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Articles on this Page
- 12/31/14--09:48: _Most Popular Posts ...
- 01/02/15--11:00: _Hack Education Week...
- 01/06/15--11:00: _Why (Not) Wearables
- 01/09/15--09:00: _The Language of Lea...
- 01/09/15--12:00: _Hack Education Week...
- 01/13/15--10:30: _Speak & Spell: A Hi...
- 01/14/15--10:45: _Openness and Owners...
- 01/16/15--12:45: _Hack Education Week...
- 01/16/15--14:20: _What Do We Mean By ...
- 01/20/15--14:20: _Draw Me: A History ...
- 01/21/15--15:20: _A Hippocratic Oath ...
- 01/23/15--15:20: _Hack Education Week...
- 01/26/15--09:35: _Separating Educatio...
- 01/27/15--10:35: _Multiple Choice and...
- 01/30/15--14:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 01/31/15--15:35: _Ed-Tech Investments...
- 02/03/15--15:00: _The First Teaching ...
- 02/04/15--15:00: _The Automatic Teacher
- 02/05/15--15:00: _Who's Investing in ...
- 02/06/15--13:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 12/31/14--09:48: Most Popular Posts of 2014
- 01/02/15--11:00: Hack Education Weekly News
- 01/06/15--11:00: Why (Not) Wearables
- 01/09/15--09:00: The Language of Leadership
- 01/09/15--12:00: Hack Education Weekly News
- 01/13/15--10:30: Speak & Spell: A History
- 01/14/15--10:45: Openness and Ownership: Who Owns School Work?
- 01/16/15--12:45: Hack Education Weekly News
- 01/16/15--14:20: What Do We Mean By Open Education
- 01/20/15--14:20: Draw Me: A History of MOOCs
- 01/21/15--15:20: A Hippocratic Oath for Ed-Tech
- 01/23/15--15:20: Hack Education Weekly News
- 01/26/15--09:35: Separating Education Research from Marketing
- 01/27/15--10:35: Multiple Choice and Testing Machines: A History
- 01/30/15--14:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 01/31/15--15:35: Ed-Tech Investments: January 2015
- 02/03/15--15:00: The First Teaching Machines
- 02/04/15--15:00: The Automatic Teacher
- 02/05/15--15:00: Who's Investing in Ed-Tech? (2015)
- 02/06/15--13:35: Hack Education Weekly News
I don’t really/regularly pay attention to metrics like pageviews. Are writers supposed to? I dunno… I write because it helps me think. I don’t write so that people will click, although I am glad that some people do. Indeed, with the revamp of this site, I’ve ditched Google Analytics. So this time next year, I’ll just shrug and say “I guess some folks read some stuff.” This year, however, I can still be specific about what that stuff was:
This Year’s Most Clicked-On Posts
1. The Wrath Against Khan: Why Some Educators Are Questioning Khan Academy, July 19, 2011
2. Codecademy and the Future of (Not) Learning to Code, October 28, 2011
3. The Real Reason I Dropped Out of a PhD Program, August 29, 2012
4. Top 10 Ed-Tech Startups of 2013, December 29, 2013
5. Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: The Business of Ed-Tech, December 23, 2013
6. Who’s Investing in Ed-Tech?: Tech Investors and Their Education Portfolios, December 10, 2012
7. YesAllWomen and Ed-Tech Conferences, or Why ISTE is Unsafe, June 4, 2014
8. The Failure of One Laptop Per Child, April 9, 2012
10. Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs, November 29, 2013
11. Men Explain Technology to Me: On Gender, Ed-Tech, and the Refusal to Be Silent, November 18, 2014
13. Ed-Tech’s Monsters, September 3, 2014
14. Beyond the LMS, September 5, 2014
15. Top 10 Ed-Tech Startups of 2012, December 21, 2012
16. Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012: Education Data and Learning Analytics, December 9, 2012
17. The History of the Future of Ed-Tech, February 4, 2014
18. MinecraftEDU: Minecraft for the Classroom, March 15, 2012
19. The History of “Personalization” and Teaching Machines, July 2, 2014
20. Against “Innovation”, May 14, 2014
A Couple of Observations on the Clicking
Hate-Clicks: Once again, my stories on Khan Academy and Codecademy remain the most trafficked pieces on this site. They also generate the most hate-mail. So that’s fun.
The Business of Ed-Tech: There’s an appetite for analysis of the business of ed-tech apparently, as folks clicked on some fairly old posts about startups and investors. I guess I could look to see how quickly those readers left this site, but that would mean opening Google Analytics again.
Talk Transcripts: These sorts of lists are biased towards blog posts from previous years – that is, those old ones get a full 12 months’ worth of traffic. Just 7 out of my top 20 stories were written this year. Of those, 5 were transcripts from my talks – validation, I suppose, for posting them online. I’m not sure it proves that people will actually read long-form content about ed-tech (again, that would require looking at Google Analytics). But I am very pleased that some of the work I’m most proud of this year made the list: Men Explain Technology to Me and Ed-Tech’s Monsters.
So here’s to writing more in 2015 (and ignoring the metrics)...
Education Law and Politics
The Department of Education announced that it had reached an agreement with Harvard University after finding its law school in violation of Title IX for its response to sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints.
Georgia state lawmakers have passed legislation to reform lobbying, but have created a loophole so that they can still get freebies like college football tickets. Because ethics.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a law (that he’d initially supported) that would have protected teachers from receiving a low job performance rating based on their students’ test scores.
From The New York Times: “A state court panel in Kansas ruled on Tuesday that public schools were being unconstitutionally underfunded, though it stopped short of ordering a specific increase in education dollars.”
From Politico: “Republicans on the Hill are finding unusual common ground with teachers unions about an overthrow of the annual testing mandate embedded in No Child Left Behind.”
Inside Higher Ed reports that “What’s left of the bankrupt Lehman Brothers is suing Saint Louis University for about $18 million. Lehman Brothers Holdings, the legal remnant of the investment bank that went bankrupt in 2008, alleges the university failed to uphold its side of a complicated financial deal known as an interest rate swap.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Purdue has partnered with edX.
“Big data sets do not, by virtue of their size, inherently possess answers to interesting questions.” – HarvardX researcher Justin Reich on “Rebooting MOOC Research.”
According to the US State Department, “English Teaching Massive Open Online Course Breaks Coursera Records.”
Schools and Surveillance
“One bad tweet can be costly to a student athlete” as more schools monitor what students and recruits do online.
Go, School Sports Team!
“What Made College Football More Like the Pros? $7.3 Billion, for a Start” (featuring a great quote by Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones): “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”
Ohio State will play the University of Oregon in the championship football game on January 12. The former beat Alabama and the latter beat Florida State yesterday.
Jessica Luther has the transcripts from FSU quarterback Jameis Winston’s disciplinary hearing. (The university opted not to punish him for sexual assault, despite detailed testimony from the alleged victim.)
The Oregonian investigates the gang rape of Brenda Tracy by Oregon State University football players: “Our own review of the case found that the university community failed Brenda Tracy. The school never responded after she reported the assault. Pervasive conflicts of interest clouded judgment. The betrayal included hasty and questionable decisions made by local police and the district attorney’s office. Evidence was destroyed years before the statute of limitations expired – despite the strong urging by a deputy district attorney to preserve it.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Confessions of a Fixer: How one former coach perpetuated a cheating scheme that benefited hundreds of college athletes.”
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is returning to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, to be head coach. He’s signed a seven-year contract with a base salary of $5 million (more than double what the previous coach made).
Fort Bragg High Schoolbanned the boys and girls basketball team from Mendocino High School from competing in a tournament in the school after the teams wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts, protesting the murder of Eric Garner by a NYPD officer. The school district later reversed the decision.
From the HR Department
From The Washington Post: “Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, moving closer to a possible presidential run, has resigned all of his corporate and nonprofit board memberships, including with his own education foundation, his office said late Wednesday night.” (And a good chuckle from The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz: “Jeb Bush Resigns as George W. Bush’s Brother.”)
Upgrades and Downgrades
The New York Times profilesSchool Guard Glass, “a strong glass intended to thwart intruders for a minimum of four to six minutes.” Because this is how America addresses gun violence and school shootings: building and buying a product.
“The Man Behind Common Core Math” – NPR profiles Jason Zimba.
Via the World Bank’s Michael Trucano, “Translating and implementing the Khan Academy in Brazil.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Snapchat has raised $485 million in investment, bringing to $611 million total raised by the messaging app. (Not education-related per se, I realize, but certainly one of the most popular apps used by teens.)
Unbound Concepts, maker of an “adaptive book recommendation engine,” has raised $800,000 in debt funding.
From the Pew Research Internet Project: “Technology’s Impact on Workers.”
NPR looks at the Sesame Workshop’s research (and app development) on toddlers and tech and vocabulary-building.
“Forty Fast-Growing Private Education Companies Make 2014 Inc. 5000 List.” (I’ve never heard of the majority of these, but hey.)
Via Tony Bates: “Are rich media better than single media in online learning?”
Via Bill Fitzgerald: “Resources on Disproportionate Suspension Rates and Law Enforcement in Schools”
According to the AP, the “The gap between what wealthy districts and poor districts [in Pennsylvania] spend to educate children has widened dramatically in the four years since GOP Gov. Tom Corbett took office….”
It's the time of year for predictions: what will the next twelve months hold for education technology.
I generally try to shy away from making predictions (okay, confession: I wrote one for Educating Modern Learners this week). I'm much better at analyzing what's happened and why than at forecasting what's going to happen. I remain interested – always – in the "why."
Why do certain technologies get hyped? Why do certain technologies get adopted? Is there a connection between consumer technology purchases around the holidays and what is then predicted (imagined) to be those technologies’ usage in the classroom? (I've noticed several recent blog posts from educators to that end.) More broadly, how do consumer tech trends influence ed-tech trends? What problems do these technologies really solve in education? And, of course, what new problems do they create in turn?
The Hype Cycle
The annual Consumer Electronics Show happens this week, and the tech industry bloggers are already predicting that “wearables” will be one of the hot trends to watch this year. That’s not surprising with the Apple iWatch supposedly “Coming Early 2015.” “Gartner Says in 2015, 50 Percent of People Considering Buying a Smart Wristband Will Choose a Smartwatch Instead.” Gartner says. Gartner says. Gartner says.
That’s how consumer tech trends work. Supposedly. Rather, it’s what the tech industry wants consumers to want, what it hopes they want.
Who says what’s going to be “hot” in education technology? Who and what and why? When we predict the future of ed-tech, what are we hoping for?
The annual Horizon Report has been predicting “wearables” and other “smart objects” will be an ed-tech thing for a while now. (Sidenote: I’ve started a new project – The Horizon Report Data Liberation Project.) “Smart objects” were on the horizon (for higher ed) in 2009; “wearable technology” was on the horizon in 2013. Related trends: “learning analytics” (on the horizon in 2011, 2012, 2012, 2014) and “the quantified self” (on the horizon in 2014).
It’s easy to be distracted by the shifting timelines in the Horizon Report – when particular technologies will (or won’t) see adoption by colleges and universities. That’s just one of the problems with predictions: when they fail.
It may be that all the focus on “emerging technologies” functions to obscure the overarching and longer-running “trend” at play here: data. Data collection and data analysis. There are policy demands for data; there are political narratives wrapped up in data; there are business interests tied up in data; and new technologies help fulfill those.
(You could maintain, I suppose, that “wearables” are an expression of the “mobile” trend too – small, personal computing devices in our hands, in our pockets, on our wrists, on our faces. But a lot of wearables, particularly the “tracking” kind, aren’t about fulfilling our “desktop” computing tasks while on-the-go; again, they’re about data collection and analysis.)
“Wearables” are already in use in lots of schools – that is, if you count RFID-enabled student identification cards as such. They’re not as tech-forward/fashionable as the latest electronics on display at CES, sure. But they do underscore my point: that one of the major purposes of wearable technologies in schools is tracking, data, surveillance.
Since the early 2000s, many students’ school-issued ID cards have been equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) chips – the same thing used to track livestock, for what it’s worth. RFID badges have been used to automate attendance-taking, for example, and to track when and where students get on and off school buses.
In 2012, Northside Independent School District in San Antonio issued its students RFID student-ID cards to be worn at all times around their necks. “The ID badge has a bar code associated with a student’s Social Security number. The chip monitors pupils’ movements on campus, from when they arrive until when they leave,” WIRED reported. One student refused to wear the lanyard, calling it the “Mark of the Beast.” She was expelled, and her family unsuccessfully sued the district. The district later dropped the RFID program, opting to track students with surveillance cameras instead.
That is, the surveillance didn’t stop. Only the technology changed.
Changing technologies have meant, in part, there’s been some move to “upgrade” from RFID to GPS (global positioning system). Indeed, I was pitched by tech entrepreneurs repeatedly last year for crowdfunding campaigns for various GPS-tracking devices for children. “Unparalleled safety,” these devices promise. “Track your kids, your pets, the elderly, parcels and luggage.” Because all of those nouns are clearly equivalent.
Many schools now utilize GPS tracking to locate and recover “lost devices.” Some require students with a history of truancy to check in regularly with GPS devices or even wear GPS ankle bracelets. “Wearable technology.”
From the 2013 Horizon Report:
One of the most compelling potential outcomes of wearable technology in higher education is productivity. Wearable technologies that could automatically send information via text, email, and social networks on behalf of the user, based on voice commands, gestures, or other indicators, would help students and educators communicate with each other, keep track of updates, and better organize notifications. …
In Google’s “Project Glass,” augmented-reality-enabled glasses — slated for release in early 2013 — display relevant information for users as they go about their daily routines (go.nmc.org/googleglass). Users can access the Internet via voice command, communicate email replies, and more. The glasses will also have the ability to alert the user of pertinent information as it arises; if their regular train to campus is running late, for example, the goggles could let them know and propose an alternative route.
Despite initial hype by the tech elite about Google Glass, this wearable has seen a decline in interest– and two years after its debut, it still hasn’t been officially released. The $1500 price tag probably hasn’t helped. Nor has the label “Glasshole” to describe wearers, who look both pretentious and silly with an expensive computer on their face and who could be, some fear, surreptitiously recording video and/or taking photos.
The ability to record video is often what educators tout as one of the main benefits of Glass in the classroom. (Strange: aren’t there other, cheaper ways to do that, that don’t involve automatically uploading content and metadata to Google servers?) There’s seemingly been little inquiry by educators into what happens to the data collected or into the implications of the incessant notifications and nudges and the ubiquitous surveillance that these sorts of devices promote.
AltSchool, a school/startup founded by former Google exec Max Ventilla, videotapes and audio records every minute of its classrooms.
The engineering team is working to build technology that will allow teachers to bookmark moments when the class gets particularly loud, for example, so they can go back to that moment and see if something needs to be modified in the instructional practice, or if there is a particular incident to observe later.
"That’s a moment when something happened that the teacher wanted to keep so she could go back and see what happened that allowed this breakthrough," Ventilla said. He also believes parents will be grateful for having a video recording of breakthrough academic moments in their children's lives, like when they first learn to read. The school's engineers are working to create sensors sophisticated enough to pick up on students’ facial expressions and then send a signal to the teacher's dashboard. He said the sensors would potentially help teachers know when a child is struggling, even if she's in another part of the room. It's meant to give the teacher another set of eyes.
Surveillance is about social control and coercion. It’s about silencing loud voices. It’s about stifling dissent. What role will education technologies play in this?
The Quantified Student
Students are watched. They are monitored. They are assessed. They are quantified.
Calls for a “quantified student” are connected in part to the “quantified self” movement, whose proponents use various technologies – apps, sensors, and wearables – to monitor aspects of their daily life (most commonly related to health and wellness, tracking things like caloric intake, sleep quality, and physical activity). The notion of the “quantified self” isn’t new – there are merely new devices for tracking, new ways to count “what counts.” “What counts” remains largely the same.
So even if a student gets to track for herself her own data there’s still, again, a very limited sense of “what counts,” based in part on the education system’s existing data demands and measurements. (This is one of the great ironies of disrupting “seat time”: we’re turning to other similarly flawed metrics.)
What would, for example, a “Fitbit for Education” track? As Doug Johnson recently asked,
“What other ways might students be able to monitor their own academic pursuits to improve their academic health? Numbers of …
Math problems solved
Lines of code written
Hours of educational games played
Any higher order thinking activities done???”
I’m not sure any of those numbers would actually tell us that much about learning, although they might reinforce traditional notions of “academic health.” But dreams of a “Fitbit for Education” do reflect a larger narrative that more data and bigger numbers are somehow better. More data will somehow reveal more about ourselves.
And so education technology opts to track more data. Rarely do we stop to ask to whom all this is being revealed or to what end. If both education and education technology view students as objects – objects to be tracked and monitored and shaped and surveilled – what role can we expect wearables to play?
This post first appeared in Educating Modern Learners
There are hundreds and hundreds of books on leadership, most often framed in terms of “management.” What is the connection between language and leadership? And what role does language play in modern learning and modern leadership? These questions seem particularly important if we want to focus less on the “management” of learning and on the building of a transformative school culture.
The language that we use to talk about education does not simply reflect our vision and values. It shapes them as well — potentially constraining what we think and how we think. That means, in turn, that a shift in education might necessitate in many ways a shift in language.
We can see the importance of language in our education policies. The language used therein underscores the policy priorities: “achievement,” “accountability,” “assessment,” “standards,” and so on. That same language also reveals and reinforces certain beliefs about schools: what schools should do and how they should accomplish them.
That language posits students as the objects of schooling, for example, not as subjects in their own learning. It is focused on the acquisition of content and skills rather than the construction of knowledge. It is interested in outcomes not processes.
Efforts to rethink and reform school always involve the adoption of new language. Some of this involves the creation and repetition of buzzwords. (We could probably come up with quite a lengthy list here.) Some of this involves echoing the language of business.
“Efficiency” is a great example of the latter, and as it dovetails quite nicely with certainly notions of what better technologies and management can afford us, it’s increasingly invoked to describe what’s lacking in schools, and thus as a goal for education. But “efficiency” is a key part of scientific management, and to talk about education in terms of efficiency often involves efforts to measure and adjust and control in terms of production and output. And at the end of the day, efficiency is most concerned with tuning the dials that minimize costs and not those that might maximize happiness or learning.
A Language for Modern Learning
The tasks for education leaders are severalfold here: we must ask ourselves how we can develop a language for modern learning — one that is clear and robust and unencumbered (or less encumbered, perhaps) by language of business and control.
I’d argue too that it must be a shared language — that is, it cannot be new words and phrases inserted in mission statements or in policy decrees — that simply impose new frameworks from above. As schools build their culture, they build language; transforming school culture involves transforming language. A shared process; a shared language.
It’s easy to find books and lectures on language and leadership that give pointers for how to lead and manage through inspirational words and motivational speech. These books talk about communicating clearly, framing the message carefully, and wielding symbolic language powerfully. But to do that is to use speech effectively; it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the language of progressive change or of transformational leadership. That’s not to say that those skills aren’t important, of course. But they aren’t sufficient if we’re going to rethink education leadership alongside education. That is, education leadership has to be different, do different, sound different than leadership in other sectors and leadership in other eras.
What does a language of modern education leadership sound like? If it’s leadership that encourages student-driven learning, for starters, and that recognizes student agency, it probably has to involve a language that dismantles and distributes “control” and that fosters and supports new voices. It has to be a language of listening to students and to communities.
Free Community College
The big news this week: President Obama’s proposal to make 2 years of community college free for some students. Not a lot of details on how the plan would be funded (the federal government would pick up three-fourths of the cost; states the rest). Students would need to maintain a 2.5 GPA in order to remain eligible. It's not clear how the Republican-controlled Congress will respond (although we can guess.) More from The New York Times, “Dean Dad,” Inside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Inside Higher Ed examines state education budgets as related to community colleges.)
Elsewhere in Education Law and Politics
Word on the street: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “will deliver a major speech Monday detailing the need to repeal and replace No Child Left Behind.”
The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton writes that “Jeb Bush education foundation played leading role in mixing politics, policy.”
On his last day in office Arizona Superintendent John Huppenthal said that schools that violated the state’s ban on ethnic studiescould risk losing state funds. His target: schools that teach hip hop.
“Nursery school staff and registered childminders must report toddlers at risk of becoming terrorists, under counter-terrorism measures proposed by the [UK] Government,” reports The Telegraph.
The New York City Board of Education is lifting its ban on cellphones in schools.
Senator Lamar Alexander, the new chair of the Senate education committee, has introduced legislation to simplify FAFSA.
Via The Oregonian: “Oregon schools’ biggest worries about giving new online Smarter Balanced tests this spring aren’t about slow Internet connections or a lack of computers; officials in many districts are concerned that elementary students can’t type well enough to handle the new tests.”
Former Georgia Tech engineering professor Joy Laskar has been indicted on racketeering charges, accused of misusing a million dollars in university funds relating to a wireless chip startup he founded.
The for-profit Kaplan Higher Education has reached a $1.3 million settlement with Texas, resolving “whistleblower allegations that Kaplan employed unqualified instructors at its campuses.”
The Authors Guild and HathiTrust have resolved their dispute over universities’ book digitization efforts. The HathiTrust’s statement is here.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs (aka Online Education)
“The Hype is Dead, but MOOCs Are Marching On” – an interview with Coursera’s Daphne Koller.
“Have MOOCs Helped or Hurt?” asks Randy Best in an op-ed in Inside Higher Ed. (Best is the CEO of Academic Partnerships, one of the many education-related companies that Jeb Bush has stepped away from as he preps for his likely Presidential run.)
In news I missed late last year, edX has partnered with Microsoft“to make it easy to create online courses authored with Office Mix and experienced through edX.org.” Real cutting edge technology MOOCs offer, eh.
A profile in The Atlantic of University of Pennsylvania English professor Al Filreis’s popular Coursera course, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry.
“Why We Give Up On New Year’s Resolutions, Online Courses And Diets” – self-control apparently. Great. Let’s bring the “grit” conversation to MOOCs.
Western Governors University“has begun referring underprepared students to StraighterLine, an unaccredited online course provider that does not offer degrees,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
From Phil Hill: “Fall 2013 IPEDS Data: New Profile of US Higher Ed Online Education” and “Fall 2013 IPEDS Data: Top 30 largest online enrollments per institution.” But here’s the real kicker: “No Discernible Growth in US Higher Ed Online Learning.”
You could be forgiven for assuming that the continued growth of online education within US higher ed was a foregone conclusion. We all know it’s happening; the questions is how to adapt to the new world.
But what if the assumption is wrong? Based on the official Department of Education / NCES new IPEDS data for Fall 2013 term, for the first time there has been no discernible growth in postsecondary students taking at least one online course in the US.
Meanwhile on Campus
The University of Virginia has reinstated Greek social functions, but under stricter rules, including requiring “sober brother” monitors, that is, fraternity members who aren’t drinking. UVA frat events were suspended late last year following a Rolling Stone article on an alleged gang rape at a Phi Kappa Psi party.
Elsewhere in Virginia, “Angry Student Hacks County’s Website to Apologize for Snow Day ‘Fuckery’.”
The for-profit Northeastern Institute of Cannabis“prepares people for positions ranging from dispensary workers to medical marijuana educators.”
Via The Globe and Mail: “Dalhousie University was engulfed in controversy on Monday after it announced the suspension of 13 male dentistry students over misogynistic comments on Facebook that came to light almost a month ago. The university announced on Monday morning that the men are suspended from clinical activities while an academic committee considers further penalties, such as academic suspension or expulsion.”
Drexel University is phasing out a program that had its faculty members teach classes at nearby community colleges.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education, “In Time of Disruption, Media Companies and Colleges Look to Each Other for Help”: “The University of Southern California is joining forces with Wired; Northeastern University with Esquire; the Financial Times with a group of business schools; and the University of Oklahoma with the History Channel.”
The charter school chain Success Academy has cancelled its plans to open four new schools, reports Chalkbeat.
The for-profit chain Herzing University is going to become a non-profit.
In Georgia, Georgia State University will merge with Georgia Perimeter College. Kennesaw State University will merge with Southern Polytechnic State University.
Homeschooling is on the rise in the US. “According to the most recent federal statistics available, the number of school-age children who were home-schooled in the United States was close to 1.8 million in 2011–12, up from 1.5 million five years earlier.” (From Vox: “The states that don’t require homeschooled kids to learn math or English, in one map.”)
Academic Annual Meetings
“At their annual meeting here, members of the American Historical Association rejected – by a vote of 144 to 51 – an opportunity to vote on a set of resolutions critical of Israel,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
The Modern Language Association is having its annual meeting, and The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at how an “outsider slate” fared in the organization’s elections.
Go, School Sports Team!
The University of Oregon and its basketball coach Dana Altman are being sued by the victim of an alleged gang rape involving three Ducks athletes. The suit alleges, in part, that the university knew that one of those athletes had been suspended from his former college because of sexual assault.
The victim of an alleged rape by Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston is suing the university, alleging“that high-ranking school athletic department officials deliberately concealed sexual misconduct allegations against the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner in order to ”protect the football program,“ a violation of federal law.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Dartmouth College has charged 64 students – many of them athletes – with cheating in a sports ethics course…. According to the course’s instructor, Randall Balmer, dozens of students frequently did not attend the class, and instead handed their clickers to other students who then used the devices to respond to questions during in-class assignments.”
Via CBS Sports: “A crowdfunding website has moved ahead with plans to pay college athletes. FanPay recently launched live contributions for players to collect money once they graduate and have no playing eligibility left.”
The NCAA says it will help pay for athletes’ families to travel to the Final Four and to the football championship game.
A high school coach in Connecticut thought he was sending a Snapchat of himself masturbating to his girlfriend; instead he sent the video to “all 30 people on his contact list, including at least six high school girls from the soccer team he coached at nearby E.O. Smith High School.” Oops.
From the HR Department
Adjuncts at Washington University in St. Louis have voted to join the SEIU union.
Doug Levin is stepping down from his role as executive director of State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).
Steven Pines is stepping down from his role as executive director of the Education Industry Association.
Upgrades and Downgrades
You can now plan a number of MS-DOS games – including the education classic Oregon Trail– thanks to an emulator and archive from the Internet Archive.
Via the Creative Commons blog: “The OPENPediatrics program at Boston Children’s Hospital announced the launch today of a new open educational resource (OER), a multimedia library that presents animations and illustrations from OPENPediatrics instructional videos under CC BY-NC-SA for use by clinicians and academics in their own instructional materials.”
LAUSD has completed its purchase of computers to prepare for standardized testing this spring. “Over the winter break, it ordered 21,000 iPad Airs with matching keyboards and 6,000 Chromebooks, at a cost of $13 million. It puts the number of testing iPads at just over 73,000.”
Funnymonkey’s Bill Fitzgerald notes that Remind (101) has updated its Terms of Service and privacy policies. “There is a lot to like in their updates.”
The DPLA has issued its strategic plan for the coming years.
HarperCollins has pulled its atlas that omits any reference to Israel.
Discovery Education has released a Math Techbook, a digital textbook offering.
According to Edsurge, “Asia is emerging as the world’s ed-tech laboratory.”
From The New York Times, “Inside a Chinese Test Prep Factory.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Flat World (formerly known as Flat World Knowledge) has raised $5 million in debt funding from investors that include Bessemer Venture Partners, reports DC. The total round was $9.5 million, according to Crunchbase, which pegs the total raised by the company at $35.7 million.
The Chinese mobile company NetDragonannounced $52.5 million in Series A funding for its online education subsidiary. Investors include IDG Capital Partners, Vertex Venture, and Alpha Animation.
CampusTap has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Dutchess Capital and Rally Software. “CampusTap tracks students’ academic interests and extracurricular activities to suggest relevant internships and career opportunities,” says Edsurge.
The private equity firm Brentwood Associates has acquired Excelligence, which according to the press release, describes itself as “a leading developer, manufacturer, distributor, and multi-channel retailer of educational products.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“Is the Gates Foundation Still Investing in Private Prisons?” asks Mother Jones. “Bill and Melinda Gates’ philanthropy won’t say.”
Forbes’ annual clickbait 30 Under 30, the education version.
American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess has released his annual “Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings.”
(My article from last year on these sorts of lists still stands.)
The Center for Reinventing Public Education has released a report on school tech procurement processes.
Via NPR’s Anya Kamenetz (who has a new book out, The Test), “What Schools Could Use Instead Of Standardized Tests.”
Scholastic has released a report on reading. Among the findings, “In a 2014 survey of just over 1,000 children ages 6 to 17, only 31 percent said they read a book for fun almost daily, down from 37 percent four years ago.”
More rankings from US News & World Report: this one for online education programs.
The Pew Research Internet Project has updated its stats on adults’ social media usage. Among the findings, “For the first time, more than half of all online adults 65 and older (56%) use Facebook. This represents 31% of all seniors.”
According to a study by the American Economic Association, “increases in online class size have no impact on student grades, student persistence in the course or the likelihood of students enrolling in future courses.” More via Inside Higher Ed.
According to a study by Piazza, a startup that makes an online discussion tool, women and men use the program differently: women ask more questions but answer fewer questions. And when they do answer, they are more likely to answer anonymously.
According to a study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly, “men are much more likely than women to reject findings of sexism in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and even to make sexist comments in response to such research.”
The Computer Science Teachers Association has released the results of its 2014 high school survey. Among the findings, “participants applied the term ‘computer science’ to a vast array of topics and courses, many of which were submitted as ‘other’ courses in response to the topics that were provided in the survey. Participants classified studies in business management, yearbook layout, artificial intelligence, robotics, office applications, and automated design as computer science courses.”
Edsurge has released some of the data based on feedback teachers give during its Tech for Schools Summits. Among the findings, teachers care that tech looks nice more than if it’s useful. Sigh.
Toys as Teaching Machines
The Speak & Spell – one of the most iconic toys of the 1980s – is a teaching machine.
By that, I don’t mean simply that it’s an electronic, educational device. It is that, sure.
The Speak & Spell is a teaching machine specifically in the tradition of B. F. Skinner, reflecting some of both Skinner’s design principles and his theories of learning, decades older than the popular Texas Instruments device. Rather than selecting the correctly-spelled word in a multiple choice quiz, for the example, the Speak & Spell prompts the user to construct the response. It praises; it corrects.
In his "History of Teaching Machines," historian of psychology Ludy Benjamin writes that,
"A teaching machine is an automatic or self-controlling device that (a) presents a unit of information (B. F. Skinner would say that the information must be new), (b) provides some means for the learner to respond to the information, and (c) provides feedback about the correctness of the learner’s responses."
The shared features in most definitions of teaching machines include automation, immediate feedback, and self-pacing. The Speak & Spell has all three, using “contingencies of reinforcement” to establish appropriate spelling behavior. (Some of its engineers thought it would be funny if the user received a raspberry or a funny comment when they spelled a word wrong. But this idea was rejected as it would “reward” incorrect spelling.)
Like so much of education technology, the Speak & Spell takes a behaviorist approach to teaching and learning.
That’s noteworthy, because I would argue that the Speak & Spell has profoundly shaped how we think about electronic educational devices – what we expect these devices to do.
Mobile Computing and Ed-Tech: From Calculators to the Little Professor
Typically the history of the Speak & Spell isn’t traced through B. F. Skinner’s teaching machines but through the calculator. (That being said, Skinner had made significant in-roads into both the engineering crowd and the popular consciousness in the 1950s and 1960s with his teaching machines.)
In 1967, engineers at Texas Instruments developed the first handheld electronic calculator. Thanks to a number of technical developments (single chip microcomputers, LED and LCD, for example), these portable computing devices quickly got better and cheaper. In the early 1970s, calculators could cost several hundred dollars, but by the end of the decade, the price had come down to make them more affordable and more commonplace.
And so, with some resistance and debate about their effect on learning, calculators began to enter the classroom. A new ed-tech market.
In 1976, Texas Instruments introduced what it boasts was “the first electronic educational toy”: the Little Professor.
The Little Professor served as a reverse calculator, of sorts. Instead of plugging in a mathematical expression in order to get an answer, the Little Professor provided the expression, and the user had to provide the answer – it is, as some have described it, an “instructional calculator.” According to Texas Instruments,
It functioned as a handheld drill-and-practice aid for basic math, and was designed to resemble a wise and friendly owl. The Little Professor suggested problems to students and rewarded them with a message on its display when they gave the correct answer.
Little Professor was priced to sell for under $20 and was an instant hit. Although production was ramped up, TI couldn’t make enough units to fill the orders for the Christmas season in 1976. Demand for 1977 was more than 1 million units.
The success of the Little Professor prompted Texas Instruments to brainstorm other possible electronic learning products.
The Development of the Speak & Spell
It was Texas Instruments engineer Paul Breedlove who reportedly came up with the idea of a learning aid for spelling. (Interestingly, one of the very first patents for educational devices was awarded in 1866: “an apparatus for teaching spelling.”) Breedlove’s idea was to build upon bubble memory, another TI research effort, and as such it involved an impressive technical challenge: the device should be able to speak the spelling word out loud.
Research began in 1976 – a three-month feasibility study with a $25,000 budget and a team of four: Paul Breedlove, Richard Wiggins, Larry Brantingham, and Gene Frantz.
In a 2008 interview with Vintage Computing, Richard Wiggins described the early development process:
Initially, there were only a very few people involved. At the initial meeting in November, Paul Breedlove came over to the research Labs with Gene Frantz and Larry Brantingham from the Consumer Products Group. The result of that meeting was that I was to propose a technique for generating the speech in the product. The challenge was that it had to be solid state (no pull strings!), cheap (meaning it used a low cost semiconductor technology), and the speech had to be good enough so that the user could understand the word out of context — a little bit harder than using a word in a sentence. Larry was a circuit designer and was tasked to determine if what I came up with could be implemented in an integrated circuit. Larry and I spent time together discussing various strategies, and Gene Frantz, who eventually became the project manager, kept the overall design moving forward.
As the program moved forward during 1977, additional people kept being added to the project. It was amazing to me how many people eventually become involved. [There were] people working on which spelling words to chose, what the product should look like, what it should be called, where it would be manufactured, and how it was to be marketed.
The original Speak and Spell was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1978. The 10“ x 7” orange plastic device contained a library of several hundred “frequently misspelled words.” The machine would say one out loud, and the user would type it via the pushbutton keyboard (later a membrane keyboard instead of raised buttons). As the user typed, the letters would appear on a VFD screen (later LCD) – one form of feedback. (Thanks, Skinner!) From the press release, we can see the other form of feedback: “Right answers earn verbal and visual praise; wrong answers receive patient encouragement to try again. A number of games are offered to intrigue children of all ages.”
The toy had a suggested retail price of $50. (That would be now about $181, adjusted for inflation.)
A Speaking, Teaching Machine
The Speak & Spell was not the first talking toy. But it was, as Texas Instruments boasted in its CES press release, the first with “no moving parts.” Other toys, such as Mattel’s Chatty Cathy, used pre-recorded voices on phonograph or tape, typically triggered by a pull-string or similar mechanism. These broke easily, as any parent would tell you. So “no moving parts” was a selling point for durability.
But to accomplish that with the Speak & Spell, Texas Instruments had to make an important engineering breakthrough in speech technology.
According to TI’s Richard Wiggins,
I promoted the choice of linear predictive coding to generate the speech signal from a small amount of data. Today, the speech could easily be recorded and stored in large digital memory chips. But in 1976, memory chips were not capable of storing that much data. We considered generating the speech from phonemes or sound fragments but the speech quality was not sufficient. A digital filter could be used and the time varying coefficients could be stored in memory but the amount of computations involved seemed too great.
Also, some kind of speech elements shorter than words were considered, but it appeared that the amount of computer processing to prepare data to drive the speech synthesizer would be too time consuming, and the resulting system would be very complex. We needed something simple to generate the speech sounds, and a preparation system for the data that wouldn’t be too complicated to execute.
The solution: the first linear predictive coding digital signal processor chip, the TMS5100. Each word was represented by a series of phonemes. This speech data was stored in the device’s memory (on 2 128 kilobit ROMs, at the time the largest capacity ROM in use); then when the Speak & Spell was told to say a word, the command was processed through a 4-bit microprocessor and speech synthesizer. A radio DJ from Dallas was chosen to record the speech sounds, thanks to his clear, monotone voice, and according to Texas Instruments, “it marked the first time the human vocal tract had been electronically duplicated on a single chip of silicon.”
“The Standard for Educational Toys”
The Speak & Spell was one of a trio of talking educational toys released by Texas Instruments that later included Speak & Read and Speak & Math (both launched in 1980).
Speak & Spell was incredibly popular and was sold around the world, with cartridges that offered localized versions of games and word libraries in both different accents (British English versus American English, for example) and languages (Japanese, Italian, French, Spanish, and German).
The Speak & Spell was re-designed several times (the last time in 1992 for the Spanish market only), and Texas Instruments insists, “the basic learning principles and design concepts remain the standard for educational toys.”
But does the Speak & Spell teach?
According to research published in the International Journal of Man-Machine Studies in 1982, users experienced a “significant increase in the spelling of words in the machine’s lexicon.” But that increase didn’t stick. “This appeared to be only a transitory increase because spelling performance on these words began to drop to pre-machine exposure levels once the opportunity to use the machine was removed. No improvement was observed in the spelling of words not in the machine’s lexicon.”
These aren’t uncommon findings, of course. Much of ed-tech is similarly ineffective.
Yet the Speak & Spell has become one of the most iconic pieces of education technology, referenced again and again in pop culture. The device appeared in Toy Story and Toy Story 2 and, most famously, in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. used the Speak & Spell to “phone home,” but it doesn’t actually teach spelling.
Hacking the Speak & Spell
But E.T. used it to “phone home.” And that’s why, despite the model upon which the instruction was designed and despite the lack of research to demonstrate it was truly an effective spelling aid, the Speak & Spell manages to break free of behaviorist teaching machines – because as E.T. demonstrated, the Speak & Spell is eminently hackable.
It can be dismantled and reprogrammed to do different things, to serve different purposes.
The Speak & Spell is often used in “circuit bending,” for example, whereby the device’s normal functioning is disrupted and distorted to make new sounds by placing an alligator on a particular spot on the circuit board. From Casper Electronics (which offers detailed instructions on circuit bending):
“So, if the Speak & Spell was saying ‘Spell the word PONY’ and you activate the ‘hold’ effect in the middle of ‘PONY’, it would sound like…..‘Spell the word POOOOOOOOOOONY’.” All of this has made the Speak & Spell a stock “instrument” in a lot of noise music.
Contrary to how many electronic devices are "closed" and constrained by design, Texas Instruments did not restrict usage of the various language cartridges by region. And the company has not responded negatively to those who “circuit bend” (or show others how to “circuit bend.”) That approach differs, it’s worth noting, from the one that TI took to lock down some of its other computing devices. In 2009, Texas Instruments filed a DMCA takedown request against programmers who’d posted instructions on how to “flash” a new operating system onto Texas Instrument’s TI–83 series graphic calculator; that is, a way to make its devices programmable beyond the TI software.
The Speak & Spell – its software and its hardware – remains (somewhat) “open.” That makes this particular device very different from much of current education technology – tools that are not hackable, not extensible, not inspectable; tools that even if you buy, you don’t really “own” or control.
The Speak & Spell is a behaviorist teaching machine; but it retains for the user the capability to resist that. (Something that I'm sure B. F. Skinner would find quite distasteful.) First, of course, you have to unscrew the back cover, open it up, and hack...
This post first appeared on Educating Modern Learners
Whose Copyright Is It?
Last year, the Prince George’s County Board of Education (in Maryland) proposed a new policy that would grant the district copyright over work that staff and students had done, meaning that, as The Washington Post reported, "a picture drawn by a first-grader, a lesson plan developed by a teacher or an app created by a teen would belong to the school system, not the individual.”
The proposed policy read, in part:
"Works created by employees and/or students specifically for use by the Prince George’s County Public Schools or a specific school or department within PGCPS, are properties of the Board of Education even if created on the employee’s or student’s time and with use of their materials.”
The proposal apparently came about because district leaders had seen a presentation about the possibilities for creating new curricula using iPads, and many observers speculated that the district wanted “a piece of the action.” No doubt, sites selling teacher-created lesson plans have become big business in recent years, with companies like TeachersPayTeachers touting the millions of dollars that educators have earned from their marketplace. The district proposal would have prevented its teachers from selling their materials online.
Many districts already have in place policies that claim copyright over employees’ work — particularly if it is done while at work or on work-issued equipment. But the Prince George’s County measure would have gone farther by saying that all work, done on one’s own time or on one’s own devices – was owned by the district. Furthermore, it took the usual step to claim copyright over students’ work.
No surprise, the policy was put on hold after public outcry over the move and questions about its legality (after all, students, unlike teachers, are not school employees).
Copyright in a Digital Age
The Prince George’s County School Board was rebuked (in the media at least) for making such sweeping claims to copyright, but there are important lessons to be learned here for all districts. Thanks to new technologies, we should be asking more questions about the ownership of content and the ownership of data. (EML has explored the latter as it relates to student privacy.)
Our questions cannot simply involve how best to assign or protect copyright. Our concerns must not simply address profits. We should talk about creativity and control.
As open education advocate David Wiley has argued, new technologies should prompt us to rethink how copyright is applied to education, particularly if we want to take full advantage of what a move to “digital” can afford us:
The Internet has frequently been compared to the printing press, which was in turn frequently compared to the process of writing books by hand. Today, the cost of having a 250-page book transcribed by hand is about $250. The cost of printing that same book with a print-on-demand service is about $5. The cost of copying an online version of that same book (e.g., an ePub file) is about $0.0008. The cost of shipping either the handwritten or printed book is about $5. The cost of distributing an electronic copy of the book over the Internet is approximately $0.0007.
Clearly, the Internet has empowered us to copy and share with an efficiency never before known or imagined. However, long before the Internet was invented, copyright law began regulating the very activities the Internet makes essentially free (copying and distributing). Consequently, the Internet was born at a severe disadvantage, as preexisting laws discouraged people from realizing the full potential of the network.
Since the invention of the Internet, copyright law has been “strengthened” to further restrict the Internet’s copying and sharing capabilities. While existing laws, business models, and educational practices make it difficult for instructors and learners to leverage the full power of the Internet to access high-quality, affordable learning materials, open educational resources can be freely copied and shared (and revised and remixed) without breaking the law. Open educational resources allow the full technical power of the Internet to be brought to bear on education. OER allow exactly what the Internet enables: free sharing of educational resources with the world.
Although OER are often talked about in terms of cost-savings – free and openly licensed textbooks, for example, as opposed to the proprietary materials sold by traditional publishers – we should think more broadly about what “open” might mean in terms of our educational practices.
Openly Licensed Materials: Only the First Step
To be sure, there is much confusion about how copyright works. What does copyright enable or restrict? What counts (in the US at least) as “fair use”? Can copyrighted materials be used in the classroom? If so, how?
Creative Commons licenses— which are built on top of copyright and do not change ownership — do enable others to copy and distribute materials without having to ask for the copyright holder’s express permission. These “open licenses” make educational content more “remixable,” so that lessons and textbooks for example, can be readily adapted to new settings and new circumstances.
Open licenses make sharing easier, and as Wiley has argued:
Education is, first and foremost, an enterprise of sharing. In fact, sharing is the sole means by which education is effected. If an instructor is not sharing what he or she knows with students, there is no education happening.
This ethos about sharing is a core piece of “open education,” and while the licenses facilitate that ethos, it’s the ethos itself that is of particular significance, I think. The open licenses are a necessary condition, if you will, for bringing education into the Internet Age, but they’re just the starting ground for rethinking “who owns” and “who controls” teaching and learning. That is, you can use an openly licensed textbook, and not really change any traditional classroom practices. An open license is just the first step.
Returning to the Prince George’s County story: what do its attempts to claim copyright over teacher and student creations suggest about its position on creation and creativity? What does it mean that we think about digital work as “school property”? What does the proposal say about where the benefit of “school work” – students’ labor or teachers’ labor – is supposed to accrue?
Senator Lamar Alexander has released a draft of his bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known by the name of its latest version: No Child Left Behind. According to The New York Times, the bill offers “two options: one that would retain the mandate of annual testing and one that would give states the freedom to choose between annual testing or testing once every three years.”
Lots of pundits are weighing in (no surprise). The AFT says keep mandatory testing; the NEA says ditch it. Civil rights groups want a strong role for the federal government. Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, Margaret Spellings says“No Child Left Behind Works But Needs Updates.”
Elsewhere in Testing
Mississippi is withdrawing from PARCC, one of the Common Core testing consortia.
States are still struggling with online tests – or at least Minnesota is struggling with problems with Pearson’s TestNav website.
Elsewhere in Education Law and Politics
President Obama wants tougher rules about student data and student privacy. He will propose “The Student Digital Privacy Act,” which is said to be modeled after the legislation passed last year in California banning the use of K–12 student data for advertising or marketing. “Parents Challenge President to Dig Deeper on Ed Tech.” “Industry Sees Promise, and Cause for Worry, in President’s Data-Privacy Plans.”
The discussion continues about President Obama’s proposal for two years of free community college: “What Students Pay at Community Colleges Now—and How Obama’s Proposal Might Change That.” “Community Colleges at a Glance.” More thoughts from “Dean Dad” Matt Reed.
The Obama Administration announced $25,000,000 in grants to 13 HBCUs to develop cybersecurity programs.
The Department of Education is letting more schools experiment with competency-based programs.
The Department of Education has reviewedLAUSD’s iPad program finding it was “plagued by lack of resources and inadequate planning for how the devices would be used in classrooms and, later, how they would be evaluated.”
Indonesia plans to replace textbooks with tablets, reports Edukwest.
Via the AP: “Arizona became the first state in the nation on Thursday to enact a law requiring high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship test on civics before graduation.”
The 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals heard the appeal this week of the 2010 Arizona law banning ethnic studies programs.
The legal challenge to New York state’s teacher tenure law got its “day in court” this week.
Via Pacific Standard: “Schools in Massachusetts will be subject to new limits on physically restraining or isolating public school students under reforms ushered in late last year. School staff members will no longer be permitted to pin students face-down on the floor in most instances….” (In most instances?!?)
CUNY adjunct (and former director of the CIA) David Petraeuscould face prosecution for leaking classified information to his mistress/biographer.
Via NPR: “A judge in Florida has sentenced former Florida A&M University student Dante Martin to six years in prison for manslaughter and felony hazing in the 2011 death of his fellow band member, drum major Robert Champion.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Education Press
*blinks* pic.twitter.com/Wao8orbpIh— Dan Trombly (@stcolumbia) January 16, 2015
Quad Partners, an investor in many for-profit colleges, now owns a controlling share of Inside Higher Education.
Ed-tech is in its infancy, according to The New York Times. Despite the role of universities in its development, education has not been “touched by Internet technology.”
The Atlantic has issued a 300+-word correction to an article that contended that admissions to City University of New York were becoming more restrictive. Here’s CUNY’s response. More via Inside Higher Ed.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Steven Klinsky has donated $1 million to edX with the hopes of making the freshmen year of college – or at least some edX classes – free.
Nothing like a little extrinsic motivation to get folks to stick around your MOOC. Inside Higher Ed reports that “Students in edX’s Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 courses have a new reason to tough out the 12 to 16 weeks it takes to complete the MOOCs – $1,000 in Amazon Web Services credit.”
Meanwhile on Campus
“A middle school principal [in Alabama] wants to stockpile cans of corn and peas in classrooms for students to hurl at possible intruders as a last defense.” Each student is asked to contribute a can.
Via KQED: “City College of San Francisco Gets Two More Years to Resolve Accreditation Issues.”
Two University of Virginia fraternities are refusing to sign the new agreement about alcohol consumption at events – rules created after the Rolling Stone story about an alleged gape rape at a frat party. But police have now cleared that frat in question, Phi Kappa Psi, saying that the rape did not happen at its house.
According to Inside Higher Ed, “More than two dozen of the nation’s top research universities have declined an offer by the Association of American Universities to anonymously survey their students about the prevalence of sexual assault on campus.”
UMass is outsourcing textbook sales to Amazon.
According to the Daily Tarheel, some 6000 students at UNC have signed up for GradeBuddy, a site where students can buy and sell class notes.
Arizona State University Assistant Professor Ersula Ore is suing the university for $2 million after she was body-slammed and arrested by a campus police officer last year.
BYU has added some “loopholes” to its beard ban.
“Mercyhurst University, a Catholic institution in northwestern Pennsylvania, is preparing to cut academics.” – a “queen sacrifice,” as Bryan Alexander calls it.
Go, School Sports Team!
Ohio State University trounced the University of Oregon in the first college football championship game. Perhaps, the Beats by Dre headphones that LeBron James bought for the Buckeyes team helped. The game set a cable TV ratings record. Tear gas was used to disperse celebrating OSU students after the game. Oregon QB and Heismann Trophy winner Marcus Mariota says he’ll declare for the NFL draft. OSU QB Cardale Jones is staying in school.
White House officials met withNCAA officials: something about the “Coalition to Save College Sports.” Of course, “New Benefits for Athletes Trigger Talk of Cutbacks in College Sports.” And there are concerns that changes to NCAA rules could have “serious Title IX complications.”
Paine College is suspending its football team for two years due to financial and accrediting problems.
Athletes at the University of South Dakotaran a tax refund fraud scam.
The University of Ottawa men’s hockey players are filing a class-action lawsuit against the school “because their reputations were damaged by the cancellation of this year’s season.” The whole team – minus two players who were charged with sexual assault, prompting the season’s cancellation – want $6 million. Hey guys, you know how you protect your reputation? You stop your teammates from sexually assaulting someone.
From the HR Department
Tressie McMillan Cottom has been hired as an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. (Congrats!)
The University of Illinois Board of Trustees released a statement, reiterating that it will not reverse its decision to not hire (or to fire, depending on how you read it) Steven Salaita.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis is heading back to work after recovering from a brain tumor last year.
Former LAUSD superintendent John Deasy will join the Broad Leadership Academy, where he will help train other superintendents and school leaders. Damn, I hope he offers classes on buying stuff from Pearson!
The Minerva Project has hired Vicki Chandler (formerly with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) as Dean of the College of Natural Sciences.
Unionized adjuncts at the University of Memphis were able to stop the school’s plans to privatize their Social Security.
“Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have two kids, age six and ten. They let them walk home together from the park. Someone saw the kids walking without an adult chaperone and called the cops.” The parents are now under investigation for “neglect.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
Google will halt sales of Google Glass. The company says that it’s moving the project out of the Google X lab. Google insists Glass isn’t dead. But it’s dead. Bummer for those who have ISTE sessions on this “hot new tool.”
“Meet the Classroom of the Future.” (It’s pretty horrific.)
“’Facebook at Work’ Launches So You Can Never Not Be on Facebook.” Facebook also launched its Internet.org app in Colombia, giving the customers of Tigo telecom free access to
the Internet Facebook.
“Learning styles” alert. (Also: press-release-disguised-as-an-article alert.)
From a press release: “iKeepSafe has launched the first independent assessment program for Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), designed to help schools find ed tech programs and services that protect student data privacy. iKeepSafe will soon announce the first companies and products that earn iKeepSafe FERPA badges.” (I predict a booming market in trying to sell schools pseudo-security.)
From STI: “LearningEarnings.com.”
“Code.org’s Code Studio will be training teachers in 60 different school districts in the U.S., including the 7 largest school districts with the highest diversity in the country,” reports Techcrunch.
The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation are partnering to release out-of-print humanities books as free and openly licensed e-books.
Collabora, a new open access journal, says it plans to pay peer reviewers.
Microsoft is providingMaryland students free access to Office 365.
Khan Academy is holding a LearnStorm. I’m not really sure what it means other than something about competing, doing math, and earning points.
LearnSprout has launched an “Early Warning Solution”: “The service leverages data stored within a school’s student information system along with assessment data, and applies research-based algorithms to flag students who are most at-risk.”
“Is This the Future of Adult Learning,” asks Edsurge, profiling three projects out of the MIT Media Lab.
Edsurge also profiles the startups presenting at the latest Imagine K12“demo day.”
NPR profilesGrievingStudents.org, a website that tries to help educators with student grief. “Using census data, the group estimates that 1 in 20 children will lose a parent by the time he or she graduates from high school. And that doesn’t include the many more kids who will lose a sibling, grandparent or close friend.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Lynda.com has raised $186 million in funding from TPG Capital, Spectrum Equity, Accel Partners, and Meritech Capital Partners – “the largest single investment in an education-technology company since at least 2010.” The online training company has now raised $289 million total.
Macmillan Science and Education is merging with Springer Science+Business. (Springer publishes Nature and Scientific American.)
Cengage, the textbook publisher fresh out of bankruptcy, has made an undisclosed investment into LearnLaunch, a Boston-based ed-tech accelerator program.
Customized-for-schools-Filemaker-Pro company inRESONANCE has acquired school website maker SchoolYard.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The proposed sale of 56 campuses of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain to ECMC, a student loan guarantor, has been postponed until next month, Corinthian said in a corporate filing.”
It looks like RadioShack is preparing to file for bankruptcy.
“Research” and Data
Once again, a study finds that college students prefer print books to e-books.
OverDrive says e-book checkouts from libraries are up 33%.
Via The Washington Post: “For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “New research has found that women tend to be underrepresented in disciplines whose practitioners think innate talent or ”brilliance“ is required to succeed. According to the findings, that’s true across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the STEM fields; humanities; and the social sciences.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “An analysis of federal data by researchers at the Crime Victims’ Institute at Sam Houston State University suggests that college students are at higher risk for stalking than are members of the general public.”
Via ThinkProgress: “1 In 3 College Men In Survey Say They Would Rape A Woman If They Could Get Away With It.”
“Study: Digital Learning Effective for Health Professions.” (Bonus: reference to CD-ROMs.)
From the Pew Research Center: “Social Media and the Cost of Caring.”
NPR’s Anya Kamenetz looks at a study by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans about “school choice.”
This strange headline doesn’t really speak well to the data journalism over at FiveThirtyEight: “Black And Hispanic Students Are Making Meaningful Gains, But It’s Hard To Tell.”
“Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans” – research that reminds me a lot about claims that computers evaluate student essays better than humans. That is, I just don’t buy it.
The Gates Foundation had SRI Education evaluate the ed-tech investments the Gates Foundation has made. Among the findings: “Online courses in which students’ dominant role was solving problems or answering questions had more positive effects than those where most of the students’ time was spent reading text or listening to lecture videos.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “John Katzman, a prominent education-industry entrepreneur and the founder of an education-search company called Noodle, says it’s time ‘to clean up the education marketplace’ involving online search.” Noodle conducted a study and found sites like guidetoonlineschools.com are pay-driven lead-gen. Shocking, I know.
Not wanting Vox to have the monopoly on education-related graphs, I suppose, here’s Edsurge’s “graph of the week.”
How can we think about “open” beyond “openly licensed materials”? Granted, the licensing piece is incredibly important for access and distribution and remixing. But what else do we mean when we talk about “open,” and how can we think about “openness” as an ethos not simply a licensing agreement, one with tremendous power to shift education beyond a focus on “content”?
The New York Times declared 2012 “the Year of the MOOC,” and one might think that with such an endorsement and with “open” right there in the middle of the acronym — massive open online courses — that “open education” has triumphed. But if we wade through all the hype, we find a reality that’s far more complicated.
And it’s complicated, of course, by the multiple meanings of that adjective “open.” What do we mean when we use the word? Free? Open access? Open enrollment? Open data? Openly-licensed materials, as in open educational resources or open source software? Open for discussion? Open for debate? Open to competition? Open for business? Open-ended intellectual exploration?
Those last two highlight how people can use the word “open” in education and mean not just utterly different things, but perhaps even completely opposite.
We’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars invested into MOOC startups, whose use of “open” has mostly meant to signal “open enrollment.” Most of them do not rely on OER, and increasingly they are charging money for certification. MOOCs are quite different from other open education efforts, such as the several high-profile initiatives (in Washington, Utah, South Africa, and British Columbia, for example) to create libraries of free and openly licensed textbooks for schools to use instead of more expensive, proprietary alternatives. And, unfortunately, there have been lots of examples of what I call “open-washing” — that is, a bit like “greenwashing,” having the appearance of being “open” but really only as a marketing effort, not as a substantive commitment to anything more than the adjective’s use in a product name. (These include Pearson’s OpenClass learning management system; Kaplan University’s Open College; Udacity’s Open Education Alliance.)
Open University’s Martin Weller has argued in an essay called “The Battle for Open” that “openness has been victorious in many ways,” but cautions that “at this point of victory the real struggle begins.”
If you look at openness in research, teaching, publication scholarship, then it’s hard to argue that openness hasn’t been successful over the last few years in establishing itself as a core approach in higher education. It isn’t something just a few oddballs bang on about now, it has moved to the centre of discourse (and, more importantly, funding).
And yet it doesn’t feel like it should. We aren’t seeing David Wiley leading triumphant processions down Wall Street. The MOOC invasion and backlash is the most visible part of all this, but I think that is just representative of a wider story.
No doubt, this battle involves the ongoing struggle to define “what is open” in education. It also involves, I’d hope, scrutinizing some of the narratives about what a move to “open” might address or “fix“ about schools. Does “open” address cost issues, for example? Does it address access issues? Does it enable more sharing, easier collaboration? There are all worthy goals.
But here’s a key question: does “open” actually transform the way in which we do “school,” the way in which we teach and learn?
Does changing the licensing of materials necessarily alter how we think about “content” and curriculum? As my article on “Who Owns School Work” suggests, open licenses are important in pushing back on assumptions of “ownership” around educational content and data — that is, thinking about copyright and Creative Commons can prompt an important discussion about what happens to the content and data created by teachers and students alike. (And this is certainly related to questions of privacy as well.) “Openness,” even if we’re talking simply about openly licensed materials, can help crack open – there’s that word again; it’s hard to avoid – some of traditional forces of control in the classroom, be those textbook publishers, textbooks, or even teachers themselves.
Openness can imply participation, and as such, it can mean that students see themselves as actively building their learning not simply being recipients of someone else’s version of it.
That distinction I pointed to earlier – between “open for business” and “open-ended intellectual exploration” – really gets to the heart of this. “Open education” needs to be about more than adopting products that have “open” on the label. It means building on the affordances of open-licenses. But it means examining, more broadly, which elements of our beliefs and practices around teaching and learning are “open” or “closed” and who are the gatekeepers in deciding what that looks like.
When we stop and think about what we mean then by the phrase “open education,” it seems that we have to address our philosophies of education too. What do we mean by “education” and what do we mean by “school”? Who decides what that looks like?
We can’t simply let one adjective – “open” – be the substitute for the hard work (the political work even) of rethinking what learning can look like.
Correspondence Courses and the Pre-History of MOOCs
I’m currently working on an essay on the pre-history of MOOCs – from correspondence courses to teaching machines and television – for a forthcoming book. Of course, I’m hardly the first person or the only person to trace the history of “distance learning” through correspondence courses. That’s where David Noble’s incredibly prescient Digital Diploma Mills starts:
Thomas J. Foster established one of the earliest private, for-profit correspondence schools in Pennsylvania in the late 1880s to provide vocational training in mining, mine safety, drafting and metalworking. Spurred by the success of these efforts, he founded in 1892 the International Correspondence Schools, which became one of the largest and most enduring enterprises in this burgeoning new education industry. By 1926 there were over three hundred such schools in the United States, with an annual income of over $70 million (one and a half times the income of all colleges and universities combined), with fifty new schools being started each year. In 1924 these commercial enterprises, which catered primarily to people who sought qualifications for job advancement in business and industry, boasted of an enrollment four times that of all colleges, universities, and professional schools combined. Copyrighted courses were being developed for the firms in-house by their own staff or under contract with outside “experts,” and were administered through the mail by in-house or contract instructors. Students were recruited through advertisements and myriad promotional schemes, peddled by a field sales force employed on a commission basis.
The parallels between the correspondence courses of the early twentieth century and the MOOCs (their venture-funded variety, I should be clear) are quite indicative of how we have long viewed educational “content delivery,” particularly when developed and delivered by a for-profit enterprise.
Take the amount of money spent on marketers versus instructors, for example. Noble estimated that in some commercially-run correspondence schools, “less than one cent of every tuition dollar went into instruction.” Assessment was outsourced to“sub-professional” readers, who were paid on a piecework basis for each lesson they graded. He cites a 1926 survey that found that just 2.6% of students completed the correspondence courses they enrolled in. Sound familiar?
For-profit schools weren’t the only ones to provide correspondence coursework, as universities began offering them during the same period. “Emphasizing the democratization of education and hoping to tape into the lucrative market exploited by their commercial rivals,” writes Noble, “the universities echoed the sales pitch of the private schools.”
But the pitch of a university – particularly from the likes of early correspondence course pioneers University of Chicago and Columbia University – is different than a pitch of a for-profit school, a difference that is always wrapped up in powerful notions of prestige and “brand.” Again, we can see echoes of this in today’s MOOCs which, despite concerns about quality that have plagued distance education throughout its history, insist that they offer “the world’s best courses” from the world’s best universities and the world’s best professors. We can trust the courses are good – the universities’ seal is on the website.
And what sorts of courses – now and then? Ones that promise careers, wealth, job security, and status.
“Art for Pleasure and Profit” – that’s one of the many tag-lines on the advertisements for schools like Art Instruction, Inc., a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based correspondence school that offers study-at-home courses for the would-be artist. Founded in 1914 by The Bureau of Engraving, Inc, the school was, in its own words, designed “to train illustrators for the growing printing industry - and particularly for The Bureau itself.”
Tucked into the back pages of magazines and newspapers, the ads for Art Instruction have become so popular, so iconic that the school is often referred to by its slogan: “Draw Me.”
These advertisements beckoned aspiring artists to duplicate a character like Tippy the Turtle or Cubby the Bear or to simply "draw a girl," to then mail in the sketch to compete to win a free scholarship to the school – a school that boasted Peanuts creator Charles Shulz as one of its students and one of its instructors. As arts journalist Steven Heller writes about the marketing of the Art Instruction and similar schools,
“What would you give to be able to draw professionally? Do you long for the ability to make splendid pictures, such as you see daily in advertisements, attractive story illustrations, richly colored magazines covers?” Profusely illustrated with photos of artists and examples of their work the Federal School lured prospective students to the practice of commercial art by invoking the glories of advertising, which the catalog declared was “the newest art, the youngest great creative force, in the modern business world.”
Learn to draw, at home, in your spare time – and eventually you’ll be able to make the big bucks.
Today, the Art Instruction School remains in business. Tuition now costs $4285 – $150 down, $150 month in 27 monthly payments (plus one final payment of $85). Students still receive their lessons – 27 lessons – in the mail. They complete these “at their own pace” – “There is no travel, no hassle and no time schedule.” Lessons are sent to the school, where they are assessed and returned by mail. The school says you can call a toll-free number any time to talk to an instructor.
For what it’s worth, the Art Instruction School is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC); and while the American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service does recommend college credit for all Art Instruction School coursework, this is no guarantee that other colleges will accept it for credit. It's not necessarily the case that an employer would recognize the certificate either.
In part that’s because many people sneer at distance education. Many sneer at correspondence courses. Many sneer at online education. That’s not new at all. This is connected to the prestige of (certain) educational institutions themselves. And selling a correspondence course or selling a MOOC certificate can only partially tap into that branding. To market the MOOC, to market the correspondence course, one has to make other appeals as well - appeals to different sorts of power and opportunity, perhaps, and appeals often aimed at those who might be unfamiliar with the very codes of a prestigious “university brand.”
From “Draw Me” to “Code Me”
“You are in demand if you can draw!” the ad reads.
Note who’s drawing. Note who’s being drawn.
It’s hard not to see these ads and their promise of a career in the hot new field of commercial printing – and, oh my, how race and gender plays a role therein – and think of the latest version of distance education and its promise of a career in the hot new field of computer programming.
Note who’s coding. Note what’s being coded.
But what brilliance for the Bureau of Engraving Inc to create a training program – a school – for a nascent industry, one that itself was a part of. By doing so, it was able to churn up interest in the field, marketing a story about the career prospects of commercial printing - about its "sexiness" even. Furthermore, the Bureau was able to dictate the content of the coursework, the curriculum so as in turn to shape the field itself - what counted as "skills," what to look for in its workers. So what brilliance too, for the MOOC providers today – grounded as they are in computer science departments at Stanford and MIT – to create similar sorts of training programs for their own field. Tapping into the larger narrative about a so-called “skills shortage,” MOOCs now promise to teach students to learn to code – at home, at their own pace – for “pleasure and profit.”
This post first appeared on Educating Modern Learners
Ethics and educational technology – we don’t talk a lot about the two together, but perhaps it’s time we do. We can’t simply assume that ed-tech is good or progressive, for starters. Nor can we ignore the growing political and economic power of the ed-tech industry. Although comparisons between medicine and education aren’t always that useful, perhaps there’s something to be learned from the promises the health care profession makes … and breaks.
Educators do not take a Hippocratic Oath, although arguably they share with medical professionals a belief often mistakenly ascribed to the ancient Greek text: “First, do no harm.”
Parallels are often drawn between education and medicine – both are meant to foster well-being; both are meant to be practiced with care. And it’s quite common to lump the two together, particularly when speculating about industries poised to be “disrupted” by new technologies. But I’m not sure the comparison really works that well. (My little brother works in health care, and we do compare notes a lot about the pressures to adopt digital records and new devices, along with the promises – ah, the promises – of big data.)
Medicine involves diagnoses and cures, but we can only push the analogy to education so far. Or rather, perhaps we should pause and think about the implications if we are to view education as a “cure” or a “treatment.” Too often we do act as though school should function as some sort of prescriptive, if not preventative, service.
But without forcing the comparison between medicine and education too far, there are a number of interesting and, I’d argue, relevant points that the Hippocratic Oath makes. Here’s a modern version, written in 1964 (PDF):
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
There’s a lot for educators to ponder here, I think. There’s an assertion in the oath that medicine is an art and a science – much like education. There’s a reminder too that the focus shouldn’t be on the charts or the disease but on the human – something that echoes SLA principal Chris Lehmann’s contention that educators teach students, not subjects. There’s the reminder that there is an obligation to recognize the profession has a history and that to build upon it, we must share our knowledge with others.
Ethics and Industry Influence
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ethics and educational technology lately, wondering what sorts of professional guidelines, if not “oaths” we might need. In part, I’ve been thinking about this in light of some of the issues raised by #GamerGate -- the lack of response to the harassment campaign by many in ed-tech, as well as an ongoing concern that we might not be acting always in ways that minimize harm. How much of education technology involves control and surveillance, for example? How might we better identify the harmful side-effects of education technology?
Of course, despite the Hippocratic Oath, the medical profession certainly experiences plenty of breaches in ethics. The investigative journalism organization ProPublica has been tracking the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and health care professionals, for example, identifying payments to doctors for promotional talks, research, and consulting. It’s found over $4 billion of disclosed payments to hundreds of thousands of doctors. “Many, many health professionals have relationships with industry.”
Ethics, Industry Influence, and Ed-Tech
Clearly, the Hippocratic Oath (which is neither mandatory nor legally binding) isn’t enough to keep the powerful financial interests of “Big Pharma” out of the doctor’s office. And so I wonder, how will education fare as “Big Ed-Tech” flexes its muscles in the classroom?
What is the bargain being struck between educators who are certified by some major corporation or brand – Google Certified Educators or Apple Distinguished Educators or Edmodo Ambassadors, etc – and the “prescriptions” they make to others?
What would a professional ethics statement for ed-tech look like?
Drawing from the Hippocratic Oath, perhaps it would insist that students be recognized as humans, not as data points. It would demand a respect for student privacy. It would recognize that “the tools” are less important than compassion. It would privilege humility over techno-solutionism. It could call for more professional transparency perhaps – open doors in classrooms, open collaboration with peers, and open disclosure about relationships with industry.
Of course, the oath hasn’t saved medicine from the powerful influence of industry. It’s not enough. What can we do to make sure that education doesn’t follow that same path? Or rather, how can we recognize that, with the influence of textbook and testing companies, education is already deeply mired in industry-generated ethical quandaries, ones that should give us pause when we think about our duties to foster student health and well-being. So how can we prevent the technology sector from being the next industry to sway the direction education takes to serve its own purposes?
How do we make sure that, when it comes to all the new technologies being sold to schools, that we remember to “first, do no harm”?
The State of the Union
Tuesday night, President Obama gave the annual State of the Union pep-talk. Among the education-related proposals: free community college, a law protecting student’s data and privacy, streamlined higher education tax credits, and universal pre-school.
Reponses: Via Ben Schmidt, the changing language over time in State of the Union addresses. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindalmakes the case for the Common Core and for more rigorous grammar and punctuation instruction. John BoehnerinvokesTaylor Swift animated GIFs.
Education Politics Elsewhere
A new law in Illinois would require students hand over their social media passwords to schools if the school has reason to believe that their social media accounts have evidence she or he violated a school policy. Even if it’s posted at home, after school hours. Remind me again how the federal government is going to protect student privacy again?
LAUSDannounced that it will keep email records for two years. Shortly after news broke about emails detailing close ties between former superintendent John Deasy and Pearson officials, the LAUSD Board voted to delete emails after one year. Some divisions can opt to keep their emails for longer than two years. Does storing email really take up that much space? Couldn’t the district just buy a couple 64 GB iPads to store the files?
Chicago Public Schools will only give 10% of students the new PARCC exam, going against the state of Illinois’ decree that all students take the test.
The Wyoming House of Representatives is taking steps to overturn a budget provision that bans the state from adopting the Next Generation Science Standards.
NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is poised to re-centralize a district hierarchy, making principals report to regional superintendents and reversing a policy of the Mayor Bloomberg / Joel Klein era.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a number of new education reforms“that would impose stricter teacher evaluations, extend the period of time to earn tenure, expand charter schools and boost state oversight of failing schools.” He will also propose legislation to cut the student loan burden of state residents, with the state paying for two years of loan repayments for those who earn less than $50,000 a year. “Cuomo's Education Agenda Sets Battle Lines With Teachers' Unions,” says The New York Times.
Vermont governor Peter Shumlin says he wants to outlaw teachers going on strike.
Ed-Tech and the Courts
A lawsuit charging that Google and Viacom illegally tracked kids using the Nickelodeon website has been dismissed, reports Re/code.
Tim McGettigan, a sociology professor at Colorado State University Pueblo, is suing the school for violating his free speech rights, charging that the university blocked his computer access after he tried to organize protests in response to planned layoffs. More on the story via The Denver Post.
Tech and Surveillance
Via the EFF: “The Associated Press reports that healthcare.gov–the flagship site of the Affordable Care Act, where millions of Americans have signed up to receive health care–is quietly sending personal health information to a number of third party websites. The information being sent includes one’s zip code, income level, smoking status, pregnancy status and more.” Remind me once again how the federal government is going to protect student privacy?
After initially refusing to sign Google has now added its name to the list of companies who’ve signed a “student privacy pledge,” that contains a number of provisions “including not selling student information, not using online behavior to target advertising, using data for ”authorized education purposes“ only, agreeing to strict limits on retaining data, and giving parents access to information collected about their children.” Organizers of the pledge insist that this is more than a pinky-swear: “companies that sign could face government sanction if they are deemed to be deceiving consumers by going back on their word.”
Inside Higher Ed has more details on the sexual harassment charges against MIT physics professor Walter Lewin, as one of his accusers has come forward with details about the the harassment which, she says, “started day one” of her signing up for his edX class.
Speaking of online harassment, Marquette University grad student Cheryl Abbate has posted the details of what she experienced following professor John McAdams’ blog post about how she handled a discussion of gay marriage in one of her classes.
Coursera's new partner Xi'an Jiaotong University“launches new on-demand courses.” (On-demand courses don’t have start dates or deadlines, sorta like, ya know, courseware.)
Meanwhile, On Campus
All 31 UVA fraternities have now signed the new rules designed to enhance safety at their events and curb binge drinking. And in related news, Ben Gorman, a member of Phi Kappa Psi– the fraternity that was accused in the infamous Rolling Stone article of being a site of an alleged gang rape – was elected president of the university’s Inter-Fraternity Council.
Arizona State University is backing away from some of its controversial plans to up the amount of courses its writing instructors have to teach – from four to five without any additional pay.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “A group of 24 colleges and universities have teamed up to develop and share online courses that are designed to help students complete general-science education courses. Arizona State University and Smart Sparrow, an ‘adaptive’ learning company, helped create the group, which is dubbed the Inspark Science Network. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed a $4.5-million grant to Smart Sparrow for the project.” If you can’t make ’em teach five classes for the price of four, replace ’em with software, right?
Duke University has suspended the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity following reports that a woman was sexually assaulted at one of its parties.
The Oklahoma State University Library has joined the HathiTrust.
“University of Oregon unlawfully releases 22,000 pages with confidential faculty, staff and student records,” reports The Oregonian.
The Flatiron School has partnered with Teach for America to teach computer science to TFA members and alumni.
Two Illinois high school students face felony charges after hacking into their school’s computer system and changing attendance records.
David Nichol, a senior at Rice University, turned his dorm room into a ball pit (and commenters at Inside Higher Ed are not amused).
Thanks to anti-vaxxers, California is now experiencing the largest measles outbreak in 15 years. The outbreak started at Disneyland. There are now 54 patients with the disease that can be traced back to the unhappiest place on earth. Health officials in Orange County are ordering students to stay out of class if they cannot prove they’ve been immunized.
Go, School Sports Team!
The NCAA has agreed to restore 111 victories to Penn State, again making Joe Paterno the winning-est college football coach in history. Those victories were stripped following the sex scandal involving assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
Two former University of North Carolina students are suing the university and the NCAA for failing to provide the quality of education they were promised. The case is the second to be filed since a report last year revealed that university staff had steered some 1500 students into “no show” classes.
At the NCAA’s annual convention, the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12, and Southeastern Conferences all voted to expand their athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of an athlete’s university.
Five high school football players in Florida were charged with gang-raping a fellow student. Police say that the victim recorded the attack with her iPod.
“Solano Community College has expelled three women’s basketball players after they were arrested and jailed for allegedly assaulting a fellow student,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
From the HR Department
Condoleeza Rice will take over as the head of the Foundation for Excellent in Education, an organization founded by former Florida governor (and likely presidential candidate) Jeb Bush.
John O’Brien will be Educause’s new president and CEO.
James Willcox, the CEO of the charter school chain Aspire Public Schools, is stepping down.
The University of North Carolina president Thomas Ross was forced out of office last week by its Board of Governors, which as The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the political machinations, “has 32 voting members, 29 of whom have been appointed by the legislature since Mr. Ross took office.”
Members of Columbia College’s adjunct union have voted to disaffiliate from the Illinois Education Association. More via Inside Higher Ed.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Headline of the week: “Everybody hates Pearson.”
Pearson, however, loves Pearson: “Pearson Announces Revolutionary Tablet-Based Interactive Assessment for English Language Learners.” And “Thousands of Students Realize Dramatic Grade-Level Gains Learning With iLit, Pearson's Tablet-Based Reading Intervention Program.”
AT&T has launched an ed-tech accelerator program. Among those on the Board of Advisors: Edusrge’s CEO Betsy Corcoran and Udacity’s CEO Sebastian Thrun.
Starting next week: Dust, a very cool looking alternate reality game for teens.
FERPA gives students the right to demand access to their educational record. The New York Times reports on Fountain Hopper, a newsletter that encourages students to do this in order to view copies of their admissions records (including recommendation letters).
“The Museum of the Future Is Here,” pronounces The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer on the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt.
Remind (101) has launched a Spanish-language version of its app, or rather, users can select Spanish as their preferred language.
The open-source photo storage tool Trovebox is shutting down.
What we’ve all been waiting: “Amazon Launches Kindle Textbook Creator.”
Funding and Acquisitions
The learn-to-code startup CodeHS has raised $1.75 million from Learn Capital, the NewSchools Seed Fund, Kapor Capital, Chmod Ventures, the Stanford-StartX Fund, and Seven Peaks Ventures.
Chalk.com has raised $500,000 from MaRS Investment Acceleration Fund, BDC Capital, Ryan Holmes (CEO of Hootsuite), and John Baker (CEO of Desire2Learn). The startup is described by Edsurge as “Microsoft Office for Teachers.”
Citelighter has raised $2 million from Propel Baltimore Fund, Maryland Venture Fund, Gulf Ventures, New York Angels, Baltimore Angels, Blue Ventures, George Roche, Ed Hajim, and Frank Bonsal Jr. The writing tool has raised $4.5 million total.
SingSpiel, a startup that “gamifies piano practice,” has raised $350,000 from the Investment Accelerator Fund.
The homework help app XueXiBao has raised $20 million from SoftBank China Venture Capital and GSR Ventures.
The ed-tech startup accelerator LearnLaunchX has raised $1.13 (out of a planned $1.9 million), reports the Boston Business Journal.
Coding school Hack Reactor has acquired coding school MakerSquare. (A 12-week program at the latter costs $13,880; a 12-week program at the former costs $17,780.)
Via Edsurge: “Pearson is injecting $50 million of new capital for its Affordable Learning Fund, which invests in education projects in developing countries.”
“Research” and Data
The Council of Graduate Schools“is organizing a new effort to create a set of standards for what information to collect about Ph.D.'s and how to collect it,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. “If the project goes well, it could be the first step toward establishing a national clearinghouse for Ph.D. jobs that would potentially allow prospective students to compare career outcomes for different programs.”
These headlines seem to appear regularly and stir up panic about schools’ and students’ technology usage. From Salon: “Wi-Fi exposure may be worse for kids than we thought.” From The Chronicle: “Facebook Addiction and GPA.”
According to MDR’s State of the K–12 Market 2014 survey, “Nearly 90% of districts expect their 2014–2015 technology budgets in hardware, software, teacher training, and technical support to stay the same or increase.”
A report released by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows a discrepancy between how “career ready” soon-to-be college graduates describe themselves and how “career ready” employers think college graduates actually are.
From 1987 to 2013, the number of associate’s degrees conferred in academic disciplines classified by the Humanities Indicators as being within the humanities increased by an average of 4.3% each year." More from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences here.
The US might lag in test scores, but it beats other nations in child poverty, violent death, and teen pregnancy. USA! USA! USA!
According to a study published in the European Journal of Sports Sciences, “more than half of secondary school boys and two-thirds of girls never shower after PE.” We’ll let you win that one, England.
A version of this article first appeared on Educating Modern Learners
There's so much hype about education products and services, many of these claiming to have scientific research to back them up. Perhaps the best example of this is the "brain training" industry, which presents itself as scientific fact. Not so fast, said a group of psychology and neuroscience professors, issuing a statement clarifying that there really is little evidence to substantiate claims about "neuroplasticity" made by the makers of "brain based games." This raises lots of questions about how school leaders can wade through the marketing spin and assess what's science and what's PR.
One of the most read articles published on Educating Modern Learners was one of its first: "Should You Build a Brain-Based School?" by Randolph-Macon College psychology professor Cedar Riener. Putting a damper on some of the wild claims about "brain-based schooling," Riener's main argument: "Can neuroscience improve educational practice? The answer to this is a qualified yes, but far less than most people think."
You'd think, based on all the headlines and advertising promising "brain training," that the answer to Riener's question would in fact be a resounding yes. "Brain training" is big business. There are any number of products and services and guides available that say they can help you improve your memory and retention and boost your "neuroplasticity."" Lumos Labs, the company behind Lumosity, has raised over $67 million in venture capital, for example, and according to one industry analyst, the market for braining training is expected to reach $6 billion by 2020. And increasingly, these products, along with their theories about how the brain works and their claims about "scientific research," are creeping into the classroom.
That's why a statement released by the Stanford Center for Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, signed by over 70 psychology and neuroscience professors, is so important. ("A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community" is available here.) In it, they write, "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."
In summary: We object to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline when there is no compelling scientific evidence to date that they do. The promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date, which is that cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles. In the judgment of the signatories, exaggerated and misleading claims exploit the anxiety of older adults about impending cognitive decline. We encourage continued careful research and validation in this field.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the professors' concern isn't simply that research claims are distorted in order to sell "brain-based" products; it's that some of their peers have financial relationships with these companies - financial stakes, for example, or paid research gigs. "'There's a conflict of interest there,' said Randall W. Engle, a psychology professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has conducted several studies debunking brain-training claims. 'It gives me the concern, when I read their papers: Is this the consultant for Lumosity talking, or is this the objective scientist talking?'"
Evaluating Education Research
Of course, "the promise of a magic bullet" isn't something made just by the brain-training industry. Nor is this the first or only example of a cherry-picking of scientific research in order to sell a product or service or promote a particular political agenda. In fact, all this is (sadly) pretty par for the course in education (although in fairness, education is hardly alone here.)
As education technology increases in adoption, it's likely that we're poised to see more of this too, as companies rely on the association with "technology" and "science."
So, what are some of the things we should look for when we hear scientific research touted?
First, look to see if the research is peer reviewed. White papers are typically self-published for marketing purposes. That's quite different than findings that are published in scholarly journals. These often (not always) go through rigorous peer view by other experts in the field. But even then, it's worth examining that research closely. Who are the researchers involved? Are they academics? Are they industry researchers? Is there any financial conflict of interest?
Take a look at the research design. "Controlled experiments" are often tough to do in education, particularly in "real world" situations like the classroom. (Students are rarely "randomly assigned" to teachers, for example.) Look at the sample size. Are the findings "statistically significant"? Are they generalizable to the population at large? Examine what's actually being measured. Do the research findings match what others have found or the larger body of research on the topic? Is the research replicable?
Third, read the journal article — not just the summary, and not just journalists' interpretation of the results. Remember the research that gets published is often that which has some positive effect. "We didn't really find anything"— a null result — doesn't make for much of a journal article. And it certainly doesn't make good headlines or marketing copy.
Finally, be skeptical when you hear the word "proof." When, for example, brain training companies tout "proven results,"" it's likely that's a phrase written by the marketing department, not by a scientist or researcher.
Why multiple choice? It’s a question that’s plagued me for a long time, particularly as someone who grew up with one foot in the American and one foot in the British education system. (The former involved a lot of multiple choice testing; the latter, almost none.)
Where and when did multiple choice assessment originate? Who decided it was a good measurement of learning? How did multiple choice come to look this way? Like, why are there only four or five options in the typical multiple choice test? Why not three? Why not thirty?
How did multiple choice questions become the predominant means by which American schoolchildren are tested? And most importantly perhaps for my work: what is the relationship between multiple choice tests and technology?
The Origins of the Multiple Choice Test
“One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost” – Ellen Condliffe Lagemann
Frederick J. Kelly is often credited as the “father” of the multiple choice test, although it’s worth noting that Edward Thorndike – the “father” of education psychology – had also developed his theory about animals’ learning in part by giving them multiple options to solve a problem or situation and assessing their responses.
Choose the best answer from among a number of options. This is the legacy education and education technology must still address. This is the paradigm within which we still operate.
From Anya Kamenetz’s wonderful new book The Test:
The multiple-choice question was an important technique for simplifying and mass-producing tests. Frederick Kelly completed his doctoral thesis in 1914 at Kansas State Teacher's College. He recognized that different teachers tend to give different judgments of student work. And Kelly saw this as a big problem in education. He proposed eliminating this variation through the use of standard tests with predetermined answers. His Kansas Silent Reading Test was a timed reading test that could be given to groups of students all at the same time, without requiring them to write a single sentence, and graded as easily as scanning one's eyes down a page.
As digital humanities scholar Cathy Davidson writes in her book Now You See It, "To make the tests both objective as measures and efficient administratively, Kelly insisted that questions had to be devised that admitted no ambiguity whatsoever. There had to be wholly right or wholly wrong answers, with no variable interpretations . The format will be familiar to any reader.... Here are the roots of today's standards-based education reform, solidly preparing youth for the machine age."
From Frederick Kelly’s article in the February 1916 edition of The Journal of Educational Psychology:
Standardized Testing and the Great War
Why multiple choice?
As Kelly argued, it’s more “objective.” It takes the power of judgment out of the hands of individual (likely female) teachers. Multiple choice enables standardization. It means tests can be graded quickly and can be administered “at scale,” an incredibly important feature at a time when enrollment in public education in the US was expanding rapidly. Moreover, multiple choice assessment promised an education system that would be more efficient. And in conjunction with twentieth century futurism, it was nod towards an education system that could become more automated.
When the US military undertook its massive effort to assess recruits for the First World War, it needed a system that would do just that: assessment, standardized, efficiently, at scale. No doubt, that assessment process was nothing short of remarkable: between 1917 and 1918, some 1.7 million men were examined via standardized testing designed (ostensibly) to identify who might be suitable for officer training and who would be best for the trenches. But that process was highly flawed by design, often confirming the racist expectations, for example, of what African-American recruits could do.
The US public school system opted to replicate that very process. It opted to do so by design and by machine…
WWI was the catalyst for assessment – and for education technology – as we know it today.
The Testing Machine
How do you test millions of people? By machine, of course. The early twentieth century saw the development of several testing machines and testing technologies.
First filed in 1937 and updated a few years later by Raymond Johnson: a patent for a “scoring apparatus.”
Johnson was a high school physics teacher, who in the early 1930s experimented with using machines to grade his students’ work. He designed a machine that would detect pencil marks on a piece of paper and then compare them to an answer key.
That technology provided the basis for IBM’s 805 Test Scoring Machine, launched commercially in 1937. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) initially used this technology as well.
From an IBM brochure, “Scoring Examinations the Electrical Way”:
Speed. Accuracy. Efficiency. Cost-savings.
“Optical Mark Recognition”:
Everett F. Lindquist had a different idea – technologically, at least. Rather than sense pencil marks’ lead electronically, his system – patented in 1955– identified the marks optically.
From Lindquist’s patent application:
"By employing methods and apparatus in accordance with the teaching of the present invention, it is possible to perform the desired scoring, converting, analyzing and reporting operations in a matter of days, even hours, as compared to weeks. In other words, it is unnecessary to have a staff of from fifty to one hundred persons. … Furthermore, the capabilities of methods and apparatus according to the present invention are such that many more converting, analyzing and reporting operations can be performed upon the raw score data without sacrificing, to any appreciable extent, the speed of completing the desired reports. Because relatively few operators are needed to perform the desired operations, the problem of periodic large staff recruitment is effectively eliminated.
All multiple choice standardized tests. All gradable via machine.
What Gets “Hard-Coded”
Five choices. Both of these patents seem to suggest that five choices is the optimal number their machines were designed to process. Lindquist's patent application says "it is apparent that certain tests can involve as many as five possible choices for a particular test question. The equipment could be readily designed, if desired, to provide for any larger number of answers per question." But it wasn't. We're typically offered four or five choices.
I would love to be able to say more about “why five.” Is it that multiples of five calculate neatly? Is it that multiples of five fit neatly onto a piece of paper? Or is it is that five times a couple of hundred questions times a couple of thousand students hit some sort of threshold for early twentieth century mechanics or computation? I still don’t know…
But what I do know: multiple choice – four or five choices – has become hard-coded into our educational technologies and our educational practices and our educational policies. We could assess differently. But even new technologies, developed one hundred years after Frederick Kelly’s work, tend to re-inscribe the multiple choice test.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (and Republican presidential candidate hopeful) announced a $300 million budget cut to the state’s higher education system, couching it in terms of “independence.” He says that the plan will make universities "do things that they have not traditionally done"– including require professors teach more classes per semester.
Education Week obtained a draft of President Obama’s proposed “Student Digital Privacy Act” which has apparently been renamed to include the word “innovation.” “Unlike the California law, the draft version of the proposed federal bill obtained by Education Week does not contain an explicit prohibition on vendors amassing profiles of K–12 students for non-educational uses. Nor does the draft federal bill follow California’s approach of prohibiting vendors from collecting student information via an educational site, service, or application, then using that information to target advertising to students elsewhere.” Because innovation.
Chicago Public Schools board member (and ed-tech investor) Deborah Quazzo faced criticisms at this week’s school board meeting over her investment portfolio. Companies she’s invested in have seen their business with the district triple since she was appointed to the board.
The Department of Education is threatening to withhold some $1.2 billion in funding for Illinois and Chicago in response to CPS’s decision to only administer the new PARCC exam to 10% of district students.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has signed an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of the PARCC exam.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (via Politico), “Federal revenues for public elementary and secondary education dropped by a whopping 21.5 percent in fiscal year 2012.” Per pupil spending dropped by 2.8%, as “schools across the country spent an average of $10,667 per student.”
A proposed bill in Texas would allow teachers to use “force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of the educator’s person or in defense of students of the school that employs the educator” – that is, to kill a student.
The Wyoming legislature is weighing a measure to allow concealed weapons on school campuses.
Proposed legislation in Colorado would teach schoolchildren about sex abuse (although it’s anticipated that Republicans in the legislature will kill the bill).
A proposed bill in Kentucky would allow computer science courses to count as a foreign language requirement.
The Ohio Department of Education is proposing to eliminate the “5 to 8” rule, reports the School Library Journal. “The 30-year-old rule states that at least five of eight of the following full-time education personnel positions must be filled for every 1,000 students in the district: librarian, art teacher, music teacher, physical-education teacher, counselor, nurse, social worker, and visiting teacher.”
A law in Taiwan now curbs the amount of time that children under age 18 can be exposed to electronic devices. It doesn’t specify how much time is “too much,” but will fine parents whose children become “physically or mentally” ill from too much tech exposure.
“No Child Left Behind May End, But The Industry It Spawned Is Here To Stay,” says Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy. In other words: NCLB-mandated standardized testing is (maybe) dead; long live standardized testing.
Education and the Courts
Steven Salaita has filed a lawsuit against the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign– administrators, trustees, and university donors – over the school’s decision to revoke the job offer for tenured professorship because of pro-Palestinian comments he made on social media.
A class action lawsuit in Alabama alleges that school police officers used excessive force on students. From The Marshall Project,
“The eight lead plaintiffs, all former Birmingham high school students, are represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Incident reports show that Birmingham school officers have used a pepper spray/tear gas combination product on over 300 students since 2006, in 110 separate incidents at eight of the city's nine high schools, according to SPLC attorney Ebony Howard. (The only school where chemical spray was not used requires high test scores for admission.) The lawsuit seeks to curtail the practice and win damages for several of the plaintiffs, all of whom are black – like 96 percent of Birmingham public school students.”
Garfield High School teacher Jesse Hagopian– instrumental in that school’s “opt out” efforts – is suing the city of Seattle for $500,000 after he was pepper-sprayed by police after speaking at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally.
From the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, “A federal judge in Missouri has ordered a charter school operator to pay nearly $1 million to the board of Renaissance Academy in Kansas City for saddling the school with unreasonably high lease payments.” (The charter school chain in question: Imagine Schools Inc.)
According to The Stanford Daily, Joe Lonsdale – the co-founder of Palantir and founder of the VC fund Formation 8 – has been accused of sexual assault while he was a student at Stanford. A lawsuit by the alleged victim was filed this week.
The Department of Justice has agreed to pay Nicholas George $25,000 after detaining him at an airport for 5 hours because he had Arabic language flash cards in his pocket.
Davos’ Education “Fix”
Private equity investor Stephen Schwarzmann thinks that public schools should not get more money but can instead be “fixed” with unpaid labor:
“I’ve always wondered, what you do in a society with people who just retire,” he told conference attendees. “If you could get those people, like a board, [to be an] unpaid workforce, pay them next to nothing or nothing, and have them go into the school system to be mentors to kids, and be an example of a certain type of success that you would get dramatically different outcomes. If you can get unemployed people that cost nothing, that can have this dramatic difference, that costs nothing. I love things that cost nothing that have great results. Imagine if you laid on technology and other types of things, you could really set the world on fire with this type of stuff.”
From the BBC: “The man with 26 million students” – that is Codecademy Zach Sims and his Davos argument about the so-called “skills gap.”
The full program from the World Economic Forum is here. What happened to the MOOC hype?!
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
“U Michigan Launches Residential MOOC on Healthcare Policy.” I have no idea why this is a MOOC. Enrollment is openly open to UM students, so it’s not open. There’ll only be 800 students, so it’s not massive. And while there are TV show episodes, it’s not online.
“The Grand Plan to Give Everyone a Free Year of Online College” – on investor Steven Klinsky’s plan to pay for freshmen to MOOC.
Meanwhile on Campus
“The business of fake diplomas” – a (fake) Harvard diploma will run you $650 and you needn’t sit through any MOOCs. Elsewhere in fake schools, federal investigators are cracking down on schools that selling documents to foreigners in order to obtain student visas.
“Google, a long-time supporter of Singularity University (SU), has agreed to a two-year, $3 million contribution to SU’s flagship Graduate Studies Program (GSP). Google will become the program’s title sponsor and ensure all successful direct applicants get the chance to attend free of charge.” Singularity University is a for-profit, non-accredited school. “Participants spend a fast-paced ten weeks learning all they need to know for the final exam—a chance to develop and then pitch a world-changing business plan to a packed house.” LOL.
The measles outbreak tied to Disneyland continues. The New York Times profiles Carl Krawitt, whose six year old son is recovering from leukemia and is asking the Marin County school district to keep unvaccinated students out of school. 70 students from Palm District High School have been banned from classes because they are not immunized and a classmate has the measles. More on kindergarten vaccination rates via Kieran Healy.
Meanwhile, at Hampden-Sydney College, some 300 students (almost a third of those enrolled) have norovirus, prompting the school to cancel classes.
Harvard still has the largest university endowment ($36 billion), followed by University of Texas ($25 billion) and Yale ($24 billion). Endowments returned an average of 15.5% in 2014, up from 11.7% in 2013.
In related endowment news from Vox: “Why Harvard owns 10,000 acres of California vineyards.”
Dartmouth is banning hard liquor at college- or student-sponsored events. (Good luck with that.)
Purdue University president Mitch Daniels (formerly the governor of Indiana) wants standardized testing on campus to assess whether or not Purdue students are learning.
Still struggling with its technology implementation – you guessed it – LAUSD, which this week announced it would delay distribution of some 19,000 laptops. North Carolina’s Guilford County has apparently (finally) got its Amplify tablet initiative up and running.
The University of Florida is changing the name of its ISIS student record system so that no one will confuse it with the Islamic terrorist group. Because Florida.
Virginia Commonwealth University will drop its SAT requirement for admissions.
Minnesota’s Metropolitan State University has admitted to a data breach involving personnel records, including Social Security numbers.
A former Oregon State University student has been accused of filming a pornographic video in the school’s library. She faces as much as one year in jail and a $6250 fine if found guilty.
University of Oregon Professor Bill Harbaugh has returned some 22,000 university documents – “uncensored UO presidential documents” – that the school says were given to him in error.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, “Ohio State University has spent a combined $900,000 in a follow-up investigation of the marching band and defending itself in a lawsuit filed by fired band director Jonathan Waters.”
From the press release: “The leaders of 18 colleges of education and teacher-preparation programs, who collectively enroll 15,000 teachers annually, announced today a new organization to promote a collective vision to improve teacher preparation in the US: Deans for Impact.”
Former NFL star Deion Sanders’ Dallas charter school Prime Prep Academy will surrender its charter. The school has been facing financial and accreditation problems for years.
The Great Yik Yak Panic of ’15
“Do your kids Yik Yak? Time for a chat.” “The Folly of Banning Yik Yak on School Campuses.” “A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Yik Yak.” “Investigating the Yik Yak Attack.” “If Yik Yak is the problem, education is the answer, say local school boards.” “Student Government Poses Yik Yak Resolution.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Colleges Raised a Record $1.26-Billion for Sports in 2014.”
According to The Miami Herald, in order to help pay for hosting the Miss Universe pagent (estimated price tag: $544,073), Florida International University proposed dipping into funds intended for female athletes.
Via Buzzfeed: “Study Links Playing Tackle Football Before Age 12 To Cognitive Impairment.”
Two former Vanderbilt football players, Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, were convicted of raping a fellow student “after a jury rejected claims that they were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be blamed for the attack.”
Via The LA Times: “A former Stanford University swimmer will face several felony charges after prosecutors say he raped a woman as she lay unconscious on campus grounds.” He’s “former” because he withdrew from the university this week.
Via Vice Sports: “Inside an Elite High School’s Culture of Hazing and Bullying.”
According to Inside Higher Ed, “college athletes vastly overestimate their chances of playing professional sports.”
From the HR Department
The Department of Education is seeking (unpaid) summer interns.
The University of Bristol is seeking an Associate Dean of Eureka Moments.
Upgrades and Downgrades
The Gates Foundation is betting that “better software will revolutionize learning.” It’s not clear to me where you place your opposing bet.
Known already for the dearth of female editors, Wikipedia has stirred up more controversy recently over entries related to Goobergate. The site is in the process of sanctioning some of the editors involved and banning them from updating any articles related to gender. From the Wikipedia blog: “Civility, Wikipedia, and the Conversation on Gamergate.” In related news, the site is also desperately lacking when it comes to Black history.
From the press release: “A 17 year-old just dropped out of high school to launch Leangap, a 6-week summer entrepreneurship accelerator for teen startups.”
iOS 8.1.3 is out which “adds new configuration options for education standardized testing.”
New Texas Instruments TI–84 calculators are thinner and lighter and now come in hot pink because, ya know, girls and STEM or something.
Nature Publishing Group is moving to CC-By 4.0 as the default license for its open access journals.
Via Techcrunch: “Homeroom Brings Private Photo Sharing To The Classroom.” (Prediction: slapping “private” and “privacy” labels onto products will be the big feature promise – a false promise – for ed-tech in 2015.)
Vine has launched Vine Kids, for short “kid friendly” videos. Not sure how COPPA plays here as this is clearly designed for those under 13.
According to The Washington Post, “More than a week before the SAT was given to students in Asia on Saturday, Jan. 24, some if not all of the questions on two versions of the exam given that day were posted online, and a week in advance of the exam, a U.S. nonprofit organization known as FairTest received a PDF of one of the SAT test forms.”
Via Education Week: “K12 Inc., a publicly traded online education company that had experienced significant drops in its stock value in recent years, was the second highest ‘gainer’ on the New York Stock Exchange at the close of business on Thursday, following the release of its second quarter earnings report for fiscal year 2015.” In other words, the stock market loves cheap, shoddy, shady for-profit online education. Nice.
Funding and Acquisitions
Ed-tech and charter school investor NewSchools Venture Fund is spinning out its seed fund into a separate for-profit organization. More on the news from one of its portfolio companies, Edsurge.
STEAM Engine has raised $8 million, according to an SEC filing. The startup, founded by former National Geographic president Tim Kelly does not have a website or a product yet. But hey.
Koru has raised $8 million from Maveron, City Light Capital, Trilogy Equity Partners, Battery Ventures, and First Round. The company, which offers training programs for new college graduates, has raised $12.6 million total.
SpecialNeedsWare has raised $3 million from undisclosed investors.
Globaloria, which offers STEM courses in programming and game-making, has raised $995,000, according to an SEC filing.
“Skills” training company Pluralsight has acquiredCode School for $36 million.
Microsoft has acquiredRevolution Analytics, provider of support services for the statistical programming language R. The terms were not disclosed.
Fingerprint has acquiredCognitive Kid and Scribble Press. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
De-anonymized data is not a thing. According to research by MIT’s Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, “knowing just four random pieces of information was enough to reidentify 90 percent of the shoppers as unique individuals and to uncover their records.” More via The New York Times.
Oh my, the differences that Pew Research found between how the public and scientists view science.
The Carnegie Foundation says we should probably keep the Carnegie Unit.
Digital reading company conducts survey, finds teachers think there will be more digital reading in the future.
Online education could maybe lower tuition costs, says non-peer reviewed research paper.
“The idea that teachers have consistently come from the lower third [based on SAT scores is just wrong,” says Stanford University’s Susannah Loeb. More on the research in The Hechinger Report.
The number of English majors is on the decline, says Inside Higher Ed.
When I went to write my year-in-review post in December on “The Business of Ed-Tech,” I realized that I didn’t have the numbers I needed to calculate investment levels or to identify the biggest rounds of funding and the most active investors. So I swore I’d pick up a project that I started in 2013 but hadn’t maintained: the Ed-Tech Matrix, an effort to map the industry’s investments and acquisitions.
As Frank Catalano notes in a recent GeekWire article on 2014’s year of record-setting ed-tech investment, there are lots of different figures as to how much exactly was sunk into the sector. Among those tracking on investments (in ed-tech and beyond): CB Insights, Crunchbase, Ambient Insights, Mattermark, Edsurge, and the SEC.
So why create yet another tracking system?
Mostly it’s so that I can play with the data myself – the raw data, not just the graphs and charts and PDFs that others provide. (It’s time to learn a little about D3.js, I think. My first attempt: January's investments, visualized.)
I’m not completely happy with the data model I’ve created, and I’ll probably tweak it a little before we get too far into the year. But if you’re interested, you can find the JSON files for January’s investment data here. (This project is on GitHub. Feel free to fork.)
Biggest funding of January: Lynda.com’s $186,000,000
Biggest acquisition of January: Pluralsight’s acquisition of Code School for $36,000,000
Like I said back in December: it’s clear we’re seeing a growing emphasis on school as “skills.” Both of these transactions highlight this trend.
B. F. Skinner is often credited as the inventor of the “teaching machine.” While no doubt the phrase is often associated with his name and with his behaviorist theories, he was hardly the first person to design a machine for teaching. But identifying who was "the first" poses a challenge, in part because it depends on how “teaching machine” is defined. It depends on whose achievement is recognizable or recognized, on what “counts.”
In the 1960 book Teaching Machines and Programmed Learning: A Source Book, A. A. Lumsdaine argues that to count as teaching machines, devices must have the following properties:
"First, continuous active student response is required, providing explicit practice and testing of each step of what is to be learned.
Second, a basis is provided for informing the student with minimal delay whether each response he makes is correct, leading him directly or indirectly to correction of his errors.
Third, the student proceeds on an individual basis at his own rate — faster students romping through an instructional sequence very rapidly, slower students being tutored as slowly as necessary, with indefinite patience to meet their special needs."
In his “History of Teaching Machines” (1988), historian of psychology Ludy Benjamin writes that,
"A teaching machine is an automatic or self-controlling device that (a) presents a unit of information (B. F. Skinner would say that the information must be new), (b) provides some means for the learner to respond to the information, and (c) provides feedback about the correctness of the learner’s responses."
(Is this prescription or description?)
The shared features in most definitions of the teaching machine: automation, feedback, self-pacing.
As such some scholars have credited Ohio State University psychology professor Sidney Pressey, who displayed a "machine for intelligence testing" at the 1924 meeting of the American Psychological Association, as "the first" to build a teaching machine.
Pressey received a patent for the device in 1928.
A later patent for a “machine for intelligence tests” was granted to Pressey in 1930.
B. F. Skinner’s patent for a “teaching machine” was filed in 1955 and granted in 1958.
B. F. Skinner’s patent for a “teaching and testing aid” was filed in 1957 and granted in 1961.
Patented Teaching Machines
One version of the history of teaching machines - and more broadly, the history of educational technology - could be told through patents.
Patents purport to recognize “who was first” and are designed to protect the intellectual property of the inventor, so that that person in turn can exclude others from developing or selling the invention. The UN's World Intellectual Property Organization defines an invention eligible for patenting as “a solution to a specific problem in the field of technology. An invention may relate to a product or a process.” Education patents, in other words, offer technological “solutions” to the “problems” of teaching or learning; those problems are by definition technological.
But patents aren’t simply “technical”; they’re ideological.
Education patents tell us a lot about intellectual history, commercial interests, and legal machinations. They highlight our conceptions of teaching, learning, and technology – how those conceptions have changed and how they remain unchanged. They underscore the perceived connection between innovation and technology, revealing how a nascent academic discipline like education psychology was able in the early twentieth century to wield science, measurement, and machines in order to argue for its pertinence and power.
The earliest known patent awarded by the US Patent Office was to H. Chard in 1809 for a “Mode of Teaching to Read.” The following year, S. Randall filed a patent entitled “Mode of Teaching to Write.” Halcyon Skinner was awarded a patent in 1866 for an “Apparatus for Teaching Spelling.”
Ludy Benjamin describes the machine and compares it to his rubric for what constitutes a teaching machine:
“A pictorial scroll at the top of the apparatus was moved by a hand crank, successively exposing a series of pictures (e.g., the horse shown in the figure), thus providing the unit of information. The task of the student was to spell an appropriate word or words, for example ‘my horse.’ Words of up to eight letters in length could be spelled by pressing the keys on the front of the apparatus. Those keys provided the response requirement of the definition, and they moved the eight interior letter wheels, each of which contained the 26 alphabet characters and a blank space. However, the machine did not give any feedback about the correctness of the response. The subject could give any number of correct or incorrect spellings and would never know the accuracy of such responses. Thus, this 1866 device for teaching spelling was not a teaching machine.”
Writing in the Journal of Experimental Education in 1936, Ibert Mellan calculated that between 1870 and “the present time there are between 600 and 700 inventions issued on the subjects of teaching and education.”
The vast majority of these were filed by inventors outside of the education field. In addition to his spelling apparatus, for example, Halcyon Skinner also filed for patents for a “motor truck for cars,” “tufted fabric,” a “needle loom,” a “tubular boiler,” and many other inventions.
Benjamin contends that the first patent from a psychologist was granted in 1913 to Herbert Aikins for an “educational appliance” for the “the teaching or testing of a pupils knowledge of arithmetic, reading, spelling, foreign languages, history, geography, literature or any other subject in which questions can be asked in such a way as to demand a definite form of words, or a definite arrangement or sequence of letters, figures, or other symbols by way of answer, all without the presence or aid of a teacher being necessary.”
But like other early machines, Aikins’ device fails to meet the standards for Benjamin’s definition of “teaching machine.” (It was not automated.) The device is significant nonetheless, Benjamin argues, as it was built based on the research of Edward Thorndike, the “father of modern educational psychology” who pushed heavily for testing as a way to measure students’ progress.
Having a definitive answer – and a definitive answer, by extension, of what was “the first” – is less helpful and less interesting, I'd argue, than looking at how disciplines like education psychology and industries like education technology have, from the early twentieth century onward, sought to prescribe what these devices should do and to stake their claims surrounding innovation and the specifications for measurement and machines.
“For a number of years the writer has had it in mind that a simple machine for automatic testing of intelligence or information was entirely within the realm of possibility. The modern objective test, with its definite systemization of procedure and objectivity of scoring, naturally suggests such a development. Further, even with the modern objective test the burden of scoring (with the present very extensive use of such tests) is nevertheless great enough to make insistent the need for labor-saving devices in such work” – Sidney Pressey, “A Simple Apparatus Which Gives Tests and Scores – And Teaches,” School and Society, 1926
Ohio State University professor Sidney Pressey first displayed the prototype of his “automatic intelligence testing machine” at the 1924 American Psychological Association meeting. Two years later, he submitted a patent for the device and spent the next decade or so trying to market it (to manufacturers and investors, as well as to schools).
It wasn’t Pressey’s first commercial move. In 1922 he and his wife Luella Cole published Introduction to the Use of Standard Tests, a “practical” and “non-technical” guide meant “as an introductory handbook in the use of tests” aimed to meet the needs of “the busy teacher, principal or superintendent.” By the mid–1920s, the two had over a dozen different proprietary standardized tests on the market, selling a couple of hundred thousand copies a year, along with some two million test blanks.
Although standardized testing had become commonplace in the classroom by the 1920s, they were already placing a significant burden upon those teachers and clerks tasked with scoring them. Hoping to capitalize yet again on the test-taking industry, Pressey argued that automation could “free the teacher from much of the present-day drudgery of paper-grading drill, and information-fixing – should free her for real teaching of the inspirational.”
The Automatic Teacher
Here’s how Pressey described the machine, which he branded as the Automatic Teacher in his 1926 School and Society article:
The apparatus is about the size of an ordinary portable typewriter – though much simpler. …The person who is using the machine finds presented to him in a little window a typewritten or mimeographed question of the ordinary selective-answer type – for instance:
To help the poor debtors of England, James Oglethorpe founded the colony of (1) Connecticut, (2) Delaware, (3) Maryland, (4) Georgia.
To one side of the apparatus are four keys. Suppose now that the person taking the test considers Answer 4 to be the correct answer. He then presses Key 4 and so indicates his reply to the question. The pressing of the key operates to turn up a new question, to which the subject responds in the same fashion. The apparatus counts the number of his correct responses on a little counter to the back of the machine…. All the person taking the test has to do, then, is to read each question as it appears and press a key to indicate his answer. And the labor of the person giving and scoring the test is confined simply to slipping the test sheet into the device at the beginning (this is done exactly as one slips a sheet of paper into a typewriter), and noting on the counter the total score, after the subject has finished.
The above paragraph describes the operation of the apparatus if it is being used simply to test. If it is to be used also to teach then a little lever to the back is raised. This automatically shifts the mechanism so that a new question is not rolled up until the correct answer to the question to which the subject is responding is found. However, the counter counts all tries.
It should be emphasized that, for most purposes, this second set is by all odds the most valuable and interesting. With this second set the device is exceptionally valuable for testing, since it is possible for the subject to make more than one mistake on a question – a feature which is, so far as the writer knows, entirely unique and which appears decidedly to increase the significance of the score. However, in the way in which it functions at the same time as an ‘automatic teacher’ the device is still more unusual. It tells 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). It keeps each question on which he makes an error before him until he finds the right answer; he must get the correct answer to each question before he can go on to the next. When he does give the right answer, the apparatus informs him immediately to that effect. If he runs the material through the little machine again, it measures for him his progress in mastery of the topics dealt with. In short the apparatus provides in very interesting ways for efficient learning.
A video from 1964 shows Pressey demonstrating his “teaching machine,” including the “reward dial” feature that could be set to dispense a candy once a certain number of correct answers were given.
UBC’s Stephen Petrina documents the commercial failure of the Automatic Teacher in his 2004 article “Sidney Pressey and the Automation of Education, 1924–1934.” According to Petrina, Pressey started looking for investors for his machine in December 1925, “first among publishers and manufacturers of typewriters, adding machines, and mimeo- graph machines, and later, in the spring of 1926, extending his search to scientific instrument makers.” He approached at least six Midwestern manufacturers in 1926, but no one was interested.
In 1929, Pressey finally signed a contract with the W. M. Welch Manufacturing Company, a Chicago-based company that produced scientific instruments.
Petrina writes that,
After so many disappointments, Pressey was impatient: he offered to forgo royalties on two hundred machines if Welch could keep the price per copy at five dollars, and he himself submitted an order for thirty machines to be used in a summer course he taught school administrators. A few months later he offered to put up twelve hundred dollars to cover tooling costs. Medard W. Welch, sales manager of Welch Manufacturing, however, advised a “slower, more conservative approach.” Fifteen dollars per machine was a more realistic price, he thought, and he offered to refund Pressey fifteen dollars per machine sold until Pressey recouped his twelve-hundred-dollar investment. Drawing on nearly fifty years experience selling to schools, Welch was reluctant to rush into any project that depended on classroom reforms. He preferred to send out circulars advertising the Automatic Teacher, solicit orders, and then proceed with production if a demand materialized.
The demand never really materialized, and even if it had, the manufacturing process - getting the device to market - was plagued with problems, caused in part by Pressey’s constant demands to redefine and retool the machines.
The stress from the development of the Automatic Teacher took an enormous toll on Pressey’s health, and he had a breakdown in late 1929. (He was still teaching, supervising courses, and advising graduate students at Ohio State University.)
The devices did finally ship in April 1930. But that original sales price was cost-prohibitive. $15 was, as Petrina notes, “more than half the annual cost ($29.27) of educating a student in the United States in 1930.” Welch could not sell the machines and ceased production with 69 of the original run of 250 devices still in stock.
Pressey admitted defeat. In a 1932 School and Society article, he wrote “The writer is regretfully dropping further work on these problems. But he hopes that enough has been done to stimulate other workers.”
But Pressey didn’t really abandon the teaching machine. He continued to present on his research at APA meetings. But he did write in a 1964 article “Teaching Machines (And Learning Theory) Crisis” that “Much seems very wrong about current attempts at auto-instruction.”
Automation and Individualization
In his article "Toward the Coming ‘Industrial Revolution’ in Education (1932), Pressey wrote that
“Education is the one major activity in this country which is still in a crude handicraft stage. But the economic depression may here work beneficially, in that it may force the consideration of efficiency and the need for laborsaving devices in education. Education is a large-scale industry; it should use quantity production methods. This does not mean, in any unfortunate sense, the mechanization of education. It does mean freeing the teacher from the drudgeries of her work so that she may do more real teaching, giving the pupil more adequate guidance in his learning. There may well be an ‘industrial revolution’ in education. The ultimate results should be highly beneficial. Perhaps only by such means can universal education be made effective.”
Pressey intended for his automated teaching and testing machines to individualize education. It’s an argument that’s made about teaching machines today too. These devices will allow students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. They will free up teachers’ time to work more closely with individual students.
But as Pretina argues, “the effect of automation was control and standardization.”
The Automatic Teacher was a technology of normalization, but it was at the same time a product of liberality. The Automatic Teacher provided for self- instruction and self-regulated, therapeutic treatment. It was designed to provide the right kind and amount of treatment for individual, scholastic deficiencies; thus, it was individualizing. Pressey articulated this liberal rationale during the 1920s and 1930s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s. Although intended as an act of freedom, the self-instruction provided by an Automatic Teacher also habituated learners to the authoritative norms underwriting self-regulation and self-governance. They not only learned to think in and about school subjects (arithmetic, geography, history), but also how to discipline themselves within this imposed structure. They were regulated not only through the knowledge and power embedded in the school subjects but also through the self-governance of their moral conduct. Both knowledge and personality were normalized in the minutiae of individualization and in the machinations of mass education. Freedom from the confines of mass education proved to be a contradictory project and, if Pressey’s case is representative, one more easily automated than commercialized.
The massive influx of venture capital into today’s teaching machines, of course, would like to see otherwise...
Note: Kin has this very smart work-hack where he takes email inquiries – particularly those that he receives again and again and again – and turns them into blog posts. Then, instead of responding to each at length, he can respond with a link to said blog post. I received an email from the Educator Writers Assocation’s Mikhail Zinshteyn, asking about the shape of ed-tech investment, and I decided to answer it here (with his permission), because I think it’s a question that others have as well.
I’m hoping I could have you school me on the cottage industry of education market investors and forecasters. GSV Advisors comes to mind, mostly because of its annual summit in partnership with Arizona State University.
Do you know anything about GSV Advisors, as in whether they’re a good reader of Silicon Valley education trends and if they put out material that shines a light on the for-profit K–12, higher-ed education market? And if not them, who else could guide reporters through this black box of education investment?
And finally, who’s monitoring what these firms are peddling and whether anything they’re offering is useful for teachers and students?
In 2012, I wrote an article “Who’s Investing in Ed-Tech?” It remains one of the most popular posts on Hack Education, even though it’s several years old now. It explains a bit how venture capital works, and it lists some of the best known investors in education technology, along with a few of the companies they’ve funded. No doubt its popularity reflects how often folks query “who’s investing in ed-tech?”
Who’s Investing Now?
In 2014, the most active investors in education technology were: NewSchools Venture Fund, 500 Startups, Learn Capital, LearnLaunchX, Kapor Capital, GSV Capital, TechStars, Andreessen Horowitz, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Deborah Quazzo.
(From April of last year, here’s the list of the most active ed-tech investors since 2009.)
I’m not sure that the activity of investors necessarily reflects their influence in dictating the conversation about the direction of education or ed-tech. Who shapes the story about the direction of ed-tech? Is it investors? Is it “the market”? Is it the publications that write about ed-tech?
It’s worth noting that many of those listed above are also investors in Edsurge, a publication that is probably the most active in narrating the current ed-tech investment and implementation story. Among the investors in Edsurge include the Women’s Venture Capital Fund, Dale Dougherty (of MAKE Magazine), Catamount Ventures, Steve Blank, Lynda Weinman (founder of Lynda.com), GSV Capital, NewSchools Venture Fund, John Katzman (founder of 2U, the Princeton Review, and Noodle), Learn Capital, The Washington Post Company (owner of the for-profit Kaplan), Allen & Company, and Nancy Peretsman.
Edsurge maintains a vast database on ed-tech products (as does Common Sense Media– like Edsurge, this is Gates Foundation-funded).
Edsurge also publishes a regular report on ed-tech investment and market analysis ($). Other sources for investment data: Crunchbase (free), CB Insights ($), Mattermark ($), and the US Securities & Exchange Commission (free).
I’ve also started tracking on ed-tech investments here. The data there is (freely) available in a spreadsheet as well as in JSON (the former updated weekly, the latter monthly).
Some venture capital firms make their investment theses really clear, publishing blog posts and reports detailing the trends they’re watching and funding. Examples: NewSchools Venture Fund’s blog and University Ventures'letter.”
Some individual investors also blog or (god help us) “tweet storm.” Examples: Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures and Frank Bonsal III from New Markets Venture Partners.
But it’s hard to tell sometimes if investors write about what they’re seeing or what they hope to see (in order for their investments and their politics to be successful).
The Politics of Ed-Tech Investing
Education technology investment is closely aligned with education reform efforts. As such, ed-tech investment shouldn’t simply be read in terms of the “business of ed-tech” but is also connected to the “politics of ed-tech.”
A few notable examples of this:
GSV’s founder Deborah Quazzo is on the board of the Chicago Public Schools. Since she joined the board, her investment portfolio companies have seen an additional $2.9 million in business from the district.
Ted Mitchell, once the CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, is now the Under Secretary at the US Department of Education. (His replacement at NSVF: Stacey Childress, formerly with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.) One of NSVF’s donors is David Welch, who bankrolled the Students Matter group that led the legal charge against California’s teacher tenure laws. One of the student plaintiffs in the case was the daughter of a Rocketship employee. Rocketship, a chain of charter schools, is part of NSVF’s investment portfolio. A non-profit organization investing in both charter schools and ed-tech startups, NSVF recently announced it was spinning off its investment wing for the latter into a separate for-profit endeavor.
Kapor Capital’s investment strategy presents a different angle on the future of technology. The firm's mission demands “positive social impact.” And that really shapes what sorts of ed-tech the firm seeks to support (that is, it doesn't want to exacerbate the achievement gap, for starters). The company’s co-founder Freada Kapor Klein is also the founder of the Level Playing Field Institute, which “is committed to eliminating the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in STEM and fostering their untapped talent for the advancement of our nation.” The mission of the LPFI bleeds into a lot of Kapor Capital’s investments. (It is the only VC firm that I would recommend to those looking for ed-tech investment. Confession: Freada and Mitch are two of my favorite people in technology.)
The Stories and The Money that Tell Them
Stories about the future of education and education technology are often crafted by those investing in those very futures. They’re repeated and amplified by those who are invested – in different ways – in the story.
We see this in Bill Gates’ promotion of Khan Academy, for example – a story that was swept up into powerful TED talks and from there into the larger public (media) discourse. We see this in hype about MOOCs (ditto for the TED talk, media talk distribution). We see this in the work of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, which takes a specific stand – shocking, I know – on disruptive innovation and education technology.
We should recognize, of course, that all of this ed-tech investment and all of this ed-tech storytelling doesn’t necessarily come from “industry outsiders” or upstarts. The investment firm Learn Capital, for example, once boasted Pearson as its largest limited partner (a link to the boast now 404’s). Big, established education industry players eat little ed-tech startups. That's how venture capital works.
So we do need to pay attention to who and how these stories of ed-tech funding and ed-tech disruption get told, knowing that these stories feed investment bankers and multinational corporations more than they ever feed progressive change.
I’d say one of the most powerful storytellers for Silicon Valley’s vision of the future is Marc Andreessen. I can’t tell you what he’s said lately on Twitter because he’s blocked me. But he’s been known to be a proponent of a more automated future, for example. Robots replacing workers. And he’s had a lot to say about the problems he sees with public education: "I wouldn’t want to back a business that’s selling to public schools or characterized by public financing, unions, or government-run institutions. Those institutions are incredibly hostile to change," he told EdSurge in 2011. His firm is an investor in AltSchool, (Rap) Genius, Kno, and Udacity, for what it’s worth.
Of course, I think it’s also worth pointing out that Andreessen was an undergraduate at a public university, the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, when he took the idea of a web browser – something that the university had developed as Mosaic – and left to spin that idea into a for-profit company (Netscape). And his partner, Ben Horowitz, is the son of David Horowitz, who campaigned throughout the last few decades against the “liberal indoctrination” at the hands of higher education’s liberal professoriate.
All this history matters, when we talk about the present and the future of (public) education. All this history matters when we hear stories that technology is going to "disrupt" those public institutions.
So when we ask “who’s investing in ed-tech?” that means too that we can’t simply look at the dollar flow for our answer. We must consider ideology flow as well. We can’t uncritically trust those who say they’re telling the story of twenty-first-century ed-tech investment. We can’t do so without looking at who’s subsidizing their particular narrative and without questioning why the story of funding and “usefulness” looks a certain way – why it’s focused on venture capital, for example and why it’s focused on startups and not schools. We need to pause and consider why this narrative casts innovation as something that happens outside of education institutions.
Whose story of the future of ed-tech is represented by funding dollars? Whose voice is lost by the flood of dollars into education technology?
Why do we believe that venture capital funding flows to good ideas? Who tells us those stories? Who defines "good ideas" and "good investments" in education?
President Obama unveiled his budget this week. (The data is on GitHub.) Among the education-related items: an increase in $2.7 billion for Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs, including $1 billion for Title I; more details on “America’s College Promise” (that is, two years of free community college); $29.7 billion for Pell Grants; a rebirth (sorta) of the Enhancing Education Through Technology program. The budget would close a loophole that “sends billions to for-profit schools.” The budget also revealed that the student loan program had a $21.8 billion shortfall last year. Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What Obama’s 2016 Budget Means for Higher Ed.” Chance of Congress accepting this budget: unlikely.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled new rules this week that would preserve net neutrality by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service, governed by Title II. The FCC will vote on the rules by the end of the month. Broadband providers promise to sue.
WTF, Wisconsin. So, Governor Scott Walker proposes cutting $300 million from the state’s public higher education system. He proposes scrapping the “Wisconsin Idea,” changing the mission of the state system from the “search for truth” to focus on meeting “the state’s workforce needs.” He wants to get rid of the regulatory board that oversees for-profit education in the state. He’s also proposing cutting funding for Common Core tests.
Following up on President Obama’s SOTU call for legislation protecting student privacy, Representatives Jared Polis and Luke Messersay they’ll draft a bill to do that. Polis has been a critic of the NSA’s massive data collection efforts, so maybe the bill will adequately address security and privacy and surveillance. LOL. Who am I kidding.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has announced a $44.5 million budget cut to education in the state.
Via Vox: “A program that provides contraceptives to low-income women contributed to a 40-percent drop in Colorado’s teen birth rate between 2009 and 2013, according to state officials.”
Also via Vox: “Cursive handwriting is useless, but politicians want students to learn it anyway.”
Via The Huffington Post: “Earlier this month, the outgoing head of Arizona's education department, John Huppenthal, said the ‘culturally relevant’ curriculum offered by Tucson schools violated a 2010 law restricting ethnic studies. The letter of noncompliance cited the teaching of Mexican history, a Rage Against the Machine song and a KRS-One essay called ‘An Introduction to Hip Hop’ as examples of the illegal promotion of ethnic solidarity or the overthrow of the U.S. government.” So KRS-One went to Arizona and gave a three hour lecture on the history of hip hop to students at Tuscon’s Cholla Magnet High School.
England’s Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced a “war on illiteracy and innumeracy.”
The French Parliament has passed a bill banning WiFi in nursery schools.
Education and the Courts
Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy looks at a lawsuit filed by students at the for-profit Walden University that “alleges that the school's rapid growth and focus on profit and marketing have created a dragged-out and misleading dissertation and thesis process, forcing students to spend more money on tuition.”
MOOCs and Online Education
From The Australian Financial Review: “The company’s co-founder, Daphne Koller, said Coursera was rebuilding its platform ‘from the ground up’ to allow students to commence courses ‘on demand’ and to give university instructors access to student data on progress and performance. She said these two changes would allow universities and colleges to use Coursera’s online teaching packages in place of regular lectures allowing them to teach in areas where they don’t have enough in-house expertise.” The arc of ed-tech “innovation” is long and it bends towards the LMS, I guess.
You can watch video lectures on Jet Blue and on Virgin Airlines, says Time. The Onion responds:
The publisher Springersays it’ll offer some MOOC students discounts on some textbooks.
The latest Babson Survey Research Group report on online learning is out. Here’s Phil Hill’s write-up. Here’s Inside Higher Ed’s. The tl;dr from The Chronicle of Higher Education: “3 Things Academic Leaders Believe About Online Education.”
Virtual Preschool. Yes, really.
Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy on K12 Inc: “How Controversial Online Charter Schools Push Aside Their Opponents.”
“Coursera, K12 Make Bold Moves to Drive Learning,” says the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn.
Meanwhile on Campus
Fourth-grader Aiden Stewart has been suspended from school for allegedly possessing Sauron’s One Ring and threatening to use its magical powers to make a classmate disappear.
Harvard has officially banned professors from having sex with undergraduates. (I guess sex with grad students is still permitted?)
Amazon opens its “First-Ever Staffed Campus Pickup and Drop-Off Location, Free One-Day Pickup at Purdue University.”
Uber and Carnegie Mellon University announced a strategic partnership that “includes the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, near the CMU campus. The center will focus on the development of key long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere.”
The University of Vermont“recognizes a third gender: neutral.”
“The University of Missouri at Kansas City gave the Princeton Review false information designed to inflate the rankings of its business school, which was under pressure from its major donor to keep the ratings up,” reports Inside Higher Ed. The Princeton Review responds.
For-profits Globe University and the Minnesota School of Business are shutting down programs– “the latest development for the schools, which have been under increasing scrutiny since Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson filed suit accusing them of using high-pressure sales tactics to mislead students about their job prospects after graduation.”
Students at Corinthian Colleges will have their student loan debt forgiven, reports NPR.
The Chronicle of Higher Education asks“Should Colleges Be Forced to Swiftly Report Rapes to the Police?”
The New York Times asks“Is Your First Grader College Ready?”
Five babies at a suburban Chicago daycare center have been diagnosed with the measles. Students at Moorpark College, California State University at Channel Islands, and California State University at Long Beach have the measles. (22 states do not require measles immunizations for college students.)
Kieran Healy has another look at the Californiavaccination data.
California legislators are considering ending the personal belief exemption that allows parents to opt their public school children out of mandatory vaccines.
Via The Atlantic: “How Schools Are Dealing With Anti-Vaccine Parents.”
From Indiana Public Media: “When Testing Technology Fails, Students Fear They Will Too.”
The Mississippi House of Representatives has passed a bill that would “ban use of a Common Core-related test, end high school exit exams in biology and U.S. history and push the state Board of Education to adopt standardized tests published by the ACT organization.”
Via the AP: “Stressed-out students who thought their completed ACT exams had gone missing can relax: The nearly 200 college-entrance exams they completed in December have been found at an Iowa grocery store.”
“Testing Costs a Drop in the Bucket,” insists Brookings’ Matthew Chingos.
Go, School Sports Team!
The University of Phoenix doesn’t field a football team. But it does have its name on a football stadium, the site of this year’s Super Bowl.
From the HR Department
Marquette University is taking steps to revoke the tenure and fire professor John McAdams for statements he made (and blogged) about a graduate student instructor.
Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr is resigning.
Rob Grimshaw is the new CEO of TES Global.
For the second year in a row, reports NYT’s Motoko Rich, the number of applicants to Teach for America has dropped. TFA has “advised schools that the size of its teacher corps this fall could be down by as much as a quarter and has closed two of its eight national summer training sites, in New York City and Los Angeles.”
Boston University adjuncts have voted to unionize.
Upgrades and Downgrades
This year’s John Newberry Medal goes to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. The Randolph Caldecott Medal goes to The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, illustrated and written by Dan Santat. The full list of this year’s ALA Youth Media Awards is here.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee will be published by HarperCollins this summer – 55 years after the publication of her only other novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Hmmmm.
The Raspberry Pi 2 is coming soon. Still $35, the minicomputer will have “a 900 MHz quad-core central processing unit, or C.P.U., compared with a 700 MHz single-core C.P.U. in the older version and features one gigabyte of RAM memory, or double what was previously included.”
Neverware, which offers a virtualization solution so that schools can get better performance out of old computers, is releasing a cloud-based OS. More via Edsurge.
Remodeling efforts at Bletchley Park have discovered some of Alan Turing’s notes (which were thought destroyed under wartime secrecy rules). Apparently the pieces of paper were used as insulation in Hut 6.
Ada Developers Academy, a programming school for women, is spinning out of the Seattle-based Technology Alliance in order to form its own non-profit organization.
Education Growth Partners is rebranding to become Tyton Partners.
The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at Pocket Points, an app that rewards students “with coupons for local businesses when they exhibit self-control and leave their phones untouched during class.”
Google has partnered with Disney for a new cartoon series, Miles from Tomorrowland, that aims to inspire kids to code.
Google Earth Pro was $399. Now it’s free.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo admits that Twitter sucks at dealing with abuse on the platform.
Interactive timeline tool Hstry thought it was a good idea to re-enact the murder of Emmett Till on Twitter. WTF. Needless to say, the Twitters did not agree. The company says it’s sorry.
The Ford Foundation will now require a CC BY Creative Commons license on projects that it funds.
NMC has launched a crowdfunding campaign, hoping to expand the reach of the next version of its Horizon Report.
Funding and Acquisitions
Social Finance has raised $200 million from Third Point Ventures, Wellington Management Company LLP, and Institutional Venture Partners. The company, which offers private student loans, has raised $766.2 million in funding.
Decision Science Labs, a company founded by Victor Reinoso, DC’s deputy mayor of education under Adrian Fenty, has raised $1 million from unnamed investors.
Google has acquiredLaunchpad Toys. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The startup is shutting down its ToonTube network where the stories made with its Toontastic app could be showcased. (Be sure to download your kids’ stories!)
Blackboard has acquiredSchoolWires.
The Sibling Group has acquiredUrban Planet Mobile.
Follett has made a “strategic investment” in Vocabulary.com.
The 94-year-old company Radio Shackhas filed for Chapter 11.
According to the International Data Corp, global shipments of tablets are falling.
According to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the US spends $1.1 trillion on college and workforce training.
According to commentary published in the journal Pediatrics, “Using a smartphone or iPad to pacify a toddler may impede their ability to learn self-regulation.”
This week in charts and graphs: “Today’s College Freshmen, Explained in 4 Charts” from Vox. “The vast income gap in college degrees, in 3 charts” also from Vox. Where are Teachers Really Paid Most?“ from Edsurge. ”Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews“ from Ben Schmidt. ”Where the Senate Went to College in One Map“ from The Washington Post. ”The MOOC Hype Fades in 3 Charts" from The Chronicle of Higher Education.