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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    Happy 25th anniversary to the great piece of ed-tech ever invented, the World Wide Web. But in other ed-tech news, well... Microsoft partners with Knewton. Microsoft partners with Pearson. North Carolina wants its money back because it says that its statewide implementation of Pearson's PowerSchool isn't working properly. Microsoft partners with the CK-12 Foundation. Students in a class at Harvard were told not to ask questions as the lecture material was being used in a MOOC. Ed-reform funder Reed Hastings doesn't like democratically elected school boards. And so much more bullshit.

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    Another day, another discovery of super-shady practices going on in the ed-tech industry. Shocking. (Not shocking.) So here's an attempt to explain to educators (and to startups too, I guess) that the common practice is, when you have an ongoing relationship with a company and you give them meaningful feedback, that you are compensated. Startup advisors get compensated. Not just with some swag. Not just with some snacks at a little party. Not just with a logo for your website. Not with a promise that maybe someday when the company IPOs you'll get a discount on buying stock. FFS.

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    OK, I'm slightly out-of-it this week. That's what flying to England does for you, I guess. Also, I'm visiting family so jetlag plus emotional exhaustion equals a pretty sparse weekly roundup. My apologies. I was paying close enough attention to note that Nicholas Negroponte says that in 30 years time, we'll be able to injest knowledge -- through a knowledge pill or something. So just think. I won't actually have to pay attention to the news. I'll just be able to zap everything that happens in education over the course of the week directly into my digestive system which will magically then enter my brain. Whee. Can't wait.

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    In this week's education news: a huge victory for student athletes at Northwestern University, who've been given the go ahead to form a union. New leadership at Coursera and edX -- the former, the former president of Yale and the latter, a former Vistaprint exec. Because who better to lead the charge for MOOC 2.0. Or something. 2U prepares to IPO. A bunch of startups raise money. Knewton's CEO insists that learning styles are real because he said so. And the beat goes on.

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    This is a book review of José Vilson's new book, This Is Not a Test. This is not a bildungsroman. Not in the way the genre is traditionally defined. As such, it disrupts expectations about whose stories of "coming of age" get told, who is a subject (not an object) in the classroom -- as a teacher, as a student. The subtitle of the book is "a new narrative on race, class, and education." I'm incredibly honored to be the first to get to review the book. (I'm incredibly honored to be cited in it.) Buy it and read it. It's incredibly brave and incredibly important.

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    In this week's education news: InBloom loses its final customer (New York State). PISA results (that's always fun). 2U ends its Semester Online initiative. Don't interpret that as a triumph for MOOCs though. Even MIT is raising an eyebrow at MOOCs now. Money money money for ed-tech companies. Some pretty awesome college admissions achievements for a handful of young Black men, prompting WaPo's Valerie Strauss to say we shouldn't talk any more about college admissions. WTF.

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    Here are the notes and the slides from my keynote yesterday at the BC Digital Learning Conference. (Incidentally, Slideshare: you are a piece of shit.) Anyhoo. I was asked to respond to some of the things I'd heard over the three day event. And I tried. I also wanted to share a cautionary tale about the future of education and ed-tech. Because someone has to do it.

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    Oh hey! The Internet is broken! Or at least, the security of sites using OpenSSL has been broken -- for several in fact. The bug, which the NSA has (shocker!) purportedly exploited, means that encrypted transmissions -- the ones you thought were encrypted? -- are vulnerable. While the common advice is OMG CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS, it's best to wait to make sure the sites have actually fixed their own vulnerabilities before doing so. And let's ask some hard questions dammit about why very few ed-tech vendors have issued any information about this to their users. Way to prove the point that ed-tech doesn't give a shit about security, guys.

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    After several months of writing and editing and website building and tweaking and stuff, Educating Modern Learners is live! As I mentioned earlier this year, I've taken on the role of editor and lead writer for a new progressive education/technology site, founded by Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon. I'm pretty excited about what's in store for the coming weeks and months. I hope others are too...

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    In this week's news: more details about the new SAT. Udacity will no longer offer free certification to its MOOC completers. Coursera's CEO rewrites online education history. Tony Bates is retiring. Chegg buys a daily deals site. 60 years after Brown v Board of Education, US schools are resegregating. RIP Gabriel García Márquez. And hey! My other project Educating Modern Learners is now live!

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    In this week's news: InBloom announces it will close. The Supreme Court votes to support an affirmative action ban in Michigan. The FCC proposes new language that would end net neutrality. The money and power people met in the Arizona desert to talk about "education innovation" and money and power and Magic Johnson. Football players at Northwestern University are voting today on whether or not to unionize.

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    Here are the notes and slides from my talk today at Emory University as part of the Atlanta Regional Incubator for A Domain of One's Own. I wanted to talk about why this initiative -- one that I call one of the most innovative in ed-tech -- matters. But after this event was postponed twice for snow -- in Atlanta. WTF -- it sorta turned into a rant, one that reached peak crescendo this week thinking about the implications of both net neutrality (or the end of net neutrality) and digital literacy (or the lack thereof) and citizens' digital power.

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    In this week's news roundup: Louis CK tweets about the Common Core and standardized testing. Google says it's going to stop scanning for advertising students' emails in Google Apps for Education. The Obama Administration releases the names of 50+ schools it's investigating for Title IX violations. ConnectEDU files for bankruptcy. Marc Andreessen invests in a brain wave company. And other fun stuff.

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    In this week's news, Pearson won the contract to develop and administer PARCC's version of the CCSS tests (about 15 million students are covered by this testing consortium. 15 million times $29.50 per test. Will that be on the test?). Some folks are arguing kids are mad at Michelle Obama because she's been pushing for healthier school lunches. Me, I reckon some folks will use any opportunity to be mad at the Obamas. Google launches an LMS. Microsoft adds Khan Academy content to PowerPoint. Automattic, the company behind Wordpress, raises a ton of money. Stanford divests itself of its coal investments. Angry Birds gets into the preschool curriculum game. And the Gates Foundation ends its financial support of the Global Libraries Program.

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    I gave a talk this morning at Berkeley City College as part of an event about outsourcing, adjunctivism, and higher education culture. I wanted to talk about labor and technology -- not just about MOOCs, essay-grading software, and other education technologies in the news and in classrooms today, but about some of the history of automation in education as well. Of course, I can't help but invoke literature and film in doing so: the history of robots there too.

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    Here are the slides and the notes from my talk today at CNIE in beautiful Kamloops, British Columbia. Initially I wanted to talk about some of the differences between the cultures of education and Silicon Valley and how "innovation" is framed by both. Instead, I found myself a heading down a rabbit hole with the etymology of the word "innovation." What I fear is that we talk about "innovation" without any referent except that somehow -- magically and inevitably -- "the new" is good, technology is good, technology is progress. We conflate "innovation" with positive social change. We neglect to talk about politics and think about how we must grapple with change democratically.

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    PSYCH 101

    Education Law and Politics

    The FCC has committed $450 million in funding to improve public schools’ and libraries’ broadband under the E-Rate program. (PDF) But it's still moving forward with plans to endnet neutrality. So don't get too excited about "high speed Internet" in schools, eh?

    Today is the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of EducationBut racial segregation remains in US schools.

    The European Union Court of Justice has ruled that Google must honor “the right to be forgotten” and remove links to incorrect and out-of-date information when individuals request it. (More on this over on Educating Modern Learners where it’s this week’s “What You Should Know This Week.”)

    The Obama Administration has unveiled a new $75 million fund to “spur innovation in higher education.”

    Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) are proposing an update to FERPA that will, among other things, “require schools to maintain and make available a list of all outside companies that have access to their students’ information.”

    Ras Baraka has been elected the new mayor of Newark. Baraka, the son of poet and jazz musician Amiri Baraka, will replace Cory Booker, now a US Senator. Baraka ran on a campaign of taking Newark back from “political bosses, Wall Street investors, and Governor Chris Christie, whose agendas, he said, had not served the city’s struggling people.” (More on that agenda in Dale Russakoff’s story on Zuckerberg, Booker, and Christie’s plans for the Newark schools here.)

    Although not directly related to ed-tech, this should give us concern: the Federal Circuit Court has reversed a lower court’s ruling in the Oracle v Google case, finding that the Java APIs are copyrightable. (The EFF responds.)

    Astronaut Chris Hadfield has taken down the video of his wonderful cover of “Space Oddity” filmed on the International Space Station since he only had permission to use the song for a year.

    And still more IP brokenness: Achieve3000 has been granted a patent for “its system and method of providing differentiated nonfiction content to students based on their Lexile®/reading levels.”

    Goldieblox has settled its legal dispute with the Beastie Boys (it has used the band’s song “Girls” in an ad without permission, and although it probably fell under fair use, it was pretty icky considering Adam Yauch’s statement in his will that his music not be used in advertisements). The engineering toy company will contribute 1% of its revenue to a charity until it’s paid $1 million.


    Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng is stepping away from his day-to-day responsibilities at the company (he remains Chairman of the Board) and joining the Chinese search giant Baidu.

    PandoDaily’s Carmel Deamicis has published a recent interview with Udacity co-founder SebastianThrun: “A Q&A with ‘Godfather of MOOCs’ Sebastian Thrun after he disavowed his godchild.” And the religious reference in the headline isn’t even the weirdest thing. Thrun says, for example, “If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen.” And “It’s about advancing education, filling the skills gap, and reinventing education for the 20th century.”

    “MOOCs: Expectations and Reality” (PDF): “To date, there has been little evidence collected that would allow an assessment of whether MOOCs do indeed provide a cost-effective mechanism for producing desirable educational outcomes at scale. It is not even clear that these are the goals of those institutions offering MOOCs.”

    MOOCs’ disruption is only beginning” insists Clayton Christensen.

    “Can MOOCs and Universities Co-Exist?” The Wall Street Journal asks 3 white male American professors, with predictable results.

    “Conventional Online Higher Education Will Absorb MOOCs, 2 Reports Say.” Via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Meanwhile on Campus

    Another story about a student denied hot school lunch because of an outstanding balance on his account. “Not only was the 16-year-old humiliated in front of his peers by the very public incident, but his name was also posted, along with that of lots of other students with delinquent expenses, on a list in the cafeteria for everyone to see.” His mom stepped up and paid off the overdue balance for her son, as well as the balances for all the other students at the school in a similar situation.

    Oops.“Emory University server accidentally sends reformat request to all Windows PCs, including itself.”

    The decline in college enrollment is slowing.

    The details continue to come out about the University of Oregon and the local police department’s response (or lack of response) to an alleged sexual assault of a student by several basketball team members. This line in the police report is horrific: “I thought, maybe this is just what happens in college,” she told police, “… just college fun.”

    At Columbia University, lists of names of sexual assault perpetrators are showing up in women’s bathrooms. 23 students recently filed a federal complaint charging that the university had failed to respond properly to sexual assault cases.

    The Kansas Board of Regents has finalized its new social media policy restricting what public employees, including university professors, can say, including anything “contrary to the best interests of the university.”

    From the HR Department

    Robert Buckingham, a tenured professor and the Executive Director of the University of Saskatchewan School of Public Health, was fired this week for speaking out against the school administration’s plans to slash budgets and jobs. Five weeks from retirement, Buckingham was escorted from campus and “banned for life.” Facing huge outcry, the university has reconsidered its decision. He’s no longer the head of the school, but he gets to keep his tenured faculty position.

    With its former CEO off to DC to be Under Secretary of Education, NewSchools Venture Fund had to hire a replacement. The new CEO: Gates Foundation exec Stacey Childress.

    Google chairman Eric Schmidt has been appointed to a three-person commission to advise New York on the use of technology in schools. God, I’m so glad that there’s no insidery bullshit in ed-tech.

    Phil Hill takes another look at hiring and growth at Desire2Learn.

    SF-based educator David Bill is joining the design thinking / learning consulting group NoTosh, which will now open US offices.

    Sports Team

    The NCAA has released its latest report on athletes’ academic progress. “A total of 36 teams will be ineligible for postseason competition in 2014–15, up from 13 this year, and another 57 squads will face scholarship limitations or other penalties, up from 36.”

    Tech Upgrades and Downgrades

    “The NSA has nothing on the ed tech startup known as Knewton,” writes Politico’s Stephanie Simon in an in-depth look at data mining in educational products. Her story has prompted to make a change to its privacy policy to clarify what sorts of data it requests from schools.

    From Cory Doctorow: “As Adobe Creative Suite struggles with its license-server outage, stranding creative professionals around the world without a way of earning their living, a timely reminder: a cloud computer is a computer you’re only allowed to use if the phone company and a DRM-peddling giant like Adobe gives you permission, and they can withdraw that permission at any time.”

    Dreambox Learning has released new adaptive learning software for middle school math.

    Ed-tech news site Edukwest has launched Edukwest Academy, which will offer online courses in an effort to “build the first ed-tech business school.”

    Clever now offers single-sign on to make it easier for students to log into their edu software.

    Barnes & Noble plans to expand its college bookstore business.

    Is The Udemy Marketplace Model Still Valuable To Instructors?

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Google has acquired Quest Visuals, maker of the Word Lens translation app.

    LearnSprout, which has pivoted from the API business to the data visualization business, has raised $4.2 million in a Series A round of funding. (It brings to $4.7 million the total raised by the startup.)

    Houghton Mifflin has acquiredChannel One News, the education-TV-in-school channel. [Cue jokes about a textbook publisher buying a satellite TV channel to stay relevant.]

    Synergis Education has raised $5 million in funding from Tokyo-based firm Mitsui & Co. From 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.”

    Finnish educational game-maker Fantastec has raised $800,000 in seed funding.

    Web-based writing tool Quill has received a $200,000 grant from the Gates Foundation.

    2U, which went public earlier this year, issued its first earnings report: “revenue of $26.3 million, up from $19.1 million in the first quarter of 2013. The company’s net loss jumped from $3.8 million to $7.1 million.”

    Funnymonkey’s Bill Fitzgerald has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support his research and writing “inBloom: Data, Politics, Money, Education, and the Crash.”


    The Brown Center on Education Policy has released a study that calls into question the metrics used by New York to evaluate teachers. More from Chartbeat.

    Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds.” Highly tweetable headline. According to the study, which just looked at STEM-related classes, “active learning” means adding clickers. Oh.

    [The Class of 2014](A new survey of college grads shows a high level of optimism about job prospects.) is optimistic about its job prospects. Well, give ’em a month or two and the economy will rectify that, eh?

    According to the Public Policy Institute of California, “Online course enrollment has increased dramatically at California’s community colleges. Students are less likely to successfully complete an online course than a traditional course. But many use online courses to achieve their long-term goals.”

    The latest Pew Research study looks at “Young Adults, Student Debt and Economic Well-Being.” “About four-in-ten U.S. households (37%) headed by an adult younger than 40 currently have some student debt—the highest share on record, with the median outstanding student debt load standing at about $13,ooo.”

    In this week’s round of meaningless edu rankings, Pearson’s Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Attainment has been released, ranking the US 14th.

    The United States is ranked as the top higher education system in the world. But let’s disrupt the hell out of it anyway, amirite.

    Image credits: Kevin Lau and The Noun Project

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    Here are the notes and slides from my keynote today at the Alberta Digital Learning Forum. The idea behind the forum: to imagine what education will look like in the province in 2030.

    I tried not to go full dystopia. I really did. As I started to pull together my talk, it was clear that all the traveling and speaking and listening and learning I've been doing over the last month has shaped my thinking. So thanks to Jim Groom and Brian Lamb and Jon Udell in particular. This talk borrows heavily from your work.

    I. dystopian futures

    Thank you very much for inviting me here to talk to you about the future of digital learning in Alberta — it is an honor and, I admit, a surprise.

    See, I’m known for delivering less-than-optimistic assessments about the state of education technology today and for offering caution about the direction in which I see ed-tech heading. Someone once called me “education’s Kassandra,” or at least I fear the predictions about the future of education and I often think “how utterly dystopian!": that in 50 years time we’ll only have 10 universities left in the world; that in 15 years time half of the universities (in the US at least) will be bankrupt; that before the end of the century, 70% of today’s occupations will be replaced by automation, including the work of librarians and teaching assistants; that public support for education is gone; that precarity and austerity will be the new normal.

    As such, I find it challenging to look too positively at the “disruptive innovation” that technology is supposed to enable, in part because I worry about growing inequalities — inequalities, along with other problems, that can never really be resolved with an app or a tablet but that require instead a deeper commitment to democracy. 

    This is, of course, why education matters so profoundly.

    So I’ve come lately to cite Antonio Gramsci: "I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

    But I’m going to will myself to craft a story for you today about education in 2030 that resists that dystopian narrative. I want to project a story for the future where learning technologies support and foster learner control and learner agency. It’s a story where students are the subjects not objects when it comes to education and education technology.

    It’s actually a story we could tell starting today. We have the technology to do so. It is the will that we lack.

    II. the manilla envelope

    A personal anecdote: a couple of years ago, my mum gave me a large manilla envelope full of my old schoolwork — drawings and writings and photos from as far back as preschool. Some projects I remembered; many I didn’t. Much of the envelope’s contents were administrative records — my report cards, various certificates of accomplishment, some ribbons. 

    That envelope was obviously a low-tech way to collect my school records. One envelope clearly couldn’t contain everything I did or everything I made or everything I wrote or everything I learned. It was certainly my mother’s curation of “what counts” as my education data — a reflection of proud parenting and of schooling in a pre-digital age. 

    Nevertheless I think the manilla envelope is an interesting and an important model — a model with strengths and weaknesses and strange relevancies for us to think about the digital documentation and storage and sharing of education data today.

    What happens now that our schoolwork is increasingly “born digital”? What happens to our learning record now that we’re recognizing more and more that learning happens beyond the classroom walls, beyond the years of formal schooling? 

    Is there a virtualized equivalent to my mum’s envelope?  (No. There is not.)

    But let's imagine. What would or could a virtual manilla envelope contain? Grades? Test scores? Attendance records? The pictures a learner has drawn? The poems and essays and book reports she’s written? Every assignment she's ever completed — after all, digital storage is so cheap these days. Why not keep everything? A list of every book checked out from the library. Metadata from every educational video watched — all the pauses, rewinds, fast forwards. All that data that we create these days thanks to computer technologies. Every single mouse click on every single piece of software.

    "By collecting every click, homework submission, quiz and forum note from tens of thousands of students” — this is how Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller's TED Talk is described — MOOCs have become "a data mine that offers a new way to study learning.”

    But do students own their own data? Can they study it? Can they control who it’s shared with? Can they export it from Coursera into their own “manilla envelope”? As it currently stands — in Coursera as in almost all educational software, no. It’s really not your data. You can’t get it out. 

    There is no manilla envelope.

    III. metaphors matter

    OK, I lied. A quick foray into the darker, dystopian side of education data:

    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 MOOCs described as a "data mine," my first thoughts aren't about 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. But prior to that, in the 1960s, statisticians referred to the pouring through data without an a-priori hypothesis as "data-dredging," a practice that carried a negative connotation.

    In that same period, the public grew more and more concerned about data collection and its potential misuse, particularly with regards to violations of privacy. Indeed, as banking, healthcare, and government services were becoming increasingly computerized, the 1960s and 1970s saw the passing of several laws — many still on the books — addressing the collection, storage, and sale of people's personal data. This includes in the United States FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the law that governs the privacy of students' education records.

    Data-dredging. Data-mining. Technological processes, sure, but political processes too. And really interesting metaphors.

    Dredging data conjures up the image of searching through a large, fluid pool of information. Dredging up information from the bottom, information that's been buried, that's otherwise inaccessible. And, to press the metaphor: 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 than dredging data. It certainly suggests a more lucrative one. But we don’t always talk about the potential toxic results.

    "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'".

    I am not sure how much these natural resource extraction metaphors resonate here in Alberta. They resonate for me. See, I was born in Wyoming, where the mining industry drives the economy. I understand first hand the cycles of boom and bust. But Wyoming incidentally is also the site of the Teapot Dome scandal, which before Watergate, was the biggest scandal in the history of the US government. In case this episode wasn’t covered in Alberta textbooks: The Teapot Dome Scandal occurred in the 1920s when the Warren G. Harding administration gave private companies opportunities to mine public lands in Wyoming without going through the proper bidding process.

    So when I hear "data is the new oil," I think about this language, this history, the sorts of relationships that have long been forged between government and corporate entities. Public resource, private profits. And what that means for prosperity, for growth, for sustainability.

    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. Jer Thorp, an educator and the former data artist in residence at The New York Times has argued that the "data is the new oil” metaphor, when wielded uncritically, 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... 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 and ethically, thinking through all the implications, and not merely those implications that have the "mining" executives rubbing their hands together in glee, promising the innovations while anticipating the profits.

    What does it mean to talk about student data using this metaphor — “the new oil”? The promised innovation in this case: if we can just mine enough student data, we will uncover the secret about how best to teach and learn. Again, how does this metaphor color the way we build technologies, devise policies? 

    Would we talk about student data this same way, would we feel entitled to access and analyze student data the same way if we thought of it more like that manilla envelope?

    To tell a more brighter story about the future of ed-tech, I do think we will need to talk about student data in a different way, with different metaphors and with a different politic. I want to encourage the building of technologies that see students’ lives and learning not as a resource to be extracted but as something they themselves can control and cultivate.

    IV. “hosted lifebits”

    But to gesture to the future, I want to turn to the past: to 7 years ago when Jon Udell, a Microsoft researcher who's long explored how non-engineers can use Internet technologies in new and empowering ways, began arguing for something he called “hosted lifebits” — a way for us to consolidate and control our own data in our own repositories. Manilla envelopes, perhaps, but Internet-enabled.

    “Lifebits” — that word is really powerful, I think, and it helps us recognize that all this data we’re creating — intentionally and unintentionally — is us. Bits and bytes of data, sure, but bits and pieces of our lives. Mining that sounds less appealing, I’d argue, than simply mining “data.”

    The “lifebits” idea actually comes from another Microsoft researcher, Gordon Bell, who undertook a project to build a personal archive of all the digital assets related to his life, and going forward, to capture, in close to real time, all the digitalia he created. 

    For Udell, adding the adjective “hosted” to Bell's concept means that a repository of “lifebits” would be stored in the cloud where it could interact with other repositories and other people.

    Udell wrote in a blog post in 2007:

    Today my digital assets are spread out all over the place. Some are on various websites that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. Others are on various local hard disks that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. It’s become really clear to me that I’d be willing to pay for the service of consolidating all this stuff, syndicating it to wherever it’s needed, and guaranteeing its availability throughout — and indeed beyond — my lifetime.

    The scenario, as I’ve been painting it in conversations with friends and associates, begins at childbirth. In addition to a social security number, everyone gets a handle to a chunk of managed storage. How that’s coordinated by public- and private-sector entities is an open question, but here’s how it plays out from the individual’s point of view.

    Udell then imagines what it might mean to collect all of one’s important data from grade school, high school, college and work — to have the ability to turn this into a portfolio — for posterity, for personal reflection, and for professional display on the Web. 

    Grade 3

    Your teacher assigns a report that will be published in your e-portfolio, which is a website managed by the school. Your parents tell you to write the report, and publish it into your space. Then they release it to the school’s content management system. A couple of years later the school switches to a new system and breaks all the old URLs. But the original version remains accessible throughout your parents’ lives, and yours, and even your kids’.

    Grade 8

    On the class trip to Washington, DC, you take a batch of digital photos. You want to share them on MySpace, so you do, but not directly, because MySpace isn’t really your space. So you upload the photos to the place that really is your space, where they’ll be permanently and reliably available, then you syndicate them into MySpace for the social effects that happen there.

    Grade 11

    You’re applying to colleges. You publish your essay into your space, then syndicate it to the common application service. The essay points to supporting evidence — your e-portfolio, recommendations — which are also ... permanently recorded in your space.

    And so on...

    “Hosted lifebits.” The idea, again, is that we each would have the ability — at the very least access to the technology or to a service — to maintain our own data repository for ourselves but also for our offspring. Parents would manage their children’s repositories and then hand the keys over to them when they’re grown; adults in turn would manage their repositories and then hand them over to their children or perhaps will them to an archive or institution when they die. 

    The links to the lifebits don’t rot; the data doesn’t disappear.

    If your education-related lifebits are in your own repository, you are able to audit your education record — to correct incorrect data, to run your own analyses of the things that are meaningful to you as a learner.

    You have the ability to control who has access to your lifebits — this is absolutely crucial. With lifebits, you opt in, rather than as now, where we have to opt out of analytics and algorithms. You can decide what is shared publicly or shared privately or what is not shared at all.

    You have the technology to help you remember. You retain the ability — and the right — to delete, to forget.

    "The technical aspects are somewhat challenging,” Udell wrote in 2007, "but the social and business aspects are even more challenging.”

    V. a domain of one’s own

    Today, the technical aspects are somewhat less challenging. There are ways to get data in and out of software, although many continue to make it incredibly difficult to do so. There’s still a lack of interoperability. There are still proprietary formats. But it is technically feasible to create systems where our data is distributed across our own repositories, rather than centralized into various applications.

    The obstacles, as Udell rightly noted, remain the business models that — particularly in educational software — compel companies to collect and retain data in a silo. In their silo. There they can mine student data — often selling the insights they can glean back to schools. 

    The obstacles to “hosted lifebits" stem too from the cultural expectations that schools have for software — software often designed to the meet the needs of administrators rather than learners or their parents.

    These technological silos work too because we still view each classroom as a closed entity, because we view each subject or discipline as atomistic and distinct. Closed. Centralized. Control in the hands of administrators, teachers, IT but rarely in the hands of learners.

    As such it's no surprise that the learning management system has dominated ed-tech for the last 20+ years — again, the words we use here matter: “learning” “management” “system." The LMS has profoundly shaped how schools interact with the Internet, I’d argue. The LMS is a piece of administrative software that pretends to address questions about teaching and learning — often circumscribing pedagogical possibilities, quite frankly. The LMS works as an Internet portal to the student information system, and much like the old portals of the AOL era, cautions you when you try to venture outside of it. You can access the LMS through your web browser but it is not "of" the web.

    And at the end of each semester or school year — typically — the student loses access to their course materials — to the syllabus, the readings, the quizzes, the discussion posts. There is no way — typically — for students to export all their data.

    There is no manilla envelope.

    It doesn’t have to be like this.

    One alternative path is being forged by a small team at the the liberal arts college University of Mary Washington, which offers what I think is one the most innovative ed-tech initiatives:

    A Domain of One’s Own

    Students and faculty at the University of Mary Washington get their own domain. It isn’t simply webspace on the university servers, a dot edu with a slash tilde namespace. The Domain of One’s Own initiative gives students and faculty their own URL: www dot whomever they might be or want to be dot com. The university pays for the domain registration and the hosting while the students are enrolled, and when they graduate, the domain and the data goes with them. It's theirs.

    Their own domain. Again, the word matters here. Students have their own space on the web. A space for a blog or multiple blogs. A digital portfolio for their academic work that can become a professional portfolio as well. A place to store their digital stuff in the cloud.

    Moreover, a lesson on the technologies that underpin the Web. HTML. CSS. RSS.

    It’s not quite “hosted lifebits,” but it’s a solid step in that direction. The initiative represents a kind of open learning — learning on the Web and with the Web, learning that is of the Web. "Domain of One’s Own" offers a resistance to the silos of the learning management system and to the student as a data mine. It highlights the importance of learner agency, of learning in public, of learning together, of control over one’s digital identity and over one’s educational data, and the increasing importance of digital literacies.

    VI. ed-tech as a reclamation project

    I think one of the most powerful learning technologies humans have ever created is the World Wide Web. Its power doesn’t lie simply in all the “content.” We get too distracted by that. The power of the Web lies in the human connections, in our intellectual and social networks. That schools block the Web and filter the Web and discourage its usage is a terrible shame. That schools fail to help students learn about how the Web works and how they will likely form and perform some digital identity there is a terrible missed opportunity.

    Wired Magazine tried to argue back in 2010, “The Web is Dead.” "As much as we love the open, unfettered Web,” wrote then editor Chris Anderson, "we’re abandoning it for simpler, sleeker services that just work. ...Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display.”

    But reports of the Web’s death, to paraphrase Mark Twain, are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, despite the interests of many technology companies in funneling our activities into applications that are closed off from the Web — without URLs, without syndication, without data portability, often without privacy protections where all our activities are set to be data-mined — the Web remains. It remains a site of great hope and great promise. It remains easily readable, writable, and hackable. And despite the efforts of the Facebooks and the Blackboards of the world, there’s a push for a return to the Web, the indie Web, many of us fell in love with when we first dialed up to it, when we first escaped AOL.

    Today the content we create — we all create, but particularly learners create — is important, even critical I’d suggest to the development of our identities, the protection of our well-being. It is not secure in the hands of startups or big corporations — these companies go away. It is not secure in the hands of schools. Schools are not in the business of long term data storage, and they increasingly outsource their IT to those very startups and big corporations. We must become the holders of our own data, but not so that we bury all of it away from view. We will want to share it with others on our own terms.

    We can reclaim the Web and more broadly ed-tech for teaching and learning. But we must reclaim control of the data, content, and knowledge we create. We are not resources to be mined. Learners do not enter our schools and in our libraries to become products for the textbook industry and the testing industry and the technology industry and the ed-tech industry to profit from. 

    Ed-tech must be not become an extraction effort, and it increasingly is. The future, I think we'll find, will be a reclamation project. Let’s start now to take it back.

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    Harvard Dining Hall

    Education Law and Politics

    The FTC has weighed in on the bankruptcy proceedings for ConnectEDU, expressing concern that the data of some 20 million students might not be protected.

    Stuart Magruder, an LA architect who’s been an outspoken opponent of LAUSD’s plans to use school construction bonds to pay for its iPad initiative, found his reappointment to the LAUSD school board blocked by other board members.

    “Public elementary and secondary education revenue declined in fiscal year 2012 for the first time since 1977, when the US Census Bureau began collecting public education finance data on an annual basis.” More via the Census Bureau.

    Sally Vogl-Bauer, a professor of communications at University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, is suing a student for defamation over his online comments about her teaching.

    The US Department of Education is not ready to release its college rankings system. Yet.

    It’s always fascinating to see what comes up under the Google Alert for “hack education.” This week, it was the guilty plea by Ariel Manuel Friedler, the CEO of the ed-tech company Symplicity. Friedler plead guilty to “charges related to hacking into the private networks of two competitors.”

    MOOCs and Other Online Courses

    Harvard goes all in for online courses.” “HarvardX spends about $75,000 to $150,000 developing each new MOOC, officials said.” Because Harvard.

    McMaster University joins Coursera.

    "Goodbye Andrew Ng."

    The Queen Rania Foundation officially launches Edraak, “a MOOC Portal for the Arab World,” in conjunction with edX.

    2Uannounced that students who are enrolled in one of their partner school’s graduate programs can take classes from other 2U partners.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the University of Florida’s online push.

    “The Arizona Department of Education has granted Blackboard Inc. a five-year contract to support more than 60,000 educators for online learning and collaboration. The contract is valued at $767,000 over the first four years, with the fifth year price negotiated at the time of renewal,” says EdWeek.

    Meanwhile on Campus

    A devastating fire today at the Glasgow School of Art’s famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh building.

    Paris Gray, vice president of her about-to-graduate class, was suspended because of her quote in the school yearbook: “When the going gets tough, just remember to Barium, Carbon, Potassium, Thorium, Astatine, Arsenic, Sulfur, Uranium, Phosphorus.” It took the school a while to decode her message, but when they did, they were angry that she was smart and because she was female and black, they felt compelled to punish her, I guess.

    Washington state community colleges are looking at offering competency-based degrees.

    Kinki University plans to change its name.

    Faculty at Middlebury College want to sever ties with K12 Inc, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    “The San Jose, Calif., campus of Bryman College, which is operated by a for-profit higher-education company known as BioHealth College, was closed abruptly on Monday after being served with an eviction notice,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    The for-profit university Minerva has awardedHarvard professor Eric Mazur its $500,000 prize for education innovation for his development of “peer instruction.” Because Harvard.

    Boston Public Schools is “reorganizing” and eliminating the departments of history and social sciences in all schools, bringing them along with English and language arts into a “humanities department.” Because CCSS.

    Students protest commencement speakers.

    School and Student and Other Edu Informant Data

    The American Institutes for Research, a major testing organization, has suffered a data breach, reports EdWeek. The personal information of about 6500 current and former employees was hacked.

    Facebook announced its new “privacy” mascot: a cartoon dinosaur. For the sake of the children, I’m sure.

    The Police Services of Northern Ireland are seeking the entire archive from Boston College of an oral history project about “The Troubles.”

    From the HR Department

    The fallout continues from last week’s firing of a University of Saskatchewan tenured professor. This week, the provost resigned. The VP of Academic Design resigned. And then the board of governors fired the university president.

    A look at the working conditions for those building NYU’s new Abu Dhabi site. Spoiler alert: fucking unacceptable.

    Nick Ducoff has left the textbook startup Boundless to join Northeastern University as “VP of new ventures.”

    “The State Employees Association of North Carolina voted Friday to allow student-athletes at the state’s public universities to join the union,” reports The Wire.

    Adjuncts at Mills College vote to form a union.

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    The Smithsonian Museum has acquired the archives of Mr. Wizard.

    Version 1.0 of the Learning Locker (an “open source learning record store”) is now live.

    I joined the Authors Alliance.

    Former Facebook-er Keith Schacht has launched a new science startup Mystery Science. Because science education is broken blah blah blah. More via Venture Beat.

    Codecademy expands into international offices.

    “The World’s First Google Learning Space!” proclaims Google. Folks on Google+ love the idea. And the beat goes on.

    Chuck E. Cheese, the pizza chain from hell started by my pal Nolan Bushnell, plans to offer the VR devices Oculus Rift (now Facebook-owned) to kids. What could go wrong? I mean, what could go wronger than that moment when you decided to take your kid to Chuck E. Cheese in the first place.

    Knewton has partnered with another publisher – this time Norwegian publisher Gyldendal.

    Tabtor got a write-up in The New York Times.

    The Bluebook: A Plot Summary - on The Harvard Law Review’s refusal to allow Bluebook support in Zotero, an open source citation tool. Because Harvard.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    GEDs and PhDs: a crowdfunding campaign that will “pay for high school equivalency exams and provide free tutoring to low-wage workers. We pay low-wage professors a high hourly rate to tutor workers.” I heart this project so much.

    Teachers Pay Teachers has raised a round of VC funding. No details on the amount.

    Edukwest reports that Third Space Learning (formerly known as KnowMaths) has rasied a £750,000 angel round of funding.

    Pearson is investing in eAdvance and Zaya Labs, “education businesses in South Africa and India focused on increasing access to education at low cost.”

    Apollo Global Education (parent company of the University of Phoenix) is also investing in South Africa, acquiring an 81% stake in Milpark Education for $25.6 million.

    The VC firm North Atlantic Capital Corporation is buying some of in-bankruptcy ConnectEDU’s assets – specifically Academic Management Systems and its CoursEval software line. (See above for the FTC’s concerns about student data here.)

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that, “Bobby Turner, who runs a school-construction fund with tennis champion Andre Agassi, has started a new firm seeking to raise as much as $1 billion for charter schools, workforce housing and health-care facilities.” (I totally read that as workhousing. LOL?)

    Edukwest suggests that Google’s recent acquisition of Divide will “boost BYOD in schools.”

    Learning Technologies Group has acquired the game developer Preloaded for £2.2 million.

    Houghton Mifflin HarcourtacquiredCuriosityville, which “creates an online personalized learning environment to help 3- to 8-year-olds ‘learn through playful exploration and discovery.’”

    Research and “Research”

    “At the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012, according to a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies,” says The New York Times.

    Who Gets to Graduate?asks Paul Tough in the NYT. “Whether a student graduates or not seems to depend today almost entirely on just one factor — how much money his or her parents make.”

    Ben Schmidt, as always, is particularly helpful in working through the data surrounding college majorsthis time with an eye to gender and income.

    “Recent black college grads ages 22 to 27 have an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, more than double the 5.6 percent unemployed among all college grads in that demographic and almost a threefold increase from the 2007 level of 4.6 percent, before the Great Recession took its toll on the U.S. economy. More than half of black graduates, 55.9 percent, are underemployed.” More via the Center for Economic Policy and Research (via Al Jazeera).

    Jotted down in a notebook where I am tracking what are perhaps the “Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2014,” I have “job recruitment.” Inside Higher Ed provides some confirmation that this might indeed be a trend.

    Here’s a sneak preview of the 2014 Horizon Report for K–12.

    Hood Disease.” Because Harvard.

    "Skills, education, and the rise of earnings inequality among the ’other 99 percent’”

    Anya Kamenetz (who’s part of a new NPR Education team) writes about a recent study on “mischievous responders,” teens who purposefully make up answers to surveys for the lulz.

    Image credits: NKCPhoto

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    Thumbtacks (127/365)

    Education Law and Politics

    New Orleans becomes the first all-charter school district in the US.

    Professors and students (past and present) from Cooper Union have filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court seeking to block the school’s plans to begin to charge tuition.

    The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit against the state of California, “claiming that high poverty schools in California are denying students the learning time they need to succeed.” More via NPR.

    The Obama Administration’s new college rating system is "like rating a blender,” according to Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department. So that’s reassuring.

    Nevada education officials this month told a local man it would cost more than $10,000 to access the data the department has collected on his four children.” More via Education Week.

    COSN and the EducationSuperHighway organization estimate that it’ll cost $3.2 billion in E-rate subsidies to connect all the schools and libraries in the US at a level sufficient to support “1:1 digital learning.” Their full report is here.

    The White House held its fourth annual Science Fair this week.

    NASA is partnering with Khan Academy.

    Opposition to the Common Core continues to bubble up across various states, with the Oklahoma legislature recently passing a bill to withdraw its support for the standards. Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin has not indicated yet whether she’ll sign it.

    MOOCs and Other Online Edu

    E-literate’s Michael Feldstein on “Unizin: Indiana University’s Secret New ‘Learning Ecosystem’ Coalition” – “a threat to edX.”

    NPR’s Anya Kamenetz has a look at, a new online education portal sponsored by Trinidad and Tobago that will link to MOOCs and other online courses and will offer government-issued certificates for participation.

    Meanwhile on Campus

    6 students of UC Santa Barbara were killed last Friday night in a shooting rampage. The killer, who subsequently shot himself, had posted videos to YouTube indicating his intentions to punish women for rebuking him.

    The Chilean artist “Fried Potatoes” has removed some $500 million in tuition contracts from the for-profit Universidad del Mar and burned them. “It’s over. You are all free of debt,” he told students.

    Olin College is in terrible financial shape, says The Boston Globe. “No we’re not,” says Olin College.

    Inside Higher Ed takes a closer look at Temple University’s new IT policy and its focus on data security.

    1 in 5 NYC high schoolers has a commute to school that takes at least 45 minutes.

    The fight over San Francisco Community College’s accreditation continues. An update via Inside Higher Ed and The San Francisco Chronicle.

    A call for PhD reform– sorta – in the "Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Literature.”

    From the HR Department

    Robert Buckingham, the professor who was recently fired from the University of Saskatchewan after criticizing its restructuring plans, will not get his deanship back, according to Inside Higher Ed.

    Former NSA head General Keith Alexander will teach a class on cybersecurity at Harvard. Maybe Edward Snowden can Skype into the class as a guest lecturer or something.

    Author Douglas Rushkoff has been appointed professor at CUNY Queens College where he’ll teach new media theory beginning this fall.

    John Easton, director of the Department of Education’s research wing, the Institute of Education Sciences, join the edu-research-oriented Spencer Foundation this fall.

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    The LMS startup Instructure has launched a white label distance learning platform – “a new service for schools, colleges and universities that lets them host their own branded distance courses and course catalogs online — Canvas Catalog.”

    Amazon versus Hachette.

    GIS software maker Esrisays it will donate $1 billion in licenses to US public schools as part of the Obama Administration’s ConnectEDU program.

    American Public Radio’s Marketplace has launched an ed-tech site.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    RRKidz, the for-profit company that bought the rights to the public TV show Reading Rainbow, is holding a Kickstarter. It’s raised over $2.5 million already. Ah nostalgia. Funds will go to pay for Web access to the materials and discounts for poor kids. Because apparently the $3 million venture funding the startup raised a couple of years ago couldn’t pay for that. You know, if equity and access are your company’s priority, you build for the web in the first place. Also:

    On the heels of reports about education reform fail related to his $100 million donation to the Newark schools, Mark Zuckerberg says he’s giving $120 million to the Bay Area schools. For what it’s worth, Facebook paid zero taxes– to the feds or the state of California – in 2012 (the last year I can find records for).

    Edsurge has raised another $960,000 in funding from Steve Blank, Catamount Ventures, Dale Dougherty and the Women’s Venture Capital Fund. This brings to $2.86 million its total venture funding.

    Tinybop has raised $5 million in Series A funding. This brings to $6 million the total raised by the children’s app maker.

    Mumbai-based test prep company Toppr has raised $2 million from SAIF Partners and Helion Ventures.

    Job placement startup Koru has raised $100,000 from the hip hop artist Nas, who’s also agreed to establish a scholarship funds for students who participate in a Koru program. The investment brings the total raised by Koru to$4.56 million.

    Quick Key, a grading app that lets teachers grade multiple choice tests with their smartphones, has raised $100,000 in seed funding from ARC Capital Development.

    Everspring, which helps colleges create online programs, has raised $10 million from Carrick Capital Partners LLC and Accretive LLC.

    Tute, a UK-based social education platform which connects students with tutors via a virtual classroom environment, raised a venture round led by Leaf Investment with participation of existing investor Holidaybreak Plc,” reports Edukwest. Terms were not disclosed.


    Silicon Valley Firms Are Even Whiter and More Male Than You Thought,” says Mother Jones which has been trying for years to get Silicon Valley to turn over data about its workforce diversity. This week’s statistics come from Google and I hope they make everyone that cooed over recent stories about how Google doesn’t care about your grades think twice about calls to model hiring practices after the search giant.

    Pearson has released an efficacy report on “college and career readiness” which finds its products to be effective. Mmmhmmm.

    The Pentagon and the NCAA will undertake a $30 million study on concussions in youth sports.

    The Condition of Education in 2014

    KPCB Internet trends 2014

    School Spending Increases Linked to Better Outcomes for Poor Students,” reports Education Week.

    Is College Worth It?asks David Leonhardt in The New York Times. Sara Goldrick-Rab has the best response to the question, IMHO.

    LMS by the Numbers - Spring 2014 Updates


    Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, New York and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas have been declaredScripps National Spelling Bee champions – it’s the first time in 52 years that two spellers will share the title.


    RIP Maya Angelou, poet, activist, phenomenal woman.

    Image credits: Jack Amick and The Noun Project

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