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Articles on this Page
- 06/04/14--09:12: _#YesAllWomen and Ed...
- 06/06/14--11:22: _Hack Education Week...
- 06/07/14--18:29: _No Really, What Sho...
- 06/13/14--12:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 06/18/14--10:46: _Un-Fathom-able: The...
- 06/20/14--13:41: _Hack Education Week...
- 06/22/14--18:11: _The History of Ed-T...
- 06/28/14--22:14: _Hack Education Week...
- 07/02/14--19:47: _The History of "Per...
- 07/04/14--12:19: _Hack Education Week...
- 07/11/14--13:50: _Hack Education Week...
- 07/16/14--18:00: _2010-2011 Ed-Tech S...
- 07/18/14--13:43: _Hack Education Week...
- 07/22/14--16:41: _Ed-Tech and the Tem...
- 07/25/14--12:36: _Hack Education Week...
- 07/30/14--19:51: _Student Data, Algor...
- 07/31/14--21:55: _Student Data, Priva...
- 08/01/14--11:39: _Hack Education Week...
- 08/04/14--18:27: _Most Anticipated Ba...
- 08/08/14--12:22: _Hack Education Week...
- 06/04/14--09:12: #YesAllWomen and Ed-Tech Conferences, or Why ISTE is Unsafe
- Treat other members of the ISTE community fairly and with respect. This includes fellow members, volunteers, staff, and the wider educational population engaged in ISTE-facilitate discussions, events, and communities
- Communicate professionally and constructively, handling dissent or disagreement with courtesy and an open mind. be respectful in providing feedback, and be open to alternate points of views
- Share information about the organization via ublic communication channels reponsibly; clearly identify individual opinion from verifiable fact
- Resources provided to enhance the ISTE conference environment are limited and highly influenced by the individual and collective behavior of their users.
- Be mindful of the parameters of shared bandwidth
- When possible, use only one device at a time to access the Web
- Disable Web-seeking on devices not in use
- Power/charge devices to their fullest before arriving onsite; do not bring and/or daisy-chain powerstrips in public spaces or meeting rooms
- Avoid downloading large files onsite if this can be accomplished overnight at your hotel
- Use only the established wireless network SSID for the conference (avoid tethering or establishing networks with your own computer/device
- 06/07/14--18:29: No Really, What Should Technologists Know About Education?
- 06/13/14--12:35: Hack Education Weekly News: Teacher Tenure and the Turing Test
- 06/18/14--10:46: Un-Fathom-able: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech #CETIS14
- Fathom: $30 million invested into the initiative by Columbia University
- AllLearn: $12 million invested from various schools and foundations
- UKeU: £62 million earmarked for and £50 million spent by the British government
- edX: launched in 2012 with an initial $60 million investment from Harvard and (yes) MIT
- Coursera: launched in 2012 with a total venture capital investment of $85 million
- Udacity: launched in 2012 with a total (disclosed) venture capital investment of $20 million
- 06/22/14--18:11: The History of Ed-Tech via Patent Applications
- 06/28/14--22:14: Hack Education Weekly News: Yes, There is a Student Loan Crisis
- 07/02/14--19:47: The History of "Personalization" and Teaching Machines
- Benjamin Riley, “Don’t Personalize Learning”
- Dan Meyer, “Don’t Personalize Learning”
- Michael Feldstein, “‘Personalized Learning’ is Redundant”
- Mike Caulfield, “Why Personalized Learning Fails”
- Alex Hernandez, “Personalize Learning, Please”
- Dan Meyer, “Personalized Learning Software: Fun Like Choosing Your Own Ad Experience”
- Benjamin Riley, “The Ideology of Personalization”
- Alex Hernandez, “Personalized Learning: More Than a Feeling”
- 07/11/14--13:50: Hack Education Weekly News: The #MassiveTeaching MOOC Mystery
- 07/16/14--18:00: 2010-2011 Ed-Tech Startups: Where Are They Now (Updated)
- 07/18/14--13:43: Hack Education Weekly News: BS, the New LMS
- 07/30/14--19:51: Student Data, Algorithms, Ideology, and Identity-less-ness
- 07/31/14--21:55: Student Data, Privacy, Ideology, and Context-less-ness
- 08/01/14--11:39: Hack Education Weekly News: Lawsuits, Acquisitions, and Homophones
- 08/04/14--18:27: Most Anticipated Back-to-School Tech (Survey)
- 08/08/14--12:22: Hack Education Weekly News: $30 Million More for Edmodo
#YesAllWomen in ed-tech
Earlier this week, Ariel Norling published an incredibly brave article— an incredibly difficult to read article — chronicling predatory behavior and sexual assault at last year’s ISTE conference.
I don’t know Ariel; we’ve never met. I’m not sure I’ve ever covered her edu startup on Hack Education. A mutual friend introduced us, hinting that she was working on a blog post that was gut-wrenching but essential as we (hopefully, right?) build a better ed-tech culture. As such I read a draft of Ariel’s article a week or so ago, my stomach in queasy knots as I learned about her experiences of sexualized violence and ed-tech and, no surprise, as I thought about my own.
I support Ariel in telling her story. As I’ve watched the events unfold around her hitting “publish,” around the post getting shared, around the responses (and lack of responses) from those in various education and ed-tech communities, around the feedback and blowback and pushback, I want to reiterate: I support Ariel in telling her story. It is her story. She tells it with full knowledge, I think, that this isn’t a simple story. She tells it with full admission too that it’s a story colored by time and by trauma, not to mention by alcohol.
Ariel’s story was prompted by the #yesallwomen hashtag on Twitter, which was in turn inspired by the virulent misogyny that led to the recent mass shooting at UC Santa Barbara.
And that’s the thing: It’s her story. But it’s my story. And it’s lots of our stories. Because #yesallwomen. Because there is deep, deep misogyny that runs through our society — through our education institutions and through the technology industry. And silence does not protect marginalized people; it protects the powerful.
As I’ve explained on this blog before — or actually, in retrospect, maybe I’ve just hinted— I have received an incredible amount of misogynistic and violent feedback to my work in education technology.
I regularly receive threatening emails and tweets. I used to receive threatening comments as well, but I closed comments on this blog. I block and report accounts regularly on Twitter.
To be clear: I don’t block accounts or axe comments because people disagree with me. People disagree with me a lot. I get that — it’s part of being part of an ongoing public debate about the future of education. Disagreement and debate come with democracy. I welcome that. (And I admit: I’m busy and I fail to respond to a lot of the critical feedback I receive; I try to respond when I can.) But I block because of harassment — harassment that is ongoing, harassment that is frequent, harassment that is gendered.
I try not to focus on this aspect of my work as a woman in ed-tech. Indeed, that’s part of the reason why I closed comments on this site: so I could focus elsewhere — ya know, on my work. I try to ignore the threats. (I can do so, in part, because I’m a white heterosexual woman in a LTR with a big dude with a big beard.) I pretend like this is all “Internet comments” and as such not “real.” I bury my emotions.
I realized, reading Ariel’s story, that I’ve buried stuff that goes back beyond my latest stint as an ed-tech writer:
Six-ish ago, I worked, very briefly, for ISTE. I managed the organization’s special interest groups and was tasked with reforming some of their policies and practices. Not a fun job; not a welcome task.
(At least) One of the volunteer leaders of one of the groups didn’t much like the changes. He made that very clear in an incredibly unprofessional email just a few days before that year's ISTE conference — an exchange that eventually turned, in my mind, quite threatening. Because of the tone and contents of his email, I handed things over to my supervisors, requesting help with how best to respond. Honestly (and weirdly — ISTE’s members are educators, right?), I feared for my safety. And because of the political machinations that swirl around ISTE’s most influential and active members, the issue was escalated to the very top of ISTE’s chain of command, to the executive management team.
And there — in a call with ISTE’s CEO — I heard one of those questions that women in these sorts of situations hear too often: “What did you do to make him so angry?”
The problem was me. The problem was mine— that was the message I got from ISTE leadership at least.
I felt no support from ISTE’s CEO. (There was tremendous support from the women I worked with at the organization.) There was no recognition from him that I was heading — then single — to a conference where I’d be expected to interact with this person in several sessions and in several after-hours events, potentially all on my own.
My safety was up to me. And if something happened, well, the message was clear: “What did you do to make him so angry?”
And from there — see, this is patriarchy and this is rape culture — it’s really not a far leap for me to make to: “What did you do to make him [fill in the blank with verbs from Ariel’s story]?”
ISTE’s Code of Conduct [Then]
Shrugging off my concerns, ISTE leadership pointed to its (toothless) ISTE Member Code of Conduct (I swear there is one but I can’t link to as it’s not possible to find on the organization’s website) and the (toothless) ISTE Conference Code of Conduct (which is similarly not easy to locate on this year’s conference site so here’s what I can find from 2012), acting as though there was nothing the organization could do to protect me — the policy on the books simply didn’t demand it, and well, there you go:
ISTE’s Member Code of Conduct is to act and communicate in a courteous and professional manner:
With this in mind, we ask that all participants:
“Be kind and courteous.” But there are no consequences if you aren’t.
The priority for “good conduct” at the ISTE conference is to “be mindful of the parameters of shared bandwidth.” Bandwidth over bodies. The safety of attendees — particularly marginalized attendees or marginalized workers — be damned.
ISTE’s Code of Conduct [Now]
When I first read Ariel’s story, my immediate thought was that I had failed in my responsibility to others by not insisting the organization adopt a better Code of Conduct. I was an employee then, and shortly afterwards I said “fuck it” and I quit. (Frankly, as an employee, I felt my voice didn’t matter.) As I thought about Ariel's experiences, I wondered — now as a minor ed-tech Internet celebrity blah blah blah — if I could push more forcefully to get ISTE to change its policy. ISTE must change its Code of Conduct now: “be kind” is woefully, embarrassingly insufficient.
See, I don’t want the focus of Ariel’s story to be on the individual men involved. Sure, I get that folks will speculate who these men are. They’ll decide how to interact with men in ed-tech in the future. But that’s not what matters for me. (And I’m not sure that’s what Ariel was thinking either, although I really can’t speak for her motivations in writing, almost a year later, about these events. In part, I think she wanted people to know what she experienced, she wanted men in ed-tech to recognize that they cannot blithely chime in to the #yesallwomen movement without recognizing their own male privilege and their own complicity in sexualizing the women around them.)
I want to address this question of safety at an institutional and cultural level, not just at an individual one. I’ve had fragments of a “gender and ed-tech culture” post started for over a year now. But right now I want to talk about what ISTE can do. (I do want, more broadly and eventually, to talk about ed-tech culture… but that’s for another post, I suppose.) The ISTE organization and the conference describe itself as the premier ed-tech event in the world. If ISTE wants to be a leader, ISTE should be a leader. And despite some folks shrugging their shoulders and saying that ISTE can do nothing to stop violence against women, I think it can do a lot.
It can, at the very least, create a Code of Conduct that explicitly addresses harassment.
ISTE does not give a shit
Instead, what we heard yesterday afternoon from ISTE’s new CEO Brian Lewis was utterly dismissive, if not utterly disgusting. His response to Ariel’s article never mentions her. He never links to her. He refers to the whole thing in a strange passive voice: as if these incidents happened thanks to some social media phenomenon, absent of human action. There are no actors, no subjects complicit in these violations — and certainly no responsibility of ISTE.
Lewis talks about the money ISTE spends to protect the conference — hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on security (actually, this money mostly serves to protect the exhibits, let’s be honest), hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on transportation (actually, this just gets people to and from conference hotels to the main conference site). None of this is particularly commendable; that is the cost of doing business for a 13K+ person event.
And none of this is done first and foremost to protect marginalized people. That Lewis would suggest otherwise is incredibly insulting.
But Lewis goes even farther; he suggests that there’s nothing ISTE can or will do. He throws up his hands. Our world is rife with misogyny and violence! Rape is inevitable! Sexual assault at conferences is just gonna happen! And you should believe him, he argues, because he was a TA in a women’s studies class in college. He knows all about this sort of thing. Or some unbelievable bullshit that I cannot believe an ed-tech non-profit CEO actually posted online. (I even screenshotted the thing, thinking it’ll be disappeared — it’s that bad.)
His response contains no practical steps that ISTE could take or will take to make the conference a safer place. It contains not even the most meager of symbolic gestures to that end. No “Hey, we think safety at ISTE is really important, so we’re look into refreshing our Code of Conduct. Maybe.” Nothing.
Nope. It’s a pretty typical #NotAllMen response. #NotAllISTEMembers. And that is utterly unacceptable.
Why do Codes of Conduct matter?
Assaults at conferences are not new. And they’re not rare. #YesAllWomen.
The Geek Feminism wiki has collected a timeline of “incidents” at technology conferences (recognizing of course that only a tiny fraction of these are ever even reported to authorities — be those the conference organizers or the police). Bad behavior at conferences is pervasive. But let’s be clear: that doesn’t make it okay. That doesn’t make it inevitable.
Programmer and activist Ashe Dryden has created an incredibly thorough guide to creating a Code of Conduct that addresses harassment — something I have shared with ISTE — along with a FAQ about why these sorts of policies matter.
The most difficult thing to explain to people is that codes of conduct do not necessarily stop all poor behavior, in much the same way that establishing laws don’t necessarily stop people from breaking them. A code of conduct lays the ground rules and notifies both bad actors as well as the people at the receiving end of that behavior that there are consequences for those actions. Think of a code of conduct like the harassment policy most American businesses have (I’m not sure how prevalent that is internationally) - it defines what harassment is (for both the harasser and the harassed) and sets the ground rules for acting on reports. A code of conduct helps by signaling that attendees should trust conference organizers, staff, and volunteers will respond appropriately should a report be made.
A Code of Conduct explains what constitutes unacceptable behavior, and it explains what actions conference organizers might take in response. (And yes, conference organizers can legally take action without involving the police or the courts. Here is lawyer Ken White addressing that very issue.) A Code of Conduct — one with teeth and with heart — also trains conference organizers to respond appropriately.
A Code of Conduct that addresses harassment is a first step. It helps create a place where all bodies, all voices are welcome and hopefully all bodies, all voices will feel — will be — safe.
What should we do next?
This post feels like an inadequate response to harassment at ISTE events and to a blog post that’s creating a shit storm in (some) ed-tech circles. It feels like such a feeble gesture in the face of forces that want to protect male privilege and the status quo in ed-tech. It feels like such a feeble gesture in the face of widespread violence in our society.
I mean, what can we do?
Me, I am more convinced than ever that speakers and exhibitors and attendees at ed-tech events should agree not to attend events that do not have an adequate Code of Conduct in place. (See author John Scalzi and his commitment to not speaking at conventions that don’t have an anti-harassment policy.) Unfortunately I’m committed to being at an pre-ISTE event, but by god, when and if I'm given the microphone, you can bet what I’m going to talk about. And from here on out, I’m going to be louder about this issue when I travel around and speak at ed-tech events.
Because #YesAllWomen. If we’re committed through our work in education to creating a better future, we need to address this head-on. We need to address it now.
I refuse to be silent about this, recognizing the great risk in speaking up and speaking out. But I recognize too that ignoring this — ignoring violence, pretending like it doesn’t happen in education, protecting those in power — doesn’t make any of it go away. Indeed, it makes us complicit.
Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy (D) signed a bill“to create and maintain a state platform for the distribution of electronic books (e-books) to public library patrons.”
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R) signed a bill requiring the state to develop new non-Common Core standards.
Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin (R) signed a bill requiring to develop new non-Common Core standards.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer (R) announced the state’s withdrawal from PARCC, one of the Common Core assessment consortia.
The New Mexico Public Education Department is looking into a conflict of interest as Hilary Noskin, founder of a AfterMath Education Inc and also the department’s general counsel, signed a $150,000 contract her company to run an after school program in the state.
A judge in New Mexico has ordered that state officials review a protest filed by the American Institutes for Research. AIR claims the bidding process that awarded to Pearson a major contract for developing PARCC assessments was unfair.
Sixth graders in Ipswich, Massachusettshave sent a bill to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone, and PARCC, charging them for their time spent field-testing new Common Core assessments: the “two classes would collectively earn $1,628 at minimum wage for their 330 minutes of work.”
The School to Prison Pipeline
Nearly a dozen high school students in Henrico County, Virginia have been arrested and charged with felonies in connection to a senior prank. “Chocolate sauce, syrup, rice, flour, and eggs were thrown onto numerous exterior areas of the school. …Most of the damage was cleaned up quickly that morning.” But felony charges. Any guesses about why? Hmmm.
No charges have been filed against the Santa Barbara High School students whose senior prank involved hiring a mariachi band to follow their principal around.
Kiera Wilmot, an African-American honor student who was arrested last year and threatened with felony charges when an experiment in science class caused a minor explosion, graduated from high school this week. She and her twin sister are headed to Florida Polytechnic University in the fall.
Chloe Britt was disciplined for wearing leggings to school. Her response was pretty great.
The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Nursing decided to remove signs posted in building elevators informing students that “Revealing clothing MUST NOT be worn while in the School of Nursing Building. It distracts from the learning environment.”
Author Cory Doctorow and his publisher TOR Books are sending 200 copies of Doctorow’s YA novel Little Brother to Booker T Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida after the principal cancelled the “One School/One Book” program because OMG “hackers!!!!” (and moreover, political content).
Students in Iran can again access“the majority” of Coursera courses.
Coursera is partnering with Turkcell, a telecommunications provider in Turkey, to “build resources for Turkish learners.”
Inside Higher Ed’s Carl Straumsheim looks at the Georgia Tech/Udacity master’s degree program, one semester in.
Meanwhile on Campus
A shooting at Seattle Pacific University left 1 dead and 2 wounded. The suspected shooter is in custody.
The publisher Condé Nast (publisher of Wired Magazine and The New Yorker) is getting into the education business apparently, offering “accredited college courses.” Because why let Graham Holdings Company (owner of Slate and of Kaplan) have all the fun. Or something.
The trial between the NCAA and Ed O’Bannon and a group of current and former athletes starts Monday – “an antitrust suit that asks whether the NCAA unfairly blocked generations of student-athletes from making money off their own images.”
And in related news, Northwestern and Texas A&M Universities and the University of Arizona will stop selling jerseys with individual players’ names and numbers on them.
Onondaga Nation members Lyle and Miles Thompson were the recipients of this year’s Tewaaraton Award, “college lacrosse’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.” The name of the award comes from the Mohawk for “lacrosse” – a nod to the game’s Native American origins; the Thompson brothers are the first Native Americans to ever receive the award.
From the HR Department
Charleston Southern University professor Paul Roof was fired when his image (his amazing four-pronged beard) turned up on a beer can label.
Lissa Clayborn has been named Acting Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association.
California State Universityplans to hire more than 700 new full-time faculty.
The UC Student-Worker Union/United Auto Workers 2865 has reached a tentative contract agreement with the University of California system.
Technical Upgrades and Downgrades
Apple held its annual developers conference this week. I write the keynote announcements, and implications for education, over on EML.
The adaptive learning company Cerego is partnering with Mission 31, a project run by the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, to teach oceanography courses.
The right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation is launching an education news site that will be “accurate, fair, and trustworthy.” Of course it will be.
So here’s the thing. You need to control your own domain. Build a digital portfolio. Maybe post your resume there. Handing over that data and responsibility to LinkedIn is a bad idea. You know what’s probably even sillier? Trusting your LMS with it.
Politico reports that Facebook has applied for a patent for “letting children create accounts with parental supervision” (because the only ones who want to join Facebook these days are those under 13).
Google boasts that Chesterfield County, Virginia schools have purchased 32,000 Chromebooks for the next school year.
Google also added support for multiple accounts to its Google Play for Education tablets.
Funding and Acquisitions
iParadigms, maker of the anti-plagiarism software TurnItIn, has been acquired by the private equity firm Insight Venture Partners for $752 million. Students whose copyrighted materials were submitted to TurnItIn and used by the company in order to develop its software should expect a cut of the sale oh wait no ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Chegg has acquired the tutoring startup InstaEDU for $30 million.
Digital portfolio company Pathbrite has raised $3.7 million. Investors include textbook company (newly out of bankruptcy) Cengage Learning. This brings to $11.7 million the total raised by the startup.
Singapore-based Writepath, which offers “editing services” cough cough for essays and university applications, has raised $525,000 in seed funding.
NovoEd has raised $4.8 million in a Series A round of funding to “build better MOOCs.”
Critical thinking lesson-maker ThinkCERCA has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Chuck Templeton of Impact Engine Accelerator, GSV Advisors’ Deborah Quazzo (founder of GSV Advisors), Bob Montgomery, Nessan Fitzmaurice and Abundant Ventures, reports Edsurge.
AP test-prep company Learnerator (OMG, that name) has raised $300,000 in seed funding.
Digital storytelling app Night Zookeeper has raised£355,000 in funding.
Moody’s has downgraded the credit outlook for Laureate Education (which runs a number of for-profit schools and is an investor in Coursera).
The National Center for Education Statistics has released new data on distance education enrollments.
A study has found a link between school finances and the ability to implement “personalized learning technologies.” Shocking.
A survey of more than 2 million people by the UN finds education to be a top priority.
Ruh roh. The Association of American Publisherssays that purchases of instructional materials are down this year.
Dangers on the Conference Circuit
Ariel Norling has taken down a blog post she published on Friday, detailing predatory behavior and sexual assault at last year’s ISTE conference. It’s been pretty goddamn awful to watch the fall out from this: personal attacks, refusal to take responsibility, silencing tactics, and a focus on individual actions rather than on the larger cultural and institutional issues – all from folks who describe themselves as leaders in ed-tech. Please join me in demanding that ISTE (and other conferences) adopt a Code of Conduct that explicitly addresses harassment.
See, while certainly violence at tech events is something we need to stop, there are actually a wide range of hostile behaviors that make these events unsafe and unwelcoming. Here’s the latest example.
* * *
"We also have our social imagination: the capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient society, on the streets where we live, on our schools. As I write of social imagination, I am reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre’s declaration that “it is on the day that we can conceive of a different state of affairs that a new light falls on our troubles and our suffering and that we decide that these are unbearable” – Maxine Greene (RIP)
A forum discussion comment that was so verbose it became a blog post. As one does...
I'm quite flattered to see my "Audrey Test" show up as part of the #TeachtheWeb discussion. I’m also a little mortified – perhaps it’s always weird to see something you wrote several years ago back in circulation.
I wrote the post at a particular time in my thinking and at a particular moment in ed-tech. The post was also a response to a specific request (to devise the ed-tech equivalent of Spolsky’s “The Joel Test”). Without the urging to do so, I’m not sure I ever would have framed it in quite such a pedantic manner. Or at the very least, I’m not sure I’d have framed it as a “test.”
(For what it’s worth, I have added a section to this site -- the Hack Education Ed-Tech Guide -- where I’ve expanded on this question of “what should we know about ed-tech” but also included what educators need to know about tech. And I plan (some day) to add a section about what learners should know as well about both industries. I'm happy to include resources. Here's the Github repo. You should know what to do right?)
I do stick by the overarching and original argument that motivated “The Audrey Test” – one that several folks have pointed out on this thread: that there’s a dearth of knowledge about and experience in education among many in ed-tech, particularly among the latest surge of ed-tech entrepreneurs and among those who are suddenly interested in boosting technology education.
The word “education” here is shorthand for a number of things, of course: how people learn (what we know about cognitive development, what we know about social interactions that welcome or dissuade people along the way, how learning theories have and have not shaped classroom practices, etc); how individual schools function (in terms of procurement, pedagogy, policy, etc); how we came to have this particular institution and its particular disciplines (what’s changed, what hasn’t, and why).
Frankly there’s actually no need for a “test.” I can tell within the first few minutes of talking to folks what they know, what they want to know, what they want from their work in education, what they think about “the public sphere,” what they think about kids, what they think about me. (That doesn’t mean I write them off, dismiss them, “fail” them. It’s really not that simple. Except when it is.)
Nevertheless I’d still like to point people to edu resources to help us all think through our endeavors as we work towards building the future of learning. (That’s what I hope I do with my blog, I guess.) And it’s worth noting too, as I think @toolness mentions, that those who could and should benefit from these resources does indeed include those already in education, not simply those in the business of education.
If all this looks too much like a reading assignment, well, there you go. I am partial to reading. Very partial to reading.
For what it’s worth, I actually don’t have, as I think @epilepticrabbit suggests, “a background in education” – not formally at least. I mean, I taught for a long time. But my academic background is in literature, folklore, media studies, and women’s studies. What I learned about “education” as a practice comes through thinking about pedagogy and literacy and freedom. What I have learned about “ed-tech” comes from experience (as a student and as a teacher); what I have learned about “ed-tech” comes from my own purposeful and extra-academic immersion in the field. It does come from reading some books. So there ya go.
And it’s true: when I point people at resources to help them think through their approach to technology and education, it’s probably going to be colored by some of the framework of my academic training. I care about language, culture, equity, justice. I read blogs. I read books.
But I worry that, when we don’t think about education technology through that rich framework – the history and theory and practice that has come before us – that we’re gonna fuck up at a really important moment in history. It isn’t simply that we’ll recreate the mistakes of ed-tech past or that we’ll burst free (INNOVATION!) of ed-tech past via our imaginative ignorance (that’s not quite @carlacasilli’s point, I recognize). It’s never easy to shake off the ideology of education or of technology. They’re so deeply embedded in politics and power. When we “disrupt” institutions, power doesn’t simply dissipate, it moves to new nodes. One of those powerful new nodes is the tech sector. Let’s recognize that, eh?
See, I look around technology today (tech and ed-tech) and I see an incredible reverberation of the work of the behaviorist BF Skinner, for example. Now if you turn to “education theory programs” in “academia,” you’ll find that Skinner isn’t so “hot.” He hasn’t been for decades. He was resoundingly dismissed in tech circles too via Noam Chomsky. And yet, all around me, I see Skinnerism – click-for-immediate-feedback. People as pigeons. Zynga. Farmville. Gamification. But without the language and the theory and the history to say, “hey we recognized in the mid 1960s that this was a wretched path, one with all sorts of anti-democratic repercussions,” we’re not just making the same mistakes again, we’re actually engaging in reactionary practices – politically, pedagogically.
It matters what we know about the history of education. It matters what we know about the history of technology. We don’t all have to know every detail. Good grief. Me, I learn something new every day. I’m a student of the field. But to suggest that such an undertaking is a waste of time or only for academics (eyeroll. academics) and that instead we should in education technology “fail fast and pivot” means we’re adopting the language of business and moreover the ideology of the technology industry (and all its imperialist history – right? we know that history? the history of computing and war?). And it’s becoming a resoundingly anti-intellectual ideology.
And if we’re so obsessed with failure as a goal, we need to recognize too that while we work things out – because we’re too busy to learn about the past – we’re in the meantime screwing with a lot of (often marginalized) kids as we “play.”
So what should technologists know about education? And when should we call technologists (those inside and outside of educational instituions) on their powerful and troubling ideology of "I know nothing!"?
Education Law and Politics
What You Should Know This Week: a California judge handed down a ruling in Vergara v California, delivering a blow to teachers’ unions in the state by overturning 5 laws that deal with tenure and seniority. I think every edu pundit and politician has weighed in by now. A few: John Merrow, Stephanie Simon, Dana Goldstein, Kevin Carey, Benjamin Riley, Randi Weingarten, Jeb Bush.
The Second Circuit of the US Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling in Author’s Guild et al. vs HathiTrust et al, affirming that digitization for full-text search and access for print-disabled readers is fair use.
President Obama issued an executive order to address student loan debt– capping repayments to 10% of borrowers’ income.
The US Senate defeated a proposal by Elizabeth Warren to allow borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates.
On the heels of an viral article in The Washington Post about “How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Swift Common Core Revolution,” the Gates Foundation now says we should slow down with teacher evaluation systems based on the Common Core. Let’s see if philanthropy shapes policy here, eh?
President Obama unveiled a new portal for ConnectED, his E-rate project that aims to involve the tech sector in helping to boost schools’ and libraries’ Internet and tech capabilities. The program will have a new “E-rate specialist,” reports Education Week, which will be funded by the Broad Foundation. Because hey! Look! Philanthropy shapes policy. The New York Times has a puff piece on the FCC’s plans for better WiFi access in schools, with nary a mention of Net Neutrality.
Obama invited Tumblr founder David Karp to the White House this week, where we learned that his daughter Sasha has been violating the site’s TOS (and COPPA) by using Tumblr before she turned 13. But hey, what’s a little violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act among friends, right?
The US House of Representatives has delayed voting on a bill that would allow schools to opt out of nutritional standards in school lunches.
House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was defeated in a primary race this week – normally not something I’d report (even though Cantor has been a major supporter of charter schools and vouchers). But I guess this counts as “education news” as the candidates for his seat – Tea Party-backed Republican David Brat and his Democratic opponent Jack Trammell – are both professors at Randolph Macon College.
School Sports Team
Former UNC basketball star Rashad McCantsclaims that he took “paper classes” at the school in order to maintain eligibility. (These classes required only writing a term paper, which was actually written by a tutor.)
Julius Nyang’oro, a former chair of the UNC’s department of African and Afro-American studies, will cooperate with an investigation into academic fraud related to student athletes.
The class action lawsuit by student athletes against the NCAA started this week. A primer.
MOOCs and Other Online Endeavors
Announcing Unizin: “Unizin is a strategic move by universities to assert greater control and influence over the digital-learning landscape than would otherwise be possible by any single institution." The four founding institutions are Colorado State University, Indiana University, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan. Why Unizin?:
As professors and members of the academy, we want to support faculty and universities by ensuring that universities and their faculty stay in control of the content, data, relationships, and reputations that we create. As we look at the rapidly emerging infrastructure that enables digital learning, we want to bias things in the direction of open standards, interoperability, and scale. Unizin is about tipping the table in favor of the academy by collectively owning (buying, developing, and connecting) the essential infrastructure that enables digital learning on our campuses and beyond.
Lund University has joinedCoursera.
From the HR Department
Jill Abramson, recently ousted editor of The New York Times, has a new teaching gig at Harvard.
Marilee Jones, the dean of admissions at MIT, has resigned after admitting she’d made up her education credentials.
New CUNY Chancellor James Milliken will live in a $18,000/month apartment rent-free.
Attorney and VC Miriam Rivera has joined the Minerva Project as COO.
Elsewhere on Campus
The City College of San Francisco has won a reprieve in its battle over accreditation, which was supposed to be revoked this summer. Now the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has shifted its rules, making it possible for CCSF to keep its doors open – a move that isn’t terribly surprising considering how politically charged this issue has become.
“24 Georgia Middle-Schoolers Suspended For Talking About Dress-Code Insubordination on Facebook” – the principal called their plans a “terrorist threat.”
An admin at the University of Virginia Law Schoolaccidentally emailed a spreadsheet to a student listserv containing “each student’s grade-point average, class rank, political affiliation, and much more.” Oops.
The Jersey City school district is investigating how a charter school got its hands on personal information of students in the district, including “students’ names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and possibly even social security numbers.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
Meanwhile… “A Company Has Designed A Bulletproof Blanket To Protect Kids During School Shootings.” Because what else could we possibly do to stop the madness of gun violence?!
No, a chatbot did not pass the Turing Test. (Perhaps all the journalists who parroted the news fell for the story, not because AI is getting better but because humans - particularly journalists - are becoming more robotic.)
Anonymous messaging app Secretsays it plans to expand into schools which is such a mindblowingly awful idea I don’t even know where to start.
LMS provider Schoology has won a major contract to “provide a platform to deliver academic content” under Uruguay’s Plan Ceibal, an effort to offer a 1:1 computing program to 600,000 students in the country.
The University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies unveil Domain of One’s Own 2.0 (with a lengthy video that chronicles this project’s history and future direction.)
A new series from Education Week: “Navigating the Ed-Tech Marketplace”
Funding and Acquisitions
The United Negro College Fund has received a $25 million gift from the Koch Brothers, which considering the Koch Brothers’ funding of the Tea Party movement and of voter ID (voter suppression) laws, is fairly controversial.
Declara has raised another $9 million in investment for its online PD platform, bringing to $25 million total its Series A (and to $30 million total raised). Edsurge has a lengthy look at the company.
YouScience has raised $8.5 million to (according to its press release) “help consumers optimize their career and educational investments by delivering the best practices and market-leading EdTech tools directly to consumers and the professionals that serve them.”
“A new study suggests that it’s time to stop blaming professors (of any political leaning) for any leftward tilt that college students may show (and the study acknowledges that many do lean that way over the course of their college years). The influence is coming from students themselves,” Inside Higher Ed tells us.
Via The Atlantic: “A new study published online in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, ‘Estimating the Effects of No Child Left Behind on Teachers and Their Work Environment,’ suggests that NCLB has not actually affected teacher happiness in these ways—on the contrary, some measures of job satisfaction, including classroom control and teachers’ perceptions of administrator support, have increased on average since the implementation of the legislation.” LOL ok.
Confused students learn better from cyber tutors. There’s probably a Turing Test joke here, maybe even one about Silicon Valley VCs working to end teachers’ unions and replacing teachers with robots (cue: Marc Andreessen). But I’m too tired to make it.
Image credits: Chris Isherwood
Here are the notes and the slides from my keynote today at CETIS 2014 (which was just an amazingly great event).
A couple of years ago, a friend sent me an exasperated email on the heels of an exclusive technology event he’d attended in Northern California — not in Silicon Valley, but close enough, one with powerful people in the tech industry. Investors. Engineers. Entrepreneurs. Several prominent CEOs of prominent ed-tech startups had been invited to speak there about the state of education — past, present, and future — and their talks, my friend reported, tended to condemn education’s utter failure to adopt or to integrate computing technologies. The personal computing revolution had passed schools by entirely, they argued, and it wasn’t until the last decade that schools had started to even consider the existence of the Internet. The first online class, insisted one co-founder of a company that’s raised tens of millions of dollars in venture capital since then, was in 2001 at MIT.
And okay, in fairness, these folks are not historians. They’re computer scientists, artificial intelligence experts, software engineers. They’re entrepreneurs. But their lack of knowledge about the history of education and the history of education technology matters.
It matters because it supports a prevailing narrative about innovation — where innovation comes from (according to this narrative, it comes from private industry, that is, not from public institutions; from Silicon Valley, that is, not from elsewhere in the world) and when it comes (there’s this fiercely myopic fixation on the future).
The lack of knowledge about history matters too because it reflects and even enables a powerful strain in American ideology and in the ideology of the technology industry: that the past is irrelevant, that the past is a monolithic block of brokenness — unchanged and unchanging until it’s disrupted by technological innovation, or by the promise of technological innovation, by the future itself.
This ideology shapes the story that many ed-tech entrepreneurs tell about education and about their role in transforming it.
One of my favorite examples of this comes from Sal Khan of Khan Academy fame in a video on “The History of Education" he made with Forbes writer Michael Noer back in 2012.
It’s the history of education “from 1680 to 2050” told in 11 minutes, so needless to say it’s a rather abbreviated version of events. It’s not titled “The History of Education in the United States,” although that would be much better because contributions to education from the rest of the world are entirely absent.
Well, except for the Prussians. Americans involved in education reform and education technology love to talk about the Prussians.
Our current model of education, says Khan, originated at the turn of the nineteenth century: “age-based cohorts” that move through an “assembly line” with “information being delivered at every point.”
“This is the Prussian model,” the Forbes writer Noer adds, “and it’s about as inflexible as a Prussian can be.” But Khan notes that there were benefits to this as “it was the first time people said, ‘No, we want everyone to get an education for free.”
Then “Horace Mann comes along about 1840” and introduces this concept of free education for everyone to the United States. By 1870, says Khan, public education is pretty common “but even at that point it wasn’t uniform” with different standards and curriculum in different states and cities. So in 1892, “something that tends to get lost in history,” a committee of ten — “somewhat Orwellian” quips Noer — meet to determine what twelve years of compulsory public education should look like.
“It was forward looking for 120 years ago,” says Noer, “but what’s interesting is that we’ve basically been stuck there for 120 years.” Education has been "static to the present day,” agrees Khan.
And from 1892, the story they tell jumps ahead, straight to the invention of the Internet — “the mid late Nineties,” says Khan as he plots it on his timeline. “The big thing here,” says Noer as the two skip over one hundred years or so of history, “is what you’ve done” with Khan Academy. “One person with one computer can reach millions.” This revolutionizes lectures, Noer argues; it revolutionizes homework. “Class time is liberated,” adds Khan. This changes everything — Khan Academy (founded in 2006) changes everything — that has been stagnant and static since the nineteenth century.
See, this isn’t simply a matter of forgetting history -- the history of technology or the history of education or the history of ed-tech. It’s not simply a matter of ignoring it. It’s a rewriting of history, whether you see it as activist or accidental.
To contend, as my friend overheard at that tech event or as Khan implies in his history of education, that schools haven’t been involved in the development or deployment of computers or the Internet, for example, is laughably incorrect — it’s an inaccurate, incomplete history of computing technology, not simply an inaccurate history of ed-tech.
Take the ILLIAC I, the first von Neumann architecture computer owned by an American university, built in 1952 at the University of Illinois. (The US was beaten by several years by universities here in the UK, I should point out — the University of Manchester, I believe.)
Or take PLATO, a computer-based education system — sometimes credited as the first piece of educational computing software — build on the University of Illinois ILLIAC machine in 1960.
Or take the work of Marc Andreessen — now a powerful figure in Silicon Valley, a not-quite-but-almost-billionaire, a venture capitalist with several major investments in ed-tech — who took the work he’d done on the Mosaic Web browser as a student at the University of Illinois in order to start his own company, Mosaic Communications Company, which eventually became the Netscape Communications Company, launching the Netscape Navigator web browser and successfully IPOing in 1995.
The history of education technology is long. The history of education technology is rich. And while it certainly predates Netscape or the von Neumann architecture, the history of education technology is deeply intertwined with the history of computing — and visa versa.
And I could probably stop right there with my keynote. This is really the crux of my message: there’s a fascinating and important history of education technology that is largely forgotten, that is largely hidden — it’s overlooked for a number of reasons, some of which is wrapped up in the ideologies I’ve already alluded to.
All this means, if we’re going to talk about “Building the Digital Institution: Technological Innovation in Universities and Colleges” — the theme of this conference — we probably should know a bit about the history of universities and colleges and technological innovation and build from there.
Despite all the problems that these institutions have — and good grief, they do have problems — universities and colleges have been the sites of technological innovation. They are the sites of technological innovation. Or they can be. In pockets, to be sure. In spurts, to be sure. Certain developments in certain times in certain places, yes. Certain disciplines making breakthroughs; certain disciplines get the credit. Certain universities get the credit for innovating — even when, dare I say, they aren’t actually doing anything that new or transformative.
It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the ed-tech startup co-founder in my opening anecdote would credit MIT with offering the first online course. It’s one of those universities that consistently gets the credit for innovating. Perhaps he was thinking of MIT OpenCourseWare which launched in 2002 as an effort to put the university’s course materials online in a free and openly licensed format.
(Sidenote number 1: that putting course materials online could be confused with offering a course online speaks volumes about this co-founder’s startup. Sidenote number 2: this particular ed-tech co-founder attended MIT. Sidenote number 3: Sal Khan, again of Khan Academy fame, is also a MIT graduate, and I think his vision for teaching and learning via a site like Khan Academy draws heavily on that MIT academic culture — where class attendance isn’t as important as working through course materials at your own pace with your smartest peers; as long as you can pass the assessments at the end of the course, that’s what matters.)
It’s unlikely, when touting who put classes online first that this ed-tech co-founder, again from my opening anecdote, was thinking of Fathom, the Columbia University-led online learning initiative founded roughly around the date he ascribed to the first “online course." It’s unlikely he was thinking of AllLearn, the Stanford, Yale, and Oxford Universities-led online learning initiative of about the same period.
Possibly because it’s like the movie Fight Club: the first rule of the history of online education: don’t talk about Fathom. We don’t talk about AllLearn.
And this particular ed-tech startup co-founder certainly wasn’t talking about UK e-University, because as with the development of early computers, we (we Americans, I should qualify here) seem to have forgotten that much has happened outside of the US, let alone outside of Silicon Valley.
Ah, ed-tech of the late 1990s and early 2000s. “The Internet!,” as Sal Khan notes excitedly.
Yet we don’t talk much about that period. We don’t talk much about the heady days of the first Dot Com bubble. Have we really forgotten?
It could be that we’re reluctant in talking about the first Dot Com bubble because some of us don’t want to admit we might just be in the midst of another one. Startups — ed-tech and otherwise — overhyped, overfunded, with little to show in terms of profit (or educational outcomes) as a result.
What’s implied by our silence about the Dot Com era perhaps: we know better now than we did then. Or at least the tech is better. Or at least we’re not spending as much money to launch startups these days. Or we care more about learning now. More about learners. Or something.
And yes, some of us simply don’t want to talk about the tech and ed-tech failures of the Dot Com era — the failures of Fathom and AllLearn and UKeU and the like — because of the shame of failure. It’s not just Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are at fault here. I think industry and institutions (particularly elite Ivy League institutions) have buried those failures — a pity since there’s much to learn.
I realize that most of the folks here know these stories, but I’m going to repeat them anyway:
Fathom: opened in 2000 and closed in 2003AllLearn: opened in 2001 and closed in 2006UKeU: opened in 2003 and closed in 2004
(So this notion that it’s easier and cheaper to launch a startup in the 2010s — that thanks to open source technologies and the cloud and the like that we needn’t funnel so much money into ed-tech startups. Well…)
A little Wayback Machine magic:
[See Slides 8-14]
Here’s what the Fathom website looked like, circa 2001.
Here’s what the AllLearn website looked like, circa 2001.
Here’s what Coursera’s website looks like today.
Here’s what edX’s website looks like today.
Here’s what Udacity’s website looks like today.
Here’s what FutureLearn’s website looks like today.
And here’s what happens when you Google “UK e-University.”
Certainly you can see some changes — improvements no doubt — in Web design. But what’s changed in the decade or so between the Dot Com-era online courses and today’s versions? What’s changed in terms of institutional involvement, what’s changed in terms of branding, what’s changed in terms of course content, and what’s changed in terms of the “ed-tech” under the hood? And what hasn’t changed? What's the same?
The course content for Fathom and AllLearn was similar to what we see being offered online today — not a surprise, such is the makeup of the typical college course catalog. A broad swath of classes in science, technology, humanities, professional development, business, law. Some 2000 courses offered via Fathom. 110 on AllLearn. 25 on UK e-University. (Is that correct?!) Over 500 courses via Coursera.
The technology hasn’t changed much in the intervening decade. (And the phrase “content delivery system” to describe online education persists, sadly.) The Dot Com era courses offered "primary source documents, animations, interactive graphics, audio slide shows, and streaming videos.” Today’s online courses look much the same, and despite their boasts about better assessment tools — automated essay graders and the like — multiple choice quizzes — a historical artifact from the earliest teaching machines of the 20th century — still dominate.
The marketing pitch to students hasn’t changed much: “Online courses from the world’s best universities” — that’s the tagline on the edX site. The “world’s best courses” — that’s what Coursera promises. “Enjoy free online courses from leading UK and international universities” — that’s FutureLearn’s promise. The “world’s most trusted sources of knowledge” — that was Fathom's. The focus — then and now — is on the prestige of the institutions involved. And they are some of the same institutions. Stanford. Yale. Columbia.
AllLearn, short for the Alliance for Lifelong Learning, stressed that its classes were just that: an opportunity for continuing education and lifelong learning. Udacity stresses something different today: it’s about “advancing your career.” It’s about “dream jobs.”
There’s been plenty of hype about these new online platforms displacing or replacing face-to-face education, and part of that does connect to another powerful (political) narrative — that universities do not adequately equip students with “21st century skills” that employers will increasingly demand. But by most accounts, those who sign up for these courses still fall into the “lifelong learner” category. That is, the majority have a college degree already.
The question remains unresolved — a decade later — as to whether or not people will pay for these online courses (or for certification after successful completion) to an extent that these online initiatives can become financially sustainable, let alone profitable. And that’s even accounting for the massive increase since the early 2000s in the cost of higher education (in the US and now elsewhere) alongside the push for college credentials.
From a 2002 New York Times article about universities’ efforts to move online — “Lessons Learned at Dot Com U”: "college campuses and dot-coms had looked at the numbers and anticipated a rising tide of enrollment based on baby boomers and their children as both traditional students and those seeking continuing education. In short, the colleges essentially assumed that if they built it, students would come.”
“We hope it’s enough money to get us to profitability,’’ Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller told The New York Times in the summer of 2013 when her company announced it had raised another $43 million. “We haven’t really focused yet on when that might be.” Echoing the Field of Dreams reference from a decade earlier — that’s a baseball movie reference, a terrible analogy to invoke in a keynote in the UK, I realize: if you build it, they will come. Indeed, Koller has admitted that her investors have told her that if you do the "right thing" in education, in ed-tech the profits will follow.
Perhaps they will.
We can see already the pressures for Coursera to find a path to profitability — it has raised $85 million in venture capital after all, not in university endowment or in foundation funding. In recent months, Coursera has shuffled its executive team quite a bit, adding a venture capitalist from fabled investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers as President and adding a former Yale President as CEO. Co-founder Andrew Ng has stepped away from day-to-day work at the company, although he remains Chairman of the Board.
The new CEO of Coursera, Richard Levin, as it just so happens, was at the helm at Yale in the AllLearn era. (He was the chair of AllLearn in fact.) One could assume then, I suppose, that he must have a significant amount of expertise and much wisdom gleaned from the university’s Dot Com era ed-tech ventures. Levin, an economist by training, must know a bit about the history of education and the history of technology and the history of ed-tech. Or at least he should know a bit about the history of the economics of ed-tech. Right?
In an interview with The New York Times this spring, Levin offered this explanation as to why AllLearn did not succeed:
"It was too early. Bandwidth wasn’t adequate to support the video. But we gained a lot of experience of how to create courses, and then we used it starting in 2007 to create very high quality videos, now supported by adequate bandwidth in many parts of the world, with the Open Yale courses. We’ve released over 40 of them, and they gained a wide audience.”
AllLearn failed, he argues, because of bandwidth.
"The Internet bandwidth in most homes was inadequate for properly sharing course material,” Levin contends. Actually, AllLearn offered its materials via CD-ROM as well, and like many sites in that period, AllLearn recognized that streaming video content might be challenging for some users. It allowed them to turn off some of the high-bandwidth features and download rather than watch video online.
Remember too, AllLearn was marketed as a “lifelong learning” site. Its pitch was to alumni of the universities involved as well as to the general public. The former would pay about $200 per course; the latter about $250. (One creative writing class charged $800 in tuition.) So are we to believe that those groups — alumni and keen lifelong learners — were unable to access AllLearn due to bandwidth issues? That they’d balk at having good Internet but not balk at the AllLearn fees? It’s an assertion that my colleague Mike Caulfield (among others) has questioned:
"All-Learn folded in 2006, when broadband was at a meager 20% adoption. Today, it’s different, supposedly. It’s at 28%. Are we to really believe that somewhere in that 8% of the population is the difference between success and failure?” asks Caulfield.
Caulfield also questions what Levin learned from OpenYale, the ed-tech venture that followed the demise of AllLearn. By Caulfield’s calculations, those courses were created using "$4 million dollars of Hewlett money. And the videos are basically recordings of class lectures. Four million dollars for forty filmed courses, or, if you prefer, $100,000 a course for video lectures.”
That’s close to the figure you hear bandied about today among professors who’ve created Coursera classes, for what it’s worth.
It’s this discrepancy between the costs and the revenue, an inability to find a sustainable business model that plagued the Dot Com era online initiatives. From a 2003 article in the Columbia student newspaper:
"Fathom spent money at an unsustainable rate. In 2001, Fathom burned through almost $15 million, and generated revenues of only $700,000."
And this is what plagues Coursera today.
This is (in part) why history matters. Well, history and a bit of humility, I’d add. It’s not easy to reflect on our failures — the failures of Dot Com era ed-tech in this case — and move forward; but that’s how we make progress.
But it's important too to recognize the successes of the Dot Com era and to remember that, despite the failures of initiatives like AllLearn and Fathom, there were many online education programs founded in roughly the same period that didn't fold, that went on to be sustainable, that continue today.
I’d argue, however, that (sadly) one of the most significant successes of the Dot Com era — financial successes, that is — is one that has left an indelible mark on ed-tech: and that’s the success of the learning management system — the technology, the industry.
While learning management system software predates the Internet, it was the the Internet that became its big selling point. From The Washington Post in 1999: "Blackboard Chalks Up a Breakthrough; Its Educational Software Lets Colleges Put Classes on the Internet.” (Several years, I’d like to point out, prior to the date in my opening anecdote when MIT supposedly offered the first course online.)
The LMS — the VLE, I should say while here in the UK — has profoundly shaped how schools interact with the Internet. The LMS, the VLE, is a piece of administrative software — there’s that word “management” in there that sort of gives it away for us in the US at least — software that purports to address questions about teaching and learning but often circumscribing pedagogical possibilities. You can see its Dot Com roots too in the VLE functionality and in its interface. I mean, some VLEs still look like software from the year 2000! The VLE acts as an Internet portal to the student information system, and much like the old portals of the Dot Com era, much like AOL for example, it cautions you when you try to venture outside of it. You can access the VLE through your web browser but it is not really "of" the web.
The learning management system is a silo, a technological silo, by design. This isn’t because the technology isn’t available to do otherwise. Rather, it’s a reflection of the institution of education. The LMS silo works because we tend to 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, and IT but rarely in the hands of learners.
If you look at the much-hyped online courses of today — those offered on the Coursera or the edX platforms, for example — you can see the influence of the LMS. Each course you enroll in is separate, siloed. At the end of the term, your access to your course disappears. There’s a tab on the LMS so you can navigate to the syllabus and a tab for assignments and one for assessments, and there is, of course — thanks early Internet technology! — a discussion forum. A message board. It isn’t an accident — and it certainly isn’t an innovation — that our online classes look this way.
It doesn’t have to look this way, of course. There are other stories we could tell about education technology’s past; there are other paths forward. Again, there’s this hidden history of ed-tech (and of computer tech as well), and it’s worth considering why so much has been forgotten or overlooked or dismissed. Ted Nelson. Douglas Englebart.
Or the person I always point to: Seymour Papert.
Computers, argued Papert, should unlock children’s “powerful ideas.” That’s the subtitle to his 1980 book Mindstorms— a book that I insist people in ed-tech read (although admittedly Papert’s work is geared towards younger children rather than adult learners). Mindstorms addresses “how computers can be carriers of powerful ideas and of the seeds of cultural change, how they can help people form new relationships with knowledge that cut across the traditional lines separating humanities from sciences and knowledge of the self from both of these. It is about using computers to challenge current beliefs about who can understand what and at what age. It is about using computers to question standard assumptions in developmental psychology and in the psychology of aptitudes and attitudes. It is about whether personal computers and the cultures in which they are used will continue to be the creatures of ‘engineers’ alone or whether we can construct intellectual environments in which people who today think of themselves as ‘humanists’ will feel part of, not alienated from, the process of constructing computational cultures."
Computers, Papert insisted, will help children gain "a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establish an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.”
But as we see with the LMS, ed-tech has come to mean something else. As Papert notes in his 1993 book The Children’s Machine: “Progressive teachers knew very well how to use the computer for their own ends as an instrument of change; School knew very well how to nip this subversion in the bud.”
“Computer-aided inspiration,” as Papert encouraged, has been mostly trumped by “computer-aided instruction.”
And we come full circle now to a technology I mentioned in passing at the beginning of my talk: PLATO, Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations — a computer system developed at the University of Illinois in the 1960s on its ILLIAC machine.
Early versions of the PLATO system had a student terminal attached to a mainframe. The software offered mostly “drill and kill” and tutorial lessons. But as the PLATO system developed, new, more sophisticated software was added — more problem-based lessons, for example. A new programming language called TUTOR enabled “anyone” to create their own PLATO lessons without having to be a programmer. The mainframe now supported multiple, networked computers. Students could communicate with one another, in addition to the instructor. Fairly groundbreaking stuff, as this was all pre-Internet, pre-Web.
This networked system made PLATO a site for the development of number of very important innovations in computing technology — not to mention in ed-tech. Forums, message boards, chat rooms, instant messaging, screen sharing, multiplayer games, and emoticons. PLATO was, as author Brian Dear argues in his forthcoming book The Friendly Orange Glow“the dawn of cyberculture.”
But as with so much ed-tech history, PLATO’s contribution to cyberculture is mostly forgotten. Yet clearly we can see remnants of PLATO in many of the features in ed-tech today, including of course, the learning management system. And if the learning management system has trapped us in a moment of Dot Com era tech — the Internet portal — it may be that ed-tech's roots in PLATO have trapped us in an old “mainframe” mindset as well.
See, there are numerous legacies here. One of the features PLATO boasted: tracking every keystroke that a student made, data on every answer submitted — right or wrong. Sound familiar? PLATO offered more efficient computer-based testing. Sound familiar? It offered the broadcast of computer-based lessons to multiple locations, where students could work at their own pace. Sound familiar? Indeed, by the mid-Seventies, PLATO was serving students in over 150 locations — not just across the University of Illinois campus, but in elementary schools, high schools, and on military bases.
Sensing a huge business opportunity — these notion of tapping into the giant “education market” is not new, the Control Data Corporation, the company that built the University of Illinois mainframe, announced that it was going to go to market with PLATO, spinning it out from a university project to a corporate one.
CDC charged $50 an hour for access to its mainframe, for starters. Each student unit cost about $1900; the mainframe itself $2.5 million — on the low end — according to some estimates. CDC charged $300,000 to develop each piece of courseware. (So okay, I guess it is getting a little cheaper to develop courseware.)
Needless to say, PLATO as a commercialized computer-aided instruction system product was largely a failure. The main success that CDC had with it: selling an online testing system to the National Association of Securities Dealers, a regulatory group that licenses stockbrokers.
Yet like the learning management system, the idea of computer-assisted instruction has retained an incredibly powerful hold over ed-tech. Indeed, as the history of PLATO shows us, the two are interconnected. Computer-based instruction. Computer-based management.
As we move forward, “building the digital institution,” I think we must retrace and unwind some of these connections.
Why are we building learning management systems? Why are we building computer-assisted instructional tech? Current computing technologies demand neither. Open practices don’t either. Rather, it’s a certain institutional culture and a certain set of business interests that do.
What alternatives can we build on? What can we imagine -- a future of learner agency, of human capacity, of equity, of civic responsibility, of openness, for example.
I called this talk “Un-Fathom-able,” thumbing my nose I confess at the failures of Fathom and what I think we may soon see as the failure of Coursera. I called this talk “Un-Fathom-able” too because I fear that there’s much in ed-tech that we’ve failed to explore — partly, I would argue, that’s because we have failed to learn and to reflect on the history of ed-tech. It's easy to blame technologists, I suppose. But I think all this runs deeper than that. There's been a failure of imagination to do something bold and different, something that, to borrow Papert’s phrasing, unlocks “powerful ideas” in learners rather than simply reinscribing powerful institutional mandates.
But we can't move forward, I'd argue, til we reconcile where we've been before.
Louisiana governor (and perhaps presidential candidate?) Bobby Jindalissued orders to withdraw his state from the Common Core. But it wasn’t a smooth move, as the state Superintendent insists that Jindal doesn’t have the authority to do so.
Former Florida governor (and perhaps presidential candidate?) Jeb Bush is a member of the Aspen Institute’s Task Force on “Learning and the Internet” which released its recommendations this week. Among those actions: revise COPPA, FERPA, and CIPA. "Put learners at the center." Mmmhmmm.
And in other news from the Republican party, Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has admitted that he was the pseudonymous author of a series of blog posts “describing people who receive welfare as ‘lazy pigs.’ He also compared Planned Parenthood to Nazis, and said the organization is responsible for most abortions among Black people in America.”
And just when I thought its education policies couldn’t get any more awful, the Obama administration plans to revamp the Bureau of Indian Education through a Race to the Top like initiative.
The LAUSD school board has reappointed Stuart Magruder. Magruder, an outspoken critic of the district’s iPad investment, was voted off the panel last month.
The US Department of Education is increasing its oversight over the for-profit Corinthian Colleges over concerns about its marketing and data practices, and now the company says it might gaspshut down.
It’s time for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and there are efforts to make the FAFSA process simpler.
The US Department of Education has proposed changes to the Clery Act that would require colleges and universities to expand the collection of data relating to sexual violence on campus.
Continuing to demonstrate how much the state of Kansas hates learning: a 9 year old Leawood, Kansas boy has had his “little free library” shut down by the city which has deemed the bookcase violates building code – it’s an “illegal accessory building,” say officials.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
edX has 6 new members: Notre Dame, the Sorbonne Universities, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Wageningen University, and The University of Adelaide.
Udacity announced a “nanodegree,” a certificate program “designed for efficiency: select hands-on courses by industry, a capstone project, and career guidance.” The first nanodegree will be AT&T-oriented curriculum. (AT&T is also working with Udacity as part of its Georgia Tech master’s degree program.)
The winner of the best lede in education news this week goes to The Chronicle’s Avi-Wolfman-Arent making a case for dropping the word "dropout" to describe those who don't complete MOOCs: “Way back in 1978, Frenchy in Grease was unceremoniously dubbed a beauty-school dropout. But what if she took a MOOC today on midcentury follicular art? Might we call her a beauty-school ‘collector’? What about a beauty-school ‘bystander’?”
Meanwhile on Campus
“This French tech school has no teachers, no books, no tuition — and it could change everything,” squees VentureBeat. EVERYTHING!
King’s College in New York will accept Bitcoin for tuition. Wait, THIS changes everything!
Starbucks and Arizona State University announced an initiative this week that, according to the earliest churnalism, meant free college tuition for the former’s students. WAIT THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING! I look at this story more closely on EML, as this week's "What You Should Know This Week." Turns out, there’s some fine print: “notably that students could have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket, and wait months or years before being reimbursed.” Also Pearson's involved (it runs parts of ASU Online). So the winners here: probably not Starbucks-employed students.
The University of Pennsylvania will offer a Master’s Degree in Education Entrepreneurship.
Brewton-Parker College has been stripped of its accreditation.
MIT’s new Early Childhood Cognition Laboratory will research your children via a webcam. "If we can run studies online, we can literally test the world,” says Laura Schulz, associate professor at MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Wow. I can’t wait.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Securly, which offers web filtering services for schools, now says it will offer Student Achievement Analytics, which “leverages the power of big-data analysis to give school leadership critical visibility into how students and teachers in their district are really using technology.” Because ed-tech as surveillance.
The school messaging service Remind 101 has rebranded to become simply “Remind.”
Via Edukwest, the list of the startups in Pearson’s latest accelerator program.
Whee: proof of concept for facial recognition technology in Moodle.
Meanwhile, in other LMS news, Instructure held its annual developer conference this week, where it unveiled new “minimally invasive” assessment tools. E-literate’s Phil Hill weighs in on where he thinks the upstart company is positioned now in the larger LMS market.
(Also happy 10th anniversary to E-Literate, which remains one of the best ed-tech blogs out there.)
Funding and Acquisitions
Pansophic Learning, the new company run by Ron Packard, the former head of K12 Inc, has acquired assets from K12 Inc. Nothing to see here move along.
Assessment company MasteryConnect has acquired the student response system Socrative for $5 million.
Bulb, “a publishing tool that lets students and teachers create and share learning resources, projects and portfolios,” has raised $1 million from undisclosed investors.
Symplicity, which describes itself as a “a market leader in enterprise technology and information systems management for higher education, government, and businesses” has acquiredExperience, career services software from ConnectEDU (which is now in bankruptcy and selling off its assets).
Galvanize, which offers tech classes for entrepreneurs, has raised $18 million from University Ventures Fund.
Careers360, a Delhi-based career portal, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from angel investors.
And it’s not an ed-tech venture, but it’s worth pointing out the dumbassery nonetheless. Yo, a messaging app that just sends the word “Yo” to your friends, has reportedly raised $1 million. But there is no bubble, there is no bubble, there is no bubble, there is no bubble.
The 2014 K–12 Horizon Report (PDF)
The National Council on Teacher Quality (created by the conservative think tank the Fordham Institute) and US News have ranked the best teacher education programs. The best: the competency-based, online Western Governors University.
ProPublica looks at schools’ use of restraints and seclusions. “The practices—which have included pinning uncooperative children facedown on the floor, locking them in dark closets and tying them up with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape—were used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year.”
A new study“suggests that straightforward and low-cost communication that encourages first-year students at community colleges to submit a FAFSA form significantly increases the chance that they return for a second year.”
“The typical household owns $160 per month on student loans,” reads the Vox.com headline, trying to show the difference between “median” and “average” student loan debt but still publishing a headline that doesn’t make it clear that the figure in question only refers to households with debt.
The History of Ed-Tech (As Told Through Patents)
Patents, of course, are designed to guard the intellectual property of the inventor, so that that person in turn can exclude others from developing or selling the invention. As such, education patents are interesting not only for what they can reveal about intellectual history, commercial interests, and legal machinations, but for what they demonstrate about our conceptions of teaching, learning, and technology.
And technology is the point, of course, of the patent. The UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization defines an invention eligible for patenting as “a solution to a specific problem in the field of technology. An invention may relate to a product or a process.” Education patents, in other words, offer technological “solutions” to the “problems” of teaching or learning, and those problems are by definition technological. Patents, that means, aren't simply "technical"; they're ideological.
A Sampling of Education Patents
Apparatus for teaching spelling (1866) (Link)
Machine for intelligence tests (1928) (Link)
Teaching and testing aid (1957) (Link)
Skinner! Dude! You weren't even first!
Educational testing apparatus (1966) (Link)
Networked education and entertainment technology (application, 2011) (Link)
Education system and method for providing educational exercises and establishing an educational fund (1999) (Link)
Learning outcome manager (2005) (Link)
Multi-sensory education device (application, 2007) (Link)
Internet-based education support system and methods (1999) (Link)
This is an important one. It’s Blackboard’s patent for the LMS that it used in 2006 to sue its competitor Desire2Learn for infringement– a case that D2L eventually won. That legal battle left a bitter taste in many education technologists’ mouths, cementing Blackboard’s negative image in certain circles. (I mean, beyond the whole “wow, this LMS thing is crap” response.)
That lawsuit prompted an initiative to document, on Wikipedia, some of the longer history of “virtual learning environments” (yet another reason why this "hidden history" matters) – that is, to demonstrate the “prior art” that would challenge Blackboard’s claim to having invented "the product," "the process."
And that is, indeed, part of the problem with the current intellectual property regime. “The patent system is broken,” as EFF puts it. Patents, which can be bought and sold, are increasingly wielded to stave off competition (and often to shake down smaller, newer companies); and thus, patents can serve to impede innovation rather than encourage it.
Ed-Tech Patents and "The Inventive Step"
But the problem lies too in demonstrating (or in the case of the US Patent and Trademark Office, assessing) the “inventive step” necessary for a patent to be granted. It’s a practical question when it comes to patent application; but it’s an interesting epistemological question too: what counts as as “inventive.” What counts as “new”? (Conversely, what's not new? What beliefs and practices are carried forward?) What counts as “innovation” in education? What does it mean to have that framed in terms of technological methods? Or, by definition (if we use the definition of WIPO, that is), must innovation be technological?
And see, how quickly we come to the narratives and the ideology, and not just the inventions, that inform the history of ed-tech.
The US Department of Educationannounced changes to the oversight of special education programs. TL;DR: more testing.
According to Education Week, “Public charter schools are requesting 79 percent more per building from the federal E-rate program than traditional public schools are.”
“The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously,” says Politico.
With a tearful apology, Arizona’s school superintendent John Huppenthal says he’s sorry for writing anonymous blog posts calling welfare recipients “lazy pigs.” But he won’t resign.
Racial profiling in Arizona strikes again. ASU Professor Ersula Ore was violently arrested by campus police for walking in the middle of the street on campus, so as to avoid construction. “ASU authorities have reviewed the circumstances surrounding the arrest and have found no evidence of inappropriate actions by the ASUPD.” WTF.
Here’s a closer look at the Starbucks / Arizona State University deal, further demonstrating that those who lauded the plan initially for offering free college tuition to Starbucks employees did not read the fine print.
A victory for privacy. The US Supreme Court has ruled that police may not search cellphones without a warrant. (Curious: how will this impact schools that say they’re free to search students’ cellphones?)
Rebekah Brooks, former head of News Corp’s UK publishing unit, was found not guilty of phone hacking, bribery and perverting the course of justice. Andy Coulson was found guilty of one charge. According to Bloomberg, the company might face corporate charges related to the phone hacking and bribery. No idea how that’ll affect the company’s education division, Amplify, since its head Joel Klein has been key in helping it negotiate some of these legal wranglings.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
“Will SOOCs eat MOOCs for breakfast?” asks Pearson. Selectivity, the company argues, will address the question of “unwanted diversity.” Wow.
Via The Washington Post, “Richard C. Levin, the new chief executive of Coursera, the most widely used MOOC platform, wants to steer the conversation back to what grabbed public attention in the first place: the wow factor.” (Phil Hill responds.)
Carnegie Mellon has received funding from Google to research how to improve MOOCs.
A list of the 5 things researchers have discovered about MOOCs, via The Chronicle. What the media has learned: write about MOOCs. Because pageviews.
Meanwhile on Campus
The City College of San Francisco will remain open and keep its accreditation.
The Department of Education and Corinthian Colleges have reached a deal to sell off or close “all of the publicly traded for-profit’s 107 campuses. In exchange the department freed up $16 million in frozen payments to the company, which owns the Heald College, Everest and WyoTech chains.”
Here’s what different academic institutions pay for academic journals. “Some universities are paying nearly twice what universities of seemingly similar size and research output pay for access to the very same journals.”
The University of California has ended its ban on investing in companies that were created from research done at the university.
Some investigative journalism from the Detroit Free Press about local charter schools. “Conflicts of interest at every turn.”
“An American student studying abroad in Germany captured the world’s attention yesterday by achieving the remarkable feat of getting himself stuck in a giant vagina sculpture and needing 22 firefighters to rescue him.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Robert Morris University-Illinois will include video game playing its varsity sports program. Yes, there will be scholarships.
James Cunningham is suing the NCAA“alleging that it failed to protect college athletes from the long-term effects of concussive head injuries.”
USC will offer student athletes four-year scholarships, rather than one-year renewable scholarships.
Via Reuters: “A highly anticipated review of the child sex abuse case against Jerry Sandusky released on Monday found delays in prosecuting the former Penn State football coach but no evidence of political interference by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett during his time as attorney general.”
From the HR Department
Guantanamo Bayis hiring a substitute teacher. $50-$100 a day.
Silicon Valley tech blog Pando Daily fired a couple of their well-known writers last weekend, including David Sirota, who’s frequently written quite critically about education reform.
Chicago Public Schoolslaid off 1150 teachers and support staff.
Surveillance, Drones, Testing
WTF is this racist shit from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and College Board?!
Workplace surveillance. Is this what ed-tech will bring to schools?
You can check out a drone from the library at The University of South Florida. What could possibly go wrong?
Upgrades and Downgrades
Thanks to grants from the Knight Foundation, the New York Public Library and Chicago’s public library system will launch programs that allow patrons to check out WiFi hotspots for up to a year. (This is a good time to remember: we need to be vigilant about what libraries filter – and sometimes over-filter– on their networks due to CIPA.)
Textbook maker Boundless and student response system Top Hatare teaming up.
Edsurgepartners with Startup Education (formerly known as Startup Weekend EDU).
The news we’ve all been waiting for: Pearson announces PowerSchool 8.0.
Or maybe this is the news we’ve all been waiting for: Second Life being rebuilt from the ground up, thanks to Oculus Rift.
Oh hey. It’s time for ISTE and ALA. ISTE has announced a number of new initiatives, including certification for teacher trainers. It’s scrapped its old journal Learning & Leading for a new one called Entrsekt. Um. Makes perfect sense.
Registration for Open Education 2014 is now open. And the conference has a new Code of Conduct.
Funding and Acquisitions
Graduation Alliance, which offers intervention services to at-risk students, has acquired Connect!, a college planning portal from the now bankrupt ConnectEDU. Last month the FTC expressed concerns about the company’s bankruptcy, noting that it had not moved to protect users’ data from being sold off.
Dev Bootcamp, which helps people learn programming, has been acquired by Kaplan.
Schoology has raised $15 million in funding from Intel Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Great Roads Holdings, FirstMark Capital and Meakem Becker Venture Capital. The LMS startup has raised $25.1 million in total.
TeachBoost has raised $1.5 million in seed funding from Cue Ball Capital, Swift River Investments, and the EdTech Fund.
“One Month, a startup that aims to teach learners new digital skills in 30 days, has raised a $770k Seed Round from investors including Winklevoss Capital, Innovation Works, Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst, Start Fund, Oliver Jung, Lew Moorman, Y Combinator, FundersClub, and crowdfunding platform WeFunder.”
Coursmos has raised $530,000 in seed funding for its e-learning platform.
School Places, an Australian online marketplace for private schools, has raised $2 million AUD.
What You Should Know This Week (a regular EML feature): The Brookings Institution published a report doubting the notion that there really is a student loan crisis. The New York Times picked up on the story, so of course it’s true, right? Not so fast. The study’s “garbage,” says Choice Sicha. In fact, argues Malcolm Harris, there is a “college-cost denial industry.” And really: student debt isn't distributed equally. Here are “9 things people get wrong about student debt,” writes Libby Nelson.
Facebook scientists have published a paper detailing how they manipulated the news feed for more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. Oh look. The algorithm they used has an education connection. Because of course it does.
The American Academy of Pediatricsrecommendsreading to children from birth.
In news that is probably not a surprise to anyone in education in NYC, a study has found that the city’s teachers did not really use the district-created Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) Connect system, designed for them to share resources and information.
Standard & Poors released their latest ratings for charter schools. 19% are negative. 2% are positive.
“Should Principals Be Treated Like CEOs?” asks The Atlantic. Because “research.”
“Here’s How Not to Teach First Grade Math.” Research.
Over the last few weeks, there’s been a flurry of blog posts debating “personalized learning.”
I can’t help but notice it’s all men weighing in here (and that another man, Dan Willingham, is being summoned to enter the discussion). Such is ed(tech) punditry, perhaps.
And, I have to say, perhaps that should be enough right there to give us some pause, to make us consider how much “personalization” may be something (in framing and in practice) that works in tandem with privilege and power. Who gets to define “personalization”? Who writes all these algorithms that will “personalize” our learning through technology. Who writes the curriculum? For whom is “personalization” defined (and by extension, for whom is “personalization” programmed)?
So when Riley asks“Is personalization a scientific theory or an ideology?” I’d argue it’s certainly the latter, whether you can marshall scientific evidence to support it or not.
I’m spending the summer working on my book, Teaching Machines– a cultural history of the drive to automate education; and it’s clear that this idea of using machines to enable students to “learn at their own pace” is hardly new. It predates the learning theorists that are invoked in these blog post, for starters. Indeed, it’s at the heart of ~100 years of educational technology.
A couple of nights ago, I tweeted some screenshots from Teaching Machines and Programmed Learning: A Source Book (1960). (Tweet, Tweet)
Technology and "learning at your own pace" - the 1960 version pic.twitter.com/z2rWoMIhMx— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) June 30, 2014
Admittedly, I’m less interested in the “science” behind “personalization” today than I am in the long history of constructing devices (mechanical then, computerized now) for “personalized self-instruction.” The earliest (US) patent for education: “Mode of Teaching to Read,” 1809.
The history of public education in this country, particularly in the 20th century, is deeply intertwined with the development of teaching machines. (Despite the reluctance - then and now - to adopt technology in the classroom.)
Of course, “science” has been invoked all along the way to justify this and to demonstrate that these machines “work” (the science of intelligence testing, for example, or the science of behaviorism). But I don’t think of teaching machines as simply the application of scientific (learning) theories; they are the application of scientific management as well.
“Efficient.” “Labor saving.” Again and again, teaching machines are touted as tools to better manage production (of students).
From B.F. Skinner in “Teaching Machines” (1953): “Will machines replace teachers? On the contrary, they are capital equipment to be used by teachers to save time and labor. In assigning certain mechanizable functions to machines, the teacher emerges in his proper role as an indispensable human being. He may teach more students than heretofore—this is probably inevitable if the world-wide demand for education is to be satisfied—but he will do so in fewer hours and with fewer burdensome chores.”
It’s become quite commonplace to hear our current education system decried for its being a “factory model.” New technologies, particularly technologies that offer “personalization,” are positioned as the future, the way to “modernize” schools by letting students move at their own pace through the curriculum. And yet these are precisely the arguments that technicians have been making for teaching machines for almost a century. “The Coming Industrial Revolution in Education” predicted Sidney Pressey in 1932.
The "science" behind teaching machines (both the cognitive science and the computer science) might have changed over the course of the last few decades. But we still are faced with a powerful ideology that views students as objects to be manufactured by education - and thanks to "personalization" via teaching machines, at different and hopefully more efficient speeds.
Law and Politics
The US Supreme Court ruled in Harris v Quinn that a group of home health workers do not have to pay union dues if they don’t want to. Teachers’ collective bargaining rights will not be immediately impacted, say some observers.
The US Supreme Court also issued an unsigned opinion, saying that Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois, does not have to fill out the form to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s mandates surrounding birth control. The opinion comes on the heels of the Court’s decision in Burwell v Hobby Lobby.
The New York Court of Appealsstruck down an Albany County law that had made cyberbullying a crime, ruling that the law violated the First Amendment.
Interest rates on student loans have gone up. Thanks, Congress.
The Oklahoma Board of Education has terminated its contract with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill after the state experienced problems with online assessments for the second year in a row.
The New Mexico purchasing office has dismissed the protest filed by the American Institutes for Research that charged that the bidding process for the PARCC assessment contract (a contract won by Pearson) was unfair.
Despite initially supporting efforts to require schools offer healthier lunches, the School Nutrition Association is now lobbying to allow schools to opt out of new nutritional requirements.
General Assembly, Codecademy, CodeCombat, and OpenCurriculumissued a joint press release outlining their opposition to the FCC’s plans to end net neutrality.
Alex Howard opens his article on the FCC’s proposed changes to E-Rate with his ability to watch the World Cup online while at his vacation home in Maine. I’m not sure it’s the right way to frame the issue of rural access to WiFi. Folks live and work and attend school in rural areas, not only vacation there. But once he gets into the heart of the issue, Howard’s article does a great job of explaining the costs of upgrading school and library infrastructure, as well as some of the concerns about the sustainability of the E-Rate program. And he certainly avoids framing the issue with the dismissive language that another technology blog does: “FCC Defends School Wi-Fi Plan as Teachers Unions Complain.”
The Great LAUSD iPad Clusterf**k Continues
LAUSD will allow 27 of its high schools to buy laptop computers instead of iPads. The new devices will cost $40 million. (That’s in addition to the $30 million contract the district signed with Apple last year. The entire cost of the project – to equip every student in the district with an iPad… computing device: $1 billion.)
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Marginal Revolution University’s goal, reads The Chronicle of Higher Education headline: “MOOC Lectures That Go Viral”
Open Online Education launched this week, with a platform built using edX’s open source tech. Classes are free; certificates are not.
“MOOCs in the developing world – Pros and cons”: "Unlike colonialism, Agarwal told the forum, MOOCs could boost human rights in some countries. ‘The numbers are staggering,’ he said. ’I’m really hard-pressed to understand how someone would say this is United States hegemony.’” Srsly?!
Meanwhile on Campus
Arizona State University and the Thunderbird School of Global Management have reached a preliminary agreement to merge. (Last year the private non-profit business school tried to strike a partnership with the for-profit Laureate Education but that deal fell through.)
ASU has placed on paid administrative leave the campus police officer who stopped professor Ersula Ore for jaywalking, violently throwing her to the ground then charging her with assault. The university says a “preliminary review” has found no evidence of racial profiling or excessive force. Hmmm.
Buzzfeed tells the story of Maya Peterson who was forced to step down as the student body president of The Lawrenceville School, after posting photos of herself to Instagram that were deemed to mock her white male classmates. Peterson was the first Black woman to hold the position at the prestigious prep school.
The US Department of Education and Corinthian Colleges have reached an agreement over the closure and/or sale of the latter’s schools.
Wilberforce University, the oldest private HBCU in the US, is at risk of losing its accreditation.
Via Fast Company: “The Anti-Thiel Fellowship: $100,000 To Students Who Stay In School And Work On Their Ideas”
The charter school chain Rocketship is slowing its expansion, reports the San Jose Mercury News, detailing many of the problems that Rocketship is facing. “Teachers – who are at-will employees who can be fired at any time – also criticized Rocketship’s intolerance for dissent, saying it contributed to the disastrous redesign that placed 100 students in a classroom.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a security breach at Butler University might have leaked the personal information of some 163,000 students, alumni, and employees.
Go, School Sports Team!
The NCAA has filed an amicus brief supporting Northwestern University’s attempt to appeal a regional NLRB ruling that said the school’s football players are university employees.
The NCAA says it’s reopening its investigation of the University of North Carolina’s academic violations.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Edshelf, a startup that aggregated and curated teachers’ reviews on educational apps, is closing its doors July 25. :(
Apple announced updates to iTunes U, coming July 8, which will allow course creation on the iPad (currently course creation is Web-only). Private iTunes U courses will now also have a discussion feature.
Apple also announced that E. O. Wilson’s Life on Earth (iTunes link) would be released as a free iBook, with an accompanying iTunes U course.
Hapara has released new tools as part of its Google Apps for Education management suite. More via Edsurge.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourtunveiled an LMS at ISTE. Because the one thing that’s gonna keep textbook publishers relevant is that. LOL.
Edmodo has released a premium feature, Snapshot for Schools, that gives schools and districts “a way to regularly gauge student progress on Common Core State Standards.”
Khan Academy, along with the Aspen Institute, has released new videos on the American Revolution.
“The Trapper Keeper is back, but it carries tablets instead of homework.” Is this how disruptive innovation works, Professor Christensen? I forget...
Funding and Acquisitions
Thanks in part to a $1 million donation from Seth MacFarlane, the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter campaign ended, setting the record for the most money raised on the crowdfunding platform: over $6 million.
Yik Yak, an anonymous messaging app aimed at colleges (which has been used for cyberbullying already – no surprise), has raised $10 million in Series A funding from Azure Capital Partners, Renren Lianhe Holdings, and Tim Draper.
STI has raised $3 million in funding (and formally announced the acquisition of three startups: Chalkable, Learning Earnings, and Spiral Universe).
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has acquiredSchoolChapters. According to the press release, “SchoolChapters allows both educators and students of all ages to document, record, and share learning artifacts and experiences, showcase knowledge and achievements, and align these portfolios to educational standards across the pre-K–12 and college spectrum.”
PNAS has issued an “editorial expression of concern” about the publication of the paper, detailing Facebook’s psychological experiments. (The experiment and the furor over it are the topic for “What You Should Know This Week” over on Educating Modern Learners.)
“Roughly 60 percent of K–12 officials surveyed by an industry group do not feel their schools have the bandwidth or devices to make them ready for summative, online testing,” reports EdWeek on a SIIA survey.
Education expert Bill Gates spoke to employees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, touching on some of the reasons why ed-tech doesn’t work. “New technology to engage students holds some promise, but Gates says it tends to only benefit those who are motivated. ‘And the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students,’ Gates said.” Happy Fourth of July, my fellow lazy Americans.
Image credits: Doug Wheller
Law and Politics
The FCC has approved a plan to “modernize E-Rate” and expand funding for WiFi networks at public schools and libraries.
Senator Claire McCaskillreleased a report on sexual assault at colleges and universities. Among the findings, “More than 40 percent have not investigated a single case of sexual violence in the past five years.” (In related news: see updates from the University of Oregon basketball team below.)
“A Virginia teen is facing felony charges for allegedly sexting his girlfriend a video of his penis, and the authorities want to photograph his erect genitalia to bolster their case.” WTF.
Former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has reached a settlement with the state over charges of ethics violations. (“Bennett is alleged to have improperly used state resources to work on his 2012 re-election campaign.”)
Arizona State University professor Ersula Orepleaded guilty to resisting arrest, although other charges against her (stemming from her violent arrest by a campus cop) have been been dropped.
A class action lawsuit has been filed charging that the Los Angeles Unified School District does not provide students with enough PE.
Higher Education Act reauthorization maybe: “Members of the US House of Representatives’ education committee took the first step on Thursday toward renewing the nation’s chief higher-education law, approving a trio of bipartisan bills that would promote competency-based education, expand financial counseling for student-loan borrowers, and streamline the information the government provides to prospective students.” More via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The US House of Representatives also passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
The FTCfiled a lawsuit against Amazon, claiming that it billed parents for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app purchases made by kids.
AFSCME, a union that represents ~1.6 million workers, says it is cutting all ties with the United Negro College Fund after the latter accepted a $25 million grant from the Koch Brothers.
More education and library groups are speaking out against the FCC’s plan to end net neutrality.
John Wayne’s heirs v Duke University. Because Duke.
MOOCs: Still Generating Headlines Like It's 2012
WTF happened to the #massiveteaching MOOC?! After what appeared to be a psychological? / pedagogical? experiment on the students (that included deleting the course), professor Paul Olivier Dehaye was removed from the Coursera MOOC “Teaching Goes Massive: New Skills Required." New skills indeed. See What You Should Know This Week over on EML for more links to what has to be the weirdest MOOC story to date.
“Can MOOCs Help Professors Teach Traditional Courses More Efficiently?” Efficiency! Efficiency! Efficiency! “Education no longer has a humanist end or any value in itself; it has only one goal, to create technicians” – Jacques Ellul
Corporate MOOCs maybe not that big a trend after all.
Meanwhile on Campus
Go, School Sports Team!
The Oregonian examines how the University of Oregon basketball players, team, university, and victim might move on from this year’s high profile sexual assault case. One of the accused players, Brandon Austin, is reportedly heading to Hutchinson Community College. Austin came to the UO after being suspended from Providence College for sexual assault. Good to see everyone’s priorities are in order here.
“Prosecutors have dropped a felony charge against Julius Nyang’oro, the former department chair at the center of an academic scandal that has rocked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. Nyang’oro is now cooperating into investigations into fraudulent classes offered by the university to student athletes.
From the HR Department
Instructure CTO Joel Dehlin has “abruptly resigned,” reports Phil Hill.
The NEA is now headed by three women of color: NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President Becky Pringle and Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss.
The NEA passed a resolution calling for Arne Duncan’s resignation.
The other major teachers’ union, the AFT, is teaming up with the nonprofit Freelancers Union to offer contingent faculty members access to health insurance benefits.
Despite an attempted “coup” on the Fourth of July (LOL, Texans), UT President Bill Powers will continue to head the university’til the summer of 2015, when he’ll step down from the role.
Eric Sheninger is stepping down as principal of New Milford High School to take the job of “Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership” at Scholastic’s International Center for Leadership in Education.
Torture memo writer John Woo has been given an endowed chair by the UC Berkeley School of Law. Because “law.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
The publisher SAGE has retracted 60 articles from its Journal of Vibration and Control after it discovered a fraudulent peer review ring. You crazy criminally-minded academics.
Princeordered a hackathon, sponsored by Facebook, to address the digital divide.
After a blog post by Bill Fitzgerald calling the company’s Terms of Service “about the worst I have ever seen,” Digedu says it’s revised its policies.
Sarah Houghton, “Librarian in Black,” discovered that Rosetta Stone“was setting ad tracking cookies (without disclosure or consent) on the personal computers of any library users who used the Library Edition that is offered through their libraries. This applied not only to the full product, but also to any library offering a temporary trial of the product.” Rosetta Stone say they’ve addressed the issue.
“LG has announced a wrist-worn device designed to let parents keep track of where their child is and listen to what they are up to,” reports the BBC.
The Sloan Consortium has rebranded and is now the Online Learning Consortium.
Mark Zuckerberg says that his plan to bring the Internet to poor countries “could save children’s lives.” “His nonprofit [Internet.org] wants to convince service providers to offer some free apps with every smartphone, ones that can be used without a data plan. The hope is that people will love the internet so much that they’ll scrape up the money to buy a data plan to use it more.” What a fucking saint.
Funding and Acquisitions
A Kickstarter campaign to make some potato salad has surpassed its $10 goal, raising $46,597 because people are horrible pretty much.
Elevation Education has raised $2 million from “from a motley of parties” – that’s how Edsurge describes the funding round– “including existing investors Chris Gabrieli, NewSchools Venture Fund, Adam Miller, Rick Burnes, Josh Tolkoff, Eileen Rudden, and Lynda Bodman. New participants include Berylson Capital, Steve Kupfer, Alan and Judy Wurtzel, Alex Saltonstall, and Josh Kirkpatrick.” This brings to $5.1 million the total raised by the ELL startup.
Financial aid management company Regent Education has raised $9 million.
Comfy, a start that helps college students find housing off campus, has raised a $600,000 seed round. It’s “eHarmony for student living,” according to the founder, who apparently knows little about eHarmony’s history of discrimination.
ACT has acquired the assessment company Pacific Metrics Corporation.
The Gates Foundation is backing the development of a birth control chip that lasts up to 16 years and can be turned on and off via remote and omg what could possibly go wrong.
The US Department of Education is spending $3 million on research to gauge the effectiveness of Khan Academy. And I’m like
The privatization of education harms women and girls, according to a report delivered to the UN.
“More than 180 neuroscientists have signed an open letter to the European Commission calling on it to reconsider the technical goals and oversight of one of the world’s largest brain-mapping projects, predicting it is likely to fail.”
And hey. the OECD predicts the collapse of capitalism. So there’s that to look forward to, I guess.
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish
I just got off the phone with Mike Lee, the founder of Edshelf, a startup that recently announced it was closing its doors at the end of the month.
There’s been a grassroots hashtag campaign on the part of some educators to #saveedshelf, and while I understand the good intentions — Mike is a great guy, and it sucks that his startup isn’t successful — I’m not sure I understand why this particular startup should be saved. I’m not sure why we’d believe that an expression of support via social media would trump revenue. Retweets don’t pay the bills, yo. Indeed, I think the whole thing comes close to reinscribing a dangerous narrative being promoted by investors and ed-tech industry cheerleaders that scale scale scale matters and then magically the money will follow.
The nature of the startup beast is failure, of course; most startups don’t make it. Most businesses don’t make it, true, but venture capitalists are playing a different game than are, say, the small business loan department at the local bank. VCs place a lot of bets, hoping at least one of their gambles pays off and pays off big.
I think education startups have an even more difficult road to travel that other consumer or enterprise-focused venture-backed tech — issues of school culture, budgets, bureaucracy, tradition, test score mania, not to mention industry behemoths who’ve lobbied their way into the decision-making at almost every levee of government. It doesn’t help that many ed-tech startups receive lousy advice from folks who don’t know jack shit about how schools work and are hoping instead to “disrupt” that process so that their own financial interests and processes and politics can triumph. Anyway...
So Long, Farewell, Aufwiedersehn, Goodnight
I don’t have a strong background in business (disclosure: I have zero background in business) but I’ve been wondering for a while now if we’re on the cusp of a "moment of reckoning" for venture-funded ed-tech startups. (Oh sure, I realize that’s not the news you get from the sunny side of the street — you know, the news that’s also funded by investors.) But here’s the thing: startups have a fairly small window of opportunity in order to do something once they receive venture capital. Scale scale scale is one thing, sure. Find a business model is another. Ya know, make some money. Improve learning outcomes, LOL.
That window may be closing (has closed?) for the startups who raised money when this most recent ed-tech hype cycle started. Can they demonstrate scale and revenue? Is there a return on investment? Do they have a clear exit strategy? (That is what investors want, after all.) I sensed this last year, and I wrote a piece reviewing the status of the startups that I covered when I was working at ReadWriteWeb, from the spring of 2010 to the summer of 2011. It's a good post. Go read it. Because in part I talk about what has survived (tl;dr it's not Google products; it's open source initiatives run by universities.)
Truthfully, I was actually surprised then to see that of the 25 ed-tech startups I covered, all but one were still in business (and that one had been acquired by Amazon).
Those companies: Kno, Grockit, Quora, Mahalo, Inkling, Udemy, StudyBlue, Inigral, Instructure, Schoology, Highlighter, Babbel, Teachstreet, Rocketship, MeeGenius, Internmatch, Open Study, LearnBoost, MiniMonos, DonorsChoose.org, TripLingo, Stencyl, ResearchGate, Neverware, and GoodieWords.
One year later, it’s a pretty different story. 5 of those companies have now been acquired. Two pivoted away from education. Several rebranded. One is dead. A couple are mere shells, seemingly kept alive by a single developer. Some people are less than transparent about what’s happening to their company (doesn’t really encourage folks to trust you, but hey…). Founders have left about half of these startups. The venture capital continues to flow to a handful. (Here's a link to a Google spreadsheet with the details about various updates.)
As I note in that original article, and I’ll reiterate here, these startups aren’t a great sampling of what was happening circa 2010. I was discouraged from writing about ed-tech when I worked for RWW (it’s why I founded Hack Education), and I had to choose my stories carefully.
Founded around roughly the same time, for example: Knewton (going gangbusters as it crafts the narrative about what we mean by “adaptive learning"), 2U (just IPO’d), Livemocha (acquired by Rosetta Stone), TenMarks (acquired by Amazon), Khan Academy (not only math-messianic but oh so flush with cash), the first cohort of the education startup incubator ImagineK12, and Edmodo.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night...
Ah Edmodo. This is the one to watch, I think. The company has raised about $40 million in venture capital. Its last round of funding, according to Crunchbase, was 2012. Since then, there have been leadership changes: a new CEO Crystal Hutter (incidentally, married to Rob Hutter, a partner at Learn Capital, one of Edmodo’s investors. I’m not sure what role founders Nic Borg and Jeff O’Hara play any longer.) And while the company can tout an ever-growing number of users (not active users, mind you. users), what it can’t boast — at least from what I can tell — is a path to profitability. The company, which still offers its core product for free, has tried a number of premium features — wholesaling apps via an app store and a premium analytics feature for districts.
And I dunno. Maybe it can eek out enough revenue to support the 110+ employees on “the team.” Maybe Edmodo is “too big to fail.” It does, after all, represent what has been the mantra I’ve heard investors preach to so many startup founders: Make your product free. Pitch to teachers. Avoid district bureaucracy. Grow big. Then raise VC. Sell to districts eventually, using your star teachers as leverage, particularly via social media. It’ll all work out. Magic formula. And such.
Do we keep telling this story? Do we keep ed-tech startups in business in order to keep telling this story?
Or perhaps, before we lose more smart and kind founders like Mike Lee from ed-tech because they start to realize it's mostly frustrating bullshit, we can have some honest conversations about what’s working and what’s not working in the business of ed-tech.
Everything is Horrible
A Malaysian Airlines jet carrying almost 300 people was shot down in Ukraine this week. On board: about 100 AIDS researchers, heading to the 20th International AIDS Conference in Australia.
Israeli troops have started a ground assault into Gaza. “291 Palestinians– most of them civilians, of whom at least 50 were under the age of 18 – have been killed since fighting began on July 8.”
Some 52,000 unaccompanied children from Central and South America have arrived at the US border since October. The children are seeking asylum here. And the response from many in the US has been so ugly.
Debra Harrell, a 46-year-old African American woman from South Carolina, was arrested for letting her 9-year-old daughter play in a nearby park while she was at work at McDonalds. Officials have put the child into foster care. Because oh yeah, that’s just sooooo much better for the girl.
Silicon Valley VC Tim Draper says he’s gathered enough petition signatures for a ballot measure that would split California into 6 states. This would create the country’s richest state (Silicon Valley) and the poorest (Central California).
News broke this spring about an assignment given to middle-schoolers in the Rialto Unified School District asking them to argue whether or not the Holocaust had occurred. Not surprisingly, many were incensed, but the school district asserted that none of the students actually argued that it hadn’t. Not so, according to the Daily Bulletin, which obtained copies of students’ essays. Dozens argued the Holocaust was fake. Teachers praised some of those for their well-reasoned arguments.
Elsewhere in Education Law and Politics
Australia’s head of curriculum review, Kevin Donnelly, says that corporal punishment is “very effective.”
“School choice” – code for “vouchers” – didn’t work out so well for Sweden, I guess.
“How The Koch Brothers Are Buying Their Way Into The Minds Of Public School Students” – good reporting from HuffPo’s Christina Wilkie and Joy Resmovits.
The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle asked the US Supreme Court for a stay after an appeals court ruled earlier this year that Sherlock Holmes should be in the public domain. But the Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan rejected the request without comment. “Chalk up another (small) victory for the public domain,” says Techdirt’s Mike Masnick.
“The Trials of Graham Spanier, Penn State’s Ousted President” in The NYT Magazine: “The case against Spanier is at best problematic, at worst fatally flawed. More than 20 months after the state branded him a criminal, he still awaits a trial.” Hmm.
Following in the footsteps of the recent call by the NEA for Arne Duncan to resign, the other major teachers’ union, the AFT, says the Secretary of Education needs to be put on an “improvement plan” or Obama should fire him. No Secretary Left Behind.
Michelle Rhee’s education reform org StudentsFirst is “powering down,” reports Education Week, ending the work of paid staff in Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, and Minnesota.
Applemight have to pay $450 million to settle antitrust claims related to e-book price-fixing. (However, Apple can appeal, and the settlement could change.)
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
edX and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor announced the launch of a MOOC platform that will “deliver vocational & employability skills to women, youth, persons with disabilities and citizens in rural communities.”
Princeton history prof Jeremy Adelman won’t be teaching on Coursera any longer, but is moving his courseware over to the NovoEd platform. More from Jonathan Rees on the switch.
MOOCs might destroy MBA programs, according to research by two Wharton School professors. Here’s hoping that one certain Harvard business school prof is the first to be disrupted. *side eye*
Meanwhile on Campus
From the HR Department
Microsoft plans to fire 18,000 employees– about 14% of its staff. Most of the layoffs will come from the Nokia division (Microsoft acquired the handset maker last year).
Upgrades and Downgrades
Pearson has launched a “competency-based education framework and readiness assessment for post-secondary education.” It’s fascinating to me how CBE is being touted as this new and exciting thing when the GED has been around for over 70 years.
Blackboard has a new UI for its LMS.
Facebook says it’s providing “free Wi-Fi access to a small number of students in the neighborhood surrounding the Rutherford Opportunity Center.” The company has a data center nearby.
“LeapFrog has long been a leader in the world of educational technology,” reads the lede in a Wired article this week. ORLY. Anyway. The company has some new hardware out.
Mozilla has launched its annual Maker Party, its “annual campaign to teach the culture, mechanics and citizenship of the Web through thousands of community-run events around the world.”
Moody’s Investors Servicesreleased its latest outlook for US higher education: and as it has been in recent years, that outlook (a rating of creditworthiness) is negative. This is “What You Should Know This Week,” a weekly feature on Educating Modern Learners. Chris Newfield also has a good response to what this means in terms of “permanent public university austerity.”
K12 Inc has opened a “family support center” in Alcoa, Tennessee. The facility, which won’t be used for teaching classes, will employ 150–300 people who will “help” families choose to put their kids into what remain incredibly lousy virtual classes.
Versal, an “interactive course creation tool,” has launched a “pro” version – $5/month or $50 a year for up to 200 “tracked learners.”
Amazon has announced its plans to released “Kindle Unlimited” this fall, a $10/month subscription service for up to 10 titles a month to read on one’s Kindle or Kindle app.
“Italian intellectuals up in arms over hotel named after Antonio Gramsci.” Because hegemony.
Investments and IPOs
Warren Buffett has donated $2.8 billion to the Gates Foundation.
OpenEd, an OER recommendation service, has raised $2 million.
Datawind, the maker of the low-cost Aakash tablet, has raised $28 million via an IPO.
A study has found that text message to high schoolers don’t do much to encourage them to fill out their FAFSA forms for four-year colleges, but those who are headed to community college respond a bit better to the messaging.
From law professor James Grimmelman, who’s been leading the charge questioning the ethics of the research and publication of the infamous “Facebook study”: a lengthy letter (PDF) demanding a retraction of the PNAS article and a review of the practices surrounding human research and social media.
An interactive visualization from the US Census on where (STEM) graduates work.
“In a study released today (July 16), two academics from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business estimate that the cost of a single scholarly article written by B-school professors is an astounding $400,000.” The disruption of business school professors! It's coming!!!
Reclaim Your Domain
This past weekend was the 2nd Annual Reclaim Your Domain Hackathon. Or at least that’s what we’re calling it, even though we're already talking about holding another one this fall, to coincide with OpenEd. The event was a follow-up to some of the plotting that Jim Groom, Kin and I started at a “Reclaim Open" event at the MIT Media Lab last year, as well as to conversations we had earlier this year at Emory University’s Domain Incubator. In attendance this time around: Groom, Kin, Mike Caulfield, Ben Werdmuller, Michael Berman, Brian Lamb, Tim Owens, Mikhail Gershovich, Amy Collier, Erin Richey, Chris Mattia, Rolin Moe, Adam Croom, Mark Morvant, Linda Polin, and me.
We called this a “hackathon” but unlike the popular (and arguably, problematic) mandate for code-infused events, it was definitely more "yack" than "hack." We spent much of Saturday talking about various projects and philosophies that are connected to efforts like the University of Mary Washington Domain of One’s Own (and its expansion to other universities, including the University of Oklahoma and CSU Channel Islands) and IndieWebCamp— endeavors that support the creation and control one’s digital identity and the "re-decentralization of the Web."
Some of the projects that we discussed: Kin’s “reclaim” efforts, Smallest Federated Wiki, Terms of Service; Didn’t Read, Domain of One’s Own, Github, Reclaim Hosting, and Known. The latter seemed to elicit a lot of excitement, and folks spent much of Day 2 playing around with it. (Known is a self-publishing platform of sorts that follows the POSSE model: publish on your own site, syndicate everywhere. Known enables you to post your own photos, status updates, blog posts, and sound clips on your own site, and then push them out to Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, etc.)
Many of the attendees at the hackathon have long been making the arguments for reclaiming our domains and our data, and more broadly reclaiming ed-tech: “The Future of Ed-Tech is a Reclamation Project.” “Reclaiming Innovation.” “Has the Time Arrived for Hosted Life Bits?” Many have been hacking on the various technologies that could get us there. I think we’re getting better at explaining why “Reclaim” matters, and we’re getting better too at building personal tech that gestures in that direction.
So here are some less than well-formulated ideas:
Ed-Tech and the “Templated Self
"I think about ‘reclaim’ as a personal endeavor,” said Kin as he detailed the steps he’s taken to inventory the tech products and services he uses (personally and professionally). “What tech do I use? Why? Can I get my data out? What do the Terms of Service say about my rights?”
Much of the framing of “Reclaim Your Domain” works this way: it’s becoming a bridge between the “owning your own domain” as forwarded by the UMW Domains initiative — something that is frequently talked about in terms of “content” (education-related or otherwise) and “digital identity” — and larger questions and concerns about “who owns your data.”
I want to tease out the connections here a bit more between ed-tech, identity, and data. That is, I want to talk about ed-tech as a “personal endeavor,” one that enables student agency, and not simply an “institutional endeavor,” one that sees students as the object of education.
Many folks ask already: what happens to student data and student content when students are compelled to use certain products (such as the LMS)? Again, how do the institutional demands conflict with students’ needs. But I’m curious too: what happens to student identity? Their professional and personal identity formation; their professional and personal identity performance. And I’d add, more broadly: what is the relationship between privacy and identity formation / performance?
I recently stumbled across Amber Case’s (@caseorganic) idea of the “templated self." I think it’s an incredibly useful concept:
A self or identity that is produced through various participation architectures, the act of producing a virtual or digital representation of self by filling out a user interface with personal information.
Facebook and Twitter are examples of the templated self. The shape of a space affects how one can move, what one does and how one interacts with someone else. It also defines how influential and what constraints there are to that identity. A more flexible, but still templated space is WordPress. A hand-built site is much less templated, as one is free to fully create their digital self in any way possible. Those in Second Life play with and modify templated selves into increasingly unique online identities. MySpace pages are templates, but the lack of constraints can lead to spaces that are considered irritating to others. [emphasis mine]
While Amber’s examples here point to mostly “social" technologies, education technologies are also “participation architectures.” How do these technologies produce (and circumscribe) a digital representation of the learner-self?
Of course, you could argue that the education system is already incredibly interested in “templating” students as well as “templating” knowledge. We see this in graduation requirements, course requirements, essay requirements, disciplinary requirements, tenure requirements, and so on. Many education technologies loyally reinscribe these templates into the digital world. The LMS is perhaps the perfect example. The call for more adaptive technologies (often connected to textbook, assessment, and LMS technologies), reliant on they are on data models and algorithms, represents the next wave of tools that produce — yes, produce— the “templated learner.” (A "templated learner" that is shaped by and relies on corporate infrastructure, not on public infrastructure, mind you.)
As such, “reclaiming your domain” and "owning your domain" could be acts of resistance, just we see as tech and ed-tech becoming increasingly wielded as surveillance tools. And just as these initiatives give students the "technology skills" that seem to be so highly valued right now, they are also anti-disciplinary practices that empower students (educators, all of us really) to create their digital selves more freely and open-endedly.
Education Law and Politics
Rand Paul is planning “a major push on education reform, including ‘education choice, school choice, vouchers, charter schools, you name it — I think we need innovation,’” reports Politico. Among the innovations Paul likes: Khan Academy. “If you have one person in the country who is, like, the best at explaining calculus, that person maybe should teach every calculus class in the country.” Pando has a story on the libertarian conference held in Silicon Valley last weekend where Paul also spoke, praising Khan Academy again.
The Department of Educationissued new guidelines on how schools should handle telling parents about the data they collect on students.
A new privacy group launched this week, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Among those in the coalition, Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson, the (anti-vaccine) Autism Action Network, the (anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigration, anti-public pension, anti-choice) American Principles Project, and Joy Pullmann the editor of School Reform News (who’s tweeted gems like this). As someone who spends a lot of time talking about student data and privacy, I am appalled by this “coalition,” and have to ask how anyone would expect some of these groups, which actively work against the civil rights of others, to defend all students’ rights to data and information or to privacy.
Glenn Beck led an anti-Common Coreevent this week (and conveniently plugged his new book).
Oops. If you entered a dollar figure that included cents into the Income Earned From Work field of your FAFSA, the “system ignored the decimal point, converting an earned income of $5,000.19, for example, into $500,019.” The Department of Education will reprocess the 200,000-ish applications affected.
“The US House on Wednesday unanimously passed legislation boosting competency-based education and overwhelmingly approved an overhaul of how the Education Department discloses college data.” More details via Inside Higher Ed.
A three-judge state appellate court panel ruled this week that the LA Times cannot have access to teachers’ job performance data.
A fascinating story by Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray on the religious Turkish Gülen movement, “a potent, and surprising, force in a set of obscure races for the House of Representatives.” Among other things, the group runs a network of charter schools.
Who will be the winners and losers from E-Rate“modernization,” asks Education Week. Winners: broadband providers and ed-tech companies. Congrats!
“Lawyers for a southwest Missouri school district being sued by the parents of a boy who killed himself last year have filed a request seeking all of the Facebook messages, photographs, videos and other communication saved by the student.” Good grief.
NRA commenter Billy Johnson says“competency with a gun should be a ‘necessary skill’ for children to be able to advance to the next grade in school, just like reading and writing.” ’Murica.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
There are now some BBC MOOCs.
Faculty use MOOC content in the classroom. Students are indifferent. Kanye shrug.
The California State University system is “re-envisioning” Cal State Online.
Meanwhile on Campus
High school seniors in the US will once again take the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) test in math and physics. More tests! The kids are gonna be thrilled.
The University of Oregon police kept a “Eat a Bowl of Dicks List” for their enemies. Go Ducks.
TorrentFreak looks at what happens when students at LSU are accused of copyright infringement: “A first complaint sees a student kicked offline, with Internet access only restored after the completion of an educational course covering illegal file-sharing.” Second complaint: a $50 fine.
The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges says that the City College of San Francisco is still failing to comply with accreditation standards. (A judge has delayed the organization’s revoking of accreditation until a trial can be held later this year.)
The for-profit BioHealth College Inc has filed for bankruptcy.
The for-profit Anthem Educationmay also be closing its doors.
Go, School Sports Team!
From Taylor Branch: “NCAA to Congress: Change Is Coming.”
Division 1 athletes no longer have to sign away rights to their name and likeness. (This release is a key part of the lawsuit against the NCAA.)
60% of the top high school football recruits say that players should be allowed to unionize. 86% say they should receive a stipend.
From the HR Department
Non-tenure track faculty at Antioch University Seattle have voted to unionize.
Adjunct instructors at the the University of St. Thomasvoted against unionization.
Amin Qazi has been named the CEO of the new digital learning consortium Unizin.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “In recent years, a handful of community colleges in [Michigan] have outsourced the recruitment and hiring of adjunct instructors– who make up the overwhelming majority of the community college teaching force – to an educational staffing company. Just last week, the faculty union at a sixth institution, Jackson College, signed a collective bargaining agreement allowing EDUStaff to take over adjunct hiring and payroll duties.”
Twitter is the latest tech company to release details about the diversity of its employees. And oh man. Not diverse. 90% of its technical staff are men. 92% of its technical staff are white or Asian. Here’s a look at the industry overall.
From ProPublica: “What We Learned Investigating Unpaid Internships”
“A school which has asked parents to buy iPads for their children to use in class has been accused of creating a ‘two-tier’ education system in which pupils who can’t afford the gadgets are bullied by their richer peers.” BYOD equity fail.
Schools have bought more than 1 million Chromebooks in the second quarter of 2014, says Google.
Apple says it’s sold more than 13 million iPads to schools worldwide, up from 8 million in February 2013. iPad sales appear to be sluggish overall, but hey. Schools are still buying ’em.
A new littleBits module will connect your Internet of Things things to IFTTT.
Other Upgrades and Downgrades
Ed-tech companies have terrible names.News at 11.
Knewton has partnered with the Sesame Workshop. Sad Grover shrug.
Khan Academy has partnered with the British Museum.
Pearson is partnering with the Chicago startup “hub” 1871.
Language translation app Duolingo is launching Test Center, its language certification program. It’s starting with an English Proficiency Exam to “take on TOEFL” says Techcrunch, arguing that no one else has ever challenged the monopoly of ETS Global (the company behind the test).
Oh look. Pearson is now offering an English proficiency exam to compete with ETS Global's TOEFL exam.
Now teachers can share their ClassDojo behaviorist tracking with other teachers.
Amazon launched Amazon Kindle Unlimited, an e-book subscription service, prompting some assclown at Forbes to write “Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone an Amazon Kindle Subscription.” (Do not link.) The news is “What You Should Know This Week” over on EML.
George Kroner responds to giddiness about Blackboard’s latest offerings. I love this line: “With what is probably the largest single group of educational technology software developers working under one roof, the biggest struggles of the year simply should not have been to figure out how to remove a dependency on a Java applet or how to host an app server in Amazon.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions in education are up in the first half of 2014 – 160 transactions, up from 147 during the first half of last year – according to investment bank Berkery Noyes.
But there was no funding news this week? (Or none that I noted at least. Did the bubble burst?)
The University of Arkansas Department of Education Reformissued a report on “The Productivity of Charter Schools,” arguing that they are more efficient than regular public schools. It’s a good example of “advocacy research,” Ted Kolderie tells NPR.
A new report from the New America Foundation says blah blah blah Common Corecollege readiness blah blah blah universities need to do more. Or something along those lines.
“The Broad Institute, a biomedical research center, announced a $650 million donation for psychiatric research from the Stanley Family Foundation — one of the largest private gifts ever for scientific research.”
This week in “no shit” science: Non-tenured teaching positions are linked to anxiety, stress and depression.
Research shows that Native American“team names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for AI/AN students. It also reveals that the presence of AI/AN mascots directly results in lower self-esteem and mental health for AI/AN adolescents and young adults.”
This Week in Plagiarism
Montana Senator John Walshplagiarized parts of his master’s thesis from the Army War College.
12 year old Lauren Arringtonmade headlines with her science fair project on the invasive lionfish species. Turns out she lifted the research from “a grad student, Zack Jud, who published very similar results back in 2011 — work that Arrington’s father was an author on.”
Warning: less than fully formed thoughts here...
Democratizing Ideologies and Inequality Regimes in Digital Domains
My friend, the amazing Tressie McMillan Cottom delivered a fabulous talk yesterday at the Harvard Berkman Center: “Democratizing Ideologies and Inequality Regimes in Digital Domains.” (You can find her notes and slides here, a live-blog from PhD student Nathan Matias here, and a collection of Tweets from the talk here; it’s my understanding that the center will be posting the video-recording soon.)
As the title of her talk suggests, Tressie’s work deals with ideology, inequality, and higher education, with a specific focus on for-profit education through the lens of race, class, and gender. A sociologist, Tressie is interested in “inequality regimes,” that is, the practices, policies, processes – the systems– that perpetuate and extend inequalities.
I want to pick up on a couple of the points that she made about ideology, inequality, and digital education:
She noted that the hype about “democratization of education” through MOOCs and other online efforts has conflated “access” with “information” and “information” with “education.” She observed too that while technologies are quite good at measuring tasks, they are much less effective at measuring learning. But as a result, learning is increasingly defined by the demands of data collection and by the affordances of the digital platforms. Learning is reduced to tasks, and the individual learner’s context – their cultural context, their place, their identity – is stripped out.
This works in part, Tressie argued, because the student these new (cough) digital technologies are designed for is a “roaming autodidact” – an “ideal, self-motivated learner,” “embedded in the future but disembedded from place.” Disembedded from place, disembodied – this erasure of context and of identity is easily a re-inscription a “universality” of the white European male. There’s no real need to construe education as aspiration for the “roaming autodidact,” Tressie argued, because they already “live in the future.” There’s no need for education as upward mobility for these students; they’re already there.
These ideologies permeate new digital learning technologies. They reward the “roaming autodidact” while always judging others as inferior. (A lack of "intrinsic motivation," for example.)
“You don’t get to scale” with the “roaming autodidact,” Tressie argued. Her work this summer involves conducting ethnographies with women of color pursuing PhDs at for-profit universities. They don’t roam, she quipped, “they roost.” Place matters. Identity matters. You don’t scale with technologies designed for the “roaming autodidact,” Tressie contended, because if you look at the demographics and the global demand for post-secondary education, you’re unlikely to find a lot of “Privilege Unicorns” there (another great phrase from Tressie’s talk).
Ideologies, Identities, and Algorithms
But I do think there are efforts “get to scale” with this disembodied and disembedded student as a model. Not through online courses or MOOCs, but via “teaching machines” – or more accurately and less book-promotion-y, via algorithms.
Knewton CEO Jose Ferreira was involved in a brief exchange on Twitter yesterday with some parent-privacy activists accusing his company, among other things, of collecting and sharing PII (personally identifiable information). Ferreira insists the company does not (although for what it’s worth, Knewton does say on its website that it collects PII if a parent or student consents).
But what caught my eye, particularly in light of just having heard Tressie’s talk, was this response from Ferreira: “We can help students understand their learning history without knowing their identity.”
Is such a thing even possible? (Is such a thing desirable?) Can you have a learning history and not have an identity? Aren't these inextricable?
Granted, in this Twitter exchange, Ferreira is attempting to address concerns about data collection and privacy. (And that discussion opens up a whole other can of worms I'll save for another day.) But I think his response echoes some of the ideologies that Tressie’s talk identified as pervasive in ed-tech: building a model, a profile, an algorithm that claims to be liberated from "identity," that is grounded in a tradition of liberal humanism that ignores the body, privileges the mind.
So what does it mean when we talk about an “identity-less-ness” learning? What does it mean to build “learning sciences” and “learning technologies” on top of this sort of epistemology? What does “personalization” mean if there’s no “personally identifiable information” involved? And of course, what are the ideologies of algorithms – the “secret sauce” – that underlie adaptive technologies like Knewton?
I can’t help but invoke Donna Haraway here in her famous 1988 (!!) article “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” (PDF):
"The only people who end up actually believing and, goddess forbid, acting on the ideological doctrines of disembodied scientific objectivity – enshrined in elementary textbooks and technoscience booster literature – are nonscientists, including a few very trusting philosophers…
Only those occupying the positions of the dominators are self-identical, unmarked, disembodied, unmediated, transcendent, born again. Knowledge from the point of view of the unmarked is truly fantastic, distorted, and irrational. The only position from which objectivity could not possibly be practiced and honored is the standpoint of the master, the Man, the One God, whose Eye produces, appropriates, and orders all difference. No one ever accused the God of monotheism of objectivity, only of indifference. The god trick is self-identical, and we have mistaken that for creativity and knowledge, omniscience even."
Is there a "god trick" in ed-tech? (I think Tressie's talk at Berkman suggests "yes.") More importantly, more urgently, is this "trick" being hard-coded, hard-wired into the infrastructure of our schools? Remember: we aren't simply talking about learning content; we're talking about learning technologies. And technology is infrastructure now.
What happens to bodies – particularly bodies of marginalized people – when they're submittted to a new knowledge regime that claims to be identity-less, that privileges identity-less-ness? I'm not talking her about a "loss of privacy" – indeed, Tressie higlighted in her talk that the women she works with want to be able to find and get to know one another and build their own support networks. Bodies matter when we learn; communities and affinity and situatedness matter; digital learning, even though some of it is "virtual," does not – or should not – change that.
I want to pick back up on some of the ideas I started to flesh out yesterday, based on Tressie McMillan Cottom’s recent talk on ideologies and identities in digital domains. Again, not sure where I’m going with this…
Tressie highlighted the ways in which new educational technologies – MOOCs for example – assume a student free of place, free of context. "Free." That’s a deeply ideological assumption, no doubt, one that erases race, class, and gender for starters. I tried to link her arguments to a tweet by Knewton CEO Jose Ferreira, who defending his company from parent-privacy activists, tweeted that Knewton “can help students understand their learning history without knowing their identity.” There, I argued, we see this nod to “identity-less-ness” – a notion that with the right engineering, the right algorithms ed-tech can be personalized to your academic needs without knowing your person.
Here, I want to turn back to those parent-privacy activists for a moment rambling exposition…
The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy
A new privacy group launched earlier this month: the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. The group launched with letters to the House and Senate Education Committees, demanding changes to FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) that would strengthen student privacy rights and give parents more say over what happens to student data.
The group describes itself as a “broad coalition.” Politico’s description: “odd bedfellows.” Among those signing the letter (and in the coalition?), education historian Diane Ravitch, Leonie Haimson (who helped lead much of the parental backlash against the data infrastructure project inBloom), Josh Golin from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Lisa Rudley from the Autism Action Network, Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins from the American Principles Project, Helen Gym from Parents United for Public Education, and Joy Pullmann, the editor of School Reform News.
As someone who spends a lot of time talking about student data and privacy and is committed to progressive education and is committed to social justice, I was pretty appalled by the coalition (and spent the good part of the day of the press release on Twitter asking for clarification from certain people as to why they thought such a coalition was a good idea). I was particularly concerned with these signers: the Autism Action Network, which is notoriously anti-vaccine and anti-science, and the American Principles Project, which is virulently anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice, anti-public pensions, anti-"promiscuity," and pro-Gold Standard (and wasn’t just a signer. APP’s McGroarty is cited in the press release).
This underscores, in my opinion, the dangers with “single issue politics,” and frankly I don’t understand how people could be willing to partner with organizations which actively work against the civil rights of other individuals and against the health and well-being of the public at-large.
And that means that, despite the hand-waving that the coalition has come to agree upon this “one important topic,” it’s worth considering how the members of this coalition might define “privacy” and “data” in very different ways.
These terms, like the technologies they’re bound up with, have histories and have ideologies.
(Ideology and) Defining “Data”
What do we mean when we talk about “privacy”? What do we mean by “student data”?
The latter is different, for example – conceptually, technologically, and of course legally – than the “educational record” as defined by FERPA. (Here’s the government’s lengthy and yet totally unhelpful definition of "educational record.") This is part of the concern of some privacy advocates who note that the protections that FERPA purportedly mandates extend to only a small portion of the “student data” that is created and collected – thanks to the variety of technologies that schools utilize. Metadata, including location data, and the time and date of data creation, are not covered by FERPA.
The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, in its letter to Congress, expresses its concerns over the collection and sharing of “highly sensitive personal data” and "personally identifiable student data." It neither defines nor specifies what these phrases entail. Here, for what it’s worth, is the Department of Education’s definition of personally identifiable information, or PII.
PII is a legal concept, and as such, what constitutes PII differs from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. (Here’s the EU Directive on PII, for example). “Highly sensitive personal data” does, in some situations, carry legal weight (say, with regards to classified information); but the notion of “sensitivity” is incredibly subjective. That means it is personal, and it is political.
And that matters, particularly when your privacy coalition includes members of an organization, the American Principles Project, whose founder described being gay as “beneath the dignity of human beings as free and rational creatures” and has worked to prevent schools from teaching about LGBTQ historical figures or supporting LGBTQ students. How does the APP wish to see this "sensitive data" wielded, or perhaps submerged?
(Ideology and) Defining Privacy
“Privacy” is similarly undefined by the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy in its letter to Congress. There’s a sense, based on the repeated demands for parental consent regarding the disclosure of student data, that that’s the main issue: the right of parents to control information about their children.
The letter also articulates concerns over data falling into the hands of for-profit companies (although it’s worth noting that, for the right-wing American Principles Project, the fear is that the data will fall into the hands of the government).
Of course, privacy is a historical construct, one with multiple and ever-changing meanings. Defining privacy is something that NYU professor Helen Nissenbaum calls a “treacherous path.” Those who have tried
“have sought to establish whether privacy is a claim, a right, an interest, a value, a preference, or merely a state of existence. They have defended accounts of privacy as a descriptive concept, a normative concept, a legal concept, or all three. They have taken positions on whether privacy applies only to information, to actions and decisions (the so-called constitutional rights to privacy), to special seclusion, or to all three. They have declared privacy relevant to all information, or only to a rarefied subset of personal, sensitive, or intimate information, and they have disagreed over whether it is a right to control and limit access or merely a measure of the degree of access others have to us and to information about us. They have posited links between privacy and anonymity, privacy and secrecy, privacy and confidentiality, and privacy and solitude.”
Privacy in Context
In her book Privacy in Context, Nissenbaum offers a different frame:
“What people care most about is not simply restricting the flow of information but ensuring that it flows appropriately, and an account of appropriate flow is given here through the framework of contextual integrity.”
Privacy, she argues, is the right to the appropriate flow of information, and we should debate the appropriateness of the creation, collection, and consumption of data based on the context of each. We can debate this, ideally, through transparent, democratic processes, recognizing that we have to work through the knotty challenges of protecting public and individual needs. That is, with integrity.
Nissenbaum actually spends a number of pages in her book thinking through the considerations a school administrator should weigh when deciding on features for a “new computerized student record system”: questions of liberty, autonomy, fairness, harm, efficiency, cost effectiveness, and so on.
“Each [data] disclosure would need to be considered on its own merits, on the basis not only of moral and political principles, but on factual knowledge of systematic mutual effects on students and those seeking access. Both general effects and those pertaining to the goals of an educational context should be considered.”
So again, I can’t help but ask: what does “student privacy” look like for a group like Autism Action Network – a member of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy – that opposes laws surrounding vaccinations?
The question here isn’t simply “should students be required to be vaccinated,” but “must students disclose their vaccinations”? Do schools have a right to know which students have and haven’t been vaccinated? What happens in, say, a whooping cough outbreak? Do other parents have a right to know if their child is at risk of exposure to disease? Does the public have a right to know?
Or is this “highly sensitive personal data” that a parent gets to decide whether or not to disclose?
Privacy and Context-less-ness
Context matters in learning, as Tressie’s talk this week helped make very clear. Identity matters. But ed-tech strips away the context, and in order to fend off concerns about privacy violations, asserts that identity has been stripped away as well.
To counter this, however, we cannot respond with a politics emptied of context or identity or meaning. That's a dangerous game. And it is a lie. Those things – context, identity, meaning – can be found in “data,” to be sure. But they are always more than mere "data": they are weighted and wielded by power.
Tech critic Evgeny Morozov cautions against a “technological solutionism” whereby more data and better algorithms and niftier apps claim they can solve society’s problems – often bypassing, he argues, the political processes whereby the public has an opportunity to decide what exactly those problems entail, for whom, and how.
And to resist this solutionism, we cannot respond with an acquiescence to an unexamined radical individualism – it's my privacy, my child’s data, my decision. We cannot respond by saying that privacy protections and data usages are context-less, that we should have schools that are identity-less. That simply feeds right back into the ideology of the machine.
Education Law and Politics
Former CNN and NBC news anchor Campbell Brown is leading a group that filed a lawsuit in New York this week to challenge teacher tenure rules in the state. (The Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo has a good look at some of the “research” being cited by the group, Partnership for Educational Justice, as rationale for ending tenure.)
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is suingGovernor Bobby Jindal over steps he’s taking to sever ties with Common Core-related vendors. Jindal filed a countersuit because that’s how we roll in America.
Senators Edward Markey and Orinn Hatch have introduced the Protecting Student Privacy Act which will offer an update to FERPA (one that doesn’t seem to address any aspects of the law that make it such a horrible mess. It doesn’t address, for example, the changing meaning of “educational record” and it doesn’t address the “death penalty” provisions, which tie privacy violations to the loss of all federal funding).
Abigail Fisher, who sued the University of Texas for denying her admission, is appealing the recent ruling of the 5th Circuit Court that upheld UT’s affirmative action program.
Senator Dick Durbin has sponsored the Adjunct Faculty Loan Fairness Act, which would make contingent instructors eligible for student loan forgiveness.
Tennessee’s Department of Education“is moving toward standards that would reinvigorate the teaching of cursive handwriting.”
The American Institutes for Research says it is appealing a recent decision that okayed the awarding of the major PARCC testing contract to Pearson, a process that AIR claims was unfair.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has signed a bill extending existing privacy laws for library records to include materials related to e-books, streaming video, and downloadable audiobooks. More via School Library Journal.
A Senate report finds that for-profit colleges are increasingly targeting military veterans. Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy writes, “Overall enrollment in for-profit colleges has been in steep decline since 2009. In that same time frame, the report says, veteran enrollment at the country’s largest for-profit colleges has ‘dramatically increased,’ with almost a third of veterans using GI Bill funding now attending for-profit colleges, up from 23% in 2009.”
In order to stop cheating, the Air Forcedropped grading as part of the examination procedures for its nuclear officers. And yay, but let’s drop nukes too. Thanks in advance.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
“Reports of MOOCs’ demise have been greatly exaggerated,” writes Craig Weidemann, vice provost for online education at Penn State. Clearly, because people are still writing stories with bullshit headlines like “Will Free Online Courses Ever Replace a College Education?”
“What 6.9 million clicks tell us about how to fix online education” (the “us” here is MIT’s AI Lab): things like we need to make “‘YouTube for MOOCs’ that seeks to reinvent how online learners watch videos.”
Telefonica and Banco Santander are launching a Spanish-language MOOC platform, MiriadaX.
Thank goodness for the innovation of MOOCs because, according to edX’s Anant Agarwal, "“The last time we gave teachers a new tool was 1862: a piece of chalk and a chalkboard.”
“Inspired by Khan Academy,” Kim Gordon, Yoko Ono, Courtney Love, and others are launching an online art school for girls: the School for Doodle.
Meanwhile on Campus
“School puts nearly 100 kindergartners in one class in a teaching experiment.” Guess the city. Guess the socioeconomic class of the children. Guess their race. Go ahead.
A rupture in a water main outside of UCLA shot water 30 feet into the air and released between 8 and 10 million gallons of water into the area. But NBD because it’s not like there’s a drought here in California or anything.
“Big-name VCs, others tagged to weigh changes to UC investment policy.” What could possibly go wrong.
In the next phase of the ongoing battles over its future, City College of San Franciscohas applied to have its accreditation status restored.
The New York Times looks at “Second Chance Med School”(s) in the Caribbean.
This story from the Hoboken School District of its plans to destroy, yes destroy, all its laptops from its “failed” 1:1 laptop program details an amazing amount of administrative incompetence. And this line, from the district’s network engineer, makes me furious: “There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer.”
Pacific Standard has a good round-up of various publications’ recommendations of where you should go to college.
Go, School Sports Team!
“The National Collegiate Athletics Association will establish a $70 million fund for testing and diagnosing concussions in current and former college athletes,” reports Inside Higher Ed. But the fund will not pay for treatment. Assholes.
From the HR Department
Pearson said that it will have cut a total of 4000 jobs (about 10% of its workforce) over the last two years, as it reported a sales declines of 6.5% in the first half of 2014.
Jonathan Waters, the director of the Ohio State University Marching Band was fired after an investigation that found he'd ignored a "sexualized culture" of hazing rituals.
University of Warwick professor Thomas Docherty could lose his job after being charged with insubordination because, among other things, “he sighed and made ‘ironic’ comments when interviewing job candidates.” Reason #213523 why I’d never have made it in academia.
Tim Torkildson says he was fired as the blogger for the Nomen Global Language Center after writing a post on homophones. The owner of the business feared the post would associate the company with homosexuality.
Navy Admiral William McRaven will become the next chancellor of the University of Texas system when he retires from the military later this year. McRaven was the head of SOCOM and planned the Navy Seal raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Education futurist and consultant Bryan Alexander is joining the New Media Consortium as a senior researcher.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. steps down today as head of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (Michael Petrilli will become the new president of the conservative think tank.)
Upgrades and Downgrades
Happy 9th birthday to Edublogs.
The messaging app Remind  is now available to teachers outside the US and Canada.
“The results of the bar exam won’t be available for months, but it’s already painfully clear who failed this year: ExamSoft. The management platform suffered severe technical difficulties Tuesday that prevented thousands of students from uploading their exams upon completion.” Ouch.
The learn-to-program startup LearnStreet informed its users via email that it planned to close its doors on July 31 (although the site still looks functional).
MIT Media Lab has released the ScratchJr iPad app. ScratchJr is a version of the Scratch programming language, but aimed at younger children.
Scholastic is closing its eStoria bookstore and switching to a streaming model. On the company website: “With the launch of Storia School Edition on September 1, Scholastic will transition to a streaming model for children’s eBook delivery. The switch to streaming means that eBooks you’ve previously purchased may soon no longer be accessible.” A reminder that you often don’t “own” your digital stuff; you merely license it. (h/t The Digital Reader)
Funding and Acquisitions
Blendspace (formerly Edcanvas) has been acquired by TES Global (which recently acquired Wikispaces).
IAC-owned Tutor.com has acquired the test prep company Princeton Review.
Sifteo, maker of learn-to-program “cubes,” has been acquired by 3D Robotics.
Sibling Group Holdings has acquiredBlended Schools Network.
Qualcomm has acquired LMS provider EmpoweredU.
The Indian e-commerce company Flipkart has raised $1 billion in investment, and Edukwest suggests that the company will make a move into the e-learning market.
The test-prep company Wanxue has raised a Series C found of funding from the Chinese search engine Baidu, HAO Capital, and Doll Capital Management.
Taamkru has raised $620,000 in seed funding from 500 Startups, M&S Partners, IMJ Investment Partners, Ookbee, and Red Dot Ventures, reports Edsurge, which describes the startup as offering “gamified educational exercises for kindergarten children.”
ABA English has raised $3.4 million in seed funding for its English language learning lessons.
Some 31 million people enrolled in college during the last 20 years left without earning a degree. And via the chart-loving Vox: “7 charts that show what happened to 31 million American college dropouts.”
Back-to-school gets spendier: “The cost of equipping K–12 public school students for the 2014–2015 school year has jumped as much as 20 percent, one of the largest year-over-year increases in the eight-year history of the annual Huntington Backpack Index.”
“Fourth graders are capable of using a computer to type, organize, and write well enough to be assessed, according to a pilot study released July 24 by the National Center for Education Statistics. However, whether the results of a computer-based test offer a true measure of students’ writing abilities has yet to be determined,” reports EdWeek. “The End of Paper-and-Pencil Exams?” asks The Atlantic.
Congratulations to my friend Chris Lehmann, one of the recipients of this year’s Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education. (The other recipients: Sara Martinez Tucker and Andreas Schleicher.)
It’s that time of year again – whee! – for my annual back-to-school tech survey, and teachers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what new technology you’re most looking forward to bringing into the classroom with you this school year. The technology itself doesn’t have to be new. I’m interested, rather, in what’s new in your teaching practice.
Thanks in advance for filling in the blanks!
It looks like the Department of Educationknew more about the state of Corinthian Colleges’ finances than it’s let on.
The Indiana Department of Education has reached a settlement with CTB/McGraw Hill, which will pay the state $3 million after tech glitches interrupted testing last year.
Montana Senator John Walsh has ended his re-election campaign after being caught in a plagiarism scandal (namely, plagiarizing more than a quarter of his master’s thesis at the Army War College.)
From The New York Times: “David Boies, the star trial lawyer who helped lead the legal charge that overturned California’s same-sex marriage ban, is becoming chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice, a group that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown founded in part to pursue lawsuits challenging teacher tenure.”
Catherine Sugrue, who’s twice failed the Chicago Public Schools’ selection test for principals, will become the principal at Gray Elementary. Sugrue is the sister of Chicago Alderman Patrick O’Connor. Ah, Chicago politics.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller makes an appearance on the Slate Techno Sapiens podcast.
MOOCs and modularity
SAP is offering more MOOCs on its “openSAP” platform. “Open” LOL.
An academic paper on MOOCs has found they “rely heavily on objectivist-individual teaching approach.” The paper will cost you $35.95 to access. Because nope. Not open.
P2PU and College Unbound are offering a class on “Writing for Change” (designed to help you learn grant and op-ed writing skills).
Meanwhile on Campus
Congratulations, Syracuse University, on being named the number 1 party school in the US.
Speaking of party schools, “High school teacher shows up for first day of work drunk, without pants.”
The phrase “digital native” appears in this story about a professor using Facebook in his classroom. So there’s that.
Ten students from Maynard Jackson High School in Atlanta treated for exposure to pepper-spray after a fight broke out between 2 students on a school bus headed home from school.
“A woman named Ivy, an elementary-school teacher from Summerville, South Carolina, is using material from a Rush Limbaugh book as part of the history curriculum for her third graders.” More via The Atlantic.
Go, School Sports Team!
“U.S. Air Force Academy cadet athletes flouted the sacred honor code by committing sexual assaults, taking drugs, cheating and engaging in other misconduct at wild parties while the service academy focused on winning bowl games and attracting money from alumni and private sources in recent years,” reports The Colorado Springs Gazette.
The NCAA has restructured its governance, “giving autonomy to the richest Division 1 leagues.”
Some universities are considering asking Congress to give the NCAA an antitrust exemption. You know, “for the sake of the students,” I’m sure.
From the HR Department
University of Oregon president Michael Gottfredson suddenly resigned this week because he wants to spend more time with his family. Mmhmm. I’m sure it had nothing to do with his efforts to curb faculty free speech or the university’s questionable actions following a rape of a young woman by 3 of the school’s basketball players.
A job offer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was rescinded after the candidate, Steven Salaita, was accused of “incivility in his criticisms of Israel.”
Pasadena City College President Mark Rocha has quit, reports The LA Times which describes his tenure as “rocky.”
Adam Freed, a former COO at Etsy, is the new CEO of TeachersPayTeachers.
Kevin Modany, the CEO of ITT Educational Services, has announced his resignation.
Raymond Burse, the interim president at Kentucky State University, has given up $90,000 of his $350,000 salary in order to pay for a raise for the university’s minimum wage workers.
Nancy Sullivan, an adjunct instructor at Harold Washington College, was passed over for a full-time position at the school because of her age, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Textbook rental company Chegg is partnering with Ingram Content Group which will handle the textbook distribution piece of the business so Chegg can focus on other things. "“We’ll get the [student] data, get the credit card, and market our other products,” CEO Dan Rosensweig told his investors on its earnings call.
In news that should surprise no one, “As Book Prices Drop, Big Publishers Push Into Software and Edtech.” Also, “Big Publishers See A Big Opportunity In Universal Pre-K.”
Here are the finalists for this year’s Google Science Fair.
DIY, a site that encourages young “makers” to share their projects with one another, has launched an “Extra Awesome” membership program. For $9 a month, you get a dashboard to track your kid’s projects and skills. Data dashboards: a great way to skew kids’ self-directed learning to meet the goals and ideology of grown-ups.
Techcrunch’s investment database Crunchbase has added a “business graph,” that allows you to see some of the connections among investors and companies. Here, for example, are some of the other ed-tech startups that investors in Edsurge have also funded.
1776, a DC-based startup incubator, is partnering with The Chronicle of Higher Education. "The Chronicle will provide our startups with the kind of expertise, connections, and institutional knowledge that they need to succeed in such a tough industry,” says co-founder Evan Burfield. Other 1776 partners include Booz Allen Hamilton and Pearson. Disruption!
Microsoft is discounting its Surface Pro 3 for education through September 3. The entry-level version will cost $649.
5000 new words will be added to the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, including hashtag, selfie, and qajaq.
OpenStax is adapting its free digital textbooks for high schools. “The K–12 adaptation involves using ”machine learning“ within digital texts, so data is gathered and patterns recognized that will interpret a user’s behavior.”
Privacy, Security, and Surveillance
“Russian Hackers Amass Over a Billion Internet Passwords.” Maybe. The company that “discovered” this is charging people $120/month to see if their data has been compromised. Side eye.
There has been quite a bit of controversy (drama?) in the tech press in recent weeks over Secret, an “anonymous” messaging app. The company claims that it has a system in place to curb cyberbullying, but Fortune’s Dan Primack “tested Secret’s anti-bullying system… and it failed.”
Funding, Finances, and Acquisitions
Edmodo has raised a $30 million round of funding. (This brings to $87 million the total raised by the startup.) While Edmodo’s core product remains free (raising questions about how it will ever find a path to profitability), Edsurge reports that the company is now selling Edmodo PD to schools, as well as data dashboards to districts. Of note: none of the previous investors in Edmodo participated in this round. Unlike Edukwest’s Kirsten Winkler, I do not see an IPO in this company’s future.
O’Reilly Media has acquiredPearson’s 50% stake in Safari Books Online, making Safari a wholly owned subsidiary of O’Reilly.
2Ureleased its quarterly financials: revenue was $24.7 million, “an increase of 32% percent from $18.7 million in the second quarter of 2013.”
Blackboard has acquired Cardsmith, a company that offers student debit cards.
Test prep question bank Yuantiku has raised $15 million in Series C funding (bringing the total raised to around $24 million).
Leapfrog has acquired Kidzui, which makes a web browser designed for kids.
“Dubai-based Growl Media, which develops culturally relevant educational entertainment content for kids across the world, has raised a Series A round from Auvest Group,” reports Edsurge.
Investment research firm CB Insights says that there are 60 ed-tech companies at risk of being “seed orphans” – that is, startups that have raised an initial round of funding but have not (cannot) raise a follow-on Series A round.
(Disclosure: my boyfriend) Kin Lane has released a report on API usage at universities in the US.
The Verizon Foundation and Digital Promise are funding a $10 million project for “a 1-to–1 technology effort in eight U.S. middle schools, providing students with 24–7 Internet access via a data plan for their tablets—while also providing research on the effectiveness of the implementation, and the devices used.” More via Education Week.
A survey of some 400+ recent graduates of “programming bootcamps” has found that some 63% of graduates are now employed as full-time, salaried programmers, and their salaries at their new jobs are up an average 44% from their previous positions. (OK. A job. Good pay. But here’s a reminder from Annie Murphy Paul about “bootcamp style learning.”)
The International Data Corporation has released a report on tablet sales which finds that while Apple still dominates the market, “sales by smaller vendors have reached an all-time high.” (The report, it should be noted, looks at the whole tablet market, not simply edu-related purchases.)
“Millennial” parents (those under age 34) are less satisfied with the availability and use of technology in schools than older parents, according to a survey conducted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
Here’s what a whooping cough outbreak looks like in a school where the majority of students are not vaccinated.
Student loan debt is linked to lower levels of “well-being.” More on this “thriving gap” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Pew Research Center asked 1896 “experts” about “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs.”