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The History of the Future of Education Technology

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    Politics and Policies

    The University of Virginia has become the frontline of the battle for control over public education this week, as the fallout and outrage over the Board of Visitors’ firing of President Theresa Sullivan continues. In FOIA-ed emails, it appears as though the BOV read a couple of op-eds from David Brooks and John Chubb and decided that if the school didn’t jump on board the MOOC train right now that the “campus tsunami” was apparently going to destroy them all. Instead, it looks like they’ve done their best to destroy a public university. Good job! (And it’s worth noting that the “job” here is a result of being a political appointee a.k.a. big donor of Virginia governor Bob McDonnell).

    On the campaign trail, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been hailing the for-profit Full Sail University as an example of a school that has managed to keep college costs under control. But according to a new site launched by the Department of Education this week, the College Affordability & Transparency Center, Full Sail University has the third highest net price for for-profit 4-year schools and is more expensive than public or private non-profit universities.

    Attorneys-General in 15 states are investigating QuinStreet a California-based marketing firm that’s matching for-profit universities with military veterans who have GI Bill benefits to spend. The company runs the site and is being accused of misleading vets into thinking that it’s actually a governmental agency.

    American education is failing, says the College Board (which as I’ve noted in the past profits handily on testing students, so I guess it would know, right?). To help draw attention to the problem, it’s launched a “Don’t Forget about Ed” campaign, timed with the Presidential election. It installed some 857 desks on the National Mall this week to highlight the number of students who drop out of high school every hour.

    Last week, there were indications that Jeff Bezos and Hillary Clinton were poised to announce a Kindle Learning Initiative. But the event at the State Department was cancelled, and no word given as to why. Meanwhile, the National Federation of the Blind has sent a letter to the Secretary of State pointing out that the Kindle does not meet the needs of the blind or print disabled. “It is no excuse that a vendor has not made its product accessible.”


    The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that says that students can be punished for their Facebook posts. In the unanimous decision, it said that it wasn’t saying that public universities can regulate students’ personal expression, but it found in this case that the student in question had violated “academic program rules that are narrowly tailored and directly related to established professional conduct standards.” The student in question was part of the University of Minnesota’s mortuary program and had posted to Facebook statements about her playing with cadavers. (Um, isn’t that the problem more than Facebook status updates? I’m no lawyer, but still…) The Chronicle has more details.


    It’s the time for summer blockbusters, and among them let there be MTT2K, not to be confused – or only slightly confused with MST3K – Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000. This is actually the work of hosts Dave Coffey and John Golden who, much like the MST3K antecedent, offer a running commentary as they watch math videos. Um, the running commentary is much like MST3K. The quality of the videos they’re reviewing isn’t the same. OR IS IT? Coffey and Golden watch and respond to Khan Academy videos, and it looks like their first episode, in which they find substantial flaws with how Khan teaches the multiplication of negative numbers. Dan Meyer points out that they really need better sound equipment. And Khan Academy has yanked the original video they analyze.

    LaunchPad Toys, one of my picks for the best education startups of 2011, has launched its latest app, MonkeyGram.  Look for a review tomorrow!

    The Reading Rainbow app has finally arrived on the iPad. It had its official launch this week, which resulted in lots of gushing stories from tech journalists who were thrilled to spend a little time with Levar Burton. And honestly, I would be too. But I would have asked him some tough questions about how the $9.99 per month subscription fee jives with what was once the encouragement for kids to find books in their public library (you know, that place where you can read for free).

    The Chronicle covers the launch of Heroes of Hat!, the first game released by Utah Game Forge, a University of Utah owned and operated company that helps students bring their video games to market. Bonus: students retain IP.

    Not an official launch, but an official unveiling: Microsoft announced Surface, its new tablet. One of the features that’s caught people’s attention is its cover/keyboard. Is this feature enough to help unseat Apple’s domination of the tablet market? Price will be a key factor, but Microsoft did not reveal how much the Surface will cost nor when it will be released. “Coming soon,” which wil be too late for schools making IT decisions for the 2012–13 school year.

    The American Federation of Teachers has partnered with TSL Education (the British publisher of the weekly Times Educational Supplement) to release a lesson-plan sharing website: The site will offer free resources to teachers, and as The New York Times cites a TSL executive saying, if teachers “are here to share user-generated content, you can’t turn that into a marketplace and think you can get away with it.” Of course lots of sites do “get away with it” (what a striking way to frame that, eh?), including BetterLesson, and TeachersPayTeachers.

    The Wikiotics Foundation has launched an open education campaign to build the “Last Language Textbook,” the idea being to create free, openly-licensed, and Web-based resources to replace language-learning textbooks. The campaign will start with English-language-learning resources.

    Updates and Upgrades

    I’ve been a fan of the content on iTunesU for a while, but one of the things that it’s definitely lacked is a social element. But now Stanford University’s most popular iTunes U course, iPad and iPhone Application Development will have that, thanks to a partnership between the university and Piazza, a social learning startup that lets students and teachers interact online, in real-time. Here’s hoping more classes and more universities follow suit.


    In order to save money, Michigan State University will be closing thousands of alumni email accounts. The school will no longer maintain the email accounts of students who graduated over 2 years ago, which means the end to the .edu domain for about 117,000 people.

    After news that several of its teen users had been approached by child predators, sexually assaulted and raped, the flirting app Skout has shut down its teen community. Only those 18+ will be able to use the app. The Wall Street Journal takes a closer look at what happened at Skout, despite the startup having lots of precautions in place to prevent this sort of thing.

    Research and Data

    Confidence in public schools has reached an all time low, finds Gallup. Just 29% of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them. It also found record low confidence in the news – 21% – who have been doing a bang-up job informing us about how schools are failing, am I right?

    The GAO released a report this week comparing the ways in which charter schools and public schools address special needs students. The summary of its findings: about 11% of students enrolled in regular public schools were on special education plans in 2009–10, but just 8% of charter school students are. Cue the accusations that charter schools purposefully ignore or fail to enroll special education students. The Shanker Blog, of course, has the best insight into the study and the stats.

    Some interesting statistics out of MITx, which recently wrapped up its first MOOC, 6.002x Circuits and Electronics: 154,763 students registered; 7,157 received certificates for passing the class. That’s a 5% completion rate, compared to a 14% completion rate for Stanford’s famous AI MOOC.

    The Pew Center has released its latest report, this one on libraries and e-books. It found, among other things, that 58% of all library card holders say they do not know if their library provides e-book lending services. There’s a lot more in this report than this one statistic, but it certainly seems to indicate that the publishers’ claims that e-book lending at libraries is going to destroy their businesses is a wee bit of an exaggeration.

    The results of a survey about higher ed’s adjunct workforce, undertaken by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, have been released. And no big shocker here: the news is grim. half of those who answered the 2010 survey saying that their annual personal income is less than $35,000 and two-thirds saying that they make under $45,000. Inside Higher Ed has more details.


    Codecademy has raised $10 million. Bloomberg reports that the startup is considering offering career-matching services, helping companies find developers.

    UniversityNow has raised $17.5 million for its for-profit university.  Read more from me about this school and its business model here.

    The Gates Foundation announced $9 million in grants to “support breakthrough learning models in higher education.” That includes $1 million to edX, because apparently the $30 million apiece from Harvard and MIT wasn’t enough, eh?

    A hearty congrats to GlueJar which has successfully unglued its first book, Oral Literature in Africa. The title will now be made available in an openly licensed digital format, thanks to GlueJar’s crowdfunding platform, (My post on the site’s launch is here.)

    This is actually an end-of-funding story: Phil Hill analyzes the University of Michigan and Indiana University’s decision to pause their investments in the open source LMS, the Sakai Open Academic Environment. While Hill argues that, on the surface at least, the decision won’t change much, he does wonder what the future holds for Sakai Project.


    Former NYC school chancellor Joel Klein is getting back to work focusing on the education-side of the News Corp business, wrapping up his duties as the internal investigator on the company’s phone hacking scandal.

    Photo credits: Think Progress

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    Every week, Steve Hargadon and I sit down (virtually) to talk about the latest ed-tech news. I always find our conversation to be one of the most thought-provoking exchanges I have all week.  This week, we weren't virtual -- we were sitting together at the San Diego Convention Center.  Unfortunately, this means the sound quality is pretty poor on this recording, particularly as you can hear the sounds in the background of the final preparations for ISTE 2012.

    ISTE 2012 was the topic of much our conversation, as were my stories on UniversityNow, the 3 laws of ed-tech robotics, and CodeNow

    The link to the MP3 of the show is below, and/or you can subscribe to the podcast feed. You can also find the podcast in iTunes, as part of Steve's EdTechLive series.

    June 22, 2012

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    Politics and Policies


    Legislators in DC have reached an agreement on student loans, but it’s really not worth celebrating. Much of the debate about this issue has revolved around not raising the interest rates on federally subsidized student loans. And the rates won’t go up. But no longer will students have a six-month grace period after graduation before having to start paying back their loans. And no more subsidized loans for graduate study either.

    The University of Virginia Board of Visitors met on Tuesday and voted to reinstate president Theresa Sullivan, a complete reversal of their decision June 10 to fire her. I’d just like to note here that after all the hullaballoo that the BOV made that she was failing to prepare the university for a technological future, that some 13,000 people were able to tune in to the U-streams broadcasting their meeting and the reactions from the Lawn. That doesn’t really strike me as a technology infrastructure that’s not forward facing. Just sayin’

    Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has signed a law eliminating state funding for public libraries.

    The Texas Republican Party has updated its party platform. Of note, in the “Protecting Our Children” section, it states that “We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”


    The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, the Obama Administration’s federal health care law, this week. As analysts and pundits and politicians have sought to interpret the ruling, some are asking how this might impact education. Will the Court’s ruling on Medicaid expansion influence things like NCLB? Education Week’s Mark Walsh looks more closely at this issue.

    The free textbook company Boundless, which I covered here when it was sued by major publishers for copyright infringement, has filed a motion to dismiss two of the publishers’ claims.


    On Tuesday, Twitter, Google, GE and eBay announced that they were joining the Girls Who Code initiative, a program that will launch in New York this summer and that will help support young women in engineering and programming career paths.

    Apple has launched a podcasting app (iTunes link), that pulls the podcasts available in iTunes out of that application and into this new setting. It’s supposed to make it easier to discover new podcasts.

    Clever, a Y-Combinator-funded startup that aims to address some of the questions about data silos in education, came out of stealth this week. Clever is building APIs to help connect SISes to other third-party apps.

    Updates and Upgrades

    Microsoft announced a change to the name and the terms of service of its email and productivity suite aimed at the education market. Live@EDU will end, to be replaced by Office 365 (the same version that companies can already use). No longer will Microsoft charge schools for each user – Office 365 will be free for students.

    Google Apps for Education announced at ISTE that it now offers grade-level-specific “app packs.” It’s an effort to help make it easier to find and install Web apps.

    The online study group website OpenStudy is now offering certificates so you can highlight with others what you've been doing on their site.  It looks like these will start at $50 apiece.

    I guess I’m in the minority with my less-than-enthusiastic response to the new Reading Rainbow app. But good news: all the original TV show episodes are now available for free on YouTube.

    A sign of the times: one of the longest running education technology publications, THE Journal, will no longer publish a print magazine. As of the June/July issue, it will be digital only.

    Research and Data

    This research isn’t about human learning; it’s about machines learning – and that makes it even more fascinating and frightening. The New York Times reports on Google’s research on creating a simulation of the human brain, using some 16,000 computers to create an artificial neural network. By pouring through YouTube videos, the network has taught itself to recognize cats.

    Another study has been released from the Pew Research Center, this one about cell internet usage. Among the findings: 17% of cellphone owners do most of their online browsing on their phone, rather than on a computer or other device. While some do this for the sake of convenience, there are those for whom their cellphone is the only way they can access to the Internet.

    According to a new article from David Wiley (published in IRRODL!), he’s identified an open textbook deployment model that reduces the cost by 50% of traditional proprietary textbook implementations.

    Funding and Acquisition

    Following the posting onto YouTube of a group of teens bullying 68-year-old school bus monitor Karen Klein, the Internet stepped in to crowdfund over $666,000 to “send her on vacation.”

    The digital course materials management company Rafter (which recently spun out of the textbook rental company Bookrenter) has made its first acquisition: HubEdu. HubEdu offers similar services – price comparison and textbook adoption information.


    The San Diego School District has purchased 26,000 iPads for the new school year. The price tag for what’s being touted as the largest iPad deployment in K–12: $15 million. In other San Diego School District news, the district and teachers’ union have reached an agreement to bring back the 1372 teachers that were laid off this year, to hold off on all pay raises promised by the district two years ago, and to extend five unpaid furlough days for an additional two years. The district has shortened the school year by 19 days to help overcome a $150 million shortfall. But OMG YAY those kids will have iPads.


    Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp will be splitting into two separate and publicly-traded companies (with Murdoch still at the helm of both). The division seems to be between “old” and “new” – the publishing wing and the entertainment wing. The former includes News Corp’s newspaper holdings, where Murdoch got his start. The latter includes Fox News and 20th Century Fox. Any guesses which one the company’s education interests fall into? (The New York Times has some speculation on that.)


    ISTE announced its new CEO as the current CEO Don Knezek is stepping down. Brian Lewis will take over leadership of the organization this fall. Most recently, Lewis has been the chief strategy officer for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

    Classes, Conferences and Competitions

    ISTE 2012 was held this week in San Diego. I haven’t heard the official count yet on how many attendees or vendors were there. But despite the budget cuts everywhere, the event seemed big and the vendors exhuberant.

    Google is jumping on the MOOC bandwagon – what it describes as the “learning format pioneered by Stanford and MIT.” (Ouch. Sorry Dave and George and Alec, et al.) It’s offering an online class on Power Searching with Google. I’ve signed up, not so much lured by the promise of a certificate from The Goog but by some of the tricks I read about from Google’s “anthropologist of search” Daniel Russell’s recent talk at the recent Investigative Reporters and Editors conference.

    Dan Meyer and Justin Reich are sponsoring the MTT2K Prize, a response to the Mystery Teacher Theater 2000 Episode 1 created by John Golden and David Coffey. Much like Mystery Science Theater 3000, the two offered a running commentary on a video – but not a low budget SF film, but on a Khan Academy video. They highlighted a number of errors in a video, prompting Khan Academy to pull the video in question. The story and the parody video have been picked up by numerous media outlets, prompting Sal Khan to tell The Chronicle that those who criticize him are “a bit arrogant and disparaging.” So if you’re the arrogant and disparaging type – you know, an experienced teacher, perhaps, who sees there’s something awry in a KA video – you can submit your own MTT2K video to Meyer and Reich.

    More money for robot graders: the Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring another competition on automated grading – this time for short answers.

    Photo credits: Daniel Blume

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    In May, I decided to re-institute a new monthly feature here, something that I used to write for MindShift: a post highlighting some of the new and updated educational apps that have been released over the past 30 days or so. I say “or so” here as this is just the second time doing this in about six months, and I’m including below 2 apps that were released in May. Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the new educational apps – just 6 that I think are pretty interesting.  (The list would be 7, but I've opted not to include LaunchPad Toys' latest here as I just wrote about it last week. But do check out MonkeyGram.) launched in May, but it’s worth highlighting here. An online community for young makers, DIY encourages kids to show off what they’ve built or drawn, anything they’ve made at school or at home. The site, which is aimed at those 6 and older, has kids use animal avatars to help obscure their real identities. The design of the site (and those avatars) is wonderful, and the mission of encouraging making and helping kids create an online portfolio is important. offers an iOS app that allows kids to snap photos of their creations and upload them to the site. There, they can share with friends and family.

    iOS and Web, free (iTunes link)


    This app is another release from May, but it’s become one of my favorite puzzle games. Cargo-Bot is a noteworthy app for a couple of reasons: first, because it teaches computational thinking. And second, because it’s been built with Codea, a programming tool that lets you build apps for your iPad, on your iPad. But even if Cargo-Bot was built with C++, I’d still recommend it here. With Cargo-Bot, you have to program a robotic crane to move and stack crates. And that’s much easier said than done. You can use loops and if-then statements to do so, and you get points for writing a program that takes the fewest number of steps for the robot to execute it – but fair warning: these puzzles get incredibly challenging incredibly quickly.

    iOS, free (iTunes link)

    Ansel and Clair: Cretaceous Dinosaurs

    I featured the first Ansel and Clair app in my Mindshift round-up over a year ago, and the alien duo characters from that app are back – this time exploring the Cretaceous Period. As with the first app created by Cognitive Kid, these two aliens want to document and photograph what they see here on earth. Their explorations lead to lots of mini-games and lessons here about zoology, paleontology, and geology.  You can excavate fossils, watch a meteor shower, try to figure out why the dinosaurs perished, and much more.

    iOS, $1.99 (iTunes link)

    NYPL Biblion: Frankenstein

    Yes, I know I included a Frankenstein app in last month’s list. But like I said, Frankenstein is my favorite novel. And now the New York Public Library has released its collection-based app that explores items from its stacks as well as from other libraries’: handwritten pages of Mary Shelley’s original manuscript (courtesy of the Bodleian), some of her husband Percy Shelley’s early works and notebooks, photographs of Boris Karloff, manuscripts from others in the Shelleys' literary and political circles, lots of academic essays about monsters and poets, and much more.  Like the other NYPL Biblion app (which looks at the library's collections for the 1939 World's Fair), the experience browsing this application is incredibly enjoyable:  it's not the same as browsing the physical library stacks, no doubt, but there's still that sense of wonder and discovery as you move through the material.  This is such a wonderful way to present collections -- particularly rare collections that the public would otherwise not be able to easily see.

    iOS, free (iTunes link)

    Piano Dust Buster

    There are a lot of music education apps available, and so this app by JoyTunes enters a pretty crowded market. But the company's latest app Piano Dust Buster takes on a long-standing issue with those who are trying to learn a musical instrument: practicing can be frustrating. The startup has added some game dynamics to the process in the hopes of making the process more engaging. The Piano Dust Buster works as both a virtual keyboard and can also sit alongside a "real" piano, using the iOS device's microphone to help a student learn notes and rhythm.  The app comes with several songs (and you can pay to unlock more). In addition to this piano app, the company also makes one for the recorder. And that app has a Web interface as well -- useful, perhaps, for those parents and teachers who'd like a little more tonality and a little less honking coming from their kids.

    iOS, free (iTunes link)

    Build with Chrome

    Build with LEGOs, right in your Chrome browser. Need I say more? Awesome.

    Web, free (link)

    LEGO image credit: CNET

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    Every week, Steve Hargadon and I sit down to talk about the latest ed-tech news and the posts I've written here on Hack Education. I always find our conversation to be one of the most thought-provoking exchanges I have all week.

    It's only been a week since Steve and I saw each other, but with ISTE12 and Google IO occuring in the intervening days, we had a lot to talk about. So fair warning, this episode runs a little over our normal 60 minutes.

    0:39:  Our impressions of ISTE12 -- exhibitors, attendees, the necessity (or not) of conferences, and the future of ISTE as an organization. 

    38:18:  The lack of data portability in (ed-)tech.

    46:00:  Android-user Steve gives Apple-user me a hard time for attending Google IO (and coming home with 4 new Google gadgets).  That aside, what are Google's plans for education?

    The link to the MP3 of the show is below, and/or you can subscribe to the podcast feed. You can also find the podcast in iTunes, as part of Steve's EdTechLive series.

    June 29, 2012

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    But I swear... it was in selfdefence.

    A number of initiatives and startups are hoping to offers ways to give people some sort of formal(ized) recognition for their informal learning – or at least for the skills they possess for which they don’t have official diplomas or degrees. Among them: Mozilla’s Open Badges project, the social endorsement site, the soon-to-launch Degreed, and the open-to-the-public-just-today LearningJar.

    There seems to be a lot of buzz about these in the tech industry in particular -- due to the high demand for workers with programming skills, due to the feeling that a college degree in CS doesn't always mean someone has those necessary programming skills, and -- of course -- due to the concerns over the high cost of higher education. And even if there weren’t headlines and hand-wringing about the “higher education bubble," these efforts do make sense: a college degree isn’t necessarily the best or only indicator of a person’s skill-set.

    But a report released last month by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has been weighing on me as I’ve thought about the promise and potential for creating alternative forms of certification that would benefit more people more broadly.

    Read the read of my story at Inside Higher Ed

    Photo credits:  Nephelim BadTusk

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    I've already asked this week, "who will benefit from badges?" I don't want to rehash that. But I do think we need to think about the promises of "unbundling education,” and notice what we're repackaging elsewhere -- courses, content, access, power.

    A Closer Look At LearningJar

    That’s a pretty critical opening salvo, I realize, to introduce a startup I’ve been following for a year now, a startup that wants to help address this gap between the learning we do and the credit we get for it:  LearningJar, which opened its public beta this week.

    I met LearningJar co-founder Ritu Jain at a Startup Weekend EDU in June of 2011 when she was just beginning to think about ways to better recognize informal and lifelong learning. We’ve kept in touch over the last 12 months, a fascinating process from my end of things to watch a non-technical female founder hone her idea and then her product, find a technical female co-founder, design and build and – hooray! – launch. It’s interesting too to look through my notes from all our conversations and see how her vision from the summer of 2011 matches the execution in the summer of 2012. (Good job, Ritu!)

    LearningJar (then and now) hopes to serve several purposes: track what learners learn and know; guide them down certain learning paths; help them showcase this. That is, create a portfolio (of sorts) that can track what you can do and also get recommendations to help you do more.

    The LearningJar site currently highlights Web development and Web design skills – hardly a surprise since the current Silicon Valley boom has created a huge demand for these. These fields are low-hanging fruit too because many people don’t necessarily have (or need) a degree to enter them. But what they need, I’d argue, is a portfolio – or at least their own website where they can showcase what they do. What they need, some argue, are certificates.

    The beta version of LearningJar doesn’t emphasize the portfolio piece (although there is a portfolio tab where you can track your own “skills in progress”). Instead, it aggregates a lot of different tutorials and lessons and tries to point to resources where people can learn the skills they need and forge or follow a path in order to answer the question asked on its homepage: “What do you want to be?”

    (Ugh. I don’t wanna be a white guy.)

    LearningJar has made the (interesting) decision here to focus identifying on the skills you need and not (necessarily) the courses you need. That could be a good differentiator between it and the current flood of certification options, perhaps, as it’s a recognition that many people don’t want to necessarily sit through classes (ah, “seat time”) but instead need “just-in-time” options that are skills- versus semester-oriented, that help them immediately in the jobs they have and not just the careers they aspire to.

    Currently when you're pointed at places to learn skills on LearningJar, you're pointed to the likes of, CodeSchool, Treehouse, and O’Reilly, and these resources do in many cases offer certification (and certification by taking classes). And as it currently stands LearningJar's learning paths are largely circumscribed by these content partners.  (That could change now with more user-generated submissions.) 

    Learning, Tracking, Quantifying, Credentialing...

    I'll be tracking LearningJar closely now that it's open to the public because I think the startup faces many of the problems that lifelong, informal learners face (big challenges, big opportunity): How do you take all these various online learning resources and reconcile the different ways in which they teach, the different levels of complexity, the different theories and practices? How can you find what works for you -- in terms of skill, course opportunities, teaching styles, and so on?  How do you know something is a good “learning path”?  How do you know the path you take (courses, degrees, and so on) will be accepted?  How do you help people build portfolios to showcase what they can do, but have it occur in a places that they control?  Can startups, with limited data sets, really build solid recommendation engines?

    These are all things that LearningJar needs to unravel: tracking what can you do versus tracking what do you need to learn to do.  One's a portfolio; one's an "education." It’s one thing if you already know something and just need to demonstrate it – with a portfolio or with a certificate. It’s a much bigger challenge to be able to shine a light for folks who don’t know where they're headed and need help even if they do. (For what it's worth, colleges address this to varying levels of success (okay, minus the whole debt thing) – with lots of options for which classes that you can sign up for, some mentorship and guidance (ideally), but all with the constraints of earning the credits necessary to graduate after 4 or so years.)

    How can LearningJar demonstrate to users that it offers “real value” (whatever that means) and not just another hike in a "certification bubble"?

    I think one way to do so would be to offer connections to other ways that we learn online outside classes, online videos, textbooks, and manuals – what we read, read, and watch, in our feeds, on Twitter, on our blogs, and so on. Perhaps we need to shift conversation away from just courses and skills to our networks -- in other words, not just "what should I know" but "who can help me uncover it." I’m not sure how much of this will be valuable to employers, of course, but it should be valuable to learners. Then, of course, you face the danger of focusing on the “quantifiable self," something that doesn't necessarily lead to the “employable self.”

    And aye, there’s the rub. Does a startup address the needs of learners, or the needs of employers to find "learned" workers? I think this is part of the problems I see in the alternative certification space right now – there are so many great innovative ideas, but yet they’re all beholden to this old and mistaken notion that a diploma/certificate/degree/badge matters because it matters to an employer. I fear that learning is just being reduced to the latter.

    (LearningJar was part of the latest batch of ImagineK12 startups. And I hope Ritu forgives me for this write-up which doesn’t really do justice to her vision or her startup.)

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    At the bottom of this post, I’ve “storified” some of the Tweets, videos, and articles about MTT2K, Mystery Teacher Theater 2000.   

    I think MTT2K, the Mystery Science Theater 3000-style video campaign satirizing Khan Academy, is one of the most interesting developments in education technology so far this year. Many educators have tried voicing their concerns about Khan Academy for several years now, but these have been largely ignored or dismissed by the media, politicians, and the YouTube-viewing public who continue to gush – often quite uncritically – over Khan Academy’s collection of free educational videos.

    The MTT2K initiative, however, has put a crack in the mainstream narrative that Sal Khan is education’s “Moses.” How?


    The Politics of Laughter

    Laughter, as scholars like Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, Mikhail Bakhtin, and myself (#humblebrag) have argued, can be wielded to great effect to criticize, socialize, liberate, discredit and/or transform. And satire in particular uses laughter as a political weapon, to highlight and reveal things that might not otherwise be seen and to speak out against those in power in ways that might not otherwise be sanctioned or heard.

    Of course, as the playwright, satirist and actor Dario Fo once said, “It is hard for power to enjoy or incorporate humour and satire in its system of control.” Indeed he titled his Nobel Prize acceptance speechContra Jogulatores Obloquentes” after the 13th century law that allowed anyone to insult or even kill jesters. (Insert wry joke about who has "the last laugh" here.) Perhaps that’s something that math teacher and PhD student Dan Meyer had in mind when he quipped after watching the first MTT2K video that “Bill Gates just put a hit out on John Golden and David Coffey.”

    No doubt, the responses to political pranks and satire often highlight how power works and where allegiances lie: BetaBeat called the Golden and Coffey “trolls.” EdSurge suggested people were “picking on Khan.” WiredAcademic called the MTT2K campaign “bitter” and positioned the video as “teachers versus Khan Academy” (rather than say, teachers helping Khan Academy with a free and open peer review) with its headline invoking folks to “Fight! Fight!” The comments on blogs and on YouTube are full of threats and insults against those who’ve questioned Khan Academy and/or created MTT2K videos. And Sal Khan himself told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he thought the criticisms were “a bit arrogant and disparaging.”

    That comment in particuar is incredibly revealing because it demonstrates that this isn’t just a matter of highlighting pedagogical problems in the Khan Academy videos or with their usage in the classroom. This is about power: “arrogance” connotes superiority and power; “disparagement” seeks to displace or depreciate power. Who has the authority to speak about or dismiss pedagogy? Who gets to speak about math and science? These aren't simply matters of education or expertise but rather of political power as it’s wielded within our current education reform narrative. And that is a narrative that’s painted Khan as a revolutionary hero, while painting teachers as reactionary villains.

    Interestingly, by using satire in their MTT2K submissions and by laughing at the jokes, teachers are now being accused of being not just “trolls” but “clowns.” This is “inappropriate behavior.” It is “uncivil.” Robert Talbert’s blog post about MTT2K in The Chronicle yesterday has been praised as “reasonable," praise which in turn implies that the alternative is the irrational, the hysterical, and the unruly; these are arguments and people who can’t be controlled or constrained. 

    These characterizations do demonstrate that it's easy to give satire too much credit, to pin too many hopes on it, and to assume that because these jokes are made and some of us guffaw that society is necessarily transformed -- that we finally have this long-awaited "education revolution" on our hands, that Bill Gates will laugh and listen.

    Sometimes the best that we can hope for with satire is that it helps remind us that those in power should never be immune to criticism. And sometimes those in power do listen. And to that end, MTT2K has been incredibly successful. 

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    Politics and the Law

    A federal judge has struck down the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rules, which the Obama Adminstration issued last year and were designed to stop career training and for-profit schools from leaving students with massive amounts of debt but no job prospects. The for-profit schools had opposed the regulation, and Judge Contreras agreed saying that the provisions meant to measure schools’ preparation of students had "no real basis."

    Two more states received waivers from the Obama Administration this week, allowing them some flexibility with how they handle No Child Left Behind. Washington and Wisconson join 24 others, meaning that more than half of the country has been granted permission to opt out of some of the NCLB provisions as long as they follow the current administration’s guidelines for reform. The administration describes NCLB as “rigid, top-down prescriptions for reform, [which] while well-intentioned, proved burdensome for many states.” Unlike it prescriptions, I guess…

    Delaware has passed a law giving students privacy protections over what they post online. The law will ban private and public schools from demanding access to students’ social media accounts.

    It appears as though there’ll soon be enough signatures on a Washington initiative to allow charter schools in the state to put the measure on the ballot. Voters in Washington have rejected charter schools 3 times in the past: in 1996, 2000, and 2004. But hey, this is how democracy works, right? Let’s try to get the law passed again, this time tapping into the deep pockets of the Washington elite, including $1 million donated by Bill Gates, $100,000 from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and $450,000 from the parents of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The Seattle Times has a look at the out-of-state “ballot initiative professionals” who are getting paid around $4 per signature gathered.

    The four middle school boys who bullied bus monitor Karen Klein in an incident that “went viral” thanks to YouTube and IndieGogo have been suspended for school for a year. Video of the teens mercilessly taunting Klein until she broke down in tears was posted online and a subsequent crowdfunding campaign raised over $600,000 for her to take a vacation.

    Research and Data

    Big news from CERN: on Wednesday, physicists at the research facility held a press conference announcing that they may have discovered the Higgs-Boson particle. BoingBoing’s Maggie Koerth-Baker has a great round-up of the news, explanations of what the subatomic particle is as well as what the announcement means for physics (and for science funding). 

    GSV Advisors has issued a report it’s titled “Fall of the Wall,” tracking the increased investment funding in the education sector. Among the findings, 2011 had more education investments than at the peak of the Internet boom – 127 in 2011; 106 in 1999. But these investments are smaller – on average $9 million in 2011 as opposed to $13 million in 1999. No bubble here, folks, right?

    The Library of Congress has released the results of a survey it took, asking institutions about their plans for archiving their websites and other digital materials. The Atlantic examines the results, which highlight how new these efforts are (most began their digital preservation efforts within the last four years) as well as how social media is being largely left out of the archival process.

    Certification and Curriculum

    At the Aspen Ideas Festival, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten proposed her “big idea” – a “bar exam” for teachers, something she argued would help curb the prevailing notion that teachers aren’t qualified to teach.

    Stanford University recently announced that computer science has become the largest major on campus, with more than 90% of its students taking at least one CS class. The school is now considering how it might redesign the degree and its core curriculum.


    A new social network and media site for teens came out of stealth mode this week, touting an impressive list of funders and founders: #waywire. Co-founders include Newark mayor Cory Booker and investors include Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Oprah Winfrey. All Things D describes #waywire as a “media company where teens and young adults can share user-generated content, kick off a debate and spur discussion.” The site plans its official launch this fall but is accepting registrations now.


    Chicago-based test prep company BenchPrep announced it has raised $6 million. The company makes mobile apps for people to study for the LSAT, GRE, and so on. Techcrunch has the details.

    Photo credits: CERN

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    Late last week, I took to Twitter to rant about Twitter and my inability to access all the tweets from the #ISTE12 hashtag due to limitations on the Twitter Search API – yes, I realize the irony, compounded by my decision to “storify” a conversation about not owning my own data.

    Thankfully, I’m not the only interested or attentiveperson.  Others have been able to capture the tweets, call the API, pull together the data, and encourage me to do useful things with it. (Thank you, Ed Borasky, Scott Traylor, Kin Lane, and Rey Junco.)

    What can we learn:

    According to what we can glean from the #ISTE12 hashtag, there were approximately 69887 tweets from Saturday through Wednesday from 9235 unique Twitter accounts. (27,623 of those tweets were retweets – about 40%.)

    Those 9000+ Twitter users weren’t all ISTE attendees, of course. Although you can attach a location to your tweets, most people don’t; and so I cannot be certain how many were tweeting from the San Diego Convention Center.

    That means I’m not able to answer the question of what percentage of ISTE12 attendees were tweeting (it doesn’t help either that I don’t have the official attendance numbers from ISTE yet).

    I am digging through the data nonetheless (something which is requiring lots of brand new skills and software for me: Google Fusion Tables, Gephi, Protovis, statistics, visualization and more.)

    Your standard word cloud:

    (Created with Wordle and the text of these 69K tweets.)

    Word cloud from the Opening Keynote:

    (via @360Kid)

    Most frequent Twitter-ers:

    (Created with Wordle using the full list of Twitter users who tweeted the #ISTE12 hashtag. Includes retweets)

    Some questions I’m still working on:

    What were the average number of tweets per person?
    Can I visualize Twitter activity over time? 
    Can I visualize the connections between Twitter users?

    (I know the answer to all of these is "yes" -- I just need to figure out how to do it.)

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    Virginia Commonwealth University professor Jon Becker recently drew the diagram below to illustrate what he identified as some of the dichotomies in our discussions about MOOCs and online higher education:

    Content and community on the X-axis. Residential to non-residential on the Y-axis.  I think I’d want to add more axes too – certification, cost – but golly, I make lousy diagrams.

    Becker’s drawing helps highlight how most of what’s discussed (by the press, specifically) vis-a-vis the impact of technology on higher ed involves the left-hand side: that is, how technology will impact content delivery. Take, for example, the buzz about UdacityCoursera, and edX. (The discussions also focus on the axes I’d add – how much college costs, the necessity of a college degree.)

    As a result, we are overlooking a lot of other things that college provides at the other end of that X-axis: the “community” element that connects us to other learners, like-minded individuals, scholars, experts, colleagues, team members, recommendation-letter-writers and so on. And by extension, we largely ignore how technology could affect that. But I think there’s plenty of opportunity – for startups and for institutions – to use technology to enhance the community side of the equation too. Online community is, of course, part of the impetus of the first connectivist MOOCs. It’s what drives DS106. Offline, it’s what makes the network of a Harvard MBA so powerful too, I should add.

    And it’s one of the things that makes Fidelis such an interesting startup.

    Read the rest of the story on Inside Higher Ed

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    Every week, Steve Hargadon and I sit down (virtually) to talk about the latest ed-tech news. I always find our conversation to be one of the most thought-provoking exchanges I have all week.

    This week's podcast was a short one -- having Independence Day fall in the middle of the week made for a slow news week. Slow, except for the news about the Higgs Boson particle, a proposal for a "bar exam" for teachers, more NCLB waivers, the end to the "gainful employment" rule, LOLs over MTT3K-style satire, concerns over badges and certification, and more.

    The link to the MP3 of the show is below, and/or you can subscribe to the podcast feed. You can also find the podcast in iTunes, as part of Steve's EdTechLive series.  

    And while it's not really new news, I'm not sure I've ever promoted my new newsletter here.  You can sign up here for a weekly email from me that provides my take on the news and trends in education.

    July 6, 2012 podcast

    July 7, 2012 newsletter

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  • 07/09/12--18:20: Whose Data Is It Anyway?
  • matrix

    Cross-posted at e-Literate

    I admit: I don’t read Terms of Service agreements before hitting the “Accept” button. I doubt many folks do, save the lawyers who actually write them. As such, it’s hard for me to write an article wagging my finger at those of us who adopt software only to realize later that it has quite onerous terms – that we’ve granted someone an irrevocable license to our content, that we’ve agreed to have our data mined and sold to third parties. 

    Ignorantia juris non excusat. Caveat emptor. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

    Moreover, I write this article on the heels of several rants penned last week about my inability to access the Twitter archives for the ISTE12 hashtag. “I can’t even export my own Twitter archives!” I tweeted in frustration. (Yes, I realize the irony.) But I do love Twitter; it’s one of my favorite tools. Nonetheless, I’ve started keeping my own personal Twitter archive (thanks ifttt!), and more broadly, I’m trying to make sure all the other services I rely on let me export and/or host my data, allow me to opt-out of data-mining, and offer me user-friendly terms.

    Easier said than done – in consumer as in ed-tech.

    I have been writing a lot lately about the lack of data portability in educational software, and I do wonder how much of our data frustrations here are technological problems (i.e., no APIs, no exports), legal/TOS problems (i.e., restrictions or the lack thereof on data usage), and how much is simply ignorance or indifference on the part of consumers (and/or deviousness on the part of companies, I suppose) about both the technological and the legal ramifications of poor data interoperability.

    Many of the discussions surrounding improved data portability in educational software – such as the efforts by startups like Clever and LearnSprout, both of which are building APIs to connect SISes to third party applications, and by initiatives like the Shared Learning Collaborative – focus on what I’d called administrative data: student records, grades, demographics, enrollment, test scores. But by encouraging interoperability here, I should note, the data flows from system to system, not necessarily from system to user (to their own data locker perhaps).

    Left out of the discussion of data portability, by and large: user-generated data. (Students’ and teachers’) Blog posts, videos, comments, discussions, assignments, papers, projects, experiments, and all the analytics therein.

    In other words, while LMSes, SISes, app developers, game-makers, gradebooks, and the like might enable the import, export, the GET and PUT of student data by schools, by teachers, APIs and apps, few offer the download (or API access) of student data by students.

    • Who speaks for user control of user data in education software?
    • How do we do a better job of protecting user-generated content, particularly student-generated content – so that students can control their own data, their own projects (and, in the end, their own learning)?
    • How should user-generated edu content licensed? (By extension, how do we help people understand copyrights and Creative Commons?)
    • How do “work-for-hire” and other copyright controls impact how professor/teacher/grad-student-generated content is treated (shared, stored, monetized, etc)?
    • What can we glean about sites’ missions, monetization plans, and more based on their TOS statements about user-generated content? And what can we glean about employment contracts based on their statements about employee-generated content? And then what?
    • How do we get folks to read the “fine print”?

    A recent case study: Eduwonk’s Andrew Rotherham recently highlighted the different language in the TOS for the American Federation of Teachers’ newly launched and some of the other lesson-sharing websites --namely BetterLesson). He writes,

    SML and AFT President Randi Weingarten are correct that teachers retain ownership of content they put up on SML. That’s Randi’s main talking point. But it’s only half the story. The other half is the part where a participant gives up their rights to the content and SML can use it however it wants in perpetuity. The terms of use are unambiguous about that. So teachers sharing lessons and content on SML do not retain exclusive ownership. That’s a big deal. Weingarten says SML won’t use teacher generated content to make money. But the terms don’t explicitly say that, don’t preclude it, and have strong language that SML can do what it wants with the content.

    As the NEA itself has noted IP issues are “complicated” surrounding teacher-generated content. Add to that the length and legalese of many online TOS agreements, and it’s not at all clear for the layman, I’d argue, to ascertain who owns what or what the implications are for uploading one’s data or accessing others’.

    Alongside the calls in general for better data portability in education software, I’d add then we need to look critically at data ownership. That means cracking open the TOS agreement; it means re-evaluating intellectual property rights. And hopefully it means that when we talk about extracting data, we’re not simply talking about extracting value from students' and faculty's user-generated content.

    Photo credits: Petras Gagilas

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    Wii Workshop Aix en Provence


    Another One Week, One "Book" Project

    Jon Becker and I are pleased to announce a new project: Hacking Schooling.

    The project and the process borrow liberally from 2010’s Hacking the Academy, which called for scholars to consider the ways in which digital culture and digital technologies were reshaping (and/or threatening to reshape) institutions of higher education.

    Jon and I want to look beyond “the academy” and turn our eye to “the school.” So we’re asking for submissions to a new “book” with the working title Hack(ing) School(ing), which like the Hacking the Academy process, will only take submissions for one week.

    I am – no surprise – partial to the verb “to hack.” To break in and break down. To cut to the core. To chop roughly. To subvert. To be mediocre (okay, let’s ignore that definition.) To pull systems apart. To “MacGyver” things back together. To re-code. To rebuild.

    I think it’s worth (re)considering too what we mean by hacking “the academy,” hacking “education,” hacking “school” and hacking “schooling.” Much like the verb “to hack,” these nouns (and direct objects in that particular construction) have varied meanings that are worth cracking (hacking) open, decoding, reconsidering, and rebuilding.

    “Hacking school” means something more, I would argue, than “adopting education technology” – even though the hacks and hackers and hacking likely comes at the hands of new technologies, hardware, software, networks, Webs, nets, digitalia, algorithms, and applications.

    Read more about the project on Jon's blog Educational Insanity.

    Submission Process

    Using and building upon the successes of Hacking the Academy, Hack(ing) School(ing) will be a curated, multimedia “book.” We invite folks to submit posts, articles, artifacts that you believe would be relevant to a collection on Hack(ing) School(ing). What this ultimately looks like is still to-be-determined; maybe it’s more than one “thing.” We will ultimately let the content of the submissions dictate the structure of the collection(s). Consider, though, just the following short list of possible topic areas:

    Hacking learning spaces (where learning happens) Hacking learning time (the school day, year) Hacking the curriculum Hacking credentialing/assessment Hacking professional development

    So, if you have something you’d like to submit to Hack(ing) School(ing), please click on the link below and fill out the form.

    We will close submissions one week from today: July 17, 2012.

    [Submission Form]

    Photo credits: Jean-Baptiste Labrune

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    I got my early access today to Adam Bellow’s newest venture, eduClipper. I have been hounding him to let me have a peek for a while now. I hound because I care, I hope he realizes, because like the 3000+ teachers who’ve already signed up for the waiting list for eduClipper, I’m eager to see what the educator and eduTecher is doing next.

    Long before “curation” became an edu buzzword, Bellow has been pulling together lists of Web tools for educators on his eduTecher site – a rich resource with links, ratings, comments, and ideas about how these tools could be used in the classroom. An award-winning, former high school teacher and district tech trainer, Bellow has made a career out of thinking and speaking and teaching smartly about sharing Web resources among teachers.

    That makes it ever-the-more interesting, I think, that Bellow has built a tool that puts this resource-gathering and sharing capability into the hands of teachers themselves.

    EduClipper is the latest in a string of Pinterest clones, true (See below), but Bellow’s experience in education – in the classroom and with professional development – should give him a leg up in creating a tool that’ll work in classrooms and that’ll work for teachers.

    EduClipper lets you build clipboards into which you can post links, images, videos and documents and upload files to share with others. These clipboards can be private or public – that’s a key dfferentiator between eduClipper and its competitors– clipped for one’s self and/or shared to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Evernote, and Edmodo or via email.


    The Pinterest thing is big in education. See a recent School Library Journal:

    Everyone’s buzzing about Pinterest, a new social media tool that connects people through the things they like—but for a growing number of users in classrooms and media centers, it’s fast becoming a powerful resource where teachers and students share images, store lesson plans, read about current events, watch video clips, and collect their favorite apps.

    Pinterest bills itself as a virtual pinboard that helps users “organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.” Although still in beta phase, the site has grown astronomically—faster than even Facebook and Twitter—reaching 10 million visitors each month.

    Will Richardson tweeted about the article, asking folks to identfy “the irony” in its opening paragraph.

    I note several:

    • that Facebook holds the monopoly over “the things we like” on the Internet; yet Facebook is banned in most schools
    • that Pinterest is “still in beta phase” with questions about its business model, data portability, copyright policies, and terms of service. 
    • that we can already share images, store lesson plans, read the news, and watch video via a variety of other means. Why Pinterest? Why now? 
    • that we don’t always think critically about what it means to “connect people” even if we are indeed sharing “all the beautiful things you find on the web” as though that’s a sufficient definition/practice of “connecting.”


    Bellow’s eduClipper enters an already crowded space. There is Pinterest, of course, which has raised almost $140 million in venture capital. (eduClipper is bootstrapped but looking for investment.) And there are a number of other companies – upstarts and incumbents – tackling similar/related problems:

    • Learnist: Grockit’s new product. See my write-up here 
    • MightyBell: Ning co-founder Gina Biachini’s latest startup. See my early thoughts here 
    • Kippt: A link-sharing site. My former RWW colleague Jon Mitchell says nice things about it 
    • Delicious: Remember how awesome Delicious was? Yeah. Me too. It’s still around, but post-Yahoo, way different 
    • Diigo: Bookmark, share, annotate, wiki-fy links 
    • Tumblr: Quick and dirty way to blog and reblog and share. Cool enough to be blocked by a lot of school filters 
    • Twitter (and by extension the “newspapers” that are created off its feeds, such as Zite, Flipboard. and so on): Social networked recommended reading

    I think it’s important for educators to think about what it means to commit their data (their links, recommendations, comments, and so on) to a third-party site. What’s available at school and at home? What’s available across platform? Can you share publicly and privately? Can you export your data?


    This just in: New York-based startup Hashable is shutting down. Briefly touted as “the next big thing” – a site that let you leverage your social and professional connections that aimed to kill the tyranny of the business card – Hashable will close its doors July 25. You can log in and export your data in a .CSV file.

    This has nothing to do with edu, except to serve as a reminder that startups fail all the time.  Even ones that the tech press adores.


    So you want to share links and resources and videos. You want to share some with your fellow teachers. You want to share some with your students across different classes. You want to keep some to yourself.

    You want to think about:

    Reliability: can you count on this service being responsive? Can you count on it being here tomorrow? 24-7? A year from now?

    Data portability: can you get your (students‘) data out?

    Privacy: do you (and/or your students) have control over who sees your (students’) data? Can you manage who sees what?

    Filtering: do you have to battle schools’ Web filters in order to access the site?

    Extensibility: is this a tech platform onto which other apps can build/connect? (i.e. is there an API?)

    Forces of habit: what will people actually use?


    This last consideration – the forces of habit – really shouldn’t be underestimated. We have our routines with what we bookmark and share. We try to encourage our colleagues, friends, and family to follow us there. As such, many of our tec routines are social: we bookmark and share with others.

    We save links. (Or, damn, I hope we save links). The question remains: what's the best way to save and share with others?Making “bundles of links” (or bundle of RSS feeds) has been a fairly common practice. But there are new ways – more visual ways, I’d say – to share Web content and to showcase multimedia (video, audio). Pinterest and Facebook (among others) do this well.

    I can't help but root for Adam Bellow and eduClipper to recognize a way to do this better for the classroom.

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    McDonalds Holmesglen - Nikon D60 No-Flash

    Khan Academy proudly states on its website “168,382,612 lessons delivered,” something that always reminds me of the slogan that used to accompany McDonalds’ golden arches: “over 200 billion served.” (I hope) We know better than to equate the billions of Big Macs sold with billions of healthy bodies or a well-fed world. Yet we still often equate “lessons delivered” with “learning,” as though their delivery necessarily offers a substantive intellectual nutrition.

    Of course, Khan Academy is hardly the only organization that refers to the intersection of education and technology in terms of the potential for enhanced “content delivery.”

    Technology, so the argument goes, will make education scalable, replicable, accessible, distributable and simultaneously both standardized and personalized. With technology, information is more easily transmissible – through a series of tubes, right into your brain. The promise, as exemplified by the great actor Keanu Reeves in The Matrix: an instantaneous and profound “whoa, I know Ju Jitsu.”

    This notion of education as a “content delivery system” isn’t just the purview of science fiction. It’s also political fantasy. We’ve long had the notion that young and impressionable minds can simply be cracked open by a teacher (or parent or priest) and filled with the appropriate knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic (and/or scripture).

    And now, technology will purportedly make all this occur more efficiently.

    Education as a “content delivery system” is a formulation that fits nicely into Silicon Valley’s larger vision about what Internet technologies offers the world – the tubes are designed for delivery after all. And it dovetails too with the all the recent claims that technology is poised to “disrupt education” just as it did other content industries: movies, music, magazines, books, newspapers.

    Indeed, many elements of our education system are recognizably akin to a “content industry” – curriculum and textbooks, as formulated by the Common Core State Standards, the canon, Cultural Literacy and debates about the sorts of things that “every educated person should know”.

    But even if there is an agreed-upon set of things people are expected to learn – content, skills, behaviors – education is much more than a content industry, and both as a system and as a process is much more complex than “content delivery.”

    The delivery of content is a unidirectional act. Think radio. Think television. Think textbooks. Think educational videos. One entity controls the content and its dispersal; other entities are receptacles, ready to receive it, download it, view it, mark it as read, and when tested later, recall and regurgitate it. Think too the stereotypical view of teacher, standing in front of the class “delivering lessons.”

    In this formulation, there is little to no discussion or inquiry. There is no creation of knowledge. Content is packaged and delivered – whether as a computer program or as a classroom performance.

    To conceive of education this way, with or without the assistance of technology, runs counter to the tenets of progressive education, counter to John Dewey’s calls for hands-on and project-based learning, counter to Seymour Papert’s calls for constructing knowledge. Instead it echoes what Paolo Freire called the “banking model of education” – the notion that students are empty accounts into which teachers deposit knowledge, a process that Freire argued was politically oppressive and dehumanizing to both teachers and students.

    Learning, these theorists (and others) argue, should occur through discovery and meaning-making not simply through listening or “lesson delivery.”  

    This does not mean that technology has no place in education.  To the contrary, technology can enhance our capabilities, letting us build things, explore ideas, and connect with people in new and powerful ways.  But to reduce all of that potential down to "content delivery" feels a bit like fast food: cheap, unhealthy, unfulfilling.

    Photo credits: Alpha, Star Trek

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    Abuse and Negligence at Penn State

    Former FBI director Louis Freeh released the results of his 3-month investigation into the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University. Freeh’s investigation confirms what many people already suspected: that the university at its highest level chose to protect the football team over the young boys who were serially raped and abused by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. The university officials – from Coach Joe Paterno to former president Graham Spanier – turned a blind eye to the crimes that had been repeatedly witnessed happening on campus, in the football locker-room, in violation of the Clery Act (a federal law that requires universities report their crime statistics). Sandusky was recently convicted of 45 counts of child molestation.

    Cheating Scandals

    We have a bit more information about the cheating scandal at New York’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School where some 71 students apparently took photos during the Regent’s Exam and texted the info to their friends. Nothing like using a system that tracks contents, sender and recipient details, prompting The Atlantic to describe this as “New York’s Most Gifted Students Cheated Like Idiots.”

    The Atlanta-Journal Constitution has made the raw data available (for members of the Investigative Reporters and Editors association) from its recent investigation into school cheating.

    Updates and Upgrades

    The latest version of the Freedom Stick is now available for download. A Universal Design for Learning tool, the Freedom Stick can be installed on a 4GB Flash Drive and contains software that can make computers more accessible, including productivity, text-to-speech, and magnification tools.

    Free online graphing calculator Desmos has rolled out several updates lately, including points of interest and parametric equations. Good thing the startup has made demo videos so you can listen to their explanations of what this means rather than read mine.

    Techcrunch reports that Twitter has unveiled a new age verification program this week in conjunction with Buddy Media. Purely opt-in, this means that that underage Twitter users will have to verify that they’re old enough to follow “adult” brands like Coors. If you click the “follow” button on participating Twitter accounts, you’ll get a direct message asking you to confirm your age. Respond that you’re under 21 (in this case) and you won’t be able to follow the brand. Completely and totally foolproof, right?

    Learning management system giant Blackboard held its annual conference "BbWorld" this week. Among the news from the event, upgrades to its Web conferencing software Collaborate with an iOS app coming later this summer. Among the metaphors used to describe Blackboard by CEO Michael Chasen during his BbWorld keynote: peeing.  Seriously.

    Downgrades, Departures, and Closures

    McGraw-Hill has filed papers with the Security and Exchange Commission detailing its plans to split in two: into education and financial services companies. The former have $2.4 billion in assets and $600 million in debt and will handle the publishing business which saw a 6% drop in business last year; the latter will include Standard & Poors, which played a key role in the current financial crisis. Great work, team.

    Digital storytelling 106 professor and mashup punk Jim Groom has had his YouTube account shuttered, thanks to repeated copyright infringement claims by folks who clearly don’t “get” mashups. No due process, just three strikes and you’re out – a good reminder that we should control our own digital spaces rather than rely on others’.

    The City College of San Francisco, California’s largest college with enrollment of over 90,000 students, may face loss of accreditation and closure due to money mismanagement problems, reports The Huffington Post.

    Data scientist Ari Bader-Natal is leaving his post as the Chief Learning Architect at the social learning company Grockit to join the new “elite for-profit university” the Minerva Project (which I covered here).


    Study site CourseHero has acquired the in-home tutoring business Cardinal Scholars reports Techcrunch. Stanford-born Cardinal Scholars was the offline tutoring component of InstaEDU, a new video-based tutoring platform.

    UniversityNow (which I covered here) has acquired Patten University, a regionally accredited non-profit in California.

    Funding and Financial Aid

    Social coding repository GitHub raised its first round of outside funding this week, a whopping $100 million from Andreessen Horowitz.

    Techcrunch reports that edu-data startup LearnSprout (which I covered here) is set to close a round of funding from Andreessen Horowitz (among others). LearnSprout will also join Code for America’s accelerator program.

    Silicon Valley VC Michael Moritz has made a $115 million donation to Oxford University to help create a fund to pay for low-income students to attend the prestigious university. Tuition rates are poised to skyrocket in the UK this fall, and the scholarships aim to help soften some of that blow.

    While Pell Grant funds are set to be increased next year, an online education group is warning that language in the appropriations bill will mean a decrease in money available for distance education students as they will no longer be able to get “room and board” expenses covered as part of their financial aid.

    Research and Data

    Pro Tip: Always look to see who’s funding the research. Case in point: a report issued this week that argues college isn’t really so expensive after all. It’s not a question of cost, the authors argue, it’s a question of perception. We need to view education as a personal investment, not as a social good – and then, it’s totally worth it. Fix subjectivity, not tuition rates. This message sponsored by: the Gates Foundation, the Walmart Foundation, the Sallie Mae Fund, and USA Funds.

    The headline-grabbing results of a report from the Center for American Progress: kids say school’s too easy. Not so fast, says Penn State researcher Ed Fuller who questions the findings and argues that the data actually doesn’t support those assertions. But hey. Great headlines.

    The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics has released its latest data on post-secondary enrollments, graduation rates, and tuition costs. Among the findings in the preliminary report (PDF), the average tuition at four-year public colleges (after adjusting for inflation) increased by 4.3% at non-profit schools to about $23,300 between the 2009–10 and 2011–2 school years.

    America Has Too Many Teachers,” reads a Wall Street Journal op-ed by the Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson. The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann calls “bullshit.”

    According to research highlighted by Freakonomics, winning 5 football games means that a college can expect donations to increase by as much as $682,000. Freakonomics also highlighted paying students cash for good grades in its recent podcast. I think I’d like to write an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal that says “American Has Too Many Pop-Economists.”

    The latest in scary charts from The Atlantic depicts the youth unemployment rates in Canada (14%), the US (16%), Spain (51%) and Greece (52.3%).


    Matthew L. Jockers from the University of Nebraska’s English Department, Matthew Sag from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and Jason Schultz from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law have filed an amicus brief in the Authors Guild v Hathi Trust case. Signed by 42 other scholars, the brief argues that the digitization efforts of the Google Books project along with the universities of Michigan, California, Wisconsin, Indiana and Cornell University are important for the future of humanities scholarship and should not be seen, as the Authors Guild argues, as copyright infringement.

    Classes and Competitions

    Microsoft held the finals of the Imagine Cup this week in Sydney. The annual competition has college students build technology solutions for some of the world’s greatest problems. This year’s winning team came from the Ukraine. They built EnableTalk, gloves that translate sign language into spoken words. Techcrunch’s Frederic Lardinois has a closer look at the prototype, which was built for around $75 – compared to about $1200 for similar devices currently available.

    Google’s “Power Searching” class is underway. (Registration for the free course remains open until July 16).

    MAKE Magazine will be running a Maker Camp for teens from July 16 - August 24. The camp is virtual, run via Google+ Hangouts, and will offer walkthroughs on 30 different projects. No registration required.

    Hacking Schooling

    Please consider submitting something to my and Jon Becker's Hacking Schooling "one week, one book" project.  Deadline: Tuesday.  More info here.

    Whiteboard Art 

    Teacher Gregory Euclide has unveiled an amazing collection of artwork that he drew on his classroom’s whiteboard. (See the image at the top of this post.) These were made with school supplies, drawn during his lunch break, and are certainly the most striking usage of a whiteboard I’ve ever seen.

    Image credits: Gregory Euclide

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    Every week, Steve Hargadon and I sit down (virtually) to talk about the latest ed-tech news. I always find our conversation to be one of the most thought-provoking exchanges I have all week.

    Unfortunately, this week's recording was plagued with some technical difficulties.  (I blame Skype. And probably user error.  But mostly Skype.)

    Nevertheless, the recording does capture a very interesting discussion about content (and data) ownership and content delivery systems -- something that Steve and I are likely to discuss in our upcoming plenary session at the Sloan-C's symposium.

    The link to the MP3 of the show is below, and/or you can subscribe to the podcast feed. You can also find the podcast in iTunes, as part of Steve's EdTechLive series.

    July 14, 2012

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    A GitHub for Education, Revisited

    I’ve written several times in the past about the potential for a “GitHub for education” – that is, a version of the popular social coding network GitHub where the “code” that’s shared is openly-licensed educational content. That could include OER in any digital format – text, code, video, audio, photos – and any edu-related genre – course readings, handouts, syllabi, exams, assignments.

    There’s actually nothing to stop folks from using GitHub for educational purposes already, of course. See: Lincoln Mullen’s post on ProfHacker on using GitHub to “fork” a syllabus. See also: Wired’s “meta-story” of how it published on its article on GitHub on GitHub.

    After all, GitHub has in place the technological mechanisms to handle version control, file management, and collaboration not just for code but for text. And in doing so, GitHub has arguably lowered the barriers to entry for participating in open source development, something I’d love to see extended to the OER community. Specifically, GitHub doesn’t just enable the usage of resources, but encourages forking, remixing, and re-committing code (and by extension, “content”).

    Furthermore, GitHub has become more than just Git and more than a code repository. It is a way for developers to showcase their work and to follow others’. GitHub merges the practical, the social, and the professional in ways that could be a model for some of the efforts we’re seeing in the education sector around badging, social learning, e-portfolios, and the like.

    Education Startups and Optimizing for Happiness

    But there’s another reason that I think GitHub could provide a particularly interesting and important model for education technology: and that’s because up until last week, the company was entirely bootstrapped. (It announced last Monday that it has raised whopping $100 million from Andreessen Horowitz.) Up ’til then, GitHub had taken no outside investment and had achieved profitability without an injection of capital from Sand Hill Road.

    I heard GitHub co-founder and CEO Tom Preston-Werner speak at Y Combinator’s Startup School back in 2010, and the message he delivered was profoundly different than that of many of the speakers at the event who told tales of seed funding and “super angels.” While I refuse to believe that everyone in the tech industry “does it for the money,” it’s sometimes hard to see otherwise in the exuberance and the mythology that Silicon Valley perpetuates. 

    In lieu of what he identified as the pressures on startups to "optimize for money," Preston-Werner's talk -- and his philosophy for running GitHub -- focused on “optimizing for happiness.”

    In his talk (and in a subsequent blog post expanding on those ideas), Preston-Werner underscores some of the freedom that comes with controlling and owning one’s own business:

    A side effect of bootstrapping a sustainable company is what I like to call infinite runway. This is another element of optimizing for happiness. With venture backed endeavors you generally find that during the first several years the numbers in your bank account are perpetually decreasing, giving your company an expiration date. Your VCs have encouraged you to grow fast and spend hard, which makes perfect sense for them, but not necessary for you. Not if you’re trying to optimize for happiness.

    VCs want to see quick success or quick failure. They are optimizing for money. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you want the same things they do. But if you’re like me, then you care more about building a kickass product than you do about having a ten figure exit. If that’s true, then maybe you should be optimizing for happiness. One way to do this is by bootstrapping a sustainable business with infinite runway. When there are fewer potentially catastrophic events on the horizon, you’ll find yourself smiling a lot more often.

    I do wonder how VCs’ demands for that “quick success or quick failure” works (or doesn’t work) for education startups. It isn’t simply that educational institutions are slow to adopt new products and/or slow to change; it’s that the education of each and every one of us is a slow process too – a lifetime of learning.

    And I fear if we choose to “optimize for money” – something that the latest flurry of interest in ed-tech startups is starting to look an awful lot like – we will neglect to optimize both for happiness and for learning.

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