than 140-characters (roughly the length of oh so many comments), you can write your own article and post it on your own domain.

    Image credits: Daniel Cavalcanti, Noun Project

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    Google Play for Education

    Google held its annual developer conference this week, and during Wednesday’s keynote, the company touted its work in education, including the growing adoption of Google Apps for Education (some 25+ million users worldwide) and Chromebooks (engineering exec Chris Yerga highlighted its recent country-wide implementation in Malaysia).

    The new news: Google also unveiled plans for a new education-focused section of its Android app store, “Google Play for Education.”

    The store, which will launch this fall, will allow schools to search for education apps by subject matter and by grade level. Applications are open now (that's why Google announces these sorts of things at a developer event), and Google says that the apps submitted to the store will be reviewed and recommended by educators, who will help to categorize and align them with the Common Core State Standards.

    The new app store will accept purchase orders as well as other payment methods, and Google says that distribution of content onto devices will be wireless (as opposed to the still sadly commonplace hardwired syncing), sending apps, books, and YouTube videos “to individuals or groups of any size, across classrooms, schools, or even districts.” Simplified device management is a big deal, enough for Free Technology for Teachers' writer and educator Richard Byrne to suggest that the new offering "promises what we've been waiting for."

    Google Versus

    Cue the technology bloggers’ hyperbolic excitement: “Google Play for Education could kill the iPad in schools,” predicts VentureBeat. “With Google Play For Education, Google Looks to Challenge Apple’s Dominance in the Classroom,” according to Techcrunch.

    It’s a predictable response, no doubt, with a twist of irony too considering that Google CEO Larry Page lamented during his Q&A session at the end of Wednesday’s keynote that these sorts of headlines have become commonplace. Page argued that the technology press always (and as he tried to insist, unnecessarily) frames Google as “versus” someone else.

    Every story I read about Google is “us versus some other company” or some stupid thing, and I just don’t find that very interesting. We should be building great things that don’t exist. Being negative isn’t how we make progress. Most important things are not zero sum, there is a lot of opportunity out there.

    Let’s be honest though. It is impossible not to view Google’s education products (heck, a lot of its products) as anything but a move “against” others. Google Apps for Education versus Microsoft’s Office and the (now rebranded) Live@edu, for example. And now Google Play for Education versus the Apple App Store.

    The tech blogs might hail Apple as the “de facto leader in the education space” (I do believe Pearson remains the largest education company in the world, but hey, what do I know) which in turn must mean that Google is moving “against” Apple with its Play for Education; but there are lots of other products, services, policies, and companies that Google is positioned “versus” here as well:

    • Google Play for Education versus News Corp’s Amplify tablet, which like many non-Apple mobile devices, is running a customized version of Android.
    • Google Play for Education versus“Whispercast,” Amazon's recently-launched wireless (Kindle/Android) e-book and app deployment tool for schools.

    Google Versus the Open Web

    When I attended Google IO last year, I wrote about my interpretation of the company’s education plans as a response in part to Inside Higher Ed Joshua Kim’s complaint that Google hadn’t made any education-related announcements at its developer conference, particularly as it unveiled a new Android tablet – the Nexus 7.

    And while sales numbers might say one thing, it's still an open question whether tablets are really the best computing devices for students, particularly those in middle school and up, who need (if nothing else) keyboards. Yes, tablets are cheaper than laptops. Yes, there are lots of fun and exciting apps. Yes, tablets offer digital texrtbooks with touchscreen page-turning and embeeded videos. Woo. Hoo. Tablets facilitate consumption and content delivery, but they haven’t really changed the way we teach and learn. They are not the powerful computing devices as envisioned by Seymour Papert et al. And with their emphasis on app marketplaces and app ecosystems and not on openly-licensed content the World Wide Web, tablets raise all sorts of other problems for education.

    #google #io #android swag

    To justify the absence of Android-for-edu news at Google IO in 2012, I wrote that

    Google’s interest in education involves the Web. It’s centered on Google Apps for Education and, by extension, on the Web apps that are in the Chrome Web Store. (True, Google has the Chromebooks, and yes, that is a hardware play. But remember, the Chrome operating system is all about the Web.)

    All the things that Kim says he wants to see in an educational Android app store – courses, transcripts, badges, coursepacks, textbooks – are already on the Web. Why do we need these in an app? Why would Google want them in an app? (Apps and their content aren’t indexable by search engines, after all.)

    Clearly I was wrong.

    I wasn’t just wrong about “Google’s interest in education," insofar as it’s trying now to carve out its own chunk of the volume-buying educational app market. I was wrong more generally about Google and its relationship to the (open) Web.

    Indeed Google admitted at IO this year that it’s dropped the messaging standard XMPP in its newly launched Hangouts app (XMPP was once a key piece of Google Wave — remember Wave? How it was going to “change education forever”?).

    Furthermore, as software engineer Laurent Eschenauer observes, “Google+ has no open RSS output, hence no PuSH support, no write API, in fact it has absolutely nothing open; Google Reader is scrapped, along with RSS support within Chrome; WebDav for Google Calendar is dropped in favor of their proprietary API." Education data analyst Tony Hirst has lots more examples to add to that list — Fusion tables, gadgets, image files — “Google Lock-In Lock-Out,” as he calls it.

    Google: on the Web and indexer of the Web, but no longer really, truly of the Web.

    Google Plus Education Data

    At Wednesday’s Google IO keynote, Google Senior VP Amit Singhal announced “the end of search” — a shockingly provacative announcement, I guess, since this is the product that Google is still most associated with and, let’s be frank, the product through which, thanks to advertising, it still gets the bulk of its revenue.

    After a dramatic pause Singhal actually announced “the end of search as we know it,” unveiling new voice-activated search interface which can purportedly “answer, converse and anticipate” users’ questions.

    Of course, all this has been generated from Google’s vast data gathering and computational capabilities. Google knows who you are. Google knows where you are. Google knows your search patterns. Google's recently written Terms of Service can track this across all the Google product offerings. Google boasts it's getting better at predicting your questions and as such autocompleting your questions. (It also removes wrinkles in photographs, and thanks to image recognition and sentiment analysis, claims to know the best and happiest photographs from your family vacation albums.) "Welcome to Google Island," as Wired's Mat Honan writes in his post-4-hour-Google-IO-keynote-escape-fantasy.

    How might this relate to Google's plans to “Play for Education”?

    Clearly user data (aka student data) is increasingly valuable to all (education) technology companies, and Google is hardly alone here as it strives to construct walls around, extract value from, and, as I wrote last week about MOOCs and textbook publishers, "enclose" education. An app store and a mobile OS do that quite nicely. 

    Google has long benefited from the label of “open” and has long acted as a defender of open standards, open source, and the open Web, When Google says now that it's keen to have classrooms move towards the Android OS (versus its Web OS) and towards its curated education app store, we should be sure to consider all the things that Google's "play for education" could entail.

    Image credits: Google IO logo, Google developer page, Business Insider, Flickr user Cliver Darra, Wired

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    Udacity, Georgia Tech, and AT&T announced this week a partnership to offer an online Master’s Degree in Computer Science. The degree will cost less than $7000 (significantly cheaper than the MS that the university currently offers, in part because of the financial support for the program from AT&T), although anyone will be able to take the Udacity classes for free via its website. Udacity will take a 40% of the revenues, according to Inside Higher Ed, which also reports that Georgia Tech only plans to hire 8 or so more instructors to handle the new program, which is expected to have as many as 10,000 enrollees in the next 3 years.

    Earlier this yearYale said it didn’t plan to “rush” into a MOOC decision, but this week it made public its plans to offer four courses via Coursera. This brings the number of institutions using Coursera as a MOOC provider to 70.

    The University of Edinburgh has offered six classes via Coursera and released a report this week detailing its experiences. (PDF) Lots of details in the report about the university’s planning, course completion, and learners’ demographics (note: some 70.3% of those who responded to course surveys indicated they had completed a university degree.) According to the report, “It is probably reasonable to view these MOOC learners as more akin to lifelong learning students …than to students on degree programmes, which is a common comparison being made.”

    Courseraannounced this week that it’s partnering with a number of translation companies and philanthropies in order to translate its courses “into many of the most popular language markets reflected by Coursera students: Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Japanese, Ukrainian, Kazakh, and Arabic.”

    Law and Politics

    The Department of Educationsays it plans to fine Yale $165,000 for failing to report four forcible sex offenses on campus, as required under the Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

    California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed to spend $1 billion to help the state prepare for the Common Core. The money will include training, as well as funding for the technology infrastructure to comply with CCSS’s computer-based testing.

    School’s out for summer for the 400 students in the Buena Vista school district in Michigan. And, to quote more Alice Cooper, it might be out forever as the district has fired all of its teachers and closed the doors to all the schools because it has run out of money. Students will be able to attend “skills camps,” for the remainder of the school year HuffPo’s Joy Resmovits reports.

    Although the state of Maine chose HP as its vendor-of-choice for its one-to-one laptop program a few weeks ago, public schools in Auburn are ditching laptops altogether and adopting iPads for kindergartners through high schoolers.

    Kiera Wilmot, the Florida teen arrested for causing a small explosion in her science class, will not face criminal charges, according to the State’s Attorney General. There’s no word if the arrest will be expunged from her record or if she can return to the school that expelled her. But and her twin sister are headed to Space Camp this summer, thanks to the former astronaut Homer Hickam and a fundraising campaign by the Internet.

    Former Tennessee educator Clarence Mumford was sentenced to seven years in federal prison this week for his role in a test-cheating ring. Mumford charged $3000 to arrange for people to take a certification tests on behalf of aspiring teachers in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. More details via the AP.

    The education-focused investment fund NewSchools Venture Fund has proposed the idea of a “Digital Depository,” which is says “represents a reimagining of the federal role in education.” The proposal would divide districts into consortiums managed by an “independent board of directors, some appointed by federal agencies, some by private business, and some by school districts themselves.” 


    The Saylor Foundationlaunched a new initiative this week, a suite of open online courses for K–12. Available courses include American Literature, Calculus, Algebra 1, Geometry, and Common Core 101. “Open” in this case means “open educational resources” for “open for business” which, let’s be honest, the “O” in MOOC certainly has become.

    At its annual developer conference this week, Google announced Google Play for Education, an education-focused section of its Android App Store. My thoughts on Google’s long-awaited move into Android-for-EDU here.

    Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez takes a look at a new feature launched in Kidaptive’s iPad app Leo’s Pad: “Parent’s Pad,” “an in-app, parents-only area that shows their child’s progress in reading comprehension and math skills, as well as in cognitive, emotional and social functions, meaning things like ‘being patient’ or ‘taking turns,’ for example.”

    Aldebaran Robotics has made commercially available its ASK NAO ("Autism Solution for Kids") robot, which it says is able to “run educational, entertaining, and daily life assistance applications.”


    More universities appear to have backed out of Semester Online, a consortium of schools that, through the 2U platform, would share online classes and offer credits. News broke a couple weeks ago that Duke was out; Inside Higher Ed reports that Vanderbilt University and the University of Rochester have also “quietly abandoned plan” to be part of Semester Online too.

    The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools is reviewing the University of Phoenix’s accreditation, and while there were some indications it might sanction the for-profit due to a lack of autonomy from its parent corporation, a committee recommended last week that the university just be put “on notice.” A final decision comes next month.


    The University of Alabamaplans to use drones to provide an “eye in the sky” for police to monitor students on campus.


    The kids’ book subscription service Zoobean has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Kapor Capital and others. More details about the startup on Techcrunch.

    AllThingsD’s Lauren Goode covers the startup Play-i. The company is building educational robots and hasn’t launched yet, but its founding team includes former Googlers and an Apple engineer and has raised $1 million in funding from Google Ventures.

    From the Human Resources Department

    The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a list of the best-paid university presidents in the US (there are now three whose salaries exceed a million dollars a year), and the Pacific Standard follows up with an examination of how much these schools cost (and how much these costs have increased in recent years). Topping the list, the now fired Graham Spanier who made $2,906,271 last year as Penn State in-state tuition increased 2.7% to $31,854. Number two on the list Auburn University's Jay Gogue, who earned $2,542,865 last year, while students at his school paid 6.4% more for in-state tuition ($23,788) and 7.1% more for out-of-state tuition ($39,532).

    “Arthur Toga and Paul Thompson will move to the USC Keck School of Medicine campus next fall, along with scores of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staffers who now work at UCLA’s Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, known as LONI,” reports The LA Times. “In establishing a new institute at the USC campus in Boyle Heights, they will also move substantial government and private grants that fund the lab’s $12-million annual budget as well as some of the highly sophisticated equipment used to investigate the brain’s inner workings.” Move, that is, from a public to a private university. More thoughts on the Remaking the University blog on how this demonstrates the California legislatures’s lack of attention to public universities’ research mission.

    Rutgers University has hired Julie Hermann as its new athletics director, a decision that comes on the heels of the school firing its basketball coach Mike Rice after he was show in video recordings shoving and verbally abusing his players.


    The learning management system Instructure is offering a bounty to developers to build apps that utilize the LTI (learning tools interoperability) standard. This standard offers APIs and data integration so that apps can work across LMS platforms. Instructure will pay $250 bounty for each qualified app submitted, and the best apps are eligible for a $1000 prize. (Disclosure: I’m one of the judges for the latter.)

    Classes and Certifications

    Stanford math education professor Jo Boaler is teaching “How to Learn Math” online this summer. The free course doesn’t offer any Stanford credit (although educators might be able to count it as PD hours), but it’s a chance to work with a great professor who’s helping topple many of the myths about both teaching and learning math.

    Record producers Dr. Dre and Jimmy Irvine have given $70 million to the University of Southern California to “create a degree that blends business, marketing, product development, design and liberal arts.” More details in The New York Times.

    Leigh Graves Wolf has poured through every State Department of Education website in her quest to see which states offer educators certifications in ed-tech. According to her research, State Department of Education websites suck — oh, and just 19 out of 50 states (plus DC) offer some sort of endorsement. You can see the full list here.

    Research and Reports

    The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has released data about the Spring Term 2013 college enrollments. (PDF) It’s found that enrollments are down almost across the board (with the exception of four-year private non-profits), with 2.3% fewer students on campuses than there were this time last year. The biggest drop in enrollment has occurred at for-profits, down 8.7% from last year and down 17.2% from 2011.

    Just in time for graduation, the Pew Research Center has posted a collection of data about student debt. Among the figures, “The average student loan balance outstanding in 2010 was $26,682,” but, for what it's worth 38% of those who graduated from a public university with a four year degree in 2008 had no debt at all. (Just 4% of those who graduated from for-profits, however, left with no debt.)

    The New America Foundation has released a report on “using student data to evaluate teachers in the early grades,” that is, preschoolers through grade 3.

    Wired reports on a new study that suggests stimulating the brain with a mild electric current while learning arithmetic helped them learn faster and retain a 30 to 40% "performance edge" six months later. Over/under on the Gates Foundation opting to fund this idea?

    Image credits: glasseyes view

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    Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    ~ William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

    The Myth of Disruptive Innovation

    Folklorists often balk at the common usage of the word “myth” to mean “lie.” A myth, by their disciplinary definition, is quite the opposite. A myth is a culture’s sacred story. It involves supernatural or supreme beings — gods. It explains origins and destinies. A myth is the Truth.

    So when I say then, that “disruptive innovation” is one of the great myths of the contemporary business world, particularly of the tech industry, I don’t mean by “myth” that Clayton Christensen’s explanation of changes to markets and business models and technologies is a falsehood. (I have an MA in Folklore, not an MBA — so that’s part of it, for sure.)

    Rather, my assigning “myth” to “disruptive innovation” is meant to highlight the ways in which this narrative has been widely accepted as unassailably true. No doubt (as a Harvard professor) Christensen has faced very little skepticism or criticism about his theory about the transformation of industries— why, it’s as if The Innovator’s Dilemma were some sort of sacred text.

    Helping to enhance its mythic status, the storytelling around “disruptive innovation” has taken on another, broader and looser dimension as well, as the term is now frequently invoked in many quarters to mean things quite different from Christensen’s original arguments in The Innovator’s Dilemma.

    In this vein, almost every new app, every new startup, every new tech — if you believe the myth-making-as-marketing at least — becomes a disruptive innovation: limo-summoning iPhone apps (e.g. Uber), photo-sharing iPhone apps (e.g. Path), email on your iPhone (e.g. Mailbox), online payments (e.g. Paypal), electric vehicles (e.g. Tesla), cloud computing (e.g. Amazon Web Services), 3D printers (e.g. Makerbot), video-based lectures (e.g. Khan Academy), social search (e.g. Facebook Graph Search), the entire Internet, etc ad nauseum.

    Near Guatavita, Colombia

    The Millennialism of Disruptive Innovation

    The companies above might very well be innovative. — in their technologies and their business models. That’s beside the point if you’re looking for disruption. Per Christensen’s framework, these could also be “sustaining innovations” — that is, products and services that strengthen the position (and the profits) of incumbent organizations.

    But that’s not the mythology embraced by the tech industry, which despite its increasing economic and political power, continues to see itself as an upstart not an incumbent.

    And as a self-appointed and self-described disruptor, the tech industry seems to have latched on to the most millennial elements of Christensen’s theories — that is, the predictions about the destruction of the old and the ascension of the new. At the hands of technology: The death of the music industry. The death of newspapers. The death of print. The death of Hollywood. The death of books. The death of the Web. The death of RSS. The death of Microsoft. All predicted to be killed — suddenly or gradually or in the library with a candlestick — by some sort of “disruptive innovation.”

    The structure to this sort of narrative is certainly a well-known and oft-told one in folklore — in tales of both a religious and secular sort. Doom. Suffering. Change. Then paradise.

    People seemingly love to believe in the “end of the world as we know it” stories — for reasons that have to do with both the horrors of the now and the heaven of the future. Many cultures (and Silicon Valley is, despite its embrace of science and technology, no different here) tell a story that predicts some sort of cataclysmic event(s) that will bring about a radical cultural (economic, political) transformation and, eventually, some sort of paradise.

    The Book of Revelations. “The Hollow Men.” The Mayan Calendar. The Shakers. The Ghost Dance. Nuclear holocaust. Skynet. The Singularity.

    I’ll be the first to admit that the data in folklore professor Dan Wojcik’s book The End of the World As We Know It is dated (um, he was my Master’s Thesis advisor, circa 2000); he wrote the book in 1997 — oh! the same year that The Innovator’s Dilemma was originally published! Wojcik’s analysis of a sweeping societal belief in “the end of the world” — was well-timed with the technological anxieties surrounding Y2K, making it is an interesting and contrasting companion to Christensen’s contention that we’ll witness “the end” of certain organizations thanks to technological “innovation.”

    For his part Wojcik noted that, according to Nielsen, some 40% of Americans believed that there was nothing we could do to prevent nuclear holocaust. 60% believe in Judgment Day. 44% in the Battle of Armageddon. 44% in the Rapture. He didn’t say how many believed in Y2K. He didn’t say how many believed in “disruptive innovation.” He did not ask how many believed in “the singularity” and such.

    I'd argue that despite its staid Harvard Business School origins, Christensen’s “disruptive innovation” story taps into these same powerful narratives about the end-times -- told, as always by the chosen ones (be they Americans, Christians, Shakers, Heaven’s Gate followers, survivalists, Java programmers, or "my generation"). Folks do seem drawn to these millennial stories, particularly when they help frame and justify our religious, moral, economic, political, cultural, social, technological worldview.


    Adjustments to the Disruptive Innovation Eschatology

    Here are a couple of (education-related) end-times predictions from Clayton Christensen:

    Disruptive innovation will be, as Techcrunch (among other acolytes) is happy to profess, the end of school as we know it.

    Such is its inevitability, so the story goes, that new players can enter the education market and, even though their product is of lower quality and appeals to those who are not currently “customers,” oust the incumbent organizations. (Incumbents, in this case, are publicly funded, brick-and-mortar schools.) As Christensen and his co-authors argued in Disrupting Class in 2008, “disruption is a necessary and overdue chapter in our public schools.”

    But like many millennialist prophets are wont to do when their end-times predictions don’t quite unfold the way they originally envisioned, Clayton Christensen and his disciples at the Clayton Christensen Institute (which was recently renamed from the Innosight Institute) have just tweaked their forecast about (public) education’s future. 5 years post-Disrupting Class, "disrupting class" will look a bit different, they now say.

    This week, the organization released a new white paper, detailing a new path for transformation that winds a new future between the disruptive and sustaining innovations: they call it “hybrid innovations.”

    "A hybrid is a combination of the new, disruptive technology with the old technology and represents a sustaining innovation relative to the old technology."

    It’s an interesting revision (a refinement, really) of the organization’s predictions in Disrupting Class, the book which first applied “disruptive innovation” to education technology and that argued online learning would be a way to “modularize the system and thereby customize learning.” (In other buzzwords, to “unbundle” and “personalize” education.)

    Not so fast, the organization now says. Hybrid innovation. "Blended learning." A little bit online and a little bit offline. And while middle- and high schools (and colleges, although that isn’t the subject of this latest white paper) might offer opportunities for “rampant non-consumption,” -- that is, classically, an opportunity for "disruption" -- “the future of elementary schools at this point is likely to be largely, but not exclusively, a sustaining innovation story for the classroom.” Computer hardware and software and Internet-access in the classroom, as those of us who've been thinking about education technology for decades now keep saying, won't necessarily change "everything." (Go figure.)

    Of course, even in Disrupting Class, the predictions of the ed-tech end-times were already oriented towards changing the business practices, not (necessarily) the pedagogy or the learning. And the promise of a thriving education technology eschatology were already muted in Christensen's earliest formulations, by the “restrictions” placed upon the education sector — restrictions by virtue of education being a public and not a private institution, of education not being beholden to market forces quite the same way that the other examples that the mythology of “disruptive innovation” has utilized to explain itself.

    “People did not create new disruptive business models in public education, however. Why not? Almost all disruptions take root among non-consumers. In education, there was little opportunity to do that. Public education is set up as a public utility, and state laws mandate attendance for virtually everyone. There was no large, untapped pool of non-consumers that new school models could target.”

    Agitating for the End Times


    This latest Christensen Institute white paper clarifies then that the future of education isn't necessarily (or utterly or easily) "disrupted." There are limits to the predictions, to the predictive models, to the business school approach to education change and such. There are, for example, lots of non-consumers of learning (a necessary piece of the "disruptive innovation" framework) if you're willing to frame education as something that happens outside the officially-sanctioned, brick-and-mortar institutions. But it's not so easy to woo "non-consumers" if you're really just focused on the market and policy and practices of an otherwise compulsory schooling setting. (And the distintion between "consumers," "non-consumers," "students," and "learners" is important too, although all get lumped into a consumption framework by Christensen.)

    Like so many millennialist entities faced with the harsh realities of faltering predictions, the Innosight Institute (now under its new name) offers a new prediction.

    But, let's be clear, the organization doesn't just predict the future of education. The Clayton Christensen Institute does not just offer models -- business models -- for the future. It does not simply observe an always changing (education) technology market. It has not simply diagnosed the changes due to technological advancements. It has not simply prophesied or predicted what future outcomes might be.

    It's written a best-selling book (or two) about disruptive innovation. It has actively lobbied governments for certain aspects of its agenda (its mythology?), becoming a vocal proponent for its particular vision of a disrupted and innovative future. The Clayton Christensen Institute is a member of ALEC, for example, a corporate lobbying organization whose education initiatives include writing and pushing for legislation that enables the outsourcing of education to for-profit, online education providers and that eases the restrictions of entry to the market of the very virtual schools. 

    "Over time," the new white-paper reads, "as the disruptive models of blended learning improve, the new value propositions will be powerful enough to prevail over those of the traditional classroom." And so, according to the Christensen mythology, despite any sort of hesitatation about the hybridity of disruption now, disruption will prevail.

    And so, indeed, it is written. And so, it is told.

    Image credits: Pedro Szekelydynamosquito and Luc Viatour

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    A devastating tornado razed much of Moore, Oklahoma on Monday, killing 24 people, including 7 children who were in the elementary schools that were destroyed. You can donate to the American Red Cross’s Disaster Relief fund here.

    Law and Politics

    The Chicago Public Schools Board of Education — appointees of Mayor Rahm Emanuel — voted to close 49 schools in the city, the biggest single mass closure of schools in the nation’s history. A federal judge has scheduled hearings in July to decide whether to proceed with the closures after the Chicago Teachers Union filed suits alleging racial discrimination and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


    The US House of Representatives passed a student loan bill that would stop interest rates from doubling on July 1. Yay. Instead, the bill would tie rates to prevailing market trends. Boo.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that in the past two school years, 40 states have detected potential cheating on standardized tests. More details in The Washington Post.

    NewSchools Venture Fund covers its support for the Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies for Teachers and Principals (GREAT) Act, introduced in the House and Senate this week. The bill would create new kinds of teacher and principal preparation programs. Similar legislation has been proposed, but has failed to pass, before.

    The Wisconsin state legislature has moved to strip the funding stream of the United Council, “the nation’s oldest and most respected statewide student association,” says historian Angus Johnston, who has more details about the move and the politics behind it on his blog.

    Pāvels Jurs, a teacher in Latvia, was arrested last week for uploading a scanned copy of a high school history textbook to his website — a website that he created to help poor students have access to educational materials; a book that sells for $4. According to TorrentFreak, Jurs might face up to two years in jail for his crime.

    Despite the State Supreme Court decision earlier this month that deemed the funding for Louisiana’s voucher program unconstitutional, the State Superintendent of Education says he’ll “push ahead with a plan to let students take classes from private firms and nonprofits at taxpayers’ expense.” More details via Reuters.


    The Boy Scouts of America officially ended its longstanding policy of forbidding openly gay youth to participate in its organization. Gay adults will still be banned from leadership roles.

    GigaOm reports that Knewton has partnered with the education publisher Macmillan, offering its adaptive learning platform for adult English-language learners.


    According to the Chicago Tribune, Pearson plans to reorganize, focusing more on “emerging markets and digital products.” The education giant will restructure into “three global lines of business — School, Higher Education and Professional, which embraces the Financial Times business — and three geographic market categories - North America, Growth and Core.” Stocks in the company fell with the news, but had climbed again (to $18.60/share) by the end of the week.

    More MOOCs

    edX announced 15 new members to its consortium this week, including Tsinghua University, Peking University, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Kyoto University, Seoul National University, Cornell University, Berklee College of Music, Boston University, Davidson College, University of Washington, Karolinska Institutet, Université catholique de Louvain, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Queensland.

    58 Harvard professors signed a letter to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Smith asking for more oversight over the university’s role in edX. The Harvard Crimson has the letter and the story.

    The “Mechanical MOOC” — the introduction to Python programming course offered by P2PU, MIT OpenCourseware, Codecademy, and OpenStudy — will run again, beginning June 17. (My write-up on the first version is here.)

    Other (Open) Courseware

    Lumen Learning, the new company founded by open education leader David Wiley, has offered six “open course frameworks” via the Instructure LMS platform. The courses, which are free and openly licensed, include beginning algebra, intermediate algebra, developmental reading, developmental writing, English composition, and College Success. More courses will be released this summer.

    Accreditation and Course Fees

    The for-profit Capella University has gotten the “OK” from its regional accrediting organization to pilot a competency-based program that would not rely on the credit hour but instead on “direct assessment.”

    The last remaining German universities to charge students fees are phasing out the charge. Free university education. Go figure. But hey, what do the Germans know about running a strong economy, right?

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Yahoo acquired the popular blogging site Tumblr this week for $1.1 billion. (And cue, perhaps, more “drop out of school and be an entrepreneur!” stories since Tumblr founder quit school at age 14.)

    Khan Academy has received a $2.2 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to help it develop “a comprehensive set of online content and tools that are aligned with the grade 4–12 Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics.” (I thought "the Queen of Mean" wanted her trust to support her dogs, but I guess I was wrong.)

    Techcrunch reports that PopExpert, an online marketplace for education videos, has raised $2 million in seed funding from Learn Capital, Jeff Skoll, Ken Howery, Michael Chasen, and Expansion VC.

    Neverware, a company that helps schools address the problem of aging computers, has raised $1 million in investment, according to Techcrunch. I covered Neverware and its virtualization solution in ReadWriteWeb back in 2011.

    Edxus Group, a new London-based ed-tech company, says it plans on spending “€50–60 million ($64-$77 million) over the next 18 months to develop and acquire European e-learning businesses and build out a single regional player with the scale to compete against U.S. ed-tech giants,” says Techcrunch.

    The popular, web-based design tool Tinkercad was shuttered in March, but Autodesk announced this week that it’s acquired and re-opened it.

    News Corp’s board has approved the company’s split into two businesses: one entertainment (now 21st Century Fox), one publishing (the new News Corp). The company’s education interests fall into the latter category.

    Investment analysis firm CB Insights has released its list of the education sector’s 10 most active corporate acquirers. Topping the list with 12 acquisitions and 3 investments between 2010 and 2013: Pearson. In second place with 7 acquisitions: Blackboard. Viva la ed-tech startup revolution.

    From the Human Resources Department

    A hearty congratulations to David Jakes who’ll be leaving the classroom (sorta) to join the design studio The Third Teacher.

    News Corp’s education division Amplifyannounced its advisory board this week, which will include Facebook VP of mobile engineering Cory Ondrejka and Karen Symms Gallagher, the dean of the USC Rossier School of Education.

    The College Board has laid off some 10% of its staff, reports Inside Higher Ed, as part of a “process of shifting priorities, not of retrenchment” according to a statement from the organization.

    Research and Data

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report this week titled ‘Teens, Social Media and Privacy.” Among the findings, “Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they did in the past. For the five different types of personal information that we measured in both 2006 and 2012, each is significantly more likely to be shared by teen social media users in our most recent survey.” Teens’ use of Twitter has grown and while their enthusiasm for Facebook seems to be waning.

    According to a report released this week by the Century Foundation, funding for community colleges is on the decline creating a situation that is “separate and unequal.” According to The New York Times article on the report, “in 2009, community colleges spent $9,300 per student on educational resources, virtually unchanged from 1999 once inflation was taken into account. Public research universities spent $16,700, up 11 percent from 1999, and private research universities spent $41,000, an increase of 31 percent.

    Inside Higher Ed examines two recent reports that challenge the assertions of Academically Adrift (that is, that students make no meaningful learning gains while in college). “Studies by the Council for Aid to Education show that students taking the Collegiate Learning Assessment made an average gain of 0.73 of a standard deviation in their critical thinking scores, significantly more than that found by the authors of Academically Adrift.”

    Education prof Bruce Baker has released his annual report on “America’s most screwed public school districts” — that is, those districts where expenditure per student is less than 95% and the poverty rate for students is more than 50% above average for districts in the same labor market. Illinois and Pennsylvania top the list of states with the greatest share of students attending “screwed” districts.

    The National Center for Education Statistics and the Department of Education released “The Condition of Education” report this week, detailing “key indicators” about, yup, the condition of education.

    A first peek at this year’s K–12 Horizon Report came in a NMC webinar this week, reports THE Journal. The trends “on the horizon” include cloud and mobile computing, open content, learning analytics, 3D printing, and virtual science labs.

    The US Censusreports that the fiscal year 2011 marked the first decrease in per student education spending since the agency first started collecting this data back in 1977. States spent on average $10,560 per student, down .4% from 2010.

    The Guardian has released a decade’s worth of data about bullying. "On average, every child helpline in the world receives nine contacts from children and young people per day who are suffering the effects of bullying.”

    The Computer Science Teachers Association released data from its annual survey of current CS teachers. “The statistically average computer science teacher,” it says, is “a white male who has been teaching for more than 15 years and has been teaching Computer Science for about 13 years.” More results of the CSTA survey here.

    Competitions and Commemorations

    Wisconsin high school student Sabrina Brady is the winner of this year’s Doodle 4 Google contest. Her artwork, “Coming Home” was featured on the Google homepage this week, and Brady also will receive a $30,000 college scholarship.

    Happy 100th episode to Kirsten Winkler’s Edukwest. I was honored that she asked me to be a guest on the show where we had a wide-ranging conversation about the past, present, and future of education technology.

    Image credits: S. Carter

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    Beware of the Cow

    OMG, MOOCs

    This week, Courseraannounced a series of deals with 9 state university systems: the State University of New York, the University of Tennessee system, The Tennessee Board of Regents, the University of Colorado system, the University of Houston system, the University of Kentucky (The Chronicle of Higher Education has a copy of this contract), the University of Nebraska, the University of New Mexico, the University System of Georgia, and West Virginia University. According to its blog, “the partnership with Coursera will give professors the option to experiment with and improve upon the ‘blended learning’ model, which combines online video lectures and content with active, in-person classroom interactions.” Inside Higher Ed offers a lot more details on the deals, arguing that they will “help the company test new business models and teaching methods and potentially put Coursera in competition with some of the ed tech industry’s most established players.” Many education bloggers have chimed in too, noting that this makes Coursera less of a “disruptive innovation” and more of an learning management system, a courseware provider, or an academic publisher. “You can stop worrying about MOOCs now,” says Martin Weller, who says this move shows that the MOOC bubble is already bursting.

    Inside Higher Ed has obtained documents regarding the deal between Udacity and Georgia Tech to offer an online CS Master’s Degree. Among the documents are details about plans to staff the program (including the creation of a new personnel category at the university to handle the teaching assistant role) and a faculty report indicating “significant internal disagreements” among those in the College of Computing about the plan, as well as an outline of the university and Udacity’s plans to profit from the venture.

    The Australian MOOC platform Open2Study released a report boasting “completion rates above 25 per cent – almost five times higher than the industry average.” (PDF)

    The German business software giant SAP has launched its own “MOOC” and its own “MOOC” platform —— to teach its employees about the company. Those who complete 50% of assignments get a “record of achievement.” (Whee!) The student code includes the following priceless tidbit: “I will not make available solutions to weekly assignments and exams in any way to other learners on openSAP.” Viva the “open” revolution!

    Law and Politics

    Colorado’s Supreme Court has ruled in a 4–2 vote that the state’s funding of public schools is constitutional, overturning an earlier decision that had found otherwise. The Denver Post describes the decision as “a stinging defeat Tuesday to plaintiffs who for eight years sought greater and more equitable education funding.”

    Apple was the ‘ringmaster’ in a conspiracy to fix the prices of e-books at rates higher than those charged by Amazon,“ reports Ars Technica, citing documents filed this week in the Department of Justice lawsuit against the company and publishers. The trial is scheduled to start June 3.

    Pearson has reached a $75 million settlement for its part in the above-mentioned lawsuit.

    Remaking the University examines the changes to California’s SB 520 as it winds its way through committee. The proposed legislation would have required the state’s universities to accept online courses for credit when students were unable to enroll in onsite versions. “Steinberg has shifted his rhetoric from creating the ‘California Online Student Access Platform’ to creating the ‘California Online Student Access Incentive Grant programs.’ Under his new proposal, the state will provide funding to faculty for the purpose of increasing the numbers of lower-division online courses that will allegedly move students move more quickly either within a segment or between segments. The heads of the Systems, ‘in consultation’ with their Senates of course, will disburse incentive grants to individual faculty or groups of faculty.”

    Newly announced NYC Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has penned an op-ed calling for each student to have “an electronic textbook.” “We would end the horror that every parent feels when they see their child come home with a school library book about the human brain from 1986, or a book on American politics that ends with President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection.” No mention of the horror of social media embarrassments that this brave new digital world might cause, but hey.

    Florida’s Polk County Schools have confirmed that they use a “non-invasive iris reader” — that is, eye-scans — for student identification. (This is the same district, incidentally, that recently expelled high school student Kiera Wilmot for causing an explosion in her chemistry class.)


    Blackboardlaunched a new tool called TipTxt that will “give schools a free* and confidential way for students to tell school officials via text that they are being bullied or are witnessing bullying.” (* “Free” does not include the cost to schools of buying a Blackboard license, of course.)

    The Education Writers Association, Great Schools Partnership, and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation have released The Education Glossary of Education Reform for Journalists, which as the name suggests helps define key terms for the media.

    The digital textbook provider Copiaunveiled several updates to its e-reading platform, which it says are aimed specifically at the K–12 level. These include integration with dictionaries and the ability to speak out loud highlighted words. The company also announced that it is conducting a pilot with the Los Angeles Unified School District to see if the platform can help engage and support struggling readers.

    The state of Kansas has launched a program called Diploma to Degree which will help adults earn their high school diplomas and earn college credits at no cost. The program, a partnership between Lyons USD 405, Pratt Community College, eduKan, and CompuHigh, will offer its courses online.

    News Corp’s education division, Amplify, announced“one of the largest K–12 tablet deployments” this week — 21,215 tablets to Guilford County Schools in North Carolina. (More on the politics behind the contract here.) “We aren’t recycling consumer goods for the classroom,” says CEO Joel Klein. Zing! “We are a company that is 100-percent focused on education.” (Then, hey kids, maybe don’t use “impactful” in your press release. It’s nifty marketing-speak, sure, but it’s not a real word.)


    Reuters’ Stephanie Simon tales another look at the Gates Foundation-funded education database inBloom and notes that the organization has “stumbled badly since its launch this spring, with officials in several states backing away from the project amid protests from irate parents.”

    The New York Times reports that many high school newspapers are struggling to remain “in print,” due to a number of factors including budget cuts, curriculum pressures, and a lack of student readership.

    Money and Markets

    ProPublica is raising money via Kickstarter in order to investigate college internships. Donations will fund a “16-week fall reporting internship, with travel budget, to produce a microsite on the intern economy. It will launch in August.”

    LearnHive, a Princeton-based company which offers adaptive learning tools, has raised $400,000 in seed funding.

    Delhi-based EduKart, an online education startup, has raised $500,000 in seed funding.

    Bangalore-based Edusoft has raised $2 million in funding from Inventus Capital Partners. The company offers online tutoring, primarily to students in southern India.

    NewSchools Venture Fund has updated its K–12 Ed-Tech Market Map with new companies and a new categorization scheme (it’s divided the market into Data, Curricula, Talent Management, and Instructional Systems). The firm also says that it’s handing over the task of tracking the market to one of the companies in its investment portfolio, EdSurge.

    From the Human Resources Department

    Evelynn Hammonds, Dean of Harvard College, will step down as of July 1. While the university positioned the move as Hammonds’ desire to return to research and teaching, the decision comes amidst the controversy stemming from her role in violating staff privacy, searching emails to identify who might be leaking information about a 2012 cheating scandal.

    One of the leading scholars in technology and learning, Candace Thille, is moving from Carnegie Mellon University to Stanford. Thille heads the CMU Open Learning Initiative, and it’s not clear how much of the program or its grant funding will move with Thille. More on her relocation west via Inside Higher Ed.

    John Dryden, a high school social studies teacher in Batavia, Illinois, has received a “written warning of improper conduct” for informing his students of their Fifth Amendment rights in connection with a survey the school district administered asking them about their drug and alcohol use.

    Rutgers hired Julie Hermann as the new director of athletics program, ostensibly to help clean up its image after the university fired basketball coach Mike Rice for abusive behavior and after then-athletic director Tim Pernetti stepped down. But it looks like the search committee for Hermann didn’t do much of a thorough search as Hermann herself has been implicated in in her own coaching abuse and sexual discrimination scandals.

    Yale’s Math Department will soon have its first female tenured professor when Oh Hee, currently a professor at Brown, becomes a faculty member at the university. The first female tenured math professor at a university that is 312 years old. Good grief.

    Research and Data

    With not-at-all-shocking FUD, the International Publishers Association has issued a paper challenging the quality, sustainability, and public funding of Open Educational Resources. “An over-reliance on OERs will endanger the quality of school level education,” says the paper (which is a wee bit ironic considering an over-reliance on proprietary textbooks hasn’t done us much good either. Just sayin’.)

    Inside Higher Ed examines on a number of research reports that point to a “rise of ‘separate and unequal’ higher education systems.” Among the findings, just a quarter of community colleges “can be considered racially integrated,” and while “there are 85 students per staff member at predominantly white colleges,” there are “294 students per staff member at predominantly nonwhite colleges.”

    Although there’s been some talk this week about what we can learn from (lecture) videos, research published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Reviewsuggests that it might just be a perception that we’re learning. “Researchers asked two groups of students to sit through the same lecture delivered in radically different styles. When asked afterward how much they felt they had learned, those who had experienced the more accomplished performance believed they had learned more than the second group. However, when tested, there was little difference found between them, with those attending the “better” lecture barely outperforming their poorly taught peers.”

    (Non-MOOC) Classes, Credits, and Degrees

    Northern Arizona University has launched an online competency-based degree program, reports Campus Technology, that uses a subscription-based tuition model — $2,500 per six-month term.

    The Washington Post reports that a growing number of master’s degrees are being awarded. “From 2000 to 2012, the annual production of master’s degrees jumped 63 percent, federal data show, growing 18 percentage points more than the output of bachelor’s degrees.”


    New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced the winners this week of the city’s “Gap App Challenge,” a contest that aimed to identify software that could “address the achievement gap and help middle school students excel in math.” Winners include KnowRe, Hapara, LiveSchool, and Mathalicious.

    Image credits: Tony Bowden

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    Big Data Stories

    Lots of revelations this week about government data mining efforts: On Wednesday, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald reported that the NSA is collecting the phone records of all Verizon customers, and on Thursday he reported on PRISM, an NSA program that gathers data from major technology companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Skype, and Google. The education angle? Well, cloud computing, data gathering, predictive modeling, surveillance and control, a push for more digital learning by the Department of Education and tech and telecom companies, for starters.

    The American Federation of Teachers issued a statement this week about the ongoing privacy concerns surrounding inBloom, a data collection initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. “Any potential inBloom has to improve and personalize learning is being overshadowed by a growing lack of public trust in its early communications and operations, and genuine concerns about the security, privacy, sharing and exploitation of data,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten (who I would recommend take a look at the privacy policy for its own Share My Lesson which also indicates that it sells teacher data).

    Law and Politics

    The US Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Maryland v King this week to uphold a state law that allows the police to collect DNA swabs from suspects for serious crimes. Writing for the dissent, Antonin Scalia wrote that allowing this could enable this sort of DNA collection for other institutions, including for children in public school. But hey! That silly Scalia. What on earth would give anyone the idea that the government or non-profits or technology companies would be interested in a massive database of our personal information?! Oh. Yeah. All that stuff above.

    And, oh the timing on this one, as President Obama unveiled a new initiative called ConnectED, “ which will connect 99 percent of America’s students to the internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within 5 years.” Or as the Big Bad Wolf put it, “All the better to see you with, my dear.”

    The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been up for reauthorization since 2007 – no rush, Congress, no rush – and this week Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced new, competing legislation that would update and revise No Child Left Behind (the ESEA’s current version). The bill faces an “uphill climb,” according to The New York Times. The Hechinger Report summarizes the news, also saying that there are “slim chances” for reauthorization of ESEA.

    California SB 520, which would push the state’s public universities to accept credit for online courses, has passed out of the state senate by a vote of 28–0. As Bob Samuels writes, “While many legislators clearly do not like the content of the bill, no one wants to kill the pet project of one of the most powerful politicians in the state” – State Senator Darrell Steinberg.

    Launches and Upgrades

    Adaptive learning company Knewton has partnered with textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to bring, according to the press release, “truly personalized learning experiences to K–12 students, using HMH’s comprehensive portfolio of education solutions including market-leading products in math, reading, and other core subject areas.”

    Junyo, a edu-data company founded by one of Zynga’s co-founders, said late last year that it was pivoting away from helping schools manage their data, and this week we learned a bit more about the new direction with the launch of EdLights, a product that will sell school data to vendors and publishers. Edsurge reports that “its $79 per month ”Prospector“ subscription pulls together much data in an easy-to-use interface; a $4,000 enterprise version, EdLights File Service, will send companies CSV data (designed to fit in companies’ existing databases. And for an undisclosed price, EdLights will make available the names (and addresses) of thousands of relevant school employees.”

    Downgrades and Closures

    Saint Paul’s College, a historically black college in Virginia, will close. Founded in 1888, the school has been suffering financially and recently lose accreditation.


    The British MOOC initiative FutureLearn turned on its website this week, and you can almost taste the online learning rainbow. And some watchful eyes, not blinded by the colors of the new site, noted that the FutureLearn and Udacity Terms of Use are nearly identical. More on FutureLearn’s Terms via Lorna Campbell.

    The University of Chicago has joined Coursera.

    EdX has released the code for its learning platform under an open source license, noting contributions from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and the University of Queensland.

    The Oakland Tribune reports on the “hidden costs” of a partnership between San Jose State, Udacity, and an Oakland charter school where students were enrolled in the college’s for-credit math program: “It turned out some of the low-income teens didn’t have computers and high-speed Internet connections at home that the online course required. Many needed personal attention to make it through. The final results aren’t in yet, but the experiment exposed some challenges to the promise of a low-cost online education. And it showed there is still a divide between technology-driven educators and the low-income, first-generation college hopefuls they are trying to reach. To make it work, the institute had to issue laptops to students, set aside class time for them to focus on the online course, and assign teachers to make sure they stayed on task.”

    “Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom: Research into edX’s First MOOC” was published this week in Research & Practice in Assessment (PDF). The research examines the MITx class “Circuits & Electronics” and contains lots of interesting details about student demographics and resource usage. (88% who responded to the end-of-class survey were male; 37% had a bachelor’s degree and 28% had a master’s degree.)

    The Sundance Channel has given the nod to “Dream School,” a new TV series from executive producers rapper 50 Cent and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. “Set to premiere this fall, the six-part hour-long series follows troubled teenagers - all high school dropouts - attending a learning institution where classes are taught by top industry professionals in a number of fields, including music, filmmaking, science, acting, art, and politics.” OK, this isn’t a MOOC, it’s a reality TV show. But still, there’s video, and I bet there’ll be online forums where we can talk about it…


    The learning management system startup Instructure has raised $30 million in a Series D round of funding, bringing the total it’s raised to $50 million. The company says it’s aiming for an IPO in the coming years. More details via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    SoFi, a student loan provider that connects alumni investors to students, has raised $41 million in investment from Bancorp. It raised $60 million from Morgan Stanley a couple of months ago. Clearly the business of profiting off of college students remains good.

    Hullabalu has raised $1.8 million in funding for its children’s storytelling iPad app. More details on the company and the app via Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez.

    Although news of a recent round of funding for scientific research network ResearchGate isn’t new, this week we learned more about the size and the participating investors: $35 million from “Bill Gates and Tenaya Capital with participation from Dragoneer Investment Group, Thrive Capital and the company’s existing investors Benchmark and Founders Fund.”

    From the Human Resources Department

    Berkman Center Fellow Justin Reichstarted a new gig this week as the Richard L. Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow where he will “conduct research on the learning experiences that people have on the HarvardX platform and to consult with HarvardX faculty in creating and facilitating courses, both to make them better for students and better designed to advance our knowledge of online learning.”

    Zac Chase is putting his PhD on pause to join Bud Hunt as a district technology coordinator in the St. Vrain Valley School District – which, if you know those two, spells only the very best kind of troublemaking.

    Edsurge reports that Paul Edelman, the founder of the education resource marketplace TeachersPayTeachers, is stepping down as CEO. He’ll be replaced by John Yoo, formerly of Scholastic.

    Ohio State University president Gordon Geeannounced his retirement, following anger over comments he made about Catholics and rival universities.

    NYU says it has no plans to fire visiting professor Geoffrey Miller after his fat-shaming tweets on Sunday night. (“Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.”) His home university, the University of New Mexico, say they are investigating the incident. More details in the Pacific Standard on Miller’s research and interest in eugenics.

    “Research” and Data

    According to information from the latest Diploma Count report, high school graduation rates in the US reached 74.7% in 2010, the highest rate in 40 years. (The figure is different from that reported by the Department of Education, which put the rate at 78.2%.) Asian students have the highest graduation rate – 81% – while Native Americans have the lowest – 51.1%.

    The Pew Internet and American Life Project released its latest report on smartphone ownership, noting that for the first time since it’s been tracking this that the majority of Americans now possess a smartphone. 91% of all American adults own a cellphone; 55% say they have a smartphone.

    KPCB’s Mary Meeker has released the latest version of her Internet Trends report. The whole thing is definitely worth reading, but slides 98–101 address education specifically.

    The Horizon Report’s 2013 K–12 edition has been released. On the immediate horizon: cloud and mobile computing. You can view the wiki and the work that went into creating the report here.

    Project Tomorrow has released its Speak Up 2012 report which details what K–12 students, along with their parents, teachers, and school administrators, think about the uses of technology for learning. Among the findings: 65% of students in grades 6–8 and 80% of students in grades 9–12 are smartphone users, but among those high school students, just half say they’re allowed to use their devices at school. And just 18% of high school students say they’re allowed to use their personal laptop at school.

    According to a study by the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University, 78% of parents reported no conflicts with their children over media usage (including TV and tech). More details on the study, which certainly contradict the popular notion that parents are concerned about their kids’ media consumption, in The New York Times.

    The GAO issued a report on college textbooks, based on the disclosure that’s required under the Higher Education Opportunity Act. “Faculty GAO interviewed said they typically prioritize selecting the most appropriate materials for their courses over pricing and format considerations, although they said they are more aware of affordability issues than they used to be.”

    Historian and data scientist Ben Schmidttakes a closer look at a story in The Wall Street Journal describing falling enrollments in the humanities. “Anyone looking at it closely will notice, as Michael Bérubé has, that the real collapse of humanities enrollments happened in the 1970s. The Great Recession has been less ruinous to enrollments than were the mid–1990s. Sure, a few Harvard majors have switched from history to government in the last decade: is that really a story? …We shouldn’t be assessing the health of the humanities by market-share metrics that are far more about demographics and the changing face of higher ed than they are about the intellectual shifts at the heart of actual humanities practice.”


    Makey Makey, one of my picks for the best education startups of 2012, is holding a “Group-How-To-Contest,” asking folks to create guides to group activities with Makey Makey. More details here.

    Expulsions, Explosions, and Graduations

    Kiera Wilmot, the Florida teen who faced criminal charges for causing an explosion in her chemistry class, will be allowed to return to her high school this fall. (She’s since been attending an alternative school, where she hasn’t been able to pursue her foreign language learning or orchestra classes.)

    Conrad Farnsworth, a Wyoming high school student, who built a nuclear reactor in his garage was disqualified from the International Science and Engineering Fair this month on a technicality. The problem was not building a nuclear reactor in a garage, but rather Farnsworth had apparently competed in too many science fairs.

    100 students and 8 adult chaperones from a Brooklyn high school were kicked off a flight this week after the students reportedly failed to listen to warnings to sit down and turn off their cell phones.

    Patrick Brown, a senior at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, was suspended last week after he posted on Twitter about his district’s school budget using the hashtag #shitCNSshouldcut. ”I was called down to the office and told I was being suspended for harassment of teachers, which no harassment was ever committed,” Brown told ”I proved them wrong and instead they suspended me for cellphone use in class and disrupting the education process because the trend I started created a social media riot.”

    The Cleveland Plains Dealer reports that a fight broke out at a kindergarten graduation, resulting in the arrest of 8 people, charged with “aggravated rioting.”

    A prank at a Chimacum High School in Washington helped fuel the “skool is broken” narrative when someone painted the words “senior power” outside the school this week. KGW reports that “Both instances of the word ‘senior’ were misspelled, however, so that the phrases were ‘senor power’ and ‘seinor.’ The school’s principal said that the prankster was most likely in a hurry, but added that it did not reflect very well on the educational system.”

    But hey! Congratulations to all graduates!

    Image credits: Tilemahos Efthimiadis and The Noun Project

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    Sorry for the light posting here, but I’m immersed in writing my book – Teaching Machines– which is due out late 2013/early 2014 (I hope).

    However, the news of this past week has been fairly distracting from that project: revelations about the US government’s massive spying programs that include the monitoring of all our telephony metadata, as well as our usage of many popular technology sites. Verizon. Google. YouTube. Apple. Microsoft. Skype. Yahoo. Facebook.

    My worries here aren’t simply about the sanctity of the US Constitution (although, god yes, there’s that). Nor are my education-related concerns that schools have been outsourcing many of their IT functions– hardware and software – to these very companies (although, god yes, there’s that too).

    My book examines the history of education technologies and our long-running drive to automate teaching and learning. Pressey’s teaching machines of the 1920s. Skinner’s teaching machines of the 1950s. Radio, television, and YouTube broadcast of lectures and lessons. Intelligent tutoring systems. Khan Academy and its millions of lessons delivered. Adaptive learning tools. MOOCs. Massive student data collection. Artificial intelligence.

    It’s the latter few that were the inspiration of my book, when I sat in one of Google’s self-driving cars with its creator and now MOOC startup founder Sebastian Thrun. And these also have me thinking about the relationship between Boundless Informant, the government surveillance program, and the boundless informants/information we’re collecting and developing and analyzing in education.

    No doubt, it’s the data collection proposed by the Gates Foundation-funded inBloom that seems to be getting the most scrutiny lately – the non-profit’s plans to create a data storage and analysis infrastructure to, in its words, offer a “more complete picture of student learning and [make] it easier to find learning materials that match each student’s learning needs.” Many people are concerned about the organization’s plans to collect and centralize an unprecedented amount of data about public school children. Baptismal records. Disruptive behavior and disciplinary consequences. Immigration status. Parents’ marital status. Homelessness. Foster care. Learning objectives. Life insurance policy. Pregnancy. Attendance. Grades. Graduation Plans. Test scores. And so on.

    When it comes to big (education) data collection, inBloom remains mostly a scheme, still in beta and not yet fully implemented even in the states participating in its pilot. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other organizations – schools, districts, universities, non-profits, and for-profits – that are amassing huge amounts of student data. Through learning management systems. Student information systems. Digital textbooks. Apps. Websites. Email.

    The promise often echoes inBloom’s “vision statement”: more data ostensibly means better products and services, more “personalized,” more “individualized” tools to meet learners’ needs. That “personalization” involves the collection of data – mouse clicks, keyboard strokes, viewing patterns, quiz answers, likes, purchases, course enrollments, reading habits – and the development of algorithms, models, graphs and profiles to deliver “appropriate” content, assessment, recommendations, tutoring, and so on.

    But who decides what is “appropriate”? Who has oversight over these algorithms? What is the profile of a “good student”?

    This last question seems particularly relevant in light of the NSA surveillance: who is a “good citizen”? Can the government build a profile of one? Can it identify the patterns “good citizens” make and, with enough data amassed, identify threats or deviance?

    I’m not sure that the technologies of surveillance and intelligence analysis really can perform with the precision and omniscience that big data boosters suggest. That doesn’t make the surveillance any less frightening, I should add – in fact, it might make it even more so, as we’re all (wonderfully) aberrant, and as there's no such thing as having "nothing to hide." And I should add too: I’m skeptical of the boasts I hear about the potentials data, education analytics, and adaptive learning software. I think our desire to predict and control human behavior and human knowledge exceeds our ability to do so.

    What will be the results of these data collection and surveillance initiatives, even if the all-knowing-ness remain mostly fiction? As Timothy Burke writes about surveillance culture in “The Slow Poison of the Covert Imagination,”

    The belief that there should be a special advantage, a backdoor, corrodes the ability of both nations and individuals to face the unfolding history of their future with a realistic understanding of their own limits and frailties. There is a fatalism that comes with a belief that we are in everything we might do already known by powers greater than ourselves, known better by invisible and abstract institutions than we know ourselves. But that is the flip side of a grandiose, delusional trust in what that surveillance state will do, a belief that someday we will sit down to the greatest banquet ever of peaceful, democratic omelettes made from a legion of broken eggs. So we neither do the hard work of self-fashioning (what would be the point?) or expect political and social institutions to do their own kind of hard work in fashioning real progress step by painful step, and especially we stop expecting the latter to flow from the former.

    Burke writes here about surveillance and political personhood, but I have to wonder more generally about surveillance and selfhood, particularly as it relates to schooling, particularly as it relates to the growing pervasiveness of education technologies. No doubt, the surveillance culture of schools is a different one than the surveillance culture of the nation-state. The data collection undertaken by education technologies is different from the PRISM program. But I do wonder what the happens to personhood here – political personhood, intellectual development, subjectivity, autonomy, and agency – when our institutions pronounce their algorithmic intentions to monitor and track and profile us all.

    Image credits: The Noun Project: Eye and Computer

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    29:365 - Bovine Pinks

    MOOCs, MOOCs, MOOCs, and MOO-Clickers*

    Former Zynga COO Vish Makhijami will take over that role at Udacity. Some weeks, the jokes just write themselves. This is one of those weeks...

    Speaking of which, congratulations to DecydEd, which wins for the worst name for a MOOC startup… heck any education startup… that I’ve ever seen. According to Bloomberg Business Week, the MOOC platform will bring “market research to the masses.” Let’s hope that branding isn’t part of the coursework, eh?

    Coursera has launched a store to sell its swag. Profits go to the Coursera Financial Aid program, which will help pay for low-income students to pursue its Signature Track.

    The City of Chicago is teaming up with edX to offer a “MOOC-style course” to high school students as part of the city’s Summer of Learning. “A Taste of Python Programming,” based on the MITx class 6.00x Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, will run from July 25 to August 2.

    Unveiled this week: the MOOC Research Initiative. The initiative is funded by the Gates Foundation and administered through Athabasca University. Grants will range from $10,000 – $25,000 each, with presentations of findings later this year at a conference at UT Arlington. (And Stephen Downes responds to the requirements for a CC-BY license on the research.)

    iversity and Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft announced the ten winners of its MOOC Production Fellowship contest – university professors who will host MOOCs via the iversity platform. (The submission from George Veletsianos and myself was not chosen, alas).

    World Wide Ed announced its plans this week to be an “online, open education platform dedicated to increasing access to learning for Canadians and other global citizens.”

    NovoEd, one of the several MOOC startups spun out of Stanford, unveiled what it calls the “first team-based MOOC in Spanish”: “Evaluación de Decisiones Estratégicas” taught by Catholic University of Chile professor Patricio del Sol.

    The National Writing Project is running a “Making Learning Connected” MOOC, beginning June 15. More details are here.

    The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) says that MOOCs threaten faculty IP, according to a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Edukwest’s Kirsten Winkler reports that two MOOCs offered via the Brazilian MOOC platform Verduca– Basic Physics and Probability & Statistics – will be available for credit through a partnership with the University of São Paulo.

    * with apologies to Ian Bogost

    Law and Politics

    Judge William H. Pauley III ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated US and New York minimum wage laws by not paying interns for work done on the set of the movie Black Swan. “I hope this sends a shockwave through employers who think, ‘If I call someone an intern, I don’t have to pay them,’ Eric Glatt, one of the plaintiffs, told ProPublica.” (And a plug here for the ProPublica Kickstarter investigating internships.)

    Maine picked HP as its vendor of choice for the state’s 1:1 computer program. But it doesn’t appear as though the schools agree, as the vast majority are going with Apple instead. According to figures released by the state’s DOE, “39,457 students and teachers will get Apple’s iPad tablet with an annual cost of $266 per unit, including networking, and 24,128 will get Apple’s MacBook Air with a cost of $319. Only 5,474 will use the HP ProBook 4440 laptop, equipped with Windows 7, which was the least-costly option for a laptop at $286.”

    Texas Governor Rick Perry signed HB 5 this week, which lowers the number of required end-of-course exams for high school graduation from 15 to 5.

    Launches and Upgrades

    One of my favorite startups, Desmos, keeps getting better as its free online graphing calculator has added polar axes to its graphing “paper.” All the better for drawing… and, um, other mathematical applications, I’m sure.

    Anya Kamenetz’s Edupunks’ Guide has been “mapped” to an Edupunks’ Atlas. (I think it looks more like a Periodic Table of Lifelong Learning resources than an atlas, but maybe that’s just me.)

    Boston-based education accelerator program LearnLaunchX, has announced the members of its first class of participants. More details on the program and on the startups via GigaOm.

    Apple held its annual developer conference this week, where unicorns and rainbows and magic abounded. A roundup of all the announcements – including OMG WHEEEE! iTextbooks for the Mac – via The Verge.

    President Bill Clintonannounced a project – 2 Million Better Futures– to expand the adoption of Mozilla’s Open Badges as part of his Clinton Global Initiative America meeting.

    Funding and IPOs

    Long-time entrepreneur, investor, and tech journalist Jason Calacanis is raising a $10 million VC fund, according to an SEC filing, that will focus "“exclusively on folks who come out of LAUNCH Festival, LAUNCH Hackathon, LAUNCH Education & Kids and LAUNCH Mobile (our four events).” (Calacanis’ second annual LAUNCH Edu event is June 26 and 27.)

    Internmatch has raised $4 million Series A funding, according to Techcrunch. The company helps place college students in (duh) internships. (Here is one of the stories I’ve written about the startup).

    Idaho-based Silverback Learning has raised $2.5 million, reports Venture Beat, so that “no child gets left behind.” So I guess our work here is done...

    PrazAs, which makes the “iPad-based e-learning platform” Tabtor has raised $1 million in seed funding from SoundBoard Angel Fund, as well as Bangalore-based Aarin Capital Partners, Sand Hill Angels, and BITS Spark Angels.

    The Canadian ed-tech startup Crowdmark, which is building an assessment tool, has raised $600,000 in seed funding through the University of Toronto Early-Stage Technology (UTEST) program, MaRS Innovation and U of T’s Connaught Fund.

    Reuters reports that the textbook rental company Chegg has selected banks that could help it move towards an IPO. The company, which launched in 2007, has raised over $200 million in funding. Because there's just one thing more exciting to Wall Street than MOOCs and that's textbooks. I guess.

    From the Human Resources Department

    Canadian (rockstar, educator) astronaut Chris Hadfieldannounced his retirement this week.

    Bryan Alexander, one of the most thoughtful folks in higher education I know, is launching his own education-technology consulting company: Bryan Alexander Consulting.

    The School District of Philadelphia has laid off 3783 employees, about 20% of its staff. Their faces.

    From the Accounts Receivable Department

    “Concerned parents, who wonder why it should be assumed that their children would serve as uncompensated research subjects in a commercial R & D product development process, have drawn up a bill, payable to the people of New York State, for the creator of the stand-alone field tests, Pearson LLC.” The outstanding invoice: $37,991,452.

    From the “Let’s Form a Committee” Department

    The Aspen Institute announced the “Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet,” which includes a very interesting cast of characters – a cast that makes Jeb Bush’s 2016 Presidential run, based on a platform of education reform and support for the Latino community pretty clear. Bush, along with actress Rosario Dawson, are the honorary co-chairs.

    Research and Data

    Carnegie Mellon’s Drew Davidson, ASU’s Jim Gee, the Macarthur Foundation, and the Gates Foundation have launched Working Examples, a place where those working in ed-tech “collaborate to solve problems, share their progress (and missteps) and make exciting things happen.” The organization is hosting a WEx Kickoff Challenge to support projects in the field.

    Roland Fryer’s latest experiment in extrinsic motivation seems to have had little results in attendance or academic performance, according to a story in The Guardian. “A groundbreaking experiment that bombarded US high school students with inspiring text messages was found to be a success on all counts except one: it made no difference to how the students performed in school.”

    According to research from the University of Canterbury’s Christoph Bartneck and Mohamad Obaid and from Karolina Zawiesk, who works at the Industrial Research Institute for Automation in Poland, Lego figurines are looking angrier, probably because so many more figures are taken from Hollywood movies.

    Timed to coincide with the major video game industry event this week E3, the Entertainment Software Association has released data about the demographics of video game players. Among the findings, “women comprise 31 percent of the video game-playing population, while boys 17 and under represent only 19 percent of game players. Women are 45 percent of the entire game playing population and 46 percent of the time are the most frequent game purchasers.”

    There’s been a surge in the number of Americans graduating from college, says The New York Times. “Last year, 33.5 percent of Americans ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24.7 percent in 1995, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 1975, the share was 21.9 percent. The number of two-year college degrees, master’s degrees and doctorates has also risen recently.”

    The Center for American Progressasks“Are Schools Getting a Big Enough Bang for Their Education Technology Buck?” The results of their research are surprising to absolutely nobody who’s read any of Larry Cuban’s work. For example, “34% of eighth graders who took the math exams in 2011 used computers to “drill on math facts.” Sadly, we’re stuck in some sort of ed-tech Groundhog Day where we keep on replicating a terrible ed-tech story. As Justin Reich notes, we’re seeing ”strikingly similar findings“ between this study and one conducted in the 1998, particularly when it comes to the digital divide. ”Fifteen years apart. Different computers. Maybe different software (though the number of students still dying from dysentery on the Oregon Trail every year continues to surprise me). Same patterns of usage. Persistent inequality. Those trying to argue that technology investments will assuredly lead to dramatic change in classroom practice and student learning in the years ahead have some explaining to do."

    One of the projects that came out of the recent National Day of Civic Hacking and thanks to the work of Justin Grimes, who works with the Institute of Museum and Library Services: a map of every library and museum in the US.

    For a mere $4650, you can purchase the Markets and Markets report on the market for education technology hardware and software, which it says will be worth $59.90 Billion in 2018 which totally justifies shelling out 5 grand for the report, right?

    Conferences and Contests

    Microsoft, which is a “Tier 1” sponsor of ISTE, is giving 10,000 educators at the upcoming conference a free Surface RT. It’s a great marketing ploy, with lots of ed-tech churnalism that parrots the PR. Less great, according to reviews at least, the Surface RT itself.

    Having received submissions from more than 120 countries, Googleannounced its 90 Google Science Fair regional finalists. The final finalists will be announced on June 27.

    The Autodidactic President, Revised

    According to Wikipedia, “While young Lincoln’s formal education consisted approximately of a year’s worth of classes from several itinerant teachers, he was mostly self-educated and was an avid reader and often sought access to any new books in the village.” But it looks like the 16th president might have had a bit more schooling than the legend suggests. Illinois State University math professors Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements have found a cyphering notebook, authenticated as Abraham Lincoln’s and almost error-free, that suggest he went to school for up to two years – and that he was pretty damn good at math.

    Image credits: Nomadic Lass and The Noun Project

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