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- 08/15/15--11:36: _And So, Without Ed-...
- 08/21/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 08/25/15--11:35: _Trauma and Learning
- 08/28/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 08/28/15--12:35: _Adopt A Department ...
- 09/04/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 09/10/15--11:35: _Existing Digitally
- 09/11/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 09/17/15--11:35: _Ed-Tech Might Make ...
- 09/18/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 09/25/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/02/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/04/15--11:35: _Minimum Viable Ed-T...
- 10/09/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/15/15--11:35: _Technology Imperial...
- 10/17/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/19/15--11:35: _The Web We Need to ...
- 10/22/15--11:35: _The Algorithmic Fut...
- 10/23/15--11:35: _Hack Education Week...
- 10/27/15--11:35: _My Latest Book: Cla...
- 08/15/15--11:36: And So, Without Ed-Tech Criticism...
- 08/21/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 08/25/15--11:35: Trauma and Learning
- 08/28/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 08/28/15--12:35: Adopt A Department of Education Dataset
- 09/04/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 09/10/15--11:35: Existing Digitally
- 09/11/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 09/17/15--11:35: Ed-Tech Might Make Things Worse... So Now What?
- 09/18/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 09/25/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 10/02/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 10/04/15--11:35: Minimum Viable Ed-Tech: The VR Edition
- 10/09/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 10/17/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 10/19/15--11:35: The Web We Need to Give Students
- 10/22/15--11:35: The Algorithmic Future of Education
- 10/23/15--11:35: Hack Education Weekly News
- 10/27/15--11:35: My Latest Book: Claim Your Domain
This talk was given today at Scratch AMS 2015
When I first started to think about what I wanted to say here today, I thought I’d talk about innovation and how confused if not backwards the ed-tech industry’s obsession with that term is. I thought I’d tie in Jon Udell’s notion of “trailing edge innovations,” this idea that some of the most creating and interesting things don’t happen on the bleeding edge; they’re at a different perpendicular, if you will. Scratch – and before Scratch, LOGO – work there, tinkering from that angle.
So I started to think about movements from margin to center, about cultural, social, political, pedagogical change and why, from my vantage point at least, ed-tech is stuck – stuck chasing the wrong sorts of change.
We’ve been stuck there a while.
This is me and my brother, circa Christmas 1984. (I know it’s Christmas because that’s when we got the computer, and in this photo it hasn’t yet been moved to the basement.) We found this photo when we were cleaning out our dad’s house this summer. Yes, that’s us and the LOGO turtle. My thoughts about this photo are pretty complicated: going through family photo albums, you can see – sometimes quite starkly – when things change or when things get stuck. This photo was from “the good times”; later images, not so much. And this photo reminds me too of a missing piece: somehow my interest in computers then never really went anywhere. I didn’t have programming opportunities at school, and other than what I could tinker with on my own, I did t get much farther than basic (sic).
So I want to talk to you today about how we – ed-tech – get unstuck.
Someone asked me the other day why I’d been invited to speak at a conference on Scratch. “What are you going to say?!” they asked, (I think) a little apprehensively. Their fear, I have to imagine, was that I was going to come here and unload a keynote equivalent of 1984’s “Two Minutes of Hate” on an unsuspecting European audience, that I would shake my fist angrily and loudly condemn the Scratch Cat or something. Or something.
I get this a lot: demands that I answer the question “why do you hate education technology so much, Audrey?” in which I usually refrain from responding with the question “why do you hate reading comprehension so much, Internet stranger?”
I’d contend that this nervous, sometimes hostile reaction to my work highlights a trap that education technology finds itself in – a ridiculous belief that there can be only two possible responses to computers in education (or to computers in general): worship or hatred, adulation or acquiescence. “You’re either with us or against us”; you’re either for computers or against computers. You have to choose: technological progress or Luddism.
It’s a false choice, of course, and it mostly misses the point of what I try to do in my work as an education technology writer. Often what I’m trying to analyze is not so much about the actual technology at all: it’s about the ideology in which the technology is embedded, encased and from which it emerges; and it’s about what shape technologies seem to think teaching and learning, and the institutions that influence if not control those, should take.
To fixate solely on the technology is a symptom of what Seymour Papert has called “technocentric thinking,” something that he posited as quite different from what technology criticism should do. Technocentrism is something that technologists fall prey to, Papert contended; but it’s something that, just as likely, humanists are guilty of (admittedly, that’s another unhelpful divide, no doubt: technologists versus humanists).
“Combating technocentrism involves more than thinking about technology,” Papert wrote. And surely this is what education technology desperately needs right now. Why, for example, is there all the current excitement about ed-tech? Surely we can do better than an answer that accepts “because computers really matter now.” Why are venture capitalists investing in ed-tech at record levels? Why are schools now buying new hardware and software? Try again if your answer is “because the tech is so good.” A technocentric response points our attention to the technology itself – new tools, data, devices, apps, broadband, the cloud – as though these are context-free. Computer criticism, as outlined by Papert, demands we look more closely instead at policies, profits, politics, practices, power. Because it’s not “technological progress” than demands schools use computers. Indeed, rarely are computers used there for progressive means or ends at all.
Challenging technocentrism “leads to fundamental re-examination of assumptions about the area of application of technology with which one is concerned,” Papert wrote. “If we are interested in eliminating technocentrism from thinking about computers in education, we may find ourselves having to re-examine assumptions about education that were made long before the advent of computers.”
These passages comes from a 1987 essay “Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking,” in which Papert posited that education technology – or rather, the LOGO community specifically – needed to better develop its voice so that it could weigh in on the public dialogue about the burgeoning adoption of computers in schools. But what should that voice sound like? It had to offer more than a simple “pro-computers in the classroom” stance. And some three decades later, I think this is even more crucial. Uncritical techno-fascination and ed-tech fetishization – honestly, what purpose do those serve?
“There is no shortage of models” in trying to come up with a robust framework for computer criticism, Papert wrote back then. “The education establishment offers the notion of evaluation. Educational psychologists offer the notion of controlled experiment. The computer magazines have developed the idiom of product review. Philosophical tradition suggests inquiry into the essential nature of computation.” We can still see (mostly) these models applied to ed-tech today: “does it raise standardized test scores?” is one common way to analyze a product or service. “What new features does it boast?” is another. These approaches are insufficient, Papert argued, when it comes to thinking about ed-tech’s influence on learning, because they do nothing in helping us think broadly – rethink– our education system.
Papert suggested we turn to literary and social criticism as a model for computer criticism. Indeed, the computer is a medium of human expression, its development and its use a reflection of human culture; the computer is also a tool with a particular history, and although not circumscribed by its past, the computer is not entirely free of it either. I think we recognize history, legacy, systems in literary and social criticism; funny, folks get pretty irate when I point those out about ed-tech. “The name [computer criticism] does not imply that such writing would condemn computers any more than literary criticism condemns literature or social criticism condemns society,” Papert wrote. “The purpose of computer criticism is not to condemn but to understand, to explicate, to place in perspective. Of course, understanding does not exclude harsh (perhaps even captious) judgment. The result of understanding may well be to debunk. But critical judgment may also open our eyes to previously unnoticed virtue. And in the end, the critical and the creative processes need each other.”
I am, admittedly, quite partial to this framing of “computer criticism,” since it dovetails neatly with my own academic background. I’m not an engineer or an entrepreneur or (any longer) a classroom educator. I see myself as a cultural critic, formally trained in the study of literature, language, folklore. I’m interested in our stories and in our practices and in our cultures.
One of the flaws Papert identifies in “technocentrism” is that it gives centrality to the technology itself, reducing people and culture to a secondary level. Instead “computer criticism” should look at context, at systems, at politics, at power.
I would add to Papert’s ideas about “computer criticism,” those of other theorists. Consider Kant: criticism is self-knowledge, reflection, a counter to dogma, to those ideas that powerful systems demand we believe in. Ed-tech, once at the margins, is surely now dogma. Consider Hegel; consider Marx: criticism as antagonism, as dialectic, as intervention – stake a claim; stake a position; identify ideology. Consider Freire and criticism as pedagogy and pedagogy as criticism: change the system of schooling, and change the world.
It’s an odd response to my work, but a common one too, that criticism does not enable or effect change. (I suppose it does not fall into the business school model of “disruptive innovation.”) Or rather, that criticism stands as an indulgent, intellectual, purely academic pursuit – as though criticism involves theory but not action. Or if there is action, criticism implies “tearing down”; it has this negative connotation. Ed-tech entrepreneurs, to the contrary, actually “build things.”
Here’s another distinction I’ve heard: that criticism (in the form of writing an essay) is “just words” but writing software is “actually doing something.” Again, such a contrast reveals much about the role of intellectual activity that some see in “coding.”
That is a knotty problem, I think, for a group like this one to wrestle with (and why we need ed-tech criticism!). If we believe in “coding to learn” then what does it mean if we see “code” as distinct from or as absent of criticism? And here I don’t simply mean that a criticism-free code is stripped of knowledge, context, and politics; I mean that that framework in some ways conceptualizes code as the opposite of thinking deeply or thinking critically – that is, coding as (only) programmatic, mechanical, inflexible, rules-based. What are the implications of that in schools?
Technocentrism won’t help with thinking through that question. Technocentrism would be happier talking about “learning to code,” with the emphasis on “code” – “code” largely a signifier for technological know-how, an inherent and unexamined good.
As I was rereading Papert’s 1987 essay in preparation for this talk, I was struck – as I often am by his work – of how stuck ed-tech is. I mean, here he is, some 30 years ago, calling for the LOGO community to develop a better critique, frankly an activist critique about thinking and learning. “Do Not Ask What LOGO Can Do To People, But What People Can Do With LOGO.” Papert’s argument is not“why everyone should learn to code.”
Papert offers an activist critique. Criticism is activism. Criticism is a necessary tactic for this community, the Scratch community specifically and for the ed-tech community in general. It was necessary in 1987. It’s still necessary today – we might consider why we’re still at the point of having to make a case for ed-tech criticism too. It’s particularly necessary as we see funding flood into ed-tech, as we see policies about testing dictate the rationale for adopting devices, as we see the technology industry shape a conversation about “code” – a conversation that focuses on money and prestige but not on thinking, learning. Computer criticism can – and must – be about analysis and action. Critical thinking must work alongside critical pedagogical and technological practices. “Coding to learn” if you want to start there; or more simply, “learn by making.” But then too: making to reflect; making to think critically; making to engage with the world; it is from there, and only there, that we can get to making and coding to change the world.
Without ed-tech criticism, we’ll still be stuck – stuck without these critical practices, stuck without critical making or coding or design in school, stuck without critical (digital) pedagogy. And likely we’ll be stuck with a technocentrism that masks rather than uncovers let alone challenges power.
British Prime Minister David Cameron wants every school in England and Wales to become an academy (that is, a school independent of local control).
Via Buzzfeed: “Education Department Wants To ‘Claw Back’ Loan Dollars From Disgraced Colleges. As more for-profit college students seek to have their federal student loans cancelled, the government is looking for ways to keep taxpayers off the hook.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: the role that banks like Bank of America have played in for-profit universities.
Via Education Week: “The Department of Education is asking for bids to design a prototype system to quickly evaluate ed-tech in K–12 schools, in hopes of making it easier for educators to figure out what works in products they purchase with federal funding.”
The Department of Education is also seeking input on what sorts of privacy protections should be in place for students’ medical records.
Education in the Courts
A US District Court judge has begun hearing a lawsuit brought against Compton Unified School District, claiming“trauma is a disability and that schools are required – by federal law – to make accommodations for traumatized students, not expel them. The plaintiffs want Compton Unified to provide teacher training, mental health support for students and to use conflict-mediation before resorting to suspension.”
“Test-Refusal Movement’s Success Hampers Analysis of New York State Exam Results,” says The New York Times.
The ACT makes the case for multiple choice tests – they “can and do efficiently assess students’ higher-order thinking skills and reflect their real-world problem solving skills.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Once upon a time, Gregory Ferenstein, then writing for Techcrunch, predicted that Udacity would bring about “the end of college as we know it.” He’s dialed it back a little this week with his prediction in ReadWrite: “Online Education May Be Poised To Take Off.”
According to Inside Higher Ed, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, the University of Washington, the University of California's Davis, Irvine and Los Angeles campuses, and the University of Wisconsin Extension are teaming up to create the University Learning Store for online assessments and microcredentials.
Edsurge reports that News Corp’s education division Amplify has sold its computer science MOOC to an unnamed buyer.
Meanwhile on Campus
Mashable reports that “Up to 2,300 students will go to college for free thanks to LeBron James.”
Via the Houston Chronicle: “The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has asked a state district court to block the University of Texas at Austin from relocating its statue of Jefferson Davis from the campus’ main mall, prompting UT to delay the move at least temporarily.”
Paul Smith’s College will get a $20 million gift from Joan Weill – as long as it changes its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith's College.
“What Are Los Angeles USD’s Plans to Combat Sexting?” asks Edsurge. (Answer: apparently, show educational videos.)
Via The LA Times: “For-profit colleges are using the GI Bill to make money off veterans.”
“Ex-cop with KKK ties found working in FL elementary school – and parents are furious,” says Raw Story.
Go, School Sports Team!
There are possibly new NCAA violations at UNC Chapel Hill.
Via Jessia Luther and Dan Solomon in Texas Monthly: “Silence at Baylor”: “A much-talked-about football player at Baylor University – whom coaches ‘expect back’ this fall – is currently on trial for the sexual assault of a fellow student. Questions now swirl around what the program knew and when they knew it.”
And via Jessica Luther, writing for Vice Sports: “Former UTC Wrestler’s Expulsion Reversed in Sexual Assault Case.”
From the HR Department
Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman accused of serial “self-plagiarism,” says the Times Higher Education, as he’s recycled some 90,000 of his words across various books and articles. (For what it’s worth, it doesn’t really strike me as plagiarism at all.)
Upgrades and Downgrades
Chinese ed-tech company 17zuoye is partnering with Knewton.
Via David Wiley: “Personalization in Lumen’s ‘Next Gen’ OER Courseware Pilot.”
“Chromebooks Gaining on iPads in School Sector,” and The New York Times is on it.
Funding and Acquisitions
Test prep company Testive has raised $1.15 million, says BetaBoston.
Private equity firms Leonard Green & Partners and TPG Capital have agreed to buy Ellucian. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
EdCamp has received a $2 million grant from the Gates Foundation. Because nothing says “grassroots” like a couple of million dollars from Bill and Melinda.
Data, Privacy, Security, and Surveillance
The University of Virginia’s IT system was hit with a cyberattack.
San Diego Unified School District uses facial recognition software.
Inside Higher Ed reports that there are 74,468 unique email addresses from .edu domains released as part of the hack of the Ashley Madison website.
Data and “Research”
Gallup has released the results of a poll about the availability of computer science in schools. Among the findings, “just 7% of principals and 6% of superintendents surveyed report that demand for it is high among parents in their school or district.”
“When teachers are asked about their expectations for black students, nonblack teachers were 30 percent less likely than black teachers to say they thought those students would earn a college degree.” More on a study of race and teachers’ expectations of students via Vox.
Also via Vox: “Parents think standardized tests are useless. Teachers agree.” (Here’s the link to the survey this headline refers to.)
Via NPR: “New research by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows education does not help black and Hispanic college graduates protect their wealth the same way it does for their white and Asian counterparts.”
According to Edsurge’s calculations, “US Edtech Brings in $73M in July.”
Market research first MarketsandMarkets claim that “the global Education Technology (Ed Tech) and Smart Classrooms Market is expected to grow from USD 43.27 Billion in 2015 to USD 93.76 Billion in 2020.” (The report will cost you almost $5000, so clearly the market for selling data about ed-tech also remains strong.)
Alfie Kohn in Salon on the dangers of “growth mindset” – or at least the dangers in how research gets picked up by conservative ideology.
This article first appeared in Educating Modern Learners in June 2015
Recently, five students along with three teachers filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Compton Unified School District (a district that serves the Los Angeles County neighborhoods of West and East Compton). The students, who have all experienced severe childhood trauma, allege that the district failed to help them with their issues, let alone provide them with an adequate education. According to their attorneys, "the school district’s response to their plight not only didn't help, but frequently made their situations worse."
The lawsuit seeks better training for school staff so that they can recognize trauma, better mental health support for students instead of punitive, disciplinary measures - the current response, the lawsuit contends. Because this was filed as a class action suit, other students nationwide can join as plaintiffs.
Here's what happened, for example, to one of the plaintiffs from Compton USD:
...a former foster youth with a history of being physically and sexually abused, became homeless this year. With nowhere else to turn, he slept on the roof of the high school he attended. At no time did school administrators provide any support or services. Instead, he was suspended. Although some personnel were aware of the student’s circumstances, the student's attempts to return to school were denied, and he was threatened with law enforcement involvement if he persisted in attempting to return.
Decades of research have found that children who have suffered serious trauma are far more likely to repeat a grade, be suspended from school and have severe attendance and behavioral problems, according to Marleen Wong, an associate dean and clinical professor at the USC School of Social Work. Her 2003 study of thousands of sixth-graders in South and East Los Angeles found that nine of 10 had witnessed or experienced violence and had lower reading scores, higher absenteeism and other problems.
Students in low-income and high-crime minority neighborhoods like Compton are particularly likely to experienced violence. (Both violence and poverty in Compton are much higher than the rest of California and than the average in the rest of the US.)
But nationwide, childhood trauma is incredibly widespread. According to researchers from The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 48% of children in the US have experienced at least one form of trauma. (Their list of traumatic childhood experiences included exposure to violence; emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; deprivation; neglect; family discord and divorce; parental substance abuse; mental health problems; parental death or incarceration; social discrimination.) 22% of children had experienced two or more of these forms of trauma.
How do schools respond? And how do schools respond when budgets for services like nurses and psychologists are being slashed? (Of course, it's worth pointing out that as expensive as support services might be, they are in the longer run surely cheaper than the costs of truancy, dropping out, and incarceration.) What role is education technology playing - support or punishment?
It often feels as though in our push to "rethink education," we focus too much on academics and not enough on the social and emotional needs of students. We debate about what the curriculum, the assessments, the textbooks, the technology should look like; then we ignore the issues that are more likely the real barriers to "student success." (I’m using "we" quite loosely here, I admit. A recent survey of the US Teachers of the Year listed "family stress" as the top reason why their students do not succeed. Yet none of them listed crime or racism as an issue.)
The problems that schools face aren't simply that an information economy changes the nature of knowledge; it's that a precarious economy undermines any foundation necessary to build knowledge, let alone to build a stable future.
This isn't a new problem. But it is one that is becoming increasingly stark for more and more people.
This continues to be one of my concerns with a lot of the calls for "self-directed learning." How do we make sure that all students have opportunities and agency - and not just affluent students?
If we push to dismantle some of the collective elements of (traditional) schooling, what might we lose in the process? How can we retain from that model a collectivity that is focused on community and care? How do we provide a full system of mental health care and emotional support while asking that schools let go of a fixation on a full system of curricular dictates? If schools see their mission as being mostly the latter - that is, if schools are rewarded and punished for how students do on standardized tests - how can we expect schools to be a site for addressing other things that students need?
As we rethink schools, do we expect schools to address mental health issues? And if not, what happens then to all the traumatized children? How do we expect them to be "modern learners" if their worlds are crumbling?
Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting land. (It’s also the tenth anniversary of a very personal loss for me, and for this and a million other reasons I find the reflections on the tragedy emotionally exhausting.)
Parents and activists in Chicago are on a hunger strike to protest the closure of Walter H. Dyett High School, a public school in their South Side neighborhood.
The New York City Department of Education is delaying the e-book deal it had struck with Amazon – the company was poised to manage a book marketplace for students – following letters from the National Federation of the Blind noted that the move would exclude the visually impaired.
Via the LA School Report: “LA Unified said today its inspector general is ‘looking into’ the possibility that nearly 100 district employees used district email addresses to contact ashleymadison.com, a website that promotes extra-marital affairs, calling itself ‘the most famous name in infidelity and married dating.’” (Meanwhile, as Gizmodo’s Annalee Newitz writes, “Almost None of the Women in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site.”)
The Department of Education plans to evaluate ed-tech’s effectiveness. (Here’s Edsurge’s coverage.) Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill calls it “almost a good idea,” then writes a follow-up post: “Ed Tech Evaluation Plan: More problems than I initially thought.”
Education in the Courts
Via Inside Higher Ed: “A bankruptcy judge on Wednesday approved Corinthian’s plan to liquidate its assets, earmarking about $4.3 million for a special fund for former students.” That money will go towards loan forgiveness – but not to students directly.
“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering taking legal action against Navient Corp., the country’s largest student loan servicer and a former division of Sallie Mae, after an investigation into the company’s disclosures and late fees,” Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reports.
The New York Times has coverage of the testimony in a rape trial involving a student from an exclusive New England boarding school.
Via The Sacramento Bee: “ Jerry Brown grants exit exam reprieve to California high school seniors.”
“Common Core Glitch Might Mean Future Lawsuit,” a Montana ABC/FOX affiliate reports.
The state of California has deleted 15 years of test scores from its website before making available the results of this year’s tests (aligned to the Common Core).
“The New York City charter school that made the largest gains on state English tests also made an unprecedented decision to grade its own students’ exams,” Chalkbeat reports.
Via The Washington Post: “U.S. Education Department bars states from offering alternative tests to most students with disabilities.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
MOOC startups are still raising venture capital like it’s 2012! (Details in the “funding” section below.)
Well, #notallMOOCs: “Amplify’s MOOC Is Sold, and Renamed as ‘Edhesive’.”
MIT and Harvard have published research on how people cheat in MOOCs: they create multiple accounts. Inconceivable!
According to the headline in The New York Times, “How High Schoolers Spent Their Summer: Online, Taking More Courses.” Many of those interviewed in the story, which suggests that MOOCs are showing up on college applications, work at Ivies, so I’m not really sure how much we can extrapolate from their stories. It does remind me of what Justin Reich found in his research on those in HarvardX courses: that those signing up for MOOCs were more affluent than average and more likely to come from families with high levels of parental educational attainment. But do carry on, NYT, with your MOOC hype.
Elsewhere in MOOC hype: “MOOCs show promise in complementing UC-San Diego’s campus offerings.”
“Oakland Community College may halt most online classes,” The Detroit News reports. “The possibility of mass course cancellations arose after the state's largest community college was denied accreditation for online programs that would let students earn degrees while taking most or all of their courses outside traditional classrooms.”
Meanwhile on Campus
A story about Duke freshman balking at reading Fun Home went viral this week, no doubt because the story conforms to many larger narratives about morality, outrage, trigger warnings, and protest. Aaron Bady has the best analysis of the incident.
The University of Maryland University College says it will be textbook-free by the fall of 2016.
The Hechinger Report on UC Merced: “A new university whose debut probably could not have come at a worse time.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at outsourcing.
Via Boing Boing: “Cute Wonder Woman lunchbox banned from school for being too violent.”
Via NPR: “Simmons College announced it will close the campus master’s degree program in business, the only one of its kind in the nation exclusively for women.”
“Buzzwords May Be Stifling Teaching Innovation at Colleges,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Jeffrey Young.
Deliberately not on campus: “Student opts to live on train rather than pay rent.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Via the AP: “Legal showdown looms over the NCAA’s ban on paying athletes.”
A book review of Billion-Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football: “College football isn’t about college, and it’s barely about football. It’s about money.”
Via The Verge: “The next 35 years of college football, predicted.”
Via The New York Times: “College Conferences Try to Block Athletes Who Have Violent Pasts.”
“In 2013, Auburn University’s curriculum review committee took up the case of a small, unpopular undergraduate major called public administration. After concluding that the major added very little to the school’s academic mission, the committee voted to eliminate it.” That’s the lede of The Wall Street Journal article that chronicles how Auburn’s athletics department insisted that the major, popular among football players, be retained.
From the HR Department
“One in four D.C. public schools has a new principal this year,” The Washington Post observes.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Facing a planned graduate student worker walkout over its decision to drop health insurance subsidies for teaching and research assistants, the University of Missouri at Columbia on Friday announced it will reinstate the subsidies indefinitely.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
And in other robots-replacing-teachers news: “This Robot Tutor Will Make Personalizing Education Easy,” says Wired, hyping news that Knewton will now let anyone upload content to its platform (which means moar data for its data-hungry algorithms). “Teachers need more time and better outcomes and they need a magic pill that’s going to make that happen,” Knewton’s CEO tells Wired. A magic pill. Srsly. Education Week frames the story as about OER, highlighting how misused the word “open” is in ed-tech. The headline changed on Buzzfeed’s coverage, but you can still see it in the URL slug. (Related: by Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein: “The Fraught Interaction Design of Personalized Learning Products.”)
Via Phil Hill: “Inside View Of Blackboard’s Moodle Strategy In Latin America.” Meanwhile via The Washington Post: “Blackboard loses high-profile clients as its rivals school it in innovation.”
Adobe launches an LMS, for all your posting-of-PDFs-in-a-silo needs.
Khan Academy + Pixar Animation Studios = Pixar in a Box, “a free online curriculum that shows how Pixar artists use the concepts we all study in school to create their amazing movies.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “How an App Helps Low-Income Students by Turning College Life Into a Game.”
Via The Pacific Standard: “Meet One of the Women Who Created a Black Lives Matter Textbook for Middle Schoolers.”
Google Classroom has some new features, including the ability to reuse assignments.
Education Week’s Benjamin Herold describes the “Big Hype, Hard Fall for News Corp.’s $1 Billion Ed-Tech Venture.” Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy frames it this way: “How Rupert Murdoch Suffered A Rare Defeat In American Classrooms.”
The Digital Reader reports that OLPC’s Australian partner One Education has made the XO Infinity Modular Laptop available for pre-order.
Via Re/Code: “Pursuing the Ed-Tech Unicorn.” (For what it’s worth, CB Insights does list one ed-tech company, 17zuoye, on its list of potential unicorns.) For those not up on the VC lingo, a unicorn is a startup that’s valued at $1 billion.
Funding and Acquisitions
Coursera has raised $49.5 million in funding from New Enterprise Associates, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, International Finance Corporation, GSV Asset Management, Learn Capital. and Times Internet (which operates the Times of India). The MOOC startup expects to add another $11 million to this round which will bring the total raised to $145 million. More via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
SmackHigh has raised $1.65 million in seed funding from Flybridge Capital Partners, Boston Seed Capital, and Wayne Chang for a social media platform. The startup “claims it can reduce bullying by creating an online community for high school students in which submissions are monitored and posted by SmackHigh representatives.”
Cybrary, which describes itself as “the world’s only no-cost cybersecurity massive open online course provider,” has raised $400,000 in seed funding from Inner Loop Capital.
Bearface Instructional Technologies has been acquired by data analytics company Perceivant. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Middlebury College is selling its stake in an online language learning company it founded with K12, the terribad for-profit online education provider.
Edsurge reports that one of its investors, Owl Ventures, has launched a $100 million investment fund.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
“‘De-Identifying’ Student Data Is Key for Protecting Privacy,” say Education Week’s Benjamin Herold and Michelle Davis.
“Meet the Modern School Bus,” writes Education Dive. (It’s pretty much a roving surveillance system, so that’s fun.)
Data and “Research”
The Reproducibility Project, as the name suggests, tries to reproduce social science research. It released some findings this week, and as The New York Times notes, “a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested.” But don’t worry guys, I’m sure all the studies about “grit” and “growth mindset” are totally legit.
Questionable research from Purdue has been trotted out again, here via Education Dive: “Analytics programs show ‘remarkable’ results – and it’s only the beginning.” Michael Feldstein responds: “I don’t know of any other way to put this. Purdue University is harming higher education by knowingly peddling questionable research for the purpose of institutional self-aggrandizement. Purdue leadership should issue a retraction and an apology.”
Roland Fryer, Steven Levitt and John List have studied what happens when low income parents are paid for helping their children with homework. Bloomberg has a write-up.
The latest PDK/Gallup poll is out (PDF), and many observers noted that the results were different than Education Next’s recently released survey results. Here’s Education Week’s coverage. Here’s how the NEA spins it: “Poll: Americans Want Less Standardized Testing and More School Funding.”USC’s Morgan Polikoff writes“On Common Core, can two polls this different both be right?”
The Paper and Packaging Board surveyed teachers and I’m shocked – shocked! – to see they found that “80% of teachers say kids learn better with paper assignments.”
New research from Rey Junco: “Predicting course outcomes with digital textbook analytics.”
Psychometrician Gene V. Glass: on “’Why I am no longer comfortable’ in the field of educational measurement.”
The latest Pew Research Center study: “Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette.”
The University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education released a study on suspension and expulsion rates for black students, focusing on states with high rates of disciplining students. Among the findings: “While black students represented just under a quarter of public school students in these states, they made up nearly half of all suspensions and expulsions. In some districts, the gaps were even more striking: in 132 Southern school districts, for example, black students were suspended at rates five times their representation in the student population, or higher.”
The Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli has released his annual list of the “Top K–12 Education Policy People on Social Media 2015” (as well as the “Top K–12 Education Policy Organizations and Media Outlets on Social Media 2015”), ranked by Klout. (Remember Klout? LOL.) I’m not sure what “top” really means here, other than they’re “top” based his judgement of “who counts” organized in turn by some proprietary algorithm. Oh, education reformers and your penchant for silly metrics.
My partner Kin Lane recently received a Knight Foundation prototype grant for a project he’s calling Adopta.Agency. The idea is to build upon President Obama’s open data initiative so that federal datasets are actually useful – the data is clean and (ideally) machine-readable.
Adopting datasets strikes me as particularly important when it comes to the Department of Education, which publishes a lot of data (although only 300 datasets have made it to the data.gov website), but often in proprietary formats (PDFs or PowerPoint slides or Microsoft Word files) or in strangely formatted spreadsheets with columns and filenames that lack consistency let alone clarity year-over-year.
(Let’s pause to note the irony of a department that demands the collection of more and more data from schools and students – a cornerstone of its calls for “accountability” – but that cannot figure out how to manage or release its own data in open, useable formats.)
Kin’s project does not involve any new technology or platform. Rather, he’s created a blueprint that uses GitHub to host the data, the roadmap for the project, Q&As, and issues. The blueprint (ideally) contains all the pieces you’ll need to get started. (A more detailed although admittedly very preliminary How-To is here.) Kin’s reasons for choosing GitHub are severalfold: you can easily fork and contribute to projects. Also, GitHub Pages makes it simple to spin up a website for each project (or “repository” in GitHub lingo).
I’ve started two projects using Department of Education data: one that will clean up the datasets gathered for the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and the other will identify and make machine-readable datasets pertaining to education technology. (Of the 17 datasets that you can find with the keywords “education” and “technology” only 3 are in open formats.)
The data in both of these collections certainly need to be cleaned up (OMG do they ever), and I’d like to see them expanded upon as well. (Indeed, one of the criticisms of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative is that its “gender exclusive focus” ignores the needs of black girls; consider my project an opportunity for a “fork” that includes data pertaining to girls as well.)
I’m interested in helping address some of the problems with Department of Education data. (First order of business: calling them out on the shoddiness of their efforts so far.) More broadly I’m also interested in exploring the use of GitHub as part of a “Reclaim Your Domain” strategy – that is, how do we make it easier for folks to develop and control their data and their digital identity. Government data is our data, after all. And finally, how do we lower the barriers to entry so that “open data” and “open government” initiatives and the like don’t simply concentrate power in the hands of a technical elite? How can we create templates for data-curious projects – such as Kin’s Adopta.Agency blueprint – so that it’s as easy as possible to get up and running with a similar effort?
Seattle public school teachers have voted to strike if their union cannot reach an agreement with the district by the time school starts on Wednesday.
Chicago Public Schools have agreed to let Dyett High School re-open, following community led protests about its closure. The hunger strikes will continue, protestors say.
A law protecting student data has been signed in Delaware – privacy legislation is a “trend,” says Education Week.
California community colleges might seek a new accreditor – that’s the recommendation of a task force, at least. More in Inside Higher Ed.
According to a report released by the Department of Education, it has forgiven the student loans of 3000 former Corinthian students. (That’s out of the 8000-ish who’ve applied to have their debts erased.)
The Department of Education announced it was awarding $25 million in grants to Twin Cities Public Television and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for kids’ TV.
The Department of Education announced that Michigan State University has mishandled multiple cases of sexual assault and harassment, failing to investigate student complaints, in violation of Title IX.
More connections between Hillary Clinton and for-profit education provider Laureate Education. (Her husband was also an honorary chancellor, paid $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014.) Apparently Clinton pushed for Laureate to have a seat at a higher ed policy dinner hosted by the State Department. (Worth noting perhaps: the State Department partnered with Coursera to promote MOOCs globally. Laureate is an investor in Coursera.)
Education in the Courts
The Washington State Supreme Court has just ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional.
Public school parents do not have a constitutional right to decide where to send their children to school (unless they choose to enroll their child in a private school), the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week.
Fulton County GA Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter has sentenced the final educator in the Atlanta schools cheating scandal. Elementary school teacher Shani Robinson will spend a year in prison.
Via The Oregonian: “The Oregon Court of Appeals breathed new life Wednesday into a lawsuit filed by a young woman who was raped during a Halloween party at an Oregon State University fraternity, ruling that the local Phi Kappa Psi chapter could be held liable for failing to shield the woman from harm.”
Via The New York Times: “Owen Labrie of St. Paul’s School Is Found Not Guilty of Main Rape Charge.”
“The family of a student at the Fay School in Southboro has filed a lawsuit claiming the school’s strong Wi-Fi signal caused the boy to become ill,” the Worcester Telegram reports.
“SAT scores at lowest level in 10 years, fueling worries about high schools,” WaPo’s Nick Anderson writes, trying to fuel the panic, to which Vox’s Libby Nelson calmly responds, “The real reason SAT scores are falling.” “Is the College Board trolling high schools?” asks historian Sherman Dorn.
According to an investigation by ProPublica, “Asians Are Nearly Twice as Likely to Get a Higher Price from Princeton Review.”
Via the AP: “As Common Core results trickle in, initial goals unfulfilled.”
Via Edsource: “The California Department of Education on Friday began restoring historical test data that it deleted from the most accessible part of its website earlier this month, following criticism that it did so to discourage the public from making comparisons to the results of new tests aligned to the Common Core standards.”
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Copy-and-pasted from the press release: “The world’s first GROOC - a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for groups - co-created by internationally renowned management expert Henry Mintzberg will be launched by McGill University and edX.” There are so many problems with this, least of which being (once again) an erasure of the connectivist roots of MOOCs, but my only response:
Meanwhile, Coursera says it has “30+ New Business, Computer Science, and Data Science Specializations Starting September 15.”
The University of Central Florida now boasts “mega-classes,” “enrolling in one case nearly four times as many students as their assigned classrooms can seat and students sprawled in the aisles.” But you can watch the videos streaming online so that’s fun for those who’ve actually paid to attend a residential school.
Meanwhile on Campus
New York State’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman has reached a deal that could pave the way for Cooper Union to once again be tuition-free. More details via The New York Times, Inside Higher Ed, and The Committee to Save Cooper Union.
“Harvard Business School really has created the classroom of the future,” Fortune wants us to believe. “Truth be told, an HBX Live session is more a show than a class.” Oh. I. See.
Via The LA Times: “A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has raised concerns about the school’s Literature of 9/11 seminar course, claiming the required readings for the class are ”sympathetic towards terrorism.“ Alec Dent, a freshman journalism major at UNC, hasn’t taken the class or read any of the books on the syllabus, but said he’s concerned that the class isn’t ”fair and balanced." (The media really seems to enjoy these stories of trigger warnings and moral refusal, don’t they.)
“New report finds ongoing iPad and technology problems at L.A. Unified,” reports The LA Times’ Howard Blume. (And according to the LA School Report, there are hints there may be more problems arising from the FBI’s investigation into the Pearson/Apple/LAUSD deal.)
“University of Glasgow mulls turning away from Turnitin,” the Times Higher Education headline reads. But it looks like it’s not turning away from plagiarism software detection software, so meh.
The statue of Jefferson Davis has been removed from the University of Texas, Austin campus.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “How One University Uses a ‘Mental-Health Kiosk’ to Reach Students.”
“Ulster University is to close its school of modern languages at its Coleraine campus and cut maths degrees as a result of budget reductions,” the BBC reports.
“Nearly half of 60 Japanese national universities that have humanities and social science faculties plan to abolish those departments in the 2016 academic year or later,” says University World News.
Penn State is doing a thing called “EdTech Network” that’s something to do with innovation and entrepreneurship. Certainly the name is very very forward-looking.
Go, School Sports Team!
Baylor University continues to investigate (or maybe starts a new investigation?) into the university’s handling of a sexual assault accusation against one of its football players.
“Five Rutgers University football players were arrested Thursday and charged with robbery, burglary while armed, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, riot and aggravated assault,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
“Six of the seven teenagers charged with sexually abusing teammates in a football hazing scandal at the high school in Sayreville, N.J., last fall were sentenced to probation and 50 hours each of community service,” according to The New York Times.
Via Education Week: “A school district says it’s investigating a mass baptism on a public high school football field after video footage of the Aug. 17 incident was posted online.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday abruptly fired its head football coach, Tim Beckman, after an external review into the coach’s behavior revealed that he put his players at risk by deterring them from reporting injuries and pressuring them to continue playing when hurt.”
“Dartmouth College Adds A Robot To Its Practice Football Team,” says NPR. And yeah. I can totally get behind robots replacing schools’ football coaching staff, I think.
From the HR Department
University of Iowa will have a new president this fall, former IBM senior vice president Bruce Harreld. Faculty and grad students are not pleased, pointing out his utter lack of experience in higher ed administration.
Inside Higher Ed reports that Sally Stroup will be stepping down “as executive vice president for government relations and legal counsel for the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU), which is the for-profit industry’s primary trade group.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
“Slave Tetris.” I’m not kidding.
Financing startup Neighborly announced that it’s selling the first ever “microbonds” for a public project, namely San Leandro Schools.
Facebook announced this week that it is working on building software for the Summit charter school chain. Because “personalization.” (See: Buzzfeed and The New York Times for coverage.) It’s a conveniently timed news release to distract us from The Prize, a new book by Dale Russakoff that details what happened to Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the Newark Schools. (Remember how Zuckerberg made a $100 million donation to the Newark Schools to distract us from the unflattering portrayal of him in The Social Network? The beat goes on…) Related: Edsurge covers how some of that money is being funneled to teachers via a startup called ClassWallet (its list of funders here): “Teachers will each receive $100 in ClassWallet credit that can be spent on supplies sold by 40 partnering vendors, including Amazon, Scholastic and Best Buy. Principals will get $7,500 that can be spent on professional development, community initiatives and parenting programs.”
Speaking of “personalization,” Inside Higher Ed’s Carl Straumsheim wrote about the so-called adaptive software offered by JumpCourse, demonstrating that it was pretty easy to guess one’s way through the coursework, something that can eventually lead to ACE credit: “General Ed Cheap and Easy.” As adaptive learning CEOs are wont to do, the CEO invokes “learning styles” (in part) as to why this is all okay.
“Backpack Makers Rethink a Student Staple.” Innovation!
Google has a new logo. It also wants to remind schools to
hand over their data use Google Docs and Google Classroom.
Via Nichole Dobo at The Hechinger Report: “Mind blown: Is a brain-wave reading, Gucci-designed headband coming to a classroom near you?” (No. No, it’s not. Because this is an example of “neurobollocks.” That is bullshit masking as neuroscience.)
Funding, Mergers, Acquisitions, and IPOs
Startup incubator 1776 has raised money for a $12.5 million seed fund “to fuel the social revolution,” says Edsurge.
DreamBox Learning has raised $10 million from Owl Ventures, Tao Capital Partners, Charter School Growth Fund, John Doerr, and GSV Capital. The “adaptive learning” startup has raised $45.6 million total.
NextLesson has raised $2.9 million in seed funding from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Bebo’s Michael Birch, Dropbox’s Drew Houston, Upwork’s Thomas Layton, Yahoo head Marissa Mayer, Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppelman, and Nextdoor’s Nirav Tolia. The company offers worksheets and lessons plans.
Online learning company ApprenNet has raised $1.8 million in funding from Martellus Holding, Jefferson Education Fund, the Education Design Studio, 1776, Abbhi Capital, Apollo Education Ventures, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Palm Ventures, and New Ground Ventures.
Spotlight Education has raised $250,000 in seed investment from anonymous investors. According to Edsurge, “Spotlight’s self-titled product aggregates data sources within a school to produce automated, customized and written reports for teachers, parents and students.”
McGraw-Hill Education plans to IPO, says Reuters, hoping to raise between $5 billion and $6 billion. Because textbooks.
Reuters also reports that HotChalk is in talks to raised some $75 million in funding.
CaseNEX and Longleaf Solutions, which describe themselves as “innovative leaders of data management and professional development solutions for the K–12 education market,” have merged, says their joint press release.
Data, Privacy, and School Surveillance
“Tools for Tailored Learning May Expose Students' Personal Details,” says NYT’s Natasha Singer.
According to the Future of Privacy Forum, 87% of parents are concerned about student data security.
Hey parents. Here’s a good place to start: “Keep Your Kid’s Info Safe: Opt Them Out of School Directory Information Sharing.”
Data and “Research”
Education Week’s Sarah Sparks looks at research on the length of commute to school based on family income. (Spoiler alert: “When You’re Poor or Homeless, It Can Be a Long Trip to School.”)
The Century Foundation has released a report cautioning against moves to expand federal aid eligibility to coding bootcamps.
According to SchoolDude (!), a company that tracks schools’ facility maintenance, “an estimated $330 million will be spent fixing a myriad of problems that arise in K–12 facilities” during the first two weeks of school.
According to a survey conducted by the University of Phoenix, “K–12 Teachers Use Social Media at Home, But Not in Class.”
Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond has unveiled her new education think tank, Learning Policy Institute, which falls under this sub-section because "research" and "evidence."
Via Vox: “Next time someone says students should work their way through college, show them this map.”
“Do Kids Actually Eat the Healthier School Lunch Option?” (And does that impact their long term health? The evidence is unclear, says The Pacific Standard.)
Via the School Library Journal: “The State of the School Ebook Market.”
This talk was delivered today at Emerson College
The title of this talk is “existing digitally,” and our goal is to prompt you to think more critically about your “data” and your digital identities and about the ways in which all of us increasingly perform our identities, do our work, play our play mediated through new technologies – computers, networks, mobile devices, electronica, digitalia, et cetera.
How does that adverb “digitally” change “existence”? Does it? How does it change what we do now that we do so much with and as “the digital.”
Those of us who are “creatives” find ourselves being told that our work in particular is set to be utterly transformed by new technologies – transformed for better and for worse. This transformation means in part there are so many issues we face now surrounding the distribution, display, security, storage, licensing, funding – control– of our work.
If technologies are shifting our industries – and certainly we’re told they are – then how should we, how must we respond – and respond not in the service of “industry needs” but in the service of our own needs.
What I often fear is that we don’t really know what our needs are – technologically at least. Indeed, I think we’ve shied away from figuring this out, in part because we’ve been convinced that technology is too hard, too complicated. We’ve surrendered too to the notion tech is necessarily intimidating – or conversely to the idea that tech “just works” – and that we needn’t interrogate, let alone master it. It’s “someone else’s job.”
“Someone else’s job” – perhaps, but that job is increasingly encroaching on our own work.
Now we are certainly able to “exist digitally” without knowing how the digital functions. But we might not be able to thrive.
I think the same could be said for the various industries in which, if you’re students here at Emerson, you’re probably poised to work. Film. TV. Music. Journalism. The performing arts. These are all industries that, in order to thrive and not simply exist, you have to understand how “the machine” works as well – and how it works is not just a matter of how the tools work, of course. How “the system” works. (And let’s be honest: If you’re Emerson faculty or staff, we can certainly say the same thing about the necessity of understanding how the industry of higher ed operates.)
One of the challenges of our historical moment is that we’re told that almost every industry is being “disrupted” by technology – “software is eating the world” is how one venture capitalist put it. So technology – this thing that we’ve been told we needn’t or shouldn’t fuss with (just buy. just “click”) – is going to “revolutionize” everything. “Trust us,” I guess this implies, that the tech industry’s version of “revolution” is going to be something we can survive.
Now, in some cases that “disruption” does mean new products, new production, new distribution channels, and the like. And I think it’s fairly easy to cite examples of how this has been a boon to many people who work in creative endeavors. But “disruption” as the tech industry touts it is actually a business school concept – it mostly means shifting power. Shifting power financially, politically as one big industry supposedly undermines another. “Disruption” is also, dare I say, a bullshit smokescreen to make us excited about this changing landscape. We’re supposed to cheer for the Mark Zuckerbergs and Travis Kalanicks of the world, even though, upon closer inspection, we notice that they’re still affluent white guys funded by investment dollars from even more affluent white guys. When Silicon Valley “disrupts” things, power and privilege don’t magically get re-distributed to all of us or even to new groups of people.
That re-distribution of power was, however, part of the original vision of the World Wide Web. We’re still told this tale: that the Web will enable the democratization of “content creation” – that we can all be publishers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, writers, photographers, stars. And maybe we can be.
We can exist as such. But can we thrive?
I don’t want to fetishize technology here or suggest that a deep understanding of tech itself is the lynchpin, that that’s what is required to thrive. I mean, if we look at the world around us, we can see that late stage capitalism plus technology equals economic precarity for almost all of us.
Now perhaps we creatives are already accustomed or expectant to living as such. But again, I want us to think: how does “the digital” change this? How does it change how we work, how we get paid, how we collaborate and communicate? How does it change who sees our work; how does it change who controls our work?
One of the projects that Kin and I work on – maybe “project” isn’t the right word. I’ll use one that dovetails nicely with his title “API Evangelist”… One of the missions that Kin and I share is to help people think through their use of digital technologies and ascertain how better they can take control of it for themselves. Now some of this does involve poking at the technology itself – learning how it works, recognizing what data and metadata it collects and who it shares that data with. It also involves poking at another, older field of knowledge, The Law – learning how copyright and licensing works, recognizing how it too does not distribute but often concentrates power.
“Data” sounds really clinical (to my ears at least), far removed from creativity, so I think it’s worth pointing out that everything we do via digital technology does involve “data.” The photos we take: data. The manuscript we write: data. The film we capture: data. And that data is layered with even more data. Where were you when you snapped the photo: geo-data. How long did it take you to write the manuscript: metadata. How many edits did you make. What kind of computer or camera did you use. What file format is it in. If you choose to use a different kind of computer or camera, can you actually access that manuscript or photo? Or is it in some proprietary format that requires you buy or license software in order to maintain access to your work.
It’s your work. It’s your data.
We need to learn to get better at asking questions so that we retain control over these.
One of the first things that I had to to do when I began freelance writing was to actually read the contracts that I signed. Did I retain copyright? That’s the obvious one. But also, what sorts of legal responsibilities does a contract make me shoulder, if say, I wrote something that prompted a lawsuit. I’m not an expert by any means in contract law. But I’ve had to figure some of this out. Control of my work depends on it.
Actually, one of the very first things that I had to learn to do when I began freelance writing was to figure out how to set up my own website. Kin and I had just started dating, and thanks to his assistance and his insistence, I bought the domain audreywatters.com. He helped me set up WordPress. A couple of months later, we purchased new domains, hackeducation.com and apievangelist.com – and the rest, as they say, is history.
I believe pretty strongly that everyone should own their own domain. It is one key way for you to better control your digital identity, particularly as a creative professional. Owning your own domain, having a website – this does not mean that you have to have a “blog.” Not everyone is a writer; not everyone wants to publish in their writing in a reverse chronological order on the Web. I get that. But you should still have your own domain. It can serve as a digital portfolio, showcasing the work you do. It can serve, to a certain extent, as the canonical “you” online. When people search for your name, they find your website – the one you’ve designed, the one you’ve decided what it looks like and what the content holds. They find that “you,” that particular performance of your digital identity. Sure, links to your Facebook profile, your LinkedIn page, your Twitter account, your Instagram account will all show up in the results too. But the top link is your domain.
Your domain. Your space on the Web. A space you can control.
Kin and I (and others, including the folks at University of Mary Washington and at a company called Reclaim Hosting) talk a lot about “reclaiming your domain.” “To reclaim” means to take back – to take back some of the tools, to take back the vision, to take back our content and data from industries that are exploiting us.
To “reclaim your domain” – that word “domain” can mean many things. “Domain” is a territory controlled by a state or government. It also means “home.” It means a space on the Internet, marked by a specific address and controlled by an individual or organization. “Domain” can refer to a specific sphere of knowledge. We say that someone has “domain expertise.”
You all have domain expertise. You’re here in school to hone that.
So it’s key, I’d argue, for you to be able to showcase that digitally on your own terms.
That does require picking up a bit of domain knowledge about how the Web works. But as I said at the beginning of this talk, we can’t really afford to not have some of the basic skills in this. It’s akin to knowing enough contract law to make sure you’re not being screwed over.
Having your own domain doesn’t have to be complicated. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be a blog. Kin and I are going to show you briefly how you can quickly set up a website for any project you’re working on. Think of this as an experiment, a playground in which you pick up the skills that are going to move you towards greater control of your digital existence. Think of it as the first step towards reclaiming your digital work, your digital identities. Think of it as an effort to not just exist but to thrive in a digital world.
Resources on Github
“The Washington Charter School Association has a $14 million fund from private donors set aside to keep the doors open this year at all charter schools in the state,” K5 reports. (Late last week, the state’s Supreme Court declared charters unconstitutional. Here’s why, according to education historian Sherman Dorn.)
In other presidential candidate news, via Politico: "Walker’s latest target: College professors.”
According to Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, the district is close to a $6 million settlement with Apple and Pearson over its botched iPad program.
A group in Tennessee are protesting Islam’s inclusion in the Common Core curriculum. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Education in the Courts
Via the Philadelphia Inquirer: “A former Bucks County high school teacher who was fired after profanely blogging about her ‘utterly loathsome’ and ‘frightfully dim’ students cannot sue the Central Bucks School District for violating her right to free speech, a federal appeals court ruled.”
The results of California’s test scores were released. “Among the poor news,” reports LA School Report, “was the continuation of a drastic achievement gap between the district's white students and its black and Latino students.” More via Edsurge.
“The Rebellion against Standardized Tests is Exploding,” The Nation claims.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Texas State University System on Thursday announced a Freshman Year for Free program in which students can earn a full year of credit through massive open online courses offered by edX and coordinated by a new nonprofit called the Modern States Education Alliance. The only costs to students would be either Advanced Placement or College Level Examination Program tests, which would be passed after completing various MOOCs. Appropriate scores would be required on the tests to receive credit from Texas State campuses.”
“Udacity, Coursera and edX Now Claim Over 24 Million Students,” claims Edsurge.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The University of Florida is discussing changes in its partnership with Pearson Embanet for running the university's online bachelor's-degree-granting arm, UF Online, including possible termination of the contract.”
Also via The Chronicle: “HBCUs Aren't Sold on Course Partnerships With U. of Phoenix.”
Via The Hechinger Report: “New online credential program aims to turn out 10,000 new teachers in the next five years.”
“Technology investors shared their insights at a National Education Association panel on investing in education,” says Education Dive, “calling MOOCs a mistake for institutional investment.”
Meanwhile on Campus
“At West Point, Annual Pillow Fight Becomes Weaponized,” The New York Times reports: “this year the fight on the West Point, N.Y., campus turned bloody as some cadets swung pillowcases packed with hard objects, thought to be helmets, that split lips, broke at least one bone, dislocated shoulders and knocked cadets unconscious. The brawl at the publicly funded academy, where many of the Army's top leaders are trained, left 30 cadets injured, including 24 with concussions, according to West Point.”
Students in the Pinellas County schools in Florida are now locked out of the district’s WiFi which is now available to teachers and administrators only.
Uber is giving Carnegie Mellon $5.5 million to sponsor a new faculty chair in robotics (this after poaching many of the professors in its robotics department).
Via The Gazette: “University of Iowa Faculty Senate votes ‘no confidence’ in Board of Regents.” This comes on the heels of the board’s decision to hire businessman J. Bruce Harreld as the university’s new president.
Via Buzzfeed: “How A College You've Never Heard Of Became A Grad School Giant” (wherein “giant” means its students have taken out a gigantic amount of student loan debt.)
Richmond Community College in North Carolina will offer free tuition to high school students in the area: “The program, dubbed RichmondCC Guarantee, promises two free years of college for students of public, private and home schools who have at least a 3.0 grade-point average and two college courses under their belts.”
Divestment continues: “The University of California Just Sold Off $200 Million in Fossil Fuel Investments,” says Mother Jones.
Via ProPublica: “First Library to Support Anonymous Internet Browsing Effort Stops After DHS Email.” The Kilton Public Library in New Hampshire was using Tor, but police have pressured the library to stop.
Go, School Sports Team!
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The faculty union at Rutgers University on Wednesday urged the university to investigate whether its football coach, Kyle Flood, intimidated and bullied instructors while communicating with them about the grades of football players.”
From the HR Department
The University of Minnesota CIO has resigned because he says he’s training for an Ironman race. Sounds legit.
It’s a double win for DTLT: Lee Skallerup Bessette has been hired as instructional technology specialist.
Harvard University President Drew Faust opposes grad student unionization efforts, according to The Harvard Crimson.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Apple had one of its regularly-scheduled media hoopla thingies this week, so cue these sorts of headlines about the coming ed-tech revolution: “6 Reasons Why The iPad Pro Might Be A 1:1 Program Game Changer.”
Educators in Australia say Pearson is profiting from a conflict of interest as it provides the country both the textbooks and the tests. Hmm. Sounds familiar…
Via Inside Higher Ed: “A Textbook Market Strategy That Moves Beyond Professors.” Direct sales to students. Good luck with that.
“Why Moodle Matters,” according to MindWire Consulting’s Phil Hill.
Via Venture Beat: “Uber taps Duolingo to let riders request English-speaking drivers, kicking off in Colombia.”
“Intel to End Sponsorship of Science Talent Search,” The New York Times reports.
Funding and Acquisitions
Ugh. “In exchange for $725 million, the National Geographic Society passed the troubled magazine and its book, map and other media assets to a partnership headed by 21st Century Fox, the Murdoch-controlled company that owns the 20th Century Fox movie studio, the Fox television network and Fox News Channel.” So much for that 125+ year old institution. More via Buzzfeed.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Graham Holdings Company, which controls Kaplan Inc., announced Friday that the sale of its Kaplan Higher Education campuses to Education Corporation of America was completed Thursday, according to a corporate filing. ECA is a for-profit chain that announced in February it would purchase all 38 of the nationally accredited Kaplan campuses and related assets. Kaplan will continue to operate Kaplan University and eight professional schools.”
“Baidu, China’s largest search engine and an investor in Uber, is giving its Zuoyebang 'after school' service, which helps school students with their studies, wings of its own after it revealed that the business raised an undisclosed Series A funding round,” Techcrunch reports. The investment comes from Sequoia China and Legend Capital.
Planet3 has raised $10 million from data center company Switch.
Indian online test-prep company Online Tyari has raised $750,000 from 500 Startups, Aloke Bajpai, Tandem Capital, Mohnadas Pai, and Vikram Chachra.
The charter school chain KIPP has received a $4 million donation– the largest in its history – from Playtex CEO Joel Smilow.
The English language tutoring company Langrich has been acquired by EnglishCentral.
Data Breaches, Hacks, Privacy, and Surveillance
“Cal State data breach hits nearly 80,000 students,” The LA Times reports. “The Cal State system had hired the vendor We End Violence to provide the noncredit class on sexual harassment, which is required of all students under state law. Students who took the training with that company had their data hacked.”
Via Techcrunch: “The American Library Association Lost Control Of Their Facebook Page This Weekend.”
Bill Fitzgerald on the privacy implications of Facebook’s efforts to build ed-tech software for a charter school chain.
Data and “Research”
According to research from the Brookings Institution, “The spike in student loan defaults over the last decade has been fueled by students attending for-profit colleges and, to a lesser degree, community colleges, according to a new analysis of millions of federal student loan records.” More via Buzzfeed and Vox.
“Does Edtech Hurt – or Help – Those Most in Need?” asks Edsurge. (Spoiler alert… nevermind. I bet you can guess how this question gets answered.)
A report by iNACOL says that online credit recovery programs, which help students make up high school credits (and help schools maintain their graduation rates) are “in need of improvement.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Eduventures, a Boston-based higher education research firm, estimates the market [for online program management] is worth $1.1 billion.”
The American Institutes for Research will partner with UVA’s ed-tech accelerator to help research “what works” in ed-tech (or at least in the startup’s that UVA’s accelerator is investing in).
The latest Pew Research: “A Look at What the Public Knows and Does Not Know About Science.”
Via The Atlantic: “America’s Teaching Force, by the Numbers.”
Via the US Census: back-to-school factoids.
Via Edsurge: “Which US States Are Most 'Future Ready' For Digital Learning?” (Wherein being “Future Ready” means signing a pledge. Cool story, bro.)
“Parents Spending Less on Back-to-School Season Despite Growing Lists of Supplies,” The New York Times reports, based on data from the National Retail Federation.
Via Education Week: “Chromebooks Command Close to Half of K–12 Computing Market, Analyst Says.”
Bryan Alexander says that “Most campuses still refuse to recognize faculty using technology.” His observation is based on “a new EDUCAUSE Review article by Kenneth Green, looking back at years of work carried out by his Campus Computing Project.”
“US education is a $1.5 trillion industry and growing at 5 percent annually,” says McKinsey.
“Teachers aren’t dumb.” A NYT op-ed. So there's that, I guess.
The OECD released a “first-of-its-kind” report earlier this week on computers and education, eliciting – as all of its PISA-related reports tend to do – precisely the responses you’d suspect: a lot of “schools are doing it wrong.”
There’s always a fair amount of handwringing about PISA scores, as though the performance of a country’s 15 year-olds on this assessment is indicative of – or hell, the final word on – the strength or weakness of its school system. The interpretation of PISA scores tends to suffer from confirmation bias, simply affirming pre-existing beliefs about education policies and practices. And of course, PISA scores also provide the media with an opportunity to craft scary headlines about an impending doom of dumb.
In some ways, this week’s report on computers’ effect on learning (or rather, their effect on PISA test scores) is no different, even though it targets a core of modern education mythology: that more technology is more better. There’s the predictable Nicholas Carr-ish response– “see? the Internet is making us dumber”; and there’s the predictable response from ed-tech industry boosters as well, that “it’s not technology’s fault; schools just don’t know how to use tech correctly.”
And then there’s the clickbait – a sample of the headlines:
From The Irish Times: “Lack of computers in schools may be a blessing - OECD report”
From the BBC: “Computers ‘do not improve’ pupil results, says OECD”
From The Register: “Don’t bother buying computers for schools, says OECD report”
From CNBC: “Schools wasting money on computers for kids: OECD”
From The Age: “Are iPads in schools a waste of money? OECD report says yes”
From Bloomberg: “Computers Look Like an Obstacle to Learning”
The OECD report is – no surprise weighing in at 200+ pages – a lot more nuanced than these headlines give credit. But its conclusions are, nonetheless, pretty stark:
…Even where computers are used in the classroom, their impact on student performance is mixed at best. Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.
The results also show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics, or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. And perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
Indeed, technology might actually make things worse, particularly for disadvantaged students, in part because of the type of tech and how it’s used in their classrooms. The OECD report found, for example, that “drilling” software has a negative effect on performance (that is, to be clear again, performance on the PISA). And yet this type of software, and more broadly computer-based math instruction, is much more commonly used for disadvantaged students.
Much of the press coverage of the OECD’s report latched on to the finding that “overexposure” to technology leads to poor academic performance (as well as to lower levels of well-being). But again, it’s worth asking what that technology usage actually involves. What are students doing when they’re “using computers” in the classroom? Are they“using computers” or is it, rather, that their teachers are? That phrase – “using computers in the classroom” – can mean a lot of things after all. “Using computers” how and “using computers” to what end – that is, what are the goals of increasing the amount of tech in the classroom? (A recent Education Week headline might give us a clue: “Chromebooks’ Rise in U.S. K–12 Schools Fueled by Online Testing.” Simply put: is increased tech usage a reflection of increased testing?)
“One interpretation of these findings,” the report’s executive summary reads, “is that it takes educators time and effort to learn how to use technology in education while staying firmly focused on student learning.” Yes, that is one interpretation, one that fits neatly into a narrative that teachers and schools have failed to “innovate.” But rather than allow the burden of addressing ed-tech’s “effectiveness” to be shifted to educators, let’s ask too why so much of ed-tech remains crap – exploitative and punitive crap that is well-funded by venture capitalists and heavily promoted by ed-tech enthusiasts, I might add. Ed-tech that, as this OECD report suggests, likely makes things worse. We cannot shrug and say “it’s not the technology’s fault.” Because what if it is?
“We expect schools to educate our children to become critical consumers of Internet services and electronic media,” the OECD report says, “helping them to make informed choices and avoid harmful behaviours.” But I think expecting schools to educate children to become consumers is a flawed approach to technology from the very start. (It’s one that surely enriches the ed-tech industry, who by all accounts are the ones most clearly benefitting from widespread adoption of tech in the classroom.) This is a flawed approach to education too, I’d argue – this notion that knowledge is something delivered either by teacher or machine and in turn consumed by students. If there is any agency in this equation at all, it’s the agency to buy, not the agency to build. Most ed-tech has done very little to support students’ agency as creators – not just as creators with digital technology but creators of digital technology.
But the same can be said, unfortunately, for most classrooms, with or without computers. Students are objects in the education system, shaped and molded by institutional and societal expectations. Framing students as “consumers” posits that the only place they gain subject status is when we reduce “learning” to a transaction – and in particular to an exchange of money or, increasingly, of personal data. And if that is the framework guiding ed-tech (its present and its future), it should be no surprise that the results will be profoundly unjust.
To its credit, the OECD report does make the following policy recommendation: “Improve equity in education first.”
In most countries, differences in computer access between advantaged and disadvantaged students shrank between 2009 and 2012; in no country did the gap widen. But results from the PISA computer-based tests show that once the so-called “first digital divide” (access to computers) is bridged, the remaining difference, between socio-economic groups, in the ability to use ICT tools for learning is largely, if not entirely, explained by the difference observed in more traditional academic abilities. So to reduce inequalities in the ability to benefit from digital tools, countries need to improve equity in education first. Ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics will do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services. (emphasis added)
It’s easy to dismiss the OECD report because it draws so heavily on the PISA framework – although no doubt that’s a good reason to be critical of “what counts” here as “learning outcomes.” And surely there are benefits to computers beyond what PISA can measure. But can we articulate what those are? And can we articulate what those are without using meaningless cliches like “innovation” and “collaboration” and “future ready”?
I confess, I’ve grown pretty tired of the response that “we must” use tech. It’s a surrender, too often and again, to this idea that we are required to interact, to connect, to think deeply through the confines of a certain kind of technology, of a certain kind of economic and social and institutional arrangement – as consumers of tech, and as the product itself.
Despite the insistence that digital technologies are “the future” and as such must be incorporated somehow into the classroom, “the future” remains an unknown. We cannot say with any certainty that “the future” will include any of the technologies that we use today. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, we might not have “Google” or “YouTube” or “Blackboard” or even “the World Wide Web” – we certainly will not in their current form. There is no inevitability to technology nor to the direction that “technological progress” might take.
And education technology in and of itself is surely not progressive.
I expect they will have more to say tomorrow, but Ahmed's sister asked me to share this photo. A NASA shirt! pic.twitter.com/nR4gt992gB— Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
Jared Keller on Ahmed Mohamed's experiences and “The Criminalization of the American Schoolyard”:
The simple facts of the case surrounding the 14-year-old student’s arrest are infuriating. [Ahmed] Mohamed, a ninth-grader at Irving MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, loved to tinker with electronics. One evening, he built a clock from circuit boards and wiring, which he stashed in a pencil case. On Tuesday, he showed his creation to his teachers. His engineering instructor praised the design; the English teacher thought it was a bomb. Mohamed was handcuffed by police officers and interrogated for hours. No charges were filed.
The outpouring of support for Ahmed Mohamed was truly wonderful to see. But I think it's important that we call out the injustice of the school-to-prison pipeline as it affects all students, particularly students of color, not just those students who are science whizzes.
The Obama Administration announced that it’s making a change to FAFSA, starting in the fall of next year. Applicants will be asked to provide the prior prior year’s tax information, rather than the prior year’s.
The Obama Administration also unveiled its new “college scorecard.” I’ve put the round-up of responses below under “Data and ‘Research’.”
Seattle teachers have reached a tentative agreement with their school district, NPR reports, ending their week-long strike.
Manitoba announced an Open Textbook Initiative, that will create a library of free and openly licensed textbooks for the province’s most highly enrolled college classes.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a ten-year deadline for all schools in the city to offer computer science (although CS won’t be a graduation requirement). Zeynep Tufekci’s response: “How de Blasio Should Expand Computer Science Education (Hint: Don't Arrest Ninth Graders Showing the Way).”
Inside Higher Ed looks at coding boot camps, including General Assembly, which have gone through various state regulatory approval processes.
Education in the Courts
A federal appeals court has ruled that copyright holders must consider fair use before sending DMCA takedown notices.
Cornell College and Rivier University announced they are dropping the ACT/SAT requirements for admissions. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai will, however, be required to take the SAT if she applies to Stanford.
Via The New York Times: “New York Will Trim Common Core Exams After Many Students Skipped Them.”
“California charter school scores dive,” the San Jose Mercury News reports.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Groundbreaking discovery from MOOC researchers: “In Online Courses, Students Learn More by Doing Than by Watching.” Wow. Who’d have thunk it.
“Udacity Says It Can Teach Tech Skills to Millions, and Fast.” The latest argument for the MOOC revolution: “upskilling.”
Coursera has three new partners: Tomsk State University, National Research Nuclear University, and Novosibirsk State University.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “EVersity, the University of Arkansas System’s fully online institution that launched last week, now has its first applicants and a ‘preferred content provider’ in Cengage Learning.”
Yale is moving forward with its online physician assistant program, which it had to pause earlier this year due to accreditation issues.
Meanwhile on Campus
“The entire Japanese public university system attempts a massive queen sacrifice,” writes Bryan Alexander. The education minister has called on colleges there to scrap all social science and humanities departments.
Harvard’s Spee Club will admit women and its Hasty Pudding Theatricals will allow women to perform on stage. Wow, the innovation.
Delta State University assistant professor Ethan Schmidt was shot and killed by another professor.
The Kilton Public Library in New Hampshire has voted to continue to support the Tor network. (Tor makes Internet browsing anonymous.) The Department of Homeland Security and local police had warned the library that running the relay would facilitate crime.
AltSchool, a private school startup, says it plans to expand to Manhattan next year.
Did you really read the syllabus? A test.
Go, School Sports Team!
Via The New York Times: “High School Football Inc” – a look at private, for-profit schools that focus on sports.
The NCAA is considering loosening the rule that prevents student athletes from using their name and likeness to make money.
From the HR Department
The Department of Education’s Office of Ed-Tech has hired Andy Marcinek to be “the first ever open education adviser to lead a national effort to expand schools’ access to high-quality, openly-licensed learning resources.”
Via WaPo: “The number of black public school teachers in nine cities - including the country's three largest school districts - dropped between 2002 and 2012, raising questions about whether those school systems are doing enough to maintain a diverse teaching corps,” according to research from the Albert Shanker Institute.
Walter Isaacson has apparently turned down the job as the new Librarian of Congress.
Desmos continues to hire super smart math folks – this time, Christopher Danielson.
Stanford Business School dean Garth Saloner is stepping down. Quartz details the drama.
Houston Independent School District superintendent Terry Grier announced his resignation.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Librarian David Lee King writes about his experiences with the learn-to-code startup Treehouse, which has changed how its subscription model works. His library has a subscription, but the startup apparently emailed patrons that they’d need to pay too. I don’t say this often, but read the comments.
Target plans to end its Take Charge of Education program, which gives a small percentage of purchases to schools.
Starting soon: you can buy a .college domain for all your edupreneurial needs. There’s no requirement you be an actual college! Whee!
Funding and Acquisitions
Microsoft announced that it will give $75 million to non-profits that promote computer science education.
Laurene Powell Jobs’s venture philanthropy organization, the Emerson Collective, is running a campaign called the XQ: The Super School Project– an attempt to get folks to “rethink high school.” 5 of the “best” ideas will receive a share of the $50 million Jobs has earmarked for the project. (Other edu-related investments of the Emerson Collective include AltSchool to give you an idea what its notion of “best ideas” might look like.)
LearnUp has raised $8 million from Shasta Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Floodgate, Greylock Partners, and High Line Venture Partners. The startup, which has raised $9.9 million total, is a job-training platform to place people in entry-level jobs.
Test prep company CL Educate has acquired a 51% stake in Accendere, Business Standard reports.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Gawker on “exam-time spyware software” ProctorTrack: “Students Wonder When Creepy-As Hell App That Watches Them During Exams Plans on Deleting Their Data.” (The answer: once the media picks up on the story.)
Via pogowasright.org: “Is Google’s signing of the Student Privacy Pledge meaningful at all?” (Trick question. Is any company’s?)
Via the LA School Report: “While LA Unified may still be struggling to integrate its iPads and other digital devices into the classroom, its police department has found a few useful things to do with theirs.” (That is, monitoring schools for “vulnerabilities.”)
Via Bill Fitzgerald: “MySchoolBucks, or Getting Lunch with a Side of Targeted Advertising.”
Data and “Research”
Many thoughts on the new “College Scorecard”: The news, as reported by Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vox. And the analysis: Via Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill: “17% Of Community Colleges Are Not Included In College Scorecard” and “College Scorecard Problem Gets Worse: One in three associate's degree institutions are not included.” “What Actual High Schoolers Think of the New College Scorecard.” Actual high schoolers! The head of the University of Phoenix is unhappy with what the scorecard says about his school. Shocking. The best advice, no surprise, comes from UW education professor Sara Goldrick-Rab: “College Scorecard: For Analysis Not Action.”
The New York Times has released its own dataset, “The College Access Index,” which purports to measure economic diversity at universities.
Via NPR, a look at research on computer science and early childhood education.
From Mathematica Policy Research: “Understanding the Effect of KIPP as it Scales.”
The latest from Pew Research Center on “Libraries at the Crossroads.”
“Disruptive innovation” is a myth. Pretty sure I’ve said that before. But hey, who’s keeping track. And now there’s an academic paper that backs up our call that applying the phrase to everything under the sun is mostly bullshit: “Disruption is real but rare, King and Baatartogtokh conclude, which suggests that it’s at best a marginally useful explanation of how innovation happens.”
The LA Times’ Howard Blume broke a story this week about the Broad Foundation’s “ambitious $490-million plan to place half of the city’s students into charter schools over the next eight years, a controversial gambit that backers hope will serve as a catalyst for the rest of the nation.”
The document cites numerous foundations and individuals who could be tapped for funding. In addition to the Broad Foundation, the list includes the Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett foundations. Among the billionaires cited as potential donors are Stewart and Lynda Resnick, major producers of mandarin oranges, pistachios and pomegranates; Irvine Co. head Donald Bren; entertainment mogul David Geffen; and Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk.
“Who’s Funding Kevin Johnson’s Secret Government?” asks Deadspin. The former NBA star, now mayor of Sacramento, California and husband to former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, is “just the sort of politician a lot of people want to believe, and a lot of people have done so.” Johnson has weathered several scandals. The latest “involves the mayor replacing civil servants with private citizens funded by the Wal-Mart empire and tasked with the twin purposes of working to abolish public education and bring in piles of cash for Kevin Johnson.” (The latest latest: “‘I’m A Grown-Up Now’: The Teen Who Accused Kevin Johnson Of Sexual Abuse Speaks Out.”)
PopeWatch 2015 (which has prompted a lot of coverage this week about Catholic education in the US).
The Department of Education also announced it had reached an agreement with the University of Virginia after an investigation into its responses to sexual violence on campus. UVA was found to have filed to comply with Title IX.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has criticized presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ college plan. Hers, she boasted, would make low-income students work for aid – "skin in the game" or something. And echoes of the punitive “welfare reform” of her husband.
Florida has closed its investigation into the DDOS attack that shut down its online testing system earlier this year. It found no motive and no leads. More via Education Week.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Students in MOOCs self-report MOOCs work. 87% said they felt MOOCs benefited their career. (Just 33% said there were tangible career benefits.) 88% said there were educational benefits. (Just 18% said there were tangible educational benefits.) The study, based on 52K Coursera students, is framed by Coursera thusly: “Coursera Study Shows Positive Career and Educational Outcomes for Learners.” Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “What the Results of a Survey of Coursera Students Mean for Online Learning.”
Via Bryan Alexander: “More humanities seminars online, and they’re not MOOCs.”
Via Jonathan Rees: “How do you build a respectable all-online US History survey class?, Part I.”
Fortune is teaming up with Cornell University for an online business certificate. Sounds legit – certainly as legit as the partnership between Wired and USC and Forbes and Ashford University.
Via Politico: “Virtual schools are booming. Who’s paying attention?”
“Why My Kids Finished Their MOOC – When Most Adults Don’t,” charter school investor Alex Hernandez writes in Edsurge.
Meanwhile on Campus
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Nearly one-quarter of female undergraduate students who responded to a survey created by the Association of American Universities said they have experienced a sexual assault of some kind since enrolling in college.”
Venture-capital backed, ed-tech-as-surveillance-but-we’ll-call-it-personalization private school AltSchool plans to expand to Chicago. Great quote by founder and former Googler Max Ventilla: “Personalized education does not mean kids just doing what they want. In fact, quite the opposite.”
"Introduction to Computing and Programming" is now the most popular course in Yale College. The materials and lectures mostly come from Harvard’s class of the same name, just with a Yale TA.
Via The Seattle Times: “Seattle School Board halts suspensions for elementary students” (who commit certain non-violent offenses).
Meanwhile in Utah: “Native American 2nd grader kicked out of class for traditional Mohawk haircut.”
Marquette University has rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree.
From the HR Department
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The newly appointed University of Iowa president, J. Bruce Harreld, met in private with several members of the state’s Board of Regents in July, the day before the application deadline for the position, according to emails The Chronicle has obtained through an open-records request.”
Trustees at the State College of Florida have “ voted to end the continuous contract system and initiate one-year contracts for all newly hired faculty members,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Via The Atlantic: “The College President-to-Adjunct Pay Ratio.”
ISTE has named Jim Flanagan its new chief learning officer. Flanagan was previously the National Director of Sales at Amplify, News Corp's failed ed-tech business.
Upgrades and Downgrades
The University of Maryland University College will spin out into a startup its data analytics platform, to be called HelioCampus. MindWire Consulting’s Phil Hill says “it is part of a growing trend for universities to act as ed-tech startup.” I’m not sure this is really a new thing, however as the history of ed-tech is full of these endeavors. TurnItIn. Computer Curriculum Corporation. PLATO. Carnegie Learning. WebCT. And on and on and on.
Via Education Week: “A technology company called Shindig is challenging school districts and other education entities to be the first to deliver 1 million hours of online professional development to teachers on the company’s platform, and win $100,000 for their organization.”
The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at a new feature on Academia.edu that lets researchers post papers “in progress” and solicit feedback from others.
LittleBits launches littleBits Education, “a new line of educational products aimed at bringing its child-friendly modular electronics components to schools and libraries,” says Education Week, which wonders “Are 1-to–1 ‘Maker Space’ Tools the Next K–12 Trend?” Here’s the trend I’d identify: “making” being co-opted by other ed policy pushes. eg. “Building Connections Between Maker Ed and Standards” – sponsored content from littleBits on Edsurge.
Edsurge profiles Camelback Ventures, an incubator that “caters to entrepreneurs of color and women.”
The New York Times profiles Clever, a startup that helps schools move student data to the various software they utilize.
The winner of the latest Google Science Fair: 16-year-old Oliva Hallisey who created a cheap test for Ebola.
Edsurge notes that the NHL is creating a STEM-themed online course on the topic of hockey, run by the ed-tech company EverFi. The least diverse of the big four professional sports? Should be great for increasing diversity in STEM!
Print is not dead. And The New York Times is on it.
Funding and Acquisitions
Tutoring company TAL Education has acquired tutoring company FirstLeap. Terms were not disclosed.
Gutenberg Technology has acquired Neodemia. The former is an educational publishing tool; the latter helps university create MOOCs. Terms were not disclosed.
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
The industry-backed Future of Privacy Forum released the results (PDF) of a survey it conducted, asking parents their thoughts on tech, data, and privacy. Here’s how Edsurge framed the results: “New Survey Shows That Parents Support Using Data in Schools – But Don’t Understand Laws.” I don't understand many things about this survey, but there you go...
“Sensitive personal information about millions of students is at risk because British Columbia’s Ministry of Education has misplaced a hard drive containing documents that were stored without a fundamental safety measure: data encryption,” The Globe and Mail reports. “The serious security breach includes student records detailing not just exam results but in some cases custody orders and files documenting substance abuse and mental-health issues.” This doesn’t just raise questions about the security of student data, but should also prompt us to ask why does the Ministry of Education collect all this information in the first place.
The data of 3000 students at Central New Mexico Community College has been compromised.
“A child monitoring phone app funded by the South Korean government has major security flaws,” the BBC reports.
Data and “Research”
Lots of questions about this “research” on what Wisconsin professors think about tenure.
“Most Widely Known Online Educational Resources Not Most Effective, According to OpenEd Analysis of Data From 200,000 Teachers,” says the press release. (Lots of questions about the methodology here.)
A study to be published in CBE - Life Science Education has found that the flipped classroom (that is, videotaped lectures as homework and more hands-on activities in class) is beneficial for women and students with low grades.
Via The New York Times: “Education Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Growing Wider.”
Via Education Week: “Preschool participation among 4-year-olds nationwide is higher than typically thought, and so universal preschool expansion efforts are misguided, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis.”
A Pearson-solicited poll has found that college students prefer laptops to tablets. Nonetheless, as Campus Technology highlights, “83 percent of all college students said they believe tablets will transform the way students learn in the future.” LOL okay. The poll also found that K–12 students are using tablets more (80% of elementary students, 70% of middle school students, and almost 50% of high school students). Here’s the broken link to the survey results.
Via The New York Times: “An artificial intelligence software program capable of seeing and reading has for the first time answered geometry questions from the SAT at the level of an average 11th grader.”
From Deans for Impact, a summary of cognitive science research – or what some peddle as the “science of learning.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Faculty Members See Promise in Unified Way to Measure Student Learning.” One test to measure it all. Mmmhmmm.
“Imagine if schoolteachers and college professors were immediately able to identify how each of their students learns, what learning style works best for each child and what new topics he or she is struggling with.” IMAGINE IF ED-TECH JOURNALISTS ASKED CRITICAL QUESTIONS AND DIDN’T JUST RE-WRITE PR.
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he will step down in December. (President Obama will reportedly nominate John King as his replacement.)
Earlier in the week, Duncan proposed a “prison-to-school pipeline,” reducing the number of people incarcerated for non-violent crimes and using the money saved for pay raises for teachers in high poverty schools.
The Department of Education will give $157 million to create new charter schools, “despite criticisms by its inspector general in the past that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing federal dollars sent to charter schools.” (Meanwhile, “Why Don’t Suburbanites Want Charter Schools?”)
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Congress Lets Perkins Loan Program Lapse.”
Via Education Week: “Wyoming could become one of the first states to institute broad protections for students unwilling to give school officials access to their social media accounts. The proposal, which made its way through the state Task Force on Digital Information Privacy, now sits before the state’s joint education committee.”
“The surprising things Seattle teachers won for students by striking”: a guarantee of a daily, 30 minute recess for all elementary school students.
Education in the Courts
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s opinion that National Collegiate Athletic Association rules to limit what college athletes can be paid violate antitrust laws. But the appeals court also tossed out a federal judge's requirement that the NCAA allow athletes to receive deferred compensation of up to $5,000 per year.” More on the decision via The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times.
A federal judge has ruled that “students who experience traumatic events while growing up in poor, turbulent neighborhoods could be considered disabled,” NPR reports. The ruling comes as part of a class action lawsuit against the Compton School District. (The judge also denied the plaintiffs’ request for class action status.)
“Seattle will take several steps to make the ed-tech used in its schools accessible to blind students, faculty, and parents, in the settlement of a lawsuit brought against the district by Noel Nightingale and her co-plaintiff, the National Federation of the Blind,” reports Education Week. A statement from the National Federation:
This landmark agreement with the Seattle Public Schools should serve as a model for the nation and should put school districts on notice that we can no longer wait to have equal education for blind students and to have access to information, use of school services, and full participation in school activities by blind faculty, personnel, and parents
Via the Southern Poverty Law Center: “A federal judge in Alabama has found that the Birmingham Police Department violated the constitutional rights of students in public schools by using pepper spray to deal with minor discipline problems and by failing to ensure that children were decontaminated afterward.”
The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed the expulsion of Navid Yeasin, a University of Kansas student expelled for tweets he made about his ex-girlfriend.
Via The Oregonian: “A federal jury awarded a former University of Oregon public safety officer $755,000 Friday after finding that UO Police Chief Carolyn McDermed and a top lieutenant retaliated against the young officer for blowing the whistle on department wrongdoing.” (For those unfamiliar with this case, this involves the campus police department’s “extensive ‘eat a bowl of dicks’ list." Go Ducks.
A federal judge tossed out a lawsuit – Bain v California Teachers Association– a lawsuit backed by the ed reform group StudentsFirst, that would have hindered teachers’ unions from raising money for political activities.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “A Year After Starbucks Offered Tuition Discounts at Arizona State, Who's Enrolling?” Spoiler alert: about 3700 employees, far fewer than the enrollment projects of 15,000.
Meanwhile on Campus
The LA Times’ Joy Resmovits looks at the student loan default rates at Umpqua CC, some of the highest in the country, noting that “The grief on the campus in light of Thursday’s violence puts added pressure on a college where resources are slim and the kind of counseling available to students in wealthier schools is harder to come by.”
“Admissions Revolution,” reads the Inside Higher Ed headline. The change involves a push, by some 80 colleges and universities, for a portfolio platform for high schoolers to begin to showcase their work. It also marks a move away from the Common Application.
Lots of publications wrote about the London Acorn School this week. The school bans media and technology – at school and at home. The Guardian. Quartz. The Telegraph. No technology but great marketing, I guess.
Brown University has rescinded the honorary degree it gave Bill Cosby.
Go, School Sports Team!
The NCAA has suspended Southern Methodist University’s men’s basketball coach for nine games and banned the team from postseason play.
Via The New York Times: “As Worries Rise and Players Flee, a Missouri School Board Cuts Football.”
Upgrades and Downgrades
The end of an era: OCLC has printed its last library catalog card.
Via Fortune: “Here’s why MakerBot is putting 3D printers in schools.”
“Google Virtual-Reality System Aims to Enliven Education,” says The New York Times. Educational videos, but on your face. Pretty enlivening, man.
Via Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez: “YouTube Addresses Complaints About Inappropriate Content In Updated YouTube Kids App.”
Via Education Week: “Teach to One, Ed Tech Instruction Model, Grows to 28 Schools Nationwide.”
Newegg is entering the textbook market, says The Digital Reader. (Wow, Newegg is still around?!)
Funding and Acquisitions
News Corp has sold its education division Amplify to Amplify’s management team including Joel Klein. Terms of the deal were not disclosed (but I bet it was less than the $360 million that News Corp spent to buy Wireless Generation back in 2010). Earlier in the week Amplify fired about 40% of its staff.
A record-setting round of funding for Social Finance: $1 billion. The company specializes in refinancing student loans and was already the largest investment in ed-tech of the year, having raised $200 million in January. This round was led by Soft Bank and brings the total raised by SoFi to $1.77 billion.
General Assembly has raised $70 million from Advance Publications, Wellington Capital Management LLP, IVP, Learn Capital, Maveron, Rethink Education, WTI, and others. The startup, which offers on- and offline courses in tech and entrepreneurship, has raised $119.5 million total.
Math software maker Origo has raised $11.2 million from Blue Sky Funds.
Online tutoring company Savvy has raised $1.7 million in seed funding from Partech Ventures, LearnCapital, Fresco Capital, and Metatron Worldwide.
Coding school Hack Reactor has reorganized – its new name for its umbrella company, Hack Reactor Core – and has acquired iOS bootcamp Mobile Makers Academy.
Principled Technologies has acquired Weejee Learning.
College Raptor and PowerSchool have merged.
Investment analysis from CB Insights (“Seed-Stage Ed Tech Startups Are Moving More Slowly To Their Series A Rounds”) and from Matt Candler (“The 3 stages of education investing we’re ignoring”).
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via Education Week: “Microsoft’s Windows 10 Scrutinized for Privacy Controls.”
Via ComputerWorld: “Lenovo collects usage data on ThinkPad, ThinkCentre and ThinkStation PCs.”
Data and “Research”
“Closure rates of small colleges and universities will triple in the coming years, and mergers will double,” Inside Higher Ed reports. “Those are the predictions of a Moody’s Investor Service report released Friday that highlights a persistent inability among small colleges to increase revenue, which could lead as many as 15 institutions a year to shut their doors for good by 2017.”
The latest from the Pew Research Center: “Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships.”
The student loan default rate has dropped to 11.8%. (The default rate for those who take out loans for community college is at 20.6%.)
Via Ars Technica: “Study: Racially charged hate crimes go up as broadband expands.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Just half of college alumni ‘strongly agree’ that their education was worth what they paid for it, according to the newest data from an ongoing Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates.”
Via NPR: “Admitting Dropouts Were Miscounted, Chicago Lowers Graduation Rates.” I’m sure now that Arne Duncan is heading back to Chicago, things’ll be grrrrrreat.
Highly recommended: tweet something trollish before you get on a plane for 10+ hours. (e.g. this tweet.) How many people will take advantage of your Internet silence to mansplain ed-tech to you?
Anyway, Mattel has a new View-Master that uses Google Cardboard. The history of the future of toys, or something. That Google Cardboard = View-Master should perhaps maybe possibly give you pause about how AMAZING Google Cardboard is. But nope. Hype and revolution. Same as it ever was…
Next person who tells me Google Cardboard is innovative gets punched in the view master http://t.co/AmnA7rbPkp— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) October 2, 2015
See, here’s the thing. I realize that Mattel’s new View-Master is appealing for the sake of nostalgia. My grandparents had an early stereoscope at their house, and it was always one of my favorite toys – the slides were fascinating because, unlike the content of the classic red View-Master I had myself, these were not full-color images of Disneyland or Disney movies. They were black-and-white scenes from from the early 1900s – I was utterly fascinated by the furniture, the costumes, the poses.
I suppose I spent a fair number of hours with one or other of these pressed to my face. But I would never call the View-Master “VR.” Yes, there’s a distortion that makes the images appear to be three-dimensional. But I’ve always imagined that “VR” meant a more immersive experience than that. The emphasis, if you will, should be on the “reality” not simply on the “virtual.”
Seriously, can you imagine if a teacher said “my students looked at pictures of Verona through the View-Master and now they have a better understanding of Romeo and Juliet”? We’d scoff, wouldn’t we? Yet that’s precisely the crap I’m hearing about Google Cardboard.
Oh, I realize that Google Cardboard seems to have impressed a lot of folks in ed-tech. But that’s a low bar. Look at Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets, for example: their big selling point – besides being free – is that they don’t have all the bells and whistles of the more bloated Microsoft Office. It’s “minimum viable productivity software.” Looks at the Google Chromebook. It’s a “minimum viable laptop.” (Let's pause and consider here what we really mean by "viable" - what gets lost.)
Similarly, you could call Google Cardboard “minimum viable virtual reality.” Here are the necessary components, which Google boasts you can assemble yourself for about $20: a piece of cardboard, 45 mm focal length lenses, magnets, Velcro, a rubber band, an optional NFC tag, and an Android phone.
The “virtual reality” offered by Google Cardboard comes via the display of a smartphone phone, distorted by those 45 mm lenses. The “virtual reality” offered by Google Expeditions, the special field trip lessons created by Google, are “panoramas,” according to the Google blog: “360° photo spheres, 3D images and video, ambient sounds – annotated with details, points of interest, and questions that make them easy to integrate into curriculum already used in schools.”
They’re videos, people. They’re photographs. The view is just held up to each student’s face rather than projected at the front of the screen. Yes, some special VR apps are being developed for Android, but the limitations of this system are pretty clear. This is no Oculus Rift, which is rumored to retail for around $350 when it eventually hits the market. Google Cardboard runs on a smartphone.
I’ve already written about how I think Google Expeditions will be just another example of how ed-tech furthers inequality. Actual, real field trips are already on decline, particularly for low-income students. And actual, real field trips really do have a lasting educational impact – one that watching a film via a device strapped on your face just can’t rival.
I’ve heard a lot lately that “no one is arguing that virtual field trips will replace field trips.” Yeah. Bullshit. Field trips have already been excised from the school day to make way for other things – more test-prep, more testing via computer, for starters. But there’s something else that Google Cardboard is going to replace too: these cheap Google Expeditions – and this flawed argument that that counts as “virtual reality” – are likely going to prevent (or at least slow) more immersive VR experiences from ever entering schools too. Why pay for that when you can convince yourself that the 21st century version of the View-Master count as VR?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is investigating Wells Fargo over its student loan servicing practices, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academy charter school chain, said she was going to make a major political announcement this week. It turned out to be a non-announcement announcement: she’s not running for mayor of NYC, she says.
“The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has pumped the brakes on competency-based education, partially due to concerns about the level of interaction between instructors and students in some of those programs,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
“These states spend more on prisons than colleges.” (Saved you a click: Michigan, Oregon, Arizona, Vermont, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.)
“Marco Rubio Wants to Be the Tech Industry’s Savior,” says Wired.
Education in the Courts
Via the AP: “The former CEO of Chicago Public Schools will plead guilty in an indictment that alleges she was involved in a scheme to steer $20 million worth of no-bid contracts to education companies in exchange for bribes and kickbacks, her attorney said Thursday.”
Via The Guardian: “The personal data of Europeans held in America by online tech corporations is not safe from US government snooping, the European court of justice has ruled, in a landmark verdict that hits Facebook, Google, Amazon and many others. The Luxembourg-based court declared the EU-US ‘safe harbour’ rules regulating firms’ retention of Europeans’ data in the US to be invalid….”
“Test Scores Under Common Core Show That ‘Proficient’ Varies by State,” NYT’s Motoko Rich reports.
UMass Lowell will no longer require that applicants submit their SAT or ACT scores.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Also via The Chronicle: “Can Online Education Help Refugees Earn Degrees?”
The University of Michigan, a founder partner of Coursera, “will ramp up its online presence via a new partnership with edX,” says Education Dive.
The University of Exeter will be the first UK university to partner with Pearson to offer online classes.
Meanwhile on Campus
Purdue University deleted the video of a presentation given by Barton Gellman at a colloquium because three of Gellman’s slides contained classified information leaked by Edward Snowden.
Lynn University is partnering with General Assembly to offer a 15 credit “study abroad” program facilitated by the coding school.
The University of Phoenix has been barred from recruiting on military bases, says The Wall Street Journal, and troops will not be able to use federal money to pay for classes at the school.
Via District Administration: “Of the 2,000 high school students in Albemarle County Public Schools, only 25 requested lockers last school year, as more students carry their devices and books in backpacks.” Instead of lockers: charging stations.
Go, School Sports Team!
From the HR Department
“Why I Was Fired” by Steven Salaita.
Via Boing Boing: “‘The only 3D printing company anyone’s heard of,’ MakerBot, is laying off 20 percent of its staff for the second time in the last six months.” (Just last week, Edsurge reported the company was shifting its focus to schools. Ominous.)
Upgrades and Downgrades
McGraw-Hill says it will update its geography textbook that, in a chapter on immigration, refers to slaves as “workers.”
The Gates Foundation held an event this week where Bill and Melinda (et al) talked about how they’ve spent $3 billion on education and how they plan to use their riches to shape the future of education. Here’s Education Week’s coverage and Edsurge’s live-tweets.
Via Al Jazeera: “Schoolchildren in the UK who search for words such as ‘caliphate’ and the names of Muslim political activists on classroom computers risk being flagged as potential supporters of terrorism by monitoring software being marketed to teachers to help them spot students at risk of radicalisation. The ‘radicalisation keywords’ library has been developed by the software company Impero as an add-on to its existing Education Pro digital classroom management tool to help schools comply with new duties requiring them to monitor children for ‘extremism’, as part of the government’s Prevent counterterrorism strategy.”
“How will Disney use technology to captivate the children of the future?” asks The New York Times. Um, neuroscience and data collection by the looks of the startups participating in its new accelerator program.
Via Ars Technica: “More than any other American company, Apple holds $181.1 billion in offshore accounts, according to a Tuesday report released by Citizens for Tax Justice, an advocacy group. Other major American tech firms – including Cisco, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and Oracle – are among the largest companies that are using legal but questionable tax tricks to keep money overseas and effectively pay little to no American federal corporate taxes.”
Funding and Acquisitions
Newsela has raised $15 million from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Zuckerberg Education Ventures, the Knight Foundation, Owl Ventures, and Women’s Venture Capital Fund. The startup, which offers news articles at different reading levels, has raised $22.16 million total.
CampusLogic has raised $7.5 million from Continental Investors, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, University Ventures, Select Venture Partners, and Peak Venture Capital. The financial aid startup has raised $7.75 million total.
Aceable has raised $4.7 million to offer online drivers’ ed. Investors include Silverton Partners, Capital Factory, Floodgate Ventures, and NextGen Angels.
Corporate e-learning platform Velpic has raised $4 million from Baillieu Holst, Sanlam Private Wealth, Alignment Capital, Shaw and Partners, and Tony Gandel.
Picmonic has raised $2.3 million from 2M Companies of Texas, Tallwave Capital of Arizona, Arizona Tech Investors, Desert Angels, and Matt Pittinsky. The mnemonic platform has raised $4.95 million total.
“The world’s biggest for-profit college,” Laureate Education has filed for an IPO (again). It also says it’s becoming a public benefit corporation. (Related: “The rise of the covert for-profit college.”)
Workday has acquired Media Core.
“Consolidation Hits Library Tech Market,” Inside Higher Ed observes, as “ProQuest will acquire Ex Libris, which provides technology solutions for libraries, and Bibliotecha will take over 3M’s library division.”
Data and “Research”
According to Ambient Insight, “2015 Edtech Investment Spikes to $3.76 Billion in First Three Quarters.”
Via The New York Times: “Nearly two-thirds of the top 71 investment funds have no women as senior investment team members, according to the data compiled by the Social and Capital Partnership and the Information, a news site. Roughly 30 percent of those funds have a senior investment team that is composed entirely of white members.”
From the Pew Research Center: Social Media Usage 2005–2015.
Via the BBC: “The Economic and Social Research Council-funded project examined computer use in 2,000 families with one or more tablet computers – and found that 31% of under-fives had their own device.”
Via Stanford University professor Larry Cuban: “Data-Driven Teaching Practices: Rhetoric and Reality.”
Intellectual arrogance is linked to better grades, according to a study published in the Journal of Research in Personality.
The obnoxious American: I am the one who flies all the way to South Africa, to an international education conference, to talk about the future of ed-tech as imagined, as invested in, as narrated by America. I apologize. My intention is to invert the script that I hear drawn upon so often from education technology entrepreneurs who talk about “Africa” – code, I think, for “new markets.” I do want to explore the origins of the ed-tech industry’s drive for “new markets.” But really I want this morning to talk about ideas, stories about the future – from California specifically, from Silicon Valley.
What I hope to make explicit today is how much California – the place, the concept, “the dream machine” – shapes (wants to shape) the future of technology and the future of education.
According to my driver’s license, I am a Californian, although not by birth. I grew up in Wyoming and in England, neither of which share much in common – politically, culturally, geographically, economically – with Los Angeles, where I live today.
I never ever imagined this would be my life: a writer about education technology, invited to speak here in South Africa. In Sun City. And I never ever imagined I would live in LA.
I love LA.
See: Los Angeles is a lot like the Internet. That makes it fascinating for a writer, an ethnographer. Los Angeles is full of strange and creative people. And it’s all about performance. It’s not so much fake people or plastic people or artificial enhancements (although there’s plenty of that). But it is, as Jean Baudrillard suggested, “hyperreal.” It’s about the imagination and the reinvention of the self. It is an utterly American but specifically Californian prospect. Los Angeles, that is. As with “the Internet.”
The first two nodes of what would eventually become ARPANET (which in turn would eventually become “the Internet”) were connected in California in 1969 – from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to SRI International in Menlo Park – from Hollywood to Silicon Valley.
The infrastructure and the ideology of the Internet remain quite Californian.
In 2013, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new organization called Internet.org, a partnership between Facebook and six telecommunications companies and phone manufacturers that would attempt to bring Internet access to the some 5 billion people on the planet who do not currently have it. In an announcement on Facebook – of course – Zuckerberg argued that “connectivity is a human right.”
As Zuckerberg frames it at least, the “human right” in this case is participation in the global economy. He writes that
The world economy is going through a massive transition right now. The knowledge economy is the future. By bringing everyone online, we’ll not only improve billions of lives, but we’ll also improve our own as we benefit from the ideas and productivity they contribute to the world. Giving everyone the opportunity to connect is the foundation for enabling the knowledge economy.
This is a revealing definition of “human rights,” I’d argue, particularly as it’s one that never addresses things like liberty, equality, or justice. It never addresses freedom of expression or freedom of assembly or freedom of association.
“Connectivity,” one might argue, is a shorthand for all that. “The opportunity to connect” as a human right assumes that “connectivity” will hasten the advent of these other rights, I suppose – that the Internet will topple dictatorships, for example, that it will extend participation in civic life to everyone and, for our purposes here at this conference, that it will “democratize education.”
Technology critic Evgeny Morozov has described this belief as “Internet-centrism,” an ideology he argues permeates the tech industry, its PR wing the tech blogosphere, and increasingly government policy and thus our public and our private lives. “Internet-centrism” describes the tendency to see “the Internet” – Morozov uses quotations around the phrase – as a new yet unchanging, autonomous, benevolent, and inevitable socio-technological development. “The Internet” is a master framework for how all institutions will supposedly operate moving forward. “The Internet” will purportedly change everything. “The Internet” will fix everything.
Of course, when Mark Zuckerberg talks about connectivity, he’s not necessarily talking about “The Internet” as commonly imagined or historically implemented. He’s talking about Facebook. Indeed, Zuckerberg’s Internet.org organization has come under fire for precisely this: several Indian companies have backed out of the initiative, claiming that it violates net neutrality, that is, the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that all users should have the same experience when they go online. Internet.org privileges certain traffic – those paying to be part of the platform – restricting access to sites not approved by Facebook. As the founder of one of India’s largest “mobile wallet” companies argues, “it’s poor Internet for poor people.”
Researchers have found too that in certain countries, a number of people say they do not use the Internet yet they talk about how much time they spend on Facebook. According to one survey, 11% of Indonesians who said they used Facebook also said they did not use the Internet. A survey in Nigeria had similar results: 9% of Facebook users there said they do not use the Internet.
In other words, Facebook is“the Internet” for a fairly sizable number of people. They know nothing else – conceptually, experientially. And, let’s be honest, Facebook wants to be “the Internet” for everyone.
This matters greatly for those of us in education technology in several ways (and not simply because Internet.org has partnered with edX to offer free online education). Facebook is really just synecdochal here, I should add – just one example of the forces I think are at play, politically, economically, technologically, culturally. These forces matter at the level of infrastructure, technological infrastructure: who controls the networks, who controls the servers, who controls our personal devices, who controls the software that’s installed on them?
And it matters at the level of ideology. Infrastructure is ideological, of course. The new infrastructure – “the Internet” if you will – has a particular political, economic, and cultural bent to it. It is not neutral. Some of this is built upon old infrastructure. In the United States, for example, networks are layered upon networks: waterways provided the outline onto which we mapped the railroads. Railroads provided the outline onto which we mapped the telegraph. The telegraph for the telephone. The telephone for the Internet. Transportation of people, products, ideas across time and space.
And then there’s the satellite, a technology whose history is not so much about the conquest of geography as it is the conquest of space – the Cold War and control of weapons and communications. (Just last week, The New York Times told us that “Facebook will beam the Internet to Africa via Satellite.” A closer look reveals just some online services will be made available to just some African countries – in other words, free data for access Facebook for about a fourth of the continent.)
This infrastructure matters. In this case, this is a French satellite company (Eutelsat). This is an American social network (Facebook). Mark Zuckerberg’s altruistic rhetoric aside, this is their plan – an economic plan – to monetize the world’s poor. The content and the form of “connectivity” perpetuate imperialism, and not only in Africa but in all of our lives. Imperialism at the level of infrastructure – not just cultural imperialism but technological imperialism. And as always, imperialism as ideology. Empire is not simply an endeavor of the nation-state – we have empire through technology (that’s not new) and now, the technology industry as empire.
Mark Zuckerberg is not from California, of course. He was born in White Plains, New York. He attended the elite boarding school Philips Exeter Academy before being accepted into Harvard University, where he famously built a site called “Facemash” which would let students pick who they thought was the best looking person from a choice of pictures taken from the university’s “Face Books,” books containing the names and photos of everyone in the dorms.
He dropped out of school in his sophomore year.
He moved to Silicon Valley.
“The Silicon Valley Narrative,” as I call it, is the story that the technology industry tells about the world – not only the world-as-is but the world-as-Silicon-Valley-wants-it-to-be.
This narrative has several commonly used tropes. It often features a hero: the technology entrepreneur. Smart. Independent. Bold. Risk-taking. White. Male. “The Silicon Valley narrative” invokes themes like “innovation” and “disruption.” It privileges the new; everything else that can be deemed “old” is viewed as obsolete. Things are perpetually in need of an upgrade. It contends that its workings are meritocratic: anyone who hustles can make it. “The Silicon Valley Narrative” has no memory, no history, although it can invent or invoke one to suit its purposes. (“The factory model of education” is one such invented history that I’ve written about before.) “The Silicon Valley narrative” fosters a distrust of institutions – the government, the university. It is neoliberal. It hates paying taxes. “The Silicon Valley narrative” draws from the work of Ayn Rand; it privileges the individual at all costs; it calls this “personalization.”
“The Silicon Valley narrative” does not neatly co-exist with public education. We forget this at our peril. This makes education technology, specifically, an incredibly fraught area.
Me, I am unswayed by the arguments that we’re on the cusp of some sort of techno-utopia where all our problems are about to be solved by “connectivity.”
Here’s the story I think we like to hear about ed-tech, about distance education, about “connectivity” and learning: Education technology is supportive, not exploitative. Education technology opens, not forecloses, opportunities. Education technology is driven by a rethinking of teaching and learning, not expanding markets or empire. Education technology meets individual and institutional and community goals.
That’s not really what the “Silicon Valley narrative” says about education – sometimes it does, I suppose when it wants to appeal to us as consumers; rather that’s not all that Silicon Valley really does. It is interested in data extraction and monetization and standardization and scale. It is interested in markets and return on investment. “Education is broken,” and technology will fix it. It’s an old and tired refrain, but it’s a refrain nonetheless, repeated over and over. It’s a core theme in the “Silicon Valley narrative.”
Sticklers about geography will readily point out that the Silicon Valley isn’t the most accurate descriptor for the locus of today’s booming tech sector. Silicon Valley is just one part of the San Francisco Bay area – the Santa Clara Valley. The Santa Clara Valley’s county seat and the locus of Silicon Valley (historically at least) is San Jose, not San Francisco, where many startups are increasingly located today. Silicon Valley does include Mountain View, where Google is headquartered. It includes Cupertino, where Apple is headquartered. It includes Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, founded in 1885 by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford – remember what I said about new networks built on top of old networks?
The term “silicon” refers to the silicon-based integrated circuits that were developed and manufactured in the area. But the term “Silicon Valley” now extends to all of the high tech industry, beyond just the chip makers.
As the phrase has come to encompass a broader swath of the tech sector, “Silicon Valley” might no longer be adequate, simply for geographical reasons alone (that is, it’s not where all the tech startups or their investors reside). And the phrase surely obscures the international scope of the operations of the technology industry – tax havens in Ireland, manufacturing in China, and so on.
The “Silicon Valley narrative” obscures, erases – let’s keep that in mind.
If “Silicon Valley” isn’t quite accurate, then I must admit that the word “narrative” is probably inadequate too. Yes, I’m particularly interested in the stories we tell about technology – its past, present, and future. I am interested in the ways in which our discursive practices shape the way we move through the world – what we build, what we buy.
The better term here is “ideology.”
To better analyze and assess both technology and education technology requires our understanding of these as ideological, argues Neil Selwyn – “‘a site of social struggle’ through which hegemonic positions are developed, legitimated, reproduced and challenged.”
We tend not to see education technology as ideological. (No doubt, we largely fail to scrutinize the ideology of education as well.) We do not recognize the ways in which education technology can, as Selwyn argues, “accommodate … agendas (from the countercultural to the commercial) with little sense of incompatibility or conflict.” We tend to not see technology as ideological – its connections to libertarianism, neoliberalism, global capitalism, empire.
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron were remarkably prescient in their 1995 essay “The Californian Ideology” (penned just 6 years after the creation of the World Wide Web). Apologies for quoting at length:
At the end of the twentieth century, the long predicted convergence of the media, computing and telecommunications into hypermedia is finally happening. … At this crucial juncture, a loose alliance of writers, hackers, capitalists and artists from the West Coast of the USA have succeeded in defining a heterogeneous orthodoxy for the coming information age: the Californian Ideology.
This new faith has emerged from a bizarre fusion of the cultural bohemianism of San Francisco with the hi-tech industries of Silicon Valley. Promoted in magazines, books, TV programmes, websites, newsgroups and Net conferences, the Californian Ideology promiscuously combines the free-wheeling spirit of the hippies and the entrepreneurial zeal of the yuppies. This amalgamation of opposites has been achieved through a profound faith in the emancipatory potential of the new information technologies. In the digital utopia, everybody will be both hip and rich. Not surprisingly, this optimistic vision of the future has been enthusiastically embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, innovative capitalists, social activists, trendy academics, futurist bureaucrats and opportunistic politicians across the USA. As usual, Europeans have not been slow in copying the latest fad from America. While a recent EU Commission report recommends following the Californian free market model for building the information superhighway, cutting-edge artists and academics eagerly imitate the post human philosophers of the West Coast’s Extropian cult. With no obvious rivals, the triumph of the Californian Ideology appears to be complete.
The widespread appeal of these West Coast ideologues isn’t simply the result of their infectious optimism. Above all, they are passionate advocates of what appears to be an impeccably libertarian form of politics – they want information technologies to be used to create a new ‘Jeffersonian democracy’ where all individuals will be able to express themselves freely within cyberspace. However, by championing this seemingly admirable ideal, these techno-boosters are at the same time reproducing some of the most atavistic features of American society, especially those derived from the bitter legacy of slavery. Their utopian vision of California depends upon a willful blindness towards the other – much less positive – features of life on the West Coast: racism, poverty and environmental degradation. Ironically, in the not too distant past, the intellectuals and artists of the Bay Area were passionately concerned about these issues.
California. California as the promised land, the end-of-the-road of the US’s westward expansion, the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny, colonization upon colonization, the gold rush, the construction of an invented palm-tree paradise.
California includes geographically – ideologically – both Hollywood and Silicon Valley. California is media plus technology, both of which readily export their products (and narratives and ideologies) globally. California: the center of a new computer and communications empire and the center of the old media empire too. The power Hollywood has yet to be displaced, despite all the talk of disruption you hear from Silicon Valley.
California also produces two-thirds of the United States’ produce. Over a third of the nation’s farmworkers work in California; 95% of them were born outside the US. The California ideology ignores race and labor and the water supply; it is sustained by air and fantasy. It is built upon white supremacy and imperialism.
As is the technology sector, which has its own history, of course, in warfare and cryptography.
Another story from California, one specifically this time about higher education:
It may be that “the beginning of the end of public higher education as we know it” has its roots in an earlier development well before investors and tech entrepreneurs started predicting that we were only a couple of decades away from having only 10 universities in the world, thanks to their MOOCs. The beginning of the end, say Aaron Bady and Mike Konczal: the governorship of Ronald Reagan in the late 1960s, who then vowed he would “clean up that mess in Berkeley.”
At the time, the state had already developed what historian Kenneth Starr has called a “utopia for higher education.” The pinnacle arguably: The Master Plan for Higher Education, signed into law in 1960. The plan was, in essence, a commitment to provide all Californians with access to higher education, something that’s been, as Tressie McMillan Cottom points out in her work, a cornerstone of how Americans have viewed class mobility. The Master Plan was meant to offer three avenues for access to college, a tripartite system where the top 12.5% of high school graduates in the state could attend one of the campuses of the University of California – at Berkeley, for example, or LA – tuition-free. The top one-third were guaranteed a spot at one of the campuses of the California State University system – Cal State, San Francisco State, and so on. Community colleges in the state would accept any students “capable of benefiting from instruction” – that is, both new high school graduates and “non-traditional” students. Upon graduation from community college, those students could then transfer to any Cal State or UC campus in order to finish their Bachelor’s Degree. As Bady and Konczal write,
In theory and to a significant extent in practice, anyone from anywhere in California could, if they worked hard enough, get a bachelor’s degree from one of the best universities in the country (and, therefore, in the world), almost free of charge. The pronounced social and economic mobility of the postwar period would have been unthinkable without institutions of mass higher education, like this one, provided at public expense.
When Reagan took office as Governor of California in 1967, he made it clear: public expenses would be curbed, particularly in the university system. “There are certain intellectual luxuries that perhaps we could do without,” he told reporters. Taxpayers, he said, should not be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity.” The purpose of college, in other words, was not to offer what we’ve long construed as a liberal arts education; the purpose of higher education: to learn “job skills.”
The tech industry is just the latest to latch onto this argument. “Everyone should learn to code,” we now hear.
And as the state of California – and elsewhere – has withdrawn its financial commitment to free or subsidized public higher education, who has stepped in to meet the demands? The for-profit sector.
And the tech industry is latching onto this market as well.
So far this year, some $3.76 billion of venture capital has been invested in education technology – a record-setting figure. That money will change the landscape – that’s its intention. That money carries with it a story about the future; it carries with it an ideology.
One final story about California:
I want to show you this map, a proposal – a failed proposal, thankfully – by venture capitalist Tim Draper to split the state of California into six separate states: Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, and South California. The proposal, which Draper tried to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot in California, would have created the richest state in the US – Silicon Valley would be first in per-capita income. It would also have created the nation’s poorest state, Central California, which would rank even below Mississippi.
Tim Draper is not a particularly active VC in education technology. But he is the founder of Draper University of Heroes, an unaccredited for-profit venture that teaches “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” – a “7-week immersive program to inspire and train heroes,” according to the website. “Heroes” who will pay $10,000 so they can be tech startup founders.
Draper University is also the subject of a reality TV show. Because California.
Tim Draper’s (unconstitutional) plan to split up the state of California would have completely reshaped American politics. It failed, but I think it underscores the sort of transformative vision – “the Silicon Valley narrative,” the “Californian Ideology” – that the tech industry has. This vision is not simply about “the virtual world.”
We in education would be naive, I think, to think that the designs that venture capitalists and technology entrepreneurs have for us would be any less radical than creating a new state, like Draper’s proposed state of Silicon Valley, that would enormously wealthy and politically powerful.
When I hear talk of “unbundling” in education – one of the latest gerunds you’ll hear venture capitalists and ed-tech entrepreneurs invoke, meaning the disassembling of institutions into products and services – I can’t help but think of the “unbundling” that Draper wished to do to my state: carving up land and resources, shifting tax revenue and tax burdens, creating new markets, privatizing public institutions, redistributing power and doing so explicitly not in the service of equity or justice.
Echoes of imperialism. Imperialism’s latest form.
That is the ideology.
It’s our responsibility to recognize that it offers a powerful story.
When a venture capitalist says that “software is eating the world,” we can push back on the inevitability implied in that. We can resist – not in the name of clinging to “the old” as those in educational institutions are so often accused of doing – but we can resist in the name of freedom and justice and a future that isn’t dictated by the wealthiest white men in Hollywood or Silicon Valley.
This need not be our “dream machine,” this invented California, this California invention.
We can do better. We must.
“Every few weeks, it seems, a new investigation is launched into one of the larger for-profit colleges in the country,” Inside Higher Ed reports. And yet… And yet: the US Department of Education just announced it will allow federal financial aid to be used for “alternative education providers,” including MOOCs and coding bootcamps. Although the Obama Administration has cracked down on for-profit universities, it seems more than happy to fund a new revenue stream for for-profits: the outsourcing of instruction to tech startups. Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary of Education and former venture capitalist at New School Venture Fund, announced the pilot program. More via Edsurge. Meanwhile, as The New York Times observes, “For-Profit Colleges Accused of Fraud Still Receive U.S. Funds.”
“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking information from a national accreditor about the for-profit colleges it oversees, which include several controversial chains,” writes Inside Higher Ed. “The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools received the civil investigative demand from the CFPB in August. It is unclear whether the council, which is the largest national accreditor, is the target of an investigation, or whether the request is linked to another probe.”
The US Department of Education announced it will publish data on chronic absenteeism in schools, according to Edsurge, “in hopes of giving them the insights (and the public shaming) to do something about it.”
The Democratic presidential candidates held their first debate. Bryan Alexander has the run-down on what they said about education.
Via Michigan Live: “The governor’s office confirmed Thursday that the FBI is investigating the 15-school, state-run education reform district in Detroit, noting that it was an internal review that led to the probe.”
California governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that abolishes the state’s high school exit exam and will award diplomas to thousands who failed the exam as far back as 2004 but had completed all their high school classes.
Before he left office last month, Australia’s education minister Christopher Pyne approved a new curriculum that made the teaching of programming central. No longer will students be required to learn history or geography.
Education in the Courts
Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former head of Chicago Public Schools pled guilty for “her role in a scheme to steer $23 million in no-bid contracts to education firms for $2.3 million in bribes and kickbacks.” She will serve 7.5 years in jail. More of the contracts she approved during her tenure are now under scrutiny.
Via the LA School Report: “Following up on a months-long threat, high-profile attorney Mark Geragos today slapped LA Unified with a class action lawsuit, calling for an end to the practice of ‘teacher jails’ and asking for more than $1 billion in damages. The suit was filed in state superior court on behalf of Rafe Esquith, a well-known teacher….” (More on Esquith below.)
Via The Atlantic: “How California’s Largest School District Blamed an 8th Grader for Her Rape.”
Pearson has reached a settlement with LAUSD to the tune of $6.45 million – a reimbursement for the flawed vaporware curriculum that was to come pre-installed on iPads.
Via Reuters: “Apple Inc. could be facing up to $862 million in damages after a U.S. jury on Tuesday found the company used technology owned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s licensing arm without permission in chips found in many of its iPhones and iPads.”
Former speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has pled guilty “in a case in which he is accused of skirting banking laws and lying to the federal investigators,” says The New York Times. The case involves hush money paid by Hastert over allegations of sexual misconduct with a male student with Hastert was a high school teacher in Illinois.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Via Inside Higher Ed: colleges explain why they “double-dipped” with MOOC providers.
Via the Coursera blog: “Will all courses now have start dates and deadlines? No and yes.”
Meanwhile on Campus
School shootings at Northern Arizona University, Texas Southern University, and Tennessee State University. (Roger Schank’s response: “Stop school shootings. Get rid of school.” University of Baltimore professor Jeffrey Ian Ross’s response: more campus security systems.)
“Fraternities Hire Trent Lott To Lobby For Limiting Campus Sexual Assault Investigations,” says The Huffington Post.
The New York Times examines new sex ed classes in California: “With Gov. Jerry Brown's signature on a bill this month, California became the first state to require that all high school health education classes give lessons on affirmative consent.”
Go, School Sports Team!
“UCLA football player is suspended indefinitely following arrest in rape case,” according to The LA Times.
Via the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “University of Minnesota football players accused of sexual assault, harassment and retaliation.”
Via NPR: “University of Louisville is investigating claims that a former staffer hired escorts to have sex with basketball players and recruits.”
USC has fired its head football coach, Steve Sarkisian, after he appeared to be intoxicated at a game.
An LSU football player will auction his jersey and donate the proceeds to charity, despite NCAA rules that prohibit players from making money doing this type of thing. “That the NCAA will allow Fournette's auction means that college officials have either long interpreted those rules incorrectly, that the NCAA is making an exception for the running back or that the association is beginning to soften its rules,” Inside Higher Ed notes.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Oregon’s new ‘pioneer-themed’ athletics uniforms celebrate a ‘history of genocidal violence, ethnic cleansing and exclusion of nonwhites,’ a coalition of Native faculty, staff and students said in an open letter this week. The uniforms, unveiled by Nike earlier this month, are inspired by the travels of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and feature the explorers and a map of the Oregon Trail.”
From the HR Department
Award-winning LAUSD teacher Rafe Esquith has been fired by the district’s board, “following a misconduct investigation that included allegations he made an improper joke to students and inappropriately touched minors.”
UC Berkeley astronomy professor Geoff Marcy has resigned following a Buzzfeed story about a university investigation into Marcy’s repeated sexual harassment of female students. The university has been criticized for its response as “a number of astronomers across academe asked why the university hadn’t been tougher on him.”
UC Berkeley math lecturer Alexander Coward will not have his contract renewed. Coward, a popular and apparently quite effective instructor, wrote about the school’s decision on his blog. More via Inside Higher Ed.
Brice Harris, the chancellor of the California Community College system, announced his retirement.
“Academic Freedom Fail” is the headline on the controversies at UBC surrounding the resignation of its president.
Upgrades and Downgrades
“Disney Fulfills All Your Childhood Dreams with Augmented Reality Coloring Books,” says Edsurge. (I think we had very very different childhood dreams, for what it’s worth.)
“Yes, I did say that Knewton is ‘selling snake oil’,” says Michael Feldstein.
According to Education Week, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has created a database “with details about how each state, Guam, and the Mariana Islands approaches the procurement of digital education resources.”
Data and “Research”
A forthcoming paper in the Journal of Academic Ethics– “BB&T, Atlas Shrugged and the Ethics of Corporation Influence on College Curricula” – on the influence of the holding company BB&T which demands schools teach the works of Ayn Rand.
“Would assigned seating during exams curb cheating?” is the Education Dive headline about an algorithm that purports to identify potential cheaters.
Via the Shanker Institute: “The Role Of Teacher Diversity In Reducing Implicit Bias.”
“More than half of the world’s countries have failed to achieve gender parity in education for girls in primary and secondary schools,” according to UNESCO.
According to the US Census Bureau, women are more likely than men to have a bachelor’s degree.
Bryan Alexander examines the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll: “Americans look at education and are not too pleased.”
Student privacy has become one of the hottest issues in education, with some 170 bills proposed so far this year that would regulate it. These legislative efforts stress the need to protect students when they're online, safeguarding their data from advertisers as well as from unscrupulous people and companies. There's some pushback against these proposals too, with arguments that restrictions on data might hinder research or the development of learning analytics or data-driven educational software.
But almost all arguments about student privacy, whether those calling for more restrictions or fewer, fail to give students themselves a voice, let alone some assistance in deciding what to share online. Students have little agency when it comes to education technology - much like they have little agency in education itself.
The Domain of One's Own initiative at University of Mary Washington (UMW) is helping to recast the conversation about student data. Instead of focusing on protecting and restricting students' Web presence, UMW helps them have more control over their scholarship, data, and digital identity.
The Domains initiative enables student to build the contemporary version of what Virginia Woolf in 1929 famously demanded in
As originally conceived at the Virginia liberal arts university, the Domains initiative provides students and faculty with their own Web domain. It isn't simply a blog or a bit of Web space and storage at the school's dot-edu, but their own domain - the dot com (or dot net, etc) of the student's choosing. The school facilitates the purchase of the domain; it helps with installation of WordPress and other open source software; it offers both technical and instructional support; and it hosts the site until graduation when domain ownership is transferred to the student.
And then - contrary to what happens at most schools, where a student's work exists only inside a learning management system and cannot be accessed once the semester is over - the domain and all its content are the student's to take with them. It is, after all, their education, their intellectual development, their work.
Intellectual productivity on the Web looks a bit different, no doubt, than it did at Woolf's writing desk. But there remains this notion, deeply embedded in Domain of One's Own, that it is important to have one's own space in order to develop one's ideas and one's craft. It's important that learners have control over their work - their content and their data. In a 2009 article that served as a philosophical grounding of sorts for the initiative, Gardner Campbell, then a professor at Baylor University, called for a "personal cyberinfrastructure" where students:
not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments…. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own ‘engagement streams' throughout the learning environment.
In developing this "personal cyberinfrastructure" through the Domain of One's Own initiative, UMW gives students agency and control; they are the subjects of their learning, not the objects of education technology software.
Having one's own domain means that students have much more say over what they present to the world, in terms of their public profiles, professional portfolios, and digital identities. Students have control over the look and feel of their own sites, including what's shared publicly. This means they have some say - although not complete - over their personal data, and in turn they begin to have an understanding of the technologies that underpin the Web, including how their work and their data circulate there.
At the simplest level, a Domain of One's Own helps students build their own digital portfolio. They can be used in a classroom setting in order for students to demonstrate their learning. These portfolios can contain text, images, video and audio recordings, giving students opportunities to express themselves in a variety of ways beyond the traditional pen-and-paper test or essay. One student uses her domain to showcase her artwork. Another chronicled her semester abroad. A third student has built a living CV, highlighting her academic research as well as her work experience.
Since UMW launched Domain of One's Own in 2013, other schools have picked up on the program's relevance in today's world - including Emory University, the University of Oklahoma, and Davidson College, as well as at several high schools. Domain of One's Own has also spun out a startup of sorts, Reclaim Hosting, that provides low-cost Web hosting and helps educators offer their students their own domains.
Clarence Fisher introduced Domains last year to his high school students at the Joseph H. Kerr School in Snow Lake, Manitoba. "The kids came in to the class with what I would call fair and average teen tech skills," he said. "Lots of iPods, iPads, and laptops. Lots of Facebook and Instagram. But none of them had a presence online they were in control of before this."
This observation was echoed by Bryan Jackson, who has implemented Domains at Gleneagle Secondary School in Coquitlam, British Columbia. "I wanted them to see and be aware of all of the options and the control that they are giving up when services such as Facebook are their primary web presence," he said. By contrast, he introduced his students to open source platforms like WordPress, teaching them about Web standards like HTML and CSS.
Often when schools talk to students about their presence on the Web, they do so in terms of digital citizenship: what students need to know in order to use technology "appropriately." Schools routinely caution students about the things they post on social media, and the tenor of this conversation - particularly as translated by the media - is often tinged with fears that students will be seen "doing bad things" or "saying bad things" that will haunt them forever.
While some schools are turning to social media monitoring firms to keep an eye on students online, rarely do schools give students the opportunity to demonstrate the good work that they do publicly. Nor do schools give students the opportunity to decide what and when and how that public, online display should look like. It's a drawback to our digital citizenship conversations - we're concerned about what students do online but we fail to probe the "appropriateness" of the demands on data and content that (education) technology companies increasingly make on the students in turn.
It's one of the flaws too with how privacy conversations about education technology are usually framed. Debates about what happens to student data - who it's shared with, for example - seldom include students' input. These debates do not recognize the ways in which students have already developed rich social lives online and could use help, not punishment or paternalism, in understanding how to think through the data trails they're leaving behind.
There is an understandable learning curve to helping students manage their online presence via their own domain. "At first there was a fair amount of fumbling around, Googling solutions, and trying to understand their options," said teacher Clarence Fisher. "Within a week, the kids were able to understand what their options were and how their site was affected by changes they made. As time went on, we talked a lot more about technical issues (backup, recovery, privacy options, hosting laws in different countries, etc). But we also talked a lot more about digital citizenship, safety, control, design, etc. The kids saw the site much more as their own and their responsibility."
The importance of giving students responsibility for their own domain cannot be overstated. This can be a way to track growth and demonstrate new learning over the course of a student's school career - something that they themselves can reflect upon, not simply grades and assignments that are locked away in a proprietary system controlled by the school.
And if a student owns their own domain, as she moves from grade to grade and from school to school, all that information - their learning portfolio - can travel with them.
Education technology - and more broadly, the culture of education - does a terrible job with this sort of portability and interoperability. When a student moves to a new school, for example, they often have to request their transcript, a document that lists their courses and their grades. A transcript is by definition a copy of their education record. The transcript is often printed on a piece of paper with formal letterhead, perhaps with a watermark or stamp to show that it's "official." This lack of portability continues in much digital schoolwork too. Even if students are encouraged to create online portfolios or to use services like Google Apps for Education in order to store all their work, they don't actually get to take that work with them when they move or graduate. (In the case of Google Apps, you can download your files. But then you'll need to find a new place to store them.) Too often, students' work in these systems gets deleted over the summer months as schools aren't in the business of permanently storing student work. School district IT is not the right steward for student work: the student is.
Giving students their own digital domain is a radical act. It gives them the ability to work on the Web and with the Web, to have their scholarship be meaningful and accessible by others. It allows them to demonstrate their learning to others beyond the classroom walls. To own one's domain gives students an understanding of how Web technologies work. It puts them in a much better position to control their work, their data, their identity online.
"I want to know where my ones and zeros are stored," said Bryan Jackson, referring to the basic binary code in which computers ‘think.'"And I want my students to know that that's something they can ask about, and learn to manage for themselves."
This keynote was delivered today at NWeLearn. The slides can also be found on Speaker Deck.
This is – I think (I hope) – the last keynote I will deliver this year. It’s the 11th that I’ve done. I try to prepare a new talk each time I present, in no small part because it keeps me interested and engaged, pushing my thinking and writing forward, learning. And we’re told frequently as of late that as the robots come to take our jobs, they will take first the work that can be most easily automated. So to paraphrase the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, any keynote speaker that can be replaced by a machine should be.
That this is my last keynote of the year does not mean that I’m on vacation until 2016. If you’re familiar with my website Hack Education, you know that I spend the final month or so of each year reviewing everything that’s happened in the previous 12 months, writing an in-depth analysis of the predominant trends in education technology. I try in my work to balance this recent history with a deeper, longer view: what do we know about education technology today based on education technology this year, this decade, this century – what might that tell us about the shape of things to come.
In my review of “the year in ed-tech,” I look to see where the money’s gone – this has been a record-setting year for venture capital investment in education technology, for what it’s worth (over $3.76 billion). I look to see what entrepreneurs and engineers are building and what educators and students are adopting and what politicians are demanding, sanctioning. I look for, I listen to the stories.
Today I want to talk about three of these trends – “themes” is perhaps the more accurate word: austerity, automation, and algorithms.
I have the phrase “future of education” in the title to this talk, but I don’t want to imply that either austerity or automation or algorithms are pre-ordained. There is no inevitability to the future of education, to any of this – there is no inevitability to what school or technology will look like; there is no inevitability to our disinvestment in public education. These are deeply political issues – issues of labor, information, infrastructure, publicness, power. We can (we must) actively work to mold this future, to engage in public and political dialogue and not simply hand over the future to industry.
Austerity looms over so much of what is happening right now in education. Between 1987 and 2012, the share of revenue that Washington State University received from Washington state, for example, fell from 52.8% to 32.3%. Boise State University saw its state support fall from 64.7% of its revenue to 30.3%. The University of Oregon, from 35.8% to 9.3%.
Schools are now tasked to “do more with less,” which is often code, if you will, for utilizing digital technologies to curb “inefficiencies” and to “scale” services. The application of the language and practices of scientific management to education isn’t new. Not remotely. Raymond Callahan wrote a book called Education and the Cult of Efficiency in 1962, for example, that explored the history and the shape of school administration through this very lens. Measurement. Assessment. “Outcomes.” Data. Standardization. The monitoring and control of labor. And in many ways this has been the history of, the impetus behind education technology as well. Measurement. Assessment. “Outcomes.” Data. Standardization. The monitoring and control of labor. Education technology is, despite many of our hopes for something else, for something truly transformational, often a tool designed to meet administrative goals.
As Seymour Papert – MIT professor and probably one of the most visionary people in education technology – wrote in his 1993 book The Children’s Machine,
Little by little the subversive features of the computer were eroded away: Instead of cutting across and so 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.
For Papert, that consolidation involved technology, administration, and (capital-S) School. Under austerity, however, we must ask what happens to “School’s ways.” Do they increasingly become “businesses’ ways,” “markets’ ways”? What else might “the subversive features of the computer” serve to erode – and erode in ways (this is what concerns me) that are far from optimal for learning, for equity, for justice?
I first included “Automation and Artificial Intelligence” as one of the major trends in education technology in 2012. 2012 was, if you recall, deemed “The Year of the MOOC” by The New York Times. I was struck at the time by how the MOOCs that the media were suddenly obsessed with all emerged from elite universities’ artificial intelligence labs. Udacity’s founder Sebastian Thrun, Coursera’s founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller were from Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Anant Agarwal, the head of edX, from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Laboratory.
I wondered then, “How might the field of artificial intelligence – ‘the science of creating intelligent machines’ – shape education?” Or rather, how does this particular discipline view “intelligence” and “learning” of machines and how might that be extrapolated to humans?
The field of artificial intelligence relies in part on a notion of “machine learning” – that is, teaching computers to adapt their behaviors algorithmically (in other words, to “learn”) – as well as on “natural language processing” – that is, teaching computers to understand input from humans that isn’t written in code. (Yes, this is a greatly oversimplified explanation. I didn’t last too long in Sebastian Thrun’s AI MOOC.)
Despite the popularity and the hype surrounding MOOCs, Thrun may still be best known for his work on the Google self-driving car. And I’d argue we can look at autonomous vehicles – not only the technology, but the business, the marketing, the politics – and see some connections to how AI might construe education as well. If nothing else, much like the self-driving car with its sensors and cameras and knowledge of the Google-mapped-world, we are gathering immense amounts of data on students via their interactions with hardware, software, websites, and apps. And more data, so the argument goes, equals better modeling.
Fine-tuning these models and “teaching machines” has been the Holy Grail for education technology for a hundred years – that is to say, there has long been a quest to write software that offers “personalized feedback,” that responds to each individual student’s skills and needs. That’s the promise of today’s “adaptive learning,” the promise of both automation and algorithms.
What makes ed-tech programming “adaptive” is that the AI assesses a student’s answer (typically to a multiple choice question), then follows up with the “next best” question, aimed at the “right” level of difficulty. This doesn’t have to require a particularly complicated algorithm, and the idea actually based on “item response theory” which dates back to the 1950s and the rise of the psychometrician. Despite the intervening decades, quite honestly, these systems haven’t become terribly sophisticated, in no small part because they tend to rely on multiple choice tests.
And yet the marketing surrounding these adaptive learning systems is full of wildly exaggerated claims about their potential and their capabilities. The worst offender: Knewton.
In August, Knewton announced that it was making its “adaptive learning” engine available to anyone (not just to the textbook companies to whom it had previously licensed its technology). Educators can now upload their own materials to Knewton – videos, assignments, quizzes, and so on – and Knewton says it will assess how well each piece of content works for each student.
“Think of it as a friendly robot-tutor in the sky,” Jose Ferreira, Knewton founder and CEO, said in the company’s press release. “Knewton plucks the perfect bits of content for you from the cloud and assembles them according to the ideal learning strategy for you, as determined by the combined data-power of millions of other students.” "“We think of it like a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind and figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, down to the percentile,” Ferreira told NPR.
A couple of years ago, he was giving similar interviews: “What if you could learn everything,” was the headline in Newsweek.
Based on the student’s answers [on Knewton’s platform], and what she did before getting the answer, “we can tell you to the percentile, for each concept: how fast they learned it, how well they know it, how long they’ll retain it, and how likely they are to learn other similar concepts that well,” says Ferreira. “I can tell you that to a degree that most people don’t think is possible. It sounds like space talk.” By watching as a student interacts with it, the platform extrapolates, for example, “If you learn concept No. 513 best in the morning between 8:20 and 9:35 with 80 percent text and 20 percent rich media and no more than 32 minutes at a time, well, then the odds are you’re going to learn every one of 12 highly correlated concepts best that same way.”
“We literally know everything about what you know and how you learn best, everything” Ferreira says in a video posted on the Department of Education website. “We have five orders of magnitude more data about you than Google has. …We literally have more data about our students than any company has about anybody else about anything, and it’s not even close.”
The way that Knewton describes it, this technology is an incredible, first-of-its-kind breakthrough in “personalization” – that is, the individualization of instruction and assessment, mediated through technology in this case. “Personalization” as it’s often framed it meant to counter the “one-size-fits-all” education that, stereotypically at least, the traditional classroom provides.
And if the phrase “semi-read your mind” didn’t set off your bullshit detector, I’ll add this: there’s a dearth of evidence – nothing published in peer-reviewed research journals – that Knewton actually works. (We should probably interrogate what it means when companies or researchers say that any ed-tech “works.” What does that verb mean?) Knewton surely isn’t, as Ferreira described it in an interview with Wired, “a magic pill.”
Yet that seems to be beside the point. The company, which has raised some $105 million in venture capital and has partnered with many of the world’s leading textbook publishers, has tapped into a couple of popular beliefs: 1) that instructional software can “adapt” to each individual student and 2) that that’s a desirable thing.
The efforts to create, as Ferreira puts it, a “robot-tutor” are actually quite long-running. Indeed the history of education technology throughout the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries could be told by looking at these endeavors. Even the earliest teaching machines – those developed before the advent of the computer – strove to function much like today’s “adaptive technologies.” These devices would allow students, their inventors argued, to “learn at their own pace,” a cornerstone of “personalization” via technology.
It’s easy perhaps to scoff at the crudity of these machines, particularly when compared to the hype and flash from today’s ed-tech industry. Ohio State University professor Sidney Pressey built the prototype for his device “the Automatic Teacher” out of typewriter parts, debuting it at the 1924 American Psychological Association meeting. A little window displayed a multiple choice question, and the student could press one of four keys to select the correct answer. The machine could be used to test a student – that is, to calculate how many right answers were chosen overall; or it could be used to “teach” – the next question would not be revealed until the student got the first one right, and a counter would keep track of how many tries it took.
Ed-tech might look, on the surface, to be fancier today, but these are still the mechanics that underlies so much of it.
It’s Harvard psychology professor and radical behaviorist B. F. Skinner who is often credited as the inventor of the first teaching machine, even though Pressey’s work predated Skinner’s by several decades. Skinner insisted that his machines were different: while Pressey’s tested students on material they’d already been exposed to, Skinner claimed his teaching machine facilitated teaching, introducing students to new concepts in incremental steps.
This incrementalism was important for Skinner because he believed that the machines could be used to minimize the number of errors that students made along the way, maximizing the positive reinforcement that students received. (This was a key feature of his behaviorist model of learning.) Educational materials should be be broken down into small chunks and organized in a logical fashion for students to move through. Skinner called this process “programmed instruction.”
In some ways, this is akin to what Knewton claims to do today: taking the content associated with a particular course or textbook and breaking it down into small “learning objects.” Again, to quote Ferreira in the company’s latest press release, “Knewton plucks the perfect bits of content for you from the cloud and assembles them according to the ideal learning strategy for you, as determined by the combined data-power of millions of other students.”
That assembly of content based on “data-power” is distinct from what either Pressey or Skinner’s machines could do. That capability, of course, is a result of the advent of the computer. Students using these early teaching machines still had to work through the type and the order of questions as these machines presented them; they could only control the speed with which they progressed (although curriculum, as designed to be delivered by teacher or machine, typically does progress from simple to difficult). Nevertheless the underlying objective – enhanced by data and algorithms or not – has remained the same for the last century: create a machine that works like a tutor. As Skinner wrote in 1958,
The machine itself, of course, does not teach. It simply brings the student into contact with the person who composed the material it presents. It is a laborsaving device because it can bring one programmer into contact with an indefinite number of students. This may suggest mass production, but the effect upon each student is surprisingly like that of a private tutor.
A private tutor.
It’s hardly a surprise that echoing this relationship has been a goal that education technology has strived for. A private tutor is often imagined to be the best possible form of instruction, superior to “whole class instruction” associated with the public school system. And it’s what royalty and the rich have provided their children historically; parents can still spend a great deal of money in providing a private tutor for their child.
A tutor is purportedly the pinnacle of “individualized instruction.” Some common assumptions: A tutor pays attention – full attention – to only one student. The lessons are crafted and scaffolded specifically for that student, and a tutor does not move on to the next lesson until the student masters the concept at hand. A tutor offers immediate feedback, stepping in to correct errors in reasoning or knowledge. A tutor keeps the student on task and sufficiently motivated, through a blend of subject-matter expertise, teaching skills, encouragement, compassion, and rigor. But a student can also take control of the exchange, asking questions or change the topic. Working with a tutor, student is a more actively engaged learner – indeed, a tutor provides an opportunity for a student to construct their own knowledge not simply receive knowledge instruction.
Now some of these strengths of tutors may be supposition or stereotype. Nonetheless, the case for tutoring was greatly reinforced by education psychologist Benjamin Bloom who, in 1984, published his article “The Two Sigma Problem” that found that “the average student under tutoring was about 2 standard deviations above the average of the control class,” a conventional classroom with one teacher and 30 students. Tutoring is, Bloom argued, “the best learning conditions we can devise.”
But here’s the challenge that Bloom identified: one-to-one tutoring is “too costly for most societies to bear on a large scale.” It might work for the elite, but one tutor for every student simply won’t work for public education.
Enter the computer – and a rekindling of interesting in building “robot tutors.”
While the “robot tutor” can trace its lineage through the early teaching machines of Pressey and Skinner, it owes much to the work of early researchers in artificial intelligence as well, and as such, the successes and failures of “intelligent tutoring systems” can be mapped to a field that was, at its outset in the early 1950s, was quite certain it was on the verge of creating a breakthrough in “thinking machines.” And once we could could build a machine that thinks, surely we could build machines to teach humans how to think and how to learn. “Within a generation,” MIT AI professor Marvin Minsky famously predicted in 1967, “the problem of creating ‘artificial intelligence’ will substantially be solved.”
The previous year, Stanford education professor Patrick Suppes made a similar pronouncement in the pages of Scientific American:
One can predict that in a few more years millions of school children will have access to what Philip of Macedon’s son Alexander enjoyed as a royal prerogative: the personal services of a tutor as well-informed and responsive as Aristotle.
Of course, we have yet to solve the problems of artificial intelligence, let alone the problem of creating “intelligent tutoring systems,” despite decades of research.
These systems – “robot tutors” – have to be able to perform a number of tasks, far more complex than those that early twentieth century teaching machines could accomplish. To match the ideal humor tutor, robot tutors have to be programmed with enough material to be subject matter experts (or at least experts in the course materials. That’s not new or unique – pre-digital teaching machines did that too.) But they also should be able to respond with more nuance than just “right” or “wrong.” They must be able to account for what students’ misconceptions mean – why does the student choose the wrong answer. Robot tutors need to assess how the student works to solve a problem, not simply assess whether they have the correct answer. They need to provide feedback along the way. They have to be able to customize educational materials for different student populations – that means they have to be able to have a model for understanding what “different student populations” might look like and how their knowledge and their learning might differ from others. Robot tutors have to not just understand the subject at hand but they have to understand how to teach it too; they have to have a model for “good pedagogy” and be able to adjust that to suit individual students’ preferences and aptitudes. If a student asked a question, a robot would have to understand that and provide an appropriate response. All this (and more) has to be packaged in a user interface that is comprehensible and that doesn’t itself function as a roadblock to a student’s progress through the lesson.
These are all incredibly knotty problems.
In the 1960s, many researchers began to take advantage of mainframe computers and time-sharing to develop computer assisted instructional (CAI) systems. Much like earlier, pre-digital teaching machines, these were often fairly crude – as Mark Urban-Lurain writes in his history of intelligent tutoring systems, “Essentially, these were automated flash card systems, designed to present the student with a problem, receive and record the student’s response, and tabulate the student’s overall performance on the task.” As the research developed, these systems began to track a student’s previous responses and present them with materials – different topics, different complexity – based on that history.
Early examples of CAI include the work of Patrick Suppes and Richard Atkinson at their lab at Stanford, the Institute for Mathematical Studies in the Social Sciences. They developed a system that taught reading and arithmetic to elementary students in Palo Alto as well as in rural Kentucky and Mississippi. In 1967, the two founded the Computer Curriculum Corporation, which sold CAI systems – mainframes, terminals, and curriculum – to schools.
(The company was acquired in 1990 by Simon & Schuster, which a few years later sold the CAI software to Pearson.)
Meanwhile, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, another CAI system was under development, no small part due to the work by then graduate student Don Bitzer on the university’s ILLIAC–1 mainframe. He called it Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations or PLATO. Bitzer recognized that the user interface would be key for any sort of educational endeavor, and as such he thought that the terminals that students used should offer more than text-based Teletype, which at the time was the common computer interface. Bitzer helped develop a screen that could display both text and graphics. And more than just display, the screen enabled touch. PLATO boasted another feature too: the programming language TUTOR which (ostensibly at least) allowed anyone to build lessons for the system.
(Much like CCC, PLATO was eventually spun out of the university lab into a commercial product, sold by the Control Data Corporation. CDC sold the trademark “PLATO” in 1989 to The Roach Organization which changed its name to PLATO Learning. Another online network based on PLATO called NovaNet was developed by the UIUC, later purchased by National Computer Systems which in turn was acquired by Pearson. NovaNet was only recently sunsetted: on August 31 of this year. Pearson is also, of course, an investor in Knewton.)
Work on computer-assisted instruction continued in the 1970s and 1980s – the term “intelligent tutoring system” (ITS) was coined in 1982 by D. Sleeman and J.S. Brown. Research focused on modeling student knowledge, including their misconceptions or “bugs” that led to their making errors. In general, artificial intelligence had also made strides in natural language processing that boosted computers’ capabilities to process students’ input and queries – beyond their choosing one answer in a multiple choice question. The emerging field of cognitive science also began to shape research in education technology as well. Intelligent tutoring systems have remained one of the key areas in the overlap between AI and ed-tech research.
Nevertheless many of the early claims about the coming of “robot tutors” were also challenged early, in no small part because buying these systems proved to be even more expensive for schools and districts than hiring human teachers. And as MIT researcher Ronni Rosenberg wrote in a 1987 review of the “robot tutor” literature,
My readings convinced me that ITS work is characterized by two major methodological flaws. First, ITSs are not well grounded in a model of learning; they seem more motivated by available technology than by educational needs. Many of the systems sidestep altogether the critical problem of modeling the tutoring process and the ones that do try to shed light on cognitive theories of learning do not provide convincing evidence for their theories. What almost all the systems do model, implicitly, is a single learning scheme that is hierarchical, top-down, goal-driven, and sequential. Most of the researchers appear to take for granted that this is the best (if not the only) style of learning, a point that is disputed by educational and social science researchers.
Second, positive claims for ITSs are based on testing that typically is poorly controlled, incompletely reported, inconclusive, and in some cases totally lacking.
So in the almost thirty years since Ronenberg’s article, has there been a major breakthrough in “robot tutors”? Not really. Rather there’s been a steady progress of work on the topic, driven in part by a belief in the superiority of individualized instruction as exemplified by a human tutor. And there’s a ton of marketing hype. We seem to love the story of a “robot tutor.”
As I joked at the beginning of this keynote, the discussions and development of automation are fundamentally labor issues: the robots, we’re told, are coming for our jobs.
Now everyone from B. F. Skinner to Knewton’s CEO Jose Ferreira likes to insist that they don’t intend for their machines to replace teachers. (Sometimes I think they doth protest too much.) Nevertheless, the notion of a “robot tutor” – as a replacement for a human tutor or as an augmentation to a human teacher – still raises important questions about how exactly we view the labor of teaching and learning. As I argued in a talk earlier this year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, there are things that computers cannot do – things at the very core of the project of education, things at the very core of our work: computers cannot, computers do not care. It may be less that our machines are becoming more intelligent; it may be that we humans are becoming more like machines.
I was recently contacted by a writer for Slate magazine who was working on a story on adaptive technologies. We all know the plot by now: these stories stress the fact that this software is “reshaping the entire educational experience in some settings.” (That last phrase – “in some settings” – is key.) That teachers no longer “teach”; they tutor. They walk around the class and help when an individual student gets stuck. Students can move at their own pace. “This strikes me as a promising approach in a setting like a developmental math course at a community college,” the journalist wrote to me. And I asked him why the most vulnerable students should get the robot – a robot, remember, that does not care.
A 2011 article by Arizona State University’s Kurt VanLehn reviewed the literature on human and intelligent tutoring systems found that the effect size of the latter was .76, far below Bloom’s famous “two sigma” claim. But VanLehn found that, broadening his analysis beyond the limited number of studies Bloom included, human tutoring also failed to attain that storied 2.0 effect size. The effect of human tutoring, according to VanLehn’s literature review, was only .79. In other words, “robot tutors” might be almost as effective as humans – at least, as measured by the ways in which researchers have established their experiments to gauge “effectiveness.” (There are numerous caveats about VanLehn’s findings including the content areas, the problem sets, the student populations excluded, and the different types of ITS systems included.)
Overall the research on “robot tutors” is pretty mixed. As MIT education researcher Justin Reich has pointed out, “Some rigorous studies show no effects of adaptive systems as compared to traditional instruction, and others show small to moderate effects. In the aggregate, most education policy experts don't consider it to be a reliability effective approach to improve mathematics learning.”
Robot tutors are not, as Knewton’s CEO has boasted, “magic pills.”
So as Reich says, we should be cautious about what exactly these adaptive systems can really do and if it’s the type of thing we really value. Reich writes that,
Much of what we care most about in the mathematics of the future – the ability to find problems in complex scenarios, the ability to create appropriate models of those problems, and the ability to articulate and defend the rationale for particular solutions – is nearly impossible to test using computer graded systems. Most of what computer assisted instructional systems can evaluate are student computational skills, which are exactly the kinds of things that computers are much better at doing than human beings.
“Robot tutors,” it is worth noting, are not the only path that computers in education can follow. As Seymour Papert wrote in his 1980 book Mindstorms, computers have mostly been used to replicate existing 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 envisioned instead “the child programming the computer,” and he believed that computers could be a powerful tool for students to construct their own knowledge. That’s “personalization” that a skilled human tutor could help facilitate – fostering student inquiry and student agency. But “robot tutors,” despite the venture capital and the headlines, can’t yet get beyond their script.
And that’s a problem with algorithms as well.
Algorithms increasingly drive our world: what we see on Facebook or Twitter, what Amazon or Netflix suggest we buy or watch, the search results that Google returns, our credit scores, whether we’re selected by TSA for additional security, and so on. Algorithms drive educational software too – this is the boast of a company like Knewton. But it’s the claim of other companies as well: how TurnItIn can identify plagiarism, how Civitas Learning can identify potential drop-outs, how Degree Compass can recommend college classes, and so on.
Now I confess, I’m a literature person. I’m a cultural studies person. I’m not a statistics person. I’m not a math person. Some days I play the role of a technology person, but only on the Internet. So although I want to push for more “algorithmic transparency,” a counter-balance to what law professor Frank Pasquale has called “the black box society,” it’s not like showing me the code is really going to do much good. But we can nevertheless, I think, still look at the human inputs – the culture, the values, the goals of the engineers and entrepreneurs – and ask questions about the algorithms and the paths they want to push students down.
(I saw a headline from MIT this morning – “Why Self-Driving Cars Must Be Programmed to Kill” – for an article calling for “algorithmic morality.” I reckon that is something for the humanities scholars and the social scientists among us to consider; not simply the computer scientists at MIT.)
We can surmise what feeds the algorithms that drive educational technologies. It is, as I noted earlier, often administrative goals. This might include: improving graduation rates, improving attendance, identifying classes that students will easily pass. (That is not to say these might not be students’ goals as well; it’s just that they are distinct, I’d contend, from learning goals.) The algorithms that drive ed-tech often serve the platform or the software’s goals too: more clicking, which means more “engagement,” which does not necessarily mean more learning, but it can make for a nice graph for you to show your investors.
Algorithms circumscribe, all while giving us the appearance of choice, the appearance of personalization: Netflix thinks you’ll like the new Daredevil series, for example, based on the fact you’ve watched Thor half a dozen times. But it won’t, it can’t suggest you pick up and read Marvel’s Black Panther. And it won’t suggest you watch the DC animated comics series, either, because it no longer has a license to stream them. What’s the analogy of this to education? What are algorithms going to suggests? What does that recommendation engine look like?
And who gets this “algorithmic education”? Who experiences automated education? Who will have robot tutors? Who will have caring and supportive humans as teachers and mentors?
Serendipity and curiosity are such important elements in learning. Why would we engineer those out of our systems and schools? (And which systems and which schools?)
Austerity. I think that can explain (partially) why.
Many of us in education technology talk about this being a moment of great abundance – information abundance – thanks to digital technologies. But I think we are actually / also at a moment of great austerity. And when we talk about the future of education, we should question if we are serving a world of abundance or if we are serving a world of austerity. I believe that automation and algorithms, these utterly fundamental features of much of ed-tech, do serve austerity. And it isn’t simply that “robot tutors” (or robot keynote speakers) are coming to take our jobs; it’s that they could limit the possibilities for, the necessities of care and curiosity.
That’s not a future I want for anyone.
Via The New York Times: “Riot police officers and students protesting against tuition increases clashed on Wednesday outside the Parliament building in Cape Town, the latest in a series of student demonstrations that have gripped South Africa this year.” Following this week’s protests, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma announced he would scrap the plan to raise tuition fees.
Elsewhere in South Africa: “Students in mainly-black South African townships around Johannesburg and Pretoria are being given shiny new tablet computers as part of the provincial government's ambition to create a ‘paperless classroom’,” The Economist reports. “But the investment in technology is having an unwanted side-effect: it is attracting the attention of criminals. Along with lessons, education officials are issuing tips on how to avoid muggers.”
“Education Secretary Arne Duncan is preparing to unveil a package of proposals aimed at forcing colleges that receive federal money to improve graduation rates and to provide students with job skills,” says The Wall Street Journal. More via Inside Higher Ed.
In order to “move innovation forward,” Arne Duncan posted on Medium. Or something like that.
According to The Digital Reader, the Affordable Textbook Act has been reintroduced in Congress.
From the US Presidential trail: via The Atlantic: “In an interview with Glenn Beck, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson declared that if elected, he wouldn’t eliminate the Department of Education, as parts of the conservative movement have long urged. ‘I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do,’ he said. ‘It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding if it exists.’”
And congrats to Canada for ousting Prime Minister Harper. The Liberals won this week’s elections, meaning (former teacher) Justin Trudeau will be the new PM.
Via Vox: “What Scotland learned from making college tuition free.”
Via TechDirt: “UK Goes Full Orwell: Government To Take Children Away From Parents If They Might Become Radicalized.”
The H–1B visa program is coming under increasing scrutiny, says Inside Higher Ed.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “On Wednesday 72 women’s and civil rights organizations urged the U.S. Education Department to tell colleges that they must monitor anonymous apps like Yik Yak – frequently the source of sexist and racist comments about named or identifiable students – and do something to protect those students who are named. The groups said they view anonymous online abuse as an emerging issue under provisions of the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”
Education in the Courts
Via The Atlantic: “On Friday, a federal circuit court made clear that Google Books is legal. A three-judge panel on the Second Circuit ruled decisively for the software giant against the Authors Guild, a professional group of published writers which had alleged Google's scanning of library books and displaying of free ‘snippets’ online violated its members’s copyright.” More via Inside Higher Ed and Buzzfeed. The Authors Guild plans to appeal.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Student loan borrowers and others will be able to sue a national student loan corporation after a federal appeals court said Wednesday that the corporation’s affiliation with a state government does not shield it from lawsuits.”
Via the AP: “A federal judge has issued a final judgment rejecting Gov. Bobby Jindal’s federal lawsuit against the Common Core education standards, clearing the way for him to take his case to an appeals court.” Jindal’s lawsuit contends that the Department of Education is illegally compelling states to adopt the Common Core.
Via Education Week: “The Department of Defense Education Activity, which operates schools for children from military families, announced Wednesday that it is joining the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing consortium.”
More students are taking the CS AP exam, CS professor Mark Guzdial observes (although way more take the physics AP test).
The number of people getting their GED since recent changes to the test is declining. Nine times fewer people in Mississippi, for example, have passed the test.
“Major Delay in Obtaining ACT Scores,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
MOOCs and UnMOOCs
Well look at that. MOOCs – or “certain coursers” at least – on Coursera will no longer be free.
People are still signing up for MOOCs, and The Chronicle of Higher Education is on it.
Via Justin Reich: “Are MOOC Forums Echo Chambers or Bridging Spaces?”
“Philanthropy University” – MOOCs to teach people how to donate their money.
“Value of MOOCs more nuanced than completion rates,” says Education Dive.
The New York Times looks at the edX course“Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought,” taught by Feng Wuzhong, an associate professor at Tsinghua’s School of Marxism. “It was like watching propaganda,” one student said. An NYU professor called the class “pure hack stuff” and said it should be cancelled.
Meanwhile on Campus
Via the New York Post: “A Bronx principal ordered her teachers to give up their desks last week, and had the furniture dumped at the curb — telling staff she doesn’t want them sitting in class.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, are starting a private school in Palo Alto.
Via Vox: “Goldman Sachs paid to expand pre-K in Utah. It worked.”
“The first School in the Cloud learning lab in the United States opens in Harlem.” This is part of Sugata Mitra’s $1 million TED Prize.
Via The New York Times: “$300-a-Night Hotel Houses N.Y.U. Students.”
“Cal State U System Expands E-Portfolio Option,” says Inside Higher Ed.
“Indiana University at Bloomington has expelled Triceten D. Bickford, a sophomore who has been charged with physically attacking a Muslim woman and trying to remove her head scarf,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
PBS ran a segment on the charter school chain Success Academy and its discipline practices. The segment prompted a dust-up with founder Eva Moskowitz demanding an apology and releasing one student’s school records, purportedly to counter claims made in the show. Related: “Student Discipline, Race And Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter Schools” by the Shanker Institute’s Leo Casey.
One person was killed and two were injured in a shooting at Tennessee State University.
Via The LA Times: “UC President Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she is preparing a plan to significantly increase the number of California undergraduates in the 2016–17 school year throughout the university system, including at UCLA and UC Berkeley, where admission is the most difficult.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Kentucky is asking a small distillery, Kentucky Mist Moonshine, to stop using the word ‘Kentucky’ on T-shirts and other materials, saying that the word is covered by a university trademark.”
Via Buzzfeed: “A $20 million donation to the small, struggling Paul Smith’s College by the wife of a finance billionaire came with a significant string attached: the school had to rename itself after her, changing its name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College.” A judge ruled that the school could not change its name; so Joan Weill withdrew her donation.
Via Quartz: “Ole Miss students vote to take down the state flag, with its Confederate symbol.”
“This Is What a Rapist Can Look Like, Actually,” writes Jamil Smith in TNR about a college student’s photo that’s gone viral.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “George Wythe University, a tiny, unaccredited institution in Utah that is known for its unorthodox curriculum and its ties to several conservative state lawmakers, will shut its doors after reaching a settlement with the state’s consumer-protection division.”
Go, School Sports Team!
Hocking Community College faces criticism after recruiting Trent Mays as quarterback. Mays was one of the Steubenville High School students convicted of rape in 2013.
Via the AP: “College of The Albemarle trustees indefinitely suspend athletics.”
“Cleveland Browns cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu collected a $3 million insurance policy on Monday for slipping in the NFL draft, a source confirmed to ESPN.com. It’s the most a college player has ever collected on a loss of value policy, which insures the player if he slips in the draft. Olomu and the University of Oregon bought the loss of value policy for the first team All-America cornerback before his senior year. Olomu tore his ACL in practice two weeks before the college football semifinal playoff game at the Rose Bowl against Florida State.”
From the HR Department
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The National Labor Relations Board – voting 3 to 1 – agreed Wednesday to reconsider whether graduate teaching assistants at private nonprofit universities are entitled to collective bargaining.”
“Competency-Based Education Gets Employers’ Attention,” says Education Week.
Via The Atlantic: “When the Boss Foots the Bill for College.”
“Why Is Blackboard Laying Off Staff Despite Improved Market Share Position?” asks Mindwire Consulting’s Phil Hill.
Upgrades and Downgrades
Via The LA Times: “Why Sesame Street’s new character isn’t representative of most kids with autism.”
And the winner for the silliest ed-tech headline this week: “Google, micro-learning & the future of education.” Congratulations, The Next Web, for posting an article by the CEO of a company called Lrn.
The Digital Public Library of America has released“Primary Source Sets” designed for education.
“As the Online Learning Consortium unveiled a $2.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to reward digital education initiatives that help underserved students,” says Inside Higher Ed. More via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Skills Fund is a new private lender for the coding bootcamp market. Inside Higher Ed has the details. (Meanwhile, the credit rating agency Moody’s says that bootcamps are a “credit positive” for institutions.)
Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texas teen who was arrested after bringing a homemade clock to school, is moving with his family to Qatar.
Edsurge’s “guide to a nation of edtech accelerators.”
“Amazon Announces New Kids Pilots for Its 2015 Fall Pilot Season” including If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
“Pearson Stock Stumbles After Slashing Earnings Forecast,” Edsurge writes.
The Internet Archive has received a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to improve the Wayback Machine.
Via Edsurge: “Six Questions About Reach Capital’s $53 Million Edtech Fund.” (That is, a new VC firm spun out of NewSchools Venture Fund.)
Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
Via Education Week: “A Special Report on Student-Data Privacy.”
Via Patch.com: “Three Commack High School students were arrested Tuesday morning and charged with hacking into the district’s computer system and changing student grades and schedules earlier this year.”
Data and “Research”
Via the Hechinger Report: “Schools exacerbate the growing achievement gap between rich and poor, a 33-country study finds.”
“Does a new study on Tennessee’s pre-K program prove preschool is ineffective? Not quite,” says Sara Mead in US News & World Report.
The latest from the Pew Research Center: “Slightly fewer Americans are reading print books.”
Via the Christian Science Monitor: “A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality threatens to put a damper on America’s grit mania, with research that suggests that knowing when to throw in the towel is just as important as the willingness to put up a fight.”
From a paper titled “Changing Distributions: How Online College Classes Alter Student and Professor Performance”: “Using an instrumental variables approach and data from DeVry University, this study finds that, on average, online course-taking reduces student learning by one-third to one-quarter of a standard deviation compared to conventional in-person classes. Taking a course online also reduces student learning in future courses and persistence in college.”
My latest book is now available for purchase.
Claim Your Domain – and Own Your Online Presence is part of the series “Solutions for Modern Learning” and draws on my work on students “reclaiming” their education and in particularly owning their own domain. (Other titles in the series, edited by Will Richardson and published by Solution Tree, include The End of School as We Know It by Bruce Dixon, Freedom to Learn by Will Richardson, and Make School Meaningful – And Fun by Roger Schank.)
From the publisher’s description:
Help protect student work – and more importantly – student identity. This powerful book puts learners at the forefront of education to ensure they control their schoolwork, content, and data. Dig deep into the digital revolution occurring in schools and classrooms, explore how to incorporate traditional instructional practices in the digital classroom, and understand the skills students need to be digitally literate.
It’s quite a short book and it’s probably familiar territory to those who’ve followed my work. In it, I look at the ways in which students’ personal data is increasingly wrenched from their (or their parents’) control, thanks to new digital technologies that schools compel students to use. I'm interested in pushing back on this particular vision for ed-tech, and I want us to ask: how do we change education technology (and more broadly, education itself) from an extraction effort so something that students have ownership over. One of the cornerstones of this effort is, of course, the University of Mary Washington’s Domain of One’s Own Initiative.
Students – all of us really – should work to build and adopt technologies that we control for ourselves. Hopefully this book helps to lay out the groundwork for why this is so crucial.