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- 09/20/13--12:51: _Hack Education Week...
- 09/27/13--11:01: _Hack Education Week...
- 09/27/13--19:43: _The Dangerous Polit...
- 10/02/13--10:19: _Hooray! Students Ar...
- 10/04/13--14:28: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/11/13--13:06: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/15/13--09:13: _A Future With Only ...
- 10/17/13--02:29: _Student Data is the...
- 10/18/13--15:30: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/25/13--14:23: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/01/13--16:02: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/07/13--10:34: _The Education Apoca...
- 11/09/13--13:11: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/13/13--00:00: _Google Play for Edu...
- 11/14/13--20:03: _Why We Shouldn't Ce...
- 11/15/13--14:09: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/18/13--18:19: _Top 10 Ed-Tech Tren...
- 11/20/13--18:56: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 11/22/13--21:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 11/26/13--13:20: _Top Ed-Tech Trends ...
- 09/27/13--19:43: The Dangerous Politics of Ed-Tech (Investment)
- its targeting of at-risk students (ones that it knows are going to fail): “They will sign up anyone – as long as that warm body signs in periodically, K12 can draw enrollment money from the district. It isn’t for some noble reason – it’s because these kids demand the least amount of education.”
- its low spending on teachers ($1054 per pupil for educator salaries at K12 versus $2219 per pupil, the average for US public schools)
- its manipulation of enrollment counts, truancy numbers, and withdrawals and refusal to allow external auditors to examine the data
- its refusal to allow external auditors to examine its student achievement data
- the failure of the majority of K12-run schools to make adequate yearly progress (Only 27.7% of K12 schools reported meeting Adequate Yearly Progress in 2010–2011; 52% of public schools met AYP)
- low on-time graduation rates (just 49.1% graduate on time
- poor academic achievement by enrolled students, whose reading levels and math scores are lower than state averages at every grade level
- high student turnover rates
- high dropout rates (roughly 50% in Pennsylvania and Colorado)
- possible IRS violations in its relationship with non-profit charter schools
- a failure to save states money, as promised
- and its lobbying efforts and contributions to political candidates – some $500,000 to state political candidates from 2004 to 2010
- 10/02/13--10:19: Hooray! Students Are "Hacking" Their iPads
- 10/04/13--14:28: Hack Education Weekly News: The Government Shutdown Edition
- 10/15/13--09:13: A Future With Only 10 Universities (Minding the Future, #OpenVA)
- 10/17/13--02:29: Student Data is the New Oil: MOOCs, Metaphor, and Money
- Remind101, a company that lets teachers and students communicate "safely" via text-message, has raised $3.5 million
- Codecademy, a learn-to-code website, has raised $12.5 million.
- Udacity, one of the MOOC startups, has raised $20 million.
- Edmodo, a social network for schools, has raised $40 million.
- Coursera, another one of the MOOC startups, has raised $65 million.
- 10/18/13--15:30: Hack Education Weekly News: Textbook-Delivery Drones
- 10/25/13--14:23: Hack Education Weekly News: Coursera Turns 2
- 11/01/13--16:02: Hack Education Weekly News: RIP Edna Krabappel
- 11/07/13--10:34: The Education Apocalypse #opened13
- In 15 years, half of US universities may be bankrupt.
- By the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K–12 will be taught online.
- And just last weekend in a feature in The New York Times on “The Disruptors”: he wrote that "a host of struggling colleges and universities — the bottom 25 percent of every tier, we predict — will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years."
- 11/14/13--20:03: Why We Shouldn't Celebrate Udacity's "Pivot"
- 11/20/13--18:56: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: The Politics of Education/Technology
a focus, for example, on unpaid internships, including a crowdfunding campaign by ProPublica to help investigate the practice across college campuses.
the ongoing lawsuit by student athletes against the NCAA, challenging the current system of amateurism and the organization’s licensing of students’ likenesses to video-game makers.
contingent labor in higher education, which The New York Times reported in April now comprises 76% of the academic work force. While some adjuncts were able to unionize this year (at Tufts, for example), others found their hours cut or capped so that colleges could bypass having to cover their healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Undoubtably the story that brought the most attention to contingency in higher ed: “The Death of an Adjunct,” an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who’d been an adjunct instructor at Duquesne University for 25 years who died penniless. (L. V. Anderson recently wrote a longer piece about Votjtko for Slate, complicating the story that went viral – over 400,000 page views and 69,000 Facebook “likes.”)
- 11/22/13--21:35: Hack Education Weekly News: $20 Million More for Coursera
- 11/26/13--13:20: Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: Standards
Make schools more efficient and productive so that students learn more, faster, and better than they had before.
Transform teaching and learning into an engaging and active process connected to real life.
Prepare the current generation of young people for the future workplace.
The Death of an Adjunct
“On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83,” writes Daniel Kovalik. “She had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty.” Shame on Duquesne University. Shame on the whole university system that increasingly relies on adjunct labor. Shame on a country that does not believe in universal health insurance and a living wage for all.
EdX launched a new program, “the XSeries,” that will offer certificates for students who complete a sequence of classes offered on its MOOC platform. The program starts with two series: Foundations of Computer Science and Supply Chain and Logistics Management. These new certificates will require an ID verification program, newly launched from edX too. More details on the courses and the fees in Inside Higher Ed.
The UK MOOC consortium FutureLearn officially opened its doors this week, with 20 upcoming classes on the schedule. There was a bit of furor online about FutureLearn’s Terms of Service, which included an “English-only” provision that, thankfully, has been amended.
All of the courses that make up the first year of Wharton’s MBA program are now available online via Coursera.
Elsewhere… On Campus
The Minerva Project, a for-profit education startup that promises it will offer an “elite” education, revealed its tuition prices this week: $10,000 per year. That figure does not include other expenses like textbooks and room-and-board. That’ll run you about $28,850 per year. Applications for the inaugural class, starting Fall 2014, are due at the end of the year.
Faculty at Penn State objected to a new health plan that requires“nonunion employees, like professors and clerical staff members, to visit their doctors for a checkup, undergo several biometric tests and submit to an extensive online health risk questionnaire that asks, among other questions, whether they have recently had problems with a co-worker, a supervisor or a divorce. If they don’t fill out the form, $100 a month will be deducted from their pay for noncompliance.” The story hit The New York Times; the administration backed down.
The University of Alabama student newspaper investigates sororities and segregation.
The broke-ass University of California system is considering spending between $3.5 million to $6 million to renovate Blake House, the 13K-square-foot mansion once home to UC presidents. Because higher learning.
The faculty union at the University of Oregon has signed its first contract; and among the “wins,” the administration has caved on its its proposals to curb faculty speech. So much happiness in Eugene, particularly as the Ducks football team is 3–0, ranked number 2, and YAY FOOTBALL. THE REAL REASON FOR COLLEGE AMIRITE.
iOS7, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, was released this week. Somewhere out there are the Top 10 Reasons Why This Changes Education Forever. Or something.
Fluencia, a new language-learning site (for Spanish), has just launched. Comparing itself with Rosetta Stone, Fluencia says it costs “$” to the other’s “$$$$$.” How do you say “price transparency failure” is Spanish?
Pearson is partnering with The Community College Preparatory Academy, a charter school for adults that’s just opened in Washington DC. The school will use online classes and services from Pearson.
Pearson has named the participating companies in its newly launched India-based education accelerator program. The cohort of 15 is listed here.
Boston-based education accelator program LearnLaunchX graduated its first cohort of startups. Edsurge covers the Demo Day, where the 7 startups made their pitch to investors.
The Cybersecurity Competition Federation has just been formed, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education, to put (secondary and postsecondary) student cybersecurity hacking competitions under one organization.
The Randolph County (North Carolina) school board has banned Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Manciting a lack of “literary value.”
The US Department of Education has issued guidelines on how to handle the “double-testing” that might arise from the requirements for NCLB testing along with the new CCSS assessments. According to Education Week, this will give states “the chance to suspend their current tests this spring, as long as they administer field tests being designed by the two common-assessment consortia in math and English/language arts.”
The US Senate’s education committee has started the super-fun-awesome-productive-efficient-no-worries-they’ll-fix-it process of updating the Higher Education Act. Stay tuned.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues its coverage of testing in schools, this time with a (paywalled– boo) article on their many errors. “In a year-long national investigation, the newspaper examined thousands of pages of test-related documents from government agencies — including statistical analyses of questions, correspondence with contractors, internal reports and audits. The examination scrutinized more than 100 testing failures and reviewed statistics on each of nearly 93,000 test questions given to students nationwide. The reporting revealed vulnerabilities at every step of the testing process. It exposed significant cracks in a cornerstone of one of the most sweeping pieces of federal legislation to target American schools: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.”
PARCC has put out an RFP for a technology platform to be used to deliver its new Common Core State Standards assessments and build a data management and reporting system for them. Estimated price: $16.5 million and $17.5 million.
Money Money Money
The free school-to-home messaging app Remind101 has raised $3.5 million in a Series A round of investment. (Hey David and Brett: What’s your business model?)
Wikibrains has raised $750,000 in funding. More details on the startup in Edsurge.
The online training company Simplilearn has raised $10 million in a Series B round of investment.
Shmoop has taken its first venture capital investment, an undisclosed amount from Fortune 8. Fortune has a closer look.
Texas A&M raised a record-breaking $740 million in donations last year. ONCE AGAIN YAY FOOTBALL.
From the HR Department
Marc Sternberg, the NYC Department of Education official in charge of school closures, is leaving the agency to work for the ed-reform bonanza at the Walton Family Foundation. Nothing to see here. Move along…
ISTE has namedJodie Pozo-Olano, formerly head of PR for Promethean, as its new Chief Communications Officer.
Jaime Aquino, the instructional chief for the Los Angeles Unified School District, resigned last week, saying that the “school board’s recent efforts to stall key reform initiatives have left him unable to do his job.” More via the Los Angeles Daily News.
Layoffs at Blackboard, reports The Washington Business Journal. The rumored figure of 140 employees let is too high, insists CEO Jay Bhatt. No matter what the final number, this one doesn’t bode well for Blackboard: it now has just 45% of the market share, down 26 points over the past 6 years. Ouch.
“Research” and Data
Northeastern University history prof Ben Schmidt has built a wonderful interactive visualization on “How are college majors changing.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education writes up the results of a recent Public Agenda survey of employers and community college students which finds pretty tepid support for online education. Among the findings, “community-college students disputed the idea that online courses were more convenient and easier than traditional courses. According to the survey, students said not only were the online classes harder but they learned less.”
The Atlantic looks at research based on UNC pharmacy professor Russell Mumper’s use of the flipped classroom. “In one setting, in one class, over 3 years, student performance improved in a statistically significant way in a flipped classroom model. That’s the news.”
“Students Really Do Learn Stuff on Field Trips.” More details on the research, and a call to reverse the trend of cutting the budgets for field trips, also in The Atlantic.
Congratulations to the winners of the Reclaim Open Learning Innovation Contest: DigiLit Leicester, DS106, FemTechNet, Jaaga Study, and Photography BA Hons and Phonar-Ed. (Disclosure: I was a judge.)
Education history and activist Diane Ravitch’s latest book, Reign of Error, was released this week. My review is here.
Libertarian and former Texas Congressman Ron Paul has a new book on education out this week too. The School Revolution tells women to quit their jobs and homeschool their kids. (He offers a curriculum online.) Kevin Carey's review is here.
Students Outsmart iPad Security
Students in Indiana managed to bypass the security on their school-issued iPads within hours of receiving them, reports Education Week.
Student in Los Angeles managed to bypass the security on their school-issued iPads within hours of receiving them, reports the LA Times.
In both cases, students were able to GASP! surf the web, access Facebook, listen to music, and play games. The nerve! LAUSD officials are mulling a number of responses: “One would limit the tablets, when taken home, to curricular materials from the Pearson corporation, which are already installed. All other applications and Internet access would be turned off.” [Insert "schools are broken" / "students kick ass" quip here.]
Education Law and Politics
The Randolph County (North Carolina) school board has reversed its decision to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
Legislation has passed the California state assembly and senate that would allow two year colleges to charge more tuition for “high demand classes.” Pretty goddamn unfair for students, I’d argue, to require certain classes for graduation then label them high demand and then charge more to get a seat. Pretty goddamn unfair for working class students and those on financial aid who can’t afford to pay more. Hey California. Fund public education. That’s how you fix the problem of over-enrollment.
Robert Small, a Baltimore County parent, was arrested at a public meeting on the Common Core after an altercation with an off-duty police officer.
California has passed a law (SB 568) that would require websites and apps aimed at minors to give them the ability to erase their personal data or any information they post. Although it might sound like a win for privacy, there are lots of concerns about how exactly this will be implemented. A critical look at why the bill won’t work via Forbes.
The Department of Education has shuttered the “Doing What Works” website, a site that gathered slides, videos and other presentations based on its What Works Clearinghouse.
The European Commission has launched its “Opening up Education” initiative which will encourage more usage of open educational resources and better technology infrastructure for all schools. More details here.
Information Week’s David Carr looks at the roll-out inBloom’s student data warehouse in New York state (although the focus now seems to be on data dashboards). The project has faced a lot of criticisms, and it’s still not clear if it will survive the controversy, let alone deliver on its promise of better data services.
Guns and Schools
Indiana state lawmakers are weighing whether to expand “Stand-Your-Ground” laws to schools, “changing the law to protect a person who may resort to deadly force to prevent a school massacre.” WTF.
Darnell Hamilton, age 17 with a 4.0 GPA, has been charged as an adult with two felonies – unlawful use of a weapon and possession of a firearm in school – for bringing a gun to his Chicago school on Tuesday. Hamilton's mother said that he felt he needed the gun to protect himself from the gangs he must pass through in order to commute to and from his school. That's Urban Prep, a charter school that boasts all its seniors get into college. Hamilton has already been promised a scholarship to Ohio State; no word from the school if they will take disciplinary action.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has partnered with the startup NovoEd to offer a MOOC for remedial math students. NovoEd does boast more student support with its online offerings, and the Cargenie Foundation claims it has a good track record with its developmental math offerings. So we’ll see…
The hype-man for the MOOC movement this week is The Wall Street Journal– shocking, I know – which argues that “Job Market Embraces Massive Online Courses,” even though there really isn’t any indication of an "embrace," other than two or three companies that are investing in or sponsoring programs.
Phil Hill continues to keep a close eye on accreditation issues, reporting this week that the “ACCJC, the accrediting commission behind the City College of San Francisco crisis, issued an warning to Honolulu Community College.” The school is apparently in trouble for “lack of evaluation of the effectiveness of their online courses versus the comparable face-to-face courses.”
Launches and Upgrades
JSTOR, the academic journal database, launched individual subscriptions this week, for researchers who do not have library access to materials. The pricetag: $19.50 a month or $199 a year.
Apple has launched a new “Kids App Store,” a special section of its App Store with kid-oriented content broken down by age. Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez takes a closer look.
Demonstrating that we still haven’t used up all the .ly domain names that can be associated with education, Admitted.ly launched this week. The college counseling service gathers students data and makes college recommendation, such as“If a student identifies as non-religious, Admitted.ly isn’t going to match them with a Christian university.” Big data is pretty awesome, huh.
Never wanting to be too late to a super-hyped-trend, the University of Virginia is launching an ed-tech incubator. Edsurge is on it, along with coverage as well of the Education Design Studio at the University of Pennsylvania.
Funding and Acquisitions
The web-based gradebook and lesson management tool Learnboost, which recently pivoted after the departure of CEO and founder Rafael Corrales, has been acquired by Automattic, the team behind Wordpress. I shed a tear or two when Learnboost pivoted away from education, but all told, I’m pretty pleased with this outcome, as the folks at Learnboost (now Cloudup) have consistently built amazing tech, and I’m glad to see that continue under the umbrella of a company that also supports open source.
Academia.edu, a “social networking” platform for scholars and researchers, has raised $11 million (bringing the total the company has raised to $17.8 million), reports Techcrunch.
Synergis Education has raised $33 million in Series A investment from University Ventures Fund, Bertelsmann SE, and the University of Texas Investment Management Company. According to the press release, Synergis is “a premium, full-service provider of educational services designed for college and university leaders who are not satisfied with the status quo.” Definitely sounds worth $33 million to me.
Flooved has raised a Series A found of funding (amount undisclosed), according to a Venture Beat story with a picture of the startup’s founders that just screams “we’re serious about disrupting the textbook industry.”
Online for-profit UniversityNow has raised $20.4 million in funding (bringing the total it’s raised to over $37 million), according to Venture Beat, now apparently making “college degrees accessible to anyone with a computer.” Finally, amirite?
From the HR Department
Jamienne S. Studley, former president of Skidmore College, joins the Department of Education as a deputy under secretary of education.
DC Mayor Vincent Gray has appointedJesus Aguirre, currently the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, as the city's superintendent of education. Aguirre ran a now-defunct charter school in Arizona. So yeah.
“Research” and Data
According to sentiment analysis of tweets in NYC, the saddest place in Manhattan is the elite Hunter College High School.
Purdue University published a press release this week, touting that its Signals software has boosted graduation rates by 21%. Signals uses data mining and analytics to give students and instructors, well, “signals” about course performance. More details on the study will be published soon, good news since Mike Caulfield is already looking at the claims with some skepticism.
From The Daily Californian: “According to the General Social Survey, which monitors social change in the United States, the percentage of college-educated Americans who identify as “lower class” increased to 3 percent in 2012, up from 1.7 percent in 2002 and the highest rate since the survey was first taken in 1972.”
The latest “Education Insider” survey which asks Beltway insiders their thoughts on education politics and policy, finds folks feeling rather dour about the Common Core and about Obama’s higher education reform plans. 97% of respondents say they don’t think Congress will approve any of the latter. The rest of the survey results are available here.
“Do You Know Where Your Ph.D.’s Are?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education, noting that pressure is mounting for colleges to track and report where their graduate students land jobs.
The latest SAT scores were released to the typical amount of handwringing about American students’ failure to be “college ready.” The scores are the same as last year, with students scoring an average of 496 on reading, 514 on math, and 488 on writing. The income and racial divides continue to grow. More details via Inside Higher Ed.
Tennessee is one of several states looking for alternatives to the GED since the non-profit that offers the exam has partnered with Pearson and hiked the fees for the test.
Florida governor Rick Scott has called for his state to pull out of PARCC, one of the two testing consortia building the new Common Core assessments. “Federal government has no constitutional authority to unilaterally set academic standards for Florida,” says Scott, who might not score so well on the standard for skillfull close-reading of non-fiction documents.
Other Corporate Curriculum
Wired examines a “near-final draft” of intellectual property curriculum that’ll enter California elementary schools this year. “This thinly disguised corporate propaganda is inaccurate and inappropriate… It suggests, falsely, that ideas are property and that building on others’ ideas always requires permission,” says an EFF attorney consulted for the story. “The overriding message of this curriculum is that students’ time should be consumed not in creating but in worrying about their impact on corporate profits.” Thanks to the Creative Commons' Jane Park, some open curriculum alternatives.
Contests and Awards
Google has named the winners of its annual Science Fair: in the 13–14 age category, Viney Kumar (Australia) whose project looked for ways to notify drivers when emergency vehicles are approaching; in the 15–16 age category, Ann Makosinski (Canada) who’s working on building a battery-free flashlight; and in the 17–18 age category (and Grand Prize Winner), Eric Chen (USA) for his project “Computer-aided Discovery of Novel Influenza Endonuclease Inhibitors to Combat Flu Pandemic.”
The MacArthur Foundation named the recipients of its Genius Grants this week. Among them, Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who studies “grit” and educational achievement.
Teaching and Labor
In 128 to 57 vote, Tufts University’s adjunct faculty have voted to unionize with the Service Employees International Union. More details in The Chronicle.
Nearly 200 colleges and universities have cut adjunct hours in order to avoid having to pay for their employees’ healthcare as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Sports and Labor
New Mexico State University is offering its students incentives to attend football games, including chances to win a VIP parking pass. (Whee!) No plans to offer incentives to attend class. Go team.
Many college football players participated in a protest during games last week, scribbling or taping “APU” – All Players United – on their uniforms or equipment. The protest is part of growing pressure on the NCAA to reform its exploitative practices.
EA Sports has reached a settlement with student-athletes who are suing it, along with the NCAA, over how their likenesses are used – in video games and in broadcasts – and whether or not the students should make money on this. Players will receive $40 million, according to one source.
The NCAA has modified its sanctions against Penn State, put in place following the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal. It’s restoring the scholarships that it took away from the school. Because really, see. The NCAA cares about students.
Real Guy-Guy Literature Classes
David Gilmour, a novelist and an instructor at Victoria College at the University of Toronto, in an interview with Hazlitt:
I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.
Oh, Canada. Thankfully, Holger Schott Syme, a professor at the university, responds.
I’m talking about a 118-slide presentation by Whitney Tilson (PDF). The investor, hedge fund manager, early TFA member, and long-time education reform advocate gave a presentation at an investment conference: “An Analysis of K12 (LRN) and Why It Is My Largest Short Position.”
In his presentation, Tilson argues that the online for-profit, which is trading “up 122% from its 52-week low and is near its all-time high,” is not a good long-term investment, despite the company’s strong earnings per share and growth and despite bullishness on the part of most other analysts. K12 is “absurdly overvalued,” Tilson insists, “and sure to collapse” – hence his recommendation to short the stock.
He makes clear, “I am not bearish on K12 because I am short the stock. Rather, I am short the stock because I am bearish on K12.” Indeed, Tilson’s presentation is a brutally thorough demolishment of the company’s business and its educational practices:
Like I said, a brutally thorough demolishment.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that someone has raised a red flag about K12’s practices. The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Portland Press Herald, The Tennessean, Politico, Mother Jones, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal, and others have covered the company’s taxpayer-funded profits, its political machinations, and its very very very questionable educational value.
But following (and even within) many of these stories, those within the education reform movement have responded by rebutting and ignoring the evidence against K12. K12 has its own spin machine too, challenging the suggestion that it’s failing to teach students and arguing that their poor performance stems from K12’s enrolling those most at-risk. Online education is a good thing, all of these folks insist. Charter schools are a good thing. Choice! Access! Tech!
No doubt too K12 has been an important lobbyist for related policies, particularly at the state level. A member of the ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) Education Task Force, K12 has helped to shape legislation to promote school choice, digital and blended learning opportunities, and (virtual) charter schools. K12 has been a powerful supporter and financial sponsor of an agenda that many in the education reform movement support. And thus, many have turned a blind eye to its faults.
It is easy to dismiss Tilson’s decision to short K12 stock as simply a money-making move. (If his predictions hold true and K12 declines in value, then he stands to profit.) The presentation was given at an investment conference in Las Vegas after all.
But I think that’s too cynical a read here. And perhaps a too naive one would be to see this sudden fury and condemnation from an important figure within education reform as signaling a shift within that movement’s core – a willingness (a necessity, even) to call out and to sever ties with “bad actors.” (A story on K12 by Politico’s Stephanie Simon this week does quote iNACOL head Susan Patrick saying ““Unless we address these quality issues that have emerged quite profoundly,” the poor performance of cyber schools will “put the entire industry of education innovation at risk.” So maybe the message is getting out.)
But Tilson reiterates again in his presentation and follow-up remarks that his assessment here isn’t a condemnation of all charter schools or all online education, whether they be for-profit or not-for-profit. K12, he insists, is not representative of the rest of the education reform movement.
And yet K12 has positioned itself as such – as a leader in ed-tech and as a leader in education reform. And as a leader– self-appointed, maybe, but largely unchallenged by education reformers – K12’s failure to offer a quality education to 100,000 some-odd students enrolled in its schools has exposed a great weakness in that very movement: the hypocrisy of those who are quick to condemn failing public brick-and-mortars but ignore failing online charters.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the politics of education and ed-tech – the allegiances and alliances; the “sides”; the pro and the con of “education reform”; the tech and who owns it, who profits; who gets to define what change and innovation looks like; the hypocrisy.
I’m fascinated by how this seems to play out in the “halls of power,” in government and corporate and institutional efforts. I’m fascinated by how this seems to play out in social media circles – calls to swarm education blogs with critical comments when someone feels slighted. (Violent, misogynist comments are why I turned comments off here. I thought this was a "bro" “tech” thing, but obviously this mob mentality online extends elsewhere.)
I’m fascinated by the promotion in ed(tech) of certain ideas and of certain people – who get seen and what is seen and what is not seen and what is not talked about. I’m fascinated by what people cheer and what people challenge and why. I’m fascinated by who gets ignored.
These are all purposefully vague observations here, I realize, and as such they stand in contrast to Tilson’s pointed and well-documented take-down of K12.
But my vagueness is intentional as so many education stories fit into these descriptions. Interpret as you will. And then ask: Why is this so?
What sort of future are we building? If we see ourselves as part of a movement – many do, I think – who are our allies? Who are our enemies? Why? What’s the origin of these allegiances? Why? Who do we question? Who don’t we question? Why? What do we tolerate among those we deem our allies – what do we know is wrong but we figure we’ll tolerate because it ain’t so bad and it helps further our cause? What are the limits of our political affinity?
On November 30 1999, I was one of the tens of thousands on the streets in Seattle protesting the World Trade Organization. It was a profoundly significant event, not simply because we managed to shut down the trade talks, but because the gathering brought together such a wide swath of political groups, united – albeit temporarily – in opposition to global capitalism and free trade. Farmworkers. Sierra Club members. Earth Firsters. Teamsters. Steelworkers. Pilots. Teachers. The Green Party. The Community Party. Fishermen. Grandparents. The Lesbian Avengers.
The coming together did not last.
It didn’t even last the whole day as those who attended a traditional political rally splintered from those who wanted to engage in direct action. Those who wanted to engage in non-violent civil disobedience splintered from those who smashed the windows and graffiti’ed the walls of banks and businesses.
But we shut the WTO down.
And such are the great risk and the great benefits of affinity politics – the agreement is often temporary and tactical. When and where there is that unity, there might be power. And when and where there is understanding and negotiation, longer-lasting ties might be forged.
These ties are not bound in the things that are scripted, engrained, preordained, inherited, unquestioned, and assumed. And then again these ties might not form at all.
Where do we forge our education technology affinity politics? How do we build a movement from there? Where are we building political (and pedagogical) coalitions about learning and teaching with technology? With whom? Why?
What ed-tech alliances have we forged or have we inherited that, as painful as it might be, we should examine, that we should interrogate, that we should – perhaps – abandon? And why don’t we?
Not all of us can or would want to make a 100-slide presentation about the terrible investments (and mean this metaphorically, not just financially) that we're making in education. Not all of us are willing to pen a caustionary tale to our buddies about what happens if we don't adjust our efforts (again: this might be a metaphor). Many of us might bristle at framing education questions this way, I recognize. But I think TIlson's presentation is important and eye-opening nevertheless.
It's easy to point out the hypocrisy of profiting on students' learning while arguing you're building a movement that cares about students. The harder thing is finding an ethical path forward, with allies that you can really trust.
No one in education has the monopoly on justice and integrity right now. No one.
So even if you aren't an investor, there are lessons to be learned from Whitney Tilson's call to short K12. And a question, perhaps, for all of us, about where in ed-tech we're ready to make the political and social and financial investments to "go long."
Hooray! I have a story in The Atlantic today -- the first piece I've had published there. I'm thrilled.
Although I haven't been doing much freelancing recently (because of the book project), I need to pick it up again. I tweeted last night that I'd like to find a place where I can publish a regular (and paid!) column on ed-tech -- ideally in a venue like The Atlantic that has broad reach and isn't solely an "education" or "technology" site. I'm open suggestions (and job offers).
Image credits: The Noun Project
Education and the Federal Government
As of Tuesday: Shutdown.
90% of the 4,225 Department of Education employees have been deemed “non-essential” and furloughed. (Weirdly, 97% of the EPA is “non-essential.” There’ll be no tweets from the department during the shutdown, tweeted @usedgov – the best worst Twitter handle in politics.
Head Start has already been suffering under sequestration that had closed some 57,000 low-income kids out of preschool. Now 23 programs in 11 states face the loss of grant funding due to the shutdown.
The US’s five military service academies have been hit hard by the shutdown, reports Politico’s Libby Nelson, particularly as many classes are taught by civilians who’ve been furloughed. The Merchant Marine Academy has closed entirely. The academies’ football teams will play this weekend as scheduled. Because this is America, dammit.
The shutdown shuttered National Science Foundation’s website, the Library of Congress (and its website), data.gov and research.gov.
Because of the shutdown, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has suspended its investigations of colleges and universities that have violated Title IX in their handling of sexual violence on campus.
Whee. It’s Connected Educator Month. The Department of Education’s website about the event remains online. For now.
Before closing up shop, on Monday the Department of EducationapprovedTexas’s NCLB waiver, leaving only 5 states who haven’t requested “flexibility.”
And before wrapping up its fiscal year last week, the Department of Education spent $475,000 on office furniture.
Defaults on federal student loans have hit their highest level since 1995.
Education Politics Elsewhere
California governor Jerry Brown signed legislation this week that will end the state’s old, mandated, standardized tests in exchange for new, mandated standardized tests. No comment from the Department of Education, which does not approve of the law and has threatened to withhold federal funds from the state. Oh, the federal shutdown irony.
The Great iPad Wars of 2013
The Los Angeles Unified School District continues to demonstrate how not to handle a technology implementation. News broke last week that students had “hacked” their school-issued iPads (that is, they’d deleted the profiles that school IT had created for them, thus giving them free range access to the forbidden fruits of Facebook and Pandora). The district, which has been criticized for the poor planning in its billion dollar gift to Apple and Pearson, admits that that 71 iPads went missing during a pilot last spring. It still hasn’t worked out who’ll be responsible for lost or damaged devices. So amidst all the hullaballo, the district now says it’s taking all the iPads that it’s issued back.
Oh. Oops. It looks like the iOS7 upgrade caused admin issues with lots of schools and their iDevices.
Ranku, a search engine for online education, co-founded by Kim Taylor, one of the stars of the Bravo TV show Start-Ups: Silicon Valley, has raised $500,000 in investment from Mark Cuban, investor, basketball team owner and currently a defendant in an insider trading court case. So yeah. Ed-tech startup investment. Fun times.
Online learning company 360Learning has raised€1.2 million in funding, says Edsurge. #notaMOOC
Textbook rental company Zookal, founded by the former CFO of Chegg, has raised $600,000, according to Edsurge, bringing the startup’s total investment to over $2.1 million.
“Research” and Data
According to data from Nielsen Book, the number of children who rarely read or do not read at all has increased over the last year. 28% of those under age 17 are occasional or non-readers, up from 20% in 2012.
A study published in the journal Sciencecontends that “after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.” I’m certain this will be used as fuel in all sorts of Common Core debates.
Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that the ACT’s decision to give students four free score reports, up from three, has helped to increase the number of schools students apply to. And it has also increased the number of low-income students who attended selective colleges. More details on the study here.
Another week, another ranking: this one from Times Higher Education which ranks the world’s top 100 universities. Number one: the California Institute of Technology. (OK. But how's their football team?)
The headline of the company press release: “Pearson’s Quotient® ADHD Test Shown to Detect ‘ADHD Fakers.’” There was a study, time to boast about the results, all for the sake of the children, I’m sure.
From the HR Department
Sidney Ribeau has announced that he will resign as president of Howard University.
SFGate reports that one of the finalists for the job of chancellor of the San Francisco City College has withdrawn her name. Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone wanting that job as the school is facing losing its accreditation; but hey, jolly good luck to the 3 remaining candidates for the position, eh?
Here’s a list of the top 8 salaries for the UT Austin. Go team.
Brick and Mortar News
Officials at Indiana University are considering whether to rename Ernie Pyle Hall when they merge the IU School of Journalism with other communications and media departments. In the words of Ziggy Marley, “if you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future of journalism.”
An explosion on the campus of UC Berkeley prompted the evacuation of campus. Officials linked the explosion and a power outage to the theft of copper wiring in the school’s electrical system.
The French Ministry of Higher Educationsays it’s adopting edX’s open source platform to build a “national portal for MOOCs.” It’s 2013 and we’re building portals for courseware and not for space travel. Technology, you disappoint me.
But I guess a couple of universities in France didn’t get the “open source portal” memo. École Normale Supérieure and HEC Paris are joiningCoursera.
The Brazilian online education company Veduca has launched what it calls the “world’s first open online MBA.” The online video classes are free, but those wanting a certificate will have to pay a fee and take their exams in-person.
A survey of administrators and professors who’ve taught MOOCs are optimistic about MOOCs. Shocking.
The MOOC Research Initiative has announced the winners of its research grants. Winners will present at “the greatest MOOC conference in the history of MOOCs.” Be there (there being the University of Texas Arlington December 5–6).
Elsewhere in Online Learning
The University of Florida will begin offering a slate of new, fully online degree programs in January, on the heels of legislation passed earlier this year mandating it do so. Because nothing says high quality education like developing and implementing Bachelors in just a few short months. I predict the university outsources much of this to Pearson.
And Now for Something Completely Different: Open Education
An update from open education guru David Wiley’s new startup Lumen Learning, which boasts that its OER textbook initiatives across 20 campuses have saved students some $700,000 so far this semester.
That Other “Superstar” Television Teacher
Sunday night was the finale of Breaking Bad, a crime drama about Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer who turns to producing and selling meth in order to financially support his family. See, America? This is what happens when you don’t have socialized medicine and don’t pay teachers enough…
US Government Shutdown, Week 2
Priorities. The football games are still a go at military service academies this weekend, and even if the government doesn’t reopen, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has decreed they’ll continue through the end of the month.
But while sports can continue, the military has stopped financial aid payments for active-duty service members. Several universities, including Southern New Hampshire University, say they’ll cover the tab.
Due to the shutdown, the Department of Education has cancelled the latest round of negotiations on the “gainful employment” rules (that is, tighter standards for some schools who receive federal financial aid).
Head Start has been particularly hard hit from sequestration and now from the shutdown, but former Enron exec John Arnold has contributed $10 million to the program to help keep the lights on.
Education Politics Beyond the Beltway
California governor Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill that would create a two-tier system in the state’s community college system. “High demand” classes – in other words, the ones you need to graduate – will cost more. What a terrible, shameful idea.
Michigan state representative Tim Kelly has introduced a bill that would “prohibit the use of facial recognition technology, biometric scans or eye tracking during testing.”
School bus drivers in Bostonwalked off the job on Tuesday, with no notice to the city or to schools or, ya know, to parents.
KISS bassist Gene Simmons tweeted his support for the Common Core. Twitch.
The California attorney general has filed a lawsuit against Corinthian Colleges, “alleging that the for-profit chain targeted low-income students with false and predatory advertising.”
Follow the Money
Amazon has acquired math software startup TenMarks. The terms of the deal weren’t announced, but the press release hints that “Together, Amazon and TenMarks intend to develop rich educational content and applications, across multiple platforms.” So look for Common Core-aligned flashcards on your Kindle. Coming soon.
Newsela, a startup that rewrites news articles for different reading levels, has raised a $1.2 million round of seed funding. Investors include NewSchools Venture Fund, Kapor Capital, Kaplan Ventures and Silicon Badia. More on the startup, which certainly is marketing itself to meet the new Common Core standards that push for students to read more “informational texts,” via Edsurge.
For-profit virtual school provider Calvert Education has merged with VSCHOOLZ. Terms were not disclosed.
The private lending company SoFisays that it has “reached the $500 million milestone in debt and equity to transform the student lending space.” You know what would really transform the student lending space? Letting us file for bankruptcy to discharge our student loans.
Edsurge reports that crowdsourced education site Socratic.org has raised $1.5 million in funding from Spark Capital, Betaworks, Andreessen Horowitz, and others.
Also via Edsurge, digital reading software-maker Gobstopper has raised $1.8 million from Reed Hastings, New Schools Venture Fund, Ed-Mentor LLC, Kapor Capital, Sand Hill Angels, and Garnett Ventures.
Facing a Justice Department investigation into its accreditation deal with Ivy Bridge, Altius Education has sold its name and the majority of its assets to Datamark, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Bloomberg covers the business of Pearson, whose “shares have lagged behind peers since hitting a 12-year high in July as a restructuring at the publisher of everything from textbooks to Tom Clancy’s thrillers failed to convince investors of its digital strategy.” According to the story, “Pearson has been hindered by schools’ reluctance to move online.” Keep up the good work, team!
The Houston-area Fort Bend School district has scrapped its $16 million iPad initiative.
The Corvallis School District in Oregon will delay its iPad rollout, as it addresses concerns about students being able to bypass security software.
LAUSD is still dealing with the fallout from its iPad fiasco. The school board says they're going to review the project. (Um, didn't they do this before deciding to spend $1 billion on it?!)
Schools in Guilford County, North Carolina are putting their (Amplify) tablet initiative on pause after hardware and safety issues, including overheating chargers and easily broken screens. “Teachers will continue delivering instruction in other formats,” reports a local paper. PHEW!
Mobile game startup MindSnacks has released a new app this week: this one for learning US geography. (iTunes link)
Education AI theorist Roger Schank is making his Goals Based Scenario tool available for free to those interested in building online classes.
Language learning and translation startup Duolingo has launched a “language incubator” that will allow users to add their own lessons and languages. Because no one else is really addressing the demand to “learn Elvish online,” I guess.
I quipped earlier this week that, borrowing from the wisdom of Spock, “only Coursera can go to China.” (The company has partnered with a Chinese Internet company that would allow its customers access to Coursera courses.) But I was wrong to do so. Looks like edX is going to China too. Or at least, its open source platform will be adopted by a consortium of Chinese universities.
Stanford offers a look at the stats on student retention and completion in its “Statistics in Medicine” MOOC.
Class Central, which one of the first sites to catalog the Stanford MOOC efforts – classes, reviews, homework questions, and so on – celebrates its second anniversary with its stats on the MOOC craze.
Google has added“richer data processing tools” to its MOOC software Course Builder.
Not to be left out of the LMSes rebranding themselves as MOOC providers, Desire2Learn now“offers MOOCs within its integrated learning platform, redefining the MOOC model.” Redefining MOOCs indeed.
Other Online Courseware
Harvard Business School is planning to offer online courses, according to Bloomberg. Although it’s calling the iniative HBX, HBS hasn’t yet decided if it’ll use the edX platform or if it’ll even market the classes as MOOCs. Eyeroll.
Faculty at Rutgers have voted to block the university’s plans to partner with Pearson to provide online degree programs. More details via Inside Higher Ed.
Elsewhere on Campus
Eight major universities in Greece have closed their doors due to “devastating cuts.” Closed: the University of Athens, National Technical University of Athens, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the universities of Patras, Crete, Ioannina and Thessaly, and the Athens University of Economics and Business. Coursera offers no courses in Greek, but that’s a business opportunity right there, eh.
JPMorgan Chase plans to give $17 million to start a doctoral program in “finance service analytics” at the University of Delaware, reports Inside Higher Ed. No word if the bank will provide funding for the school to offer a graduate certificate in “mortgage securities fraud.”
Princeton is forming a committee to review the school’s policy on grade “deflation” (that is, its recommended cap on the number of As that can be awarded in classes). More details via The Atlantic, which doesn’t really make it super clear why anyone other than those at Princeton care what grade you get on your report card.
From the HR Department
As part of its ongoing investigation into internships, ProPublica highlights this Craigslist ad: a second-year law student seeking an “intern” to help her finish her homework. No pay. But think of the experience!
And speaking of terrible internships, Quartz writes about Foxconn’s internship program with students at China’s Xi’an Institute of Technology. The students work on the assembly line for Sony’s new PS4. But hey, unlike that law student above, Foxconn does pay its interns. Yay?
“Research” and Data
Usually it’s the international rankings based on PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) that are bandied about as an indication of how well or poorly countries’ school systems are doing. But now OECD has issued a report (PDF) on PIACC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies). Americans didn’t perform so well, ranking near the bottom of participating countries when it comes to math. Public education’s broken. Adulthood is broken. Job training is broken. Government is broken. We're doomed! (Am I doing the leftist despair right, Petrilli?)
The College Board has issued Part 2 of its "Education Pays" report, which makes the case about the advantages of a college education (That is: you make more money. And, yup incidentally, so does the College Board.)
The Kapor Center for Social Impact has released a report (PDF) and a database on CS education programs.
Ah, the anxiety-inducing question “Will I get a job after graduate school?” Andrew Carson has crunched the numbers (for philosophy degrees) here.
Contests, Awards, and Prizes
Toontastic and MinecraftEdu are teaming up for a contest called Toon Academy: Minecraft, which asks kids to make “how to” toons for teaching each other Minecraft tips. More details here.
In honor of National Family Literacy Day (November 1), McDonalds will be putting books into Happy Meals instead of toys – “original books featuring McDonald’s Happy Meal characters.” Sorta wishing they were original books featuring minimum wage workers. That might make for better literacy lessons.
No, Malala Yousafzai, the young girl shot by the Taliban for speaking out for education rights, did not win the Nobel Peace Prize today. But she did make an appearance on The Daily Show to promote her new book. Do watch her interview with Jon Stewart. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.
Here are the notes from the brief 10-minute talk I gave yesterday at the University of Mary Washington at a "conference before the conference" (Namely: OpenVA). I was part of an afternoon-long event called "Minding the Future," that brought together a number of educators and technologists. (Namely: Kin Lane, Gardner Campbell, David Wiley, Alan Levine, and myself). We each spoke for 10 minutes about our thoughts on the future of higher education, then took 20 minutes of questions. And at the end of the evening, we sat on a panel, taking questions from Jeff McClurken and the audience. Video and slides are also embedded below.
A Future With Only 10 Universities
Here's one vision for the future -- not mine, I want to make clear from the start. I'm quoting from AI researcher, Stanford professor, online education startup founder, and Googler Sebastian Thrun in a Wired Magazine interview: Thrun "imagines that in 10 years, job applicants will tout their Udacity degrees. In 50 years, he says, there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them."
How would we, how could we end up at that future? A fun mental exercise: try to imagine what these 10 institutions would be, shall we? Here's my pick:
7. The University of Pearson (acquires Coursera, 2016)
8. The University of Google (acquires Udacity, 2014)
9. The University of Walmart (acquires University of Phoenix, 2017)
So how do we get from the estimated 17000 higher education institutions around the world to 10? To these 10? (Related question: How do we get to a world where classwork at Udacity is 1) degreed, 2) accepted, and 3) touted?)
We would have to end college sports as those 10 universities could hardly sustain Bowl Games or March Madness. And perhaps, with a lawsuit by student athletes against the NCAA pending, we will see college sports as we know them end. Or perhaps rather than ending college sports, many institutions will just rebrand and relaunch as sports teams. My alma mater the University of Oregon could become the Phil Knight Ducks.
We would have to axe taxpayer support for US public universities. My "Last 10 Universities Standing" list contains just 1 public institution -- Cambridge -- but since it's in England, American politicians can just go ahead and defund schools here.
We'd have to clarify the two outcomes we expect from universities: prestige (for the 1%) and worker training (for the rest of us).
If the purpose of higher ed is job training, we'll need to push people into majors that employers want. None of you philosophy major upstarts or you hypercritical English majors or good riddance, history majors. It's all marketing, business administration, programming, and drone repair from here on out.
Coursework will be dictated by employers -- the place where the Universities of Walmart and Google will excel. This will be how, as Thrun puts it "job applicants from Udacity tout their degrees" -- not because of the prestige market, but because of job training prep.
Some things won't change -- if you're one of the few who attend the brick-and-mortar version of Harvard or Stanford or MIT, then the purpose of higher education is connecting you to a network of venture capitalists and future Treasury Secretaries.
To get to only 10 universities left in the world, we'd have to dismantle the current arrangement of research universities, shifting who'll absorb the burden of Johns Hopkins University's cryptography and health care work, for starters, and who'll handle the economics research that the University of Chicago churns out, who's in charge of UC Berkeley's Lawrence Livermore Lab. But much of the research could be outsourced to corporations or undertaken by private individuals and think tanks.
(Incidentally, if your research is in the humanities, there's always Kickstarter).
We'd have to rethink graduate programs -- cultivating a few superstar professors for MOOCs -- but Harvard, MIT, and Stanford will surely able to provide us with enough. We'd have to rethink "expertise" -- but with the rise of big data, who needs expertise. We'll just need algorithms to give us answers.
We'd have to agree that higher education is, as the Thrun quotation suggestions, all about content delivery. Thanks to the Internet, that content will be able to be delivered worldwide, and even with only 10 universities, we won't need to worry about the growing global demand for education. Anyone with the right browser will be able to take courses from the University of Google -- you can download Chrome for free, you know.
People will be able to learn anything they want to on the Internet -- you hear that already. They'll be able to have educational content delivered to them -- with some exceptions, of course: walled gardens; licensing; copyright. Ah, copyright. The University of Pearson (and its subsidiary Coursera) will have total control over its faculty intellectual property. The University of Google and the University of Walmart have total control over their students' data -- but hey, they'll be able to make some awesome recommendations about which restaurants or barbecue grills or health insurance plans students might want to try or buy based on their clicks.
To get to 10 universities, higher education as we know it today will have to be "unbundled." Someone other than universities will have to provide the services that extend beyond "content delivery." Private companies will run football. Private companies will run tutoring. Private companies will run research. Private companies will run assessment. Private companies will run student housing, student daycare, student mental health services. Private companies will help guide students through their career paths. Thanks to big data, the University of Walmart and the University of Google will be particularly adept at this.
"In 50 years, Sebastian Thrun says, there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education…"
I think he's utterly wrong.
None of this is inevitable -- not MOOCs, not funding cuts, not the death of the giant brick-and-mortar research university or the death of the small liberal arts college, no matter how gleefully the libertarians in Silicon Valley rub their hands as they craft their hyperbolic narratives about the end of the university and the promise of education technology -- all their stories about innovation and doom and profit.
Thinking back to all the things I've (wrongly) forecast, what could stand in the way of this dystopian future for education?
Resistance. Community. Open networks. Open content. Sharing. A place -- on- or offline -- that isn't dictated by market forces. Local expertise. Local support. Leveraging technology to connect local learners and local expertise to the rest of the world. Care about students. Human connections. Wonder. Intellectual serendipity. But mostly resistance. A stronger and louder vision of what a more just and progressive and accessible future of higher education and technology should look like. It's actually pretty easy to forecast the nightmare scenario of a higher education apocalypse. It's easy to see signs of it in the headlines. The greater challenge, I'd argue, is to have a bolder and louder vision of higher ed's future.
(My talk starts at around the 1:33:00 mark.)
Below are the notes and slides from my talk yesterday at Columbia University. The talk was part of the university's Conversations About Online Learning series, and my trip was sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning. A big thanks in particular to Alex Gil for facilitating my invitation to speak there.
I am incredibly honored to be here to speak to you today. Columbia University has a very special place in my heart. I never attended, but my Uncle Jim did. He graduated in 1960 and still lives in the same little rent-controlled apartment just a few blocks from here. He became an entertainment journalist after he graduated, writing for LIFE and for People magazine.
I grew up in Wyoming, and my Uncle Jim would only return once a year -- for like 48 hours -- for Christmas. He would return with the best stories and, often, with the best movie swag.
To me, he represented escape. Escape from Wyoming. Escape to New York. He represented all things Big Apple -- he knew movie stars, he was a Democrat. None of those can be found much in Wyoming -- except maybe in Jackson Hole.
And he was a writer; I wanted to be like my Uncle Jim. I wanted to reject the conservative constraints of "home." I wanted to be a writer, and I was both thrilled and panic-stricken when an aptitude test I took in junior high came back with only one job recommendation for me: freelance writer.
Finally, after years of dropping in and out of school, out of college, and out of a PhD program and disappointing my Uncle Jim plenty along the way, that's what I do: I write.
I was always intrigued by my uncle's profession and his politics, which I somehow credited in part to this university. I was particularly fascinated, although the Vietnam War most affected my dad's generation and although my Uncle Jim attended Columbia almost a decade earlier, by the anti-Vietnam War efforts of students here, by the takeover of parts of the campus.
Much of my work as an academic -- I'm a recovering academic now, for what that's worth -- dealt with student protest. But before I started my scholarship on student activism, I'll confess to you this: as a teenager, I had a weird sort of crush on Columbia student and SDS leader Mark Rudd.
In 2003, shortly after the documentary about the Weather Underground was released, I had the chance to hear Mark Rudd speak. He's a math instructor now at a community college in New Mexico. But he came to the University of Oregon where I was a graduate student -- working on a dissertation on the European avant-garde and student protest theatre, believe it or not. And Eugene, Oregon at the time, much like Columbia University in the late 1960s, was a "hotbed" of radicalism.
After the screening of the Weather Underground film, someone asked Rudd what he thought about the government's surveillance capabilities today. ("Today" being a decade ago now, I should make really clear.) Rudd and the other members of the Weathermen were surveilled as part of the FBI's COINTELPRO project -- a series of covert and often illegal efforts to investigate and discredit the left in the 1960s.
And although not explicitly stated, the question from the audience was certainly related to the FBI's investigation and infiltration of radical environmental groups in the Eugene area in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But Rudd scoffed at the question. Even with the enhanced capabilities of machines, he insisted, human investigators just aren't that good at sifting through the data. And it was likely, he argued, that computer-based surveillance would continue to be more about the politics of "police work."
Fast forward from that Q&A session to the summer of 2013, dominated by the news leaked by Edward Snowden of the NSA surveillance program, of massive data harvesting and data warehousing by the federal government. Cell phone records. Email. Social networks. Metadata.
This is, I realize, a very long-winded and circuitous introduction to what I want to talk about here today: data-mining and education.
But I want to set the stage with these interrelated stories. I want you to keep in mind, as I talk specifically about learning analytics, big data, and education algorithms, more generally our histories of overreaching government surveillance, our histories of student radicalism, our personal histories of likes and dislikes and dreams, and our histories -- personal and institutional -- of standardized testing and aptitude testing. How do these shape who students become? Will data analytics change this?
Of course, the emerging fields of education data mining and learning analytics rarely if ever frame themselves in terms of surveillance and policing. Not explicitly at least.
The promise of learning analytics, so we're told by education researchers and -- with much more certainty and marketing finesse -- by education companies, is that all this data that students create, that software can track, and that engineers and educators and administrators can analyze will bring about a more "personalized," a more responsive, a more efficient school system. Better outcomes (which we can translate cynically as: higher test scores, higher class and college completion rates).
The claims about big data and education are incredibly bold, and as of yet, mostly unproven.
Take Knewton, for example, one of the corporate leaders in the sector. Once in the highly lucrative business of test prep, Knewton has rebranded to offer "adaptive learning" -- partnering with publishers to create content delivery and assessment software that moves students through educational materials "at their own pace."
That's the PR spin, at least: with big data, Knewton engineers can now precisely identify a student's strengths and weaknesses and "learning styles" (ignoring, I should add here, the evidence that learning styles do not exist) and guide students through the next-best content nugget so as to learn with maximum efficiency. As a recent story about the company put it, "If you learn concept No. 513 best in the morning between 8:20 and 9:35 with 80 percent text and 20 percent rich media and no more than 32 minutes at a time, well, then the odds are you’re going to learn every one of 12 highly correlated concepts best that same way.”
Knewton boasts that over a million data points are created by students on its platform every day, all of which feed its algorithms and its recommendation engine, all in turn in the service of delivering lessons that it claims are perfectly and personally adapted to each and every student.
A million data points a day. A slightly different stat that executives from the company also bandy about: "a million data points for each student who’s taking a Knewton platform course for a semester." Regardless. That is a lot of data about students.
It's still just a tiny drop in the quintillions of bytes of data are created every day. And the million data points a day generated on the Knewton platform are just a tiny drop of the data that students are creating -- in "formal" and "informal" settings, via "sanctioned" and "required" and DIY ed-tech tools, intentionally and unintentionally.
So what data are students creating? What data are schools and software companies gathering?
Traditionally, we've thought about "student data" in terms of what’s on the transcript — that is, demographics, major, and final course grades. Student data includes test scores. Individual assignments. Attendance. Add to that perhaps, behavior and disciplinary records. "This will go down on your permanent record!" as many of us have been informed.
But schools and their administrative and instructional technologies track so much more these days: library check-outs. Gym visits. Inter-mural sports participation. Cafeteria and bookstore purchases. Minutes from student meetings. Times in and out of the dormitory.
Much of this data exists in software silos that are disconnected. But more and more, companies are starting to push for the aggregation of student data into analytics tools that can be sold in turn back to the school. Learning management system log-ins and duration of their LMS sessions. Blog and forum comment history. Internet usage while on campus. Emails sent and received on via university email accounts. The pages students read in digital textbooks. The passages they highlight.
There's more too, that gray area of students' computer usage, via software that isn't necessarily administered by the school: students’ search engine history. Their social media profiles. Time spent on Facebook while in class. Videos watched on Coursera or Khan Academy or Udacity, along with if and where they paused the videos. Exercises completed on any of these platforms. Their Wikipedia visits. Their downloads. Their uploads. Their levels on Grand Theft Auto V.
All their keystrokes and mouse clicks, logged.
Those last items are, along with biometric data, how Coursera says it plans to confirm students’ identities for its "signature track" MOOCs, that is those courses from which students can pay for an official certificate. These are also the data that Coursera says will give it incredible insights into course design.
"By collecting every click, homework submission, quiz and forum note from tens of thousands of students," TED describes Coursera founder Daphne Koller's talk, MOOCs have become "a data mine that offers a new way to study learning."
Actually Coursera has some 4.3 million users, not simply "tens of thousands." So when we think of MOOCs -- and education technology more broadly -- as "a data mine," it is indeed a massive one.
Now although I write about education and technology for a living, my formal academic training is in neither area. I'm a literature and language person, and so when I hear "data mine," my first thoughts aren't about statistics and algorithms and mathematical models. I think about metaphor. I think about cultural history.
The phrase "data-mining" is quite new -- less than 25 or so years old -- although yes certainly, statistics and algorithms and pattern recognition and the analyses based upon these have a much, much longer history. In the 1960s, statisticians referred to the pouring through of data without an a-priori hypothesis as "data-dredging," a practice that carried a negative connotation, as "dredging" would, I guess.
It's worth noting too that the concerns about data and its misuse -- particularly with regards to violations of privacy -- extended to the public-at-large at that time. Indeed, as banking, healthcare, and government services were becoming increasingly computerized in post-war America, the 1960s and 1970s saw the passing of several laws -- many still on the books -- addressing the collection, storage, and sale of people's data, including FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the law that governs the privacy of students' education record.
Data-dredging. Data-mining. Technology processes, sure. But also really interesting metaphors.
Dredging data conjures up the image of searching or excavating a large, fluid pool of information. Dredging up information from the bottom of the pool, information that's been buried, that's otherwise inaccessible. And, to continue the metaphor, despite the importance or value in what's being harvested, dredging in the physical world is largely recognized to disturb the ecosystem and to leave behind toxic chemicals.
Mining data might suggest a more targeted resource extraction. It certainly suggests a more lucrative one. And ideally, I'd argue, concerns about damage to the ecosystem persist. And if we're reluctant to talk about the environmental impact of minerals mining, we're ignoring that impact altogether in data-mining.
"Data is the new oil," headlines proclaim. “Data is just like crude," says the market analyst. "It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc., to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity; so must data be broken down, analyzed for it to have value.”
"Data is the new oil," says the investor, urging startups to locate and mine resources currently untapped.
"Data is the new oil," says The World Economic Forum. "In practical terms, a person’s data could be equivalent to their ‘money'".
"Data is the new oil," say tech bloggers and journalists alike.
Among the earliest references I can find of this phrase, for what it's worth, this in 1999: "Information is the new oil. Drilling new sources of information."
Now again, let me remind you. I'm from Wyoming -- the land of Dick Cheney. 48% of my home state is public land, but the minerals rights are leased or sold to private companies for mining (coal, uranium, natural gas, and yes oil). (The tension between public and private when it comes to education data is particularly drought.)
Wyoming is also the site of the Teapot Dome scandal, which before Watergate, was the biggest scandal in the history of the government. In case you easterners didn't pay attention during that unit of history class, Teapot Dome was when the Harding administration gave private companies opportunities to mine public lands in Wyoming (and in California) without going through the proper bidding process.
When I hear "data is the new oil," I think about these histories, the sorts of relationships that have long been forged between government and corporate entities.
I get it: to call data "the new oil" is particularly resonant in our energy-hungry and fossil-fuel reliant economy. And for what it's worth, some data scientists have pushed back on the "oil" metaphor -- or at least some of the uncritical glee surrounding its usage to simply talk about the potential for profits. Jer Thorp, an educator and the former data artist in residence at The New York Times argued that the "data is the new oil" metaphor is deeply flawed. Data isn't something that lies beneath the surface, just waiting to be extracted. Thorp writes -- and apologies for quoting him at length here -- that,
"Perhaps the “data as oil” idea can foster some much-needed criticality. Our experience with oil has been fraught; fortunes made have been balanced with dwindling resources, bloody mercenary conflicts, and a terrifying climate crisis. If we are indeed making the first steps into economic terrain that will be as transformative (and possibly as risky) as that of the petroleum industry, foresight will be key. We have already seen “data spills” happen (when large amounts of personal data are inadvertently leaked). Will it be much longer until we see dangerous data drilling practices? Or until we start to see long term effects from “data pollution”?
One of the places where we’ll have to tread most carefully — another place where our data/oil model can be useful — is in the realm of personal data. A great deal of the profit that is being made right now in the data world is being made through the use of human-generated information. Our browsing habits, our conversations with friends, our movements and location — all of these things are being monetized. This is deeply human data, though very often it is not treated as such. Here, perhaps we can invoke a comparison to fossil fuel in a useful way: where oil is composed of the compressed bodies of long-dead micro-organisms, this personal data is made from the compressed fragments of our personal lives. It is a dense condensate of our human experience."
If we are to embrace the "the new oil" metaphor, Thorp insists that we do so critically, thinking through all the implications, and not merely those implications those that have the "mining" executives rubbing their hands together in glee, anticipating the profits to be made.
The metaphor remains the dominant way we talk about data. Add to "data as oil" or "data-mining." there's the phrase "data exhaust" too, one that I've heard used with increasing frequency. Again, these terms really do matter. "Data exhaust" -- as though even the scraps or waste from what we do online, with our various computing devices, with our phones is valuable -- data exhaust is metadata.
There's a sense with that phrase, "data exhaust," that we're able to make some sort of ecological use of materials that would otherwise simply be waste. Like recycling materials, something that would be tossed aside by its creator or user becomes valuable to someone else. The exhaust is open to being "dredged," sucked up and filtered through by companies and, now we know, by our federal government.
The promise of big data is that mining will uncover something of great value, something that we haven't been able to unearth until now -- thanks to the massive quantity of data, thanks to the massive computer processing power: the cure for cancer, perhaps, or for any number of medical illnesses; in our case here, a cognitive roadmap for how each of us learn. That's certainly something we hear from those in education technology -- that big data and education analytics can crack open the "black box" of learning.
The value uncovered by data mining can be, in other words, a scientific breakthrough -- "an answer." And/or, the value can be money. Indeed, it's helpful to think about the uses of big data and analytics we've already seen: high-speed trading, Internet advertising, e-commerce recommendations.
These, I think, might provide hints of why we see much of the excitement and investment in technology companies right now: data.
The recent explosion of technology startups -- whether mobile tech, social networking sites, or ed-tech -- reflects this. Many of these new companies charge nothing for their product, yet they're raising millions of dollars in venture capital. The business model might develop eventually, sure. These companies might go on to be "the next Google." Even if revenue never materializes, there might be some interesting technology under the hood that make them a target for acquisition. But if nothing else, there'll be data -- lots and lots of user-generated data -- that someone believes can eventually be monetized. Think Twitter. Think LinkedIn. Think Facebook.
Think too of the many, many education technology startups that are free to use:
Despite all these free tools, there is a huge market for ed-tech products. Schools, students, parents do and will pay. And no doubt, technology does have incredible capacity to improve and scale our access to education.
But that should be what we cultivate ("to cultivate" -- a different verb, different metaphorical language, no doubt, than "to mine").
Tech should not be used simply, as London Knowledge Lab professor Diana Laurillard has said, "to access masses of data from desperate would-be students." She was referring to the question of scale and access and technology and MOOCs and specifically responding to a round of funding that Coursera had just raised. "Venture capitalists," she said, "are not spending $22 million to nurture students."
Indeed. It seems likely they are spending it because "data is the new oil."
And if educational data is indeed "the new oil," how do we make sure that education technology isn't poised simply to extract value from students? How can it deliver value -- cultivate value, cultivate minds?
We must ask, for starters, "who owns students' data?" Because even though laws like FERPA purport to protect the privacy of students' education record, there isn't a clear provision that states the student record belongs to the student. And as I noted earlier, that student record has expanded to include much much more "data" than when the law passed in the early 1970s. Furthermore, recent revisions to FERPA make it easier for schools, at best the guardian of that record, to release student data to companies that provide educational services and software. The learning management system, for example, the adaptive learning software, the digital textbook publisher, the online course provider.
Of course, this is complicated by the fact that FERPA's protections -- as out-of-date and as frustrating as they have become in a digital world -- only cover students in formal academic settings. These protections only cover students enrolled in programs which receive federal funds under certain Department of Education programs. That leaves open a whole swath of companies -- many new for-profits in the education technology sector -- that need make no pretense of protecting student data under this regulation.
Here is part of the Terms of Service from the World Education University, which, incidentally, offers online courses for free:
We can make a joke that "no one reads the Terms of Service." But frankly, I'd wager that no students -- or very, very few -- think through the ways in which their personal data will be used by any products and services associated with their schooling -- whether they are in an ad-supported educational program like WEU or whether they're in a VC-supported educational program like Coursera or whether they're in an endowment-rich school like Columbia or whether they're paying their own way through their local community college.
Technology writer Douglas Rushkoff has long argued, "if you're not paying for the product, you are the product." But I think it's actually far more complicated than that. When it comes to our metadata, it seems we're becoming the product either way. And when it comes to schooling, we're already well accustomed to talking about students as "the product" of the system: heads to fill with information; lives to shape; and now metadata to mine.
So what will be the role of the algorithm in education? How will big data and learning analytics shape the decisions we make -- in the classroom, in institutions; as students, as professors, as administrators, as parents?
Degree Compass was a startup founded at the University of Austin Peay in Tennessee. The point was to take students' performance in certain classes, along with enrollment data and the patterns of "similar students," to point students em to subsequent classes that "the algorithm" said they'd do well in.
From the Austin Peay website:
This system, in contrast to systems that recommend movies or books, does not depend on which classes are liked more than others. Instead it uses predictive analytics techniques based on grade and enrollment data to rank courses according to factors that measure how well each course might help the student progress through their program. From the courses that apply directly to the student’s program of study, the system selects those courses that fit best with the sequence of courses in their degree and are the most central to the university curriculum as whole. That ranking is then overlaid with a model that predicts which courses the student will achieve their best grades. In this way the system most strongly recommends a course which is necessary for a student to graduate, core to the university curriculum and their major, and in which the student is expected to succeed academically.
Degree Compass was acquired by the learning management system Desire2Learn in early 2013 for an undisclosed amount of money.
It's certainly a more sophisticated way of suggesting courses, which is -- in some ways, about suggesting career opportunities -- than the aptitude test that I took back in the 1980s, the one that told me the only job it recommended was "freelance writer." That test asked me questions like: "Do you like lifting heavy objects?" Um. No. "Do you like working outside?" Not really. No. "Do you like to read?" Yes! "Do you like to write?" Yes! "Do you like following orders?" Hell no. "Do you like being in charge of people?" I'm 14. What do I know?! But that test, the Strong Interest Inventory, was based on data. It was based on a questionnaires and research, and it's still touted for its predictive capabilities, even though its easiest version was created in the late 1920s.
And so: imagine, some might say, what we could do with more data. Imagine what we could do with better data. Imagine the predictions we could make.
We could identify which students are likely to be the most successful academically. (In a future where graduation rates are tied to financial aid availability, imagine how this might shape schools' enrollment policies.)
We could identify which students are likely to be dropouts. (Of course, then we have to ask: what do we do then? When do we intervene? How do we intervene? To what end?)
We could investigate how students' performance in Algebra I is tied to their credit score later in life. We could investigate how their performance in The History of Western Civilization is tied to their voting patterns.
We could identify the lessons and the lectures and the assessments sets that "don't work." (You hear this from the folks at Coursera a lot who argue that MOOCs allow them to "fail fast" in this respect. Or, as my friend Mike Caulfield argues in response, you could actually hire good instructional designers and produce quality work from the start.)
We could identify which students are likely to make great biochemistry majors. (You have to wonder here, if the folks who write these algorithms would even suggest people become art history or creative writing majors.)
We could identify which students are likely to be successful entrepreneurs. We could identify which students are likely to become wealthy alumni and reliable donors back to the school.
And to bring things full circle, we could identify which students are likely to become radicals and dissidents. We could share that data with administrators and/or with authorities.
Data, we're told, will allow us to address our most pressing questions in education. But as the uses I've just detailed suggest, it matters who asks those questions, what constitutes those questions. These questions are what shape the algorithms that we build to answer them. And I'll add too that the metaphors we use shape the models we build as well. What does it mean if we decide student data "the new oil"? What does it mean if we view students (and their data) as a resource to be mined and extracted? What's gained? What's lost? What's depleted? Who profits? Who benefits?
I'm just not confident that it'll be those who are having their metadata mined.
Law and Politics
The US Supreme Court is again considering an affirmative action case. This time, a Michigan constitutional amendment that prevents the state from considering race in public education, employment, and contracting. Folks are predicting that the court will uphold the state law. More details via Politico, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Student Activism.
Education Week reports on the $41 million settlement that New York City is paying out to educators in back pay “after they had to work outside of their contractually mandated workdays because of slow school Internet connections and other technical challenges.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
Edsurge covers the opening of Zynga and NewSchools Venture Fund’s new education technology startup accelerator program: “What Can Farmville Teach Educational Game Developers?” How to build cheap products that really ask for little skill other than clicking on things? How to apply Skinnerism to mobile apps? How to track a bunch of data points in order to sell ads or in-game purchases? How to lose a bunch of money after you IPO? So many exciting possibilities.
Wolfram Alpha has launched a new tool called the Wolfram Problem Generator (available to pro subscribers) that, as the name suggests, creates unlimited, random practice problems.
Introducing qCraft, “a mod that brings the principles of quantum physics to the world of Minecraft.”
George Mason University’s Institute for Humane Studies has launchedEDvantage, a free online curriculum hub for educators. It’s 2013, and one of the biggest ed-tech trends this year seems to be content hubs and portals. Good grief. The innovation. It burns.
McGraw-Hilllaunched what it’s calling the “first adaptive, open-response placement and remediation tool for higher education”: ALEKS Placement, Preparation and Learning. (McGraw-Hill acquired ALEKS earlier this year. The private equity firm Apollo Group acquired McGraw-Hill in 2012. The beat goes on.)
The 20 Million Minds Foundation has partnered with Inkling to publish two OpenStax openly-licensed textbooks – Introduction to Sociology and College Physics – on Inkling’s e-book platform.
Coming soon to Khan Academy: a complete Calculus course. Khan Academy is partnering with the prestigious boarding school Phillips Academy to create the course. Tuition at Phillips Academy will run you $47K a year, but hey, now you can learn from the most elite institutions for free!! Hmmm. Where have I heard that argument before?!
The New York Times highlights the problems that the latest version online Common Application has had this fall. Designed to streamline college applications to some 500 schools, the site “has been plagued by numerous malfunctions, alarming students and parents and putting admissions offices weeks behind schedule.”
(A Quiet Week for) MOOC News
Courserapartners with the World Bank.
The German online education startup iversity has launched its first MOOC classes this week. Techcrunch has the details.
Funding and Acquisitions
Venture Beat reports that the Brazilian startup Izzui has raised $1.4 million “to build its platform, where individuals and brands can create, publish, share, and sell courses on Facebook.”
Gilfus Venture Partners has acquired the e-learning company Adrenna for an undisclosed sum – “part of an ambitious plan to rival learning management system (LMS) powerhouses like Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Instructure.” Gilfus is owned by Stephen Gilfus, one of the co-founders of Blackboard. Learning management systems are, indeed, the undead of education technology, aren’t they.
“Research” and Data
The results of this year’s Campus Computing Survey are out. Among its findings, the LMS market share by Blackboard has fallen to 41%, “a decline of 30 percentage points in six years.”
Gallup released the results of its recent survey on the public’s perception of online education. The headline for The Chronicle story on the survey: “Traditional Education Beats Online in Key Areas, Opinion Poll Finds.” Inside Higher Ed interprets the survey to indicate the public thinks online education is “at least as good” as offline. Here’s a link to the actual survey. Interpret for yourself.
Educause has released its annual survey which asks some 113,000 undergraduate students about their technology usage. Among the findings: students aren’t interested in badges; students’ computing device ownership continues to grow; and 71% of students have used free or openly licensed educational resources.
Back online after the government shutdown, the NCES has published “Selected Statistics from the Common Core of Data: School Year 2011–12.” View the PDF. (Where’s the machine-readable format, guys?)
According to research from the Southern Education Foundation, “a majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West are low-income for the first time in at least four decades.”
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center has released a “Comparative Analysis of National Teacher Surveys” (PDF), that looks at the results from across 5 recent surveys about teaching, tech, and media. One observation made in this analysis: “when asked how technology is beneficial to the students’ learning, there was an emphasis on learning processes and higher-level skills rather than on academic achievement.” In other words, teachers are skeptical that tech will boost test scores, the report argues.
Microsoft has released a study that says one of the most important skills students will need for good jobs: Microsoft Office (#2 behind “oral and written communication skills.”) Rounding out this totally unbiased and forward-thinking list: #19 ethics and #20 Linux. LOL.
According to the latest report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 43% of American adults own tablets or e-readers. (22% of those who earn less than $30K a year do; 65% of those who earn more than $150K a year do; 27% of those who live in rural areas do; 37% of those in the suburbs do.)
“Facebook Eases Privacy Rules for Teenagers,” reads The New York Times headline about the news this week that Facebook will allow teens to post their information on the social network publicly. (Up until now, teens’ posts and photos were restricted to friends.) Alternate headline: “Facebook Expands Its Advertising Base.”
Common Sense Media penned a letter to 16 education technology companies, asking them “to use student data only for educational purposes, and not for marketing products to children or their families.” More details in The New York Times.
The universities of Sunderland and Ulster in the UK have installed biometric monitoring systems on their satellite campuses, fingerprinting the international students (not British ones) to make sure they’re attending lectures.
Lots of talk about big data and learning analytics at Educause this week. Inside Higher Ed takes a look at the University of Kentucky’s hopes to boost student retention with “prescriptive analytics.” Rey Junco examines the potential for textbook analytics. Are there companies offering biometric monitoring systems in the exhibits, anyone?
The textbook startup Zookal has partnered with the drone service Flirtey to deliver students in Australia their textbooks within minutes of ordering them. I hope they stick around and monitor the students while they read their textbooks too – think of the potential for learning analytics, Rey!
Sports and Technology
Upgrades and Downgrades
Apple held its fall press event, released its latest OS. iPad Air. New Macbooks. Blah blah blah.
USA Today covers the launch of Chalkbeat, a new non-profit news organization focused on education policy and politics. Chartbeat is the result, in part, of the merger of New York-based GothamSchools and Denver-based EdNews Colorado, and the org is also building out local teams in Tennessee and Indiana.
I don’t bother to write up all the news about LMSes securing contracts with schools, but this one seems noteworthy: after 15 years on Blackboard, Dartmouth is moving to Instructure Canvas.
Three regional libraries have joined the Digital Public Library of America– the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, the Portal to Texas History, and the Empire State Digital Network. The DLPA has also launched a new discovery tool called Bookshelf. More details here.
Pearson announced a “strategic partnership” with Boston’s ed-tech programs Exponential TechSpace and LearnLaunch.
Khan Academy is “using contractors to review the accuracy of many of its videos and to sort through complaints about specific videos that come through its Web site,” reports The Washington Post. I’m curious: are they just reviewing the content or are they thinking about TPACK? (Trick question.)
The price-tag for LAUSD’s iPad program continues to climb: $770 per tablet.
The Copenhagen Business School, Eindhoven University of Technology, Koç University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, IESE Business School, Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, National Geographic Society, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg State University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Università Bocconi, University of Lausanne, and University of Manchester have joinedCoursera.
Coursera turns 2 and celebrates with an infographic.
The Mechanical MOOC launches its latest class, “Play With Your Music” – a collaboration among P2PU, NYU, and the MIT Media Lab.
The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer writes about edX’s plans to make money on MOOCs. It’s the ol’ “Red Hat for Linux approach,” charging for services to help others implement an open source infrastructure.
The publisher Elseviersays its struck a deal with edX to make its textbook content available to up to 5 of the latter’s MOOCs. “Elsevier will provide textbook content for free online as part of the course materials and will offer a discount to purchase the print or electronic version of the text to those enrolled in the MOOC.” An indication, perhaps, of how publishers will make money on MOOCs.
Other Online Edu LOLs
Congratulations to “Pete Smith,” a pug living in the Battersea Dogs’ Home, who has earned his MBA from the American University of London. For a mere £4,500 (and a completely made-up biography), AUOL sent the dog a degree based on his life/work experience. Maybe Pete should offer a MOOC.
Brick and Mortar News
Medical school enrollment has reached an all-time high, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. But the association notes that without an expansion in residency programs, the increase in the number of students won’t address the shortage of physicians.
George Washington never told a lie. George Washington University? Not so much. The university has long asserted that “requests for financial aid do not affect admissions decisions.” But oh guess what. They do. The university now admits that it places students on the waitlist if they cannot afford tuition.
Students at the City College, part of the City University of New York, are protesting the closure of the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center, a meeting space within the City College’s North Academic Center. The school says the room will be better used for career services and, with no announcement, went into the community center and removed all its contents – then “just to be safe,” locked down the entire building.
The Army is closing ROTC programs at 13 universities, more than half of them in the South, reports The New York Times.
Math teacher Mike Landsberry was killed this week in a shooting at Sparks Middle School by a student with a semiautomatic weapon. The student also wounded two 12-year-old students before killing himself.
Math teacher Colleen Ritzer was killed by one of her students at Danvers High School.
The Portland Public Schoolshave hired 39 goats and a llama to maintain the grounds around the district office. (A llama?)
Grambling State University has a proud football tradition. It was home to Eddie G. Robinson, the winningest coach in Division 1 history. But that proud tradition has fallen into utter disrepair – quite literally, prompting the players on the team to refuse to travel to their game last weekend with Jackson State. Sports Illustrated has the story.
The Department of Education has approved the NCLB waiver for Puerto Rico.
I’m sure other things happened in DC. But, good grief, I’m soooo over that town.
From the HR Department
UC Davis officer John Pike, infamous for pepperspraying non-violent student protesters in 2011, has been awarded $38,000 “for psychiatric injuries for the way he was treated afterwards.” UC Davis has also settled with the students who were sprayed. They get $30,000 apiece. Because American justice.
The revolving door between the Gates Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, and the Department of Education continues, with news this week that NSVF CEO Ted Mitchell will join the DoE, taking over Martha Kanter’s role as undersecretary of education. Others in the department with a history at NSVF: Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton and former Chief of Staff Joanne Weiss. Nothing to see here! Move along!
The LA Times reports that LAUSD superintendent John Deasy has informed the district he plans to resign. Deasy’s been in the spotlight lately with the district’s disastrous iPad rollout. No official letter of resignation yet. Maybe there’s an app for that.
Dorie Turner Nolt, a former AP education reporter, is joining the Department of Education as the new Press Secretary.
Former Ohio State University president Gordon Gee -- a guy who earned almost $2 million a year -- will head a committee investigating “how to curb college costs for the state and for students while improving quality.” Heh. More via Inside Higher Ed.
“The Decline of Wikipedia” – “The volunteer workforce that built the project’s flagship, the English-language Wikipedia—and must defend it against vandalism, hoaxes, and manipulation—has shrunk by more than a third since 2007 and is still shrinking.”
The Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits reports that Jarrad Toussant, currently Cory Booker’s education advisor, will be moving to Texas to work for Rocketship Schools.
Funding and Acquisitions
The school survey startup Panorama Educationhas raised $4 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Startup: Education foundation. “We are using technology to address some of the most difficult problems in education,” the founder Aaron Feuer said in a statement. Sigh.
Securly, a startup that helps schools handle their Web filtering, has raised $1 million in funding.
Academia.edu, a social network of sorts that lets academics share their research, has acquired the similar company Plasmyd.
“OneClass takes $1.6M to apply the Jerry Maguire strategy to college,” says VentureBeat. I don’t even know what that means. Is that a Tom Cruise reference? Weird.
The digital textbook publisher Inklinghas acquired the catalogs from Betterbook and Ready, Set, Baby!, which co-founder Matt MacInnis told Techcrunch is “part of his company’s larger strategy to serve audiences beyond professionals and full-time students.”
Baltimore-based school financial management startup Allovue has raised $100,000 from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation.
EDUonGo, a company that describes itself as “enabling anyone to launch an academy and share knowledge,” has raised $530,000 in investment.
K2 Learning Resources, an Indian blended learning startup, has raised $1.3 million in funding.
Berkery Noyes has released its latest quarterly report on education industry funding.
“Research” and Data
According to a study published in The Journal of Media Education, more than 90% of students say they’ve used their digital devices for “non-educational purposes” while in the classroom. The study did not ask how many used pen and paper for “non-educational purposes” but I would guess the numbers are quite similar.
The College Boardsays that the increases in college tuition are slowing – last year’s tuition up just 4.8%, the smallest in over a decade. Yay?
Moody’s financial analysts say that “charter schools pose greatest credit challenge to school districts in economically weak urban areas.”
The National Center for Education Statistics released a report this week that finds “that students in 36 states outperformed the international average on math exams given through the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which was administered in 2011 to students in 38 countries and 9 educational systems, like those in states or provinces.” Go Team America.
According to the National Center for Homeless Education, a record 1.1 million homeless students enrolled in preschools and K–12 schools in the US during the 2011–12 school year – up a 10% from the previous school year. Go Team America.
The LMS Instructure has launched a new grant program, offering $100,000 in funding “to spur technological innovation from within the educational system.” (Disclosure: I’m one of the panelists who’ll be reviewing grant proposals.)
The online Emily Dickinson Archive is live, but as The Guardian notes, the feud over the poet’s legacy has played out in shaping the online site. “On one side sits Harvard’s Houghton Library with its collection of manuscripts once owned by Susan Dickinson, Emily’s confidante and the wife of her brother, Austin. On the other is the library at Amherst College with the papers which Austin’s mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd, used to make the first published collection of Dickinson’s poems after her death in 1886.” Drama!
Coursera launches “learning hubs,” physical spaces where people can access the Internet in order to take a MOOC. Partners in the effort include the US State Department, the Bluebells School International and Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Digital October, Overcoming Faith Academy Kenya, Learning Links Foundation, TAPtheTECH, and LEARN. TT and the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
The optimal video length is 6 minutes or less, according to researchers at edX. Here’s hoping that J. J. Abrams keeps this in mind for the new Star Wars movie.
Georgia Tech has closed its applications for its new MOOC CS graduate degree and – wow, really? this was news?– it received more applications for it than for its on-campus program. Shocking.
Facebook could become a distribution vehicle for MOOCs, says Facebook’s global policy chief.
Bruno Latour is teaching a MOOC on the “Scientific humanities.” It’s part of the new French MOOC platform called FUN. (Short for France Université Numérique.)
How do you make a free-range learning MOOC? P2PU shares what it’s learned building its Mechanical MOOC.
Open Online Education Elsewhere
OERu officially launches today. The UNESCO project will allow students to take courses based on OER and then pay a fee to have them accepted for credit by the 30 universities participating in the OERu consortium.
Brick and Mortar-ish-ness
The New York Times coversStanford’s “Full Moon on the Quad” event, where the school teaches “safe kissing.”
News broke last week that George Washington University was, contrary to what it had long insisted, using students’ financial aid requests to determine admissions. This week, Inside Higher Ed’s Ry Rivard writes about the ways in which students’ FAFSAs and their list of school preferences are often used against them: “some colleges use this ‘FAFSA position’ when considering students’ applications for admission, which may affect decisions about admission or placement on the wait list.” Big data and education. Isn’t it great?
Pennsylvania universities East Stroudsburg, Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield are cutting“low-enrolled degree programs” and eliminating nearly 150 campus positions, including faculty members.
The University of California system is pledging $5 million in funding to help support undocumented students.
Yay, Sports Team
Penn State will pay out $59.7 million to 26 men over claims of sexual abuse by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. (To give that figure a little context, the football team made $53 million in profits in 2011.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued recommendations for “return to learn” checklists to help schools and parents understand the potential cognitive and academic challenges to student athletes who’ve suffered concussions.
Graduation rates for UC Berkeley football players ranks “dead last among 72 major programs,” according to SFGate. “The NCAA report showed that Cal football graduated just 44 percent of its athletes who entered school from 2003 through 2006 and men’s basketball graduated just 38 percent.”
Meanwhile in DC...
Due to the government shutdown, the FCC has extended the deadline for comments on changes to the E-Rate program, the fund that helps bring discounted Internet to schools and libraries. The new deadline: November 8.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Amplify is offering Guilford schools replacement devices for their faulty, melty, crappy ones. They won’t be the same model, the company says, but it won’t specify exactly what the new devices will be. (Sadly, they’ll likely still be Amplify ones.)
Yet another ed-tech accelerator program: this one in London. “Emerge Education is powered by Emerge Venture Lab, the startup accelerator founded out of the Said Business School, University of Oxford, and Hub Ventures.”
Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standard v1.0 is now live. “The Web Literacy Standard is part of Mozilla’s ongoing goal to create a generation of webmakers – those who can not only elegantly consume but also write and participate on the web.”
Play-i, a startup that builds programmable robots for kids, has launched pre-orders for the devices.
Professors Chris Hoofnagle and Michael Zimmer have launched “The Zuckerberg Files,” “an online archive that attempts to collect every public utterance made by Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder and chief executive, including blog posts, magazine interviews, TV appearances, letters to shareholders, public presentations, and other events.” More details via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Rezolve Group, which makes the College Abacus– a tool to help students and parents determine college costs – is blocking access to the aggregate data, making it difficult to make those cost comparisons.
Blackboard has launched Blackboard Labs “an initiative dedicated solely to innovation and experimentation with education technology to help shape the future of the industry.” It's been a long week, readers. I'll trust you to write the punchline here.
Funding, IPOs, and Earnings Reports
According to an SEC filing, 2U has raised $31 million in equity funding.
Campus Quad, which describes itself in its press release as “creators of an innovative social mobile communication technology for college campuses,” has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from the Follett Corporation and ICG Ventures.
Textbook rental company Cheggsays it hopes to raised $172.5 million in its IPO. The company has set the initial stock price at $9.50 to $11.50 a share – about a third of what it costs to rent Campbell Biology, for what it’s worth.
During its quarterly earnings call this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook boasted the the company had their “best education quarter ever” and now has 94% of the educational tablet market. Anya Kamenetz writes about “why that’s a scary stat.”
Facebook’s earnings announcement this week was marred– well, Facebook stock took a hit at least – by the news that the site isn’t so hip with the teens any longer. According to CFO David Ebersmanvid, “Our best analysis on youth engagement in the U.S. reveals that usage of Facebook among US teens overall was stable from Q2 to Q3, but we did see a decrease in daily users, especially among younger teens.”
The NYC Foundation For Computer Science Education is raising $5 million in funding, according to venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who says that the money will be used to invest in CS education in the NYC schools.
Moody’s Investor Service has assigned a “Caa1” rating to Blackboard’s new $365 million note and gives the company a “B2” rating. Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that Caa1 ratings mean “Rated as poor quality and very high credit risk” and B2 means “Judged as being speculative and a high credit risk.”
From the HR Department
Despite rumors to the contrary, it looks like LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy won’t be retiring after all, as the school board has extended his contract for two more years.
“MLA Reports Modest Decline in Job Ads Posted in 2012–13,” says The Chronicle, which further breaks down “the state of the academic job market” by discipline. (Looking for help parsing academic job lists? Be sure to check out Rebecca Schuman’s blog.)
Politico’s new education team is now complete with the addition of former Mother Jones writer Maggie Severns (@maggieseverns).
Khan Academy is looking for “medical content creators” in order to “cover key concepts found in the NCLEX-RN” licensing exam.
Michael Petrilli will take the reigns from Chester Finn to lead the conservative think tank The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, beginning next August.
“Research” and Data
Common Sense Media has released a study about the media usage of kids age 0 to 8. (PDF) Among the findings, “Among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, from 8% of all families in 2011 to 40% in 2013.”
The New York Times runs with the headline “As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry.” Oh noes! History professor Ben Schmidt responds with data (DATA!) – history majors are “up 18% the last 25 years. Math and CS are down 40%.”
RIP Marcia Wallace, the voice of Edna Krabappel, Bart Simpson’s fourth grade teacher. The Simpsons say they will retire the character.
Image credits: Banksy
Below are the notes and the slides from my talk today at Open Education 2013. David Kernohan and I shared the morning keynote slot today, and we were asked by David Wiley to offer a critique of open education. And so we did. You can find more details about Kernohan's talk here. Be sure to watch the documentary he made.
The Education Apocalypse
A couple of years ago, the Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping predicted that Jesus would return to earth on May 21, 2011. The Rapture would occur, as alluded to in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 — when the "dead in Christ" and "we who are alive and remain" will be "caught up in the clouds" to meet "the Lord in the air.” That is, the souls of all the righteous — living or dead — would be lifted into Heaven.
When Camping emerged from his home on May 22, the morning after the date he’d set — “flabbergasted” — he revised his predictions. Initially, he’d stated that the May 21 Rapture would be followed by five months of fire and brimstone before the world ended on October 21.
His revision: the Rapture and the end of the world would both occur on October 21, 2011. Camping never had a huge following. But his radio station, Family Radio, did broadcast in over 150 markets. And rather than relying solely on the airwaves, the station bought billboards all over the country, warning people of the impending Judgement Day.
It was a successful marketing campaign. Camping raised millions of dollars in donations — because that’s what you do to prepare for the apocalypse, I guess: you write a check to a preacher. However, as far as end-times predictions go, Camping’s was a failure.
Doom- or salvation- filled, predictions about the end of the world have always been — well, up ’til now as here we stand today — wrong. Again and again and again. Wikipedia lists about 170 dates predicting the end of the world that have come and gone, and about a dozen more dates still yet to come.
One of those dates: 2045. The Singularity.
The Singularity is that moment when, as futurist, AI researcher, and Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil notes in the subtitle to his book The Singularity is Near, humans transcend their biology. Google’s director of engineering. Let me restate that. Not some guy who runs a Christian radio show on a handful of markets.
The Singularity marks the creation of a technological super-intelligence, the replacement of our frail human flesh with more advanced machines — ever more complex prosthetics in ever more complex roles — hearing implants, eye implants, limb replacements, the human brain itself. The Singularity, some say, could bring about vast self-replicating nanotechnology, resulting in a grey goo that will eventually cover the entire planet. But we need not worry, according to Kurzweil, if the environment is altered or destroyed. We will in decades to come be able to upload our minds into computers.
Much like the Rapture has long promised, once we abandon the limitations of our earthly existence, we will be able to live forever.
We will live forever inside the machine. Technological salvation. “Rapture of the nerds.”
No surprise, many futurists balk at the phrase “Rapture of the nerds” to describe the Singularity. They object to the comparison to religious eschatology, arguing that there are no significant parallels between these two predictions about the end of the world as we know it. The Singularity is rational, they insist. Religious faith is not. Unlike other failed end-times predictions, the Singularity is coming. Really. They insist. That’s because the Singularity is science, while Judgment Day, a myth.
Now, folklorists bristle at the common usage of the word “myth” to imply “a lie.” A myth, by folklorists’ disciplinary definition, is quite the opposite. A myth is a culture’s most sacred story. It involves supernatural or supreme beings — gods. It explains origins and destinies. A myth is the Truth.
I want to talk to you today about narratives of the education apocalypse, about eschatology and mythology and MOOCs and millennialism, and I do so not just as a keen observer of education technology but as someone trained as a folklorist. As much as being an ed-tech writer compels me to pay attention to the latest products and policies and venture capital investment, I am fascinated by the stories we tell about all of this. I am fascinated by what I see as some of the dominant end-times myths of the business world, of the tech industry. I am fascinated by how these myths — these sacred stories — are deployed to talk about the end of the world —or at least “the end of the university as we know it,” as Techcrunch puts it with the fervor of a true believer.
And in the great American tradition of Harold Camping and Ray Kurzweil and Cotton Mather, “the end of the university as we know it” — the education apocalypse — has a date. Or several dates, depending on whose prediction you heed.
Take Sebastian Thrun’s MOOC millenialism, for example. An AI researcher, a faculty member at Stanford and, incidentally, at Singularity University (an education for-profit founded by Ray Kurzweil), and co-founder of the MOOC startup Udacity, Thrun has predicted that in 50 years, "there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.”
50 years. That’s 2062 — about 17 years after the date Kurzweil has given for the Singularity.
A planet covered in grey goo with 10 university-teaching-machines delivering educational content to student-machines. That would be one helluva education apocalypse.
While the Singularity is listed on Wikipedia’s page of end-of-the-world predictions, the MOOC-apocalypse is not.
Nor is the “campus tsunami” — the phrase used by Stanford president John Hennessy and subsequently by pundit David Brooks to describe the coming end-times for higher education. Nor is the “education avalanche” — the phrase used by Pearson’s education consultant Sir Michael Barber to describe the cataclysm that’s about to bury us.
Nor is “disruptive innovation,” which I believe is one of the most influential millennialist myths of the contemporary business world, particularly of the tech industry. Of course, Clayton Christensen, the originator of the phrase, does not offer a specific date when all of humankind will be disrupted; rather it's an industry by industry transformation — an industry by industry salvation by market-forces, this time. Not God, but that other “invisible hand."
Again, I don’t mean by “myth” that Clayton Christensen’s explanation of changes to markets and business models and technologies — “disruptive innovation” — is a falsehood.
Rather, my assigning “myth” to “disruptive innovation” is meant, in part, 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 his book 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 something different from Christensen’s original arguments in The Innovator’s Dilemma.
In this same vein, almost every new app, every new startup, every new technology — 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), online payments (e.g. Stripe), electric vehicles (e.g. Tesla), cloud computing (e.g. Amazon Web Services), 3D printers (e.g. Makerbot), video-based lectures (e.g. Khan Academy), MOOCs (e.g. Coursera), social search (e.g. Facebook Graph Search), and so on.
The companies I just named might very well be innovative — in their technologies and their business models. That’s beside the point if you’re looking for "disruptive innovation,” which is a pretty specific sort of “creative destruction” — ah, the unexamined millennialism in our political theorists, eh? — defined by Christensen as "a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market" — that is, with customers who are not currently being served — "and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors."
Per Christensen’s framework, there are other sorts of innovations that aren’t “disruptive” in this manner. There are, for example, “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 — all at the hands of technology: The death of the music industry. The death of newspapers. The death of print. The death of the library. The death of Hollywood. The death of the video rental store. The death of the university. The death of the Web. The death of RSS. All predicted to be killed suddenly or eventually 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. Armageddon. Then paradise.
People are drawn to 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 promised in the future. Many cultures (and Silicon Valley is, despite its embrace of science and technology, no different here) tell stories that predict some sort of cataclysmic event that will bring about a radical cultural (or economic or political) transformation and, eventually -- if things work out well -- some sort of better world.
The Book of Revelations. The Mayan Calendar. The Shakers. The Ghost Dance. Nuclear holocaust. The Singularity. MOOCs.
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 (and full confession: he was my advisor for my Master’s Thesis, circa 2000). He published his book on end-times and American culture in 1997 — interestingly, the same year that The Innovator’s Dilemma hit store shelves.
Wojcik’s analysis of a sweeping societal belief in “the end of the world” was well-timed, just a few years before the year 2000, a date for many end-times predictions, from Edgar Cayce to Sun Myung Moon. But 2000 wasn’t just a date for religious millennialism. There were also substantial technological anxieties surrounding Y2K — perhaps you recall: the fear that computers would not be able to roll over from year 99 to 00 to mark the new millennium, that there would be widespread technological and thus economic and political collapse as a result. That makes Wojcik’s book about millennialism and American culture an interesting and contrasting companion to Christensen’s and his contention that we will witness “the end” of certain organizations thanks to technological “innovation.”
How pervasive is the belief in these end-times myths? Wojcik noted that, according to a survey by Nielsen — and again, these are dated statistics — 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.
Around 20% of Americans believed that the Y2K bug would disrupt their lives, for what it’s worth.
Subsequent surveys found that belief in the end-of-the-world among Americans rose slightly after 9-11. One in 10 believed that the world would end, as the Mayan calendar predicted, in 2012. One in 5 believe that the world will end in their lifetime.
How does this pervasive belief that we’re living in the End Times shape how we view the future? How does it shape how we view education which is, after all, one of the primary means by which we prepare for that future.
How many Americans believe in “the Singularity”? We hear more and more headlines every day about robots taking over our jobs. How does this shape the way in which we plan for the future — again, how does it shape how we think about teaching and learning?
I’m curious to know those numbers, not necessarily among the American public at large, but of those those in Silicon Valley, particularly those in the field of artificial intelligence who are building education startups.
And I can’t find any polls so this is a guess, sure, but I’d wager than many in Silicon Valley — most even — believe in the doctrine of “disruptive innovation.”
But whatever the polling tells us, I’m interested in how the power and the influence of storytelling.
I think that 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, venture capitalists, Techcrunch, or Harvard Business School professors. Folks do seem drawn to these millennial stories, particularly when they help frame and justify our religious, moral, economic, political, cultural, social, technological world views.
Harvard Business School might seem like a surprising place of origin for a millennialist framework. To use Christensen’s own terminology, Harvard seems like a place that offers “sustainment” not “disruption.” But it’s worth pointing out that Christensen is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. He attended BYU here in Utah. He describes himself in a keynote last month at the National Summit on Education Reform, as “a religious man” who “believe[s] in the doctrines that are taught.” In that keynote on the topic of the history of business, measurements and innovation, Christensen invokes a number of religious metaphors to explain how business practices work. He talks about about “a Church of New Finance” where "the people who belong to that organization believe that the doctrine that are taught about finance are actually true.” “The high priests in this church,” he suggests, "are business professors like me.”
What do these high priests preach?
Well, here are a couple of education-related end-times predictions from Christensen:
Disruptive innovation will be, as the acolytes among the technology press are happy to echo, 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 their book 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 — like Harold Camping and his prediction about May 21 and October 21, 2011 — Clayton Christensen and his disciples at the Clayton Christensen Institute have tweaked their forecast about (public) education’s future. 5 years post-Disrupting Class, "disrupting class" will look a bit different, they now say.
Earlier this year, the organization released a new white paper, detailing a new path for transformation that rests somewhere in between 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 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.”
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 particular 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.”
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.,” Christensen writes. "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.”
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.
Like so many millennialist entities faced with the harsh realities of faltering predictions, we are offered a new prediction instead.
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 has actively sought to shape the future to look a certain way. It has lobbied governments for certain aspects of its agenda, becoming a vocal proponent for its particular vision of a disrupted future.
"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, disruption will prevail.
So is written. So it is told.
That’s the mythology at least.
And again. I was trained as a folklorist. I appreciate, I respect the power of sacred stories. But I am also a recovering academic. So I think it’s worth asking ourselves about what we’re taking on faith here.
Where in the stories were telling about the future of education are we seeing salvation? Why would we locate that in technology and not in humans, for example? Why would we locate that in markets and not in communities? What happens when we embrace a narrative about the end-times — about education crisis and education apocalypse? Who’s poised to take advantage of this crisis narrative? Why would we believe a gospel according to artificial intelligence, or according to Harvard Business School, or according to Techcrunch, or according to David Brooks or Thomas Friedman? What is sacred when it comes to the stories we tell about teaching and learning? And what — despite being presented to us as holy and unassailable — might actually be quite profane?
Election Day Results
Tuesday was Election Day across the US. Among the results:
Bill De Blasio was elected mayor of New York City. He vows to reverse many of Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies.
Amendment 66, a tax hike measure in Colorado that would have raised some $1 billion for education, was rejected.
Voters in Katy, Texas said “no” to a $70 million bond package to build a new high school football stadium. (How un-American… or un-Texan, rather.)
Other Education Politics
“The Jeffco school board voted unanimously Thursday night to scrap plans to test and implement the inBloom system for storing student information,” reports the Columbine Courier. It’s the latest in a long string of districts pulling out of the inBloom data initiative. So when Education Week has a headline that says “Startups See InBloom as Appealing Partner,” you really gotta wonder.
The Department of Education announced the “first of its kind” resolution of a civil rights investigation into a virtual charter school: an agreement with Virtual Community School of Ohio to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act for students with disabilities at the school."
The Army has changed its mind about shuttering ROTC programs at 13 universities, opting instead to put these programs on probation.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has namedPaul Vallas as his running mate for 2014. Vallas was once the head of the Chicago Public Schools and was most recently named the superintendent in Bridgeport, Connecticut -- that is, until a court decided that he didn’t have the qualifications for the job. It’s not clear if Vallas has the residency qualifications to be Quinn's running mate either.
LAUSD has lost the latest round in its legal battle with The LA Times. The newspaper has sought access to teacher ratings via a public information request, but the district has withheld the information citing employee privacy. The district could still appeal this latest decision to the California Supreme Court.
A Pennsylvania School District is asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on whether it can ban ”I ♥ boobies” cancer awareness bracelets or if doing so violates students’ First Amendment rights.
A summer course at the University of New Hampshire that teaches 4th thru 8th graders literacy skills has received a cease-and-desist letter from Warner Bros. The class is called “Harry Potter as Storytelling,” but the film studio objects.
Higher One, a company that hawks debit cards to students on college campuses, has reached a “preliminary agreement to pay $15 million to settle claims that its fees and marketing practices were predatory.” More via Inside Higher Ed.
Product Launches and Partnerships
Google has launched a new initiative called Connected Classrooms, offering “virtual field trips” via Hangouts (well, live video events is probably a more accurate way to describe these.)
And in other Google news, folks have been speculating about what's going on on barges floating off the coast of San Francisco and Portland, Maine. A floating data center? Party boats for Sergei? A launch pad for Skynet? Turns out, the barges are new “interactive learning centers” where the company will send folks to learn about new Google technologies. Still sounds completely creepy and exploitative to me. But I’m sure all you Google Glass wearers will gladly be shipped there first for your indoctrination.
Khan Academy and Getty Museum are partnering.
Pearsonannounced that it’s giving students free access to the Financial Times through its API… 30 days after publication, that is.
Baltimore-based ed-tech startup An Estuary has launched a Chrome extension called "edsavr" that makes it easier to collect and share resources through Edmodo, EduClipper, and its own tool Sanderling.
The Wikipedia Education Program, which has encouraged educators to have students contribute to Wikipedia as part of their coursework, is spinning out into its own non-profit, the Wiki Education Foundation.
107 institutions, 5 million of students, and thousands of hype-filled headlines later, Coursera is hiring a Director of Teaching and Learning.
Coursera has also hired former Netflix-ers John Ciancutti and Tom Willerer as its Chief Product Officer and VP of Product Management. The two were involved in developing Netflix’s movie recommendation system – so we can see where this MOOC train is headed: “Because you signed up for but never completed X course, we recommend you sign up for and never complete Y.”
The UK’s MOOC platform FutureLearn has announced new classes for the new year.
Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan visited the edX offices this week to announce the launch of Edraak, an Arabic language MOOC portal build on the edX platform.
The Chronicle of Higher Education says that Stanford is seeking to reclaim the MOOC brand. Because yup. At the end of the day, this whole MOOC BS seems to be about brands.
2U has added two new institutions to its Semester Online program: Trinity Collge in Dublin and the University of Melbourne.
Ye Olde Brick and Mortar
San Jose State told departments this week – just days before registration for spring term started – that they needed to trim tens of thousands of dollars from their budgets and cut class offerings. Then the school changed its mind, saying it was going to use infrastructure funds to make up the budget shortfall instead. Maybe someone should offer a MOOC on campus administration, or something.
“A $1-billion plan to put an iPad into the hands of every Los Angeles student and teacher could prove difficult to sustain financially after about three years, based on figures provided by the L.A. Unified School District.” So far the LAUSD/iPad thing has been a roaring success, eh?
And in other iPad news, theft of the devices – from schools and from students directly – is becoming increasingly common, reports USA Today.
Funding, IPOs and Acquisitions
Late Friday afternoon, Intelannounced that it had acquired the digital textbook app Kno. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Kno has raised over $73 million funding, $20 million of which came from Intel.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has filed its plans for a $274 million IPO. Hop on that, investors. At $14 to $16 a share, it’s cheaper than a textbook.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt also made an acquisition this week, buying the education data company Choice Solutions.
Goldman Sachs has made a minority investment in the research management company ProQuest.
Discovery has acquired Espresso Education for an undisclosed sum. Here’s a link to the paywalled story in the Financial Times, which oh hey! If you’re a student you can access in 30 days time. (See above.) Thanks Pearson!
McGraw-Hill is getting into the ed-tech accelerator game. Well, I mean, who isn’t?! The textbook publisher is investing in EDSi, the University of Pennsylvania’s new startup accelerator program.
TabTale, an Israeli startup that makes interactive books and educational apps for kids, has raised $12 million in funding from Qualcomm Ventures and Magma Venture Partners.
Technode reports that Super, a mobile app that lets university students download course information, has received “tens of millions yuan in Series B funding from a consortium led by Sequoia Capital.”
“Ohio State University committed $50 million to a new and untested venture capital fund despite concerns raised by top officials, records show.” The fund was pitched to the university by Mark Kvamme, a close friend of then OSU president Gordon Gee. But nothing to see here… Move along.
From the HR Department
The salaries for university head coaches are up 10% over last year and up 90% from 2006. 70 coaches make more than $1 million a year. Because priorities. Screw you, adjunct instructors.
Upstate Medical University President David Smith was on the verge of being named president of Penn State when news broke that he’s been padding his pay without state authorization.
RIP Cliff Nass, a Stanford professor of communications, who passed away unexpectedly last week. Nass was well-known for his work on human-computer interactions and on multitasking.
“Research” and Data
A story in the New Republic highlights more silliness emanating from the Common Core State Standards– this time, how the standards rate literature’s complexity. The CCSS has adopted Lexiles, a rating system developed by the MetaMetrics corporation, to ascertain how challenging reading materials are. Apparently Hunger Games is more complex than the Grapes of Wrath; Mr Popper’s Penguins is more complex than To Kill a Mockingbird; and Slaughterhouse Five has a fourth-grade reading level.
The 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results were released this week – here are the results as an infographic. Fourth and eighth grade students made small gains in reading and math. You may proceed with typical praise or condemnation of the results, depending on your politics, your state, etc.
“Can We Improve Retention Rates by Giving Students Chocolates?” asks McGraw-Hill’s VP of Research Alfred Essa. Essa is the latest to take a close look at claims made by Purdue University’s Course Signals about student retention. Conclusion: chocolate is awesome. Also: “the direct causality attributed to Course Signals is erroneous. In fact, the causation is the reverse of what is claimed. Students who take Course Signals courses are not more likely to graduate than non-Course Signals students (at least not directly and at the rates suggested), rather students who graduate are more likely to take Course Signals courses.”
The LMS market is “not dead yet,” and according to some data might triple in the next 5 years to $7.8 million. Ugh.
Inc Magazine has listed its annual list of the 5000 fastest growing companies in the US. 44 are education companies– less than 1%. Wheee.
Investment research company CB Insights has made a list of the “best and worst industries for seeded tech startups by follow-on investment rates.” Education is near the bottom.
According to a recent report from McKinsey, open data in education could be worth up to $1.2 trillion. “The largest potential benefit comes from using open data to improve instruction by identifying the most effective strategies and tools for teaching specific skills and knowledge.” Another great example of how the adjective “open” now simply means “open for business.” Another great example too of how education markets are over-hyped (see the previous two news items).
According to a calculation made at the 10th annual Open Education conference this week, openly-licensed textbooks have saved students over $100,000,000.
A report from the non-profit Child Care Aware of America contends that “for about two-thirds of the country, average child care costs are higher than annual tuition and fees at a four-year public college in the state.”
A look at the way in which schools use URLs for their LMSes finds that “almost a full 30% of institutions link to the URL provided by their LMS vendor from their official .edu sites (eg: school.desire2learn.com). An additional 40% of institutions use the name of their LMS product directly in their LMS URL (eg: moodle.school.edu).” Not such a smart idea if you plan to ever change vendors.
A report from Public Agenda contends that few adults use websites like the White House’s College Scorecard to make their decisions about whether and where to attend school. More details via Inside Higher Ed.
According to a long and confusing blog post, the Bammy Awards– a red-carpeted gala event copying the entertainment industry award shows in order to recognize teachers – will be discontinued “as we know it.” Good riddance.
The finalists of the annual Dance Your PhD contest have been announced. You can vote for your favorite here.
One of my favorite academic quitters, Rebecca Schuman (now an adjunct at the University of Missouri, St. Louis) has been running a contest that offers $100 to the first two people who include a photo of their butt as part of their portfolio – as “evidence of teaching excellence” to search committees. One #buttscan winner has already been chosen.
Help the Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is seeking donations to help it rebuild after a fire damaged its scanning center. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the fire and no data was lost. But the organization lost about $600,000 in scanning equipment.
Google announced Play for Education at Google IO, its annual developer event, this spring. Today the educational tablet initiative gets its official launch.
During its recent quarterly earnings report, Apple boasted that iPads have 94% of the education tablet market. It’s an impressive statistic, and not simply because Apple has almost entirely squeezed out all competitors since iPads first hit stores in the spring of 2010.
Apple’s continued dominance is impressive because iPads remain the more expensive tablet option, and – go ahead, ask any educator who has to manage tens or hundreds of devices for a school – they simply aren’t designed for school usage. Device administration – provisioning, syncing – is a challenge. Buying and installing apps, a pain in the ass.
In other words, iPads aren’t the ideal solution for schools. Not even close. But folks – lots and lots of folks, clearly – remain convinced they’re the best solution available.
It certainly hasn’t hurt Apple that its competitors have stumbled – fabulously – with their tablet rollouts. Microsoft tried to give away its tablet to all the attendees at ISTE’s annual conference in order to stir up educator interest, but ended up posting a $900 million loss due to “inventory adjustments” when Surfaces simply didn’t sell. Amplify, News Corp’s education wing, won a major deal with a North Carolina school district which bought $30 million worth of its tablets. But just a few months into the school year, the district has already recalled and returned the devices after widespread reports of broken screens and faulty chargers.
Apple can say glibly that their computers “just work,” and we all know it’s not quite that simple. They don’t always. Not really. But really, they often “just work” so much better than the alternative.
Despite Apple’s near monopoly of the education tablet market today, there is plenty of room for competition, particularly as more and more schools look towards 1-to–1 computing solutions (a result, in no small part, of the new Common Core State Standards’ requirement for computer-based standardized testing by 2014). Not everyone is going to "go Apple," particularly when so many have already "gone Google" with their cloud-based software.
Google's Play for Tablet-Based Education
And with that, we have Google’s unveiling today of its “Google Play for Education” – its play, pardon the pun, for the education tablet market, its Android-based store and tablet "solution."
There’s a fair amount here that other app stores – Apple iTunes, no doubt – already offer: the ability to find apps based on grade level and content area, for example. Google’s new app store also makes it possible to search for apps by a specific Common Core State Standard, a feature that isn't really too surprising considering the big ed-tech push to align apps and textbooks thusly. Google's app store also highlights apps that are ad-free and that are teacher- and/or Google-approved. (I can't help but think here, you’re meant to believe that there’s an educator's hand, not just a corporation -- cough cough Apple -- involved in what’s been approved for inclusion in the store.)
But most importantly -- most importantly practically -- Google has streamlined the app procurement process, making it much simpler for educators to buy apps with funds from multiple or different purchase orders and/or school and/or personal credit cards. That's step 1.
And then – oh! – the provisioning process.
As all of this is connected to a Google admin account, the system will prompt educators if they haven’t bought enough licenses for a class (Google knows how many students are in your class. Because Google knows).
Once that’s squared away and the proper number of apps have been purchased for the right number of devices, tap the administrator tablet to the student tablet and the device will be set up. Set up with the proper apps purchased for that student and, of course, associated with the proper Google Apps for Education account. The tablet is set up for the student, not just for a student.
The tap-to-install features, alongside the streamlined app purchasing process, means that teachers can – ostensibly, of course – buy and install apps during a class period. That is, if all the paperwork and payments are in order with Google HQ, a teacher can purchase and install apps for their class on the fly, rather than submitting a request with the front office to buy an app and/or gathering up all their students’ devices so that IT can commence a mass-installation process.
But again, it’s all part of a larger Google Apps administration. And there are trade-offs there as there are with any of these solution-providers. But for many schools that will lean towards an Android tablet solution, these are trade-offs that have already been made when schools "went Google."
The new Google Play for Education will be offered via three tablet options: the Nexus 7 which is available at launch today, along with an ASUS Transformer Pad and the HP Slate 8 Pro which will be available early next year. The price starts at $229 per tablet with a $30 per tablet management fee.
It’s a price point that’s certainly very competitive with Apple and with many of the tablet competitors out there. And no doubt, Google hopes to leverage those schools already using its Google Apps for Education software for either its Android or its Chrome OS hardware.
The search giant has been promoting Chromebooks for a couple of years now as a Web-oriented, cloud-based alternative to tablets. But now that schools seem so keen to adopt tablets, Google is hoping to serve that market too, thanks to its investment in Android. Out of beta today, Google Play for Education has a lot of the pieces in place to do that – it’s just a matter now of waiting for the developers (Apple still wins the numbers game here) and, of course, the hype and the actual customers to follow.
Fast Company published a lengthy and glowing profile today of Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun, dubbing him the “godfather of free online education.”
Many in my Twitter feed balked at that headline, no surprise. Some interpreted “Godfather” in its Mario Puzo incarnation: Michael Corleone – perhaps this is my pop culture imagination getting the best of me – ordering the murder of the heads of other families so as to seize total control. But me, I can’t help but think instead about the traditional, religious meaning of the term: a godfather is the man who takes personal responsibility for the moral growth of a child. Either way, it is a strange and unsettling title for Thrun for those of us who’ve found his pronouncements about the future of education to be in turn threatening, dire, apocalyptic, and, well, pretty amoral.
But let’s not dismiss the religious angle too quickly. The Fast Company article serves as the latest round in MOOC hagiography: Thrun, the patron saint of higher education disruption. There’s even a golden aura around him in the photo that tops the story – backlit by the sun, Thrun is shot on a bicycle outing that he and the author of the article took together. The URL points to what’s likely the author’s original title: uphill climb. The city on the hill. Salvation. He glows with a soft light in the second photo too. Angelic chorus. And so on.
The article chronicles Thrun’s life, not just his recent MOOC-related capers – his early work on a nursebot, the self-driving car. It invokes the future – educational and entrepreneurial – that Thrun envisions for his 5 year old son. But much of the article, certainly the point of the article – beginning with an oddly written lede the posits Thrun as a legend “debated nervously by chain-smoking teaching assistants” – addresses his recent work in online education.
The headline suggests a narrative arc for Our Godfather: Thrun is “changing course.”
Just a few months ago, Thrun said he was close to discovering the “magic formula” for online education, but now he admits that Udacity has offered “a lousy product." The deal that the startup struck early this year with San Jose State University to offer remedial math and statistics classes was poorly conceived: "the results were disastrous.” (Are you a miracle-worker or are you just an alchemist – it depends on the storytelling, doesn’t it?)
So a change of course of course: Thrun says now Udacity will focus explicitly on disrupting job-training and not on disrupting university education. (The prediction that the next 50 years will leave us with only 10 universities in the world has been neatly scrubbed from this story altogether. Choose your scribes well, as the apostles all learned.)
And in other news today: Udacity is teaming up with Cloudera, the enterprise provider for the open source tool Hadoop, so as to offer training in big data programming, systems, and architecture.
I’m not sure that this is, as some have suggested, a “pivot.” Udacity has always been clear that it’s focused on engineering education. The startup struck partnerships with tech companies early on– it has sought to be a provider of high-(industry-)demand CS curriculum and a job recruitment pipeline.
And whether you see today’s Fast Company article as indication of a “pivot” or not, I think it’s a mistake to cheer this moment as Udacity’s admission of failure and as an indication that it intends to move away from university disruption. The startup is, after all, still in partnership with Georgia Tech and AT&T to offer a computer science Master’s Degree. The startup is still working with San Jose State University. And most importantly, Thrun himself is still the name most associated with the MOOCification of higher ed.
And me, I have still more cause for concern, as I am not willing to shrug off lousy educational practices simply because they occur outside the walls of formal education. Many professors have been quite vigilant about criticizing MOOCs foray into higher ed; I think it’s just as important to keep that up if MOOCs want to conquer vocational ed instead. If MOOCs – short videos, multiples choice quizzes, and robo-graders – offer bad pedagogy, then that means they offer bad pedagogy for everyone, everywhere. To ignore bad pedagogy simply because it occurs in settings outside the humanities or outside the college curriculum is elitist and wrong.
Thrun argues in the Fast Company article that Udacity never sought to replace “anything as rich and powerful as what a traditional liberal-arts education would offer you.” (I think that’s what Coursera purports to do.) But I’m curious, for starters, why we wouldn’t want software engineers to have that background. What’s missing from CS curriculum today? Is it simply a matter of content – lessons in Hadoop, for example? I once asked Thrun’s co-founder David Stavens, incidentally, if Udacity planned to offer classes in communication or project management or documentation – three things I think a lot of engineers suck at. The answer was no, making me wonder what sort of career the Udacity classes were actually going to prepare folks for.
This is why the Udacity’s failures at San Jose State are so revealing. San Jose State is, after all, one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the US. SJSU is near Silicon Valley but decidedly not Stanford, not Berkeley. But we learn, via the Fast Company article, that the SJSU students aren’t the right students for this grand MOOC experiment: “For Thrun, who had been wrestling over who Udacity’s ideal students should be, the results were not a failure; they were clarifying. ‘We were initially torn between collaborating with universities and working outside the world of college,’ Thrun tells me. The San Jose State pilot offered the answer. ‘These were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives,’ he says. ‘It’s a group for which this medium is not a good fit.’”
Who is the “ideal student” and what is his (I’ll go with the male possessive pronoun here) relationship to a “rich liberal arts education”? What is his relationship to online education? Is it simply that the ideal student is not from the working class or minority population who requires the math remediation classes that Udacity offered via San Jose State? Or is the ideal students not to be found among the working class or minority students who do not require remediation? Seriously, why walk away from this student population? Do Udacity’s “ideal students” already have CS degrees? Are they looking for a career path at a specific corporation? Are they seeking some sort of certification to make them more hirable (there and there alone)? Are these “ideal students” women? Are these ideal students minorities? Are these ideal students US residents? Who defines "ideal"? The companies who now pay for Udacity's job pipeline?
There are plenty of complaints – why, a whole STEM shortage narrative – about our current education system’s failure to train enough people to fill the “jobs of the future.” But what exactly are these jobs? Are they the six-figure ones – the salary for entry level programming jobs in Silicon Valley? Or are we actually taking about lower-paying technical jobs – “spec work” – outsourced elsewhere, outsourced to “others”?
As Mike Caulfield notes in his take on the Fast Company article, Udacity’s move may simply re-inscribe an education pipeline that filters out rather than opening access and supporting more people. We need more students in computer science, so the story goes. But I think we have an obligation to do so with social justice and not mere hagiography in mind.
“At the end of the day, the true value proposition of education is employment,” says Thrun in an incredibly revealing statement. In other words, the purpose of education is to have a job not to make one. To be a worker, not a manager and not an entrepreneur. Let's be honest. This is not the value proposition of Stanford.
So yeah, perhaps it’s easy for many in higher education to shrug and sigh with relief that Thrun has decided to set his sights elsewhere. But if we care about learning – if we care about learners– I think we need to maintain our fierce critiques about MOOCs. Who is the target audience? Who is the “ideal student”? Why is crappy pedagogy okay for “them”? Who owns these students’ data? After all, there are no FERPA protections if you aren’t taking federal dollars. In this framework, it’s all for sale.
And while I’m not a religious person, I have to insist that this is not how I’d pick a godfather -- a moral compass -- for future generations of learners. Thrun is not my idea of an education saint. This whole MOOC thing simply isn't my idea of salvation.
Education Hardware Upgrades
MakerBot announced its MakerBot Academy. Its mission: “to put a MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every school in America.” MakerBot is working with DonorsChoose.org to help teachers fundraise for their MakerBot bundle.
Education Hardware Recalls and Delays
The Los Angeles Board of Education agreed to continue, but scale back, its troubled iPad rollout this week. Included in the changes to the plan, an assessment of how tablets affect student achievement. More details via The LA Times.
Miami-Dade School District is delaying its massive, $63 million 1:1 technology rollout. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said that events elsewhere (in Los Angeles, no doubt) prompted the district to move more slowly.
Udacityannounced this week that it’s launching a “Data Science and Big Data Track,” partnering with Hadoop provider Cloudera for the curriculum.
That news was well-timed with a Fast Company profile of Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun that suggests the company is pivoting, away from higher ed disruption and to more of this corporate-sponsored tech training. My thoughts. George Siemens’ thoughts. Rolin Moe’s thoughts. Mike Caulfield's thoughts. Martin Weller’s thoughts. Bonnie Stewart’s thoughts. (You get the picture.)
But hey. You can now show off your MOOC certificates on LinkedIn. So that changes everything.
Other Online Edu Efforts
Carnegie Mellon University has created a Global Learning Council to “spearhead efforts to develop standards and promote best practices in online education.” Council members include edX's Anant Agarwal and Coursera's Daphne Koller. “Global,” but with US representatives only, seeking to identify “best practices,” because nobody out there already does that. Sigh.
In a story about the “sharing economy” in The Wall Street Journal, AirBnB founder Brian Chesky hinted that the startup is “considering investing in additional e-learning software for hosts.” There’s a Udacity joke to be made here, isn't there.
Elsewhere, For Credit
Facebook has launched Open Academy, a partnership with 22 universities that will set up a special class where students can get college credit for contributing to open source projects.
Investment, IPOs, and Acquisitions
Textbook rental company Chegg had its IPO this week, raising $187.5 million. Shares were priced at $12.50 but fell to a low of $8.56 on opening day.
Textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt also IPO’d this week, raising $219 million. Shares were initially priced at $12 and haven’t dropped below that, hitting a high this week of $16.20.
Kidaptive has raised $10.1 million in Series B funding, reports Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez who offers a closer look at the startup’s iPad apps.
Online education startup CreativeLive has raised $21.5 million, bringing its total funding to $29.5 million, reports GeekWire.
ScootPad, which describes itself as “a leading personalized learning platform,” has raised $1 million in seed funding.
Gutenberg Technology has raised $6.5 million, says Edsurge, for digital textbooks with “MOOC features.” Wheee.
Mobile Learning Networks, a company that offers tutoring via laptops, has raised $350,000 in seed funding.
From the HR Department
Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the head of Head Start, has announced her resignation, effective November 22.
Sylvia Manning, the president of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, has announced she’s stepping down. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a look at her “bumpy tenure.”
Bruce Reed, Vice President Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff, has been named president of the Broad Foundation, one of the big 3 philanthropies helping shape education policy.
The for-profit “elite” education startup Minerva announced a couple of administrative hires this week: James Sterling, vice president for academic affairs at the Keck Graduate Institute, will serve as director of Minerva Labs, and Eric Bonabeau, founder of the Icosystem Corporation, will be dean of the College of Computational Sciences.
Microsoft has abandoned “stack ranking,” its system of grading employees against one another, then firing or pushing out the poor performers. Stank ranking was the subject of a story in Vanity Fair last year which blamed the system for crippling the company’s “ability to innovate.” Some have suggested that this practice has been the model for the Gates Foundation’s efforts to push for a similar rating system for teachers – “rank and yank.”
Senators Dick Durbin and Al Franken have proposed the Affordable College Textbook Act that “would encourage the creation of free online textbooks by offering grants for pilot projects that produce high-quality open-access textbooks, especially for courses with large enrollments.”
Pre-K legislation was also introduced in the US Senate and House this week. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would fund pre-kindergarten education for all low- and moderate-income children in the US. Not too many folks are optimistic about the bill’s chances, because you know, Congress is broken.
First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off her new initiative this week: college for everyone.
The comments have closed regarding E-Rate reform. (ISTE, which led an effort to gather comments supporting E-Rate expansion, says that its members contributed some 40% of the 1000 comments submitted.) Ben Kamisar, in an op-ed for Education Week, suggests the FCC could expand E-Rate beyond schools and libraries – something that makes me wonder what would happen to Internet filtering per CIPA. Hrmm.
The Indiana Inspector General has filed an ethics complaint against former state superintendent and education reform darling Tony Bennett“for using state computers for campaign business during his 2012 reelection bid.” Earlier this year, the AP reported that Bennett had changed the grade for a school of one of his donors.
Education in the Courts
Google has finally won its eight-year-long legal battle with the Authors Guild over the search giant’s efforts to digitize millions of books. US Circuit Judge Denny Chin said that the scanning was “tranformative” and as such amounted to fair use. More via Jen Howard in The Chronicle (paywalled. bummer) and via Jeff John Roberts in GigaOm. The full decision is available here.
Citing privacy concerns, parents in New York filed a lawsuit against Commissioner of Education John King and the Board of Regents, asking to block the state’s partnership with inBloom and implementation of the non-profit’s data infrastructure.
After being sent back to a lower court by the Supreme Court earlier this year, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals began re-hearing arguments in the affirmative action case Fisher v Texas.
An appeals court in Florida has ordered the release of teachers’ performance data, after the Florida Times-Union filed a lawsuit.
Sampo IP is suing Blackboard for patent infringement. But before you shout, “KARMA!” it’s important to remember, as Michael Feldstein writes, that patent trolls are bad news, no matter who they go after.
“CoolCatTeacher” Vicki Davis has announced via her blog that the Flat Classroom Project isn’t earning enough money to support both her and her co-founder Julie Lindsay. But the process of figuring out “what next” doesn’t sound like it’s going too smoothly, and the two are headed to court to dissolve the company and split the assets via legal proceedings.
“Research” and Data
“Pearson commits to measure and report impact on learning outcomes,” announces the press release. The education giant’s report “Asking More: The Path to Efficacy brings together some of the world’s leading education experts to highlight how research and data collection can enable a revolutionary degree of rigour in measuring and improving the success of learning products, educational programmes and institutions.” Nothing gets me more excited on a Friday afternoon, I tell you what, than a revolutionary degree of rigour.
Inside Higher Ed reports on demographics data from GRE-test takers: “Test-takers who took the GRE in 2012–13 were more likely to be a bit younger and a bit more science-oriented than those who took the exam the year before. And in the quantitative portion of the exam, in particular, foreign talent appears to be outpacing American.”
Phil Hill has published the 2013 version of the State of the Anglosphere’s Higher Education LMS Market. “There are no dramatic changes to the market in general this year,” Hill writes. “The same players keep growing (primarily Canvas, followed by Moodle and Desire2Learn), and the same players keep shrinking (primarily Blackboard). The only new potential system of interest this year is OpenEdX.”
Open data in New York City has resulted in a batch of new apps to help students and their families select a high school, thanks to an initiative supported by the NYC DOE’s iZone team. More details at Education Week.
In an op-ed in Quartz, two McGraw Hill execs decry the fact that only 39% of public schools in the US have wireless Internet.
Sports and Schooling
Judge Claudia Wilken has certified that the student-athletes suing the NCAA have class action status for some of their claims, but she denied them the ability to sue as a class for damages relating to the use of their images and likenesses. More details on the lawsuit via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Denver Broncos player John Moffit says he’s walking away from professional football after reading Noam Chomsky. Curse you, “liberal arts education” – you are always spoiling everyone’s fun and profits.
Part 1 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series
It’s time once again for my annual review of the dominant trends in education technology. This will be the fourth year of my penning this series – long enough for me to feel like it’s become a veritable year-end tradition, and long enough for me to reflect beyond the single year in the arc of recent ed-tech history.
When I first started writing about the top trends – way back in 2010 – we were in the early days of a significant resurgence in ed-tech adoption and ed-tech entrepreneurship. I struggled then to convince editors that I should even cover the space. But soon enough, stories about the promise of education and technology filtered out beyond the tech or education trade press, and – thanks in no small part to Khan Academy – into the mainstream news as well. Oh sure, there were still lots of examples of schools banning computing devices and blocking websites (particularly social media). But there was a sense of excitement and promise among students, teachers, parents, principals, politicians, business folks, investors, journalists. Plus, as of the spring of 2010, there were iPads.
And that changed everything. Or something like that. “The iPad will revolutionize education,” or so the headlines promised. But three years later, as I plan this end-of-year review, I’m struck by how very little has changed at all.
For the record, here are what I have chosen as the “top ed-tech trends” in previous years:
Social Media – Adoption and Crackdown
Text-messagingData (Which Still Means Mostly “Standardized Testing”)
The Digital Library
STEM Education’s Sputnik Moment
The Higher Education Bubble
The Business of Ed-Tech
The Business of Ed-Tech
The Maker Movement
Learning to Code
The Flipped Classroom
The Battle to Open Textbooks
Education Data and Learning Analytics
The Platforming of Education
Automation and Artificial Intelligence
The Politics of Ed-Tech
I want to kick off this year’s series by arguing that in 2013, not much is new. Oh sure. Shit happened. Plenty of shit. Trust me. I chronicle it all here weekly.
But the trends that I’ll cover over the next five weeks are going to be drawn almost entirely from the lists above. Same shit, different years. Old wine, new bottles. And so on. Despite all the hype and hoopla about “disruptive innovation,” all the cheering for the “end of college as we know it” all the excitement about the coming flipped classroom revolution, what we’ve seen instead is more of the same: many technologies that continue to prop up old practices, and notably this year many entrepreneurs who continue to pile onto popular but pre-existing trends (a sizable number of new “learn to code” startups this year, for example).
Indeed to a great extent, two of the most significant trends this year – MOOCs (at the university level) and the Common Core State Standards (in the US at the K–12 level) – sucked all the oxygen out of the room. There seemed little else to talk about in ed-tech – in policy, products, investing, or otherwise. This year’s “top trends” reflect that.
But by selecting “zombie ideas” as the first trend I’m covering, I want to point to more than just the stagnancy of ed-tech innovation this year. I want to highlight too the ways in which 2013 seemed a reprise of many older trends that just keep coming back, even though research and analysis have refuted them.
Edu Deja Vu
“Books will soon be obsolete in schools” – Thomas Edison, 1913
“Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete” – Arne Duncan, 2012
“I believe that the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and that in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks. I should say that on the average we get about two percent efficiency out of schoolbooks as they are written today. The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture… where it should be possible to obtain one hundred percent efficiency.” – Thomas Edison, 1922
“Nothing has more potential to enable us to reimagine higher education than the massive open online course, or MOOC, platforms that are being developed by the likes of Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and companies like Coursera and Udacity.” – Thomas Friedman, 2013
Late last year, education historian and Stanford professor Larry Cuban wrote a blog post about “zombie ideas and online instruction” drawing on economist Paul Krugman’s contention that zombie beliefs are those “beliefs about policy that have been repeatedly refuted with evidence and analysis but refuse to die.” No doubt, it's an argument that runs through much of Cuban's research on the history of teachers and machines. Cuban writes, ”The repeated return of mistaken ideas captures well my experiences with technologies in schools and what I have researched over decades. The zombie idea that is rapidly being converted into policies that in the past have been ‘refuted with evidence but refuse to die’ is: new technologies can cure K–12 and higher education problems of teaching and learning."
2013 was a great year for zombie ideas in ed-tech.
Like "bite-sized learning chunks" -- a phrase in far too many press releases. In June, Fujistu and MIT announced a “first-of-its-kind breakthrough higher education learning platform” – well, that’s what the press release called it anyway. The platform offers “learning nuggets” – a throwback to “learning objects” perhaps but without a shred of recognition of the critiques made of them. “By breaking domains into atomistic concepts and populating each concept with a wide variety of learning nuggets, [the new platform] will be able to eliminate the Industrial Age ‘course’ and tailor each individual’s education to suit their interests.”
It wasn’t just the “learning object” that found a reprise in 2013. There were several initiatives launched this year that described themselves as education “portals” – a word that is certainly reminiscent of the Internet in the 1990s. These portals serve as closed search engines and/or content repositories – “marketplaces” where educational content (apps, lessons, and so on) can be purchased, “review sites” to help make that purchasing decision. Affiliate marketing and lead gen 2.0.
An abbreviated list of new education portals includes: Graphite, a website from Common Sense Media, that rates educational apps. Balefire Labs which also rates apps. Educade, a site sponsored by AT&T and Gamedesk and a portal for “interactive learning tools.” LearnBig, an educational content portal brought to you by the former CEO of Egghead. The educational app discovery portal appoLearning. Edvantage, a curriculum hub for educators brought to you by George Washington University. BetterLesson (founded in 2008), which teamed up with the NEA this year to offer “master teacher” lesson plans – an initiative it described as the “first educator-created body of knowledge around effective teaching.”
Of course, everything is “the first” in a world of ed-tech marketing that has no sense of history, that seems to believe that Apple developed the first educational tablet, that Stanford AI professors invented online education, that David Wiley doesn’t exist.
But at least ed-tech had a sense of style this year, right? Not just with “rock star professors,” oh no (more on that coming up when I address the MOOC trend). Kim Taylor, one of the stars from Randi Zuckerberg’s “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley” reality TV show on Bravo, launched an ed-tech startup too! Ranku. And yup. It’s a “comparison shopping site for legit online universities,” per Techcrunch.
But perhaps the largest indication of 2013 as the year of zombie idea: Gilfus Venture Partners acquired the e-learning company Adrenna for an undisclosed sum in October – “part of an ambitious plan to rival learning management system powerhouses like Blackboard, Desire2Learn and Instructure.” Gilfus Venture Partners, of course, is owned by Stephen Gilfus, one of the co-founders of Blackboard.
Learning management systems are, indeed, the undead of education technology, aren’t they. Even MOOCs, purportedly the greatest innovation in recent ed-tech history, started to look more like LMSes this year.
The History of the Future of Ed-Tech
"The greatest innovation in recent ed-tech history" is a pretty meaningless phrase when for many the history of ed-tech is newer than this blog. I often lament the lack of historical knowledge about ed-tech, particularly among education entrepreneurs and investors. Invoking George Santayana’s famous quotation is a bit of a cliche, I realize. But then again, when we don’t pay attention to the past, we can't ever quite slay the zombie ideas. We build and move forward quite blindly.
No one articulated that better this year, in my opinion, than Bret Victor in his presentation this summer on "The Future of Programming" -- a talk inspired by one of the great education technologists Alan Kay.
Part 2 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series
I’m not going to summarize all the education-related political developments from 2013. Pardon me while I skip over the Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind waivers; the impact of sequestration and the federal government shutdown of education programs; the Supreme Court’s Fisher v Texas decision; (failed) education in Tennessee to tie a family’s welfare benefits to children’s grades; “the missing Michelle Rhee” memo; Senator Alexander’s attempts to let Congress, and not peer review, decide who gets NSF money; court cases against administrators in Tennessee and Georgia involved in test-cheating scandals; the hiring of former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to head the University of California system; the end of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure in NYC (and as promised by newly elected Mayor Bill De Blasio, an end to many of Bloomberg’s edu policies); and the publication of Ron Paul’s book on education. Might I recommend instead POLITICO’s new education vertical, which launched this year – particularly its morning email that summarizes all your daily (US) politics-and-education news. (Or on second thought...)
There are many political developments – the Common Core State Standards, school districts’ hardware purchases, MOOCs, NSA spying, accreditation, rising college costs and student loan debt – that I’ll address at more length in subsequent posts. (And I promise, I’ll talk more about developments outside the US too.) Perhaps that’s the main takeaway from this post: politics permeate ed-tech.
One of the challenges I’ve found writing a blog about teaching, learning, and technology is that you can’t simply talk about these without talking about business and the politics. And the business and politics of ed-tech bleed into other business practices, technical developments, and policy issues as well. To write about ed-tech without referencing the latter in particular isn’t apolitical or neutral or objective. Rather, to do so simply obscures how power operates.
Student homelessness in the US has hit a record high, for example – there were 1.2 million homeless students during the 2011–2012 school year. That’s not an ed-tech story per se, despite the best efforts of those with a solutionist bent to make it one – “an app to end homelessness!” or simply “teach them to code!”. But it’s impossible (or at least deeply, deeply problematic) to ignore growing and vast income disparities, to ignore students’ lives outside of school and write sunnily about efforts like the “flipped classroom” or digital textbooks.
And no doubt, if there are “zombie ideas” in ed-tech as I suggested in the first post in this year-in-review series, it is in no small part due to power and politics. It’s such an easy political stance to take, after all: more technology is synonymous with “the future” – a better, shinier future.
The Politics of the “Education is Broken” Narrative
And thank goodness for all that shiny tech! Because “education is broken.” (And technology will sell you a fix… but more on the business of ed-tech in a subsequent post too.)
2013 marked the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most influential arguments made to that effect, with the publication in 1983 of A Nation at Risk. (Of course, the idea of failing schools goes back much farther.) Commissioned by President Reagan, the report highlighted “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Many historians trace the push for “accountability” to this report – No Child Left Behind, and all its standardized testing ilk. Reform reform reform.
And yet despite three decades of reform, the “education is broken” narrative continues. “ACT scores fall to lowest level in five years,” says Inside Higher Ed in August. “This Year’s SAT Scores Are Out, and They’re Grim,” reads The Atlantic headline in September. And even when some tests point to some improvements, “Be Wary of Ranking NAEP Gains,” cautions the Brookings Institution. We're doomed!
In addition to handwringing over test scores – ongoing signals of brokenness - a number of political organizations stepped in with “report cards” to rate schools and states’ policies: former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s organization StudentsFirst issued one; former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s organization Foundation for Excellence in Education issued another. Massachusetts, for example — well-known for topping test scores – rated a D+ on the former’s report card, an F on the latter’s. Because unions. Or something.
A couple of blows to these ratings: 1) Rutgers education professor Bruce Baker analyzed how these ed-reform-oriented report cards – that is, grades given to states based on how well they conform to certain policies – actually coincide with NAEP scores. (That is, they don’t.) 2) Ed reform darling Tony Bennett, defeated in his re-election bid for Indiana State Superintendent last year (but hired as the head of Florida’s schools shortly thereafter) was found, thanks to an AP investigation, of changing a top GOP donor’s school grade. So something is broken here…
No doubt, the loudest counter-argument to A Nation at Risk 3.0 – the assertion that schools are not, in fact, broken – was made by education historian Diane Ravitch in her book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, published in September. Ravitch continued her work (even after an illness sidelined her speaking tour this fall) as one of the most outspoken opponents to what she describes as “corporate education reform”– accruing 7 million page-views on her blog in just 18 months.
But things are broken. Communities. Government. Schools. Economies.
One need look no further than Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the shuttering of 49 schools – the largest public school closure in history. That move forced many students – oh, guess what race was affected? – to walk through gang-territory in the newly-crowned murder capital of the US.
Or look no further than Philadelphia, where its public school district faced a massive budget shortfall, where its superintendent threatened to not open schools this fall if the city did not loan it $50 million, where thousands of staff were laid off, and where a contract agreement put before teachers early in the year not just scrapped seniority, but water fountains, desks, and parking spaces.
The Politics of Students
Many of these events simply happen to students, mind you, not in conversation with them. We have these policy discussions about reshaping education – no matter whether you’re “pro” or “anti” “reform” – but very rarely does the student voice get a chance to speak.
In May, it did, thanks to a cellphone video captured in a Duncanville High School classroom. Jeff Bliss, (apparently) kicked out of class (for an infraction that the video never makes clear), delivered a passionate speech about teaching, learning, care, and connection, all of which he juxtaposed to the “packets” and passivity of the classroom and his teacher. The video, uploaded to YouTube and WorldStarHipHop, garnered millions of views.
I’ll talk more about education, technology, and surveillance/sousveillance in another post – I think that’s a crucial element of this particular story. What does it mean to have a student’s rant taped, what does it mean to have it go viral? Regardless of how you care to explain Bliss’s 15 minutes of fame – he helped spread this ongoing refrain about a broken system.
The Politics of Labor
Of course, a large part of the “what’s broken” narrative tends to place blame at the feet of educators, and this is not just a question about optimal learning conditions but of working conditions too.
While the Chicago Teachers Union strike in 2012 highlighted labor issues at the K–12 level, in 2013 education labor issues were highlighted other places as well:
The Politics of the Tech Sector
Of course, in the future our jobs will all be automated – or half of our jobs– depending on how you run the numbers, I guess.
Robots, writes George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen are “harbingers of a new libertarian age.” And some in Silicon Valley are surely readying for it with calls this year for secession, gridlock, an alternative currency, and a floating island utopia. Fun times.
The libertarian impulse didn’t stop the tech industry from lobbying the government. As of October 2013, OpenSecrets.org says that the computer/Internet sector had spent $104,299,922 on lobbying, with Google ($10 million), Microsoft ($7.7 million), Oracle ($5.3 million), Hewlett-Packard ($5.1 million), and Facebook ($4.9 million) leading the pack. Google and Facebook also joined ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative lobbying and legislation-writing organization that’s pushed for laws like “Stand Your Ground.”
Among the specifically ed-tech oriented federal laws that were up for revision or comment this year: COPPA and E-Rate. New COPPA rules governing children’s online privacy went into effect in July, with tech friendly measures that allow contextual advertising without parental permission. And the FCC is still in the process of updating E-Rate, a fee on telecommunications that helps fund cheaper Internet access for schools and libraries. (AT&T, incidentally, outspent Google this year on lobbying, spending $12.3 million. Verizon spent $9.9 million.) While there have been calls to expand E-Rate to include wireless community hotspots, Verizon is among those opposed to that idea.
But expanding Internet access isn’t simply the purview of the FCC. Oh no. In August, Mark Zuckerberg asked (on Facebook, duh), “Is connectivity a human right?” His answer: “I believe connectivity is a human right.” His solution: Internet.org, a consortium that includes Facebook (duh) and several cellphone makers. Their goal: bring the Internet (Facebook duh) to the entire world.
Berkeley PhD candidate Jen Schradie penned the best of what were overwhelmingly skeptical responses to Zuckerberg’s efforts: “Are you really concerned about human rights via Internet connectivity or do you want to make sure Facebook is a Human Right?” (Bill Gates had the second best response to these tech industry efforts towards “connectivity.” I’ll grant him that.)
Of course, Internet.org wasn’t the only foray of the young billionaire Zuck into politics. He’d already made a $100 million donation to Newark Schools several years ago (emails chronicling the negotiations between Zuckerberg and Mayor Cory Booker were released on Christmas Eve, 2012. Because timing in politics is everything.) This year, Zuckerberg co-founded a SuperPAC, Fwd.us, along with other tech luminaries (including Gates). Much of the agenda of Fwd.us is focused on immigration reform (a major issue in the tech industry this year). Its priorities also include “Education reforms that produce more graduates in the science, technology and math fields and ensure all children receive a high quality education from effective teachers and accountable schools.” (Familiar ed-reform language.) And just to cover all the bases (I guess), the SuperPAC also bought ads supporting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. (Because even libertarian tech utopias need fuel and workers, yo.)
“It’s already clear that with FWD.us, the tech industry is going to have to reckon with exactly how real the realpolitik is going to get,” wrote Anil Dash in response to the launch of the SuperPAC. “If we’re finally moving past our innocent, naive and idealistic lack of engagement with the actual dirty dealings of legislation, then let’s try to figure out how to do it without losing our souls.”
The Politics of the Business of Ed-Tech
I’m not sure I agree with Dash that the tech industry is really that naive. The education sector sure isn’t. And together? Well…
This year, Ted Mitchell, the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund (investor in charter schools like Rocketship and KIPP and in startups like Edsurge and ClassDojo), was tapped to replace Martha Kanter as Under Secretary, the highest ranked higher education official in the Department of Education.
Nothing to see here... Move along...
MOOCs: “Not Dead Yet”
For those ready to dance on the grave of MOOCs following Udacity’s “pivot” last week, well…
Courseraannounced today that it has raised another $20 million in investment. This brings to $63 million the Series B funding that the company raised in July (and $85 million total). Part of this latest cash influx comes from three unnamed universities. Any bets on which ones?
This funding news throws cold water on Higher Education Strategy Associates’ Alex Usher, who speculated this week that Coursera is burning through its funding at such a rapid rate that it only has “maybe 15 months before the VCs pull the plug.”
According to a survey undertaken by the University of Pennsylvania of students enrolled in its Coursera classes, 80% of respondents already had a 4-year degree. 44% had some graduate education. You can read the full study here.
Kris Olds has “mapped Coursera’s global footprint,” showing where the MOOC startup has struck partnerships and where the participants in Coursera classes come from.
Frustrated by the deals that its administration has struck with MOOC providers, the faculty at San Jose State is weighing a measure that would, according to The Chronicle, “forbid the university to sign contracts with outside technology providers without the approval of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in whatever department would be affected.” (Initially schedule for a vote early this week, the measure has been tabled ’til December.)
Udacity continues its roll-out of training in corporate tech, this week with classes to help you build apps on the Salesforce platform.
According to a story in the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Coursera too might be weighing a move into corporate training. “We think that many companies view Coursera as a quality, convenient, inexpensive way to continue employee development,” Andrew Ng told the publication.
MITxunveiled its third XSeries certificate (this one in aeronatics. The other two are “Fundamentals of Computer Science” and “Supply Chain Management.”) It also announced the pricing for the XSeries Courses: $50 for short courses and $100 for longer courses. (You can still audit for free.)
“Thousands of People Sign Up for Online Classes They Never End Up Taking,” and The Atlantic is on it.
News from Ye Olde Brick and Mortar Institutions
You can now pay your tuition at Cypriot University of Nicosia with Bitcoins.
Looking to save some money, the University of District Columbia is axing departments that suffer from low enrollment – physics, history and economics. But it’s keeping its athletics program (which lost $3 million last year). Go, sports team!
Non-MOOC Startup Funding
Lightsail Education, an adaptive-learning literacy tool, has raised $3.5 million in Series A funding.
Brain Parade, a company which makes assessments for special education, has raised $700,000 in funding.
Sumpto, a “Klout for college students” – that is, a tool that measure students’ "brand influence – has raised $350,000 in funding.
Everpath, a “a one-stop platform for online instructors to host their lessons,” has raised $950,000, reports GeekWire.
Colingo, which offers online English-language classes has raised $2.4 million.
Speaking to a group of school superintendents, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke about the growing opposition to the Common Core State Standards, noting that it means that there are “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” Cue outrage.
Several states have slowed their roll-outs of assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Massachusetts has opted for a two-year transition, saying that students won’t have to take the PARCC exams until 2015. Louisiana is moving even more slowly, with a ten-year transition period.
The Department of Education released a report on the School Improvement Grant program, which is meant to turn-around the country’s lowest-performing schools. But the SIG program gets mixed results, according to this latest news, with a third of schools actually performing worse.
The Department of Education unveiled a $100 million Race-to-the-Top-ish contest for high schools that work with colleges and employers.
Democratic Senators Christopher Murphy of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii say they plan to put forward legislation that would make it easier for competency-based programs to gain access to federal funding. More details via Inside Higher Ed.
Email records show that Missouri’s education commissioner helped advise on a ballot campaign that would have ended tenure for public school teachers in the state.
Former Atlanta elementary school teacher Lisa Terry plead guilty this week for obstruction, the first teacher to do so as part of the city school district’s test-cheating scandal.
The Texas State Board of Educationgave preliminary approval this week to dropping Algebra II as a requirement for high school students in the state to graduate.
The US Department of Justice says that it’s dropping its attempts to block Louisiana’s school voucher program, which it claimed earlier this year were interfering with school desegregation in the state.
According to a report by the GAO, DC’s school voucher program, which uses tax dollars for low-income students to attend private schools, lacks sufficient oversight.
Launches and Upgrades
After the closure of Google Reader (etc etc etc), many academics have worried that Google Scholar might be on the chopping list too. But this week, Google launched“Scholar Library, your personal collection of articles in Scholar. You can save articles right from the search page, organize them by topic, and use the power of Scholar’s full-text search & ranking to quickly find just the one you want - at any time and from anywhere.” I wouldn’t get toooooo comfortable with another free tool from Google. But hey. That’s just me.
HaperCollins is teaming up with Curriculet (formerly known as Gobstopper) in order to "“reinvent how schools buy and teach books.”
CatAcademy: an app from digital flashcard maker Memrise that teaches you Spanish via LOLCats. Because there’s no education technology startup bubble at all.
“Is Nintendo Developing Tablets for Schools?” asks Edsurge, in a blurb based on a handful tweets from a Nintendo software engineer. I LOL'd.
Creative Commons launched an “open access button” this week, “a browser bookmark tool that allows users to report when they hit paywalled access to academic articles and discover open access versions of that research.”
Moodle 2.6 is now available for download.
Wolfram Alpha announced that it’s making the pilot release of its new language (plus its math software Mathematica) available as part of a software bundle for Raspberry Pi. And in turn this week, Raspberry Pi said that it’s sold over 2 million Pis since the non-profit launched.
The University of California, Berkeley student senate is pushing for a rule on campus that would require that student information systems procured by the university have an API. Noting how SISes are usually in place for 30 years, the student senate argues that “new SIS program needs to have a solid foundation with the capability to use APIs with open information for developers to improve the systems and create extension applications.” More via the API Evangelist.
The first satellite developed by high schoolers was sent into space this week. “The 2-pound TJ3Sat was built by about 50 students over the past seven years at the public Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., working with volunteers from its corporate sponsor, Orbital Sciences.”
“Prophecy Sciences Wants To Transform Recruiting With A Blend Of Neuroscience, Games, Biometrics And Machine Learning.” Funded by Y Combinator who’re also backing food-substitute Soylent. Because the demand for dystopian technology is up this year, I guess.
From the HR Department
Richard Arum, co-author of Academically Adrift, a book that argued college students aren’t learning much, has joined the Gates Foundation.
Seth Andrew, founder of the charter school chain Democracy Prep, is joining the Department of Education as a senior advisor to Arne Duncan.
TED has named its 2014 fellows.
Mark Matienzo has been hired as the new Director of Technology for the Digital Public Library of America.
“Research” and Data
“A 2011 survey found that 80 percent of teachers reported being intimidated, harassed, assaulted or otherwise victimized at least once during the previous year,” writes The Wall Street Journal in a story that looks at violence against teachers. Because yes, these are teachers’ working conditions. And that means they’re students’ learning conditions too.
"Game Play Has No Negative Impact on Kids, UK Study Finds,” read the headline in Gaming and Learning. Jane McGonigal, who’s written a book making a similar argument, tweeted a link to the story and garnered over 3500 retweets. But oh. Wait. The research findings were actually a bit more nuanced.
Another headline that should make you go “hmm” before you tweet it to your followers: “Report: Half of University Faculty Have Flipped their Classroom or Will in the Next Year.”
Columbia University’s Teachers College released a study on the effectiveness of the School of One (rebranded to Teach to One) product. "Student gains were uneven across Teach to One schools, and grade level averages varied considerably.” More details via Edsurge.
The Data Quality Campaign released its report on how states use education data, with Arkansas and Delaware getting high marks.
danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai published an article in Slate this week that looks at parents’ fears about technology, finding that these concerns “vary significantly by background—notably race and ethnicity, income, metropolitan status, and political ideology.”
Rice University sociology professor Erin Cech surveyedengineering undergrads about their beliefs in public welfare and found that these students leave college less concerned with it than they did when they entered as freshmen.
The UT Austin chapter of Young Conservatives of Texascancelled their plans to hold a mock immigration sting on campus (where students would be awarded $25 gift certificates for catching undocumented immigrants). Because – shocking! – people found this to be a repulsive and racist event.
Manitoba Government’s Early Learning and Child Care fined mother Kristen Bartkiw $10 because she neglected to include a grain in her child’s lunch. She packed roast beef, potatoes, carrots, and orange and some milk. To make up for the deficiency, the school served the kid Ritz crackers.
Part 3 of my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2013 series
The Politics of the Common Core
The “edit history” and “talk” pages of Wikipedia entries can be pretty interesting, particularly when it comes to controversial topics. The entry for the “Common Core State Standards Initiative” is a great example of this. The Common Core isn’t new (the standards were released in 2010); nor is the entry (it was created in 2010 as well). But this year, there’s been a vast uptick in the number of changes to that entry, and discussion about its content and tone. 26 edits in 2010. 65 in 2011. 40 in 2012. 127 up through November of this year.
Why the increased attention?
In part because assessments associated with the Common Core, which is designed to provide a single set of standards for K–12 in language arts and math across the US, will first be available in 2014. 45 states have adopted the Common Core, and there are two consortia preparing these assessments – the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC– with states participating in one or another or neither. Both of these testing groups promise “next generation assessments”: computer-based, “computer-enhanced,” computer-scored, and adaptive.
In some ways, that the Common Core has become a furiously edited Wikipedia entry is symptomatic of the current state of education politics. The Common Core is part of a larger push for accountability in schools, for example, whereby teachers’ and schools’ ratings are tied to students’ performance on tests. The Common Core is also part of a push for tougher standards and an effort to graduate all students “career and college ready.” It’s backed by businesses (Exxon and GE have been vocal in their support, as has the Chamber of Commerce). Despite its origins at the state level (originally sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers), the Common Core is also seen has being a federal initiative, partly because the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top initiative, a grant competition, demanded states adopt tougher standards, as did NCLB waivers.
All this has meant a growing suspicion, if not hostility, to the Common Core this year – that’s caught up in distrust of the Department of Education, Arne Duncan, and President Obama; that’s worried about a mono-maniacal focus on standardized test scores; that’s opposed to standardization of curriculum; that’s unhappy about corporate influence and profit-motives in education; that’s skeptical that the standards – even if they are more rigorous – will actually do much to improve education.
And this has played out in federal, state, and local politics. In April, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sought to eliminate Department of Education that was used to develop or implement the Common Core. In June, Pennsylvania threatened to drop out of PARCC. In July, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Indiana said they were pulling out. In September, Florida governor Rick Scott indicated that state would also end its participation in the testing consortia. Despite former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s strong support for the Common Core, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) stated his opposition to the standards too, calling them a coercive attempt to create a national curriculum. In November, Massachusetts said that it would move slowly with a two-year rollout of Common Core related testing. Louisiana said it was moving even more slowly, setting a 10-year timeline. And in response to all the controversy, Arizona governor Jan Brewer ordered her state agencies to stop using the phrase “Common Core.” The standards remain in place in the state, just under a different name.
The Common Core and testing were unsettling to teachers and parents, not just politicians. In August, New York released students scores on tests aligned to the tougher standards. The results: just 31% of students passed the exams in reading and math, compared with 55% in reading and 65% in math last year. Wyoming, which also aligned its tests with the Common Core, also experienced a drop in scores. The justification by officials: older tests and standards had been overstating student achievement. And perhaps that’s true.
But it still doesn’t make this statement by Arne Duncan in November terribly wise: that growing opposition to the Common Core comes from "“white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
Over the summer months, polls from the Associated Press and Gallup found Americans really weren’t that familiar or concerned about the Common Core. You have to wonder if Duncan’s headline-making statement has changed that. It’s likely it fueled the “corespiracy.”
Ken M. Libby, a PhD student at UC Boulder, has been tracking (and tweeting about) what he’s dubbed the “corespiracy” – that is, videos and articles that tie together an anti-Common Core message with conspiracy theories about the intentions of the Obama Administration. His tongue-in-cheek “Guide to Writing Right-Wing, Anti-Common Core Articles and Blog Posts” includes a couple of key pointers and themes that run throughout the “corespiracy”: that it’s a UN takeover; that it’s a Marxist plot; that it’s a Nazi plot; that it’s pro-Islamic terrorist; and so on.
This isn’t to say that the opposition to the Common Core comes solely from the Tea Party and their ilk, of course. This isn’t to say that there aren’t valid concerns about the Common Core initiative. But the concerns that make headlines aren't always about the major thrust of the Common Core; sometimes they're about the fine print.
One example: that the Common Core will mean the end of teaching cursive as the emphasis moves instead to teaching keyboarding - so as to help students better cope with the future work world, as well of course, to the upcoming computer-based assessments.
Again, this aspect of the Common Core isn’t new. Handwringing about the demise of handwriting isn’t new either. Some argue that cursive offers psychological benefits. Some argue it connects students to the past.
This year legislators in North Carolina passed legislation to make sure that students in the state were still taught cursive. California, Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina, Indiana, and Massachusetts have weighed similar bills.
But as USC education professor Morgan Polikoff counters, “Cursive should be allowed to die. In fact, it’s already dying, despite having been taught for decades. Very small proportions of adults use cursive for their day-to-day writing. Much of our communication is done on a keyboard, and the rest is done with print.”
So if we stop writing and cursive and all of Western civilization collapses – you know, because future generations can’t read original manuscripts like The Declaration of Independence– we know who to blame: Obama.
Common Core and Ed-Tech
USA Gold pencils – maker of what has long been the premiere education technology, the Number 2 pencil – said that its survey found that “89% of Americans believe it is still necessary to practice reading and writing in cursive.”
But sorry, pencil manufacturers. Computers are what schools are buying, along with software, textbooks, and assessments that are “Common Core-aligned.” I’ll look more closely at educational hardware adoption in a subsequent “trends” post, but it’s worth quoting education historian Larry Cuban here, I think, as we consider how the Common Core has influenced (and will continue to influence) technology procurement this year:
The best (and most recent) gift to the hardware and software industry has been the Common Core standards and assessments. At a time of fiscal retrenchment in school districts across the country when schools are being closed and teachers are let go, many districts have found the funds to go on shopping sprees to get ready for the Common Core.
And here is the point that I want to make. The old reasons for buying technology have been shunted aside for a sparkling new one. Consider that for the past three decades the rationale for buying desktop computers, laptops, and now tablets has been three-fold:
After three decades of rhetoric and research, teachers, principals, students, and vendors have their favorite tales to prove that these reasons have been achieved. But for those who want more than Gee Whiz stories, who seek a reliable body of evidence that shows students learning more, faster, and better, that shows teaching and learning to have been transformed, that using these devices have prepared the current generations for actual jobs—well, that body of evidence is missing for each of these traditional reasons to buy computers.
With Common Core standards adopted, the rationale for getting devices has shifted. No longer does it matter whether there is sufficient evidence to make huge expenditures on new technologies. Now, what matters are the practical problems of being technologically ready for the new standards and tests in 2014–2015: getting more hardware, software, additional bandwidth, technical assistance, professional development for teachers, and time in the school day to let students practice taking tests.
And there are plenty of practical problems. Computer-based testing systems in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Oklahoma suffered glitches this spring. There are concerns that many schools do not have the hardware or the bandwidth and that many students do not have adequate technical skills for computer-based testing. But the technological pressures of the Common Core are mounting as the 2014 school year approaches.
So will, as some have predicted, the new standards be a boon to the education technology industry? No doubt, established companies and startups have been quick to offer new Common Core-related products. With multi-million dollar contracts at stake, PARCC and Smarter Balanced have sought vendors to build various aspects of their tech infrastructure. (Winners so far include Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.) And some companies, such as MetaMetrics whose Lexiles reading level scores were criticized in a recent New Republic article, find their products and services hard-coded into the standards. Not surprisingly, the College Board (whose new president David Coleman was the architect of the Common Core) says it plans to design new tests aligned to the new standards too.
And, with a nod to the first post in this series on “zombie ideas,” the Common Core has even meant a return of an old, familiar but controversial figure in education: “A generation after he was squarely pummeled as elitist, antiquated and narrow-minded,” writes The New York Times, “the education theorist E. D. Hirsch Jr. is being dragged back into the ring at the age of 85 — this time for a chance at redemption.” He has a curriculum to sell you...
The Proliferation of Standards
The Common Core State Standards weren’t the only standards proposed or debated this year. The Next Generation Science Standards were released this spring. Mozilla’s Web Literacy Standards were released this fall. (I’ll examine the contents of the latter in more detail when I turn to the “learn-to-code” trend next week.)
New standards, my how they proliferate. And new standards – even those determined by the wisest among us – are so often fraught, particularly when they’re forced upon people, particularly when they arise not from consensus or convention, particularly when they prescribe rather than describe how things work.
When I think of “standards,” even with all the Common Core brouhaha this year, it’s still Randall Munroe’s xkcd comic that comes to mind.
Despite our best efforts to categorize then decree one standard for everyone to adopt, we often find ourselves instead with just another standard that most will ignore. Unless you’re required by law to adopt it, of course.