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Articles on this Page
- 03/26/15--13:35: _Techno Fantasies
- 03/27/15--13:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 03/28/15--13:35: _Gordon Pask's Adapt...
- 04/03/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 04/03/15--13:35: _Ed-Tech Startup Fun...
- 04/04/15--11:35: _Buckminster Fuller ...
- 04/05/15--11:35: _Making Ed-Tech Pred...
- 04/05/15--13:35: _Education in Scienc...
- 04/08/15--13:35: _Ed-Tech's Inequalities
- 04/10/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 04/10/15--16:35: _Lego Mindstorms: A ...
- 04/13/15--16:35: _Data and Diplomas: ...
- 04/17/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 04/18/15--11:35: _The History of the ...
- 04/19/15--11:35: _Raising (and Educat...
- 04/24/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 04/25/15--11:35: _The Invented Histor...
- 05/01/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 05/01/15--13:35: _Ed-Tech Startup Fun...
- 05/01/15--18:35: _Memory Machines: Ed...
- 03/26/15--13:35: Techno Fantasies
- 03/27/15--13:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 03/28/15--13:35: Gordon Pask's Adaptive Teaching Machines
- 04/03/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 04/03/15--13:35: Ed-Tech Startup Funding (Q1 2015)
- Social Finance ($200,000,000)
- Lynda.com ($186,000,000)
- 17zuoye ($100,000,000)
- NetDragon Education ($52,500,000)
- Genshuixue ($50,000,000)
- Rakuten’s acquisition of Overdrive ($410,000,000)
- Pluralsight’s acquisition of Code School ($36,000,000)
- Terms for almost all the acquisitions were “undisclosed”
- Kapor Capital
- 500 Startups
- Great Oaks Ventures
- NewSchools Venture Fund
- It’s tricky to decide “what counts” as an education technology startup. Social Finance, for example, which offers private student loans, doesn’t make Ambient Insight’s list of ed-tech investments this quarter. SoFi raised $200,000,000, which makes it the biggest investment according to my figures; Lynda.com is the biggest of Q1, according to Ambient Insight. I’m not sure if FiftyThree made Ambient Insight’s list either. The company raised $30,000,000 this quarter so that it could enter the education market. This blurring of ed-tech categories is something to watch, particularly as we see companies like Instructure (which raised $40,000,000 this quarter) move into corporate training.
- According to the data tracked by Ambient Insight, “in the first quarter of 2015, $451.7 million went to learning technology companies operating in China; this was 40% of the total investment that went to companies around the globe.” I need to track more closely on this, as I missed tracking on most of these big funding rounds. (Once I find out investment details, I’ll add them to my spreadsheet.) But on my list too, 3 of the top 5 funding rounds went to Chinese education technology companies.
- Roughly half the investment rounds (34) this quarter fell between $1,000,000 and $9,000,000. 11 were between $500,000 and $999,999. 6 fell between $10,000,000 and $19,000,000.
- It’s interesting to see who’s not investing in education (or at least, which of the big name venture funds didn’t make any ed-tech investments this past quarter).
- Some of the most popular areas for ed-tech investment this quarter: (corporate) skills training, career planning, language learning.
- 04/04/15--11:35: Buckminster Fuller and Education's Automation
- 04/05/15--11:35: Making Ed-Tech Predictions: The 2015 Edition
- 04/05/15--13:35: Education in Science Fiction
- Abrashkin, Raymond and Jay Williams. Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine
- Asimov, Isaac. “The Feeling of Power"
- Asimov, Isaac. “The Fun They Had"
- Bradbury, Ray. "All Summer in a Day"
- Bradbury, Ray. “The Veldt"
- Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game
- Doctorow, Cory. Homeland
- Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother
- Heinlein, Robert. Citizen of the Galaxy
- Hesse, Hermann. The Glass Bead Game
- Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World
- Mariz, Rae. The Unidentified
- Sansing, Chad. “The Evaluation"
- Sheffield, Charles and Jerry Pournelle. Higher Education
- Skinner, B. F. Walden Two
- Stephenson, Neal. Big U
- Stephenson, Neal. Diamond Age: or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer
- Vinge, Vernor. Fast Times at Fairmont High
- Vinge, Vernor. Rainbow’s End
- Vonnegut, Kurt. Player Piano.
- Class of 1999
- "Dobie versus the Machine."The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis
- The Jetsons
- The Matrix
- 04/08/15--13:35: Ed-Tech's Inequalities
- 04/10/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 04/10/15--16:35: Lego Mindstorms: A History of Educational Robots
- 04/13/15--16:35: Data and Diplomas: On LinkedIn's Acquisition of Lynda.com
- 04/17/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 04/18/15--11:35: The History of the Future of the Push-Button School
- 04/19/15--11:35: Raising (and Educating) 'Free Range Kids'
- 04/24/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 04/25/15--11:35: The Invented History of 'The Factory Model of Education'
- 05/01/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 05/01/15--13:35: Ed-Tech Startup Funding (The Year So Far)
- Social Finance ($200,000,000)
- Lynda.com ($186,000,000)
- 17zuoye ($100,000,000)
- Yuantiku ($60,000,000)
- NetDragon Education ($52,500,000)
- Genshuixue ($50,000,000)
- Instructure ($40,000,000)
- FiftyThree ($30,000,000)
- GuideSpark ($22,200,000)
- XueXiBao ($20,000,000)
- Kapor Capital
- 500 Startups
- Deborah Quazzo
- Great Oaks Ventures
- New Schools Venture Fund
- 05/01/15--18:35: Memory Machines: Education Technology Without the Memex
This review, co-authored with Sara Goldrick-Rab, first appeared on Inside Higher Ed
Kevin Carey has written a book called The End of College– by which he means the end of college as we know it... and he feels fine. At least we assume he does, because The End of College is a celebration, not a lament. The traditional college education is dying, he says. As it should, he adds. No more buildings, no more exclusively face-to-face classes, no more libraries, no more graduation ceremonies. Everything will fall by the wayside, Carey predicts. The good news, he posits, is that it will all be replaced by what he calls the University of Everywhere.
Carey's book comes at a time of rising college costs, swelling student debt and cuts to university courses, faculty and majors. From students to parents to taxpayers, everyone is alarmed about higher education's most pressing challenges. As an education technology writer and scholar of higher education policy, we are too. Unfortunately, many people will find false hope in The End of College and its fantastical promises of the University of Everywhere.
"The University of Everywhere is where students of the future will go to college," Carey writes. "The University of Everywhere will span the earth. The students will come from towns, cities and countries in all cultures and societies, members of a growing global middle class who will transform the experience of higher education."
How will such a thing be possible? The Internet, of course: the University of Everywhere, says Carey, will be digital, personalized, networked, virtual, intellectually rigorous, hybrid, cheap if not free and lifelong.
Parents of future undergraduates will be understandably relieved to know that someone finally has figured it out. To know they will not need to mortgage their home or take that second job. To know that technology is coming to save them. Like Netflix or Amazon, like Uber or Fitbit, the University of Everywhere will soon emerge from the cloud, ready to disrupt the status quo with its flexible, accessible tools. Or so we're told.
The University of Everywhere is the response, led by venture capitalists and ed-tech entrepreneurs, to "ancient institutions in their last days of decadence," Carey argues. And we are to believe that an end will come soon for the oppressive regime created by colleges and universities, as he personally has numbered the days until they either "adapt" or become extinct.
In the book and with his platform with The New York Times's Upshot blog and in various essays on the subject written from a perch at New America, Carey professes to possess a deep understanding of higher education. He genuinely believes his plan for online degrees will disrupt recalcitrant institutions, unleash individual ingenuity and power the jobs of the 21st century. He is "angry" about the "chronic neglect of undergraduate education" that he assures us he has witnessed in personal meetings and read about in a single volume with hotly contested findings, and he isn't going to take it anymore. This book is his response.
One of Carey's strongest objections is to the way in which higher education confers enormous benefits on the privileged and powerful (an issue that we agree is a major problem and have each written about time and again). And so, in this age of extreme inequality, Carey declares that the University of Everywhere will serve to flatten and erase hierarchies of social status and socioeconomic privilege. The future of education in his vision will be, as edX C.E.O. Anant Agarwal has also pronounced, "borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind." It will be, in other words, the ultimate meritocracy.
This vision of the University of Everywhere is endowed with such grandeur that it can leave one breathless; it is so hopeful about the future that any doubt or critique may seem unkind, even inappropriate. Why ask questions about how or why or who or what? Carey and his University of Everywhere want you simply to believe. And if you do have questions, you must be a defender of the status quo, an insufficiently "careful reader," or, worse yet, a professor in a traditional institution.
Indeed objections seem to offend Carey, as they would any true believer. He promotes the online and hybrid future of higher education and extols the innovations that have spun out of Stanford's artificial intelligence lab - startups like Coursera and Udacity - with a fanatical sustained passion that sets aside the far more conflicted reality of these initiatives. While the University of Everywhere purports to be a meritocracy that will save us all from social inequities, it's worth noting that it is being built and promoted by three of the most elite of America's universities: Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T.
These universities are at the center of the recent push for massive open online courses (better known as MOOCs), which are the cornerstone of Carey's University of Everywhere. In his telling of their history, the Golden Three and their new MOOC initiatives can do no wrong.
Except they have already done much wrong. Take the experience of San Jose State University with MOOC-like instruction provided by Udacity. Beginning in early 2013, this experimental effort at one of the most racially diverse universities in the country was promised to "end college as we know it." Yet the data show that the pilot was an unmitigated disaster. The students in the Udacity-run classes - remedial algebra, college algebra and statistics - did far worse than students in traditional, face-to-face classes. Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun blamed the students, whom he said "were students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives… [For them] this medium is not a good fit."
Here is Thrun in a Silicon Valley tech blog: "If you're a student who can't afford the service layer, you can take the MOOC on demand at your own pace. If you’re affluent, we can do a much better job with you, we can make magic happen." Incredibly, as Tressie McMillan Cottom has noted, the University of Everywhere is also magically postracial. No wonder, since, as the data from MOOCs around the country clearly show, this university is for the highly educated, not the underserved.
Given the sheer vehemence of his argument and a professed lack of responsibility to warn off "careless misinterpretation," perhaps it is unsurprising that Carey omits the evidence about the real and disturbing flaws of online and even hybrid education. To support his contentions that information technology can lift all boats, he turns to William Bowen, author of a study using a randomized experiment to assess the effects of online versus face-to-face instruction. He reports that Bowen found no differences when it came to the outcomes he measured: course completion rates, scores on final exam questions and a standardized test.
"Bowen had previously been skeptical of the idea that technology could fundamentally change higher learning. Based on his new research, he wrote, 'I am today a convert. I have come to believe that now is the time.'" Rather than question the wisdom of sudden conversions based on single studies, Carey wonders, why didn't colleges immediately hop on board and begin embracing what he calls "a golden opportunity to charge students less money without sacrificing the quality of instruction"?
The answer, of course, lies in empirical research and respect for the scientific process, both of which Carey has little time for. Bowen's 2012 study was then and remains today one of only a tiny number of such studies producing these sorts of results. Despite efforts, including those of Ithaka S&R, where Bowen works, to suggest that instructional format does not affect outcomes, there are just four rigorous yet also stylized and idiosyncratic studies that even somewhat support the conclusions that Carey promotes. And the most robust of them, a study of 700 students at the City University of New York, identifies negative impacts for lower-achieving students placed into online-only courses.
Moreover, none of the studies examine the outcomes commonly used to assess the utility of educational interventions - for example, year-to-year retention and graduation rates. A thoughtful reader of the research might ask: What responsible educator, and indeed, what responsible educational policy expert, would recommend wholesale changes in higher education based on such a paltry body of knowledge? When a long and detailed body of scientific evidence (the most recent example is the evaluation of ASAP at CUNY) details the intensive attention required to bring first-generation and low-income students from college entry to graduation, why run in the opposite direction, offering less personal contact and coaching?
Carey's book invokes education research only when it serves his narrative. Otherwise, education research - indeed all manner of research - is framed as one of the many flaws that weigh down certain elements of our current higher education system.
Carey does not ask questions of experts who are unlikely to agree with what he is arguing, including noted economist David Figlio. "When I look at the weight of the evidence, it looks like online education might come at some sacrifice to student learning," said Figlio in a recent article. "Thoughtful administrators will need to weigh those sacrifices against the cost savings. You can see a situation where schools for the haves will continue with face-to-face instruction, perhaps enhancing it with technology. And the have-nots will get this mass online instruction. That can be potentially problematic from an equity perspective." Of course, Figlio works at one of those "traditional" institutions that Carey abhors and thus he can be ignored.
Credentials like those held by Figlio will not matter in the future, we're told, thanks to the University of Everywhere. The prestige associated with certain institutions will be flattened. Opportunity, access, biases - all swept away by the Internet.
The University of Everywhere, in Carey's telling of it, will be free of racists, trolls, harassers or stalkers. Despite all empirical evidence that the single greatest change in higher education over the last 50 years is a remarkably diverse and diversifying student population, Carey's vision for U.S. higher education also has no race, class or gender. These are unexplored and unmentioned in his book. In his version of the future, the Internet, site of the University of Everywhere, is open equally and safely to everyone. Who cares that M.I.T. emeritus professor Walter Lewin, once the star of YouTube for his videos demonstrating various physics experiments and featured by Carey in The End of College, has been accused of sexually harassing female students in his MOOC? M.I.T. has scrubbed much of Lewin's course materials from the Web. But the University of Everywhere remains unscathed.
The University of Everywhere that Carey promotes cares not for intellectual property, neither the professors' nor the students'. He writes, "We can already, today, replicate much of what colleges are charging a great deal of money for and distribute that information electronically at almost no marginal cost." Students can hand over their content and data to technology companies to mine, with the promise of more efficient personalized learning. By transferring their data to technology companies and not to universities, "people will control their personal educational identities instead of leaving that crucial information in the hands of organizations acting from selfish interests," he writes. Universities, not the tech sector, are the ones with selfish interests here, according to Carey. Similarly, faculty will manage their classrooms, including their syllabuses, lectures, lessons and course design via those same companies.
As for research, it will happen elsewhere, beyond the University of Everywhere, as Carey argues that existing universities have erred by trying to fulfill a mission of both research and teaching. The University of Everywhere is "unbundled." That is because the "roaming autodidacts"" of the University of Everywhere do not need these services. The learners of the University of Everywhere need their MacBooks and Wi-Fi, and the world is theirs. As such, they don't look much like today's students in community colleges. Nor will their experiences look like the experiences of undergraduates working with faculty in university laboratories today - experiences that studies show are demonstrably effective at creating cadres of scientists from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Without an explicit attention to diversity, the University of Everywhere will ignore this - much like Silicon Valley has already proven to do as demonstrated by the demographics of its employees and investment portfolio and much like Carey's history of the development of higher education does as well.
Echoing Silicon Valley, the University of Everywhere envisions a meritocratic labor market, just waiting to be filled by those with badges and certificates, though not necessarily by those with bachelor's degrees. The person with the right badges and MOOC certificates will get the job and the promotions, and there will be no discrimination based on prestigious universities; indeed there will also be no discrimination based on race or gender or sexual identity. These are the proclamations and promises made over and over in the book despite their direct contradiction to rigorous studies of how employers treat job candidates with nontraditional credentials from new or no-name institutions.
Such facts matter little as Carey sweeps his readers through the book into this magical world and takes them into a new age of higher education in a text that makes no mention, offers no analysis of race or gender or sexual identity. These facets of today's life simply do not exist in his dream. This is a story told by a white man about other white men - indeed, all other voices, with the exception of Daphne Koller's, are mute. The story is set entirely in an America that isn't part of global communities. Despite the nod to "Everywhere," there are apparently no universities in the rest of the world that might respond to the technological imperialism of MOOCs or to the cultural imperialism of standardized general education classes.
As should be clear by now, this entertaining narrative about higher education is an inch deep in shallow waters. It zooms past debates of history with barely a note of documentation for its claims (indeed a total of 21 endnotes are provided for 5 entire chapters of text, with some supporting statistics about "achievements," such as those about the new "elite" online college Minerva, provided by unverifiable sources including the founder of the school himself). Research findings that fit the storyline are termed "shocking" and "mind-boggling," while those that contradict the tale are simply left out.
Certainly, Carey is not alone in constructing such accounts. There is a plethora of higher education prescriptions funded by respectable think tanks and nonprofit organizations. They are issued nearly weekly, many hopping onto the excitement and hype (and hefty venture capital funding) for MOOCs and other education technology efforts. Carey references very few of these even when his arguments are clearly influenced by them (think of the formative DIY U by Anya Kamenetz and the forward-thinking prescriptions offered by Andrew Kelly and Rick Hess). Many in this space value "outsider" takes on higher education for their supposed unbiased clarity. They also seem to value the insights of wealthy technologists and data scientists who pose as being too serious for identity politics or culture wars.
In this political economy, the experts on education are rarely experts in education, and that is just the way an increasing number of powerful people seem to like it. Books like these and the speeches and essays accompanying them eat up the landscape of popular discourse. With the microphone, these voices have the gravitas of maleness and whiteness and wealth. They are so loud they must be expert. They look like, walk like and talk like leaders.
And the story that they tell is quite comforting for many who look at the rising cost of college and the fragile economy and hope that their children will be able to follow the right path toward a more secure future. As such the University of Everywhere is a consumer fantasy of the future of higher education, a fantasy that purports to be about freedom for learners, about more personalized learning, but that is traced through the history, at least in Carey's book, of programmed instruction. Machines will teach. Artificial intelligence will replace teachers and tutors.
Swept away by the mystical magic of technology, Carey sees a world of possibility. That is the moral and the lesson of The End of College, his prescription far more than his analysis. Carey promises, as the title of the opening chapter suggests, a new "secret of life." It's a secret that, once unleashed and fulfilled, will disrupt institutions - much like Uber, which Carey describes with fascination and glee when he visits Silicon Valley. Designed to replace the taxi service - like higher education, a service that's deemed outmoded - all you need to summon an Uber is a mobile app. Like the future of higher education that Carey predicts, Uber is always on, always on demand. It is also unregulated, well funded by venture capitalists, collecting personal data not simply for efficiency and algorithms but for dubious purposes, and based on a precarious labor force. But we're not supposed to ask questions. No one should ask questions when the end is nigh.
A student privacy bill was set to be introduced in Congress this week. Sponsored by Rep. Luke Messer and Rep. Jared Polis, the bill came under fire for doing little to protect student privacy– “It’s riddled with ‘huge loopholes’ and ‘escape clauses,’” EPIC’s Khaliah Barnes told Politico. Following criticism, introduction of the bill was delayed.
Has NCLB been reauthorized yet dot com? (I can’t afford to buy any more domains. But this one did cross my mind.)
Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy at (Jerry Falwell’s) Liberty University. Speaking of “liberty,” students were mandated to attend. Here’s what they said on Yik Yak.
FratPAC is a thing – the lobbying arm for fraternities – and according to Bloomberg, it’s lobbying Congress to make it harder for universities to investigate rapes on campus.
“The U.S. Department of Education is so concerned about the risk that dozens of colleges pose to students and taxpayers that it has curtailed access to federal money at those institutions – but it won’t say which ones,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
Illinois state senator Bill Brady has proposed privatizing the state’s higher education system.
Via The New York Times: “Arizona Governor Seeks Review of Common Core Education Standards.”
Indiana governor Mike Pence signed SB 101 this week, which ostensibly protects religious freedom by allowing businesses to turn away gay customers. How will the NCAA respond, asks Inside Higher Ed? How will Educause, which is scheduled to hold its annual conference in the state?
Education in the Courts
The National Association of College Bookstores has filed a lawsuit in order to obtain a copy of Purdue University’s contract with Amazon. The university had partnered with the online retailer earlier this year in order to offer students faster shipping and on-campus pickup locations.
“Should the confidentiality shrouding students' evaluations of college instructors always be protected, even if it might conceal violations of the law?” The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at a lawsuit fled by Alma Martinez contending Pomona College discriminated against her when it denied her tenure.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Nothing to report!
Meanwhile on Campus
Charlottesville, Virginia police say that there is “‘no substantive basis’ to support a Rolling Stone magazine article depicting a horrific gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house.” Rolling Stone also says it will publish a review of its reporting. Meanwhile, UVA plans to raise its tuition by 11% next fall.
North Carolina State University has temporarily banned alcohol at most fraternity events, “after two chapters were suspended, one of them amid drug and sexual assault allegations.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The chancellor of Bob Jones University on Saturday apologized for a statement he made in 1980, while president of the university, that gay people should be stoned to death.”
According to the press release, “UMass Amherst Opens First Large-Scale MakerBot Innovation Center at a University Library.”
Enrollment at the University of Phoenix is down by over 50% over the past 5 years, reports CNN.
Levi Pettit, the University of Oklahoma student expelled for being caught on video leading a racist chant, says he’s sorry. Via Buzzfeed: “The racist chant sung by members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma originated at a national leadership cruise four years ago, university president, David Boren announced in a press conference.”
Also via Buzzfeed: “After Flood Of Requests, Elite Colleges Begin Destroying Admissions Records.”
“A 29-year-old tutor accused of helping a group of Corona del Mar High School students change their course grades is facing additional felony charges,” reports The LA Times.
Stanford students cheat. News at 11.
Sweet Briar College alumnae want the school’s president and board to resign.
Via New York Magazine: “University Catalogue Cover Accidentally Becomes Perfect Metaphor for America”
PARCC tests in the Swedesboro-Woolwich (New Jersey) school district have been postponed as its entire computer network is being held hostage by ransomware in exchange for 500 Bitcoins, approximately $124,000. If the ransom is not paid, all the data on the network will be deleted.
Zayn Malik’s departure from One Direction is ruining test scores. #thankscommoncore
“About 600 high school students in eastern India were expelled this week for cheating on pressure-packed 10th-grade examinations,” reports The New York Times. (Be sure to click through to see the footage of students climbing up the walls of the school to share cheat sheets with their fellow classmates.)
Via The Washington Post: “Debate over test security vs. student privacy rages in the age of social media.”
Go, School Sports Team!
First: the University of Oregon says it’s returned a students confidential files to the UO Counseling Center. Then: “An employee of the University of Oregon counseling center says she has been fired for signing a letter criticizing the university for accessing an 18-year-old student's therapy records,” reports The Register Guard. Those records were accessed by the UO, it contends, as part of its defense in a lawsuit by the student, who was allegedly raped by three of the school’s basketball players.
Via The Guardian: “Nearly two-thirds of Americans continue to oppose the idea of paying big-time college athletes, though a majority support providing health insurance to student-athletes after they graduate, according to an HBO Real Sports/Marist poll released on Wednesday. But support for payment was supported by a majority of African-Americans.”
UNC coach Dean Smith, who passed away last month, “directed his trust in his will to give $200 to every letter winner who played for him during his 36 seasons as head coach at the school.”
NPR’s Robert Siegel interviews UNC history professor Jay Smith and Mary Willingham about their new book, Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports.
From the HR Department
Doug Belshaw is leaving Mozilla, which is a huge loss for the organization’s education efforts. Among other things, Belshaw helped frame Mozilla’s Web Literacy initiative.
P2PU Learning Lead Vanessa Gennarelli is leaving the organization. :(
Bethany Nowviskie will become the new director of the Digital Library Federation.
Grover “Russ” Whitehurst is no longer the director of the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy.
Politico reports that ISTE’s senior director of government relations, Hilary Goldmann, “is headed to The National Association of Federally Impacted Schools to serve as the group’s new executive director.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
Hacker School has changed its name to the Recurse Center.
Via Edukwest: “Don Burton, former Managing Director of the Kaplan/Techstars EdTech Accelerator, and Jonathan D. Harber, co-founder and CEO of Schoolnet, [have] teamed up to launch a new edtech accelerator program in New York.”
Edsurge profiles several literacy startups and their partnerships with various news organizations.
Funding and Acquisitions
Schoolrunner has raised $1.5 million from The Colorado Impact Fund for its student information system.
Bonnier Business Press has acquired Clio Online – “Denmark's largest publisher of digital learning materials,” according to the press release (which does not detail the terms of the deal).
Data and “Research”
According to a report released by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, “After taking grants into account, the average full-time undergraduate in 2011–12 paid a net price of $11,700 to attend a public two-year college and $18,000 for public four-year college. Include loans, work-study and other forms of aid and the out-of-pocket costs come in at $9,900 and $11,800, respectively.”
The Brookings Institution on the gender gap in reading levels: “Girls, boys, and reading.”
“In Defense of Snow Days” – according to research published by Education Next, school closures due to bad weather have little or no effect on student achievement.
From the American Association of University Women: “Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women's Success in Engineering and Computing.”
“How Much Do College Students Actually Pay For Textbooks?” asks Phil Hill, who calculates the answer at about $600 per year.
“Does Student Motivation Even Matter?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Baltimore Ravens John Urschel is smarter than you. (He just co-authored a paper in the Journal of Computational Mathematics titled “A Cascadic Multigrid Algorithm for Computing the Fiedler Vector of Graph Laplacians.” I’m going to take his word for it.)
“Adaptive learning” might be one of the latest education technology buzzwords, one that’s often uttered alongside that other popular adjective “personalized.” But, like much in ed-tech, the concept is not new. (And like much in ed-tech, the “History” section for the Wikipedia entry on “adaptive learning” is woefully incomplete.)
The earliest teaching machines – those built by B. F. Skinner and Sidney Pressey, for example – were not adaptive. They did promise “personalization” of sorts by allowing students to move at their own pace through the lessons, but that path was quite rigidly scripted. The machines only responded to right or wrong, allowing students to proceed to the next question if they got the previous question right. And the point, particularly of machines designed around Skinner’s theory of “operant conditioning,” was for the student to get it right, that is to maximize the positive reinforcement. As Paul Saettler writes in his 1968 book, A History of Instructional Technology, “Effective Skinnerian programming requires instructional sequences so simple that the learner hardly ever makes an error. If the learner makes too many errors – more than 5 to 10 percent – the program is considered in need of revision.” These machines could not diagnose why a student got an answer wrong or right; again, according to behaviorist theory, the machines were designed so to make sure students got it right.
Despite initial excitement of learning with a new technology like one of Skinner’s teaching machines, many students found these devices to be quite boring. “The biggest problem with programmed instruction was simply that kids hated it,” writes Bob Johnstone in Never Mind the Laptops. “In fact, it drove them nuts—especially the brighter ones. The rigidity of the seemingly endless, tiny-steps, one-word-answer format bored clever students to tears. They soon found ingenious ways of circumventing the programs and even, in some cases, of sabotaging the machines. A well-placed wad of chewing gum could throw a whole terminal out of whack.”
Adaptive Teaching Machines
Best known for Conversation Theory, the British cybernetician Gordon Pask designed a different sort of teaching machine – an adaptive teaching machine – patenting it in 1956. This patent provides the basis for the self-adaptive keyboard instructor (SAKI), which the theorist Stafford Beer described as “possibly the first truly cybernetic device (in the full sense) to rise above the status of a 'toy' and reach the market as a useful machine.”
The SAKI was designed to train people to use a Hollerith key punch, a manual device used to punch holes in cards used in turn for data processing. There was at the time quite a significant demand for keypunch operators – mostly women – as this was, until the 1970s, a common method for data entry.
Image credits: Gordon Pask, "SAKI: Twenty-five years of adaptive training into the microprocessor era"
Like many teaching machines (then and now), SAKI purported to function like a human tutor. But unlike earlier teaching machines, the adaptive component of Pask’s devices offers more than just an assessment of right or wrong: they identify and measure a student’s answers – accuracy, response time – and adjust the next question accordingly. That is, the difficulty of the questions are not pre-programmed or pre-ordained. As Pask writes in a 1958 article “Electronic Keyboard Teaching Machines,”
The only meaning which can be given to ‘difficulty’ is something which this particular trainee finds difficult. There would be little point in building our own idea of difficulty into a teaching machine, and still less an average difficulty scale, for example, a scale obtained by averaging the results of a number of tests using this exercise material presented to different subjects. This average measure of difficulty might be perfectly valid on the average, but it would almost certainly never apply to a specified individual. In fact, even for the same individual, something deemed difficult at one moment will be rated easy the next.
The machine responds algorithmically.
Stafford Beer described using the SAKI in his 1959 book Cybernetics and Management:
You are confronted with a punch: it has blank keys, for this is a “touch typing” skill. Before you, connected to the punch, is Pask’s machine. Visible on it is a little window, and an array of red lights arranged like the punch’s keyboard. The figure “7” appears in the window. This is an instruction to you to press the “7” key. But you do not know which it is. Look at the array of lights. One is shining brightly: it gives you the position of the “7” key, which you now find and press. Another number appears in the window, another red light shines and so on. Gradually you become aware of the position of the figures on the keyboard, and therefore you become faster in your reactions. Meanwhile, the machine is measuring your responses, and building its own probabilistic model of your learning process. That “7,” for instance, you now go to straight away. But the “3,” for some obscure reason, always seems to elude you. The machine has detected this, and has built the facts into its model. And now, the outcome is being fed back to you. Numbers with which you have difficulty come up with increasing frequency in the otherwise random presentation of digits. They come up more slowly, too, as if to say: “Now take your time.” The numbers you find easy, on the contrary, come up much faster: the speed with which each number is thrown at you is a function of the state of your learning. So also is the red-light system. For as you learn where the “7” is, so does the red-light clue gradually fade. The teacher gives you less and less prompting. Before long, if you continue to improve on “7,” the clue light for “7” will not come on at all. It was getting fainter on "5" for you were getting to know that position. But now you have had a relapse: “5” is eluding you altogether. Your teacher notes your fresh mistakes. “5” is put before you with renewed deliberation, slowly; and the red light comes back again, brightly.... So the teaching continues. You pay little intellectual attention: you relax. The information circuit of this system of you-plus-machine flows through the diodes and condensers of the machine, through the punch, through your sensory nerves and back through your motor nerves, the punch, the machine. Feedback is constantly adjusting all the variables to reach a desired goal. In short, you are being conditioned. Soon the machine will abandon single digits as the target, and substitute short runs of digits, then longer runs. You know where all the keys are now; what you have to learn next are the patterns of successive keys, the rhythms of your own fingers.
Image credits: Gordon Pask, "SAKI: Twenty-five years of adaptive training into the microprocessor era"
As Pask's patent application contends, the adaptivity of the machine serves to keep student’s interest (again, a feature that sets it apart from earlier teaching machines):
If the operator is receiving data at too slow a rate, he is likely to become bored and attend to other irrelevant data.
If the data given indicates too precisely what responses the operator is required to make, the skill becomes too easy to perform and the operator again tends to become bored.
If the data given is too complicated or is given at too great a rate, the operator is unable to deal with it. He is then liable to become discouraged and lose interest in performing or learning the skill.
Ideally, for an operator to perform a skill efficiently, the data presented to him should always be of sufficient complexity to maintain his interest and maintain a competitive situation, but not so complex as to discourage the operator. Similarly these conditions should obtain at each stage of a learning process if it is to be efficient. A tutor teaching one pupil seeks to maintain just these conditions.
Pask argued that, by using the SAKI for 35 minutes every workday, a novice keypunch operator could be trained to type 7000 kdph (key depressions per hour) in 4–5 weeks. “There is a slightly arcane figure (which is, however, if anything conservative),” he wrote in an article reviewing twenty-five years of SAKI development, “citing between 30% and 50% saving in training time.”
In 1961, the manufacturing rights to SAKI were sold to Cybernetic Developments. About 50 devices were sold.
Education in the Courts
11 Atlanta educators were convicted of racketeering this week for their role in the Atlanta Public Schools’ cheating scandal. They face 20 years in prison. (Other educators charged similar crimes elsewhere have been charged with fraud and forgery, and their sentences have been nowhere near as long as those faced in this case.) Sentencing for the Atlanta educators is April 8 – they were led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and will remain in jail until their sentencing. This New Yorker article from last year paints the best picture, I think, about the pressures – political, administrative, and so on – in the district.
The US Supreme Court ruled that GPS trackers are a form of search and seizure, and as such could violate the Fourth Amendment. But hey, let’s hook students up to the Internet of Things!!
“Supreme Court refuses to review school's ban on wearing of American flag on Cinco de Mayo,” reports Eugene Volokh.
The Justice Department is suing Southeastern Oklahoma State University “alleging that the school discriminated against a transgender professor in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Politico reports that the student data privacy bill is “in limbo.” The draft of the bill was withdrawn after it “drew fierce criticism from both parent activists (who deemed it too weak) and ed-tech lobbyists (who viewed it as too tough).”
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs is investigating Berkeley College, Mandl School, and New York Career Institute and Technical Career Institutes over its recruiting practices and its students’ loan default rates.
The US Department of Education has released the names of colleges under "heightened cash monitoring," meaning that immediate financial aid payouts are withheld.
Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and officials from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the Treasury Department met with student “debt strikers” this week. The former Corinthian College students are refusing to pay their federal loans. “Some 300 borrowers submitted forms to the Education Department Tuesday under one of those regulations, which provides for a ‘defense against repayment’ when states take action against a college or university,” reports Politico.
Willamette Week reports that former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber “wanted to strip teachers of the ability to strike.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Harvard and MIT released research from “one of the largest investigations of massive open online courses (MOOCs) to date.” Here’s HarvardX researcher Justin Reich’s blog post on the findings. “Who's Taking MOOCs? Teachers,” notes The Chronicle of Higher Education. More details on the research via Inside Higher Ed.
edX has settled with the Justice Department over charges that its materials were not accessible to the disabled. (The National Association of the Deaf had sued because its MOOCs were not closed captioned.) “According to the terms of the agreement, edX will make its website and learning-management system fully accessible to the disabled within 18 months; ensure that the system used to create online courses is also accessible within 18 months; and create two new positions to oversee accessibility, among other things. As part of the agreement, edX denied it was not in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act,” the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.
The University of Illinois Senate Executive Committee has passed a resolution that professors should be paid for developing and teaching MOOCs.
Online for-profit Jones International University is closing its doors.
Meanwhile on Campus
147 students were killed at Kenya’s Garissa University by members of Shabab, a Somali terrorist group. More details in The New York Times.
Common has been uninvited to speak at Kean University’s graduation (because of his 2000 song about Assata Shakur.) He’s still scheduled to speak at the graduation of the City Colleges of Chicago.
UT Austin alum (and Very Serious Actor) Matthew McConaughey is getting $135,000 to speak at the University of Houson's commencement.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that the charter school chain Rocketship “has agreed to dramatically scale back its expansion plans under a settlement reached in a lawsuit filed by four San Jose elementary school districts.”
“Stanford just made tuition free for families earning less than $125,000 per year,” reports Vox. This extends the university’s financial aid program that currently applies to those earning less than $100,000 per year.
The bathroom break policy at Zephyrhills High School in Zephyrhills, Florida “requires students be escorted and limits the time they can go to the bathroom. No breaks in the first or final 10 minutes of class. Students can go to the restroom without an escort between classes or during their lunch break.”
Go, School Sports Team!
“NCAA: It’s not our job to ensure educational quality. (Because the NCAA insists they're "student athletes" right up until it shows it doesn't give a damn about the "student" portion of that phrase.)
University of Alabama lineman Jonathan Taylor is now a former University of Alabama lineman (and former Alabama student). Taylor was arrested for domestic violence last weekend (although the woman who accused him later recanted, police are still investigating). Coach Nick Saban “blew it,” according to CBS’s Jon Solomon, as Taylor was recruited after he’d been kicked off the University of Georgia football team… for domestic violence.
From the HR Department
Politico’s education reporter Stephanie Simon is leaving the edu beat. (Bummer.)
The Business Insider headline reads“Snapchat is paying college grads almost $500,000 to work there.” But if you read the fine print, you see that most of that is in stock options, so it’s money on paper not in the paycheck. Whee.
From The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Median Salaries of Higher-Education Professionals, 2014–15.”
Privacy and Security
“Privacy Policies, Shared Openly – List of companies sharing their terms via git.” (This is a small but important step by a number of ed-tech startups towards better TOS transparency.)
Upgrades and Downgrades
Need another hint that “adaptive learning” is mostly meaningless marketing fluff? Here you go: Knewton and HP are teaming up to offer adaptive textbooks… in print.
Ed-tech startups closing their doors: Geddit, Taught It, and MommaZoo.
Flickr now supports CC0 and the CC Public Domain Mark.
From the press release: “Donna Krache, former executive producer of CNN Student News and the creator and editor of CNN.com’s ‘Schools of Thought’ announced the launch of a new global education news and information web channel, EdCircuit.com.”
Another new education publication: Bright. Hosted on Medium, Bright is funded by the Gates Foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund.
Automated homework grading at MIT.
The DPLA and the Internet Archive have announced“a joint collaborative program to enhance sharing of collections from the Internet Archive in the Digital Public Library of America.”
Apple has a new web page, reports Edsurge.
OER startup Lumen Learning has raised $2.5 million in an equity round from the Oregon Angel Fund, the Portland Seed Fund, Seattle’s Alliance of Angels, Ray Henderson, Dave Mills, and Tom Rubin.
The Chinese education portal Genshuixue has raised $50 million from Hillhouse Capital.
Language learning app Monkimun has raised $1 million from 500 Startups, SHO-zemi Innovation Ventures, Incuvest, and Lanzame Capital
Data and “Research”
The week in education charts: “The Decreasing Affordability of Public Flagships, in One Chart” via The Chronicle of Higher Education. “The amount of homework kids should have every day, according to science” via Vox.
From Ambient Insight: “Q1 2015 International Learning Technology Investment Patterns” (PDF): “The investments made to learning technology companies in the first quarter of 2015 were the highest for a single quarter in the history of the learning technology industry.” (This is in no small part because of the $186 million invested in Lynda.com.)
“Do Bulletproof Whiteboards Protect Children or Traumatize Them” asks Pacific Standard. (Pretty damning that we even have to ask or frame the question this way.)
Learnsprout’s Paul Smith offers a look at “the world of student information systems.” (For what it’s worth, this line strikes me as dangerous techno-solutionism: “ If the SIS isn't ship shape, Johnny's not getting into Harvard.”)
Via NPR: “Why Babies Love (And Learn From) Magic Tricks.”
“Do Tablets in the Classroom Really Help Children Learn?” asks Gizmodo in a story that gets bonus BS points for the phrase “seamless cloud learning.”
Drawing on an NBC News State of Parenting Poll (sponsored by Pearson), the Hechinger Report asks “Does the anti-Common Core movement have a race problem?”
From the Pew Research Center, “US Smartphone Usage in 2015.” Of note: “12% of African Americans and 13% of Latinos are smartphone-dependent, compared with 4% of whites.”
According to a three year study by Swansea University, “One in 20 uni students work in sex industry to pay for costs.”
“Edtech Women Defy Tech Industry’s Sexist Trends,” according to Edsurge’s managing editor Tony Wan. The “proof”: less than a third of those registered for the chintzy ASU-GSV corporate education investment summit offered information about their startups' demographics, and of those, 29% say they have a woman founder or woman on the executive team. SEXISM DEFIED! I’m pretty relieved, I must say, having dealt directly with harassment, doxxing, and tone-policing in the last few weeks alone.
I guess I can work on other stuff now…
I’m trying to keep better track of who’s investing in education technology startups this year – if nothing else, it’ll make it easier to write my year-in-review series, come December. Lots of other publications do the same, but their reports often cost money; and I want the data to not only be openly available, but also fully crunchable. (My battle against the PDF continues.)
Hey, it's April, so I’ve updated my spreadsheet with investment and acquisition data from the first quarter of 2015. This is also available in JSON. (If you find any errors or omissions, please submit a pull request or file an issue on the GitHub repo).
(Some of the) Biggest Investments Q1:
(Some of the) Biggest Acquisitions Q1:
(Some of the) Most Active Investors Q1:
A couple of other observations:
Download the data, and devise your own analysis.
You can trace the history of ed-tech through many education philosophies and through many technologies. Too often we fail to trace that history at all – a pity because then we don’t think about the trajectory that our storytelling places us on.
And too often, we focus simply on technologies related to the computer and the Internet. Broadcast has long history of usage in the classroom; and radio, film, and television have been seen as appropriate, if not innovative technological interventions in teaching and learning. In part, it’s because broadcast offers a way to deliver lessons and lectures at scale, but also, broadcast is readily viewed as analogous to what educators already do (or what people think educators do): that is, perform a script in front of students. And the better the production value of the performance supposedly, the better the learning.
One of the things that’s striking about the passages below – taken from a lecture delivered by Buckminster Fuller in 1961 (and published in Education Automation) – is how much his descriptions of educational television and two-way TV sound like today’s MOOCs.
I have taken photographs of my grandchildren looking at television. Without consideration of the “value,” the actual concentration of children on the message which is coming to them is fabulous. They really “latch on.” Given the chance to get accurate, logical, and lucid information at the time when they want and need to get it, they will go after it and inhibit it in a most effective manner. I am quite certain that we are soon going to begin to do the following. At our universities we will take the people who are the faculty leaders in research or in teaching. We are not going to ask them to give the same lectures over and over each year from their curriculum cards, finding themselves confronted with another roomful of people and asking themselves, “What was it I said last year?” This is a routine which deadens the faculty member. We are going to select, instead, the people who are authorities on various subjects – the people who are most respected by others within their respective departments and fields. They will give their basic lecture course just once to a group of human beings, including both the experts in their own subject and bright children and adults without special training in their field. These lectures will be recorded as Southern Illinois University did my last lecture series of fifty-two hours in October 1960. They will make moving-picture footage of the lectures as well as hi-fi tape recording. Then the professors and their faculty associates will listen to the recordings time and again.
“What you say is very good,” the professor’s associates may comment, “but we have heard you say it a little better at other times.” The professor then dubs in a better statement. Thus begins complete reworking of the tape, cleaned up, and cleaned up some more, as in the moving-picture cutting, and new illustrative “footage” will be added on. The whole of a university department will work on improving the message and conceptioning of a picture for many months, sometimes for years. The graduate students who want to be present in the university and who also qualify to be with the scholars who have great powers and intellectual capability, together with the faculty, may spend a year getting a documentary ready. They will not even depend upon the diction of the original lecturer, because the diction of that person may be very inadequate to the professor’s really fundamental conceptioning and information, which should be superb. A professor’s knowledge may be very great, but a scholar may be a poor lecturer because of poor speaking habits or false teeth. Another voice will take over the task of getting the professor’s exact words across. Others will gradually process the tape and moving-picture footage, using communications specialists, psychologists, etc.
For instance, I am quite certain that some day we will take a subject such as Einstein’s theory of relativity, and with the “Einstein” of the subject and his colleagues working on it for a year, we will finally get it reduced down to what is “net” in the subject and enthusiastically approved by the “Einstein” who gave the original lecture. What is net will become communicated so well that any child can turn on a documentary device, a TV, and get the Einstein lucidity of thinking and get it quickly and firmly. I am quite sure that we are going to get research and development laboratories of education where the faculty will become producers of extraordinary moving-picture documentaries. That is going to be the big, new educational trend.
What teaching consists of, according to this framework, is repeating the same “curriculum cards” year after year. There is no consideration here of discussion or dialogue; no consideration of tutoring. Teaching is content delivery; broadcast can do that more efficiently. Technology makes the lecture editable, remixable, "fixable."
Image credits: North Carolina State Archives
Fuller predicted that television wouldn’t simply involve the broadcast of one (station, signal) to many (households, individuals). He also envisioned individuals being able to broadcast or signal back. But this forecasting fails to recognize learning as a robustly social exchange. In Fuller’s imagined beaming system,
There is a direct, fixed, wireless connection, an actual direct linkage to individuals, and it works in both directions. Therefore, the receiving individual can beam back, “I don’t like it.” He may and can say “yes” or “no.” This “yes” or “no” is the basis of a binary mathematical system, and immediately brings in the “language” of modern electronic computers. With two-way TV, constant referendum of democracy will be manifest, and democracy will become the most practical form of industrial and space-age government by all people, for all people.
It will be possible not only for an individual to say, “I don’t like it,” on his two-way TV but he can also beam-dial (without having to know mathematics), “I want number so and so.” It is also possible with this kind of two-way TV linkage with individuals’ homes to send out many different programs simultaneously; in fact, as many as there are two-way beamed-up receiving sets and programs. It would be possible to have large central storages of documentaries – great libraries. A child could call for a special program information locally over the TV set.
With two-way TV we will develop selecting dials for the children which will not be primarily an alphabetical but a visual species and chronological category selecting device with secondary alphabetical subdivisions. Children will be able to call up any kind of information they want about any subject and get the latest authoritative TV documentary, the production of which I have already described to you. The answers to their questions and probings will be the best information that is available up to that minute in history.
Image credits: North Carolina State Archives
Here we have an early fantasy of the future learner – what Tressie McMillan Cottom has called the “roaming autodidact,” unencumbered by any institutional, societal obstacles.
“Real education,” Fuller writes, “will be something to which individuals will discipline themselves spontaneously under the stimulus of their own ticker-tapes – their individually unique chromosomes.” And as Cottom has argued, it’s not simply about being self-taught by broadcast television (or, in her research, online education or MOOCs); it is also about that adjective “roaming.” Indeed, Fuller observes that “we are mobile,” and that mobility will upset traditional political and social institutions.
All this will bring a profound change in education. We will stop training individuals to be “teachers.” Much of the educational system today is aimed at answering: “How will I survive? How am I going to get a job? I must earn a living.” That is the priority item under which we are working all the time – the idea of having to earn a living. That problem of “how are we going to earn a living?” is going to go out the historical window, forever, in the next decade, and education is going to be disembarrassed of the unseen “practical” priority bogeyman. Education will then be concerned primarily with exploring to discover not only more about Universe and its history but about what Universe is trying to do, about why human beings are part of it, and about how can, and may humanity best function in universal evolution.
Automation is with us. There is no question about it.
There will be no worker as traditionally theorized, Fuller argues. “People will be essential to the industrial equation but not as workers. People are going to be utterly essential as consumers – what I call regenerative consumers.”
We as economic society are going to have to pay our population to go to school and pay it to stay in school. That is, we are going to have to put our whole population into the educational process and get everybody realistically literate in many directions. Quite clearly, the new political word is going to be investment. It is not going to be dole, or socialism, or the idea of people hanging around in bread lines. The new popular regenerative investment idea is actually that of making people more familiar with the patterns of Universe, that is with what people have learned about Universe to date, and that of getting everybody intercommunicative at ever higher levels of literacy. People are then going to stay in the education process. They are going to populate ever increasing numbers of research laboratories and universities."
The new education technology to address this: Fuller’s invention the Geoscope, a 200-foot diameter geodesic sphere covered in lights and computers, displaying historical and current data. “All world data would be dynamically viewable and picturable and relayable by radio to all the world, so that common consideration in a most educated manner of all world problems by all world people would become a practical event.”
Schools for young students will continue to exist, Fuller argues, "because of the growing need for babysitters." (Oh. Well then.) But, thanks in part to educational television, children will grow into scholars.
The universities are going to be wonderful places. Scholars will stay there for a long, long time – the rest of their lives – while they are developing more and more knowledge about the whole experience of humanity. All people will be going around the world in due process as everyday routine search and exploration, and the world-experiencing patterning will be everywhere – all students from everywhere all over the world."
“The University of Everywhere” – on the horizon, imagined by futurists now for over 50 years.
Image credits: North Carolina State Archives
Although I spend a lot of time looking at the past and the present of education technology, I'm just not that good at predicting the future.
Back in January 2012, for example, I wrote a New Year's blog post predicting that Google would cancel its Chromebooks program. I mean, the company does have a horrible track record for scrapping some well-beloved tools. But adoption of Chromebooks, particularly by schools, has skyrocketed in the past three years, and I don't think Google's Chrome OS is in any danger (for the time being, at least).
That highlights the challenge of making predictions about the future of education technology. You can look at a company's past decisions and try to extrapolate their future ones. You can look at schools' past decisions and try to extrapolate their future ones. But there are always a whole bunch of factors that you've probably not considered.
In the case of my faulty Chromebooks prediction, I hadn't really accounted for the pressures that the Common Core State Standards assessments would have on school computer purchases. Nor had I considered that schools' (inevitable, in my opinion) turn away from iPads - because of cost, because of functionality - would be a turn to Google's device. I hadn't really considered that schools that were using the free Google Apps for Education productivity suite would be swayed so easily into handing over more of their technology services to the search engine giant. What I'd seen as a risk of relying on Google - its penchant for canceling free services, for data-mining - weren't viewed by schools as drawbacks to Chromebook adoption.
I was wrong.
Crafting An Ed-Tech Crystal Ball
I joke sometimes that I'm "ed-tech's Cassandra" - I predict doom; my predictions are mocked and ignored. But when I think about the past, present, and future of ed-tech, I'm serious: it's actually not that funny.
Again, the Chromebooks are illustrative here. Are schools going to adopt technology in order to fulfill requirements for new online assessments? Are they going to adopt technology in order to offer students "lighter backpacks" via digital textbooks? Or are schools going to use technology to truly transform teaching and learning?
Is education technology about "delivering content" or is it about "making" knowledge? Does ed-tech recognize students as subjects of their education? Or does it posit them as objects of others' education decisions?
Which is the future you'd like to see? Which is the one that you'd predict? Which future are you working towards?
A Few Ed-Tech Predictions
Here's an easy prediction for 2015: data breaches are going to become more common and more serious. If 2014 was "the year of the hack,"" look for this year to be even more... hacked.
Among some of the high profile breaches in 2014: Sony. JP Morgan Chase. Celebrities' iCloud accounts. The USPS. Target (OK, this was actually in December 2013). The European Central Bank. NOAA's weather satellites. eBay. Home Depot. And that's not including the numerous schools - at the K-12 and university level - that experienced security breaches. It's not including the ed-tech software that was busted for shoddy security practices and iffy privacy policies.
I'm not sure we in education have learned our lesson from 2014. I'm not sure we've adopted better security measures - as individuals or as organizations. School data might not seem like the high value target when compared to what cybercriminals leaked from, say, Sony; but schools' privacy practices and security practices are so lax. Students' data is certainly at risk.
Schools (and the third party vendors to whom ed-tech services are outsourced to) are collecting more and more data about teachers and students. More data means more risk. Plain and simple.
How Will Students Respond?
As Jessy Irwin argued last year, this data collection also means we are "grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance." So another prediction: students will become increasingly subversive with their technology usage.
It's a response to the surveillance. It's a response to the data collection. It's a response to the control.
We can see hints of this in teens'waning interest in Facebook. That's where parents and grandparents and teachers - "grownups" - are. Teens want to be elsewhere: they're on Snapchat. They're using Yik Yak. They're using After School. These three apps share something in common: promises of ephemerality and anonymity - arguably, a resistance to always being watched and being threatened that "this [tweet, status update, selfie] will go down on your permanent record."
That these apps are resurfacing concern about cyberbullying - see Google Trends to look at its prevalence as a search term - shouldn't be viewed simply as a problem with anonymity or with "kids on the Internet." These anonymous messaging apps highlight all sorts of issues that we cannot blame on technology. Moreover, monitoring students more heavily via technology isn't going to make these issues go away. Indeed, we might consider that we're caught in a cycle here where heavy surveillance - by schools, by companies, by teachers, by parents, by peers - drives "bad behavior" elsewhere and makes certain populations even more vulnerable (on- and offline).
Predicting the Future of Ed-Tech Surveillance
And here we come full circle, back not necessarily to Google the company or Google the Chromebook per se but certainly to this idea that all our education data and content will continue to be poured into free technology products and services. Will it? Budgets tell us "yes." Complacency about data security and data privacy tell us "yes."
So if I was to predict an end to the notion that "student data is the new oil" - an end to educational data mining, learning analytics, and ed-tech surveillance - it would be very wishful thinking. It would probably end up much like my prediction about Chromebooks. That is, utterly wrong. Again, it's worth asking: what future are we building for ed-tech?
What if too, instead of looking at what ed-tech product schools are buying, we looked at what students are using - how they are already using other apps to learn in informal settings? What would our predictions about "the future of ed-tech" look like then? And in the face of that, how will schools respond?
"I'm a fan of hard science fiction, which is science fiction that is possible. The science fiction books I like tend to relate to what we're doing at Khan Academy, like Orson Scott Card's 'Ender's Game' series and Isaac Asimov's 'Foundation' series." -"Salman Khan
Arguably the first work of science fiction, Frankenstein is a story about technology and education (and monsters). As a fan of the genre, I’m probably just as interested in the depiction of education in science fiction as I am in the historical and present-day narratives about education technology. I’m particularly interested in how these are intertwined – Salman Khan’s invocation of Ender’s Game, for example.
I asked for recommendations on ed-tech SF on Twitter the other day (I storified the responses).
Now I’ve started a bibliography, building a list of novels, short stories, and movies that explore education’s future. (Not all of these fit neatly into the SF genre.)
Novels and Short Stories
Television and Films
This talk was delivered virtually today at Western Oregon University. The slide deck is available here.
“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” you’ll often hear politicians and education reform types say.
Education is still the key to eliminating gender inequities, to reducing poverty, to creating a sustainable planet, and to fostering peace. And in a knowledge economy, education is the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity. …Closing the achievement gap and closing the opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation.
To the contrary, I maintain that civil rights remain the civil rights issue of our generation. When we see, for example, the Supreme Court overturn part of the Voting Rights Act, when we see rampant police violence against marginalized groups, when we see backlash against affirmative action and against Title IX protections, when we see pervasive discrimination – institutionalized – in people’s daily lives, when we see widespread inequalities – socioeconomic stratification based on race, ethnicity, gender, geography – we need to admit: there are things that, as Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued, the “education gospel cannot fix.”
And yet the dominant narrative – the gospel, if you will – about education and, increasingly education technology, is that it absolutely is “the fix.”
Education technology will close the achievement gap; education technology will close the opportunity gap. Education technology will revolutionize; education technology will democratize. Or so we are told. That's the big message at this week's ASU-GSV Summit, where education technology investors and entrepreneurs and politicians have gathered (registration: $2995) to talk about "equity." (Equity and civil rights, that is; not equity as investing in exchange for stock options and a seat on the Board of Directors, I should be clear. Although I'm guessing most of the conversations there were actually about the latter.)
Over the last few years, it’s been quite common to hear breathless pronouncements about ed-tech equity made about MOOCs – massive open online courses. Here’s an excerpt from a 2013 op-ed in The Guardian by edX CEO Anant Agarwal:
One way MOOCs have changed education is by increasing access. MOOCs make education borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind. Up to now, quality education – and in some cases, any higher education at all – has been the privilege of the few. MOOCs have changed that. Anyone with an internet connection can have access. We hear from thousands of students, many in under-served, developing countries, about how grateful they are for this education.
According to Agarwal and others, MOOCs – and more broadly, education technology, online education, the World Wide Web, and the Internet – serve to magically erase systemic inequalities. This is what technology critic Evgeny Morozov has described as “techno-solutionism,” the simplification of complex societal problems into apps and algorithms. That is to say, we have exchanged political activism, collectivity, debate, democracy, social change for (education) technology consumption and usage. The world is broken – schools are broken – the techno-solutionists say, but the ubiquity of mobile computing devices will somehow save us.
No doubt, the existence of the “digital divide” has long served to undermine the sweeping proclamations about technology as the great equalizer. And despite assumptions and claims that this divide has been mostly bridged as personal computer ownership has increased, access to new technologies still looks quite different for different demographics.
According to 2013 figures from the Pew Research Center, for example, “the demographic factors most correlated with home broadband adoption continue to be educational attainment, age, and household income.” 74% of white adults have broadband Internet at home; 64% of African American and 53% of Latino adults do. 89% of those with a college degree have broadband at home; 57% of high school graduates and 37% of those without a high school diploma do. 88% of those who earn more than $75,000 have broadband at home; just 54% of those who earn less than $30,000 a year do.
More recent figures from Pew: “10% of Americans own a smartphone but do not have any other form of high-speed internet access at home beyond their phone’s data plan.” 12% of African Americans and 13% of Latinos are smartphone-dependent. 4% of whites are. Nearly half of those smartphone-dependent Americans say that they’ve had to cancel or shut off their cell phone service because the cost was “a financial hardship.” Moreover, 30% of those who are smartphone-dependent say they “frequently” max out their data plan, and 51% say this happens at least “occasionally.”
What are the implications for equity here if, for example, we uncritically pursue trends like the “flipped classroom” – that is, asking students to watch video lectures at home? What assumptions are we making about “home”? Can MOOCs really solve the opportunity gap if those without a college or high school degree are far less likely to have adequate let alone affordable Internet access?
And what about the digital divide at school? Although almost all public schools and libraries in the US are connected to the Internet, 80% of K–12 schools report that their Internet access is insufficient to meet their current needs. (By and large, those current needs do not including supporting one device per student or the use of bandwidth-heavy applications like video.) 40% of K–12 schools in the US do not have WiFi. 36% of schools with WiFi say that they do not have enough bandwidth to support one-to-one initiatives. 41% of rural schools lack access to fiber networks; 31% of urban schools do. Not surprisingly, low income schools lag much farther behind when it comes to broadband access. According to EducationSuperHighway, an organization pushing for better connectivity at schools, just 14% of low income schools – that is, schools where 75–100% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch – have Internet access that meets their current needs.
That’s just a peek at certain elements of the digital divide in the US. These statistics do not address global inequalities, inequalities that are brushed over – here and elsewhere – by those who would tell us that technology makes education “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind.”
While addressing the digital divide is crucial, it’s not sufficient if education technology is to be progressive, equitable. Furthermore, we cannot confuse “access” with equity. Indeed, as recently released research about MOOCs highlights,
Overall, HarvardX registrants tend to reside in more affluent neighborhoods. U.S. HarvardX registrants on average live in neighborhoods with median incomes approximately .45 standard deviations higher than the U.S. population. Parental education is also associated with a higher likelihood of MOOC enrollment. For instance, a seventeen year-old whose most educated parent has a bachelor’s degree is more than five times as likely to register as a seventeen year-old whose most educated parent has a high school diploma.
The rhetoric of “open” and education technology – particularly with regards to MOOCs and OER – needs to be interrogated. “Open access” is not sufficient. Indeed, as research by Justin Reich suggests– he’s also one of the authors of the MOOC study I just cited, incidentally – open educational resources might actually expand educational inequalities. A digital Matthew effect, if you will, where new technologies actually extend the advantages of the already advantaged.
In his research on OER, Reich looked at schools’ uses of wikis – some 180,000 wikis – and measured the opportunities that these provide students “to develop 21st-century skills such as expert thinking, complex communication, and new media literacy.” Among the findings: “Wikis created in schools serving low-income students have fewer opportunities for 21st-century skill development and shorter lifetimes than wikis from schools serving affluent students.” Reich found that students in more affluent schools were more likely to use wikis to collaborate and to build portfolios and presentations to showcase their work, for example.
Reich’s assertion that education technology broadens rather than erases educational inequality is echoed elsewhere. An article published last year in the journal Economic Inquiry, for example, found that “the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest, but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores.” Importantly, the negative impact was the greatest among low income students, in part the authors suggested because “student computer use is more effectively monitored and channeled toward productive ends in more affluent homes.” That is, students from affluent homes have a different sort of digital literacy and different expectations – themselves and from their parents – about what a computer is for.
So it isn’t simply a matter of “does a student have access to technology?”, we must ask what that access looks like – a cellphone with a limited data plan or a MacBook Pro connected to a fiber optic network. We must ask too “what does a student get to do with technology?” “What do they do on their own accord?”, sure, and “what do schools expect them to do?”
Even in his 1980 book Mindstorms, education technology pioneer Seymour Papert identified the tendency for schools to use computers to replicate traditional educational practices:
In most contemporary educational situations where children come into contact with computers the computer is used to put children through their paces, to provide exercises of an appropriate level of difficulty, to provide feedback, and to dispense information. The computer programming the child.
Papert provides an important cornerstone, I think, for how we might think about explicitly progressive education technology. Papert argued that by giving each child a computer that she or he could program, that instead “the child programs the computer. And in teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they themselves think. The experience can be heady: Thinking about thinking turns the child into an epistemologist, an experience not even shared by most adults.”
But we must ask, some 35 years after the publication of Mindstorms and with a renewed effort recently for one-to-one computing at school, which children get this opportunity? Which get to use computers for self-directed learning? Which children experience this epistemological turn? And which children, which students still experience education technology only on the days they’re taking assessments – with the computers “putting them through their paces”?
No surprise, perhaps, this distinction often breaks down along socioeconomic lines. Research suggests that students in affluent schools are more likely to use computers for creative and experimental projects; students in low income schools are more likely to use computers for drill-and-kill exercises. The latter, again in Papert’s words, is “the computer programming the child.”
This image haunts me.
It’s a still from a 2012 PBS NewsHour episode on Rocketship Education, a chain of charter schools founded in San Jose, California in 2006 by John Danner, a Silicon Valley software engineer. With a nod to Henry Ford and the development of the production line, the episode asks, “Can Rocketship Launch a Fleet of Successful, Mass-Produced Schools?” In this formulation, students are objects of an education system – mass-produced. They are not subjects of their own learning.
These schools, which serve primarily low-income Latino and African-American students, are perhaps best known for their “learning labs,” where 100 or more elementary-age students fill one room, sitting in cubicles, working independently on computers, using software like DreamBox Learning. (Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is an investor in both DreamBox and Rocketship.) There are no teachers in the learning labs; there are teachers’ aides – an arrangement that Rocketship boasts saves it hundreds of thousands of dollars per school per year. The schools focus solely on literacy and math – that’s what the standardized tests focus on, after all.
Rocketship could, for a time, boast quite good standardized test scores, particularly for a school serving a low socioeconomic student population. But as the chain has expanded, those scores have plummeted. According to Education Week, “the number of Rocketship students scoring ’proficient’ or above in English/language arts has plunged 30 percentage points over the past five years, to 51 percent, while math proficiency rates have dropped more than 14 points, to 77 percent.” And while students might perform adequately on standardized tests, they have also learned, as one Rocketship administrator put it, to be “good rule-followers.” Once they move on to middle school, the students struggle with independence, with collaboration, with problem-solving. They have learned to be compliant, not creative.
(This mass production of students via software doesn’t only happen at Rocketship. This image is of the Carpe Diem charter school in Indianapolis, from a recent story about “personalized learning.” Note the change from elementary school to middle school and high school - no more bright colors.)
“The computer programming the child.” The computer reinforcing the school systems’ practices of social stratification, which the sociologist Jean Anyon identified in her influential article – also published in 1980, the same year as Papert’s Mindstorms– “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.”
In the … working-class schools, work is following the steps of a procedure. The procedure is usually mechanical, involving rote behavior and very little decision making or choice. The teachers rarely explain why the work is being assigned, how it might connect to other assignments, or what the idea is that lies behind the procedure or gives it coherence and perhaps meaning or significance. …Most of the rules regarding work are designations of what the children are to do; the rules are steps to follow. These steps are told to the children by the teachers and often written on the board. The children are usually told to copy the steps as notes. These notes are to be studied. Work is often evaluated not according to whether it is right or wrong, but according to whether the children followed the right steps.
Anyon’s work is critical as it highlights how students’ relationship to “the system of ownership of symbolic and physical capital, to authority and control, and to their own productive activity” are developed differently in working class, middle class, and elite schools. Her work helps us to see too how the traditional practices of school might be reinforced, re-inscribed by technology – not, as some like to argue, magically disrupted, with these hierarchies magically flattened. Menial tasks are still menial if done on a computer. To argue otherwise is ed-tech solutionism – dangerous and wrong.
That’s not to say that education technology changes nothing, or changes little more than moving the analog to the digital. There are profoundly important questions we must ask about the shifts that education technology might bring about, particularly if we have our eye towards justice. How does education technology alter the notion of “work” in school, for example – students’ labor as well as teachers’ labor? Who owns all the content and data that students create when using educational technology? How do technology companies use this data to build their algorithms; how do they use it to build profiles and models? How do they use it to monitor, assess, predict, surveil? Who is surveilled; and who is more apt to be disciplined for what’s uncovered?
If we’re only concerned about the digital divide, we are likely to overlook these questions. We cannot simply ask “Who has access to Internet-connected devices at home?” We need to ask how Internet-connected devices are used – at home and at school?
And if we’re paying attention to issues of ed-tech equity, we need to ask “Who has access to an unfiltered Internet at home?” Whose access is monitored by schools and by school software, even when at home? Are we, in the words of education infosec advocate Jessy Irwin, “grooming students for a lifetime of surveillance”? (And again, which students are likely to be “groomed”?) Irwin writes that,
When we develop and use educational technologies that monitor a student’s every moment in school and online, we groom that student for a lifetime of surveillance from the NSA, from data brokers, from advertisers, marketers, and even CCTV cameras. By watching every move that students make while learning, we model to students that we do not trust them – that ultimately, their every move will be under scrutiny from others. When students recognize that they are being watched, they begin to act differently – and from that very moment they begin to cede one small bit of freedom at a time.
This surveillance is increasingly pervasive, at both the K–12 and at the college level. New education technologies create more data; new education technology regimes – education policy regimes – demand more data.
From a The New York Times story last fall, “At a New York state elementary school, teachers can use a behavior-monitoring app to compile information on which children have positive attitudes and which act out. In Georgia, some high school cafeterias are using a biometric identification system to let students pay for lunch by scanning the palms of their hands at the checkout line. And across the country, school sports teams are using social media sites for athletes to exchange contact information and game locations.” We learned more recently that Pearson monitors social media, looking for mentions of the Common Core tests that it’s currently administering, ostensibly to curb cheating and to protect its intellectual property. The ACLU and EFF have accused a Tennessee school district of violating students’ rights with its new policy that “allows school officials to search any electronic devices students bring to campus and to monitor and control what students post on social media sites.” A student in Minnesota settled a lawsuit with her school over claims that officials violated her constitutional rights by viewing her Facebook and email without her permission. Students on meal plans at George Mason University must be registered for the iris scanner in order to eat. Counterterrorism software is now marketed to campuses to help identify students who might drop out. Rutgers University is just one school that uses ProctorTrack to administer assessments for online courses. The software scans the student’s faces and knuckles, recording them, along with anything else occurring on their computer, during every minute of the test. “Proctortrack uses algorithms to detect unusual student behavior — like talking to someone off-screen — that could constitute cheating,” reports The New York Times’ Natasha Singer. “Then it categorizes each student as having high or low ‘integrity.’”
“Integrity.” This language matters.
The surveillance of students, and the surveillance of school employees as well. Sometimes it’s framed as safety and “protection”; sometimes it’s tied to a new regime of “performance metics.” And, yes, surveillance is part of an old regime too that is deeply intertwined with school as a disciplinary institution – the school-to-prison pipeline. Take the Huntsville City Schools in Alabama, for example, which“expelled 14 students last year based on the findings of a private contractor who monitored students’ social-media activity as part of greater school security efforts.” 12 of them were Black.
Algorithms are not neutral.
The architecture of education technology is not neutral.
Despite all the hype and hope about revolution and access and opportunity that these new technologies are supposed to provide us, they do not negate hierarchy, history, privilege, power. They reflect those. They channel it. They concentrate it, in new ways and in old.
I’ve spoken frequently in the past about gender and education technology. I often point to culture of Silicon Valley – the subtle and not-so-subtle misogyny – as well as the demographics of the technology sector. 70% of Google employees are male, for example. 61% are white and 30% Asian. Of Google’s “technical” employees. 83% are male. 60% of those are white and 34% are Asian. And I’ve argued that this culture, these bodies shape what gets built; they shape, even how the “problem” of education gets framed and gets “fixed.” I should add something here, however, particularly in light of an article in the business of technology publication Fast Company last week suggesting that ed-tech is “where women are starting to buck the tech world’s sexist trends.” The ideologies of education technology – its connection to hierarchy, surveillance, stratification, discipline, power – are not undone just by having more women in education entrepreneurialism.
Privileges, ideologies, expectations, values are hard-coded into our education technologies, in ways that we rarely explore – in part because of the narratives that education and ed-tech are wonderfully meritocratic, woefully ahistorical, and yet somehow inherently equalizing.
I’ve written in the past too about that word “privilege” and its dual meaning. We use it to refer to the advantages that are are afforded to some people and not to others: male privilege, white privilege. But when it comes to tech, we make advantage an explicit part of functionality. We actually embed that status into the software’s processes. “Privileges” in tech refer to who has the ability to use or control certain features of a piece of software. Administrator privileges. Teacher privileges. (Students rarely have privileges in ed-tech. Food for thought.)
Or consider how privilege operates in discussion forums – how privilege operates technically as well as socially. Now quite common in ed-tech tools – in learning management systems, in MOOCs, for example – discussion forums often trace their history back to the earliest Internet bulletin boards. But even before then, education technologies like PLATO, a programmed instruction system built by the University of Illinois in the 1970s, offered chat and messaging functionality. (How education technology’s contributions to tech are erased from tech history is, alas, a different talk.)
One of the new features that many discussion forums boast: the ability to vote up or vote down certain topics. Ostensibly this means that “the best” ideas surface to the top – the best ideas, the best questions, the best answers. Why, it’s meritocratic, some will argue. But what it means in practice often is something else entirely. In part this is because the voting power on these sites is concentrated in the hands of the few, the most active, the most “engaged.” And no surprise, “the few” here is often overwhelmingly male. Reddit, which calls itself “the front page of the Internet” and is the model for this sort of voting process, is roughly 84% male. I’m not sure that many MOOCs, which have adopted Reddit’s model of voting on comments, can boast a much better ratio of male-to-female participation.
What happens when the most important topics – based on up-voting – are decided by a small group? As D. A. Banks has written,
Sites like Reddit will remain structurally incapable of producing non-hegemonic content because the “crowd” is still subject to structural oppression. You might choose to stay within the safe confines of your familiar subreddit, but the site as a whole will never feel like yours. The site promotes mundanity and repetition over experimentation and diversity by presenting the user with a too-accurate picture of what appeals to the entrenched user base. As long as the “wisdom of the crowds” is treated as colorblind and gender neutral, the white guy is always going to be the loudest.
With this we come full circle to one of the quotations with which I opened this talk, from edX’s Anant Agarwal:
MOOCs make education borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind and bank account-blind. Up to now, quality education – and in some cases, any higher education at all – has been the privilege of the few. MOOCs have changed that. Anyone with an internet connection can have access. We hear from thousands of students, many in under-served, developing countries, about how grateful they are for this education.
This passage wipes away structural inequality and imperialism and replaced it with gratitude.
Education technology simply does not confront systemic inequalities. Or rather, it often substitutes access to a computing device or high speed Internet for institutional or structural change. Education technology routinely fails to address power or privilege. It fails to recognize, let alone examine, its history. It insists instead on stories about meritocracy and magic and claims about “blindness.”
I want to end here on what is a bit of a tangent, I suppose, about blindness – the things in technology we refuse to see.
This is a picture from Baotou in Inner Mongolia. Tim Maughan published a story last week on the BBC website about this artificial lake “filled with a black, barely-liquid, toxic sludge” – the toxic result of mining rare earth minerals, used in our modern computing devices, many of which are assembled – at least in part – in China.
That means this toxic lake is a byproduct of education technology. It grows as our fervor for new devices grows. Can we really say we’re architecting an equitable educational future if we ignore this foundation?
This is the great challenge for those of us in education: to address and not dismiss the toxicity. Adding technology does not scrub it away. To the contrary, we need to recognize where and how and why education technology actually makes things worse.
Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) have negotiated a bipartisan revision to ESEA. According to The New York Times, “The bill retains the requirement for yearly tests in math and reading for every student in third through eighth grade, and once in high school, and requires that the scores, broken down by race and income, be made public.” “Is America Nearing the End of the No Child Left Behind Era?” Perhaps, if only because the name of the bill this time around is “The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”
A “discussion draft” of a revision to FERPA was released to the US House of Representatives’ education committee.
Three similar bills recently introduced in the Minnesota legislature would require school districts to notify parents or guardians every time a fellow parent, guardian, or an adult student deems instructional material such as books or movies to be “sexually explicit or obscene and therefore harmful to minors.” Although the bills do not require discontinuing use of the disputed material, the most extreme version would force districts to publicly justify its retention in the curriculum. To make matters worse, all three bills would apparently allow complainants to remain anonymous.
Nine states attorneys general have written a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, calling for loan forgiveness for Corinthian Colleges’ students.
Meanwhile, some states (like Montana) are looking at revoking the driver’s licenses and other professional licenses from students who default on their student loans. Because that’s going to help them pay the money back.
Timed with the ASU-GSV Summit, the Department of Education released an ed-tech developers guide this week. (Here’s Edsurge’s coverage.) Justin Reich’s alt-preface is much better than the department’s.
The Texas legislature is debating a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
The best education photo of the week comes from the UK, where Prime Minister David Cameron is on the campaign trail. Lucy, girl, I feel you.
Education in the Courts
The Marshall Project’s Dana Goldstein compares the convictions and (possible 20 year) sentences of the Atlanta educators to others accused/convicted of tampering with students’ standardized tests. (Spoiler alert: cheaters “hardly ever get punished this severely.”)
Consumer groups have filed a complaint with the FTC over the YouTube Kids app, “claiming it misleads parents and violates rules on ‘unfair and deceptive marketing’ for kids.” More via Wired.
Johns Hopkins is facing a $1 billion lawsuit“its role in U.S.-government experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s that infected hundreds of people with sexually transmitted diseases.”
Virginia’s Attorney General weighed in this week to say that Ellen Bowyer, the Amherst County attorney, does not have the legal authority to challenge Sweet Briar College’s closing.
The New York Attorney General is investigating board of Cooper Union, which announced last year that it would charge tuition for the first time in its history – its “management of its endowment; its handling of its major asset, the Chrysler Building; its dealings with Tishman Speyer Properties, which manages the skyscraper; and how it obtained a $175 million loan from MetLife using the building as collateral.”
GeekDad has settled its legal issues with Condé Nast, which in a huge jerk move tried to retain control of the GeekDad brand even though it started long before the blog moved under the Wired domain. The GeekDad folks are having to pay to keep their name.
Testing, Testing… (Privacy, InfoSec, and Edu Data)
The New York Times’ Natasha Singer looks at the controversy at Rutgers over ProctorTrack, an “anti-cheating” online testing platform.
“You have to put your face up to it and you put your knuckles up to it,” Ms. Chao said recently, explaining how the program uses webcams to scan students’ features and verify their identities before the test.
Once her exam started, Ms. Chao said, a red warning band appeared on the computer screen indicating that Proctortrack was monitoring her computer and recording video of her. To constantly remind her that she was being watched, the program also showed a live image of her in miniature on her screen.
…Proctortrack uses algorithms to detect unusual student behavior – like talking to someone off-screen – that could constitute cheating. Then it categorizes each student as having high or low ‘integrity.’
According to the Dallas News, Texas officials are not too concerned about students’ STAAR-related tweets.
The Tewksbury Public School District in Massachusetts published private student information online last week – specifically, “information for the out of district placements of 83 students [which] rates their parents according to their ‘cooperativeness’ with the district.”
A crowdfunding campaign to robocall all New York parents, urging them to opt their children out of standardized testing. Gee, no issues with privacy or data brokering there.
“Are Colleges Invading Their Students’ Privacy?” asks The Atlantic. Duh?
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
“How 'Elite' Universities Are Using Online Education.” (It’s not really clear to me how it’s different than the non-elites.)
“What public media reveals about MOOCs: A systematic analysis of news reports” in the British Journal of Educational Technology.
Via the Hechinger Report: “Online courses might offer a path to more degrees – and to reducing the carbon footprint.”
“Let Prisoners Take College Courses,” says a NYT op-ed. I say, let prisoners receive federal financial aid so that they can get real degrees, not just MOOC certificates. (Related: “Past Drug Charges Derail a Law Student's Education.”)
Rolling Stone’s Horrific Journalistic Failure
Rolling Stone officially retracted its story from last November detailing a brutal gang rape at a party at a University of Virginia fraternity. After it was published, the veracity of the rape accusation quickly came into question, and the Columbia School of Journalism agreed to review how the magazine got the story wrong. (The full text of that review is here.) Despite the errors – which it acknowledges, Rolling Stone insists its editorial process was not at fault. The magazine’s publisher, Jann Wenner, calls Jackie (the woman who was the primary source for the story and the victim of the alleged gang rape) “an expert fabulist storyteller.” So pretty much, this whole thing is Jackie’s fault, according to Rolling Stone; not shitty journalism. The fraternity at the center of the story, Phi Kappa Psi, is suing the magazine. Considering the track record of sexual assault at that frat and others at UVA, I’m not sure how well that lawsuit will go for them. For the best summary of the report, read Melissa McEwan.
Meanwhile on Campus
Texas State University joins the list of schools which have accidentally sent acceptance letters to the wrong students. Not sure how that compares to this: “University of Florida admits 3,000 students — then tells them it is only for online program”
Go, School Sports Team!
“At Least 15 Athletics Programs to Offer More Than $4,000 in Extra Aid to Athletes,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education.
From the HR Department
The revolving door of ed-tech/education reform:
Scott Benson, who oversaw grants to blended and charter schools as a program officer at the Gates Foundation's Next Generation Learning Model team, is now a managing partner at NewSchools Venture Fund. Another Gatesie, program manager Emily Dalton-Smith, joined Facebook in March as product manager for its K-12 education team, which is working with Summit Public Schools on software to manage project-based learning.
The LA Times reports that unionized doctors at UC campuses’ student health clinics started a rolling strike this week, “accusing the university of unfair labor practices during negotiations for the physicians’ first contract.”
Harvard graduate students “start movement to unionize.”
A husband and wife – him, a senior lecturer and her an academic administrator – have been fired by the University of Bolton “for allegedly leaking information to the press about the vice-chancellor.”
Warwick University is outsourcing adjunct academic labor to a temp agency of sorts, “a national company, which intends to be rolled out across UK universities.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
The ASU-GSV Summit was held this week at a resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Apparently, the entrepreneurs, investors, politicians, and celebrities talked about ed-tech and other technological and market-oriented solutions for “equity” at their $2995 per person three-day event. LOL.
When Princeton Review and 2U founder John Katzman launched Noodle, it was described as a search engine for education programs. Now Noodle is going to help colleges build online programs, and the company is described as an “enabler.” Or a “disruptor of enablers.” I have no idea, but IHE and CHE spilled a lot of words on the story, so see if you can figure out if there’s substance there.
Also with a new startup that’s “hard to categorize,” Paul Freedman. His last startup Altius Education ran into problems with accreditors shut down the Ivy Bridge College program it had developed at Tiffin University. Freedman’s back, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education, with a new company called Entangled Ventures that is “part incubator, part investment fund, part consultant, and part reseller of services.”
I’m not really a fan of the color scheme on the Bloomberg Business site. But damn, the hot pink on this headline was marvelous: “News Corp.'s $1 Billion Plan to Overhaul Education Is Riddled With Failures.” My favorite quote from the story comes from a seventh grader describing the Amplify tablets: “I think they're evil.”
In other Amplify-related news, a Q&A with education game developer Zach Barth, founder of Zachtronics which had been building games for Amplify – the company has “gone dark.” Key quote: “Once we found out what the market is like for educational games, that totally destroyed any hope of doing that.”
Chegg is partnering with InsideTrack for career coaching services.
WeFinance, a crowdfunding + student loan provider, has launched. Here’s the Techcrunch write-up.
SIIA’s education division has announced the participants in its “Innovation Incubator Program.” One of them is some tiny little company called Adobe. Way to level the playing field in a startup competition, SIIA.
Intel is launching an Education Accelerator. Maybe Adobe can join that one too.
If Adobe can’t get a spot in Intel’s accelerator, perhaps it can try BoomStartup, another new accelerator program. This one, based in Utah, is run by “former Pearson pals,” says Edsurge.
Inside Higher Ed reports that NITLE, the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education, is undergoing a year-long review and “‘will migrate its operations’ to the Council on Library and Information Resources, or CLIR, in Washington, D.C.”
Funding and Acquisitions
LinkedIn is buying Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. It's a strong move into the education vertical, which LinkedIn has been inching towards by making it easy for you to add your MOOC certificates to your profile, for example. Considering how lousy LinkedIn handles data portability, I sure wouldn't trust it as the place to showcase your skills portfolio. But hey. What do I know. Wired’s #hottake: “LinkedIn's CEO Thinks His $1.5B Buy Will Make You Smarter.” Re/Code’s #hottake: “Three Reasons LinkedIn Broke the Bank for Lynda.com.”
Valore (formerly SimpleTuition) has acquired Boundless, the textbook replacement startup. Terms were not disclosed.
Nearpod has raised ~$5.6 million from Reach Capital, Rothenberg Ventures, Storm Ventures, Emerson Collective, Stanford-StartX Fund, the Knight Foundation, Arsenal Venture Partners, Krillion Venture, Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce), and Deborah Quazzo. The startup, which allows teachers to share presentations onto students’ tablets, has raised $7.1 million.
The bibliographic references tool RefME has raised $5 million in seed funding from GEMS Global and others.
Educents has raised $2.9 million in seed funding from SoftTech VC, Crosslink Capital, Deep Fork Capital, Kapor Capital, Learn Capital also participating, Deborah Quazzo, and Joanne Wilson. “Educents’ mission is to create a more efficient marketplace that saves teachers both time and money,” says Edsurge.
Showbie has raised $2.3 million from Point Nine Capital, Kymbask Investments, Yaletown Venture Partners, and Imagine K12. The startup “wants to make it easier for teachers to share assignments with students and for those students to turn in their homework online,” says Techcrunch.
ProQuest has acquired digital materials management company SIPX. Terms were not disclosed.
Career hub AfterCollege has acquired career hub Collegefeed for an undisclosed sum.
The Learning House has acquired the coding bootcamp company Software Craftsmanship Guild. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Cheddar Up has raised $725,000 in a seed round from The Foundry Group. According to Edsurge, the startup offers “an online fundraising tool to help schools and Parent Teacher Associations up their cheddar from their communities.”
Purple Squirrel has raised an undisclosed “pre-series A” round of funding from Matrix Partners. The Indian firm, according to Tech in Asia, is “a supplementary education provider which conducts practical and industry-driven educational initiatives such as facilitating industry visits, workshops, and hands-on training sessions for students across engineering, arts, sciences, and commerce.”
Investment firm Ritz Ventures has acquired online education provider Classroom24–7 for an undisclosed sum.
Singapore-based XSEED Education has acquired Mumbai-based Pleolabs. Terms were not disclosed.
Chicago-based startups digedu and Modern Teacher are merging, reports Edsurge.
1105 Media Inc, which runs THE Journal and Campus Technology, has sold the ed-tech conference FETC to LRP Conferences.
In related news: The New York Times asked investors about ethics and (ed-tech) investment, specially relating to Yik Yak. It’s still waiting for a comment…
Data and “Research”
From the National Education Policy Center, a report called “On the Block: Student Data and Privacy in the Digital Age.” Education Week’s summary:
Its authors, Alex Molnar and Faith Boninger, both University of Colorado researchers, recommend that legal protections be extended beyond students’ formal educational records to include the wide range of student data – including anonymous information and “metadata,” such as what type of device a student is using or where they are accessing the Internet – that is now frequently collected and shared by ed-tech companies. The researchers also recommend that the legal burden to protect students’ information be shifted to include vendors, as well as schools and districts.
According to UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 58 million children worldwide do not attend primary school.
From the American Enterprise Institute: “Employer perspectives on competency-based education” and “Measuring mastery: Best practices for assessment in competency-based education.”
A study by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Human Development examines the language development of Mexican-American toddlers and the gap between those children and white toddlers of the same age.
Pacific Standard looks at research on the benefits of foreign language learning (and notes that learning a programming language isn’t the same thing.)
Following an unflattering profile of Success Academy Charter Schools in The New York Times, the Shanker Institute’s Matthew Di Carlo runs the numbers of the chain’s claims about teacher turnover. From Freddie deBoer: “Success Academy Charter Schools will never, ever scale.” Of course, that rarely stops education companies from trying.
According to Alexander Russo, “Big Chunk Of DonorsChoose Goes To Schools Below 65 Percent Poverty.”
From the Pew Research Center: “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015.” (Lots of really interesting information in this report, particularly about race, class, and gender. I’ll have an article about the report next week in Educating Modern Learners.)
From the Berkman Center: “Digitally Connected: Global Perspectives on Youth and Digital Media.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Female students – especially in their first year – are more likely to actively participate and less likely to feel anxious if they have the chance to work in small groups that are majority female, according to a new study that will appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
The Brontosaurus is back! [Insert education-related joke here. Bonus points if you can work "disruptive innovation" into the punchline.]
In the fall of 1984, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen – then the CEO of Lego (and grandson of its founder) – happened to watch a television interview featuring MIT professor Seymour Papert. In it, Papert demonstrated how children could use the programming language he’d developed, LOGO, to control robot “turtles” – to move the robots forward and backward a specified distance, turn right or left a specified degree, drop a pen and draw.
Lego had created a special education division some years earlier and with the launch of the Technic line had begun to offer construction sets with pneumatics and motors. Kristiansen was struck watching Papert by the similarities between constructionism – Papert’s theory of learning – and his own company’s philosophy about building. Kristiansen was intrigued by the possibilities of expanding Lego’s capabilities for learning and play: children should be able to build and control – program– their creations.
Kristiansen arranged a visit to the MIT Media Lab where Papert worked, launching the long-standing partnership between Lego and the lab.
A Programmable Brick
Researchers at the Media Lab were already investigating ways in which Lego and Logo could work together.
Although one of the earliest applications of Logo involved the robot turtle, the advent of personal computers had moved the programming language from the floor to the screen. Lego Logo, a project developed by Mitch Resnick and Steve Ocko, moved programming back out again, into the physical world – but with some key differences, least of which being that children got to design their own machines, not simply use the pre-made turtle. As Resnick and Ocko write,
Children have used LEGO/Logo to build a wide assortment of creative machines. A few examples: a programmable pop-up toaster; a “chocolate-carob factory” (inspired by the Willy Wonka children’s stories); a machine that sorts LEGO bricks according to their lengths; and an “ejection bed” that automatically tosses its occupant onto the floor when the sun shines through the window in the morning. Working on projects like these, children experiment with many different types of design: structural design, mechanical design, software design. LEGO/Logo might be viewed as a “multi-media construction kit,” allowing students to build and create in several different (though interconnected) media.
The Media Lab and Lego developed TC Logo (which was sold only to schools) and later Control Lab, which expanded upon the traditional Logo commands (forward, backward, turn, repeat) so as to control sensors and turn motors on and off.
Like the early robot turtles, these programmable Lego constructions were still tethered to a computer with wires. So Papert wondered if it would be possible to create a Lego brick that could serve as the computer – a fully programmable brick.
The design challenge was not simply to be able to control a mechanical object built out of Legos. The programmable brick had to be a Lego – that is, it had to have the stud face. It had to be cheap and small and light enough to be carried around by a Lego model.
A working prototype was built by the Media Lab in 1987, but it wasn’t until a decade later that Lego trademarked Mindstorms – a nod to Papert’s 1980 book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas– and brought the programmable brick to market.
In January 1998, Mindstorms was unveiled at the Royal College of Art in London; the official launch date came in September of that year. By December 1 of that year, it had sold out.
Mindstorms: Generations and Specifications
There have been three generations of Lego Mindstorms: the Robotics Invention System (launched in 1998), Mindstorms NXT (launched in 2006), and Mindstorms EV3 (launched in 2013). It’s worth noting that, along the way, these releases have included separate (and sometimes quite different) kits for retail and for schools.
The programmable brick in the first Robotics Invention System was called the RCX (Robotic Command eXplorers). It could be programmed using RCX code or ROBOLAB, which was based on LabVIEW. (This software was developed by Tufts University’s Chris Rogers and commercialized by National Instruments.) The RCX had a 16 MHz processor with 32K RAM. In addition to the brick, the kit also included two motors, two touch sensors, and one light sensor.
The NXT kit contained three servo motors, one light, sound, and distance sensor, and one touch sensor. The NXT 2.0 added another touch sensor. The brick had a 48 MHz processor with 64 KB RAM. The NXT software in the retail set was NXT-G; the education kit came with ROBOLAB.
The brick in the latest model, the EV3, runs Linux. It boasts a 300 MHz processor and 64 MB RAM plus 16 MB Flash memory. It also includes a USB connector and a Micro SD slot and supports WiFi and Bluetooth connections. The education set runs a version of LabView and contains two large motors, one medium motor, two touch sensors, one color sensor, one gyroscopic sensor, and one ultrasonic sensor. The education set does not, however, contain enough Legos to build the designs in the retail set.
The Rise of Educational Robotics
The launch of Lego Mindstorms in 1998 coincided with the founding of the FIRST Lego League, a partnership between Lego and FIRST, a youth organization started by inventor Dean Kamen aimed at boosting student interest in engineering and technology. As Stephen Turnipseed, President Emeritus of Lego Education, told me, “When we hit the market, it caught fire.”
By the time the Lego Mindstorms NXT was released in 2006, the acronym “STEM” was becoming increasingly prevalent in education debates (although it’s worth pointing out that panic about American students’ lack of preparedness in these fields is much, much older). Robotics were viewed as a compelling means to engage students in engineering.
As such, Lego Education has expanded the Mindstorms product line to include the WeDo Construction set, aimed at younger students. WeDo models are still tethered to a computer and are programmed via a Scratch-like interface, not via a brick. For older, high school-age students, Lego Education also offers Tetrix, a set with metal pieces and a more rugged motor.
Learner versus Expert Builders
One of the many tensions that runs through the Mindstorms product line: can you design a commercial product that meets the needs of classrooms and the demands of consumers? Can you design one that meets the needs of learners and the demands of hobbyists? These needn’t necessarily be competing desires, of course, and as Lego offers two products – one retail and one educational – some of this is addressed in that very separation.
But the importance of the retail version in driving the Mindstorms line cannot be underestimated. It is one of Lego’s bestselling products – notably, the majority of buyers are adults, and this has undoubtably shaped its development. The differences between the retail and education versions are fairly significant – but they’re cultural and pedagogical, not just technological.
This is perhaps best exemplified by an article in Wired in 2006, marking the release of the NXT. “The Lego Army Wants You,” the cover reads. “How obsessed fans are helping Lego reinvent the world’s coolest toy.” The accompanying image: row after row of Lego minifigures. All in black. All alike. All hairless and hat-less, and as such, all coded the unmarked gender – that is, “male.”
“In Billund, Denmark, not only is the customer always right, he’s also a candidate for the R&D team,” the article concludes. The pronoun is apt – all the fans and engineers and “citizen developers” in the story, much like the minifigs on the cover, are men.
The Lego hobbyist community has long been influential, and the company has wisely courted it. Shortly after the launch of the original Mindstorms, Kekoa Proudfoot reverse engineered the RCX brick and posted everything online; soon after Markus Noga developed his own Lego operating system, LegOS. Incidentally, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act had been passed in 1998, the same year as Mindstorms’ launch, criminalizing the circumvention of DRM. The DMCA remains a powerful legal tool by which companies can demand the takedown of copyrighted materials online. But in this case, Lego opted not to view any of the “hacks” as infringement on its intellectual property.
Lego wanted an open platform for Mindstorms, says Turnipseed, and so it needed to “allow an ecosystem to be created around the product.”
The Target Market
While Mindstorms has remained fairly tinkerable, it’s debatable whether or not it’s always been open as in welcoming to all users. The titles of some of the early Lego Mindstorms expansion sets: RoboSports, Extreme Creatures, the (Star Wars-branded) Droid Developer Kit, the Dark Side Developer Kit, and SpyBotics. These, along with the “battle bot” framing of some of the early robotics competitions, were clearly not marketed to girls.
Unfortunately, this echoes the history of Lego the toy. The earliest bricks were marketed to boys and girls as early advertising and box covers themselves indicate. But Lego introduced the Homemaker line in the 1970s – the first theme marketed to girls, and while the early minifigures were (arguably) gender neutral, as David Pickett notes in his history of “The Lego Gender Gap,” “the products for girls are always on the low-skill side of the spectrum and the high-skill side always reserved for boys.”
To its credit, Lego has taken some of this criticism about the gendered design and marketing of the product to heart in the latest educational version – particularly important as studies have shown girls’ interest in STEM drops off significantly in middle school, the target age for Mindstorms. The EV3 models include a friendly looking GyroBoy, a dog, and an elephant.
But the retail models still imply robotics are a boy’s world; they include Gripp3r, Spik3r, R3ptar – a spiked grappling robot, a scorpion, and a rattlesnake.
Kits and Play
Just as some yearn for the “good old days” of gender-neutral marketing, there’s a nostalgia too for a time when Lego’s sets were more open-ended. Sure, there were still pictures on the box showing what you could build, but the play and the pieces were pretty open-ended. Today’s sets are more akin to models, with step-by-step instructions with what you should build.
Moreover, in the last few decades, Lego has found great commercial success with pop culture branded sets, which began when the company struck a licensing deal with Lucasfilm Ltd around the same time as the launch of the first Mindstorms set. Star Wars Lego, Harry Potter Lego, Marvel Super Heroes Lego, Lord of the Rings Lego – these titles have helped Lego stay competitive with video games and other electronic toys. Yes, you can make your Gandalf minifig ride an X-Wing Fighter and lead the invasion of the Hydra Fortress – hooray, imagination! – but, again, the storytelling and play are much more scripted, the Lego pieces themselves much more restrictive.
In some ways, the educational version of Mindstorms faces a similar problem as it struggles to balance imagination with instructions. As the product have become more popular in schools, Lego Education has added new features that make Mindstorms more amenable to the classroom, easier for teachers to use: portfolios, curriculum, data-logging and troubleshooting features for teachers, and so on.
“Little by little, the subversive features of the computer were eroded away. Instead of cutting across and challenging the very idea of subject boundaries, the computer now defined a new subject; instead of changing the emphasis from impersonal curriculum to excited live exploration by students, the computer was now used to reinforce School’s ways. What had started as a subversive instrument of change was neutralized by the system and converted into an instrument of consolidation.” – Seymour Papert, The Children’s Machine
That constructionist element is still there, of course – in Lego the toy and in Lego Mindstorms. Children of all ages continue to build amazing things. Yet as Mindstorms has become a more powerful platform – in terms of its engineering capabilities and its retail and educational success – it has paradoxically perhaps also become a less playful one.
But as it’s a Lego – and therefore compatible with all the other Lego bricks – you can still take that programmable brick out of the Mindstorms kit – out of the curriculum, out of the robotics competitions, beyond the step-by-step instructions, beyond the picture on the cover of the box.
You can build your own creation, and then, as Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen and Seymour Papert envisioned some 30 years ago, you can actually program it.
I'm surprised to have seen so little thoughtful analysis of the LinkedIn acquisition of Lynda.com, particularly as Michael Feldstein put it: the deal suggests that LinkedIn might just be "the most interesting company in ed tech."
Maybe I shouldn't be.
There was a rash of “hot takes” from tech industry blogs, of course – reports of the deal hurriedly typed up after reading the press release, barely rewriting the companies’ blog posts. Such are the pressures of real-time publishing these days – writers are supposed to offer commentary quickly, sometimes within minutes of news breaking.
I am still amazed that while the current boom in education technology companies has been going on now for over seven years, few technology writers or publications have made ed-tech a formal beat; as such few are able to offer much insight at all when something important happens in the industry. Instead, the common response to any development in ed-tech – whether it’s a product launch, an investment, or an acquisition – is to throw the names of every education-related startup into the story and pronounce that “this changes everything.”
Here’s the headline on the embarrassingly abysmal analysis from Pando: “Did LinkedIn's acquisition of Lynda just kill the ed tech space?”
The article is, as Feldstein describes it, "a laughable piece of link bait garbage," cramming the Chegg and 2U IPOs, last year’s record-setting VC investment figures, Lynda.com’s competitor online training company Pluralsight, the offline tech training Flatiron School, the MOOC startup Udacity, Panorama Education (which provides a platform for K–12 schools to run surveys), Chinese mobile development company NetDragon Education, English-language learning site Open English, LMS provider Desire2Learn, and K–12 messaging app Remind into the story in order to pronounce the ed-tech sector "unicorn-free.""Now, the focus will shift to the traditional education companies like Pearson, Cengage, and publishers like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who are under pressure to innovate or acquire new technologies to keep up with each other," writes Pando’s Dennis Keohane. "But none of the traditional powers fighting in that space have the financial wherewithal of LinkedIn, nor the desire to get into an acquisition arms race like the kind that happens all the time in Silicon Valley."
(For what it’s worth, Pearson and those other “traditional powers” have been the most active acquirers of ed-tech startups for a good long while now.)
Rather than predicting that the acquisition of Lynda.com spells “doom” for the sector, Edsurge (no surprise) describes it as a positive indicator: "the deal will be hailed as evidence that companies devoted to learning will be worth billions of dollars” and “the deal is huge and will be a signal that there will be rich rewards for investors who support high-quality education-related work.” (Lynda.com founder Lynda Weinman is an investor in Edsurge.)
By focusing on the implications of the deal itself – whether good or bad – for other deals, that is for ed-tech investors and investments, most coverage has completely missed out on exploring, as Feldstein does in his analysis of the acquisition, “Why LinkedIn Matters” for education.
And I agree with him: it matters a lot.
LinkedIn is an Education Data Company
There is only one place in the world I know of where bazillions of people voluntarily enter their longitudinal college and career information, keep it up-to-date, and actually want it to be public.
LinkedIn is the only organization I know of, public or private, that has the data to study long-term career outcomes of education in a broad and meaningful way. Nobody else comes close. Not even the government. Their data set is enormous, fairly comprehensive, and probably reasonably accurate. Which also means that they are increasingly in a position to recommend colleges, majors, and individual courses and competencies. An acquisition like Lynda.com gives them an ability to sell an add-on service – “People who are in your career track advanced faster when they took a course like this one, which is available to you for only X dollars” – but it also feeds their data set. Right now, schools are not reporting individual courses to the company, and it’s really too much to expect individuals to fill out comprehensive lists of courses that they took. The more that LinkedIn can capture that information automatically, the more the company can start searching for evidence that enables them to reliably make more fine-grained recommendations to job seekers (like which skills or competencies they should acquire) as well as to employers (like what kinds of credentials to look for in a job candidate). Will the data actually provide credible evidence to make such recommendations? I don't know. But if it does, LinkedIn is really the only organization that's in a position to find that evidence right now.
As federal and state governments look to create ratings systems for colleges and universities, based in part on graduates' employability, this sort of data is going to be increasingly valuable - financially and politically.
Like Feldstein, I’d also made a prediction back in 2012 that LinkedIn would enter the ed-tech space via an acquisition. He picked Coursera as the target buy; I picked Edmodo. Here’s what I wrote then (in a blog post speculating about Edmodo’s future after raising VC round after round and wondering who, if anyone, would acquire it):
LinkedIn's [co-founder] Reid Hoffman sits on the board of Edmodo as an investor, and I do think this would be an interesting (but perhaps surprising) acquisition. Although LinkedIn describes itself as a professional social network – something that makes it a parallel perhaps to Edmodo’s educational social network – I see LinkedIn as a big data company. Who’s hired. Who’s looking for work. Who updates their profile. Who you’re connected to. Where you went to school. What your skills are. All this incredible data about our professional skills and experiences can offer huge insights for other companies. And all that data – all our data – is what makes LinkedIn such a valuable company. It is possible that LinkedIn could make a move into the education space – particularly as we start to rethink certification and degrees – and Edmodo certainly has a lot of data which, in aggregate, could certainly provide interesting signals about careers, curriculum, certification, connections, and so on.
So, I was wrong about Edmodo; but I think my description of LinkedIn remains pretty accurate, and it helps explain how Lynda.com might fit into the company’s strategy.
According to LinkedIn’s latest quarterly report, revenue from its “Talent Solutions” division (that includes its recruiting tools and services) totaled $369 million in the fourth quarter of 2014 – 57% of total revenue. “Marketing Solutions” (that is, advertising) totaled $153 million – 24% of total revenue. Revenue from Premium Subscriptions products totaled $121 million – 19% of total revenue.
It’s certainly possible to see the Lynda.com acquisition as part of efforts to keep users – premium subscribers, even – returning to the site. (That’s one of the “Three Reasons LinkedIn Broke the Bank for Lynda.com” given by Re/Code.) But despite LinkedIn’s efforts at expanding its content offerings – becoming a long-form publishing platform, for example – I don’t think the Lynda.com buy was really about “content.”
“Disrupting the Diploma”
The business play in this acquisition involves education-related data, but I think it’s connected to a broader political play too.
In September 2013, Reid Hoffman wrote a blog post titled “Disrupting the Diploma,” outlining what has become quite a familiar refrain in Silicon Valley: the purpose of college is to get a degree; the purpose of a degree is to get a job; degrees are too expensive and do not offer employers a sufficiently granular understanding of what a job applicant knows, what skills s/he possesses. But technologies – technologies like LinkedIn, argues Hoffman – can now “make certification faster, cheaper, and more effective too.”
I explored both this framing of school as “skills” and the push towards new forms of certification in my year-end series on the top ed-tech trends of 2014; the acquisition of Lynda.com by LinkedIn bolsters both of these. Even before this deal, the company had been inching towards this vision, making it easier for people to add certifications from MOOCs to their profiles for example.
What happens next to the other MOOC providers – Coursera, Udacity, edX – will be interesting to watch. Again, it’s not simply because they’re now competing content providers with LinkedIn. It’s because these three have been relying on paid certification and recruitment as their revenue streams. And now they’re competing with LinkedIn there as well. I don’t think this necessarily spells the downfall of the MOOCs. To the contrary, LinkedIn might provide them more legitimacy if it can help convince employers their certificates are actually credible. “Disrupting the diploma,” as Hoffman puts it.
According to Hoffman, a “21st century diploma” would do the following:
It should accommodate a completely unbundled approach to education, allowing students to easily apply credits obtained from a wide range of sources, including internships, peer to peer learning, online classes, and more, to the same certification.
It should be dynamic and upgradeable, so individuals can add new credentials to it as they pursue new goals and educational opportunities and so that the underlying system itself is improvable.
It should help reduce the costs of higher education and increase overall value.
It should allow a person to convey the full scope of his or her skills and expertise with greater comprehensiveness and nuance, in part to enable better matching with jobs.
It should be machine-readable and discoverable, so employers can easily evaluate it in numerous ways as part of a larger “certification platform.”
No doubt, LinkedIn aims to become precisely that – a “certification platform.” (Can it? I do not know.)
A Final Thought: (Education) Data Portability
It’s a question I’ve asked again and again and again: who owns your education data? Do you? Does your school? Do the software providers your school has contracted with? Does your employer? Do the software providers your employer has contracted with?
Late last year, LinkedIn added the ability to export your data, including registration information; login history including IP records; email address history and statuses; account history including account closures and reopens; name information including the current name on your account and any previous name changes; a list of your 1st degree connections; photos that have been uploaded to your account; endorsements you’ve received; list of skills on your profile; recommendations given and received; group contributions; your search history; content you’ve posted, shared, liked, or commented on; mobile apps you’ve installed; ads you’ve clicked on; and the targeting criteria LinkedIn uses to show you ads.
I can’t think of many (any?!) education technology companies – learning management systems, MOOC providers, textbook publishers, testing companies – that offer this sort of data portability to their users. Hell, I’m not sure many (any?!) schools do.
Instead education data is often trapped in silos – inaccessible to and uncontrolled by learners. Students are compelled to use ed-tech software, but have little say in what happens to their content and your data. Now, I don’t think LinkedIn users have a lot of say in what happens to their content and data there; but hey, at least they can export it if they want to.
Hopefully that feature won’t disappear as LinkedIn moves to become a new “certification platform.” (But I'm not going to hold my breath.)
The NCLB rewrite has made it out of committee on a unanimous vote. Whee.
From the Chicago Tribune: “Federal authorities are investigating Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and a $20.5 million contract the district awarded on a no-bid basis to a training academy that formerly employed her.” In light of this story and recent concerns over the business dealings of ed-tech VC and CPS board member Deborah Quazzo, it’s pretty great timing for this story from Edsurge: “What Edtech Companies Need to Do To Sell to Chicago Public Schools.”
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Department of Education filed by student loan debt collectors, who claim that the department unfairly cut ties with them earlier this year. Inside Higher Ed reports that a bill before the Ohio House Finance Committee would “reclassify professors who participate in virtually anything other than teaching and research as supervisors or managers, and therefore exempt from collective bargaining. So serving on a committee, for example, turns a professor into a manager.”
Slate’s Rebecca Schuman excoriates a proposed North Carolina bill that would require all professors at the state’s public universities to teach a 4–4-load.
“The Education Department Is Working On A Process For Forgiving Student Loans,” says Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy. (The loans for students of “troubled colleges,” to be clear.)
Also via Hensley-Clancy (and related to the whole “troubled college” business), “the Department of Education will fine Corinthian Colleges $29.6 million for lying to students at its Heald College chain, citing almost 1,000 examples of defrauding students about job placement rates.”
Education in the Courts
The Atlanta educators recently convicted for their roles in the district’s cheating scandal were sentenced this week. The sentences include up to seven years in prison.
A Virginia judge has rejected a request by alumnae of Sweet Briar College to issue an injunction to prevent the school from moving forward with its plans to close.
Two federal lawsuits have been filed against Dr. Rex L. Mahnensmith, a former professor at Yale Medical School, charging him with sexual harassment.
Nevada schools experienced a computer glitch, halting CCSS testing.
North Dakota schools experienced a computer glitch, halting CCSS testing.
Nearly 15% of New Jersey eleventh graders have opted out of standardized tests this year. Students in New York are also opting out at such a rate that there are concerns the state might not meet the requirement that 95% to take them.
“PARCC and test provider Pearson are trying to trim the time of their Common Core tests by combining the two waves of testing into one,” according to The Plain Dealer. Currently the tests take about 5 hours for math and 5 hours for English.
Pearson is asking the state of California to re-bid a testing contract “potentially worth a quarter of a billion dollars, arguing that a tentative agreement with a rival vendor is misguided, and illegal.”
Privacy and Surveillance
“A 14-year-old Florida boy has been charged with felony computer intrusion after shoulder-surfing his school’s computer network password and using it to play a prank on a teacher,” reports Ars Technica.
An op-ed in the NY Daily News argues that now that NYC has lifted the ban on cellphones in schools, there needs to be a better policy to protect students’ privacy and prevent unreasonable searches of the devices.
Via The Toronto Star: “Toronto’s public school board hid a camera in the office of a principal suspected of misconduct, putting him under surveillance for ‘months’ before a caretaker found the device in a clock, says the Ontario Principals’ Council in an email to all Toronto administrators.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
A bit of an accreditation hiccup in Yale’s plans to offer its Physician Assistant degree online via 2U. In the words of the Yale Daily News: “Online PA Program Proposal Rejected.” “Delayed” might be a more accurate verb.
“What Harvard Business School Has Learned About Online Collaboration” (That "MOOC-related news still gets headlines" was not included, but we all knew that already.)
Meanwhile on Campus
The faculty at UCLA “approved, by a large margin, a controversial new policy that requires most future undergraduates to take a course on ethnic, cultural, religious or gender diversity,” reports The LA Times.
NPR examines the student-led efforts on college campuses to push for divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
Struggling HBCU Knoxville College is suspending its fall classes in order to reorganize.
“Virginia tops nation in sending students to cops, courts,” says The Center for Public Integrity.
“Back in 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina the best thing to happen to public education in New Orleans because it gave reformers a rare chance to reset the entire system.” That’s the lede in Caitlin Emma’s story in Politico: “The New Orleans model: Praised but unproven.”
LAUSD’s iPads: The Saga Continues
Shocking, I know, but LAUSD is “‘extremely dissatisfied’ with the work of Pearson on its technology initiative.” Local NPR affiliate SCPR reports that the district is asking for a refund from Apple for the Pearson software that came bundled with its massive iPad purchase.
“L.A. schools iPad program subject of inquiry by SEC.” reports The LA Times. But hey, it’s just an “informal inquiry” so nbd.
Go, School Sports Team!
The Denver Post reports that “Bowl games paid more than a half billion dollars to college football conferences and schools last season, the most ever and an increase of almost $200 million from the final season of the Bowl Championship Series to the first of the College Football Playoff.”
Eastern Maine Community College is suspending its athletics program for 2015–2016.
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is being sued by the woman he allegedly raped in 2012.
“All 3 Oregon Basketball Players Suspended Over Sexual Assault Find New Teams,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
From the HR Department
As part of its deal with the NY State Attorney General, Cooper Union will not renew the contract of its president Jamshed Bharucha.
“Where Are the Teachers of Color?” asks NYT’s Motoko Rich.
Via The New York Times: “About one-third of the migrant construction workers employed at New York University's campus in Abu Dhabi - or about 10,000 people - were excluded from the protections of the university's labor guidelines ensuring fair wages, hours and living conditions.”
“Someone Calculated How Many Adjunct Professors Are on Public Assistance, and the Number Is Startling.” (It’s 25%. I saved you a click.)
Meanwhile, according to the AAUP, faculty salaries are up slightly.
Upgrades and Downgrades
McGraw-Hill and Microsoft “embrace open learning,” the Ed-Tech Magazine headline reads. The story contains the phrase “compound learning object,” which when I read it I just knew was going to make David Wiley freak out. Here’s his response, a little history lesson about learning objects (die die die) and the Reusability Paradox.
Google is launching a “Designed for Families” program to help parents find “pre-approved, child-appropriate apps on the Google Play store.” Google’s YouTube Kids promised the same sort of thing, but has recently come under fire for “unfair and deceptive marking.”
From Wired’s Klint Finley: “Internet of Anything: Simple Tools Make It Possible for Anyone to Hack Robots.” The “simple” and “anyone” rhetoric is usually really irksome but a) I like Klint and think he’s one of the smartest tech writers working today so I’ll give him a pass and 2) this story is about Ron Evans, who worked on Hypercard, so nostalgia probably gets the best of me here.
The Library of Congress is looking for people to build educational apps. Congress has earmarked $950,000 for the initiative. Bonus points if someone makes an app that teaches the head of the LOC to use email.
Learn-to-code startup Tynker will be offering classes at some 600 Sylvan Learning locations. Well, there's a business opportunity, I'm sure.
Indian Internet companies are withdrawing from Facebook’s Internet.org, its organization that claims to help improve access to
the Internet Facebook in the developing world. The companies are pulling out in part over concerns over net neutrality and Internet.org’s corporate partners deciding “who gets access to what and how fast.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Ellucian has acquired Helix Education’s comptency-based education LMS. Here’s Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill pragmatic take on the deal: “will it matter?” And via Edsurge, here’s the breathless excitement from the Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn and Entangled Ventures’ Paul Freedman: “Ellucian’s Acquisition and the New LMS Wars.”
Blackboard has acquired Moodle hosting/consulting company Remote Learner UK. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
TES Global has acquired the higher ed job network Unijobs. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
EBSCO has acquired Learning Express. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Singapore based VivaLing, which offers online language classes for children, has raised $365,000 from “respected local investors.”
Data and “Research”
Once again, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian tops the ALA’s list of the most challenged library books.
Drawing on research from Northwestern University, Mother Jones says“Kids Who Have to Share iPads Learn Better Than Kids Who Have Their Own.” Me, I’ve got lots of questions about the research design and conclusions, but hey, nice headline.
“Tutors aren't just for underachieving kids anymore,” according to Macleans. “They're the new normal.” Considering the story highlights parents who spend $700 to $800 a month on tutoring, I do have questions about who exactly can afford “normal.”
Via Education Week: “Blended Learning Research: The Seven Studies You Need to Know.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a summary of the latest Gallup / Lumina Foundation poll on “what people think about college.”
According to the CDC, teens’ use of e-cigarettes now outpaces their use of any other tobacco product. Hooray, technology!
Wikileaks has posted a searchable archive of the hacked Sony documents. I'm only including this in my news roundup because "Harvard" is an interesting search query.
Via Education Week: “Writing in Google Docs Doesn’t Affect Student Test Scores, Early Research Finds.” So ya know, why bother.
Barbara Ericson looks at increasing enrollment in CS programs and asks “Is Computing Just for Men?”
Considering all the new education technology incubators that keep popping up, this headline made me chuckle: “Research Questions Whether Or Not Incubators Help Startups.”
Via Edsurge: “How Edtech Companies Can Invest in the Educations of All Students.” (tl;dr: by privatizating education.)
The military has long been involved in the development of education technology – hardly surprising considering the number of people it must train. From a 1988 report from the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment:
The military services continue to support important work on basic research on cognition, artificial intelligence, speech recognition, interactive learning systems, and converging technologies. The military has been a major, and occasionally the major, player in advancing the state-of-the-art. Computers would probably have found their way into classrooms sooner or later. But without work on PLATO, the IBM System 1500, computer-based equipment simulation, intelligent instructional systems, videodisc applications, and research on cognition, it is unlikely that the electronic revolution in education would have progressed as far and as fast as it has.
The military has influenced the shape that educational technologies have taken: the prioritization of efficiency, efficacy, and standardization, for example. There’s also been a long-running push for automation: not simply because machines can perform certain tasks more rapidly, but because in doing so military personnel can be spared. As Simon Ramo put it in his 2011 book, Let Robots Do the Dying.
Let Robots Do the Teaching
Sometimes described as “the father of the intercontinental ballistic missile,” Simon Ramo helped develop missile and microwave technologies, as well as General Electric’s electron microscope. Ramo is also the oldest person to have received a patent, when at age 100, his patent for a “Method and apparatus for interactive, computer-based, automatically adaptable learning” was published. (“Preferably, but not necessarily, the apparatus includes an instructor,” it reads.)
(Note the American flag in this illustration that accompanies the patent.)
Ramo’s patent echoes the vision for the future of education that he laid out in an article he wrote many decades earlier, “A New Technique of Education,” published in Engineering and Science Monthly in 1957. (1957 was, incidentally, the same year that the Soviets launched Sputnik I.)
The rapid and potentially dislocating scientific advance can be expected to heighten the coming crisis in education. Already, the increasingly technical world uses more scientists and engineers, yet the very industrial development that is part of the growing technical society takes the engineers and scientists away from the university and high-school facilities, and the fast world in which we live makes the long study of science seem unattractive to the youngsters. The technical society is complex, rapid, and increasingly dangerous. We can blow up the whole world, yet such a premium is put on the use of our human and physical resources for everything but education that it seems that the new technical society is going to be accompanied by a weakened ability to keep pace education-wise.
What we need to address this crisis, Ramo argues, is “a new technique of education,” one that is as technologically sophisticated as the rest of modern science.
Here’s Ramo’s vision of the high school of the future:
First of all, we will get the student registered. I won’t burden you with the details here: when the registration is complete and the course of study suitable for that individual has been determined, the student receives a specially stamped small plate about the size of a “charga-plate,” which identifies both him and his program. (If this proves too burdensome for the student, who will be required to have the plate with him most of the time, then we may spend a little more money on the installation and go directly to the fingerprint system)
When this plate is introduced at any time into an appropriate large data and analysis machine near the principal’s office, and if the right levers are pulled by its operator, the entire record and progress of this student will immediately be made available. As a matter of fact, after completing his registration, the student introduces his plate into one machine on the way out, which quickly prints out some tailored information so that he knows where he should go at various times of the day and anything else that is expected of him.
Students are tracked and monitored - both their location and their academic progress.
A typical school day will consist of a number of sessions, some of which are spent, as now, in rooms with other students and a teacher and some of which are spent with a machine. Sometimes a human operator is present with the machine and sometimes not.
But can a machine replace a teacher?
One thing needs to be said at the outset. Any attempt to extend the teaching staff with any kind of mechanical aids would appear to have at least one very fundamental limitation. It would seem that, unless a highly intelligent, trained, and authoritative teacher is available, there is no equivalent way of adapting the material to be presented to the individual student’s need, or to judge the understanding and reception of the material and adjust it to the student during the presentation, to discover his questions, weaknesses and misunderstandings, nip them in the bud, and otherwise provide the feedback and interaction between teacher and student that are so essential in transferring knowledge from one person to another.
It is for this apparent reason that, although we can use motion pictures and television to replace a lecturer and can, in theory at least, be more efficient in the use of one skilled teacher’s time, enabling him to reach a larger audience, we can only use such techniques for a limited fraction of the total school day. However, you will see in the systems that I propose that, in principle at least, modern technology can go a long way toward removing this apparently fundamental limitation.
Artwork inspired by Ramo. Image credits
This classroom has some special equipment. Each chair includes a special set of push buttons, and, of course, that constant slot into which the student places his identification plate. The plate automatically records his presence at that class, and it connects his push buttons with the master records machine.
If the class is large, our student is much less likely to sleep or look out of the window than in a normal lecture by a human teacher, because, throughout the motion picture that presents some phrase of the fundamentals of trigonometry, he is called upon to respond by pushing various keys. He is asked questions about the material just presented, usually in the form of alternatives. Sometimes he is told that the concept will be repeated and the questions re-asked, this time for the record. He may even be asked whether, in his opinion, he understood what we being presented.
How “personalized” the push-button classes will be!
At certain other periods during the week, this student continues his trigonometry instruction in a different kind of environment. This time he is seated in front of a special machine, again with a special animated film and a keyboard, but he is now alone and he knows that this machine is much more interested in his individual requirements. It is already set up in consideration of his special needs. It is ready to go fast if he is fast, slow if he is slow. It will considerably repeated what he has missed before and will gloss over what he has proven he knows well. This machine continues the presentation of some principles and asks for answers to determine understandings.
What becomes of the teacher’s role then?
A brilliant student could romp through trigonometry in a very small fraction of the course time. A dull student would have to spend more time with the machines. The machines can be so set up that if a student fails to make progress at the required rate, he can be automatically dropped from the course. Of course, before that happens or before the brilliant student is allowed to complete the course, a special session with that student by a skilled teacher is indicated. But the teacher will be aided by having before him the complete records of what could be weeks of intensive machine operations.
The teacher as mentor; the teacher as interventionist and counselor; the teacher as data analyst. But mostly, the machines as teacher.
A New Education Industry
To back this up, of course, one would have a very substantial new industry in the United States concerned with the creating of these educational machines and the motion pictures and memory data used by the machines. In general, the industrial organizations concerned with the creation of machines that make possible the teaching of mathematics would have to employ experts in education, experts in mathematics, and experts in engineering. And this industrial team would have to be in good contact with the skilled teachers who make up the high school staff in order that they might be able to improve their machines, create proper material, and learn the shortcomings of all their designs – either of the machine or of the material.
In addition, the high-school teaching staff would include education analysts, probably specializing in the various subjects. These individuals would go through the records of the individual students. They would be constantly seeking to discover the special problems that need special attention by the direct contact of teacher and pupil.
We notice a number of very significant points here. The high school becomes partially transformed into a center run by administrators and clerks, with a minimum of the routine assigned to the teaching staff. The teaching staff is elevated to a role that uses the highest intelligence and skills. A smaller number of teachers makes possible the education of a larger number of pupils. The creation of educational material moves partially out into industry, which goes into the education business in partnership with educators.
There is probably a new profession known as “teaching engineer,” that kind of engineering which is concerned with the educational process and with the design of the machines, as well as the design of the material.
A new profession, and a new industry. A future of education that is intertwined, as Ramo would frame it, in scientific and technological advancement - automation and teaching machines - for the sake of national security.
And as USC education and instructional technology professor James D. Finn called it, Ramo's essay provides "the greatest visions of what might be possible in education."
Another week, another story of parents under investigation for letting their kids play outside without supervision.
Ten year-old Rafi and six-year-old Dvora Meitiv had been allowed by their parents to walk around their Silver Springs, Maryland neighborhood. But recently, as they walked the two blocks to a nearby park, someone called the police and Child Protective Services.
"They came and they interviewed kids at school without our permission or knowledge. And when they were talking to them, they were painting a picture of a world that is very scary," said the children's father, Sasha Meitiv.
Danielle and Sasha Meitiv now say their parenting style is under assault. Police and Child Protective Services have come to their home and questioned their children at their elementary school.
"They were asking my son Rafi what he would do if he was grabbed by a stranger. Telling them, you know there are creeps out there that are just waiting to grab children if they're walking by themselves," Sasha said.
(Update April 2015: The police recently picked up the Meitiv children again, holding them in the back of a patrol car for three hours.)
The Meitivs aren't alone. There seems to be a growing number of these sorts of cases (in the media at least). A Florida mom arrested after she let her seven-year-old walk to a park alone. A South Carolina mom arrested after she let her nine-year-old play at the park alone. An Illinois mom arrested for leaving her four-year-old in the car when she ran into a store for five minutes.
That mom, Kim Brooks, wrote about her experiences last year in Salon, including a conversation with Lenore Skenazy, who founded the Free Range Kids movement following her own experiences allowing her nine-year-old son to ride the NYC subway alone. "There's been this huge cultural shift," Skenazy argues. "We now live in a society where most people believe a child can not be out of your sight for one second, where people think children need constant, total adult supervision. This shift is not rooted in fact. It's not rooted in any true change. It's imaginary. It's rooted in irrational fear."
For many of us, this move towards "constant, total adult supervision" runs counter to our memories of childhood. Even so, more and more of us are apparently prone to "over-parent" and "over-protect."
It's worth asking, of course, if we are hearing more about these sorts of cases because white and/or middle class families are being targeted by Child Protective Services - something that poor families and families of color have long experienced.
Technology and Surveillance
Nonetheless I'd agree with Skenazy: something does seem to be changing with how we view childhood and freedom.
I'd argue that this cultural shift is partially about fear, but it's also tied to a growing surveillance culture. Thanks in part to the ubiquity of technology, we are constantly watched and watching. And thanks to social media, we often feel compelled to share our corrections and condemnations in turn.
As Swarthmore professor Timothy Burke observes, "The problem with a lot of our ubiquitous surveillance is precisely not that it is overtly hateful and hating. Instead, what makes so much of it easy to pursue is that it presents itself as a kindness." And that so-called "kindness" is probably partially what's at play when someone calls the police because they see a child alone. The repercussions, of course, are so incredibly damaging to the families involved.
The Role of Schools
The incidents described above all deal with parenting decisions. But what role do schools play - not simply in monitoring students but in discouraging (or perhaps encouraging) students' physical freedom?
One of school's purposes arguably is to provide adult supervision (and yes, teaching) for children. Does that need to be re-thought now that some children might have fewer opportunities to be alone, to monitor themselves?
Do we let students roam - physically and intellectually - at school? Why or why not?
And which students get to experience that freedom (both at home and at school)? How do restrictions on physical movement play out based on gender, on race, on class? And conversely, how do arguments for "free range kids" play out based on gender, on race, on class?
How does rhetoric about children "in danger" - online and offline - shape how we treat them at school? Does it mean that we further restrict their actions and their agency?
Democrats have proposed a number of measures that would expand the Pell Grant program (including the return of Pell Grant money for summer school).
“The U.S. Department of Education has set aside more than $4 million to develop the Obama administration's college ratings system,” says Inside Higher Ed.
Via Politico: “Loan servicer Navient spent $1 million lobbying Congress in the first three months of 2015, new records show, more than the company has spent in any quarter thus far but a little less than Sallie Mae spent in the first quarter of last year. Sallie Mae has wound down its lobbying operation, spending only $60,000 in the first quarter. Other big spenders among education groups in the first quarter of 2015: The Association of American Medical Colleges ($1 million); the National Education Association ($605,000); Apollo Education Group ($350,000); American Federation of Teachers ($332,527) and California State University ($270,000).”
Education in the Courts
Three of the educators recently convicted in the Atlanta cheating case – and who received the harshest sentences – will be re-sentenced.
“A California judge has denied a request for state intervention at six California high schools where students said they had been assigned to multiple contentless classes, were told to go home, or sit idly in classrooms or perform menial administrative tasks.” More on the Cruz v California lawsuit here.
“A judge in Manhattan has ordered a hearing that will touch upon the continuing debate over whether caged chimpanzees can be considered ‘legal persons,’ in the eyes of the law, and thus sue, with human help, for their freedom,” The New York Times reports. The chimps in question are being held by Stony Brook University.
Via the Courthouse News Service: “Donald Trump’s profit-seeking business college must pay $798,000 in legal fees to a former student, for filing an anti-SLAPP suit, a federal judge ruled. Tarla Makaeff sued Trump University and Donald Trump in 2010, in a proposed class action alleging deceptive business practices. Makaeff claimed she shelled out $60,000 for a real estate program that consisted of seminars that were little better than infomercials. Trump University countersued, accusing Makaeff of defaming it in online postings and elsewhere.”
Paul Nungesser, a student accused of rape, is suing Columbia University alleging he has “been the victim of a harassment campaign by the other student, Emma Sulkowicz.” Sulkowicz drew national attention to rape on college campuses by carrying a mattress around with her.
Testing in Minnesota was briefly halted due to “an overloaded processor and a ‘malicious denial-of-service attack’.” Pearson, the company administering the tests, say the problem has been fixed.
Due to problems with online testing in Nevada, the state is claiming its vendor, SBAC, that it’s in breach of contract.
Up to 14% of students in New Jersey have opted out of state testing.
Via Education Week: “PARCC Opt-Outs Raise Question About Score Validity.”
Opt out of testing? Then “sit and stare.”
The New York Times explores teacher unions’ role in the opt-out movement.
According to a poll by USC and Los Angeles Times, “Majority of California’s Latino voters highly value school testing.” “Only 23% of Latinos said students were tested too much, compared with 44% of white voters.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Arizona State University announced this week that it’s partnered with edX to offer a freshmen year of college via MOOCs. It’s calling this the Global Freshmen Academy. Students will pay $200 per credit hour (so $600 for a three-credit course), plus a $45 identity verification fee per class. “The catch,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education: there’s no financial aid. Another “catch”: apparently ASU hasn’t run this plan by its accreditor. Buzzfeed’s coverage. Thoughts from “Dean Dad” Matt Reed. More thoughts from Dean Dad, from John Warner, from Jonathan Rees, and from George Siemens.
Remember Coursera? It’s partnered with the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
Academic Partnerships says it will share tuition revenue with faculty at its partner institutions. More details via Inside Higher Ed.
Meanwhile on Campus
Via Buzzfeed: “Texas Sends Poor Teens To Adult Jail For Skipping School.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Louisiana State University System is drafting a plan to declare financial exigency, The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported. Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has proposed massive cuts for higher education and the Legislature’s various versions of his budget have added to the cuts, which now appear to total more than 80 percent of state funds for LSU.”
And more horrors from Louisiana: according to Slate’s Zack Kopplin, “records show teachers and school board members conspiring to teach creationism in public school science class.”
Via Buzzfeed: “Jeremiah True, the Reed College student who made headlines in March for protesting his professor's decision to remove him from class, was arrested on Thursday by the Portland, Oregon police for alleged sex abuse, harassment, and disorderly conduct.”
Jon Krakauer’s new book Missoula examines sexual assault and rape in the Montana city, including on the university campus. According to The New York Times, “the local prosecutor wrote an urgent letter to its publishers trying to delay its release.” God forbid the local prosecutor place similar urgency on addressing assault there.
The latest university to perform what Bryan Alexander calls “the queen sacrifice” – that is, cutting academic programs: the University of Alaska. Or perhaps this is the latest: the University of Wisconsin.
DeVry University plans to close some of its campuses and “rebrand.”
“Ohio middle school backs down after deleting ‘feminist’ from student’s class photo shirt.” The school had claimed that the shirt was offensive.
A denial of service attack disrupted the West Virginia public education network, reports Education Week. The attack was traced to a computer lab at an area high school.
Go, School Sports Team!
Apparently University of Alabama at Birmingham’s football program actually made money, according to a study critical of the university’s decision to scrap the program.
From the HR Department
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett is taking a leave of absence during a federal probe into the district’s no-bid contract awarded to her former employer SUPES Academy.
Rockville Centre School District (NY) principal Carol Burris has announced her (early) retirement. WaPo’s Valerie Strauss has the story.
Matt Hill has been selected as the new superintendent of the Burbank Unified School District, despite criticism from teachers and Hill’s connection to the Broad Foundation and his involvement in the iPad debacle at his previous employer LAUSD.
Via Buzzfeed: “Here's Marco Rubio's College Syllabus, Reviews, And Personnel File From His Time As A Professor.” Rubio taught at Florida International University for $24,000.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Buzzfeed reports that the 3D printer company MakerBot has closed its stores and laid off about a fifth of its staff after failing to meet its financial targets.
Via Gizmodo: “Norway Will Be the First Country to Turn Off FM Radio in 2017.”
Mindwires Consulting’s Phil Hill looks at Cisco’s new product Collaborative Knowledge, “designed to allow companies to access real-time expertise and enable collaborative work based on employees’ expertise, or in another word, competencies.”
Phil Hill also looks at updates to 2U’s platform, including the removal of Moodle.
The Online Learning Consortium and MERLOT are merging their scholarly journals. The new journal’s name: Online Learning.
Via Campus Technology: “IMS Global Learning Consortium has unveiled the IMS Digital Credentialing Initiative, an effort designed to promote the adoption, integration and transferability of digital credentials, such as badges.”
Also via Campus Technology: “ProctorU Launches Multifactor Online Student Verification.” This is a fine piece of churnalism that fails to mention the privacy concerns raised by these sorts of products. The article does boast, however, that ProctorU has signed the Student Privacy Pledge, which I think is pretty fair to call industry "privacy-washing" at this stage.
Think Through Learning has become a B Corp.
Awards and Prizes
Congratulations to my (almost) local newspaper The Daily Breeze for its Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. The winning story was its investigation of Centinela Valley Union High School District “which exposed former Superintendent Jose Fernandez's excessive salary and unusual perks as well as other serious issues within the district and its leadership.”
ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones received the Education Writers Association's top prize for her series on US public schools’ ongoing segregation.
Funding, IPOs, and Acquisitions
For-profit college chain Laureate Education plans to IPO, according to Bloomberg.
Oxford University Press has acquired the multilingual dictionary and translation site bab.la. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Student retention company Full Measure Education has raised $5.5 million from Safeguard Scientifics, Inc. and Bull City Ventures.
MediaPro, a company which “develops e-learning software for employees at Fortune 500 companies,” has raised $5 million from Clovis Point Capital.
College counseling startup Campus Steps has raised $3 million from its partner company Campus Explorer along with OCA Ventures, Rincon Venture Partners, and Vicente Capital.
Educational game-maker Muzzy Land Software has raised $450,000 from the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation.
Data and “Research”
“Promising Results for New Approach to Remedial Math,” says Inside Higher Ed, noting research by MDRC examining a remedial math program that focuses on statistics and quantitative literacy.
Via The New York Times: “Why American Workers Without Much Education Are Being Hammered.”
The latest Pew Research survey asks Americans about open data and open government initiatives. Among the findings: “20% have used government sources to find information about student or teacher performance.”
Research on California’s community colleges by professors at University of California at Davis finds that “online students are not doing as well as those who enroll in face-to-face courses.”
A UC Berkeley study has found“a high percentage of graduate students showing signs of depression.” Shocking.
A survey by the Instructional Technology Council has found an increase in online enrollments at two-year colleges.
A Stanford University study explores the racial biases of teachers when it comes to school discipline.
“What do I mean when I talk about transformational productivity reforms that can also boost student outcomes? Our K–12 system largely still adheres to the century-old, industrial-age factory model of education. A century ago, maybe it made sense to adopt seat-time requirements for graduation and pay teachers based on their educational credentials and seniority. Educators were right to fear the large class sizes that prevailed in many schools. But the factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century.” – US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2010)
One of the most common ways to criticize our current system of education is to suggest that it’s based on a “factory model.” An alternative condemnation: “industrial era.” The implication is the same: schools are woefully outmoded.
As edX CEO Anant Agarwal puts it, “It is pathetic that the education system has not changed in hundreds of years.” The Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn and Meg Evan argue something similar: “a factory model for schools no longer works.” “How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System,” advises Joel Rose, the co-founder of the New Classrooms Innovation Partners. Education Next’s Joanne Jacobs points us “Beyond the Factory Model.” “The single best idea for reforming K–12 education,” writes Forbes contributor Steve Denning, ending the “factory model of management.” “There’s Nothing Especially Educational About Factory-Style Management,” according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess.
I’d like to add: there’s nothing especially historical about these diagnoses either.
Blame the Prussians
The “factory model of education” is invoked as shorthand for the flaws in today’s schools – flaws that can be addressed by new technologies or by new policies, depending on who’s telling the story. The “factory model” is also shorthand for the history of public education itself – the development of and change in the school system (or – purportedly – the lack thereof).
Here’s one version of events offered by Khan Academy’s Sal Khan along with Forbes’ writer Michael Noer – “the history of education”:
Khan’s story bears many of the markers of the invented history of the “factory model of education” – buckets, assembly lines, age-based cohorts, whole class instruction, standardization, Prussia, Horace Mann, and a system that has not changed in 120 years.
There are several errors and omissions in Khan’s history. (In his defense, it’s only eleven and a half minutes long.) There were laws on the books in Colonial America, for example, demanding children be educated (although not that schools be established). There was free public education in the US too prior to Horace Mann’s introduction of the “Prussian model” – the so-called “charity schools.” There were other, competing models for arranging classrooms and instruction as well, notably the “monitorial system” (more on that below). Textbook companies were already thriving before Horace Mann or the Committee of Ten came along to decide what should be part of the curriculum. One of the side-effects of the efforts of Mann and others to create a public education system, unmentioned by Khan, was the establishment of “normal schools” where teachers were trained. Another was the requirement that, in order to demonstrate accountability, schools maintain records on attendance, salaries, and other expenditures. Despite Khan’s assertions about the triumph of standardization, control of public schools in the US have, unlike in Prussia, remained largely decentralized – in the hands of states and local districts rather than the federal government.
The standardization of public education into a “factory model” – hell, the whole history of education itself – was nowhere as smooth or coherent as Khan’s simple timeline would suggest. There were vast differences between public education in Mann’s home state of Massachusetts and in the rest of the country – in the South before and after the Civil War no doubt, as in the expanding West. And there have always been objections from multiple quarters, particularly from religious groups, to the shape that schooling has taken.
Arguments over what public education should look like and what purpose public education should serve – God, country, community, the economy, the self – are not new. These battles have persisted – frequently with handwringing about education’s ongoing failures – and as such, they have shaped and yes changed, what happens in schools.
The Industrial Era School
Sal Khan is hardly the only one who tells a story of “the factory of model of education” that posits the United States adopted Prussia’s school system in order to create a compliant populace. It’s a story cited by homeschoolers and by libertarians. It's a story featured in one of Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talks. It’s a story told by John Taylor Gatto in his 2009 book Weapons of Mass Instruction. It’s a story echoed by The New York Times’ David Brooks. Here he is in 2012: “The American education model…was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model designed to create docile subjects and factory workers.”
For what it’s worth, Prussia was not highly industrialized when Frederick the Great formalized its education system in the late 1700s. (Very few places in the world were back then.) Training future factory workers, docile or not, was not really the point.
Nevertheless industrialization is often touted as both the model and the rationale for the public education system past and present. And by extension, it’s part of a narrative that now contends that schools are no longer equipped to address the needs of a post-industrial world.
Perhaps the best known and most influential example of this argument comes from Alvin Toffler who decried the “Industrial Era School” in his 1970 book Future Shock:
Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by industrialism to produce the kind of adults it needed. The problem was inordinately complex. How to pre-adapt children for a new world – a world of repetitive indoor toil, smoke, noise, machines, crowded living conditions, collective discipline, a world in which time was to be regulated not by the cycle of sun and moon, but by the factory whistle and the clock.
The solution was an educational system that, in its very structure, simulated this new world. This system did not emerge instantly. Even today it retains throw-back elements from pre-industrial society. Yet the whole idea of assembling masses of students (raw material) to be processed by teachers (workers) in a centrally located school (factory) was a stroke of industrial genius. The whole administrative hierarchy of education, as it grew up, followed the model of industrial bureaucracy. The very organization of knowledge into permanent disciplines was grounded on industrial assumptions. Children marched from place to place and sat in assigned stations. Bells rang to announce changes of time.
The inner life of the school thus became an anticipatory mirror, a perfect introduction to industrial society. The most criticized features of education today – the regimentation, lack of individualization, the rigid systems of seating, grouping, grading and marking, the authoritarian role of the teacher – are precisely those that made mass public education so effective an instrument of adaptation for its place and time.
Despite these accounts offered by Toffler, Brooks, Khan, Gatto, and others, the history of schools doesn’t map so neatly onto the history of factories (and visa versa). As education historian Sherman Dorn has argued, “it makes no sense to talk about either ‘the industrial era’ or the development of public school systems as a single, coherent phase of national history.”
If you think industrialization is the shift of large portions of working people to wage-labor, or the division of labor (away from master-craft production), then the early nineteenth century is your era of early industrialization, associated closely with extensive urbanization (in both towns and large cities) and such high-expectations transportation projects as the Erie Canal or the Cumberland Road project (as well as other more mundane and local transportation improvements). That is the era of tremendous experimentation in the forms of schools, from legacy one-room village schools in the hinterlands to giant monitorial schools in cities to academies and normal schools and colleges and the earliest high schools in various places. It is the era of charity schools in cities and the earliest (and incomplete) state subsidies to education, a period when many states had subsidies to what we would call private or parochial schools. It is also the start of the common-school reform era, the era when both workers and common-school reformers began to talk about schooling as a right attached to citizenship, and the era when primary schooling in the North became coeducational almost everywhere. It was an era of mass-produced textbooks. It was an era when rote learning was highly valued in school, despite arguments against the same. And, yes, the first compulsory-school law was passed before the Civil War… but it was not enforced.
Maybe you think industrialization is the development of railroads, monopolies, national general strikes, metastasizing metropolises, and mechanized production. Then you mean the second half of the nineteenth century, and that is the era where the structural dreams of common-school reformers largely came to pass with tuition-free schooling spreading in the North, the slow victory of high schools over academies, more (unenforced) compulsory school laws, a pan-Protestant flavor to schooling without official religious education, the initial development of a parallel Catholic parochial school system when Catholic leaders became convinced the public schools were hostile to their interests, the first research-oriented universities, a broad diversity of languages of instruction through the Midwest and south to Texas, the development of extensive age-graded self-contained elementary classrooms in urban school systems, the bureaucratization of many such systems, the (contentious) development of public schooling in the South, and the era when segregation laws were written at the tail end of the 19th century. It was also an era of mass-produced textbooks, and an era when rote learning was highly valued in school, despite arguments against the same.
Or maybe you think industrialization was assembly-line factories, private-worker unionization supported by federal law, the maturation of marketing techniques and the growth of a consumer economy, major economic crises, the introduction of cars and trucks, the mechanization of agriculture, and brutal, mechanized wars. Then you’re talking about the first half of the twentieth century. That was an era of rural-school consolidation forced by states, continued racial segregation, efforts to Americanize immigrant children and force them to speak English only in schools, the first legal successes in undermining segregation, the growth of (mostly small) high schools across the U.S. and tracking within those schools, the growth of standardized testing for local administrative purposes (including tracking), the evolution of normal schools into teachers colleges, and the slow separation of higher education into secondary and tertiary levels. It was the era when several regions of the country first experienced a majority of teenagers graduating from high school. It was also an era of mass-produced textbooks, and an era when rote learning was highly valued in school, despite arguments against the same. It was an era when compulsory school laws were finally enforced at selective ages, when child-labor opponents first failed and then succeeded at efforts to limit child labor by legislation… aided significantly by the Great Depression and the mechanization of agriculture, as teenagers found fewer opportunities for full-time work.
As Dorn notes, phrases like “the industrial model of education,” “the factory model of education,” and “the Prussian model of education” are used as a “rhetorical foil” in order make a particular political point – not so much to explain the history of education, as to try to shape its future.
What Do Factories Look Like?
It’s tempting to say that those who argue that today’s schools are fashioned on nineteenth century factories have never read much about the Industrial Revolution. (Frederick Engels’ The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 is in the public domain and available via Project Gutenberg, for what it’s worth.) Schools might feel highly de-personalized institutions; they might routinely demand compliance and frequently squelch creativity. But they don’t really look like and they really don’t work like factories.
In fact, the “Prussian model” superseded an education system that actually did look like a factory. The monitorial system and its variants the Lancaster, the Bell, and the Madras systems, involved schools that were housed in large warehouses – larger often than many of the nascent factories at the time – with hundreds of students in one massive classroom with one teacher. Students were grouped (30 or so together) not by age but by reading proficiency, with more advanced students – “monitors” – assigned to tutor and train the others.
Khan argues in his “History of Education” video that the Prussian model was the only way to provide a free public education, but as the widespread popularity of the monitorial system in the same period demonstrates, it was really just one way. Due to labor costs alone, the monitorial system was actually far cheaper. (After all, the major innovation of the Prussian model was in levying a tax to fund compulsory schooling, not in establishing a method for instruction.)
In his book A Voyage to India (1820), James Cordiner explains the functioning of the Madras system following his visit to the Military Male Orphan Asylum in India where this model originated:
From the perpetual agency of this system, idleness cannot exist. On entering the school, you can discover no individual unemployed, no boy looking vacantly round him: the whole is a beautiful picture of the most animated industry, and resembles the various machinery of a cloth or thread manufactory, completely executing their different offices, and all set in motion by one active engine.
In other words, the monitorial system expressly operated like a factory. “Industry” here isn’t simply a reference to manufacturing or production; “industry” is the opposite of “idleness.” To counter idleness, students must be taught to work – and the functioning of the classroom should be like a machine.
As Mike Caulfield points out, the monitorial system quite arguably provided a certain amount of “personalization” – at least as that word is often used today – insofar as students could move at their own pace, one of the shortcomings so often indentified in the “factory model of education.” Caulfield cites Andrew Bell’s guide to the monitorial system Mutual Tuition and Moral Discipline (1823):
The Madras System consists in conducting a school, by a single Master, THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF THE SCHOLARS THEMSELVES, by an uniform and almost insensibly progressive course of study, whereby the mind of the child is often exercised in anticipating and dictating for himself his successive lessons, by which the memory is improved, the understanding cultivated, and knowledge uniformly increased – a course in which reading and writing are carried on in the same act, with a law of classification by which every scholar finds his level, is happily, busily, and profitably employed every moment, is necessarily made perfectly acquainted with every lesson as he goes along, and without the use or the need of corporeal infliction, acquires habits of method, order, and good conduct, and is advanced in his learning, according to the full measure of his capacity.
But as Frederick John Gladman’s manual on education School Work (1886) suggests, despite its widespread adoption throughout the UK and US, the Lancaster system fell out of favor, in part because this “personalized” model of education did not stimulate sufficient intellectual curiosity in its students:
Failure occurred, as it always will, when masters were slaves to “the system,” when they were satisfied with mechanical arrangements and routine work or when they did not study their pupils, and get down to the Principles of Education.
According to Gladman, the Lancaster system was replaced by the Glasgow system, developed by David Stow, which emphasized the training of teachers so as to “cultivate the whole nature of the child, instead of the mere head – the affections and habits, as well as the intellect.” Training of teachers was necessary, Gladman contended, as “it is useless to have the machinery without the skilled workman, or the well-trained workman without the suitable premises.”
Similarly, the Prussian model was based on the training of teachers. As Victor Cousin wrote in his Report on the State of Education in Prussia (1837) – a report commissioned by the French government but, once translated into English, with great influence in the US:
Our principal aim, in each kind of instruction, is to induce the young men to think and judge for themselves. We are opposed to all mechanical study and servile transcripts. The masters of our primary schools must possess intelligence themselves, in order to be able to awaken it in their pupils; otherwise, the state would doubtless prefer the less expensive schools of Bell and Lancaster.
Caulfield concludes, “That is those nasty sounding Prussians agreeing with the somewhat less nasty sounding Glasweegians that education must be reformed because it works too much like a factory. And the way to make it less like a factory is to bring in the expertise of a craftsman, in this case, the trained teachers that were the heart of the Mannian, Glasgow, and Prussian systems.”
The Coming [Industrial] Revolution in Education
Many education reformers today denounce the “factory model of education” with an appeal to new machinery and new practices that will supposedly modernize the system. That argument is now and has been for a century the rationale for education technology. As Sidney Pressey, one of the inventors of the earliest “teaching machines” wrote in 1932 predicting "The Coming Industrial Revolution in Education,"
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, much like Sal Khan and other education technologists today, believed that teaching machines could personalize and “revolutionize” education by allowing students to move at their own pace through the curriculum. The automation of the menial tasks of instruction would enable education to scale, Pressey – presaging MOOC proponents – asserted.
We tend to not see automation today as mechanization as much as algorithmization– the promise and potential in artificial intelligence and virtualization, as if this magically makes these new systems of standardization and control lighter and liberatory.
And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.
Via the AP: “Linking reading to technology, the White House marshaled major book publishers to provide more than $250 million in free e-books to low-income students and is seeking commitments from local governments and schools across the country to ensure that every student has a library card.” The initiative is part of his ConnectED program, in which ed-tech companies push their products into schools. Hooray for libraries, though. Here’s the DPLA’s announcement.
US Representatives Jared Polis and Luke Messer have introduced the Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015, which “would prohibit operators of websites, apps and other online services for kindergartners through 12th graders from knowingly selling students’ personal information to third parties; from using or disclosing students’ personal information to tailor advertising to them; and from creating personal profiles of students unless it is for a school-related purpose.” The ed-tech industry is “wary,” says Education Week. LOL, of course they are.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has entered the US presidential race, pledging “a ‘revolution’ in how higher education is funded. His plan is for the federal government to award $18 billion per year in matching grants to states over and above existing federal aid.Bernie Sanders This would allow public colleges to cut tuition rates by 55 percent, he said.”
In other presidential candidate news – good lord, do I have to do this for another whole year?! – Florida Senator Marco Rubio apparently “went to bat” for Corinthian Colleges last year, asking the Department of Education for leniency with the for-profit college chain. (More on the big news from Corinthian below.)
“Education Groups Were The Biggest-Spending Lobbyists In New York Last Year,” reports Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy. The pro-charter school group Families for Excellent Schools, Inc. spent $9.6 million on lobbying in 2014, outspending the next four highest groups on the list combined.
Via The New York Times: “Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan unveiled a proposal on Thursday to overhaul the failing Detroit public school system by creating two districts - one to manage paying off billions of dollars in debt, the other to oversee the day-to-day operations of the schools.”
The White House has named the Teacher of the Year: Amarillo, Texas high school teacher Shanna Peeples.
Education in the Courts
The judge in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating trial has reduced the prison terms from 7 to 3 years for 3 of the educators sentenced last week.
A lawsuit against Western Educational Inc. which runs the for-profit college chain Heritage College can proceed, according to Inside Higher Ed, as “a federal appeals court Wednesday ordered a for-profit college to defend itself on charges it defrauded the U.S. government by altering grade and attendance records in an effort to receive more federal student aid.”
After successfully challenging California’s teacher tenure rules in the courts, Student Matters is now looking to do the same in New Mexico, says Politico.
95% of students at Seattle’s Garfield High School have opted out of the Common Core assessments.
“Several Florida School Districts Cut (Way) Back On Tests,” reports NPR.
NAEP scores were released, so cue the panicky headlines: “Don’t know much about history? Many 8th graders do poorly on tests focused on social studies.”
Edsurge reports that a school district in Texas is piloting Desmos during the 8th grade STAAR tests as an alternative to graphing calculators.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
The MOOC Research Initiative has released a report on MOOC research – “Preparing for the Digital University,” written by George Siemens, Dragan Gašević, and Shane Dawson. (PDF) Stephen Downes responds in the OLDaily. George Siemens responds on Twitter. Stephen Downes responds in a blog post. George Siemens responds in a blog post.
Thanks to a public records request by Inside Higher Ed, we now can read the edX-Arizona State University contract. This in turn has prompted more thoughts on their freshman-year-of-MOOCs deal announced last week from Matt Reed, John Warner, and Jonathan Rees.
Via Times Higher Education: “The cost of developing massive open online courses for FutureLearn, the UK Mooc platform, has varied widely among some institutions, an analysis by Times Higher Education has revealed. While Loughborough University says that it has produced two courses for about £10,000 each, the University of Dundee has allocated £130,000 to a programme that has so far produced one course, although another is imminent.”
The University of Nottingham has trademarked“NOOC,” “Nottingham Open Online Course.” The trademark covers “NOOC” on beer mats, gift wrap, pencil sharpeners, CD-ROMs, and much, much more. Because “open.”
Meanwhile on Campus
Corinthian Colleges announced that it would immediately close its doors, leaving some 16,000 students at its Everest, Heald, and Wyotech College schools without a school to attend. The chain of for-profit colleges has been under fire for some time now. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has accused the company of predatory lending. And last year, the US Department of Education reached a deal with the chain to close or sell off all of its 107 campuses and online programs, following a number of investigations into its marketing practices. The collapse could cost taxpayers $200 million in loans, Bloomberg Business frets. The Department of Education posted this statement from undersecretary Ted Mitchell, while still directing former Corinthian students to other troubled for-profits.
Europe’s largest arms dealer will take over a struggling school in the north of England. What could possibly go wrong?
Via University World News: “The number of Russian universities will be cut by 40% by the end of 2016, according to Minister of Education and Science Dmitry Livanov. In addition, the number of university branches will be slashed by 80% in the same period.”
Public schools in Baltimore were shut down this week following violent clashes between police and protestors, stemming from the death of Freddie Gray, who died after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody. Al Jazeera looks at what happens when students who normally eat breakfast and lunch at school do not have food as they’re forced to stay at home.
What is Columbia University’s responsibility when it comes to Dr. Oz’s unscientific, “dangerous,” and “wrong” medical device? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Via Boing Boing: “French media reports that a 15-year-old Muslim girl in the northeastern French town of Charleville-Mezieres was banned from class–twice!–for wearing a skirt that was too long.”
“The University of Florida closed its chapter of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity Tuesday over allegations that members insulted and spat on disabled veterans during a spring formal earlier this month at Panama City Beach,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
On the campus of Lebanon Valley college, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education, “chicken tenders are a teaching tool.”
Via The Wall Street Journal: “Venture Capitalists Enlist Student-Run Funds to Find the Next Facebook.”
Go, School Sports Team!
FSU’s Jameis Winston was selected as the number one pick in this week’s NFL draft, a move that's sure to clean up the NFL's reputation.
The US Department of Education announced it had reached an agreement with “LaPorte Community School Corporation in LaPorte, Indiana, to resolve a Title IX complaint involving sexually predatory behavior and sexual harassment of female high school volleyball players.”
From the HR Department
The CFO of the Apollo Group (parent company of the University of Phoenix) has resigned. His interim replacement will earn $80,000 per month but oh yeah sure, college tuition is so expensive because of climbing walls mmhmmm.
Bill Clinton is stepping down from his position as an “honorary chancellor” of Laureate Education because a) Laureate is going to IPO, b) his wife is running for President and for-profit education is a campaign albatross, c) all of the above.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Last year, plagiarism detection company TurnItIn acquired robo-essay grading startup LightSide Labs, and now TurnItIn has used that technology to release“Turnitin Scoring Engine, a service that provides automated scoring of short answer texts and written essays.”
While not directly marketed to schools (unlike it’s competitor Yik Yak), it appears as though anonymous app Secret is shutting down. The startup had reported raised $37 million.
Apple Watch is officially out, and I’ve been getting the email pitches from companies bragging they have an app on it. PBS Kids’ Apple Watch app will let you control your children’s viewing on the PBS Kids iOS app. Sounds progressive. And according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Penn State will experiment with Apple Watch on campus this fall. It bought 8 watches, so yeah… Not really a one-to-one wearable computing initiative, I guess.
According to Amazon PR, “Amazon’s Whispercast Now Used in More Than 130 of the 250 Largest School Districts and 24 of the 30 Largest Universities in the U.S.”
Edukwest reports that language learning site Open English has entered the US market, specifically targeting the Spanish-speaking population.
Also via Edukwest: “Education First (EF) announced a new pilot program with the professional social network LinkedIn today. LinkedIn users who indicate English as a second language will get the offer to take a free assessment test via email. Upon completion users will receive the option to add a certification to their LinkedIn profile.”
Remember Edmodo? They have an app for parents now.
Shocking, I know, but there are errors in Pearson’s textbook U.S. History: Reconstruction to the Present.
Via Edsurge: “One Amplify: Joel Klein’s Plan to Unify News Corp.’s Education Business.”
Duolingo is poised to offer Klingon language lessons.
Funding and Acquisitions
ProQuest has acquired MyLibrary and Oasis from Ingram Content Group. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Raise Labs, a startup which lets high school students earn “micro scholarships,” has raised $4.5 million from Owl Ventures, First Round Capital, SJF Ventures, Deborah Quazzo, Mark Goines, Paul Freedman, and Thomas D. Lehrman.
LogicRoots has raised $400,000 in seed funding from Ah! Ventures’ investment network Club Ah!, Calcutta Angels, and 91SpringBoard for its educational games.
Data and Privacy
NYT’s Natasha Singer profiles Common Sense Media: “Turning a Children's Rating System Into an Advocacy Army,”
“The Case for Audio Monitoring on School Buses.” Or, how education technology furthers inequality and surveillance.
Data and “Research”
“The Education Industry Association is encouraging its members to contract with Johns Hopkins University’s school of education to study the effectiveness of those companies’ products and services,” Education Week reports.
Research on Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ (CREDO) study on charter schools.
“Contrary to Conventional Wisdom, New Teachers Are Staying on the Job,” according to The Atlantic.
The results of the latest Speak Up survey are out. Expect to see this gem cited a lot: “24% of high school students saying they wish they could take all their classes online – a large increase from 8% in 2013.”
Eduventures’ “College-Bound Market Update Report” also found high school students are increasingly interested in “blended learning” options – cough – as now only 85% say they will take all their college courses in a face-to-face setting, down from 95% of students last year.
“Unhappy Anniversary, Google,” says IHE blogger Tracy Mitano. (Includes a link to her research on Google and student data.)
Via 9to5Mac: “Apple now says human medical research apps ‘must’ get ethics board approval.”
Market research firms predict that lecture capture is going to be a big thing, and WaPo is on it.
Conservative think-tank, the Fordham Institute argues that school closures are actually good for kids. Side-eye.
This week in charts: Vox on LSATs.
It’s only been a month since I reviewed Q1 2015’s ed-tech investment data, but with the acquisition of Lynda.com by LinkedIn this month, I thought all this was worth revisiting – particularly since the crack reporters at Pando wondered if that would “kill the ed tech space.”
For what it’s worth – according to my record-keeping at least, investment was up just slightly in April over March. (But both are down from January and February when massive investments in Lynda.com ($186 million), SoFi ($200 million), and 17zuoye ($100 million) certainly skewed the numbers).
Perhaps the most interesting story to watch this year is the growing number of acquisitions – big deals not just in terms of the dollar figures but in terms of the brands involved. In April, LinkedIn bought Lynda.com for $1,500,000,000, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt paid $575,000,000 for most of Scholastic’s ed-tech business. These are the largest acquisitions of the year, topping Rakuten's acquisition of Overdrive for $410,000,000 and Pluralsight's acquisition of Code School for $36,000,000.
Among 2015’s Biggest Ed-Tech Investments So Far:
(As you can see half of the top funding rounds so far this year have gone to Chinese online education companies.)
Among 2015’s Most Active Investors So Far:
Download the data, and devise your own analysis. The GitHub repository is here.
Among the things that (education) technology is supposed to revolutionize: memory.
Memory in computers is not wholly analogous to memory in humans, of course, despite using that same word to describe what we are increasingly coming to think of as a process of information storage and retrieval.
Human memory is partial, filtered, contextual, malleable; computer memory is fixed (we hope – until the machinery fails, at least). You store written text about and photos from your vacation on your hard drive, and these will never change; as long as that drive functions and the file format persists, the story of your vacation will remain accessible. Human memory is different. The story – the memory – will change over time. It can be embellished; it can be forgotten. We forget by design.
Now (purportedly) the machine can remember for you.
As educational practices have long involved memorization (along with its kin, recitation), changes to memory – that is, off-loading this functionality to machines – could, some argue, change how and what we learn, how and what we must recall in the process.
And so the assertion goes, machine-based memory will prove superior: it is indexable, searchable. It can included things read and unread, things learned and things forgotten. As such, it is highly “personalized.”
This vision of personalized, machine-based memory is not new (although I would argue it remains almost entirely unfulfilled). Here is an excerpt by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, whose article “As We May Think” was published in 1945 in The Atlantic:
Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, “memex” will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.
In one end is the stored material. The matter of bulk is well taken care of by improved microfilm. Only a small part of the interior of the memex is devoted to storage, the rest to mechanism. Yet if the user inserted 5000 pages of material a day it would take him hundreds of years to fill the repository, so he can be profligate and enter material freely.
Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. Books of all sorts, pictures, current periodicals, newspapers, are thus obtained and dropped into place. Business correspondence takes the same path. And there is provision for direct entry. On the top of the memex is a transparent platen. On this are placed longhand notes, photographs, memoranda, all sorts of things. When one is in place, the depression of a lever causes it to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film, dry photography being employed.
There is, of course, provision for consultation of the record by the usual scheme of indexing. If the user wishes to consult a certain book, he taps its code on the keyboard, and the title page of the book promptly appears before him, projected onto one of his viewing positions. Frequently-used codes are mnemonic, so that he seldom consults his code book; but when he does, a single tap of a key projects it for his use. Moreover, he has supplemental levers. On deflecting one of these levers to the right he runs through the book before him, each page in turn being projected at a speed which just allows a recognizing glance at each. If he deflects it further to the right, he steps through the book 10 pages at a time; still further at 100 pages at a time. Deflection to the left gives him the same control backwards.
A special button transfers him immediately to the first page of the index. Any given book of his library can thus be called up and consulted with far greater facility than if it were taken from a shelf. As he has several projection positions, he can leave one item in position while he calls up another. He can add marginal notes and comments, taking advantage of one possible type of dry photography, and it could even be arranged so that he can do this by a stylus scheme, such as is now employed in the telautograph seen in railroad waiting rooms, just as though he had the physical page before him.
Memory Machines (versus Teaching Machines)
Bush’s essay and his vision for the Memex influenced both Douglas Englebart (see his 1962 article “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework”) and Ted Nelson (the Memex, with its associative linking, is often cited as a precursor to hypertext).
While it sparked the imagination of Englebart and Nelson, the idea of the Memex seems to have had little effect on the direction that education technology has taken. (It is in retrospect one of those forks in the history of computing that, as Bret Victor has pointed out, people failed to take.) Indeed, the development of teaching machines, during and after WWII, was far less concerned with an “augmented intellect” than with enhanced instruction.
As Paul Saettler writes about computer-assisted instruction in his history of ed-tech The Evolution of American Educational Technology,
The bulk of the CAI projects during the 1960s and 1970s were directly descended from Skinnerian teaching machines and reflected a behaviorist orientation. The typical CAI presentation modes known as drill-and-practice and tutorial were characterized by a strong degree of author control rather than learner control. The student was asked to make simple responses, fill in the blanks, choose among a restricted set of alternatives, or supply a missing word or phrase. If the response was wrong, the machine would assume control, flash the word “wrong,” and generate another problem. If the response was correct, additional material would be presented. The function of the computer was to present increasingly difficult material and provide reinforcement for correct responses. The program was very much in control and the student had little flexibility.
Rather than building devices that could enhance human memory and human knowledge for each individual, education technology has focused instead on devices that standardize the delivery of curriculum, that run students through various exercises and assessments, and that provide behavioral reinforcement.
Memory as framed by most education (technology) theories and practices has involved memorization– like the early twenthieth century concepts of Edward Thorndike’s “law of recency,” for example, or H. F. Spitzer’s “spaced repetition.” That is, ed-tech products often dictate what to learn and when and how to learn it. (This is still marketed as “personalization.”)
The History of the Future of Personal Learning Infrastructure
The Memex could be seen as an antecedent to more recent efforts like “Domain of One’s Own,” “lifebits” and “hosted lifebits,” and IndieWebCamp, where the shape and control of technology is both individualized and decentralized.
That means that one should ask, of course, who would actually control the Memex. Is the software and the hardware (or in Bush’s terms, the material and the desk) owned and managed and understood by each individual or is it simply licensed and managed by another engineer, company, school, or organization? Who has access to our learning/memories?