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Politics and Policies

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced Connect to Compete, a new non-profit initiative that brings private industry and the non-profit sector together to help expand broadband adoption and promote digital literacy. The initiative aims to help boost education, health and employment in disadvantaged communities in the U.S. and aims to address some of the obstacles to broadband adoption -- in terms of cost, access, relevance, and digital literacy.

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 547, a piece of legislation that would have changed the way in which the state handled school accountability. Although the bill would have shifted emphasis away from standardized testing, Brown blasted the proposed reform: SB547 nowhere mentions good character or love of learning. It does allude to student excitement and creativity, but does not take these qualities seriously because they can't be placed in a data stream. Lost in the bill's turgid mandates is any recognition that quality is fundamentally different from quantity.

Governor Brown signed into legislation the California "Dream Act," allowing illegal immigrants who graduated from high school in the state to apply to its public universities as residents and to receive state financial aid for college.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, the head of the Senate's education committee, submitted a bill this week to revise No Child Left Behind. Among the bill's provisions is the return of control to the states over devising their own systems for how to hold schools accountable for student achievement. The bill will be a massive revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ETAN has already issued an alert that the proposed legislation does not contain language about the "Achievement Through Technology and Innovation Act."

Inside Higher Ed reports that the University of California lecturers' union has stated that it will use its collective bargaining power to block the university system's expansion of online course offerings unless the "move to distance education is done in a fair and just way for our members."

Ethics and Legalities

The New York Times continues its investigation of education giant Pearson and ethics concerns surrounding lavish trips that the company's foundation has sponsored for state education officials.

Last year, the National Federation of the Blind filed a complaint against Penn State, charging that the school's adoption of Google Apps for Education was discriminatory. Google has worked to address many of the accessibility issues, and The Chronicle of HIgher Education reports that the issue was resolved "without any admission of wrongdoing."

Launches

Rated JPG reports that beloved toy-maker LEGO is building its own social network. Called CUUSOO, the site allows users to publish and share their designs. And while the site -- which is currently in beta -- lets users follow interesting designers, there's also a Kickstarter element here. If users receive enough interest in their designs, they can earn a small commission on sales of the design.

Responding to President Obama's call to train 100,000 teachers in STEM subjects in the next 10 years, Google and 80 other organizations have founded 100Kin10. Its mission: "to reverse the United States' decades-long decline in STEM subjects, to ensure that all children have the basic STEM literacy to be full participants in our economy and democracy and to enable U.S. students to address the most pressing national and global challenges."

Valve, the company behind the video game hit Portal, is working on an educational game. If you haven't played Portal, you might shrug this off as yet another video game company trying to capitalize on the gaming-in-education craze. If you've played Portal (and you should try it, I promise), you're likely to nod with approval, recognizing the game's potential to teach about physics and critical thinking. For more information on the initiative, visit Learnwithportals.com.

The Association of Educational Publishers and Creative Commons have launched a new website, LMRI.net to provide information about the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative. It's an effort to create a common language for metadata for educational content, which in turn should ease both its publishing and the discovery.

Pearson announced this week that it plans to release a free learning management system aimed at the higher education market. Although the education giant currently only holds about 1% of the LMS market at the higher ed level, it clearly hopes that offering a free service will help woo schools away from some of the incumbent players in the space.

Updates and Upgrades

Apple released its latest iOS this week. iOS 5 contains a number of new features, including better notifications, wireless syncing, and Twitter integration. But the release caused quite a few hiccups: Web traffic made the upgrade difficult for a lot of customers. And apps like Kno and Stanza failed to work. While Kno has fixed its issues, it appears as though Stanza, a popular e-reader app, will remain in the app graveyard.

In order to help address some of the frustrations teachers and students face with school filters blocking YouTube, Google has launched a pilot program that will allow schools to redirect all educational content to YouTube.com/education. The program will also block all YouTube comments and make sure that any videos that show up as "related" are also educational.

Google also launched YouTube Space Lab this week, a special channel that, in cooperation with Lenovo, Space Adventures, NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will provide space-related video content as well as provide an opportunity for students to design experiments to be conducted in space.

Yale University announced this week that its alumni would gain free access to JSTOR, an online archive of scholarly journals.

The International Digital Publishing Forum announced the approval of the revisions to the EPUB standard. Based on HTML5, EPUB 3 adds support for audio, video and interactivity (via JavaScript), as well as global language support, typing and layout enhancements and MathML, among other features.

Online gradebook LearnBoost added another new feature this week: lesson plan share. As the name suggests, this will allow teachers to share lesson plans with fellow teachers, administrators and students. Lesson plans can be shared via LearnBoost, but also via Twitter or Facebook and can be embedded on websites and/or blogs. LearnBoost also is adding more foreign language support, and is now available in French, Spanish, Portugese, and Dutch thanks to its crowdsourced translation tool.

Research and Data

Rey Junco continues to publish interesting research on how Facebook is impacting students' academic performance. Among his latest findings: "Time spent on Facebook was negatively related to overall college GPA. The average time students spent on Facebook was 106 minutes per day. Each increase of 93 minutes beyond the mean decreased GPA by .12 points in the model. Therefore, I conclude that although this was a significant finding, the real-world impact of the relationship between time spent on Facebook and grades is negligible at best."

A study by the NPD Group released this week finds that 91% of kids ages 2 to 17 play games. But this isn't simply kids playing hopscotch or tag, of course. This includes video games, mobile games and the like. According to the report, 38% of kids in this age range are playing mobile games, up from 8% in 2009. And the biggest growth among gamers was in the 2 to 5 age range.

E-book provider Overdrive reports that e-book checkouts from libraries are up over 200% from last year.

Adam Duran, a participant in a two-month long summer program at the Army High-Performance Computing Research Center in Stanford, has developed a touchscreen Braille writer for tablets. Not a reader. A writer. As the Stanford News describes it, the tool works like such: "They did not create virtual keys that the fingertips must find; they made keys that find the fingertips. The user simply touches eight fingertips to the glass, and the keys orient themselves to the fingers. If the user becomes disoriented, a reset is as easy as lifting all eight fingers off the glass and putting them down again.

Contests, Classes and Conferences

The Digital Media and Learning Competition is extending its deadline for Stage 1 of its "Badges for Lifelong Learning" competition. The new deadline is now November 14.

This weekend is another Startup Weekend EDU in San Francisco. Once again, Grockit is hosting the event.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that James Madison University will begin offering credit to online students who complete a 16-week introductory conversational Spanish course. What makes this newsworthy? That class is produced by language learning software maker Rosetta Stone.

Funding, Hiring, and Acquiring

Despite bad news last week about delays to Pottermore, the new online community for Harry Potter fans and the only place where you'll be able to buy Harry Potter e-books, the site scored a coup this week: Charlie Redmayne, the Chief Digital Officer for HarperCollins, announced that he is leaving the company to join Pottermore as CEO.

Lots of funding news this week: Stickery, a mobile gaming app for pre-schoolers, announced that it has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Google Ventures and 500Startups. Kiwi Crate, a new subscription service for hands-on kids' activities, announced this week that it has raised $2 million. Video portal Udemy announced that it has raised $3 million.

Adaptive learning company Knewton announced a massive round of fundraising: $33 million. While initially focusing on test prep, Knewton has recently expanded into universities, where its adaptive learning platform is used in some remedial classes, helping tailor coursework for students in math. The company says it plans to expand to the K-12 grades as well and hopes to open up its platform so that educational publishers can take advantage of the platform. Among its investors in this round: Pearson.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Renaissance Learning has rebuffed a takeover offer by Plato Learning, even though that offer is some $41 million higher than the offer it has accepted from the European private-equity firm Permira.

The investment firm NewSchools Venture Fund has released an Ed Tech Map, a "visual representation of ventures currently operating in the education technology market."

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Audrey Watters


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