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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    Bad Grade

    Renouncing My Klout

    For the second year in the row, I’m on (Thomas B. Fordham Institute president) Michael Petrilli’s list of “The Top Twitter Feeds in Education Policy.”

    Truth be told, it’s only the second year because last year my friend José Vilson asked why there were so few women and people of color on Petrilli’s list and volunteered my name as someone who might be missing. Thus I was added to the list after it was initially published.

    And I’m only on the list this year because I didn’t delete my Klout account – one of the metrics Petrilli uses to determine eligibility – soon enough.

    Confession: I noticed Petrilli tweet a week or so ago that he was in the middle of prepping this year’s list; and it reminded me that I needed to delete my Klout account. I’ve never cared about my Klout score and I’ve never used the account, but Klout has, without my consent, created an account and a score for me. Thanks, technology industry!

    You actually have to log in – even if you’ve never signed up for Klout – to request the company delete your account. I just did this last night for Hack Education’s Twitter account– an account that is, for all intents and purposes, an RSS bot. And I did this for the Klout account linked to @audreywatters. But apparently not in time to disqualify me from Petrilli’s list.

    The Fault in our Algorithms

    Naming "the top" is a power play, no doubt. But Klout is an incredibly flawed way to rank the “Top Twitter Feeds in Education Policy” in part because the score doesn’t simply reflect Twitter “influence.” (Whatever “influence” might be. More on that below.) The company encourages users to link their Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Instagram accounts as well as their Twitter accounts and uses data from all these services to calculate and to boost Klout scores. (It also uses Wikipedia and Bing search result data to determine the score.)

    I don’t have a Facebook or LinkedIn account. There's no Wikipedia entry for "Audrey Watters." So my Klout score, I imagine, is lower for it.

    I say “I imagine” because it’s not clear how the Klout score is actually derived. The company says it uses “more than 400 signals from eight different networks to update your Klout Score every day” and uses “machine learning models” to make sense of all the social media data it sucks up. For what it's worth, however, several years ago someone reverse-engineered the Klout score and argued that about 94% of the differences in people's scores could be accounted for by the number of their Twitter followers. Surely, it’s tweaked the algorithm since then. Surely.

    But we don’t know. It’s a black box, the company’s “secret sauce.”

    Of course, complaints about Klout aren’t new. Science fiction author John Scalzi has said that he quit Klout because “I suspect the service is in fact a little bit socially evil.” Fellow SF writer Charles Stross has also described Klout as “evil” – and quite possibly illegal (as data collection without consent violates UK privacy laws).

    Ideology and Ranking

    But even if we did know the algorithm that drives the Klout score, I’d still want to ask questions about the meaning of the measurement and the weight that the number – any ranking system, really – carries. Why, if nothing else, are we so obsessed with ranking?

    What purposes does Klout serve? Whose purposes does Klout serve? Why is Michael Petrilli or Forbes or Rick Hess or any of the other popular list-makers interested in a ranking or rating system for those in education?

    See, this isn’t simply about “influence”; it’s about ideology.

    I’m in the middle of writing a chapter for Teaching Machinesthat examines the histories of “intelligence” and ed-tech – intelligence testing, artificial intelligence, “intelligent tutoring systems.” Much like “influence,” “intelligence” is something difficult to define let alone quantify. And yet we do.

    We can debate, as philosophers have for ages, the meaning of these terms – “intelligence,” “influence.” But more importantly, we should ask: why do these characteristics matter? To whom do they matter? And once there’s a practice in place that has defined these terms and has designed measurement tools to assess them and a scale to rank them, we should ask what purposes these designations serve. I don't mean what sorts of perks do you get with your Klout score or your IQ; I mean for us to consider how might these ranking systems reinscribe hierarchy and inequality, all the while purporting to offer an “objective” tool that reflects ability.

    Sorta like "science," but not.

    So yes, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power that comes with crafting definitions, with promoting standards, with devising measurement systems – and the role that technology and algorithms will increasingly play here.

    Whose interests do these definitions and standards and measurements and algorithms serve? What sorts of (often unexamined) legacies do these practices carry forward?

    From the OED:

    psychometry: from the Greek ψῡχο- psycho- + -µετρια measuring – literally “soul-” or “mind-measuring.”

    1. The (alleged) faculty of divining, from physical contact or proximity only, the qualities or properties of an object, or of persons or things that have been in contact with it.

    The first reported use of this word was 1854 – J. R. Buchanan’s “lectures on the neurological system of anthropology” in which he wrote “The influence of Psychometry will be highly valuable ‥. in the selection from candidates for appointments to important offices.”

    2. The measurement of the duration and intensity of mental states or processes.

    The first reported use for this definition was 1879 – Frances Galton who wrote “Psychometry ‥. means the art of imposing measurement and number upon operations of the mind, as in the practice of determining the reaction-time of different persons.”

    As Mark Garrison writes in his book A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized Testing, “Standardized testing – or the theory and practice known as 'psychometrics' – … is not a form of measurement. Psychometrics is best understood as the development of tools for vertical classification and the production of social value.”

    Psychometry claims to measure the mind. Klout claims to measure online influence. But look at the OED. Look at those definitions: influence and intelligence. Psychometry and Klout. I'm fascinated how they seem to dovetail so neatly in today's education politics and how readily they become a sort of "disciplinary power" that maintains the functioning of schools, economies, and other hierarchical systems. Who "measures up"?

    Image credits: Robert Hruzek and The Noun Project

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    A couple of sentences from Edsurge’s coverage today on the new Google assignment-management tool Classroom:

    "After the student has submitted the assignment, teachers can assign a grade out of 100 possible points. (Yeskel says requests for other grading rubrics will be considered in the future.)

    Not having to deal with paper (and that infamous homework-eating dog) was a time saver to Classroom’s beta users, who reveled at being able to grade work as soon as it was ready. 'If a student handed in an assignment early, I could grade and give feedback as they finish. It actually took the ‘man, my grading pile is so overwhelming’ feeling away,' praises Heidi Bernasconi, a biology teacher at Clarkstown Central High School North in New York."

    As I research and write Teaching Machines, I’m struck by how much of the history of education technology from the early 20th century onward is concerned with the very things this Edsurge excerpt exults: long-running efforts to automate assignments and assessment, for example.

    These are frequently framed as "labor-saving” advancements for teachers, who as psychologist Sidney Pressey wrote in 1926, are “woefully burdened by such routine of drill and information-fixing. It would seem highly desirable to lift from her shoulders as much as possible of this burden and make her freer for those inspirational and thought-stimulating activities which are, presumably, the real function of the teacher."

    The irony seems to be lost on Pressey, no doubt, that the drudgery of repeated grading and testing was a result of the very practices that he and his fellow psychologists had promoted. The irony is still lost on many folks today.

    Pressey first demonstrated his teaching machine — “a simple apparatus which gives tests and scores and teaches” — to the American Psychological Association in 1924. The device, Pressey boasted, could tell "the subject at once when he makes a mistake (there is no waiting several days, until a corrected paper is returned, before he knows where he is right and where wrong).” Drawing on the theories of psychologist Edward Thorndike, Pressey argued that his teaching machine actualized the laws of effect, exercise, and recency — that is, the machine reinforced correct behaviors, or reinforced, as Thorndike would call these behaviors, “learning.”

    Pressey’s machine was about the size of a typewriter — the prototype was actually built from typewriter parts — and contained a window through which a multiple choice question could be viewed. On one side of the machine were four keys, and the person using the machine pushed the key corresponding to the correct answer. If set to the “test” mode, the machine would record the correct responses; if set to the “teach” mode, the machine would not advance to the next question until the person got the answer right.

    We can see in Pressey’s machine one of the early attempts to automate the practice of standardized testing, a practice that had already become routine in schools by the 1920s, expanded from earlier IQ testing initiatives and a real reflection of the spread of science and scientific management into American institutions, including schools. Pressey, quite cleverly but in the end unsuccessfully, identified a market for ed-tech as a result.

    In Pressey’s teaching machine, we can see too how, and perhaps why, multiple choice — prototyped by Thorndike and applied on a larger scale by Frederick Kelly in 1914 — became such a popular format for assessment. Four keys. Four choices. Five keys. Five choices. Multiple choice questions were initially designed to eliminate educator subjectivity during assessment; automation made the elimination of the teacher in this process even more stark, even more "efficient."

    It’s important to remember here — and looking too at the Google Classroom launch with a grading scale based on 100 points (a grading scale that is not "natural," that has a history) — that technology does not simply work in the service of supporting educational practices. Technology shapes, limits, steers those practices, and then — and this is key — even when the technology changes, those practices endure. They become “hard coded.” They become part of the infrastructure.

    So for all those excited today to get their hands on the “new” Google Classroom: recognize that you’re actually adopting some very very old technologies.

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    RIP Robin Williams and RIP Michael Brown– my god, this week has been so painful.

    Education Law and Politics

    Education DepartmentAwards 40 States, D.C., and the Virgin Islands $28.4 Million in Grants to Help Low-Income Students Take Advanced Placement Tests” – so congrats to the College Board that will profit handily (wink wink) from this boost.

    Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has denounced the the College Board for new frameworks it has issued for the AP US History exam, claiming it promotes a "radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects."

    The trial of 12 former Atlanta Public School employees, accused of conspiring to alter students’ test scores, started this week.

    Also heading to the courts: several lawsuits in Louisiana over the state’s adoption (or not) of the Common Core.

    A New Jersey high school student has settled a lawsuit with her school district, after she said she was punished for a couple of profane tweets about her principal. The district has reversed its punishments of her and expunged her record. It will also clarify its social media policy.

    New York has published a “parents’ bill of rights” (PDF) to address how student data can be used.

    The Cape Henlopen School Board in Delaware has scrapped its summer reading list for incoming high school students. Originally the board chose to remove from the list The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a coming-of-age story about a gay teen in Montana. But when anti-censorship groups questioned that decision, the school board ditched the recommended reading list altogether.

    The FTC and Indiana attorney general are investigating the test prep company The College Network because of hundreds of complaints of deceptive practices by its salespeople. More from the IndyStar.

    MOOCs and UnMOOCs

    Minecraft MOOCs

    Indiana Connections Academy, the state’s virtual charter school outsourced to Pearson, will have a record number of students enrolled this year.

    A big PR push from the new for-profit “elite” college Minerva, with stories in Slate and in The Atlantic. Sound the disruption klaxon!

    Meanwhile on Campus

    According to the National Center for Education Statistics, minority students will be the majority in US public schools this year. So probably time to rethink that word “minority,” eh.

    Students At For-Profit [Everett] College Say They Weren’t Told Their School Was Being Sold

    Princeton is debating getting rid of its policy that caps the number of As professors award.

    Japan’s “cram school” business is thriving.

    The New York Times investigatesPrime Prep Academy, a charter school co-founded by former NFL star Deion Sanders. The plan: “collect and mentor the finest male athletes in Texas and elsewhere and become a powerhouse.” The academics: horrible.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    A federal judge ruled on Friday that the NCAA rules barring college athletes from sharing in the revenues from the use of their names and likenesses violate antitrust law. It’s not the death of the NCAA yet, but the organization is certainly in turmoil. Although the NCAA will appeal, plenty of folks are saying that this ruling will change college sports. Or not.

    From the HR Department

    Former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is stepping down as head of her reform group StudentsFirst. She will now be on the board of directors for Scotts Miracle Gro, and I am gravely disappointed that so few “miracle grow / test score” puns have been made as a result.

    Chris Klundt, co-founder of StudyBlue, will be taking over the reins of the company. You can read 1000 words about the flashcard app on Techcrunch.

    Half of school employees are not teachers.

    Women Must Submit Pap Smears To Teach in São Paulo

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    Language learning company Imagine Learning is teaming up with Scantron because hell yeah Scantron.

    Google Classroom is now open to those whose schools use Google Apps for Edu.

    Schools are buying the vast majority of Chromebooks sold.

    Known, which offers a tool to help people “reclaim” their social media data, is working on services for teachers and students.

    Teach the whole family to code, thanks to a new guide from the MIT Media Lab. will post reviews of Common Core textbooks. Because god knows we need more education review sites funded by the Gates Foundation.

    Publishers are marketing “non-Common Core” materials to parents. is sorry that its definition of “homeschooling” suggested the practice was “mindless.”

    Behavior management app Class Dojo has released a messaging app, to bring parents into the whole behaviorist loop.

    Junction Education™ Announces Launch of Its Behavioral Learning Platform” – Skinnerism is alive and well in ed-tech. (More on Junction Education via Edukwest.)

    Funding and Acquisitions

    Desire2Learn has raised $85 million in a Series B round. Phil Hill raises some good questions about the claims D2L has made to the press about its growth: “It is worth noting that not a single media outlet listed by EDUKWEST or quoted above (WSJ, Reuters, Bloomberg, re/code, edSurge, TheStar) challenged or even questioned D2L’s bold claims. It would help if more media outlets didn’t view their job as paraphrasing press releases.”

    “A startup that appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in March, Packback Inc., has raised $1 million in seed funding to grow its e-textbook rentals business,” reports The Wall Street Journal. When reality TV meets Mark Cuban meets education technology startups, you know it’s gonna be… something.

    JoyTunes has raised $5 million in Series A funding, bringing to $7 million the total the music education startup has raised.

    “All-inclusive assessment and communications platform for teachers” FreshGrade has raised $4.3 million NewSchools Venture Fund, Emerson Collective, Accel Partners and The Social+Capital Partnership.


    Only .13% of published education research is replication.

    Congratulations to Stanford University professor Maryam Mirzakhani for winning the Fields Medal, sorta like the Nobel Prize for math. “The award recognizes Mirzakhani’s sophisticated and highly original contributions to the fields of geometry and dynamical systems, particularly in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, such as spheres, the surfaces of doughnuts and of hyperbolic objects.” Mirzakhani is the first woman to win the prize.

    The Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo examines the “Differences In DC Teacher Evaluation Ratings By School Poverty.”

    How researchers use social media (or not), via Nature.

    Can Giga-Pets Improve Student Engagement?

    Can Universities Use Data to Fix What Ails the Lecture?

    Via the chart-loving Vox: “One chart that debunks the biggest myth about student loans

    Also via the “debunk”-in-a-headline-loving Vox: Shark Week, Debunked

    Image credits: Dead Poets Society and The Noun Project

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    Toying With The Men


    Protests continued in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown.

    The first day of school was delayed for many, but that doesn’t mean teachers had the “day off.” (Good grief headline writers.) The Ferguson Public Library has become a “makeshift community school,” offering lessons, tutoring, meals, and childcare.

    There are a number of fundraising initiatives to help support the community, including efforts to provide food for school-age children. Heck, even Mary Engelbreit (yes. that Mary Engelbreit) is helping raise money.

    Michael Brown’s Former High School Resumes Classes Amid Ferguson Chaos:

    This school year at Normandy was already going to be a challenge. The district lost its state accreditation in 2012 in the wake of steadily falling revenues, plummeting graduation rates—among the lowest in the state—and excessive disciplinary actions. Students in the district, where over ninety percent of children are eligible for free meals, were allowed to leave Normandy to attend other nearby schools; hundreds did. Now, they’ve been required to return after the state department of education this year took control of the school administration and forced all teachers to reapply for their jobs. Forty percent of teachers were not asked to return.

    In nearby Edwardsville, teachers have been instructed to avoid discussing Ferguson events with students.

    The first black superintendent of the Ferguson-Florissant Schools talks about institutional racism in the district and why he was forced to resign.

    A shout-out to University of St. Louis-Missouri grad student Mustafa Hussein for livestreaming the events from Ferguson via Argus Radio.

    Nearby campuses have “beefed up security" in response, reports The Chronicle.

    Data about Ferguson. Vox charts on Ferguson school discipline rates. Data about tweets before the “mainstream media” covered Michael Brown’s death.

    For more readings on Ferguson, civil rights, police violence, and black history, check out this Zotero collection or the Twitter hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.

    Education Law and Politics

    The US Department of Education has given states a “reprieve” on using standardized tests to evaluate teachers’ performance.

    District Judge Todd Hernandez has ruled that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal does not have the authority to repeal the Common Core in the state.

    Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood has ruled that private school vouchers in North Carolina are unconstitutional.

    Delaware has become the first state to let heirs inherit digital assets.

    From the IndyStar: “A former top Indiana education official’s role in the sale of $1.7 million worth of videoconferencing equipment to the state by Cisco Systems Inc., where he worked before and after holding that state position, has added to calls to strengthen Indiana’s ethics laws amid a recent spate of boundary-pushing incidents.”

    “A blind mother whose three children attend Seattle Public Schools is suing the district, saying its website and math software aren’t compatible with technology that blind people use to access the Internet.” Via the AP.

    The legal challenge to the trustees’ plans to start charging tuition at Cooper Union is ongoing.

    The ACLU has filed a complaint over the Mendon-Upton School District’s iPad policies. The district allows low income students (those who are eligible for free or reduced lunches) to take their school-issued iPads home; others cannot.


    RIP American journalist James Foley. (The last sentence of this NYT story. My god.) Foley was, among other things, an alum of Teach for America.

    MOOCs and UnMOOCs

    MOOCs are free – but for how much longer?” asks the Times Higher Education, citing a Stanford professor who believes it’s time to monetize this trend. Because open.

    The UK MOOC platform FutureLearnsurveyed 16 to 18 year olds and found they want to code and make money. I mean, who wouldn't.

    A profile in The Guardian of FutureLearn head Simon Nelson.

    Coursera and the Carlos Slim Foundation have partnered to launch Acceso Latino: “a free website created to provide U.S. Latinos easy access to tools and content about education, healthcare, job training, culture and more. This site will serve as a valuable resource to help Latinos succeed in the United States.”

    “The African Virtual University, in partnership with the African Development Bank, is launching 29 new open, distance and e-learning centres in 21 African countries.”

    Online preschool, I kid you not.

    Meanwhile on Campus

    Compton Unified District school police are now authorized to carry semi-automatic AR–15 assault rifles.

    "Two Teens Arrested for Mass School Shooting Plot in Southern California"

    Memphis Teacher Suspended for Punching 5-Year-Old Girl in the Face

    A 16-year-old at Summerville High School in South Carolina was arrested for disorderly conduct after, he claims, writing a story in creative class that involved shooting a dinosaur with a gun. The police insist he was arrested for disorderly conduct because of disorderly conduct.

    Some members of the UFT are “disgusted” by the union’s participation in the “March for Justice of Police Brutality.” Me, I’m disgusted by those union members.

    According to ProPublica, which has been investigating schools’ usage of restraints, "Federal investigators have faulted two Virginia schools for pinning down and isolating disabled students improperly, saying the schools used the practices routinely as a ‘one-size fits all’ response to disruptive behavior despite evidence they didn’t work.

    Students in Dubuque Community School District will have to wear heartmonitors in gym class. “The results will be transferred to an iPad and projected onto a big screen in the gym.” The data will be used to as part of a student’s grade. WTF. Who owns that data?

    Confidential student data was accessible to unauthorized people in the Topeka Unified School District 501 via Pearson PowerSchool. The data in question revealed which children in the district came from low income families, data that is federally restricted. The district assured the Department of Agriculture that the data breach had been fixed, but apparently it has not.

    George Washington Universitysent a letter to faculty members reminding them that because of the contractual obligations with the campus bookstore, "alternative vendors may not be endorsed, licensed or otherwise approved or supported by the university or its faculty.” The university has since changed its mind.

    Northern Illinois University will restrict access to "political content," Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Foursquare via dorm WiFi.

    “The groundbreaking effort to provide an iPad to every Los Angeles student, teacher and school administrator was beset by inadequate planning, a lack of transparency and a flawed bidding process, according to a draft of an internal school district report obtained by The Times,” says The LA Times.

    Meanwhile, LAUSD spent $112 million a decade ago on a new school information system. Then the district scrapped that SIS a couple of years ago to make way for a new one, spending another $20 million in the process. And now, it's back-to-school, and we learn the new system doesn’t really work.

    But hey, LAUSD police will no longer cite students for minor offenses like not wearing school uniforms. “Graduation not incarceration,” says Superintendent John Deasy.

    A New Jersey middle school will not allow a 13-year-old trans girl attend school unless she dresses like and identifies as a boy.

    The Corcoran College of Art + Design will merge into George Washington University, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art will join the National Gallery of Art.

    Go, School Sports Team!

    Notre Dame is investigating four football players for academic dishonesty. The Wall Street Journal wonders if Notre Dame football is too academically challenging. Priorities.

    In addition to purchasing the LA Clippers, it looks like former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has also been involved in boosting basketball at the exclusive Lakeside School: “a series of questionable tactics that included a new basketball-focused nonprofit, cash for a coach, an unusual admissions process and weak enforcement of academic standards.”

    From the HR Department

    Jon Whitmore, the CEO of the ACT, has announced that he will retire next year.

    Bill Chou Kwok-ping, a professor at the University of Macau, believes that he lost his job because of his pro-democracy activism.

    From the AJC: "The Atlanta school district is attempting to remove a teacher for a long list of alleged failings, including playing the Beyonce song ’Drunk in Love.’” Surfboard. Surfboard.

    Detroit Public Schools employees will find their paychecks cut by 10% this school year. Facing a $121.5 million budget shortfall, the district will eliminate 1381 positions between now and 2019.

    Upgrades and Downgrades

    The 2014 Hugo Awards

    Bill and Melinda Gates will match your donations between August 22 and August 24, up to $1 million.

    GetSet, a startup that aims to reduce college dropout rates, has launched with a rollout at Arizona State University. “GetSet is taking an algorithmic approach to the drop-out problem, building a natural language processing (NLP) engine that asks students to feed it with data about their college aims and problems which it uses to match students to others who have similar goals/backgrounds or who had the same sort of issues previously and overcame them.”

    “Mansplaining” enters the Oxford Online Dictionary.

    Kuddle. It’s like Instagram but for young children.

    Discovery Education is adding “exclusive content” from the Discovery Network into its offerings. It doesn’t look like this includes footage from its new dating show Naked and Afraid or its fake documentary Megalodon: the Monster Shark Lives.

    Khan Academy is partnering with the American Museum of Natural History.

    A new organization, FERPA|SHERPA, has launched, aiming “to provide service providers, parents, school officials, and policymakers with easy access to those materials to help guide responsible uses of student’s data.”

    Via the Google Scholar blog, Google is giving scholar profiles a “fresh look” (so I guess that means, despite rumors and fears, Google isn’t axing Google Scholar. Yet).

    You can now rent textbooks via Google Play in Canada.

    According to The Wall Street Journal, Google might start handing out accounts to kids under age 13 for Gmail and YouTube access.

    Funding and Acquisitions

    QuickKey, which lets you score tests using your smartphone camera, has raised $200,000 in funding.

    LendLayer, which offers loans to students who are in “software bootcamps,” has raised $400,000 in funding.

    LTG Exam Prep Platform, a startup out of MIT, believes the most effective way to study for standardized tests is through these devices we carry around everywhere,” Techcrunch tells us. And the company has just raised $3 million from Tal Education Group, Atlas Venture, Jaime McCourt, Yongjin Group, and Zhen Fund.

    Algorithmia has raised $2.4 million from Madrona Venture Group, Rakuten Ventures, Deep Fork Capital, Oren Etzioni, and Charles Fitzgerald “to connect academia and app developers.”

    OKPanda has raised $1.6 million from Resolute Ventures and others. This brings to $3 million the total raised by the language-learning startup.

    Verold, which makes “3D learning content,” has raised $1.6 million from GrowthWorks Capital and the Ontario Growth Fund.

    The private equity fund GIC has acquired an 18.5% stake in the Brazilian education company Abril Educacao, reports Edsurge.

    Inside Higher Ed’s Carl Straumsheim examinesinvestment in higher education ed-tech and asks “Is there a bubble?”

    A two-part look at NewSchools Venture Fund’s investment strategy (1, 2)


    68% of Americans think it should be a crime for children under age 9 to play in a park unsupervised.

    Support for the Common Core is dropping. Read more about the results of the latest PDK/Gallup poll over on Educating Modern Learners.

    Announcing new standards for educational and psychological testing, and a draft “Bill of Research Rights” for educators.

    The 2014 Horizon Report: The Library Edition

    According to analysis by BitSight Technologies on cybersecurity, the “higher education sector poses an even higher risk than the retail and healthcare industries.”

    Consultantswon’t save your university as much money as they promise.

    Via Inside Higher Ed, a study of college-level writing assignments.

    Why Academics Really Use Twitter

    How web searches differ by socioeconomics and geography

    Teen pregnancy is down to the lowest level since the 1940s.

    Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds. (Other studies suggest otherwise. But headlines.)

    Only 26% of 2014 high school graduates who took the ACT are “college ready,” says the ACT.

    Instead of forcing students into remedial classes, try workshops. More on a CUNY research project via Inside Higher Ed.

    Among students who transfer between institutions, “39 percent lost all of their credits in the switch, while 28 percent were able to transfer some credits. Only one-third of transfer students were successful in getting all of their previously earned credits to count at their new institution.”

    Pearson releases report that deems Pearson effective.

    This week's Vox edu-related charts and maps are on textbooks and tourism.

    Via The Atlantic: “the social networks of whites are a remarkable 93 percent white. White American social networks are only one percent black, one percent Hispanic, one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent mixed race, and one percent other race. In fact, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent).”

    Image credits: JD Hancock and The Noun Project

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    For the fifth year in a row, I’ve asked educators to tell me what technology they’re most looking forward to bringing into the classroom with them this school year. I don’t ask that the technology itself be new. I’m interested, rather, in what’s new in educators’ teaching practices.

    Caveat: unscientific. Caveat: survey just goes out to my Twitter followers and blog readers and is completed by those who can be bothered to fill out a short form. Caveat: small sample. Caveat: I calculate and interpret the results.

    Back-to-school 2014 has elicited responses that are much more fragmented than I’ve seen in previous years. Even though I've always received a wide variety of responses (a reflection of the increasing number of options for educational hardware and software), I have in the past been able to identify a “Top 3.”  But this year, there’s no consensus, no runaway “three most popular” tools.

    With two exceptions:

    1. the iPad.

    Each year that I’ve surveyed teachers, the iPad has made that Top 3. (I’ve detailed the results from previous years below.) That is also, for the record, every year that the iPad has been on the market. And it is specifically the iPad, not “tablets" and not other brands. The Apple mind-share and market-share for one-to-one technology initiatives remain strong, despite some of the serious and highly publicized setbacks that iPad initiatives have had in the last year or so.

    The number of responses about new iPads does suggest that more and more districts continue to invest in one-to-one technology initiatives. (No one mentioned BYOD, for what it's worth.) I actually thought I’d hear more teachers say “Chromebooks” (there were a couple) because of reports that the devices are selling quite well to schools. But it appears the Google product educators are excited about this year is…

    2. Google Classroom

    Google Classroom just opened up to all Google Apps for Education accounts earlier this month. So perhaps the timing is ideal for tapping into the back-to-school excitement.

    It’s “not quite an LMS,” early reviews of the product admit. But several respondents said they hoped it would grow into one. Those who said they were looking forward to using Classroom specifically noted that they wanted something to better manage digital assignments.

    It’s worth mentioning that LMSes (and “not quite LMSes”) have made a regular appearance in my annual surveys. In 2011, many teachers said they were excited about Edmodo. (No one mentioned Edmodo this year.) In 2012, many said they were looking forward to Instructure. (No one mentioned Instructure this year). There were several shout-outs for Moodle last year, and one for Schoology this year.

    Despite pushes to move “beyond the LMS,” it’s pretty clear that education still operates very much in its grips.

    Other Observations

    If I had to pick a third response to round out the “Top 3,” it would have to be “Nothing.” There were a number of responses this year from educators expressing their frustration with education technology. (And sure, this is where my influence no doubt shapes what folks say.)

    Several educators said they were tired with the constant push to integrate new technologies without any research. Others lamented that tools they’d adopted in the past were no longer supported. As such lessons they’d built around specific technologies no longer worked. “Mostly, I’m hoping to hold on to tech skills/programs I’ve already acquired in the last several years and hoping they don’t go away,” one teacher wrote.

    I never specify that the “tool” that educators be excited to use must be computer-based. And this year, I had several responses that weren’t: one teacher plans to create laminated pieces of paper for each student so they could have their own “mini-whiteboard.” Another said they were painting the walls of their classroom with “blackboard paint,” so that students could write on them with chalk. Another said that he was rethinking the arrangement of his classroom by ditching individual student desks, and was looking forward to see what groupwork around bigger tables might look like.

    I did anticipate that I'd hear about more plans for makerspaces. (There was just one person who mentioned "making.") That classroom response systems and learning management systems remain so popular instead says a lot, I think, about the expectations of what technology and education is supposed to “do.”

    Thank you very much to everyone who responded! Best of luck to everyone – students, teachers, parents, principals, staff – as you (in the Northern Hemisphere) head back to school this fall.

    Previous Years’ Responses

    1. iPad
    2. Google Apps for Education
    3. Smartphones

    1. Instructure Canvas
    2. Google+
    3. iPad

    1. Google+
    2. Edmodo
    3. iPad

    1. iPad
    2. Twitter
    3. Google Apps for Education

    Image credits: Paradox 56

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    iPad telephony


    The LAUSD iPad clusterfuck continues.

    Late last week, several LA news organizations obtained and published emails between LAUSD, Apple, and Pearson officials. The emails reveal that Superintendent John Deasy began meeting with these companies to discuss the hardware/curriculum purchase almost a year before the multimillion dollar contract went out to bid.

    The district agreed last year to purchase 700,000 iPads — one for every student in the district. The devices would come pre-loaded with curriculum created by Pearson. The expected cost of this project, including upgrades to the district’s WiFi: over $1 billion.

    Following the release of the emails — alongside a highly critical report from the district technology committee, Deasy announced he would cancel the contract with Apple. The district will reopen the bidding process.

    No surprise, the ongoing saga is this week’s “What You Should Know This Week” over on EML.

    Oh and bonus: now the district says that an audit has found it is missing $2 million in computers, mostly iPads. Oops.

    Education Law and Politics

    Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is suing the Obama Administration over the Common Core. Jindal was for it before he was against it, just like that other one-time presidential candidate.

    The Department of Education has revokedOklahoma’s NCLB waiver after the state opted to back away from the Common Core.

    And here’s what that looks like in practice: 90% of Washington public schools are now considered “failing.” No, not because they’re really “failing”; but because the US Department of Education revoked the state’s NCLB waiver.

    The judge in Vergara v Californiaaffirmed his decision this week (that is, five state statures governing teacher employment, tenure, and seniority are unconstitutional as they deny students access to a quality public education). Defendants now have 60 days to file an appeal.

    A judge in Texas has affirmed his decision that the state’s school funding model is unconstitutional.

    California has a new “$50 million fund for ‘innovation’ in the state’s budget. The legislation created an award program that seeks to fund ideas that bubble up from California’s public universities and community colleges.” Certainly a different approach than attempts last year to legislate innovation (or rather, MOOCs).

    The California Assembly has also approved a bill that would restrict companies’ use of student data, specifically ending advertising on K–12 websites and apps. More via T.H.E. Journal.

    The Lee County School Board in Florida has voted to opt out of state-mandated standardized tests.

    Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has lost his reelection bid. Huppenthal came under fire earlier this year for making offensive anonymous comments online, calling welfare recipients “lazy pigs,” for example. Nice work finally getting a political decision right, Arizona.

    Rhode Island’s Announces Plans To Be The First State To Go Fully Blended,” says Edsurge. Honest question: what is blended learning? What does it mean to be “fully blended”?

    MOOCs and UnMOOCs

    Coursera as corporate training.

      HarvardX researcher Justin Reich explains recent changes to edX’s discussion forums, which will now distinguish between “asking a question and starting a discussion.” (Wouldn't it be funny if it turned out the big contribution MOOCs make to instructional design is, finally, a revamp to discussion forums?)

        The University of New England has ended its MOOC program. The program allowed students to take certain online courses for free, then charged for the credits. “While MOOCs will continue to be offered I am sure by some of the very big providers around the world it’s not something that a university like UNE would go at alone,” said the vice chancellor. Oh.

        Meanwhile on Campus

        Back-to-school in Ferguson, Missouri.

        Students at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles staged a sit-in to protest a number of management systems, including the district’s failed SIS (something I wrote about last week).

        “A University of Oregon student was charged with five separate code-of-conduct violations for shouting a kind of funny, vaguely inappropriate four-word phrase out the window of a campus dormitory.” Go Ducks.

        The New York Times looks at college student-build apps. The story raises lots of good questions about colleges’ data policies.

        The for-profit college chain Anthem Education has filed for bankruptcy and shuttered several of its campuses, reports Inside Higher Ed.

        Alumni groups at prestigious NYC high schoolsdo not want the city to scrap test scores as the sole criterion for admission. Many have argued that this policy keeps Black and Latino students out, and a broader admission policy could address the lack of diversity in these elite schools. But the alumni groups say that would risk “diluting the schools’ rigorous academic atmosphere.” Side eye.

        Credit for Reddit” at MIT. (Wow. I’d hate to be a woman in that class.)

        The student paper at Western University published a story "“So you want to date a teaching assistant,” setting off a “furor,” says IHE.

        Simon Fraser University has received a $6000 Bitcoin donation.

        John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix, has died. He was 93.

        Go, School Sports Team!

        The NCAA says it will appeal the recent O’Bannon decision, which ruled that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by barring schools from sharing sports revenue with players.

        The New York Times profiles antitrust lawyer Jeffrey Kessler. He’s the one who brought free agency to the NFL. Now he’s also suing to dismantle the NCAA’s rules forbidding paying college athletes.

        There have been protests at the University of Iowa over the painting of the visiting teams’ locker rooms pink. “Some students and faculty have decried the color scheme as sexist and discriminatory.”

        From the HR Department

        The backlash over the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s “unhiring” of Steven Salaita continues, many arguing that the decision is a “threat to academic freedom.” Chancellor Wise made a statement doubling down on the decision, arguing that Salaita’s tweets about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made him unqualified for a job at the university. Responses: Boycotts. Letters from Timothy Burke,Michael Meranze, Corey Robin, and lots of others.

        The teachers’ strike in British Columbia continues.

        Adjuncts at the University of the District of Columbia have voted to unionize.

        The Detroit Public Schools have cancelled their plans to cut salaries by 10%.

        Suffolk University president James McCarthy has abruptly left his position, even though he still has a year left on his contract.

        Online learning platform Udemy has hired three new “seasoned execs”: Paul Sebastien, Dave Arnold, and Richard Qiu. More from Edukwest.

        Online learning platform has hired Andrew Wait as CFO. More from Edukwest.

        Kuali has hired former Instructure CTO Joel Dehlin as its CEO. (See the next news item for the big reveal…)

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        The Kuali Foundationannounced last last week that it was ditching its not-for-profit status to become a for-profit company. Kuali had been an attempt to “community-source” school administration software, supporting universities in the creation of their own accounting, billing, research, and budgeting software rather than relying on third-party vendors. To address the problems around sustainability and the pace of software development, the org decided to switch its profit models. Solid analysis, as always, from Phil Hill on what this means for higher ed-tech.

        Clever has released its single sign-on platform – that is, one student login to access all their apps. Better make that a strong password, kids.

        A new iPad app from Educlipper, “WeLearnedIt,” that aims to make project based learning easier to manage uses the word “revolutionize” in the press release headline. (Adam Bellow! Dude!)

        The messaging app formerly known as Remind 101 (now it’s just “Remind”) has added two new features: a Stamps response system and voice messaging. The former lets students and parents respond to messages with a check, and X, a star, and a question mark.

        600 words in the press release on Pearson’s latest thingy without once mentioning the Common Core. Strong work, team.

        Ardusat enables students to “reate their own satellite experiments and collect real-world space-data.” The technology and accompanying curriculum is now available.

        Panorama Education is making its “Panorama Student Survey” available to teachers for free.

        Via Boing Boing, "James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, eminent copyright scholars at the Duke Center for the Public Domain, have released their 788-page Open Intellectual Property Casebook as a free, open, CC-licensed download, replacing textbooks that normally sell for $160."

        Edsurge covers the release of the new iKeepSafe Copyright Curriculum. Wired Magazine wrote about a draft of the curriculum last year, noting that it was developed with the help of the MPAA and RIAA – notorious copyright hawks. So heads-up.

        “Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend” + Discovery Education¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Ta-Nehisi Coates is kicking off another reading group in September, this time focused on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Highly recommended.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        Pluralsight has raised $135 million in Series B funding from Insight Venture Partners, ICONIQ Capital, and Sorenson Capital. The total raised for the online training company is now roughly $165 million.

        College counseling startup Admittedly has raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Quotidian, RRE, Correlation, Joanne Wilson, and Shawn Byers.

        Sofatutor has raised€3.5 million in funding from textbook publisher Cornelsen, Acton Capital Partners, J.C.M.B., and IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft. The startup, which offers online tutorial videos, has now raised $4.6 million total.

        UClass, which describes itself as a “Dropbox for education” has raised $1 million.

        Edshelf has met its $30,000 Kickstarter goal, meaning the startup will not shut its doors this summer.

        For-profit Education Management Corporation (EDMC) announced that it restructured financially, “with creditors that own 80 percent of the company’s debt.”

        Ruffalo Cody has acquired Noel Levitz. These are education companies, I promise, not people’s names. (Wait, corporations are people in the US. Nevermind.)


        The 2014 Beloit Mindset List is annoying, as usual.

        A new NIH policy will require scientists who receive federal funding for genomics research to share their data.

        From the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and New America Foundation, “A Snapshot of Kids’ Language & Literacy Apps, Part 1.”

        School starts too early. Students need more sleep. News at 11.

        Who’s Afraid of College Rankings?

        Pew Research on “Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’.” “A major insight into human behavior from pre-internet era studies of communication is the tendency of people not to speak up about policy issues in public—or among their family, friends, and work colleagues—when they believe their own point of view is not widely shared.” And Pew contends folks are even more silent online.

        This week in education-related Vox charts: segregation in US schools, textbook prices, student loan default rates.

        Image credits: Per-Olof Forsberg

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      • 09/03/14--02:54: Ed-Tech's Monsters #ALTC
      • Here are the notes and slides from my talk this morning at ALT-C 2014.

        Ed-Tech's Monsters

        On Monday, on our way up here to Coventry, we — that is, my mum, my boyfriend, and I — stopped at Bletchley Park, the site of the British government’s Code and Cypher School during the Second World War and the current location of the National Museum of Computing.

        When we were planning our trip, I mentioned to my mum that I wanted to stop at Bletchley Park, and she said “Oh! Your grandfather did some work there” — a bit of family history I’d like to have known, as someone who writes about computers, but a bit of family history that I hadn’t considered until that moment. It makes sense, during the war my grandfather was the station commander at Chain Home Low, an early warning radar base, and later became Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief at Signals Command. Although he was knighted for his work on the development of radar, I’m not sure how much he really talked about that work with the family. My granny said that during the war she never actually knew what he did. She never asked. And he passed away before many of his stories were no longer classified.

        I am, as some of you know, a folklorist by academic training. Not an instructional designer. Not an education psychologist. Not an entrepreneur. Not an investor. Not a computer scientist. Not much of a journalist. 

        I am — insomuch as our disciplinary training is a proxy for our intellectual and our political interests — fascinated by storytelling, particularly in these sorts of hidden histories and lost histories and forgotten histories: my grandfather’s involvement at Bletchley Park, for example, and more broadly, the role of computer science in surveillance and war. 

        What stories do we tell? Whose stories get told? How do these stories reflect and construct our world — worlds of science, politics, culture, and of course, education?

        I try in my work to trace and retrace the connections through narratives and counter-narratives, through business and bullshit. My keynote this morning is going to try to string together a number of these stories (actually a lot of stories. I hope you’ve had coffee, and my apologies to everyone with a hangover. If this keynote doesn't make sense, blame the booze not me) — from history and from theory and from literature and from science.

        See, when I heard that the theme of the conference was “Riding Giants,” I confess: I didn’t think about waves (even though I live in Southern California, in the heart of its surfer culture). I didn’t think about the Isaac Newton saying “standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

        I thought about giants the way, I suppose, a folklorist would.

        And as such I want to talk this morning about ed-tech’s monsters and machines.

        I want us to think about Bletchley Park on the road to where we find ourselves today, knowing that there are divergent paths and other stories all along the way.

        No doubt, we have witnessed in the last few years an explosion in the ed-tech industry and a growing, a renewed interest in ed-tech. Those here at ALT-C know that ed-tech is not new by any means; but there is this sense from many of its newest proponents (particularly in the States) that ed-tech has no history; there is only now and the future. 

        Ed-tech now, particularly that which is intertwined with venture capital, is boosted by a powerful forms of storytelling: a disruptive innovation mythology, entrepreneurs' hagiography, design fiction, fantasy.

        A fantasy that wants to extend its reach into the material world. 

        Society has been handed a map, if you will, by the technology industry in which we are shown how these brave ed-tech explorers have and will conquer and carve up virtual and physical space. 


        We are warned of the dragons in dangerous places, the unexplored places, the over explored places, the stagnant, the lands of outmoded ideas — all the places where we should no longer venture. 

        Hic Sunt Dracones. There be dragons.

        Instead, I’d argue, we need to face our dragons. We need to face our monsters. We need to face the giants. They aren’t simply on the margins; they are, in many ways, central to the narrative.

        I’m in the middle of writing a book called Teaching Machines, a cultural history of the science and politics of ed-tech. An anthropology of ed-tech even, a book that looks at knowledge and power and practices, learning and politics and pedagogy. My book explores the push for efficiency and automation in education: “intelligent tutoring systems,” “artificially intelligent textbooks,” “robo-graders,” and “robo-readers.” 

        This involves, of course, a nod to “the father of computer science” Alan Turing, who worked at Bletchley Park of course, and his profoundly significant question “Can a machine think?” 

        I want to ask in turn, “Can a machine teach?” 

        Then too: What will happen to humans when (if) machines do “think"? What will happen to humans when (if) machines “teach”? What will happen to labor and what happens to learning? 

        And, what exactly do we mean by those verbs, “think” and “teach”? When we see signs of thinking or teaching in machines, what does that really signal? Is it that our machines are becoming more “intelligent,” more human? Or is it that humans are becoming more mechanical? 

        Rather than speculate about the future, I want to talk a bit about the past.

        Long before Bletchley Park or Alan Turing or the Colossus, machines have spoken in binary — ones and zeroes. Quite recently I literally etched this into my skin with two tattoos that “speak" to me while I write. 

        My left forearm, in binary, a quotation from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”: “Resist much, obey little.” 

        My right forearm, in binary, a quotation from Lord Byron’s “Song of the Luddites”: “Down with all kings but King Ludd.”

        Poetry. Bodies. Resistance. Machines.

        Lord Byron was one of the very very few defenders of the Luddites. His only appearance in the House of Lords was to give a speech challenging the 1812 Frame Breaking Act, which made destruction of mechanized looms punishable by death.

        Ah the Luddites, those 19th century artisans who protested against the introduction of factory-owned “labor-saving” textile machines. And the emphasis, let’s be clear, should be on “labor” here, less on “machine.” The Luddites sought to protect their livelihoods, and they demanded higher wages in the midst of economic upheaval, mass unemployment, and the long Napoleonic Wars. They were opposed to the factories, the corporations owning the means of production, the mechanized looms.   

        The Luddites were not really “anti-technology” per se, although that’s what the word has come to mean. From the Oxford English Dictionary:

        Luddite: A member of an organized band of English mechanics and their friends, who (1811–16) set themselves to destroy manufacturing machinery in the midlands and north of England.

         The etymology: from the proper name Ludd with the suffix -ite. "According to Pellew's Life of Lord Sidmouth (1847) Ned Lud was a person of weak intellect who lived in a Leicestershire village about 1779, and who in a fit of insane rage rushed into a ‘stockinger's’ house, and destroyed two frames so completely that the saying ‘Lud must have been here’ came to be used throughout the hosiery districts when a stocking-frame had undergone extraordinary damage. The story lacks confirmation. It appears that in 1811–13 the nickname ‘Captain Ludd’ or ‘King Lud’ was commonly given to the ringleaders of the Luddites.”

        Ludd was, as this image shows, often portrayed as a giant.

        Today we use the word “Luddite" in what the OED calls the “transferred sense”: One who opposes the introduction of new technology, especially into a place of work. 

        The sample usage the OED offers, from The Economist in 1986: "By suggesting...that the modern world has lost control of its technology, both [accidents] help to strengthen the hands of Luddites who would halt technology and therefore a lot of economic growth.”

        To oppose technology or to fear automation, some like The Economist or venture capitalist Marc Andreessen argue, is to misunderstand how the economy works. (I’d suggest perhaps Luddites understand how the economy works quite well, thank you very much, particularly when it comes to questions of “who owns the machinery” we now must work on. And yes, the economy works well for Marc Andreessen, that’s for sure.)

        In 1984 American novelist Thomas Pynchon asked “Is it ok to be a Luddite?” suggesting that, in the new Computer Age, it well may be that we have mostly lost our “Luddite sensibility.” We no longer resist or rage against the machines. But he adds that we might some day need to. He writes:

        "If our world survives, the next great challenge to watch out for will come -- you heard it here first -- when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics all converge. Oboy. It will be amazing and unpredictable, and even the biggest of brass, let us devoutly hope, are going to be caught flat-footed. It is certainly something for all good Luddites to look forward to if, God willing, we should live so long.”

        And here we are, 30 years after Pynchon’s essay, facing pronouncements and predictions that our jobs — and not just the factory jobs, but the white collar jobs as well — are soon to be automated. “We are entering a new phase in world history—one in which fewer and fewer workers will be needed to produce the goods and services for the global population,” write Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in their book Race Against the Machine. “Before the end of this century,” says Wired Magazine’s Kevin Kelly, "70 percent of today’s occupations will…be replaced by automation.” The Economist offers a more rapid timeline: “Nearly half of American jobs could be automated in a decade or two,” it contends.

        We are, some say, on the cusp of a great revolution in artificial intelligence and as such a great revolution in human labor. (Of course, the history of AI is full of predictions that are “two decades” away… But there you go. Like I said earlier, our technological storytelling is fantasy, fantastic.)

        So thank you, Alan Turing, for laying the philosophical groundwork for AI. And thank you — ironically — Lord Byron. 

        Lord Byron was the father of Ada Lovelace, who worked with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine. Ada Lovelace is often credited as the first computer programmer. (See, I love this sorts of connections.)

        As we celebrate — probably the wrong verb — 200 years of Luddism, we should recall too another bicentenary that’s approaching. Lord Byron was there for that as well, when a small group of friends — Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori, Claire Clairmont, Mary Godwin — spent the summer of 1816 in Lake Geneva, Switzerland — “a wet, ungenial summer” — when they all decided to try their hands at writing ghost stories. There, Mary Godwin, later Mary Shelley, wrote Frankenstein, published in 1818, arguably the first work of science fiction and certainly one of the most important and influential texts on science, technology, and monsters.

        Monsters, mind you, not machines.

        "However much of Frankenstein's longevity is owing to the undersung genius James Whale who translated it to film,” writes Pynchon in his essay on Luddites, "it remains today more than well worth reading, for all the reasons we read novels, as well as for the much more limited question of its Luddite value: that is, for its attempt, through literary means which are nocturnal and deal in disguise, to deny the machine.”

        While the laboratory visualized in Whale’s 1931 film is full of electrical and mechanical equipment, machines are largely absent from Mary Shelley’s novel. There are just a few passing mentions of the equipment necessary to cause that great "Galvanic twitch,” a couple of references to lightning, but that’s it. Pynchon argues that this absence is purposeful, that this aspect of the Gothic literary genre represented "deep and religious yearnings for that earlier mythic time which had come to be known as the Age of Miracles.” 

        "To insist on the miraculous,” argues Pynchon, "is to deny to the machine at least some of its claims on us, to assert the limited wish that living things, earthly and otherwise, may on occasion become Bad and Big enough to take part in transcendent doings."

        But even without machines, Frankenstein is still read as a cautionary tale about science and about technology; and Shelley’s story has left an indelible impression on us. Its references are scattered throughout popular culture and popular discourse. We frequently use part of the title — “Franken” — to invoke a frightening image of scientific experimentation gone wrong. Frankenfood. Frankenfish. The monster, a monstrosity — a technological crime against nature.

        It is telling, very telling, that we often confuse the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, with his creation. We often call the monster Frankenstein.

        As the sociologist Bruno Latour has argued, we don’t merely mistake the identity of Frankenstein; we also mistake his crime. It "was not that he invented a creature through some combination of hubris and high technology,” writes Latour, "but rather that he abandoned the creature to itself.” 

        The creature — again, a giant — insists in the novel that he was not born a monster, but he became monstrous after Frankenstein fled the laboratory in horror when the creature opened his “dull yellow eye,” breathed hard, and convulsed to life.

        "Remember that I am thy creature,” he says when he confronts Frankenstein, "I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good— misery made me a fiend.”

        As Latour observes, "Written at the dawn of the great technological revolutions that would define the 19th and 20th centuries, Frankenstein foresees that the gigantic sins that were to be committed would hide a much greater sin. It is not the case that we have failed to care for Creation, but that we have failed to care for our technological creations. We confuse the monster for its creator and blame our sins against Nature upon our creations. But our sin is not that we created technologies but that we failed to love and care for them. It is as if we decided that we were unable to follow through with the education of our children.”

        Our “gigantic sin”: we failed to love and care for our technological creations. We must love and educate our children. We must love and care for our machines, lest they become monsters.

        Indeed, Frankenstein is also a novel about education. The novel is structured as a series of narratives — Captain Watson’s story — a letter he sends to his sister as he explores the Arctic— which then tells Victor Frankenstein’s story through which we hear the creature tell his own story, along with that of the De Lacey family and the arrival of Safie, “the lovely Arabian." All of these are stories about education: some self-directed learning, some through formal schooling.

        While typically Frankenstein is interpreted as a condemnation of science gone awry, the novel can also be read as a condemnation of education gone awry. The novel highlights the dangerous consequences of scientific knowledge, sure, but it also explores how knowledge — gained inadvertently, perhaps, gained surreptitiously, gained without guidance — might be disastrous. Victor Frankenstein, stumbling across the alchemists and then having their work dismissed outright by his father, stoking his curiosity. The creature, learning to speak by watching the De Lacey family, learning to read by watching Safie do the same, his finding and reading Volney's Ruins of Empires and Dante’s Paradise Lost.

        "Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood, nor known or felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!” the creature cries. 

        In his article “Love Your Monsters,” Latour argues that Frankenstein is a “parable for political ecology.” Again, the lesson of the novel is not that we should step away from technological innovation or scientific creation. But rather we must strengthen our commitment and our patience and our commitment to all of creation — capital C creation now includes, Latour suggests, our technological creations, our machines.

        Is Frankenstein a similarly useful parable for education technology? What are we to make of ed-tech’s monsters, of our machines? Is there something to be said here about pedagogy, technologies, and an absence of care? 

        200 years of Luddites, 200 years of Frankenstein and — by my calculations at least — 150 some-odd years of “teaching machines."

        To be clear, my nod to the Luddites or to Frankenstein isn’t about rejecting technology; but it is about rejecting exploitation. It is about rejecting an uncritical and unexamined belief in progress. The problem isn’t that science gives us monsters, it's that we have pretended like it is truth and divorced from responsibility, from love, from politics, from care. The problem isn’t that science gives us monsters, it’s that it does not, despite its insistence, give us “the answer." 

        And that is problem with ed-tech’s monsters. That is the problem with teaching machines.

        In order to automate education, must we see knowledge in a certain way, as certain: atomistic, programmable, deliverable, hierarchical, fixed, measurable, non-negotiable? In order to automate that knowledge, what happens to care?

        Although teaching machines predate his work by almost a century, they are most often associated with the behaviorist Harvard psychology professor B. F. Skinner. 

        An excerpt from Ayn Rand’s review of B. F. Skinner’s 1971 book Beyond Freedom and Dignity:

        "The book itself is like Boris Karloff's embodiment of Frankenstein's monster,” Rand writes, "a corpse patched with nuts, bolts and screws from the junkyard of philosophy (Pragmatism, Social Darwinism, Positivism, Linguistic Analysis, with some nails by Hume, threads by Russell, and glue by the New York Post). The book's voice, like Karloff's, is an emission of inarticulate, moaning growls — directed at a special enemy: 'Autonomous Man.'"

        I quote Rand’s stinging criticism of Skinner because of the Frankenstein reference, clearly: the accusation of a misbegotten creation of a misbegotten science. B. F. Skinner as Frankenstein. Rand implies here, with a fairly typical invocation of the film, that Skinner’s work is an attempt to “play God.” And we might see, as Rand suggests, Skinner’s creations as monsters — with a fixation on control, a rejection of freedom, and an absence of emotion or care.

        To be clear, I quote Ayn Rand here with a great deal of irony. The Silicon Valley technology industry these days seems full of those touting her objectivist, laissez-faire version of libertarianism, her radical individualism. (Monstrous in its own right.) 

        Rand uses Skinner as an example of the ills of federally funded research. She insists she does not want to “censor research projects” but instead to "abolish all government subsidies in the field of the social sciences.” A “free marketplace of ideas” where things like behaviorism will lose. 

        But the “free marketplace of ideas” that a lot of libertarian tech types now want too actually values behaviorism quite a bit.

        Rand criticizes Skinner for arguing that there is no freedom, that we are always controlled, that we should hand over our lives to scientific management full of “positive reinforcers.” For this behaviorist control, Rand will not stand. 

        But behaviorist control mechanisms run throughout our technologies: gamification, notifications, nudges. 

        The Turing Test — that foundational test in artificial intelligence — is, one might argue, a behaviorist test. The question isn’t, Alan Turing argued, “can a machine think?” but rather “can a machine exhibit intelligent behaviors and fool a human into thinking the machine is human?” 

        Again, monsters and machines.

        Before developing teaching machines, Skinner had worked on a number of projects, inventing as part of his graduate work, what’s now known as "the Skinner Box" around 1930. “The operant conditioning chamber,” the Skinner Box was used to study and to train animals to perform certain tasks. Do it correctly; get a reward (namely food). 

        During World War II, Skinner worked on Project Pigeon, an experimental project to create pigeon-guided missiles. 

        I cannot begin to tell you how much I wish I could have talked with my grandfather about Bletchley Park. Even more, how much I wish I could have asked him his thoughts about pigeons and radar.

        The military canceled and revived Project Pigeon a couple of times. “Our problem,” said Skinner, "was no one would take us seriously.” By 1953, the military had devised an electronic system for missile guidance, and animal-guided systems were no longer necessary.

        That same year, Skinner came up with the idea for his teaching machine. Visiting his daughter’s fourth grade classroom, he was struck by the inefficiencies. Not only were all the students expected to move through their lessons at the same pace, but when it came to assignments and quizzes, they did not receive feedback until the teacher had graded the materials — sometimes a delay of days. Skinner believed that both of these flaws in school could be addressed through a machine, and built a prototype which he demonstrated at a conference the following year.

        All these elements were part of Skinner’s teaching machines: the elimination of inefficiencies of the teacher, the delivery of immediate feedback, the ability for students to move through standardized content at their own pace.

        Today’s ed-tech proponents call this “personalization.”

        Addressing social problems — including problems like school — for Skinner, meant addressing behaviors. As he wrote in Beyond Freedom and Dignity, “We need to make vast changes in human behavior. . . . What we need is a technology of behavior.” Teaching machines are one such technology.

        Teaching — with or without machines — was viewed by Skinner as reliant on a “contingency of reinforcement.” The problems with human teachers’ reinforcement, he argued, were severalfold. First, the reinforcement did not occur immediately; that is, as Skinner observed in his daughter’s classroom, there was a delay between students completing assignments and quizzes and their work being corrected and returned. Second, much of the focus on behavior in the classroom has to do with punishing students for "bad behavior" rather than rewarding them for good.

        “Any one who visits the lower trades of the average school today will observe that a change has been made, not from aversive to positive control, but from one form of aversive stimulation to another,” Skinner writes. But with the application of behaviorism and the development of teaching machines, “There is no reason,” he insisted, “why the schoolroom should be any less mechanized than, for example, the kitchen.”

        But maybe there are reasons.

        Maybe monsters and Luddites can help us formulate our response.

        According to Google Ngrams, a tool that tracks the frequency of words in the corpus of books that the company has digitized, as society became more industrialized, we steadily and increasingly talked about Luddites, a reflection dare I say, of longstanding concerns about the changing nature of work and society.  Increasing, that is, until the turn of the 21st century, when according to Google at least and to paraphrase Dr. Strangelove, we learned to stop worrying and love the machine. 

        By “love” here, I mean fascination. An enchantment with the shiny and the new. Acquiescence, not engagement, be it political, scientific, or sociological. 

        This is not what Bruno Latour meant when he told us to “love our monsters.”

        As our interest in Luddites seemingly declines, I fear, we face what Frankenstein counseled against: a refusal to take responsibility. We see technology as an autonomous creation, one that will move society (and school) forward under its own steam and without our guidance. 

        Wired Magazine’s Kevin Kelly offers perhaps the clearest example of this in his book What Technology Wants. Technology, he writes, "has its own wants. It wants to sort itself out, to self-assemble into hierarchical levels, just as most large, deeply interconnected systems do. The technium also wants what every living system wants: to perpetuate itself, to keep itself going. And as it grows, those inherent wants are gaining in complexity and force.” 

        That, I think, is monstrous. That is Frankenstein’s monster.

        Kelley later tells us, “We can choose to modify our legal and political and economic assumptions to meet the ordained trajectories [of technology] ahead. But we cannot escape from them.” 

        Throw up our hands and surrender, this argument suggests. Surrender to “progress,” to the machine.

        But it is a slight-of-hand to maintain that technological changes are “what technology wants.” It’s an argument that obscures what industry, business, systems, power want. It is intellectually disingenuous. It is politically dangerous.

        What does a “teaching machine” want, for example? Or to change the sentence slightly, “what does a ‘teaching machine’ demand?” 

        I’ll echo Catherine Cronin who yesterday said that education demands our political interest and engagement. I insist too that technology demands our political interest and engagement. And to echo Latour again, "our sin is not that we created technologies but that we failed to love and care for them. It is as if we decided that we were unable to follow through with the education of our children.” Political interest and engagement is love; it is love for the world. Love, and perhaps some Ludditism.

        I’ll leave you with one final quotation, from Hannah Arendt who wrote,

        "Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.”

         Our task, I believe, is to tell the stories and build the society that would place education technology in that same light: “renewing a common world.” 

        We in ed-tech must face the monsters we have created, I think. These are the monsters in the technologies of war and surveillance a la Bletchley Park. These are the monsters in the technologies of mass production and standardization. These are the monsters in the technologies of behavior modification a la BF Skinner. 

        These are the monsters ed-tech must face. And we must all consider what we need to do so that we do not create more of them.

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      • 09/05/14--09:50: Beyond the LMS
      • Here are the notes and the slides from my talk today at Newcastle University. Thanks to everyone at NUTELA, particularly Suzanne Hardy, for sponsoring my trip up north.

        Beyond the LMS (Beyond the VLE)

        I gave a keynote on Wednesday at ALT about “Ed-tech’s Monsters” in which I was reminded by the audience that some of the stories I tell about ed-tech tend to be very American stories. (Even though I cited Roald Dahl and Lord Byron and Mary Shelley and Bruno Latour.) But duly noted. And quite true. I find myself following far too closely for my own mental health, the stories out of Silicon Valley.

        So as I looked through my notes last night about what I’d planned to talk about today, I realized that I’d probably done it again: I’d prepared a talk that was really about my experiences with American higher education and my experiences with American ed-tech.

        So I want to say to you here at the outset of my talk how I responded to a question at ALT: I worry that other countries are importing American education policies — in the name of austerity and efficiency. I worry that the US, particularly Silicon Valley, is exporting its stories alongside its technologies, to the rest of the world as well.  It isn’t quite cultural imperialism, although I do think that’s a part of it we shouldn’t ignore. Computing programming, despite the gesture to “programming languages,” is done in English after all. I think we’re witnessing here a new sort of imperialism — at the level of technology, at the level of infrastructure.

        Education has, of course, always been a part of the imperial endeavor. And now, I think, we should talk about how ed-tech might be the newest form of that. Form. Content. Infrastructure. Ideology.

        That’s not what I planned to talk about today. But it’s an important subtext. And it’s something I hope we can talk about during the Q&A. I’m quite interested in how and if MOOCs built by and built in the UK, for example, can be a strange sort of resistance to this imperialism.

        What I’d like to talk about specifically is how we can move beyond the MOOC, beyond the VLE, “Beyond the LMS”...

        The Learning Management System. The LMS. Or in the UK, the VLE. The Virtual Learning Environment.

        Even though the latter sounds much less foreboding and controlling than the former, I confess: it makes no difference. I am not a fan.

        As a technology writer and observer of the (fairly) thriving education technology startup “scene,” one of the things I find both fascinating and frustrating is the number of young education technology entrepreneurs who decide to work in ed-tech because they were, as college students (graduates or undergraduates), frustrated with the LMS.

        Again and again and again, I hear “Blackboard sucks.” It’s like the one punchline a comedian can work into any routine: you say something critical about Blackboard and everyone cheers and laughs until they cry.

        And I don’t disagree. “Blackboard sucks.”

        But the solution then, for many of these entrepreneurs, is to build the same thing, just with a nicer, more modern user interface. "It’s like Blackboard,” I hear them say, but with the blue colors we now associate with Facebook. "It’s like Blackboard…" but with a news feed. “It’s like Blackboard…” but with responsive design or with a mobile app. “It’s like Blackboard…” but you don’t have to have permission from your IT department. “It’s like Blackboard…” but it’s free.

        Blackboard, you’ll often here these entrepreneurs say, is “ripe for disruption.” The LMS (VLE… Sorry… I’m going to keep repeating LMS because I’m an American. And because it sounds more ominous) The LMS market is huge: several billion dollars a year are spent on these systems. Once sold just to universities, the LMS is now used in corporate learning and it’s increasing a tool in elementary and secondary education; these companies see a huge potential market in the developing world as well.

        And with such rampant dissatisfaction with the market leader — with so much bile over Blackboard — it’s not that surprising that investors and entrepreneurs alike are keen to try to get a piece of that pie.

        I can think of no other company in education — not even Pearson — that elicits as much hatred as Blackboard. Almost across the board: from students, from teachers, from administrators. But rather than looking for or building towards a better Blackboard, or more generally towards a better VLE, I want us to ask why we use these technologies in the first place.

        This is an important question, I think, for us to consider about all technologies. I think we like the idea that new technologies mean new practices, new affordances. But that’s not always or necessarily how technology works. The history of technology suggests otherwise. We often find ourselves adopting new tools that simply perform old tasks a wee bit better, a wee bit faster. Updating your iPhone to the latest model is easy. Shedding 150 years of cultural practices around telephony, for example, is a lot more challenging.

        Technology doesn’t simply enable new practices; it shapes, limits, steers our practices, and then — and this is key -- even when the technology changes, those practices often endure. Now, with computers, these practices become “hard coded.” They become part of the infrastructure.

        I think the VLE is a wonderfully terrible example of that.

        The learning management system has shaped a generation’s view of education technology, and I’d contend, shaped it for the worst. It has shaped what many people think ed-tech looks like, how it works, whose needs it suits, what it can do, and why it would do so. The learning management system reflects the technological desires of administrators — it’s right there in the phrase. “Management.” It does not reflect the needs of teachers and learners.

        I am biased.

        I started teaching, as a graduate student at the University of Oregon, in 1999. At the time, the university gave all students and faculty a web space: www dot uoregon dot edu backspace tilde your username. I was new to the Web (we all were, I suppose). I learned a little HTML from a friend so that I could post the syllabi, handouts, and notes to the Web. Thanks to the Internet Archive, some of these have been preserved, but I’m not going to share because OMG, the font.

        I thought at the time — naively — that students would appreciate online accessibility to the materials. There’d be no more “Can I get another copy of the syllabus. I lost mine.” But I found the students still asked me for printed copies of the materials, even though I assured them that it was all on the Web.

        I also posted my stuff to the Web too because, as someone new to teaching, I recognized that I relied a lot on my peers to help me think through what exactly I wanted my course to do. (I taught introduction to college writing initially.) I learned a lot by working with more experienced graduate students and instructors, looking at how they organized their courses, how they structured readings, assignments, and assessments. It seemed worthwhile to post all of this on the Web so that anyone — not just my peers in the Composition Department — could benefit.

        But that same year I started teaching — 1999 — the University of Oregon adopted Blackboard. And quickly we heard instruction from above that were were to post our course materials in Blackboard. Syllabi. Handouts. Readings. Quizzes. Discussion forums. All to take place behind the wall of the LMS. I don’t recall how much of this was mandate and how much of this was “encouragement” — as if that makes a difference to graduate students whose livelihood and tuition remission are reliant on following orders.

        But it stuck with me: a distaste about who exactly the LMS was meant to serve.

        After all, at the end of each class, students would lose access to the materials — could lose, I suppose. there are some administrative controls to extend it. Anything they’d written in the forums, for example, any interactions they’d had through the messaging system: gone. And when I left the university, I lost access to all the materials that I’d posted there. My syllabi, my handouts, the rosters of my students. Gone.

        We call those administrative controls “privileges.” I think that speaks volumes. Who has privilege, who has power in the design of our education technologies?

        Some history:

        Blackboard was founded in 1997 by Michael Chasen and Matthew Pittinsky — both of whom are still involved in education technology today. They were, at first, consultants for the IMS Global Learning Consortium. They merged with CourseInfo in 1998, a course management system spun out of Cornell University, founded by Daniel Cane and Stephen Gilfus. Gilfus remains an education technology consultant. Cane has now moved on to “modernizing medicine.”

        The new company Blackboard made a profit its first year. That is noteworthy. I don’t think there are too many ed-tech startups that could boast that today.

        While there are many examples of course management tools that predate Blackboard and there are examples of Internet-connected learning environments that predate Blackboard, the company was quickly able to gain press like this, from the Washington Post in 1999:

        "Blackboard Chalks Up a Breakthrough; Its Educational Software Lets Colleges Put Classes on the Internet.”

        So why, if there were others, if there were earlier examples, did Blackboard get so much attention and so quickly so much market share? In part: timing.

        Blackboard came onto the scene in the midst of the Dot Com bubble and burst of the late 1990s, where there was an incredible influx of investment into all sorts of online endeavors. Blackboard raised investment from the likes of Pearson, Dell, and AOL.  Blackboard went public in 2004. In July 2006 it received the patent for "Internet-based education support system and methods” and the same day it filed a patent infringement lawsuit against its competitor Desire2Learn, a case that was eventually settled in 2009 after the US Patent Office revoked its patent claims. Blackboard, its reputation severely damaged in education technology circles by this patent fight, went private; it was acquired by a private equity firm in 2011. 17 years later, Blackboard is still here, the company one of the few remaining survivors in education technology from the Dot Com period.

        The Dot Com and AOL references are important. Because I think it points very much to the technology and business interests that drove Blackboard, and more broadly, the learning management system as we’ve inherited it today.

        The LMS was — is — designed 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. “ re you sure you want to leave AOL?” “Are you sure you want to leave the VLE?” “Aren’t you scared to be on the Web?” “There are strangers and strange ideas out there. Stay within the LMS! Stay within AOL!"

        You can access these services through your web browser but they are not really “of" the web.

        I can’t really put all the blame here on the shoulders of Blackboard or the technology sector. They sold a product, but schools bought it. And they bought it because these systems matched some of the very traditional visions of how education worked.

        How education worked offline translated into how courses would work online. What a course looked like. How a course, and the knowledge that was generated and shared therein, began and ended in conjunction with the academic calendar. How each course is a separate entity — one instructor and a roster — hermetically sealed in a walled off online space, much like a walled off classroom.

        When I say that the learning management system worked like AOL or other early Internet portals it is also because, for the user, the experience was about access to course-related information through the browser. But on the backend, the LMS connected to the school’s student information system. The student information system did not offer a way to open student information, course information to the Internet. It was a closed, proprietary tool.

        It wasn’t about learning. It was about administration. Course enrollment. Scheduling. Grades.

        The learning management system built a layer on top of that. Despite all the bells and whistles that have been added since — in Blackboard’s case, for example, the acquisition of WebCT and the ability to do video conferencing — the learning management system remains a way to offload the administrative needs of the student information system — roster, grades, attendance for each individual class — to an interface, accessible through the web, that students and faculty can use.

        One of my great ed-tech fears: seeing MOOCs, hailed as the “big new thing” in ed-tech, build their online classes on technologies that look like the LMS. That is: a student signs up for a course. A course that has a beginning date and an end date. Despite the adjective “open,” the course is behind a wall. Everything is meant to take place therein. At the end of the course, the student loses access to the course, and to any of the content or data they’ve created. Indeed, the latter is often signed away as part of the Terms of Service. There is one instructor. Maybe two. Maybe some course assistants. They grade. They monitor the forums. The instructors are the center. The content is the center.

        The learner is not the center.

        The Web, of course, does not work this way.

        The infrastructure of the Web is (was — is ideally) open. It’s built upon a series of open source technologies. Its infrastructure and ethos are open. Open and participatory. The Web allows contributions, ostensibly, from anyone: the read-write Web. You can point your Web browser to a particular site, and through hyperlinks, we can move through a series of related information and citations. You can build your own site and link your own content to the Web.

        I don’t think we can overstate how much this has the power to reshape how we teach and learn, and how information, ideas, and people can be connected. The technologies — through links and APIs — enable this, and as such the Web and Internet technologies have enabled a networked learning. This gives us access to an incredible amount of information, yes. But more importantly, the Web enables access to community, to people from whom and with whom we can learn.

        If we think about new technologies like the Web as facilitating learning networks and as learners and learning communities as nodes on those networks, we can see a very different “shape,” if you will, to education technology than what the learning management system enables.

        The Web versus a Wall. Distribution rather than seclusion. Reciprocity rather than recitation.

        Nodes and networks need not be forcibly centered around the instructor, for starters. Learners — and we are all learners, not simply those who are formally enrolled in classes — can have say in what they create, how they create it, where they share it, how long they retain it, what it looks like.

        They can do this, of course, if they own their own space, their own domain on the Web.

        One of the most innovative projects in ed-tech — one of my favorites; again, I am biased — is the Domain of One’s Own initiative out of the University of Mary Washington.

        UMW gives faculty and students their own Web domain. Not simply, as the University of Oregon once gave me, a web space at the university dot edu slash tilde student name. Their own domain. The university helps them register the domain and hosts it while the students at at the school. Then, when they leave, they can take it with them. It is theirs.

        The initiative works alongside an extensive campus-wide blogging program. Many professors maintain their own blogs and assign blogs and other digital projects as part of students’ coursework. So instead of writing a term paper than no one but the professor ever sees, the students can display their work on the Web, in public. They can receive feedback from their peers, indeed from the entire Web. Using RSS feeds and tagging, instructors are able to pull in just those blog posts that are related to a particular class into a class website. The students’ content can live on their own site and be syndicated to a class hub.

        I should note, to assuage any fears about students’ privacy, that they are able to run their domains under pseudonyms. Some do.

        But many use the opportunity to start building a rich professional portfolio. By owning their own domains, students can learn and demonstrate skills — very desirable skills — in HTML, Web design, and Wordpress. They can come to recognize the importance of digital identity — what it means to control and shape it, what it means to own your data.

        This question of “owning your data” is incredibly important. When I talk about “owning your data" in terms of education, I often talk about the manilla envelope in which my mum saved all my old, analog school stuff. Drawings, stories, report cards, awards. Because of the bounded design of some of the technologies we have adopted, we don’t have an opportunity to create a digital equivalent. We lose access to our data. Someone else controls the data. Students are mandated to use certain products — that is, to put the data it, but then find that they cannot get it out.

        This lock-in and lockdown is something that the learning management system does really well.

        It’s something that other technologies now do quite well too.

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

        Around the same time — perhaps not so coincidentally — we started to hear a lot about the potential for “big data,” how analytics and algorithms (often extracted from and build on our data) were going to reshape every industry, every field — including education. Most major LMSes, for example, now sell schools analytics packages, using students’ interactions with the software to measure and predict things like course completion and retention.

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

        Today the content we create — we all create, but particularly learners create — is important, even critical I’d suggest to the development of our identities, the protection of our well-being. It is not secure in the hands of startups or big corporations — these companies go away. It is not secure in the hands of schools. Schools are not in the business of long term data storage, and they increasingly outsource their IT to those very startups and big corporations.

        We must become the holders of our own data, but not so that we bury all of it away from view. We will want to share it with others on our own terms.

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

        Ed-tech must be not become an extraction effort, and it increasingly is. The future, I think we'll find, will be a reclamation project. Ed-tech must not be about building digital walls around students and content and courses. We have, thanks to the Web, an opportunity to build connections, build networks, not walls.

        Let’s move beyond the LMS, back to and forward to an independent Web and let’s help our students take full advantage of it.

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        Education Law and Politics

        Looks like the Department of Education screwed upFAFSA calculations again for a hundred thousand or so students. Well, at least there aren’t any high stakes efforts associated with the Department of Education being able to count and calculate and rate and rank things, right?

        Google has settled with the FTC and will refund some $19 million to accounts in which kids made in-app purchases without parental consent.

        California Governor Jerry Brown has appealed the recent court ruling (Vergara v California) that would have ended teacher tenure as it currently works in the state.

        The school board in Durham, North Carolina has severed ties with Teach for America, citing the recruits’ “lack of experience.”

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        Stanford CS PhD candidate Jonathan Mayer posted on Thursday about a series of security flaws he’d discovered in Coursera while preparing for a class on government surveillance, including:

        1. Any teacher can dump the entire user database, including over nine million names and email addresses.
        2. If you are logged into your Coursera account, any website that you visit can list your course enrollments.
        3. Coursera’s privacy-protecting user IDs don’t do much privacy protecting.

        Coursera has responded (pretty defensively) saying they’ve addressed the issues. “Given our partnership philosophy, we have focused less effort on deflecting malicious attacks that might be made by one of our trusted partners. This has left open some gaps.” I guess $85 million in venture funding buys something other than security and privacy for learners. Go figure.

        (For what it's worth, I bet these sorts of security vulnerabilities are rampant across ed-tech. Rampant.)

        Meanwhile, Coursera is now accessible in Sudan and Cuba, thanks to licensing from the US Department of Treasury. Because “open” has an asterisk: some restrictions may apply.

        Edcast, “Silicon Valley’s latest contribution to the ed-tech space,” built on top of the edX open source platform. Kanye shrug.

        The AI class that started the whole MOOC thing (cough) is back. That is, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig are once again offering their AI class – with a verified certificate – via Udacity.

        Meanwhile on Campus

        You can carry a concealed weapon onto school campuses in Idaho. Bonus points if, with the gun in your pocket, you shoot yourself during class.

        Some 4000 Starbucks employees have applied to Arizona State University. Bonus points if, as a university president, you can make shitty comments about baristas and English majors.

        About 25% of the student population at Kentucky State University, a HBCU, are being kicked out for failing to pay their fees.

        54% of DC public schools had gunfire within 1000 feet during the 2011–2012 school year.

        Purdue University will create a competency-based bachelor’s degree.

        Colleges have licensed their logos to Jell-O for shot molds and to Franklin for peer pong balls. Because higher education.

        Go, School Sports Team!

        Researchers at Division 1 school Vanderbilt University find that multimillion dollar salaries for college football coaches are totally worth it.

        Durrell Chamorro, who played football at Colorado State University, has filed a class action lawsuit“seeking damages for football players who were affected by the NCAA’s longstanding rule banning multiyear scholarships.”

        A University of Texas student was detained for flying a drone over football game.

        Almost 2 years after a student accused Florida State University’s star quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her, the university says it’s launched an inquiry.

        NFL Fantasy Football in K–12. What could go wrong.

        From the HR Department

        Piss off Pearson; find your tenure jeopardized: the case of UT professor Walter Stroup.

        Uncivil on Twitter; find not just your job but your freedom jeopardized: the case of MIT professor Noel Jackson.

        The fallout from the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign’s decision to withdraw its job offer to Steven Salaita continues. Updates from Corey Robin: 1, 2, 3. Updates from the Academe blog. Updates from IHE. The latest: a university trustee member weighs in.

        “A 23-year-old teacher at a Cambridge, Maryland, middle school has been placed on leave and—in the words of a local news report—’taken in for an emergency medical evaluation’ for publishing, under a pseudonym, a novel about a school shooting.” Via The Atlantic.

        The most gender-balanced computing program in the USA: Computational Media at Georgia Tech

        New social media rules set by the Pompton Lakes (New Jersey) Board of Education dictate, among other things, “there can be no communication between students and staff from the staff’s personal social media accounts.”

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        Politico writes about the revamped GED, now offered as a computer-based-test by a for-profit venture between Pearson and the American Council on Education. “The pass rate on the old GED hovered around 72 percent and dipped only slightly after the last major revision to the exam in 2002. The new exam, aligned to the Common Core, is meant to be much harder - and indeed, just 53 percent of test-takers have passed.” And “through the end of July, just 105,000 students had taken the new GED. In a typical year, 750,000 students take the test.”

        Because education companies make sure they can profit from almost every aspect of bullshit education policy: “Tutoring Companies Stand to Cash In on States That Lose Waivers.”

        Amazon has launched KDP Kids and the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, initiatives aimed at supporting children-focused self-published authors.

        College in a Box: Textbook giants are now teaching classes.”

        Round 2: College bookstores versus online textbook-sellers.

        Online learning startup Versal has launched a widget platform, hoping to get developers to “build interactive and customizable ‘learning gadgets.’”

        Funding and Acquisitions

        Via Edsurge: “‘Everyone says dropouts are the biggest problem in higher-ed. But academics isn’t the only thing in higher education,’ says Karan Goel, founder and CEO of GetSet.” GetSet has just raised $2.5 million to help support students throughout all that “stuff.”

        College rating site Unigo has acquired college marketing site Cinergy Education.

        Wonder how venture capitalists view education technology? Well, here are John Doerr’s thoughts on “smart phones for smart kids.” (Doerr is co-founder of NewSchools Venture Fund and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byer. His wife, Ann Doerr, cut one of the first major checks to Khan Academy.)


        Which VC-Backed Apps are Winning?” where “winning” is “which apps are being assigned for back-to-school.” #winning

        Analysis: Lecture Capture Market To Grow 24.1 Percent By 2019.” You know it’s totally for reals because of the point 1.

        The Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo examines what research says about “paying teachers for advanced degrees.”

        Example #1238901: How journalists and headlines misconstrue education research.

        US schools are ranked 19th out of 30 countries in terms of “efficiency.”

        The First Successful Demonstration Of Brain-To-Brain Communication In Humans.” (Because speech and writing are so inefficient.)

        The market for learning management systems is “red hot,” says Forbes contributor Josh Bersin. Oh. Great.

        “Education is just starting to figure out what measurement actually means,” says the co-founder of survey startup Panorama in this NYT tech blog profile of the company. Oh. My. God.

        Image credits: Carlos and The Noun Project

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        Here are the notes and the slides from my talk today with Justin Reich's HGSE class "The Future of Learning at Scale." Between the jetlag (I got home from England late last night) and the fact that I've got way more to say about teaching machines than can fit into a 20 minutes talk, I'm not sure I was super coherent. But the students had great questions at the end (I've storified some of their tweets). Thanks for listening, folks!

        Having spent the last week out of the US talking about education technology, I have been reminded how much context matters — it matters when we talk about education technology's future, its present, and its history. Despite all the talk about the global economy, global communications, global democratization of education — context matters. The business and the politics and the stories of ed-tech are not universal.

        I think that’s something for you to keep in mind as you work your way through this course. It’s something to think about when we start to imagine and to build “education at scale.” What happens to context? What happens to local, regional education — its history, its content (the curriculum if you will), its cultural relevance and significance and signally, its politics, its practices?

        How does technology shape this? How might technology erase or ignore context (pretending, perhaps, that such a thing is possible)?

        What ideologies does education technology carry with it? Do these extend, reinforce, or subvert existing ideologies embedded in education?

        Because of the forward-facing ideology of technology — that is, its association with progress, transformation, “the future” — I think we do tend to forget its history. We tend to ignore its ideology. I think that dovetails quite powerfully too with parts of American ideology and identity — an emphasis on and excitement for "the new”; a belief that this country marked a formal break from other countries, from other histories. A belief in science and business and “progress."

        Yesterday was one of those regularly scheduled moments when the technology industry puts that best on display: an Apple keynote, where new products are introduced that have everyone cooing about innovation, that have everyone prepared to declare last year’s hardware and software obsolete, and often have education technology writers predicting that this is going to revolutionize the way we teach and learn.

        This image is not from the guts of the Apple Watch, of course, or the new iPhone. It is a close-up of the Colossus, the world’s first electronic, programmable computer. The Colossus prototype was built at Bletchley Park, site of the British government’s Code and Cypher School during World War II, used to help successfully decrypt German military communications. Like I said, ideology is embedded in technology. Computers’ origins are wrapped up in war and cryptography and surveillance. How does that carry forward into education technology?

        When we talk about “education technology” we do tend to focus on the things that teachers and students can do with computers. But education technology certain pre-dates the Colossus (1943). And perhaps we could reach as far back to Plato’s Phaedrus to see the sorts of debates about what the introduction of new technologies — in that case, Socrates’ skepticism about the technology of writing — would do to education and more broadly, to culture.

        I’m in the middle of writing a book called Teaching Machines, a cultural history of the science and politics of ed-tech. An anthropology of ed-tech even, a book that looks at knowledge and power and practices, learning and politics and pedagogy. My book explores the push for efficiency and automation in education: “intelligent tutoring systems,” “artificially intelligent textbooks,” “robo-graders,” and “robo-readers.”

        This involves, of course, a nod to “the father of computer science” Alan Turing, who worked at Bletchley Park, and his profoundly significant question “Can a machine think?”

        I want to ask in turn, “Can a machine teach?”

        Then too: Why would we want a machine to teach? What happens, as this course is asking you to consider, when we use machines to teach and learn “at scale”?

        And to Turing’s question, what will happen to humans when (if) machines do “think"? What will happen to humans when (if) machines “teach”? What will happen to labor and what happens to learning?

        And, what exactly do we mean by those verbs, “think” and “teach”? When we see signs of thinking or teaching in machines, what does that really signal? Is it that our machines are becoming more “intelligent,” more human? Or is it that humans are becoming more mechanical?

        There’s a tension there between freedom and standardization or mechanization that both technology and education grapple with.

        Rather than speculate about the future, I want to talk a bit about the past.

        I want to suggest that the history of education in the US (and again, this is why context really matters) — public education in particular, both at the K-12 and university level) is woven incredibly tightly with the development of education technologies, and specifically the development of teaching machines. Since the mid-nineteenth century, there have been a succession of technologies that were supposed to improve, if not entirely reform, the way in which teaching happened: the chalkboard, the textbook, radio, film, television, computers, the Internet, Apple Watches, and so on.

        There are a number of factors at play here that make education so susceptible to the technological influence. US Geography, for example: how do you educate across great distances? National identity: what role should schools play in enculturation, in developing a sense of American-ness? Should curriculum be standardized across the country? If so, how will that curriculum be spread? Individualism: how do we balance the desire to standardize education with our very American belief in individualism? How do we balance “mass education” with “meritocracy.” How do we rank and rate students? Industrialization: what is the relationship between schools and business? Should businesses help dictate what students should learn? Should schools be run like businesses? Can we make school more efficient?

        These questions, how we’ve asked and answered them — these shape the ways in which education technology has been developed and wielded. Despite what you often hear that technologies transform teaching and learning, more likely technologies reinscribe what we imagine teaching and learning should look like and what function we believe school must fulfill.

        For those interested in the history of education technology, I recommend Larry Cuban’s book Teachers and Machines. He’s better known for his book Oversold and Underused, which looks at computers and schools, but Teachers and Machines is interesting because you see the tension around technology in general — it’s not just a reluctance to adopt computers. The book looks at attempts to bring film (in the 1910s), radio (in the 1920s), and television (in the 1960s) into the classroom. Those are all broadcast technologies, obviously. They’re designed to “deliver educational content” — a phrase I really hate.

        But that doesn’t mean that there were not some really fascinating projects and predictions in the twentieth century. Take, for example, the Midwest Program on Airborne Television Instruction which operated two DC-6 aircraft out of Purdue University Airport, using a technology called Stratovision to broadcast educational television to schools, particularly to those who couldn’t otherwise pick up a signal.

        I think there are some key lessons to be learned from these broadcast technologies. I think they’re lessons that the MOOC providers — whose marketing sounds an awfully lot like some of these twentieth century "innovators" — could do well to learn from.If nothing else, how much are we still conceptualizing technologies that “deliver content” and “expand access"? How does “broadcast” shape what we mean when we talk about “scaling” our efforts? How does “broadcast” fit neatly into very old educational practices centered on the teacher and centered on the content?

        You could argue that film and radio and airborne television are “teaching machines,” but typically the definition of “teaching machines” involves more than just “content delivery.” It involves having an instructional and an assessment component as well. But again, these devices have a very long history that certainly predate computers.

        The earliest known patent in the United States was issued in 1809 to H. Chard for a “Mode of Teaching to Read.” The following year S. Randall filed a patent entitled “Mode of Teaching to Write.” Halcyon Skinner (no relation to Harvard psychology professor B. F. Skinner) was awarded a patent in 1866 for an “Apparatus for Teaching Spelling.” The machine contained a crank, which a student would turn until he’d arranged the letters to spell the word in the picture. The machine did not, however, give the student any feedback if it was right or wrong.

        Between Halcyon Skinner’s 1866 teaching machine and the 1930s, there were an estimated 600 to 700 patents filed on the subject of teaching and schooling. The vast majority of these were filed by inventors outside of education. Halcyon Skinner, for example, also filed for a patent for a “motor truck for cars,” “tufted fabric,” a “needle loom,” a “tubular boiler,” and many other inventions.

        There’s some debate about whether or not these early devices “count” as teaching machines, as they don’t actually do all the things that education psychologists later decided were key: continuous testing of what students are supposed to be learning; immediate feedback on whether a student has an answer correct; students can “move at their own pace”; automation.

        American psychologist Sidney Pressey is generally credited with the person whose machine first met all these requirements. He displayed a “machine for intelligence testing” at the 1924 meeting of the American Psychological Association. Pressey received a patent for the device in 1928.

        His machine contained a large drum that rotated paper, exposing a multiple choice question. There were four keys, and the student would press the number that corresponded to the right answer. Pressey’s machine had two modes of operation: one labeled “test” and the other labeled “teach.” In “test” mode, the machine would simply record the responses and calculate how many were correct. In “teaching” mode, the machine wouldn’t proceed to the next question until the student got the answer right. The machine did still track how many keys were pressed until the student got it correct. You could also add an attachment to the machine that was essentially a candy dispenser. It allowed the experimenter to set what Pressey called a "reward dial," determining the number of correct responses required to receive a candy reward. Once the response criterion had been reached, the device automatically delivered a piece of candy to a container in front of the subject.

        For a prototype converted from a sewing machine, we can see in Pressey’s machine so much about 20th century education theory and practice — and so much of that that’s still with us today. There’s the connection to intelligence testing and the first World War and a desire to create a machine to make that process more standardized and efficient. There’s the nod to the work of education psychologist Edward Thorndike — his laws of recency and frequency that dictated how students were supposed to move through material. There is four answer multiple choice question. How much of this is now “hard coded” into our education practices? How much of this is now “hard coded” into our education technology?

        Sidney Pressey tried very hard to commercialize his teaching machines, but without much success. It wasn’t until a few decades later that the idea really took off. And as such, “teaching machines” are probably most closely associated with the work of B. F. Skinner. (He did not receive the patent for his teaching machine until 1961.)

        Skinner came up with the idea for his teaching machine in 1953. Visiting his daughter’s fourth grade classroom, he was struck by its inefficiencies. Not only were all the students expected to move through their lessons at the same pace, but when it came to assignments and quizzes, they did not receive feedback until the teacher had graded the materials — sometimes a delay of days. Skinner believed that both of these flaws in school could be addressed through a machine, and built a prototype which he demonstrated at a conference the following year.

        All these elements were part of Skinner’s teaching machines: the elimination of inefficiencies of the teacher, the delivery of immediate feedback, the ability for students to move through standardized content at their own pace.

        Today’s ed-tech proponents call this “personalization.”

        Teaching — with or without machines — was viewed by Skinner as reliant on a “contingency of reinforcement.” The problems with human teachers’ reinforcement, he argued, were severalfold. First, the reinforcement did not occur immediately; that is, as Skinner observed in his daughter’s classroom, there was a delay between students completing assignments and quizzes and their work being corrected and returned. Second, much of the focus on behavior in the classroom has to do with punishing students for "bad behavior" rather than rewarding them for good.

        As Skinner wrote in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity, “We need to make vast changes in human behavior. . . . What we need is a technology of behavior.” Teaching machines are one such technology.

        Skinner’s teaching machine differed from Pressey’s in that it did not have students push on buttons to respond to multiple choice questions. Students had to formulate their own answers. Skinner felt it was important that students could formulate their own responses. And he worried too that selecting the wrong answer was the wrong sort of behavioral reinforcement.

        As with Pressey’s teaching machines, we can see in Skinner’s some of these elements that still exist in our technologies today. Behaviorism in general, for starters: excitement about gamification and “nudges” and notifications from our apps all designed to get us to “do the right thing” (whatever that means). And we see too this real excitement about the potential for transforming classrooms with gadgetry.

        “There is no reason,” Skinner insisted, “why the schoolroom should be any less mechanized than, for example, the kitchen.” Indeed in the 1960s, there was a huge boom in teaching machines. There were door-to-door teaching machine salesmen, I kid you not, including those who sold the Min-Max made by Grolier, the encyclopedia company.

        But alongside the excitement were the fears about robots teaching the children. And the machines were expensive, as was the development of the “programmed instruction” modules.

        So excitement faded from these, just as new devices started being developed — ones that were computer-based. Ones that promises “intelligence.”

        Intelligence, along with all the promises that teaching machines have made for a century now: efficiency, automation, moving at your own pace, immediate feedback, personalization.

        Thomas Edison predicted in 1913 that textbooks would soon be obsolete. In 1962, Popular Science predicted that by 1965, over half of students would be taught by machines. I could easily find similar predictions made today about MOOCs or adaptive technology or Apple Watches. These themes persist, and it’s worth asking why.

        I think you can explain a lot of it when you look at history and think about ideology, what we bring into our technologies, what we ask them to do and how and why.

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        In Search Of Lost Time

        Education Law and Politics

        An Open Letter To The White Teachers Who Wore NYPD T-Shirts To School

        Via The LA Times, “L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy has filed a public records request seeking emails and other documents involving school board members and nearly two dozen companies including those at the center of the controversial iPad project.”

        Meanwhile, the LAUSD Board has voted to destroy its emails after 1 year. Nothing to see here. Move along…

        Oh wait. Looks like emails between Superintendent Deasy and then Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino showed that the district planned to train teachers on Pearson's iPad software almost a year before the one-to-one project went out to bid.

        US Representative John Tierney (D-MA) was defeated in Tuesday’s primary elections. Tierney has been a long-time member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

        New York Governor Andrew Cuomowon his primary election, narrowly defeating Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout.

        The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that libraries can digitize books without securing permission from the copyright holder.

        Texas history textbooks are biased. News at 11.

        The San Juan Unified School District has paid out $3.4 million in settlements relating to former superintendent Glynn Thompson and accusations he bullyed and discriminated against women.

        Chardon High School shooter TJ Lane escaped from prison last night, prompting the school district to cancel classes. Lane, who killed three students and wounded three others in 2012, was recaptured about 1:30am.

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        edX launches classes (and college counseling) for high school students. Most of the classes are AP ones, which will be offered for free, but there’s a fee for certificates.

        UBC joins edX.

        Pope Francis launches Global Online School Network Scholas.Social.” I’m slightly disappointed that it’s not a MOOC.

        The American Council on Education (ACE) “announced the creation of a pool of about 100 online courses that will lead to credit recommendations. The courses will be low-cost or free. They will be general education and lower-division, ranging across up to 30 subject areas.”

        The BBC reports that one of FutureLearn’s MOOCs – an English-language learning MOOC run by the British Council – has enrolled over 100,000 students.

        Meanwhile on Campus

        The LAUSD police force has 61 assault rifles, 3 grenade launchers, and 1 mine resistant vehicle. San Diego Unified School Districthas an armored vehicle. “At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the [Department of Defense] through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

        “A Taylorsville elementary school teacher somehow shot herself in the leg while in a school restroom.” Somehow.

        The latest CCSS scam: fake invoices for Common Core aligned materials

        A University of Toronto professor was stabbed by a student.

        Kentucky State University has re-enrolled most of the students that it kicked out last week for failing to pay their tuition and fees.

        How to Get Into an Ivy League College—Guaranteed

        Almost 12% of Harvard students are enrolled in “Introduction to Computer Science 1” this semester – a record-breaking number.

        Harvardlaunches a website.

        Harvard has received a $350 million gift, so looks like the university will have enough cash to keep the lights and websites on. Phew.

        Campus Rankings, Ranked

        The US News & World Report’s Rankings, 30th Anniversary edition

        The Onion's 2014 University Rankings

        The Most Economically Diverse Top Colleges

        The 25 colleges whose graduates earn the most

        America’s Worst Colleges

        America’s Top High Schools

        Colleges whose graduates find meaning in their work

        “Twenty-Eight out of the Top 30 “Best Universities” in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 rankings are under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault.”

        Safety Schools, Ranked

        Colleges statistically most likely to get you hired at Edsurge

        Go, School Sports Team!

        Average student attendance at college football games is down more than 7% since 2009.

        “Twenty percent of NCAA athletes admit to participating in fantasy sports leagues with entry fees and cash prizes, according to a survey conducted last year by the NCAA.” That’s against the rules.

        But ya know. Rules schmules. The NCAA has lifted more of the sanctions it placed on Penn State following former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s conviction on 45 counts of child abuse.

        From the HR Department

        The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Board of Trustees voted 8 to 1 to terminate Steven Salaita’s tenured position (following his tweets about Palestine). Salaita and his lawyers respond.

        American University professor David Pitts, chair of public administration and policy, has been placed on leave following charges that he breaks into stores and sets fires.

        University of Miami President Donna Shalala will step down next year.

        Valerie Barr has lost her job at the National Science Foundation because of questions about her activism in the 1980s. “Barr handed out leaflets, stood behind tables at rallies, and baked cookies to support two left-wing groups, the Women’s Committee Against Genocide and the New Movement in Solidarity with Puerto Rican Independence.”

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        Appleheld its fall press event, unveiling the latest iPhones and a smartwatch. "What the Apple Watch Tells Us About the Future of Ed-Tech." (Interestingly, Apple's pushing a new U2 album onto everyone's iDevices is a relevant story to ed-tech, but I don't think anyone's covered that angle. Oh well. Keep up the good work, folks.)

        Meanwhile, Amplify has lowered the pricing for its tablets. Originally $299 for the devices and $99 per year for software, the tablets are now $359 (including content) and $60 per year thereafter.

        Amplify is also now trying to sell its educational games direct to consumers. Sounds like the whole News Corp education thing is going swimmingly.

        So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class…” – now available on Khan Academy, of course.

        And Khan Academy now offers videos to help students get into college too.

        Known, a startup that’s part of the IndieWeb movement and one I think could be key to helping students control their content and data, has launched its public beta. Here’s GigaOm Mathew Ingram’s coverage.

        John Danner, the founder of the for-profit school chain Rocketship, has unveiled his latest startup: “Zeal, an adaptive Common Core practice app with game-like features.” More on the app and its users (called “Zealots,” I kid you not) via Edsurge.

        Google has made updates to Drive (Docs, Sheets, etc) to help blind users with improved screen reader support.

        Another for-profit education company decides to incubate ed-tech startups, as DeVry Universityteams up with 1871 in Chicago. has launched Code Studio, “a combined set of tools and curriculum to get students in kindergarten through high school interested in the underlying concepts behind coding through guided lesson plans.”

        Google’s Course Builder now supports LTI.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        Rumor has it that Microsoft is poised to buy Mojang, maker of the popular videogame Minecraft. More on Educating Modern Learners.

        Flashnotes has raised a multi-million dollar Series B round from Cengage Learning, Lazerow Ventures, Atlas Venture, KAHM Capital, Softbank Capital, Stage One Ventures, Campus Agency, Lou Latiff, and Michael Solomon. The company, which allows students “exchange high quality academic materials” and create flashcards has raised $6.9 million in investment (not including this latest undisclosed amount).

        Insane Logic has raised€1 million in funding from Ananda Ventures.

        Looop has raised $2 million from an unnamed investor to help expand its online training platform into the UK.

        Google has made a $190,000 donation to Black Girls Code.

        Why Wall Street loves for-profit education.” I mean, why not.


        According to Edsurge, ed-tech companies raised $153.9 million in August. “Ka’ching.”

        And according to CB Insights, “Financing in Ed Tech has shown a clear upward trend, with consistent growth since 2010. Funding in 2013 represented a 212% growth in the sector since 2009. Deals have grown as well, with 334 deals occurring in 2013 representing a 35% year over year growth from 2012. Notably, 2014 is seeing funding and deal activity on pace to top 2013′s previous investment highs if the current pace continues.”

        Research conducted by Matthew M. Chingos and Guido Schwerd argues that Florida Virtual School students “perform about the same or somewhat better on state tests” than traditional public high school students. Expect these findings to be trotted out in future ed reform arguments.

        “In 2013, about 36,000 seniors lost part of their Social Security allotment due to outstanding student debt. That is a six-fold jump from 2002.” More on the GAO report via ThinkProgress.

        Humanities disciplines still survive.

        Harvard Business School alums are concerned about US economic competitiveness and the quality of US schools. Me, I’m concerned about the sorts of people who attend HBS.

        Pearson surveys college students, finds that 75% of college students say tablets make learning fun but only 45% of them use tablets. Their devices of choice: laptops and smartphones.

        The Pew Research Center has released surveys on “younger Americans,” reading, and libraries. “As a group, younger Americans under age 30 are more likely than those 30 and older to report reading a book (in any format) at least weekly (67% vs 58%). Adults ages 50–64 are least likely to report reading books on a weekly basis, followed by those ages 30–49 and those ages 65 and older.”

        The OECD has released its 2014 report “Education at a Glance” – where 570 pages equals “glance.”

        Credential Creep Confirmed

        Should Technology Play with Students’ Emotions?” Shrug.

        Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent,” The New York Times tells us. For what it’s worth, I hear he was also an asshole.

        Image credits: Alexander Boden and The Noun Project

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        balloon / globus

        Education Law and Politics

        Rolling Jubilee, a group that grew out of the Occupy Movement, announced this week that it has purchased “for about three cents on the dollar, of nearly four million dollars’ worth of private debt from Everest College, which is part of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges system. The debts had been incurred by more than two thousand students.” The group then notified students that some of their debt had been canceled.

        What the Chicago mayor’s race says about the future of education politics

        Missouri legislators are proposing that high school students take and pass a citizenship test in order to graduate.

        The Texas State Board of Education has voted to require the state’s AP history classes to use state-mandated curriculum, not the new AP curriculum that has conservatives up in arms.

        A New York judge has merged the two anti-tenure lawsuits in the state (much to the plaintiffs’ chagrin).

        BC teachers are voting today on a new contract that would end the union’s strike.

        The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed a lawsuit accusing for-profit Corinthian Colleges of predatory lending.

        The FTC has finedTinyCo $300,000 and Yelp $450,000 for violating COPPA for improperly collecting kids’ data.

        “In 19 states, it’s still legal for personnel in schools to practice ‘paddling.’”

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        Coursera is pursuing MOOCs-on-demand.

        Coursera has partnered with Brazilian universities the University of São Paulo and the State University of Campinas.

        edX is relicensing some of its open source software, moving from the AGPL to the Apache license. The latter allows for more commercial and even proprietary software development. Because open.

        The MOOC Where Everyone Learned” is an actual headline.

        What UBC has learned about doing MOOCs

        The UT System will continue to offer MOOCs. (Of course, it’s invested $5 million in edX and earmarked $5 more for MOOC course development.)

        Marks & Spencer will offer a MOOC with Leeds University.

        Oakwood University will launch the first MOOC developed by a HBCU.

        AT&T will offer 200 scholarships to underserved students to enroll in Udacity MOOCs.

        You can now sign in to with your Google or Facebook account.

        The Great LAUSD iPad Saga Continues

        A 95-page report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has evaluated LAUSD’s “Common Core Technology Project.” Only 1 teacher out of 245 classrooms reported using the Pearson curriculum. (It’s costing the district about $200 per device for a three-year licensing deal.) 80% of high schools reported they “rarely used the tablets.” The report found that the district was so busy dealing with the distribution of the iPads, it never really addressed using them in the classroom.

        In other LAUSD news, the district will return three grenade launchers to the Department of Defense, but will keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle.

        Meanwhile on Other Campuses

        The University of California has launched UC Ventures, a $250 million investment fund. (Some implications.)

        Powerful tech incubator Y Combinator will offer classes at Stanford. Because of course it will.

        Several Washington state community colleges will soon offer a competency-based business degree, using OER materials and courses developed in conjunction with Lumen Learning.

        UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism proposes a $10,250 per year supplemental fee

        Despite a popular online petition, Schenectady High School senior Draven Rodriguez will not be allowed to use a picture of him, his cat, and lasers as his senior photo.

        Columbia University E-mail Reveals Disdain for Anti-Rape Campus Movement

        Alberta high school student Keenan Shaw was suspended for two days for selling the banned substance Pepsi on campus.

        6-year-old Salecia Johnson was arrested after she threw a tantrum at Creekside Elementary School. Any guesses on her race?

        Brendan Iribe, CEO of Oculus VR, has made a $31 million donation to the University of Maryland, prompting this from The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Will the Next Classroom Disruption Be in 3-D? Facebook’s Virtual-Reality Company Thinks So”

        The principal of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts has declinedNicki Minaj’s offer to come and speak to her alma mater.

        Go, School Sports Team!

        Heisman Trophy-winner FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for half a game for vulgar comments.

        From the HR Department

        Gillian McGoldrick, the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper Playwickian was suspended for one month and faculty advisor Tara Huber for two days without pay over student editors’ efforts to remove the word “Redskins” from their newspaper. More via the Student Press Law Center.

        After news broke that Microsoft had indeed acquired Mojang, the company’s founder “Notch” says he quits.

        George Bradley, the president of Paine College, has resigned. The HBCU was placed on probation by its accreditor earlier this summer.

        Over 475 custodians are being laid off in the Chicago Public Schools (although these are not directly CPS employees as the district has outsourced custodial services to other companies).

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        Via The Atlantic: “How Sugar Daddies are Financing College Education.” “The popular website Seeking Arrangement sets up ‘mutually beneficial relationships’ between wealthy older men and young female students. What the site doesn’t talk about is sex.” Oh. I see.

        Textbook rental company (that now wants to extend its tentacles in all aspects of education services) Chegg has launched an online college counseling service.

        Inside Higher Ed student affairs blogger Eric Stoller looks at the “hot mess” generated by the anonymous app Yik Yak.

        Wolfram Alpha’s math software Mathematica is now available online.

        When math educator Dan Meyer gives you “Five Reasons To Download Classkick,” you download Classkick.

        Wikispaces will no longer offer free non-education wikis.

        Learnsprout has partnered with Pearson, announcing in a blog post that the startup has “been given the proverbial ‘keys to the kingdom’ and now have access to PowerSchool test servers, APIs, demo data sets, documentation and support.”

        Urban Outfitters has apologized for marketing a “vintage” Kent State University sweatshirt that sure looked like it was covered in bloodstains and bullet holes.

        Google has hit the road with a traveling Chromebook Lending Library, that’ll lend college student Chromebooks for a week.

        The unstoppable TI–84 Plus: How an outdated calculator still holds a monopoly on classrooms

        “At a New York state elementary school, teachers can use a behavior-monitoring app to compile information on which children have positive attitudes and which act out. In Georgia, some high school cafeterias are using a biometric identification system to let students pay for lunch by scanning the palms of their hands at the checkout line. And across the country, school sports teams are using social media sites for athletes to exchange contact information and game locations.” What could go wrong? More in The New York Times on concerns about data collection in schools. Marketplace covers the topic more gleefully.


        Congratulations to this year’s MacArthur Fellows.


        Terrance Paul, who created the Accelerated Reader software (which later became Renaissance Learning), died this past week. He was 67.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        Microsoft has acquiredMojang, maker of Minecraft, for $2.5 billion. Ugh. Are we taking bets on how long it takes Microsoft to screw up schools' experiences with the game?

        Ed-tech blog Edudemic has been acquired by an “organic search marketing company.” Top 10 Reasons Why This is Hilariously Perfect.

        Newsela has raised $4.1 million in a Series A round of funding from Owl Ventures, with Knight Enterprise Fund, Cambridge Information Group, New Schools Venture Fund, and Kapor Capital. The startup offers news items written at various Lexile levels.

        SchoolMint, a startup that manages applications to K–12 schools, has raised $2.2 million in seed funding from NewSchools Venture Fund, Runa Capital, and Crosslink Capital.

        Kelase, “Indonesia’s ‘Yammer for education’ receives [an undisclosed] seed funding,” reports Techinasia.

        Rockit has raised $500,000 from Learn Capital, John Katzman, and Formation 8 for its online education platform, currently focused on the test prep market in Vietnam.

        Salesforce has made a $5 million gift to the San Francisco public schools and a $1 million donation to


        Civil Rights, Big Data, and Our Algorithmic Future

        Computer tutors can read students’ emotions,” says Annie Murphy Paul. Hmmm.

        Harvard is better at admitting low-income students than the University of Wisconsin

        PhD gender gapsvisualized.

        Wealthy L.A. SchoolsVaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan’s

        According to the latest figures from UNICEF, nearly 30 million children worldwide are not in school because their countries are embroiled in conflicts or have suffered other disasters.”

        COSN's latest “K–12 IT Leadership Survey” found that just 34 of those working in IT leadership positions in are women. 48% of men surveyed said they earn $100,000 or more, while 36% of women reported earning that amount.

        Spotify has data-mined what music college students listen to. Among the findings: BYU students do not listen to Iggy Azalea, something should all aspire to not do as well.

        Image credits: Ferran Jorda and The Noun Project

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        The Teacher Wars: A Book Review

        Teaching is, according to the subtitle of education journalist Dana Goldstein’s new book, “America’s Most Embattled Profession.” “No other profession,” she argues, ”operates under this level of political scrutiny, not even those, like policing or social work, that are also tasked with public welfare and are paid for with public funds.”

        That political scrutiny is not new. Goldstein’s book The Teacher Wars chronicles the history of teaching at (what has become) the K–12 level, from the early nineteenth century and “common schools" — that is, before before compulsory education and public school as we know it today — through the latest Obama Administration education policies. It’s an incredibly well-researched book that moves from the feminization of the teaching profession to the recent push for more data-driven teacher evaluation, observing how all along the way, teachers have been deemed ineffectual in some way or another — failing to fulfill whatever (political) goals the public education system has demanded be met, be those goals be economic, civic, or academic.

        As Goldstein describes it, public education is a labor issue; and it has been, it’s important to note, since well before the advent of teacher unions.

        The Teacher Wars and Teaching Machines

        To frame education this way — around teachers and by extension, around labor — has important implications for ed-tech. What happens if we examine the history of teaching alongside the history of teaching machines? As I’ve argued before, the history of public education in the US, particularly in the 20th century, is deeply intertwined with various education technologies – film, TV, radio, computers, the Internet – devices that are often promoted as improving access or as making an outmoded system more “modern.” But ed-tech is frequently touted too as “labor-saving” and as a corrective to teachers’ inadequacies and inefficiencies.

        It’s hardly surprising, in this light, that teachers have long looked with suspicion at new education technologies. With their profession constantly under attack, many teacher are worried no doubt that new tools are poised to replace them. Much is said to quiet these fears, with education reformers and technologists insisting again and again that replacing teachers with tech is not the intention.

        And yet the sentiment of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke probably does resonate with a lot of people, as a line from his 1980 Omni Magazine article on computer-assisted instruction is echoed by all sorts of pundits and politicians: “Any teacher who can be replaced by a machine should be.”

        Of course, you do find people like former Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty – best known arguably via his school chancellor Michelle Rhee – who’ll come right out and sayto a crowd of entrepreneurs and investors, “If we fire more teachers, we can use that money for more technology.”

        So it’s hard to ignore the role that technology increasingly plays in contemporary education (labor) policies – as Goldstein describes them, the weakening of teachers’ tenure protections alongside an expansion of standardized testing to measure “student learning,” all in the service finding and firing “bad teachers.” The growing data collection and analysis enabled by schools’ adoption of ed-tech feeds into the politics and practices of employee surveillance.

        Just as Goldstein discovered in the course of writing her book that the current “teacher wars” have a lengthy history, so too does ed-tech’s role in the fight.

        As Sidney Pressey, the man often credited with developing the first teaching machine, wrote in 1933 (from a period Goldstein links to “patriotic moral panics” and concerns about teachers’ political leanings),

        There must be an “industrial revolution” in education, in which educational science and the ingenuity of educational technology combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education. Work in the schools of the school will be marvelously though simply organized, so as to adjust almost automatically to individual differences and the characteristics of the learning process. There will be many labor-saving schemes and devices, and even machines — not at all for the mechanizing of education but for the freeing of teacher and pupil from the educational drudgery and incompetence.

        Or as B. F. Skinner, the man most associated with the development of teaching machines, wrote in 1953 (one year before the landmark Brown v Board of Education),

        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.

        These quotations highlight the longstanding hopes and fears about teaching labor and teaching machines; they hint too at some of the ways in which the work of Pressey and Skinner and others coincides with what Goldstein’s book describes: the ongoing concerns about teachers’ politics and competencies.

        The Drudgery of School

        One of the things that’s striking about Skinner and Pressey’s remarks on teaching machines, I think, is that they recognize the “drudgery” of much of teachers’ work. But rather than fundamentally change school – rather than ask why so much of the job of teaching entails “burdensome chores” – education technology seems more likely to offload that drudgery to machines. (One of the best contemporary examples of this perhaps: automated essay grading.)

        This has powerful implications for students, who – let’s be honest – suffer through this drudgery as well.

        Goldstein’s book doesn’t really address students’ experiences. Her history of public education is focused on teacher labor more than on student learning. As a result, student labor is missing from her analysis. This isn’t a criticism of the book; and it’s not just Goldstein that does this. Student labor in the history of public education remains largely under-theorized and certainly underrepresented. Cue AFT president Al Shanker’s famous statement: "Listen, I don’t represent children. I represent the teachers.”

        But this question of student labor seems to be incredibly important to consider, particularly with the growing adoption of education technologies. Students’ labor – students’ test results, students’ content, students’ data – feeds the measurements used to reward or punish teachers. Students’ labor feeds the algorithms– algorithms that further this larger narrative about teacher inadequacies, sure, and that serve to financially benefit technology, testing, and textbook companies, the makers of today’s “teaching machines.”

        Teaching Machines and the Future of Collective Action

        The promise of teaching machines has long been to allow students to move “at their own pace” through the curriculum. “Personalized learning,” it’s often called today (although the phrase often refers only to “personalization” in terms of the pace, not in terms of the topics of inquiry). This means, supposedly, that instead of whole class instruction, the “work” of teaching changes: in the words of one education reformer, “with the software taking up chores like grading math quizzes and flagging bad grammar, teachers are freed to do what they do best: guide, engage, and inspire.”

        Again, it’s not clear how this changes the work of students.

        So what are the implications – not just pedagogically but politically– of students, their headphones on staring at their individual computer screens working alone through various exercises? Because let's remember: teaching machines and all education technologies are ideological. What are the implications – not just pedagogically but politically– of these technologies' emphasis on individualism, self-management, personal responsibility, and autonomy?

        What happens to discussion and debate, for example, in a classroom of teaching machines and "personalized learning"? What happens, in a world of schools catered to individual student achievement, to the community development that schools (at their best, at least) are also tasked to support?

        What happens to organizing? What happens to collective action? And by collectivity here, let’s be clear, I don’t mean simply “what happens to teachers’ unions”? If we think about The Teacher Wars and teaching machines side-by-side, we should recognize our analysis of (our actions surrounding) the labor issues of school need to go much deeper and more farther than that.

        Dana Goldstein. The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession, Doubleday, 2014. (Amazon affiliate link)

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        The four cows

        This week was Banned Books Week, so I hope you engaged in some subversive reading.

        Education Law and Politics

        Hundreds of students from high schools in the Jefferson County (Colorado) school district have staged protests over new curriculum review committee that would “promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder.”

        A record number of students in the US are homeless.

        “The U.S. Education Department has opened an investigation into charges that the Recovery School District’s policy of closing and chartering New Orleans public schools violated the civil rights of African-American students.” More via The Times-Picayune.

        The Department of Education has reached an agreement with the Tupelo (Mississippi) Public School District over discriminatory discipline practices.

        The Department of Education says that the student loan default rate has dropped to 13.7% so woohoo I guess.

        From the FCC, “State School Connectivity Profiles.”

        Two more former principals in Philadelphia have been arrested as part of an ongoing investigation into cheating on standardized tests.

        New York State education commissioner John King says that NYC must stop violating the rules on the minimum number of librarians required at high schools.

        As part of its open government agenda, the White House announced more initiatives aimed at promoting open education. More on the news from David Wiley.

        Bill Clinton says something about charter schools.

        MOOCs Insist "We're Not Dead Yet!"

        The Techcrunch headline: “Its Audacity Undiminished, Udacity Raises $35 Million To Train A New Generation of Developers.” The new round of funding is from “the German media giant Bertelsmann, Japanese staffing company Recruit, Brazilian investment firm Valor Capital Group, and American cable and media company Cox Enterprises, also joined as new investors. Previous backers Andreessen Horowitz, Charles River Ventures, Peter Levine, and George Zachary also participated in the financing.” The startup has now raised at least $55 million. Founder Sebastian Thrun has quit his job at Google X, prompting a question typed, I presume, with a serious face: “Can Google X’s recently departed founder save the MOOC?

        Andreessen-Horowitz, again one of the investors in Udacity, has its first “Distinguished Visiting Professor of Computer Science,” Stanford’s Vijay Pande. Not surprisingly, he has thoughts on MOOCs. I mean, who doesn’t.

        Not to be left out of the news cycle: “Why Free Online Classes Are Still the Future of Education,” featuring edX’s Anant Agarwal.

        Via Inside Higher Ed: “The massive open online course provider Coursera is taking a more active role in shaping the content produced by its university partners. In an email to universities creating content for Coursera, the MOOC provider is asking for volunteers to create career-focused Specializations.”

        Coursera has moved from MySQL to Cassandra because its data is so big.

        Elsewhere in Online Education (in Florida)

        Inside Higher Ed’s Carl Straumsheim examines enrollment at UF Online, the online-only arm of the University of Florida.

        The Florida state supreme court has given the go ahead to a trademark lawsuit as Florida Virtual School is suing K12 for infringement by operating Florida Virtual Academy in the state.

        Meanwhile on Campus

        The “university recreation center arms race

        Harvard’s multibillion dollar endowment reported a return of 15.4% for the last fiscal year; Yale’s endowment had a return of 20.2%. So phew. I guess they can afford to keep operating for another year.

        Clemson University has suspended its mandatory online course that required students fill out a detailed set of questions about their sex lives.

        Clemson University has also suspended all fraternity activity after a sophomore fell off a bridge and died.

        Fraternities at Wesleyan have been ordered to go co-ed.

        Miss America was kicked out of her sorority for excessive hazing.

        So hey, maybe “it’s time to talk about banning fraternities.”

        School Claims Teen’s Writing About Marijuana Use Is ‘Drug Possession’

        Student “interns” in China make up an increasing part of the workforce building our electronics, including HP and Apple devices, reports The Wall Street Journal.

        ProPublica reported this week that Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society had promised to not use Google money for privacy research. Stanford says that’s not true and that it’s research is independent.

        Go, School Sports Team!

        The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hear the NCAA’s appeal of the recent ruling in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit in an “expedited manner.”

        This New York Times story featuresTexas, high school football, and the phrase “technology revolution.”

        The FAA has nixed plans for using a drone to deliver the football to a University of Michigan football game.

        I must say, having seen an obsession with football destroy a lot of what was great about academic life at the University of Oregon, this story made me guffaw: “The Philadelphia Eagles’ Secret Coaches: Professors. Chip Kelly’s Latest Innovation—Turning to Academia for Ideas.”

        From the HR Department

        As part of his mandated community service, Kanye West is teaching a class at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

        Florida State University has hired John Thrasher as its new president, despite opposition from faculty and students.

        Adjuncts at the College of Saint Rose have voted to unionize.

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        A $15 million XPRIZE for Global Learning to build software so that children can teach themselves basic literacy and numeracy. NPR’s Anya Kamenetz has the most thoughtful reporting in a sea of what was otherwise uncritical churnalism about the project. For $10,000 you can support the effort via the initiative’s IndieGogo campaign and “sponsor a village” to help with testing. Or for $10,000 you can support the effort and get access to some Tony Robbins life-coaching thing.

        The LMS. Still making headlines like it’s 1997.

        Also refusing to die: the learning object repository. This week Instructure launched one.

        Three girls from Ireland have won the top prize from this year’s Google Science Fair.

        Microsoft Certification Exams Now Available Online Thanks to Pearson.” Thanks, Pearson.

        A day in the life of a data-mined kid,” featuring more ludicrous pronouncements by Knewton’s CEO Jose Ferreira: “We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything.” (Does that knowledge include the correct meaning of the word ”literally"?)

        The Hewlett Foundationnow requires that grantees receiving project-based grants—those made for a specific purpose—openly license the final materials created with those grants (reports, videos, white papers, and the like) under the most recent Creative Commons Attribution license.”

        More college students are torrenting their textbooks.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        Blackboard has acquired video conferencing company Requestec for an undisclosed sum.

        MasteryConnect has raised $15.2 million in a Series B round of investment from Trinity Ventures, Pelion Ventures, and Catamount Ventures. The startup, which makes assessment tools, has raised $24.1 million total.

        Andela has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from Steve Case, Omidyar Network, Founder Collective, Rothenberg Ventures, Learn Capital, Melo7 Tech Partners, and Chris Hughes. The startup aims to teach coding to students in the developing world.

        Edcast has raised $6 million in funding from SoftBank, Mitch Kapor, Menlo Ventures, Novel TMT Ventures, Cervin Ventures, Aarin Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund/ CoLab, and the Stanford StartX Fund to “build knowledge clouds.” has raised $3 million from Bennesse Holdings, Nissay Capital, and MUFJ Capital for its online tutoring business.

        Tiggly has raised $4 million in Series A funding. The startup, which has raised $5 million total, makes wooden block iPad apps for toddlers. (Seriously: who would give their kid an app instead of wooden blocks?!) has raised $660,000 in seed funding from Huron River Ventures and First Step Fund. The startup helps college students find a place to live.

        Odilo has raised€2.2m investment from Active Venture Partners. The startup helps libraries manage the lending of digital content.

        Venture Capitalists Are Poised to ‘Disrupt’ Everything About the Education Market


        The higher education inflation rate has doubled.

        A look at “deeper learning” from the American Institutes for Research.

        Earlier this month, GEMS released an “efficiency index,” ranking countries based on school “efficiency.” No surprise, there are some raised eyebrows.

        A study conducted by Phil Hill and WICHE has found that IPEDS (the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) is flawed “as confusing instructions, inflexible design and a lack of coordination have led colleges and universities to under- or overreport thousands of students” in distance education classes.

        Study Ties College Success to Students’ Exposure to a High School Librarian

        Academic Skills on the Web are Tied to Income Level

        Another PDK/Gallup poll on teaching. Findings include: “Only 38% of Americans favor using student performance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, with parents even less supportive (31%).”

        A recent Pew Research Center survey looks at the political differences between liberals and conservatives vis-a-vis what we should teach children. Among the findings, 86% of liberals say it’s important to teach empathy; just 55% of conservatives. Liberals were more supportive of teaching curiosity and tolerance; conservatives were more supportive of teaching obedience.

        The week in graphs: “What You Need To Know About Misleading Education Graphs, In Two Graphs.”

        The week in maps: “The states where teachers hit their students the most.”

        Image credits: Rachel Kramer

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        Empire State Building, Observatory

        Earlier this week, the XPRIZE organization announced its latest competition: a $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE — "a five-year competition challenging teams to develop open source and scalable software that will enable children in developing countries to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.”

        The announcement was heralded by all the usualsuspects, who dutifully touted the possibility that technology could “solve the problem” of education in the developing world. None of whom mentioned the $500 application fee. For what it’s worth, the average annual income in Sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) is $315. Nor did any of these articles mention that the literacy portion would require the children learn English. For what it’s worth, English is not the primary language (although it is in some cases the official language) of many of the countries where the XPRIZE software will be piloted.

        Ed-Tech as Ideology

        To me, that speaks volumes of how the XPRIZE imagines this problem will be solved. That is, it won’t be solved locally. It won’t be solved by children or by communities in the developing world. It won’t be solved by people even, but by software. It will be imposed from elsewhere — from engineers. And likely from engineers from a different geographic location and almost certainly from a different economic class and from a different culture.

        The “solution” we’re told — and really, this is a perfect example of what Evgeny Morozov calls “technological solutionism” — to the 58 million children worldwide who are not in school will be delivered via AI on an Android tablet.


        Ed-Tech as Imperialism

        We don’t talk a lot in education technology about imperialism. (Or more accurately: we in the US don’t much.) But we probably should.

        Instead we too often repeat the promises heard from a variety of politicians, pundits, philanthropists, investors, and entrepreneurs: that access to digital educational resources will be transformative. Airdrop devices. Balloon in some Internet. Technology will provide an educational salvation.

        The latest in a long line of educational salvations that the Global North has imposed on the Global South. Bless us all.

        True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the "rejects of life," to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples—need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world. — Paulo Freire (from The Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

        It’s an uncomfortable truth, perhaps, for those who want to see their work in education as about “critical thinking” and “agency": education (the system) is hegemonic. It perpetuates knowledge and as such, perpetuates power relations. It plays a key role in Empire.

        Notice the present tense verb. “Plays.” The connection between education and imperialism is not something of the past and is not something severed once countries claim their independence. Indeed, education — systems, practices, curricula, and so on — continues this process, and technology now adds a new and powerful dimension to it. Beyond “cultural imperialism,” we have what Siva Vaidhyanathan describes as “infrastructural imperialism”:

        There are imbalances of power in global flows of culture, but they are not what traditional cultural-imperialism theorists claim them to be. If there is a dominant form of cultural imperialism, it concerns the pipelines and protocols of culture, not its products—the formats of distribution of information and the terms of access and use. (from The Googlization of Everything)

        It isn’t simply that an XPRIZE would likely offer an imperialist curriculum — that it’s in English is only part of the problem here. (What does it mean to teach “O is for Octopus” in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example?) It’s that all of this will be delivered on an Android tablet, and with that comes a host of other technological imperialist overtures — telecommunications companies offering hardware and software and banking and schooling; Google’s special brand of data-mining; and more broadly the tech sector’s penchant for surveillance, for starters.

        What is the goal of the Global Learning XPRIZE when it comes to learning? Is it for children in the developing world to join the global economy, for example? If so how? On whose terms? To what end? In what role? Why? How? Under whose Terms of Service?

        Ed-Tech and (vs.) Freedom

        I’ve been thinking a lot lately — even before this week’s XPRIZE announcement — about a conversation from the 1980s between Paulo Freire and Seymour Papert, two educators whose work is incredibly influential on my own. (Video and transcript)

        Both men lay out the radical promise of a different sort of “education” — one (Freire), the potential for powerful transformation (in bell hooks’ formulation ”transgression”) through a “pedagogy of the oppressed” — that is, a rejection of the “banking” approach to education whereby students’ heads are filled with the ideas of the ruling class. Instead learners are encouraged to engage in a more critical and activist dialogical process whereby their needs dictate their educational demands. The other (Papert) points to a powerful transformation of learning through the advent of the “children’s machine"; that is, thanks to the development of “powerful machines” (that is, personal computers), learners now have a tool to not just visualize but actualize what might otherwise be mathematical abstractions — and from there to build their intellectual worlds.

        Both Freire and Papert position the learner at the center, as the subjects not the objects of education. For Freire, this is a political act. For Papert, it’s an epistemological one.

        But their (brief) conversation suggests that their positions might be irreconcilable. Papert argues that computers mean the end of “school” for the individual learner; Freire sees school as a necessary cornerstone for radical community resistance. They talk past each other in ways I find frustrating and, as someone who admires them both immensely, deeply deeply unsettling. (Watch the video. You'll see what I mean.)

        Can we foster liberatory educational practices with and through and alongside education technology?

        The easy answer: sure. Of course. Papert’s student (now a professor at Stanford) Paulo Blikstein has written about his work in the favelas in São Paulo that blends both Freire and Papert’s ideas and demonstrates that education technology can resist some of the imperialist push from both spheres — that is from both “education” and “technology." (See: “Travels in Troy with Freire”) But would this project gain XPRIZE support? I don't know. I doubt it simply because it refuses to work on behalf of some of the underlying ideologies of ed-tech: standardization, scalability, surveillance, Empire.

        And that points to a more plausible and chilling answer to the question "Can we foster liberatory educational practices with and through and alongside education technology?" What if the answer is "No."

        Me, I can't help but consider how Empire and technology and education and education technology have changed since Papert and Freire talked in the 1980s. As Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued, self-directed learning now invokes (and certainly benefits) those "roaming autodidacts" whose ethnicity, class background, gender, and nationality are obscured (because, hullo, these learners fit a certain profile in some way: white, male, upper middle class from the global North). Moreover and beyond what learners do or want, computers and the Internet increasingly now serve to foster a very particular ideology that's wrapped so tightly in individualism, California, libertarianism, Ayn Randism, and neoliberalism.

        See? Oh, how neatly that dovetails with imperialism, whether in the form of the XPRIZE or in a multitude of other stories that please the powerful. (MOOCs. MOOCs. MOOCs.)

        And this should give those in ed-tech pause, because the XPRIZE isn't only about education in the developing world either. Not when education labor in the developed world is also so very full of conflict, so expensive, still demanding collective bargaining. So last century or the century before that, as we hear again and again from ed-tech entpreneurs.

        What happens when we who work in ed-tech fail to denounce ed-tech's imperialism because we still want, so desperately, for computers to be liberatory? What if all our demands that "everyone has access" (which is awesome, right?) is actually a new and powerful form of imperialism (eek!) that has much less to do with the transformative potential of learning new things and much more about new systems of exploitation, imperialism, capitalism, and control? New markets and new labor?

        Who's gonna claim the prize for that?

        Image credits: Dirk Knight and The Noun Project

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        Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

        Student Protests

        This week marks the 50th anniversary of the arrest of Jack Weinberg for distributing leaflets about the civil rights movement on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Weinberg sat in the back of a police car for over 32 hours while thousands of students gathered around it, blocking it from moving and from taking him to jail. Students used the car as a podium to protest the restriction of free speech on campus. This was the birth of the Free Speech Movement.

        In this week’s “What You Should Know This Week” over on Educating Modern Learners, I look at student protests at UC Berkeley, in Hong Kong, and in the Jefferson County Public School District in Colorado. (I did not cover the protests over the beard ban at BYU or the recent sit-in at Colgate University.)

        Elsewhere in Education Law and Politics

        Despite student and teacher protests, the Jefferson County school board is moving forward with its plans to review the AP History course to make sure students learn all about the proud US tradition of compliance.

        The CEO and three employees of the for-profit FastTrain College were indicted this week, charged“with one count of conspiracy and multiple counts of theft of government money.”

        Lots of muttering and grumbling but few clear statements from LAUSD about the future of Superintendent John Deasy. It does appears as though the school board will begin talks on what his departure might look like.

        And speaking of LAUSD, the district has paid $3.75 million to settle a lawsuit with Maximus Inc, the company hired to build its new student information system. The district spent $112 million to build the system but never implemented it.

        Undocumented students in California will now be able to take out student loans via a new program, thanks to a law signed by Governor Jerry Brown this week. Brown also signed the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, improving some of aspects of student privacy in the state, as well as a bill that allows some 2 year colleges in the state to offer 4 year degrees. He also signed a law that “that explicitly requires colleges and universities that receive state funds to define consent in students’ sexual encounters in terms of ‘yes means yes’ rather than the traditional ‘no means no.’”

        The Department of Justice is investigatingCorinthian Colleges for defrauding the federal government, one of many investigations of the for-profit currently underway.

        “The Education Department has fallen short in evaluating risks when it reviews applications from competency-based learning programs to receive federal student aid, the department’s Office of Inspector General charged in an audit report released this week.” More via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

        The trial has begun of 12 educators involved in the Atlanta Public Schools’ cheating scandal.

        “The Oregon Department of Education has fined Portland Public Schools for disciplining African American special education students at a higher rate than other students.” More via The Oregonian.

        Bill Gates loves the Common Core, wants a common curriculum in the US, and says “kids should be taught what they’re going to be tested on.” Roger Schank, in excellent form, responds.

        In news that should surprise no one, “Common-Core Testing Contracts Favor Big Vendors.” (That is, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and ETS.)

        A helpful #teamharpy FAQ for those looking for information on the defamation lawsuit filed by librarian Joseph Murphy against two other librarians nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey.

        Dispatches From EDUCAUSE

        Higher education had its big ed-tech industry event this past week in Orlando. Some of the highlights from EDUCAUSE:

        Clayton Christensen was the keynote speaker, but in my imagination he performed as Steve Ballmer, getting the crowd all worked up about DISRUPTION DISRUPTION DISRUPTION DISRUPTION!

        The 2014 Campus Computing Project

        3 ‘Game Changing’ Ideas From an Ed-Tech Start-Up Competition

        Phil Hill grilled the Kuali Foundation about its shift to a for-profit company and its plans for its open source code.

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        Marmosets apparently find video content educational too. And if it’s good enough for monkeys…

        Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen will offer a MOOC called Giving 2.0 in an “effort to democratize philanthropy.” The MOOC will run on Coursera. (Her husband Marc Andreessen, incidentally, is an investor in Coursera competitor Udacity.)

        The Tokyo Institute of Technology joins edX.

        edX is getting into the "professional education" business to "better serve those learners who use our courses to advance their careers, or organizations that wish to support continuing learning for their workforce."

        Coursera Named Top 10 Bay Area’s Most InDemand Startup” Meanwhile “Optimism About MOOCs Fades in Campus IT Offices

        From The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What You Need to Know About Companies That Run Online Programs for Colleges”

        On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re the ‘Wrong’ Professor

        Oregon State University, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Minnesota have joined Unizin. (WTF is Unizin, you ask?)

        Meanwhile on Campus

        Students on meal plans at George Mason Universitymust be registered for the iris scanner. I’d love to know if this data is connected to the learning management system and if the university has plans to use students’ biometric data to prevent cheating in online courses.

        German universities scrap all tuition fees

        Draven Rodriguez, the Schenectady High School senior who petitioned his school to allow him to use a photo of him holding his cat against a laser background as his yearbook photo, has been joined by his principal and her dog for pretty much the greatest photo ever.

        Free (local) community college for graduates of Chicago Public Schools and San Luis Obispo high schools.

        The MIT Media Labannounced the creation of the Laboratory for Social Machines, funded by a five-year $10 million investment from Twitter. (Twitter will give MIT access to the firehose and the archive of all public tweets.)

        The University of Southern California and Wired Magazine are partnering for a new degree program. Wired insists, “it’s a real credential, not just a certificate with the WIRED logo stamped on it.” Sounds legit.

        Columbia University has made a 17.5% return on its endowment, beating Harvard’s return. Congrats!

        Goddard College has selected death row inmate and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal as its commencement speaker.

        The University of Massachusetts will review its policy that enlists students as drug informants following the death of an informant from a heroin overdose.

        Ebola Panic OMG OMG OMG

        The first case of Ebola in the US has Dallas area schools (and families) in freak-out mode.

        Go, School Sports Team!

        University of Michigan football coach Brady Hoke kept injured quarterback Shane Morris in the game last weekend, even after Morris took an incredibly strong hit to the head and was stumbling around the field. Hoke’s decision has come under fire, particularly after he insisted that Morris was perfectly healthy. (Morris had a concussion. I mean, clearly he had a concussion. He also had a sprained ankle.)

        Three high school football players died this week from brain-related injuries.

        From the HR Department

        Uber recognizes that teachers don’t make enough money. Its solution? Recruit them as drivers for UberX. Welcome to the (completely and utterly exploitative) “sharing economy.”

        US Deputy Education Secretary Jim Shelton has announced he’ll be resigning his post at the end of the year. No word yet which former NewSchools Venture Fund or Gates Foundation employee will replace him at the Department of Ed.

        Elizabeth Garrett is poised to become Cornell Unversity’s first female president.

        Damon Sicore has left Edmodo and joined the Wikimedia Foundation as the VP of Engineering. (Sicore was supposed to make Edmodo an “engineering brand”. Did that happen and I missed the news?)

        Steven Hodas, Executive Director of New York City Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and one of the iZone’s leaders–has officially left his post,” reports Edsurge.


        The EFF reports that police departments are promoting the installation of spyware onto children’s computers, couching it as “Internet safety software” to protect kids online. Here's how to remove it. Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely responded that the “Ultra-liberal organization … is not in any way credible on this. They’re more interested in protecting predators and pedophiles than in protecting our children.” Riiiiiiight.

        Funnymonkey’s Bill Fitzgerald continues his series of blog posts on ed-tech privacy policies and terms of service.

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        The Silicon Valley Education Foundation honors Tom Friedman as the 2014 Champion of Education.

        Google Drive for Education now comes with unlimited file storage. And the crowd goes wild.

        You can now run Adobe products on Chromebooks.

        Pearson Launches Digital Content Platform.” (Best. Headline.)

        Southern New Hampshire University is spinning off its “custom made” LMS designed for competency-based learning into a separate for-profit company. Because woohoo, the LMS market is still so damn hot.

        In other exciting LMS news: More “open content repositories”, built into Blackboard and Instructure. Because ed-tech just can’t let an idea die, can it.

        IBM Watson is coming to the classroom. (Thank you, IBM, for keeping my observations about teaching machines timely and not simply historical.)

        Yahoo plans to close Yahoo Education, Qwiki, and Directory. I swear someone wrote “How Qwiki Will Change Education Forever,” but I can’t find the blog post, and dammit without Yahoo Directory how will I ever find it?!

        Microsoft is slashing the prices for its Surface Pro 3 for Education.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        Remind (formerly Remind101) has raised another $40 million from its current investors. This brings to $59.5 million the total raised by the free school messaging startup. Edukwest’s Kirsten Winkler asks if this means that the startup is on a path to an IPO.

        Chegg has acquired for $10 million in cash and $1 million in stock, reports Kara Swisher. “With this acquisition, Chegg is poised to disrupt the highly inefficient and fragmented $5 billion college recruiting market,” said Chegg’s CEO Dan Rosensweig. (Worth remembering that he also recently said of students: ”We’ll get the data, get the credit card, and market our other products.")

        CogBooks has raised£1.75 million in funding from DC Thomson Ventures and Nesta Impact Investment. The startup uses “adaptive technology” to “personalize” textbooks.

        The Digital Public Library of America has received $999,485 in funding from IMLS.

        Finalists for a $20 million Gates Foundation “Next Generation Courseware Challenge” are Acrobatiq, Cerego, CogBooks, Lumen Learning, OpenStax, Smart Sparrow, and the Open Learning Initiative.


        Another slew of stories predicting “the end of OLPC” after research in Uruguay finds that students aren’t using the laptops and their literacy rates aren’t improving.

        Facebook says“that future research on its 1.3 billion users would be subjected to greater internal scrutiny from top managers, particularly if it focused on “deeply personal topics” or specific groups of people.” Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s CTO, announced the plans on Facebook, but declined The New York Times’ request for an interview.

        The Times Higher Education’s ranking of universities goes something like 1) CalTech, 2) Harvard, 3) Oxford, 4) Stanford, 5) Cambridge.

        LinkedIn is also getting in on the university rankings game: “Which schools are best at launching graduates into desirable jobs? We analyzed millions of alumni profiles to find out how schools around the world stack up across a variety of careers.”

        Exploring Gender Imbalance Among STEM Doctoral Degree Recipients

        Survey calls North Carolina the worst state for teachers in the US

        From NPR: “A recent study from researchers at UCLA found that kids who spent a week at outdoor camp — away from all electronic devices — got a lot better at picking up emotion in other people’s faces.” Or not.

        The Horizon Report Europe 2014 Schools Edition

        A new report from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the National Women’s Law Center: “Unlocking Opportunity for African American Girls

        Via the AP: “Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap.”

        Charts and Maps: “Latinos are driving a huge decline in the high school dropout rate.” “An interactive guide to finding your best student loan repayment option” (presented by Discover Card). “3 reasons to stop worrying about grade inflation.” “The most distinctive college major in your state.”

        Image credits: Pasu Au Yeung

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        I think it’s fair to say it’s been a particularly difficult week for women in technology. The Grace Hopper Celebration decided to invite a panel of “male allies” to talk about fixing sexism in tech. (Panel members included the CEO of GoDaddy, known best perhaps for its sexist advertising campaigns). Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that women shouldn’t ask for raises; they should trust “karma.” And tech educator Kathy Sierra deleted her Twitter account (@seriouspony), leaving behind a really chilling blog post (Wired version) about her ongoing experiences with harassment and trolling. In response, Adria Richards shared some of her experiences with violent threats and harassment as well.

        Some people in education technology continue to dismiss this rampant misogyny as something that the tech sector suffers from but that education is somehow immune to. Education and ed-tech are not immune.

        Malala Yousafzai

        Malala Yousafzaiwon the Nobel Peace Prize today (sharing the prize with Kailash Satyarthi) for her work campaigning for girls’ right to an education. She is the youngest person to win the award. Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of her being shot by a Taliban gunman as she boarded her school bus.

        “I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.” – Malala Yousafzai, in 2011 foreseeing the assassination attempt

        Education Law and Politics

        The Philadelphia School Reform Commission canceled its teachers’ contract this week, prompting students in Philadelphia to go “on strike” in support of their teachers.

        The Easton Area School District in Pennsylvania “has agreed to pay $385,000 to attorneys who successfully challenged the district’s policy banning breast cancer awareness bracelets with the slogan ‘I ♥ Boobies!’”

        The US Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Ohio public school teacher John Freshwater, who was fired for promoting creationism and refusing to remove religious items from his classroom.

        “The Los Angeles school district’s bond-oversight panel has rejected a move by officials to spend an additional $42 million on new computers, including purchases under a controversial—and recently suspended—technology contract.” LOLLOLLOL.

        GigaOm reports that Amazon is fighting the FTC, refusing to settle over allegations about in-app purchases aimed at kids. (Apple and Google have both settled with the government.)

        From Vanity Fair: “If Kentucky Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul has his way, classroom sizes will someday rise well beyond their existing ratios of 15-to–1 or 30-to–1. ‘I think we should go to a million to one,’” said Paul. I think he'd be a perfect keynote speaker for SXSWedu.

        Protests in Mexico over the disappearance of 43 student-teachers. “The students vanished after police and alleged gang members opened fire on their buses in the southern city of Iguala, located in the violence-plagued state of Guerrero. Six students were killed, while dozens of others were taken away in patrol cars to undisclosed locations.”

        How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground.” (Bonus points if you guessed “Benghazi.")

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        A MOOC about abortion. A MOOC on Ebola health care advice.

        For-profit giant Kaplan UniversitylaunchesOpen College,” which “will include free online services and personalized mentoring to help people identify and organize prior experience and skills that could count toward a degree or move them closer to a new career. It will also provide fee-based services, under a subscription model, that will offer ways for students to satisfy the remaining requirements for a bachelor of science degree in professional studies from Kaplan University.” And it will also serve as the latest example of “openwashing” in education.

        Meanwhile on Campus

        A stinging investigation by the San Jose Mercury News into San Jose State University’s dealings with Cisco: “Pushed by its ambitious president, San Jose State is spending $28 million on high-tech communications systems worthy of a campus of the future – but an investigation by this newspaper shows the project was crafted largely in secret, purchased without competitive bids and adorned with pricey gadgets that many professors may not even use.”

        The University of Southern Maine will cut 50 faculty positions and eliminate two academic programs as it tries to deal with budget deficit issues.

        “Beginning next year, Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research will produce the Carnegie Classifications,” reports Inside Higher Ed. (The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education includes “doctorate-granting universities,” “Master’s Colleges and Universities,” “Baccalaureate Colleges,” “Associates Colleges,” and “NFL Training Campuses.” OK. I made that last one up. Maybe the new classification system should include it though.)

        Via The Chronicle: “The University of Maryland University College, fearing that it has lost its mojo as a dominant player in online education and suffering from recent enrollment declines, is considering converting itself into a private nonprofit institution.”

        From The New York Times, “Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation

        Education-Degree Programs, Once Popular, Take a Nosedive,” reports The Chronicle. (Note: “Enrollment in for-profit graduate education programs decreased more than 21 percent but was still more than 50 percent higher than in 2004.”)

        Here’s how not to teach students about “online safety.”

        And in other “shaming women news,” George Will has been uninvited to speak at Scripps College because of an op-ed he wrote about campus sexual assault.

        From the HR Department

        Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewishas stepped aside from her role due to a “serious illness,” handing over leadership of the union to its vice president, Jesse Sharkey. No details on the illness, and no word how this might affect a bid for mayor. Although she hasn’t declared her candidacy, she had been exploring the idea and polls suggest she could beat current mayor Rahm Emanuel. (Get well soon, Karen.)

        The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of the two Common Core assessment initiatives, says that its executive director Joe Willhoft is stepping down and will be replaced by Chief Operating Officer Tony Alpert.

        Ellucian has a new CEO: Jeff Ray.

        Jim Blew will replace Michelle Rhee as the head of Students First.

        Education data company Knewton says that teachers should be treated like software engineers. Or like movie stars. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        The Digital Reader’s Nate Hoffelder broke the story this week that Adobe Digital Editions has been collecting users’ reading data and sending it back to company servers in unencrypted text. It’s this week’s “What You Should Know…” over on EML, and The Digital Shift has a good summary too about the privacy implications for readers and for libraries.

        The Academy of Art University used to grant students permanent licenses for the Adobe CS6 Master Collection as part of their tuition. But apparently Adobe has deactivated these licenses, without any warning, demanding students now pay a $60/month subscription fee to continue access.

        Hackers have released a cache of 13GB of Snapchat users’ photos. Although users believe Snapchats disappear after viewing, a third-party app has apparently been collecting these images for several years. About half of Snapchats’ users are between age 13 and 17. “4chan users say the collection of photos has a large amount of child pornography, including many videos sent between teenagers who believed the files would be immediately deleted after viewing.”

        Will Curriculet’s Rentals Mark the End of Physical Libraries?” asks Edsurge. Investors have their fingers crossed, I guess.

        Also from Edsurge: an app you can auth via your Twitter account that will tell you which educators to follow and what to read (on Edsurge).

        GitHub has launched a “Student Developer Pack,” offering a free Micro account along with discounts on a number of other developer tools.

        Tripod Education Partners, “best known for its work on a well-publicized study of teacher effectiveness by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” is launching a survey tool for teachers. (It must have some hurt feelings that The New York Times tech section gushed about survey startups and didn’t mention it or something.)

        Clever has partnered with the AFT to offer its single-sign-on service to the latter’s ShareMyLesson platform – something that’s oddly described in EdWeek as OER. It’s not. In fact, ShareMyLesson’s terms of service are pretty terrible. Funnymonkey’s Bill Fitzgerald has a number of questions about the deal including “What are the financial details of this arrangement? Is AFT getting paid by Clever, is Clever getting paid by AFT, and/or is there any outside funding helping to subsidize this work?”

        Bill is on a roll, with a look too at Remind’s privacy policies. On the heels of a $40 million investment in the messaging app last week, it’s definitely worth looking more closely at what happens to student, family, and teacher data.

        Meanwhile, a group of tech and textbook companies pinky-swear they’re not going to do bad things with students’ data. Amplify (News Corp) is on the list, so um yeah. I totally believe them. Neither Applenor Google nor Pearson nor Khan Academy signed. (Pearson did issue a press release “applauding” the idea. But I can’t get it’s website to load. Go figure.)

        Microsoft has launched OneNote Class Notebook Creator, which PC World describes as “a classroom assistance application for OneNote and SharePoint Online in Office 365” and Microsoft describes as “a flexible digital framework for teaching and learning.” Right.

        Blackboard’s Boss Wants You To Hate His Company Less.” Good luck, Jay.

        ScienceOnline is shutting its doors.

        “Is It Ever Okay to Make Teachers Read Scripted Lessons?” asks The Atlantic. Its answer: Yes, in Africa. So there you go.

        Funding, Acquisitions, and IPOs

        TurnItIn, plagiarism detector and cavalier appropriator of students’ IP, has acquired the automated essay grading software LightSideLabs, and John Warner’s write-up of the “embargoed press release” is just perfect.

        CL Educate has filed the paperwork for an IPO, Edukwest reports. The company operates test prep centers in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Northern India.

        Fedora, an e-commerce startup that lets teachers sell their classes online, has raised $1 million from Kamal Ravikant, Naval Ravikant, Matt Brezina, Aaron Batalion, Billy Draper,, Winklevoss Capital, Maiden Lane Ventures, AngelList Syndicate Fund, and Adam Foroughi. You know if the Winklevoss twins are in on it, it’s gotta be grand.

        Adventure to Fitness, which makes online fitness videos for kids, has raised $1.5 million from undisclosed investors.

        10 Minutes With, a career matching service for college graduates, has raised $4 million from undisclosed investors. This brings to $4.4 million the total raised by the startup.

        Nepris, which also offers career matching but for lower grade-levels, has raised $550,000 from NewSchools Venture Fund, David Better, David Matthews, Kent Novak, and Pradeep Sethi.

        SkillPixels, which makes educational games “backed by academic research.” has raised $2.1 million in funding “from private investors and the Finnish government’s Tekes ‘Young Innovative Companies’ program.”

        Tuva Labs, which wants to bring “data science” into the K–12 classroom, has raised $430,000 from NewSchools Venture Fund and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

        Primo, which makes a toy to teach kids programming, has raised $750,000 from Ibis Capital, MTS, and Emerge Education. The startup had previously raised £56,666 via Kickstarter.

        For $150 a quarter, you can get Edsurge’s Ka’Ching report, detailing all these funding announcements.


        SAT scores are stagnant.

        Via Mark Guzdial, “Where AP CS is taught in Georgia and California, and where there is none at all.” (Note the correlation between household income and AP CS. Or as Microsoft's CEO might call it, "karma.")

        In South Korea, “an average of one elementary, middle, or high school-age student committed suicide every three days over the past five years, education office data show.”

        I feel like this headline circulates every year or so. Once again, someone’s claiming “Teens are officially over Facebook.”

        The World Needs 4 Million More Teachers To Get Every Child In A Classroom,” says UNESCO.

        “The National Science Foundation earlier this month awarded a $4.8 million grant to a coalition of prominent research universities aiming to build a massive repository for storing, sharing, and analyzing the information students generate when using digital learning tools,” reports EdWeek. The project, called LearnSphere, will gather “clickstream” data, chat dialogues, and “affect” and biometric data. Ya know, for science.

        Does your university require you use an LMS? Colorado State University history professor Jonathan Rees wants to know.

        The week in education maps and charts: college football fans, college majors.

        Image credits: Statsministerns Kontor

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        Casual Gamer

        For the second week in a row, I am compelled to open my round-up of education-related stories with news of ongoing harassment and threats against women in technology. This week, it's a look at #Gamergate, which has been going on for months now, but this week escalated to new levels.

        Cultural critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University. Because of a Utah law, campus officials told her that they could not stop attendees from bringing concealed weapons into her talk — even though the campus had received a threat from someone calling himself Marc Lépine and promising "the deadliest school shooting in American history" if Sarkeesian spoke. (Lépine was the man who, in 1989, killed 14 women at École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Montreal, Quebec.)

        Also chased from her home this week: game developer Brianna Wu. Someone posted her address on Twitter, then threatened her with rape and murder. (Here’s her first person account.)

        I wrote about this as “What You Should Know This Week” over on Educating Modern Learners (free subscription required.) And I insist that this is an education technology issue. I received some pushback on Twitter last night (from men, go figure) when I made this assertion and asked why ed-tech publications have been so silent on the topic of this ongoing campaign of threats and harassment against women.

        It’s an education technology issue, in part, because of the expectations that we all are supposed interact online – for profession, personal, and academic purposes. What does that look like for girls and women? You can’t just tell us to “not read the comments” when the threats against us escalate.

        It’s an education technology issue because women like Sarkeesian and Kathy Sierra (who I wrote about last week) are educators (in gaming and in tech respectively).

        It’s an education technology issue because we must address the culture of meritocracy misogyny that permeates so much of the technology industry, particularly as we bring more and more of its products, services, engineers, entrepreneurs, and ideology into education.

        That so many men in ed-tech continue to minimize the experiences of harassment and violence against women in ed-tech is pretty telling about whose values and whose risks are being hard-coded into the infrastructure.

        Duly noted.

        And in other news…

        Education Law and Politics

        Karen Lewisannounced last week that she was stepping down as the head of the Chicago Teachers Union, and this week, she confirmed that she will not run for Chicago mayor because she’s suffering from a brain tumor. Get well soon, Karen.

        LAUSD will not release an inspector general’s report into the district’s decision-making process that went into its massive purchase of iPads and Pearson curriculum. The school board voted 4–3 against releasing the information to the public.

        Via Reuters (which has a great photo to accompany this story, I must say): “Donald Trump is personally liable for operating a for-profit investment school without the required license, a New York judge ruled in a lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General against the real estate entrepreneur.”

        And in other celebrity-related education news: “Alex Trebek-Endorsed Education Program Duped Parents, FTC Says.”

        According to the Wyoming Attorney General, students cannot opt out of state assessments.

        The Michigan Department of Education is letting schools request waivers if they aren’t technologically prepared to offer assessments online. The schools will be allowed to use pencil-and-paper exams for one more year.

        Texas is weighing whether or not to renew its testing contract with Pearson. “Texas is amongst America’s biggest and most influential states when it comes to education spending – the linchpin in the North American market, which accounts for 59pc of Pearson’s revenues and 66pc of its profits.”

        “Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.” Read the whole story on ProPublica.

        Louisiana“Gov. Bobby Jindal will likely block Louisiana from applying for a $15 million federal preschool grant that could help poor children in Louisiana because of concerns the money is tied to the Common Core academic standards.” You know, for the sake of the children.


        Some schools were closed in Texas and Ohio due to the Ebola scare because if there’s one thing Americans do well it’s overreact to cable news and misconstrue science. I mean, FFS, folks aren’t immunizing their children against polio or measles but we’re gonna close schools because of Ebola?!

        In Pennsylvania, “West African Teen Taunted With Chants of ‘Ebola’ at High School Soccer Game.”

        Syracuse University has withdrawn its invitation to Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Michel du Cille to speak on campus because he’s been in Liberia.

        Navarro College in Texas reportedly turned down an application from a student from Nigeria, according to Vocativ, “writing that it’s not accepting international students “from countries with confirmed Ebola cases.” The school has responded saying that some students ”students “received incorrect information regarding their applications to the institution" and it’s actually not recruiting students from anywhere in Africa. Oh. That clears things right up.

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        Coursera is expanding its Specializations program, which sells students special certificates if they pass multiple MOOCs. Specializations include Data Science, Data Mining, Cybersecurity, and a Virtual Teacher Program. All this is a clue to answer the question “How Does Coursera Make Money?

        “The Real Revolution in Online Education Isn’t MOOCs,” says the Harvard Business Review, which is definitely the publication I trust most to address “real revolution.”

        From Times Higher Education: “Moocs ‘will not transform education’, says FutureLearn chief.”

        But hey, via Marketplace: MOOCs go to high school.

        And “in Texas political circles, massive open online courses — commonly known as MOOCs — have enjoyed a resurgence.” More on this exciting development via the Texas Tribune.

        You can now sign up for the “first European Multilingual MOOCs” on EMMA, the European Multilingual MOOC Aggregator.

        Via Campus Technology: “How Southern New Hampshire U Develops 650-Plus Online Courses Per Year.” In part, like this: “All that is designed in-house and built by our production team into Blackboard, our LMS. That becomes our one course model — our master course — and we then copy that out depending on how many sections are needed for that term. The instructor receives a fully completed course. It is great for us because we can ensure a lot of consistency across our sections.” Doesn't sound so great for the instructor or students, but hey.

        Meanwhile on Campus

        “Earlier this week a coalition of nearly 20 media organizations—including the Society of Professional Journalists—ratcheted up its support for the Playwickian’s staff,” reports The Atlantic. The student newspaper of Neshaminy High School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, announced earlier this year that it would no longer use “Redskins” to describe the schools’ sports teams as the word is a racial slur. In response, the principal punished the student editor and faculty advisor, removing the former from her position for the month of September, and cut the paper’s funding.

        Inside Higher Ed takes a look at what Cathy Davidson has planned in her new role at the Graduate Center at CUNY.

        A group of Harvard Law School professors say that the university’s new sexual assault policies “lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.”

        The AP reports that New York City is poised to end its ban on cellphones in schools.

        In an effort to curb student loan debt, Broward College, a community college in Florida, will no longer allow students to borrow unsubsidized loans. NPR has the story.

        The elite boarding school Phillips Academy is launching the Tang Institute, “a hub for innovative approaches to teaching and learning and a catalyst for creating partnerships with educators around the world.” Projects include its course development work with Khan Academy.

        Via The Huffington Post: “A Detroit-area high school has suspended an honors student for the rest of the school year over a pocketknife the student says she had by accident.” Care to guess her race?

        Go, School Sports Team!

        Notre Dame football players DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, and Ishaq Williams will not play this season, following an investigation into academic fraud.

        The University of Oregon football team beat UCLA last weekend. UO Matters notes that while the latter spends 2% of its budget on athletics, the UO spends 13%. Go Ducks!

        Six football players at Sayreville High School have been charged with hazing and sexual assault after assaulting younger players in the locker room.

        On Friday, the New York Times published a lengthy examination of criminal accusations against Florida State University’s football players (including theft, rape, and domestic violence) and the steps that the university and local police seem to have taken to stop investigations and prosecutions. Quarterback Treon Harris was suspended from the team after accusations of sexual assault, but following the NYT story the student accusing Harris dropped the charges. Here’s The Chronicle of Higher Education’s coverage. The university now says that Heismann Trophy winner Jameis Winston will face a disciplinary hearing into charges of sexual assault. Sports Illustrated suggests that his best legal move, in response, might be to drop out of school.

        From the HR Department

        LAUSD Superintendent John Deasyresigned this week, on the heels of investigations into the district’s iPad procurement process and failures of its new student information system. Ray Cortines has been named interim superintendent.

        Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe is now a visiting artist and scholar in residence at the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art.

        Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is now the director of the jazz-studies program at Juilliard School of Music. (The Chronicle of Higher Education has a profile.)

        Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Hunter Gehlbach is joining education survey company Panorama as its director of research.

        Katrina Stevens will be the new executive director of EdTech Maryland. Edsurge has a nice profile.

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        Blah blah blah an Apple event blah blah blah

        General Assembly is launching“The GA Credentialing Network,” an initiative in partnership with 20 companies, that will offer “competency-based credentials for high-skilled positions in technology, design, and business.”

        You can now reward badges on Salesforce, thanks to a new app from Credly.

        The American Library Association“decries confirmed reader data breaches by Adobe and calls for immediate corrective action to encrypt and protect reader information.”

        The latest security vulnerability: POODLE, which despite the ridiculous name, is pretty serious as it affects SSL 3.0.

        But still nothing beats humans for the ultimate security vulnerability. In Virginia, “Richmond school officials are conducting an intensive internal investigation of student records after a School Board member shared confidential information about at least 20 students with a vendor that provides mental health services.”

        Dropboxinsists it wasn’t hacked, although someone claimed to have the username and passwords of some 7 million users. Snapchat also insisted that the leak of a massive trove of Snapchat photos (including many teen nudes) was not its fault.

        Major downgrade: Simon Fraser University is retiring SFU Blogs and driving activity into its LMS.

        Blackboardsays that it will stop supporting Angel (which it acquired back in 2009) on October 15, 2016. No rush, guys.

        Google’s pushed out the first round of updates to Google Classroom, including the ability to “export all grades” – which I’m guessing by the way it’s phrased does not mean via an API but via a download, that a teacher can then turn around and upload into a grade book. Super efficient.

        Hewlett Packard“hopes its breakup will benefit schools.” LOL. Great spin.

        Knewton is partnering with Santillana, a large Latin American textbook publisher.

        Disney Accelerator Startups Mix Education and Entertainment,” prompting Edsurge to ask “Is this a sign that ”edutainment“ companies are back in vogue?” As if edutainment ever went out of fashion!

        Pencil makers try to stay relevant.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        The for-profit wanna-be elite university startup Minerva has raised $70 million from TAL Education Group, ZhenFund, Yongjin Group, and Benchmark. This brings to $95 million the total raised by the company.

        Brainly, a homework help site (or “social learning platform,” I guess that’s another way to describe it), has raised $9 million from General Catalyst Partners, Point Nine Capital, Learn Capital, and Runa Capital. This brings to $9.5 million the total raised by the startup.

        Osmo, which makes a “hardware-based iPad game,” has raised $12 million in Series A funding from Accel Partners, Upfront Ventures, and K9 Ventures. This brings to $14.5 million the total raised by the startup.

        KualiCo, the new for-profit company that emerged from the Kuali Foundation, has acquired rSmart’s technology. More via Inside Higher Ed.

        Cornerstone OnDemand has acquired Evolv for $42.5 million. Via Edsurge: “Evolv creates a machine learning and data platform. Cornerstone OnDemand hopes to leverage Evolv’s predictive analytic tools to make data driven recommendations to users around the [professional development] resources they should be using.”

        Evertrue, a “social donation platform,” has raised $8 million from Bain Capital. The startup, which helps schools manage fundraisers, has raised a total of $14.5 million.

        From its press release, the online education platform iversity has “Receives Funding in the Millions.”

        Fullbridge has raised $5 million from “undisclosed high-net-worth individuals and super-angels, joined by returning investor GSV Capital.” The company, which has raised $23 million total, offers online coaching to college students in “sales and marketing, workplace communication, Web-based collaboration, design thinking, financial analysis, business research and other areas.”

        Cartwheel Kids has acquiredSmart Toy (formerly known as Ubooly). Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

        Navis Capital Partners, a Malaysian private equity firm, has bought a controlling stake in Modern Star Pty Ltd, an Australian education company, according to Reuters, “in a deal valuing that company up to A$250 million ($222 million).”

        The stock price for for-profit online education company K12 is down. Way down.


        “Why the blackboard-centered classroom is still the best place to teach and learn.” (Pretty much your basic Slate pitch.)

        Research published in Anatomical Sciences Education has found that cadavers are more effective than computer simulations in teaching anatomy.

        The European Union has released its annual report on teachers’ salaries (PDF). About half of the about 33 countries surveyed have frozen or cut salaries for public school employees during the period 2009–2014.

        Robert Pondiscio argues that “high stakes tests damage reading instruction.”

        The New York Times asks, “Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?”

        From the Aspen Institute: “Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning PublicLibraries

        From Edublogs: “The State of Educational Blogging 2014

        “The Public Sociology Association, made up of graduate students at George Mason University, has published what adjunct advocates are calling the most comprehensive study of one institution’s adjunct faculty working conditions ever.” More on the report via Inside Higher Ed.

        The week in Vox’s education maps and graphs: college majors, mapped; college costs, charted.

        Image credits: Brendan Lynch

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        Education Law and Politics

        LAUSD’s new superintendent Ramon Cortines says that construction bonds shouldn’t pay for iPads and Pearson curriculum. Currently, construction bonds are paying for the district’s iPads and Pearson curriculum. So the LAUSD iPad saga continues…

        Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the head of Chicago Public Schools, says she wants to delay the use of PARCC Common Core tests in her district. The state of Illinois plans to do so, so I’m not sure how all of this will play out as the state has already decreed that the city cannot opt out of the PARCC assessments.

        NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña “swapped 15 of 42 city school superintendents, or nearly 36%, in her biggest personnel shakeup since taking office,” says the NY Daily News. “Swapped” is an interesting verb. “Must reapply for their jobs” is a better description.

        Common Pleas Court Judge Nina Wright Padilla issued a preliminary injunction, stopping the Philadelphia school district from changing its teacher contract so that teachers would have to pay their own health care costs.

        The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has overturned a lower court’s ruling in Cambridge v Patton, an important copyright/fair use case involving Georgia State University and university e-reserves. More on the case, and why we shouldn’t panic too much about the decision, via Techdirt.

        “State officials announced Friday that the Social Security numbers, names and birthdates of 210 students were left on at least two laptops sold at auction Oct. 11. Those laptops were surplus equipment from the Future Is Now charter group sold after the organization ended its program at John McDonogh High in New Orleans.” Ed-tech privacy and security disasters– really guys, this not just an inBloom problem.

        The Obama Administration announced it was loosening the credit requirements for federal PLUS loans.

        Cafeteria workers at Howard Elementary School in Los Angeles say they’ve been instructed to speak only English while at work. Most of the staff who work in the cafeteria are native Spanish speakers, and 86% of the students at the school identify as Hispanic. The school says that the workers have misconstrued the rule; it’s only English-only while “performing job duties.” Oh.

        The Wall Street Journal on the school-to-prison pipeline: “A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.”

        Via Politico: “Lobbying reports for the third quarter of 2014 are in. Big education spenders from July through September were: Navient and Sallie Mae ($834,000), the National Education Association ($594,394), Apollo Education Group ($500,000), the NCAA ($410,000) and the American Federation of Teachers ($337,382).”

        The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools has okayed the University of Michigan’s plans for a competency-based master’s degree in health professions education.

        Alex Usher examines the campaign promise of Michelle Bachelet, recently re-elected as President of Chile to make higher education in the country completely free.

        An open letter and petition calling for justice in the investigation of the disappearance of 43 college students in Mexico.

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        Paul-Olivier Dehaye, the instructor who was removed from his #massiveteachingMOOC earlier this year, has started to explain his side of what went massively wrong with the course.

        Davidson College has received a $2 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to extend its work on Advanced Placement MOOCs.

        This is pretty much the worst piece of writing about education technology I’ve ever seen published in a major publication. Didn’t stop Edsurge from covering it and strangely attributing it to the WSJ and not Forbes. But hey.

        Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Arkansas System in March approved the creation of a fully online institution that would spring from the system’s pool of talent and resources. Seven months later, some of the other institutions in the system are balking at the idea of footing the bill for what may become a direct competitor.”

        Meanwhile on Campus

        Police in Marysville, Washington say that two students are dead and four are wounded following a school shooting today. (The shooter is one of the deceased.)

        Police in riot gear had to use tear gas to break up the “melee” of hundreds of students at Keene State College in New Hampshire. The students were rioting over the… pumpkin festival.

        “The Boston Public Schools is considering the development of a policy to add another layer of security to help protect students and staff. This would involve training School Police Officers in the use of OC spray, also known as pepper spray, and equipping officers with this tool.” So you should probably show up at the public forum to discuss this, Boston edu people.

        The same year as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement and some 34 years since it started supporting the program, the University of Berkeley is withdrawing its funding for the Emma Goldman Papers Project, an archive of the anarchist’s work.

        The University of Guelph has filed a trademark for “OpenEd.” What assholes. Also, the IP system is broken. But mostly, what assholes.

        Charles Munger – a.k.a. Warren Buffett’s business partner – has made a $65 million donation to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

        It’s now officially okay for members of the University of Oklahoma Marching Band to criticize the marching band.

        Via Tressie McMillan Cottom: the top degree-granting institutions for African Americans. Take a guess at what they are. Then read Tressie’s article and analysis.


        The University of South Florida has canceled a visit by 14 African journalists because of fears of Ebola. Just two were from West African countries affected by the disease.

        A teacher from Maine was placed on a 21-day paid leave of absence because she went to Dallas– a move that does make you want to look more closely at the science curriculum there in Strong, Maine.

        Two children who’d spent time in eastern Africa – thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreak – are being kept home from school in Maple Shade, New Jersey, because Strong, Maine and the University of South Florida do not hold a monopoly on dumb.

        Go, School Sports Team!

        Holy crap, Tar Heels. I mean, yeah, I think many of us recognize that lots of shady things happen to maintain student athletes’ eligibility. But this week, a 1367-page report was released detaining 18 years worth of academic fraud, supported by professors, coaches, and administrators at the University of North Carolina. “The report estimates that more than 3,100 students received ”irregular instruction“ in the department’s ”paper classes,“ which did not meet and required only a single paper for credit. Student athletes were disproportionately represented in the classes, accounting for 47.6 percent of enrollments, while making up just 4 percent of the undergraduate student body.” More here and here and here in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

        A new lawsuit was filed this week, charging NCAA and Division 1 schools of violating the wage-and-hour provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. More via USA Today.

        “The University of Texas could spend nearly $6 million a year to comply with a string of recent legal rulings requiring colleges to be more generous to their scholarship athletes.” (That’s about $10,000 per player.)

        “Nearly a quarter of respondents to a new survey of NCAA colleges said their institutions do not have a formal process for educating athletes about the danger of head injuries,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The NCAA does require colleges have a “concussion management plan,” but there’s no penalty if you don’t. So ya know, whatever.

        The coaches at Sayreville High School in New Jersey have been suspended, following sexual assault charges filed against several of the school’s football players last week.

        The rest of the football season has been cancelled at Central Bucks High School West in Philadelphia“after concluding rookie players had been subjected to ‘humiliating and inappropriate’ initiation rites.”

        From the HR Department

        The University of Warwick’s Thomas Docherty has been cleared of any wrongdoing after being suspended from 9 months for “giving off negative vibes.”

        A Tennessee school district has fired one of its IT staff after he used a school 3D printer“to create an inoperable part of a paintball gun.”

        Some folks are up-in-arms because of the cover story in the November 3 issue of Time Magazine on teacher tenure. The cover itself is not quite as provocative as the 2008 one with Michelle Rhee holding the broom ready to sweep the classrooms of DC “clean,” but this one features the phrase “rotten apples” with a gavel preparing to smash a perfectly nice looking piece of fruit. AFT’s Randi Weingarten is demanding the magazine apologize to teachers, and there’s been lots of discussion on Twitter today about the article. Time is probably relieved there’s a controversy so that people actually read the damn magazine.

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        Twitter is screwing up how the timeline works, hoping for better “engagement.”

        “The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has partnered with startup incubator and investment fund 1776 to provide mentors and engagement opportunities for entrepreneurs involved in the K–12 space,” reports Edsurge. 1776 has also partnered with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Pearson.

        It’s great to see coverage of video games made by teenage girls, don’t get me wrong. But in the midst of #gamergate, with all the hatred that’s being unleashed on women in the industry, it’s probably not the best timing for Mic’s story about two teens and their video game Tampon Run. As always: never read the comments.

        Earlier this month, I tweeted a question, asking what the education equivalent is of the “Paypal Mafia.” InTheCapital just ran a story, with supporting anecdotes provided by Blackboard execs, claiming it’s Blackboard. I don’t buy it. But nice story idea.

        Photomath uses the smartphone camera to solve math problems. Or to try to do so. So cue the headlines on how this will “revolutionized math education forever!” Avoid those stories. Read Dan Meyer’s or Rhett Allain’s takes instead.

        Textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is launching an “ed-tech incubator” so it can “work on adopting a startup mentality internally.”

        1800 words in Inside Higher Ed on the use of single quotations versus double quotations in student work.

        Via Gizmodo: “A ‘Smartwatch’ For Kindergarteners Is the Only Smartwatch You Need

        It’s probably wrong to laugh at cybercrime news, but “Hackers Are Exploiting Microsoft PowerPoint to Hijack Computers.” I LOL’d.

        How to Stop Apple From Snooping on Your OS X Yosemite Searches

        Via the School Library Journal: “Adobe’s Lax Security Raises Concerns About Student Privacy.”

        Adobe supports #Gamergate. Awesome priorities, Adobe.

        Working Examples, an online community for sharing practices in education and technology, will be closing its doors at the end of the year.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        On the heels of its investment in Udacity, publisher Bertelsmann has acquired online education company Relias Learning for an undisclosed figure.

        KnowRe has raised $6.8 million in Series A funding from Softbank Ventures Korea, with KTB Network, Partners Investment, and SparkLabs Global Ventures. The “adaptive learning” startup has raised $8.6 million total.

        51Talk has raised $55 million from Sequoia Capital, Shunwei Capital, and DCM. This brings to $65.1 million raised by the Chinese online English-language-learning school.

        Notebowl has raised $600,000 in seed funding. Says Edsurge: “NoteBowl offers a social learning platform for college students, including private groups, messages, agendas and Hangouts on Air, which allows users to broadcast lectures, integrated with a Q&A feature, automatically saved to YouTube.” Sounds unique.

        The for-profit college operator Education Management Corp has delisted itself from NASDAQ. “Last week, EDMC reported a $644 million loss in fiscal year 2014, its third consecutive annual loss, as enrollment declined 7.3 percent.” But don’t worry, education startups, I’m sure your IPO will be waaaaay different.


        The Pew Research Center released its latest report on online harassment. 65% of those between 18–29 say they’ve reported some form of online harassment, with women in that age bracket experiencing severe harassment at a far higher level. 26% of those women say they’ve been stalked online.

        New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.” I look forward to “spite” replacing “grit” as the new education buzzword.

        Researchers from the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development issued a statement this week about the promises made by “brain training” companies: “To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.” (Hello ed-tech: please keep this in mind the next time you see someone drop the phrase “brain based” into their blog posts or webinars.) Meanwhile, “Research shows Portal 2 is better for you than ‘Brain training’ software.”

        The Impact of Open Textbooks on Secondary Science Learning Outcomes.” From the abstract: “Although the effect size of the gains were relatively small, and not consistent across all textbooks, the finding that open textbooks can be as effective or even slightly more effective than their traditional counterparts has important considerations in terms of school district policy in a climate of finite educational funding.”

        Research funded by the Gates Foundation finds positive things about small schools, an initiative supported by the Gates Foundation. Here’s more on the story from a news organization funded by the Gates Foundation.

        Just 10% of art school undergraduates end up as working artists. This and other reasons to avoid art school can be found here.

        “Forty-five percent of school districts indicated they do not have the capacity to deploy a 1:1 initiative.” This and other stats from COSN’s Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey.

        “A decade ago, the U.S. Navy replaced instructor-led teaching with computer-based learning in entry-level training courses, in part to reduce costs, but the result has been less-well-trained sailors and an estimated $16 million in excess maintenance costs, say Robert M. McNab and Diana I. Angelis of the Defense Resources Management Institute.” Disruptive.

        Help wanted at the Open Syllabus Project: “You will help us put 2 million scraped syllabi online, do natural language processing to extract citations from each syllabus, and build visualizations to do citation analysis. We want to see what people are actually teaching for each subject, and how this changes over time, and make this type of analysis widely available to researchers.”

        It’s a small sample size, but research by Michelle Lem at the University of Guelph found that homeless youth put their pets’ needs over their own.

        Via Education Week: “A new study in the American Sociological Review finds that middle and high school students from wealthier backgrounds are more likely than students in poverty to ‘selectively use stimulants only during the academic year,’ and they are most likely to do so in states with the most stringent academic accountability.”

        This week in education-related charts and maps: “The Graduate Schools With the Richest Alums.” “The most expensive college dorms in every state.”

        Image credits: Jesse

        0 0


        Education Law and Politics

        The US Department of Educationreleased the latest version of its “gainful employment” rules this week, pleasing nobody. No longer will career training programs be held accountable for their student loan default rates. They’ll just be judged on graduates’ debt-to-earnings ratios. About 1400 programs, mostly at for-profit schools, will be affected, meaning that if they don't meet these new guidelines, their students will not be eligible for federal financial aid. (More on this over on Educating Modern Learners. Free subscription required.)

        It looks as though Ramon Cortines, the interim superintendent of LAUSD, is going to make some changes to the district’s infamous iPad initiative. He doesn’t seem to like the idea of spending construction bond money on the project, for starters. Meanwhile, it looks like students might actually be able to take their iPads home. Soon.

        Because of problems LAUSD has experienced with its new student information system, Cortines has ordered a review of all senior transcripts. “To aid with transcript reviews, the district will temporarily hire 25 to 50 retired counselors and administrators at an estimated cost of $15,000 to $25,000 a day,” reports The LA Times.

        The LAUSD school board will vote next month on whether or not to make ethnic studies a required course for high school graduation.

        A panel appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state should push for more K–12 online education. On the three-person panel, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt, so I’m shocked – shocked! – that “moar technology!” is the recommendation.

        “A coalition of 22 organizations is opposing the reclassification of about 1,500 schools and libraries that have been considered ‘rural’ into a category called ‘urban clusters’ under changes to the Federal Communication Commission’s E-rate program—changes that will go into effect in the 2015–16 school year,” reports EdWeek. These reclassified institutions stand to lose a significant amount of funding.

        The state of Wisconsin is suing the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges, charging it has engaged in “unfair, false, misleading, and deceptive trade practices.”

        How Kentucky became a rare Common Core success story

        Apple donated some iPads in support of President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, so hey, that was good for PR in EdWeek, Techcrunch, Edsurge, etc.

        There’s been “dramatic testimony” in the trial over “whether the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges broke the law when evaluating City College in 2012 and 2013 before voting to revoke its accreditation.” (Here, “dramatic testimony” means that the president of the commission admits that she edited out favorable language about the CCSF.)

        Stanford University and Dartmouth Collegeissued an apology to Montana voters after a mailer they sent out about candidates on the state’s ballot.

        Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzaisays she will donate $50,000 from her World Children’s Prize to help rebuild schools in Gaza.

        The United Federation of Teachersfiled a brief this week, asking the court to throw out a lawsuit over teacher tenure in New York State.

        The trial of Dante Martin began this week. Martin is accused of manslaughter and has been described as the ringleader in the “hazing” death of a fellow Florida A&M University marching band member.

        Lawyers in British Columbia have voted to have the provincial law society withdraw accreditation from a proposed law school at Trinity Western University. The vote came in part because of the evangelical university’s plans to have “staff, faculty and students sign a Community Covenant that among other tenets restricts sex to traditional marriage between a man and woman.”

        This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America. (They mention you in internal memos. Shudder.)

        MOOCs and UnMOOCs

        Coursera might soon add video chats, reports Wired. “It’s a way to get some money out of the lifelong-learner population, as opposed to the career builder,” says CEO Richard Levin, who previously failed spectacularly on that front when he was the chairman of AllLearn, but that's history. MOOCs are the future. Video chats are the future.

        Or maybe MOOCs were overhyped. The New York Times is on it (with several articles about MOOCs this week, which in no way contributes to the ongoing hype. Not at all.)

        A student report from a Coursera class on human trafficking:

        Abusive comments flourished in this unmoderated learning environment. In one case, a student who was a sex trafficking victim suggested destigmatizing victims: “One attitude that I run into often is that trafficking survivors, sex workers, and even abuse and rape victims are somehow essentially damaged,” she wrote. “It really really bothers me, because as a trafficking survivor I believe one way people can help is to acknowledge that we are whole human beings.”

        “To be honest in real life I would [avoid] you,” another student responded. “In my version of life bad actions affect the person.” Although this comment was down-voted, the instructor never responded to it and students continued to make similarly stigmatizing and abusive comments throughout the class.

        (Read the whole post.)

        Coursera has hired a chief marketing officer, Kurt Apen, formerly with Disney.

        The upcoming E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC has a “teacher bot” that is “is programmed to automatically respond to tweets sent to the course hashtag, and designed to offer help and advice, or engage in conversation.”

        A(nother) Wired article on the for-profit wannabe-elite university startup Minerva. “The entire first year at Minerva is dedicated to teaching three things and three things only: critical thinking, creative thinking, and effective communication. ‘It’s basically like brain hacking,’” says founder Ben Nelson.

        “Are Online Courses Democratizing Education or Killing Colleges?” asks The Wall Street Journal. Betteridge’s Law of Headlines tells us the answer to this question is “no.”

        Meanwhile on Campus

        UC Berkeley chancellor Nicholas Dirks is shrugging off a vote from the student group that picks the unversity’s graduation speakers. The group voted to rescind the invitation to Bill Maher to address graduates in December, but Dirks says that the invitation will stand.

        17% of female MIT undergraduates report having been sexually assaulted, according to a survey on sexual assault and harassment conducted by the school.

        Copenhagen University and the University of Southern Denmarksay they will not admit foreign students.

        Benedictine University of Springfield will close its undergraduate program next year.

        Western Governors Universitylaunched a website about competency-based education. (I love it when launching a website makes the news.) Competency-based education is the “Next Big Thing,” says this Inside Higher Ed headline, and I can confirm CBE will make it onto my annual “Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends” list this year. So it’s official.

        Another victim from last week’s school shooting in Washington died this week.

        Seniors at Broken Bow High School in Nebraskacan pose with their guns in their senior portraits. Because freedom.

        Pot is legal in Colorado, and The New York Times looks at what that means for UC Boulder. (tl;dr: Students are getting high. Just like they were before.)

        The father of a student at La Plata High School in Maryland was banned from campus, after the former Marine objected to a lesson his daughter was being taught on Islam. “They are making Islam sound like its followers are peaceful,” his wife told Yahoo Parenting, clarifying that when he threatened to create a shitstorm, he meant in the media, not on school grounds. Totally peaceful.

        For-profit Grand Canyon University is making a move to become a non-profit.


        Two middle school students who recently moved to the Bronx from Senegalreport having been bullied, taunted by chants of "You’re Ebola!” (Senegal has been declared Ebola-free.)

        The Milford School District in Connecticut is being sued by the father of Ikeoluw Opayemi, who contends that the district’s decision to bar her from attending school over Ebola fears violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Opayemi had visited Nigeria (which is now Ebola-free) this summer.

        “Due to travel advisories issued by the Centers for Disease Control, Murray State University has deferred any application from students in Ebola-affected West African countries until the fall of 2015,” reports the Murray Ledger & Times.

        Louisiana has warned that any attendees at the upcoming meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans had better stay away if they’ve been in Ebola-affected countries in Africa in the last three weeks, or they’ll be quarantined in their hotel rooms.

        School Surveillance and Data Security

        The ACLU and EFF are accusing a Tennessee school district of violating students’ rights with its new policy that “ allows school officials to search any electronic devices students bring to campus and to monitor and control what students post on social media sites.”

        A reminder: “Filtering and Surveillance Should Not Be Considered Protection.” It’s an equity issue. Or maybe it’s about ethics in... oh nevermind.

        The Lewisburg Area School Districtrevealed a data breach this week – “an internal file was accessed earlier this month, and students’ addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers were accessed.” Local police say they have a suspect, who is a district student. Since the breach the district says it will no longer use Social Security numbers, a move that every single school really really really should follow. Good grief.

        Go, School Sports Team!

        California University of Pennsylvania has called off a home game scheduled for this weekend after 5 members of its football team were arrested this week.

        Florida State University running back Karlos Williams is under investigation over an accusation of domestic battery,” reports The New York Times.

        From Inside Higher Ed: “Alcorn State University has enrolled Jamil Cooks, who has become a star player on the institution’s football team. ABC News reported that Cooks moved to Alcorn State University after he was convicted in a court martial of sexual assault while a student at the Air Force Academy, which expelled him. Last year, Alcorn State was criticized for having a transfer on its football team after being arrested on rape charges while he was on the team at Vanderbilt University. Cooks is a registered sex offender. He was recently named Alcorn State’s male athlete of the week.”

        University of Georgia football player Todd Gurley must sit out 4 games because he sold autographed memorabilia, something that’s against NCAA rules. NCAA rules do not care if you’ve been arrested for rape or sexual assault or domestic violence, but hell no you cannot sell your autograph. HELL NO that would be wrong.

        “Eighty-four percent of Division I athletes who entered college in 2007 graduated within six years,” reports the NCAA. Oh well then. Carry on, NCAA. You’re doing great.

        See, actually, it’s about ethics in sports journalism.

        From the HR Department

        Racist substitute teacher in Illinois– school says “she wouldn’t be allowed to work at the school again.” Racist teacher in North Carolina– she’s “under investigation.”

        A teacher at Pines Lake Elementary School in New Jersey was suspended after mocking a student’s name on Facebook.

        Francis Schmidt, who teaches at Bergen Community College, will not lose his job because of a photo he took of his daughter wearing a Games of Thrones t-shirt saying “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.” The school apparently interpreted this as a threat and in turn put him on leave, made him see a mental health counselor, then threatened him with suspension or termination.

        Upgrades and Downgrades

        Reclaim Hosting, which makes it easy for teachers and students to have their own websites, is launching a “Domain of One’s Own” package for institutions or organizations for $199/month. More on this project – really, one of the best things in ed-tech right now – via Jim Groom’s blog.

        From Techcrunch: “Google has just updated its Google Play Books eReader application with a focus on efficient reading.” Efficient reading! Whee!

        Also via Techcrunch: “Connected car technology platform Automatic hopes to help … young drivers develop better habits, and is launching a new program today called License+ that offers parents a toolset for encouraging and coaching their teens as they improve their driving skills.”

        There’s a brewing cheating scandal involving South Korean and Chinese students and the SAT.

        Funding and Acquisitions

        MassiveU has raised $1.08 million in seed funding from undisclosed investors. The startup offers a “project-based, social learning Platform-As-A-Service (PLAAS) that delivers learning content via mobile apps.” Sounds unique.

        Bertelsmanncontinues its string of education technology investments with a $4.9 million investment in iNurture Education Solutions, an Indian company which offers “online, accredited ”career-ready“ courses in fields including business, finance, teacher training, IT and software engineering.”

        Picmonic has raised $1.25 million in convertible note financing from Blackboard founder Matthew Pittinsky, along with Arizona Tech Investors, The Desert Angels, and Canal Partners. The startup, which makes audio-visual study cards, has raised $2.6 million total.

        Via Edsurge: “ Truenorthlogic, a professional development and human resource management system, announced the acquisition of Avatar Training Management System (TMS), a tool that helps district automate course registration and certification tracking created by Generation Ready.”

        VC John Doerr and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have each pledged $500,000 to’s IndieGogo campaign. Ya know, because crowdfunding is for the little guys.

        Taylor Swift is donating the proceeds from her “Welcome to New York” single to New York public schools.


        MIT’s Les Perelman, one of the leading critics of automated essay graders, writes that “The Educational Test Service (ETS) won’t let me continue to test a product that they are trying to sell to schools and colleges across America. Specifically, the company will not allow me access to the Automated Scoring Engine (AES) unless I agree to let them censor my findings.”

        “Student Diversity at 4,725 Institutions,” via The Chronicle of Higher Education

        Curiosity: It Helps Us Learn, But Why?” asks NPR. (Answer: we don’t really know.)

        Schools With No Playgrounds Teach Kids Not to Play

        Hiring is up for college graduates. Starting salaries, not so much.

        Via The Atlantic: “The Economic Impact of School Suspensions: A recent report found that African-American girls were suspended at much higher rates than their white peers, a phenomenon that leads to lower earnings and educational attainment in the long run.”

        Several upcoming surveys will ask about the school climate for LGBT students.

        Educause’s “Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology” (PDF) finds among other things that “Undergraduates value the learning management system (LMS) as critical to their student experience but rarely make full use of it.” Bless their hearts.

        Pearson conducted a survey about OER, and its findings may surprise you. Or not.

        “Teachers Favor Common Core Standards, Not the Testing,” says Gallup.

        Teachers want to talk more about technology, says a survey administered via a Twitter hashtag.

        Faculty members think online courses are inferior to offline courses, according to a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed.

        USC’s Morgan Polikoff writes about what we can actually glean from polling about education topics.

        This week in education charts, maps, and listicles: “’I Teach For Seven Straight Hours In Stilletos And Never Stop Smiling’—What Stock Photos Tell Us About Teaching.“ ”Three ways fearful parents are ruining Hallowe’en.“ The projected fall in teacher union membership. ”This school paid teachers $125,000 a year — and test scores went up.“ ”Common Core in the States Fall 2014: Mapping the Future of Testing in America."

        Image credits: Brenda Gottsabend

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