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Protests and Pepper-spray

Last Friday, a group of non-violent, student protesters on the UC Davis campus were pepper-sprayed at point-blank range by a riot-gear-clad police officer. No surprise, photos and video of the incident went viral, and many people at what appeared to be unnecessary use of force. Despite the police claims that they were surrounded and threatened by the students, the images that people saw were of young kids seated on the ground getting face-fulls of orange spray casually administered by one Lt. John Pike. There have been calls this past week for the resignation of the university's chancellor and for investigations into how a peaceful protest could dissolve into police brutality. The Occupy Wall Street movement has had themes of rising student loan debt and tuition costs, and the UC Davis added another layer to that argument, demonstrating the complicity of campuses -- quite literally -- in keeping students down. Nieman Journalism Lab's Megan Garber suggests that the image of the pepper-spraying cop could change the trajectory of OWS. If nothing else, it's made for a terrific Internet meme.

Politics and Policies

The failure of the so-called Congressional "super-committee" to reach an agreement this week means substantial cuts in federal funding. The Department of Education will have its budget slashed by some $3.5 billion in 2013, with cuts to student financial aid as well as university research, reports The Chronicle.

On Monday, Penguin asked library e-book distributor OverDrive to remove all new e-book titles from its catalog and to disable the Get for Kindle functionality for all Penguin e-books. The publisher cited security concerns over e-book lending. By the end of the week, it appeared that some of these concerns must have been addressed, as libraries could again loan most of the Penguin titles to Kindle-owners. All new e-books, however, remain unavailable. Penguin is owned by Pearson, the largest education company in the world.

Launches, Closures, and Updates

CUNY unveiled its plans to develop "Commons in a Box," an open source project that will allow universities to easily roll their own collaborative academic network. The Commons in a Box project will grow from the CUNY Academic Commons, a network that connects faculty and students across the 23 colleges in the City University of New York system. This network "has cultivated a strong sense of community among its members by providing public and private spaces in which they can connect to one another and share their academic and administrative work." The Commons in a Box will allow other universities and organizations to create their own networks. Among early adopters, the MLA.

New York City's tech/entrepreneur campus General Assembly has started offering hybrid classes, according to Betabeat. So far, there are videos online for two classes -- Introduction to Web APIs and Forming Your Startup.

Google cut prices once again on its Chromebooks this week, down to $299. In late October, Google altered its purchasing choices for its Chromebooks for Education, so that schools could purchase the devices upfront and avoid the month-to-month subscription. No word if the new price-tag announced this week extends to the education program.

The Learning Resources Metadata Initiative (LRMI) released the latest draft of its metadata mark-up this week. The LRMI proposal is part of the larger Schema.org project to help ensure that educational content has the metadata that's actually useful to those in the educational community.

Google announced a little out-of-season spring cleaning this week, with the closure of 7 more Google projects. On the list of products to be shut down: Google Wave, Google Search Timeline and Knol.

The startup Accept.ly will now be the official college prep recommendation of Kaplan Test Prep, which announced to its users that it would be discontinuing ApplyWise and handing services like financial aid tips, essay-writing webinars, and the like over to Accept.ly.

Coming soon: MinecraftEDU. Joel Levin, the Minecraft Teacher, offers a sneak peek at a customized mod to make it easier to use Minecraft in the classroom.

Research and Data

Adaptive learning company Grockit has launched a contest via the data competition site Kaggle. The contest asks for people to "Improve the state of the art in student evaluation by predicting whether a student will answer the next test question correctly." Grockit has supplied the data -- information from students studying for the SAT, GMAT, and ACT. And there's a grand prize of $5000 for the best predictive model.

More evidence about the connection between income levels and academic achievement. Sean Rearson's research paper "The Widening Academic Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations" will appear in Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chance. (PDF) The paper examines the growing income inequality in this country over the past four decades, alongside the widening achievement gap.

Numbers out of the MIT Opencourseware program reveal an increase in the percentage of students that are taking advantage of the university's open content, surpassing self-learners to be the largest users of MIT OCW. Students indicate that the primary use of the materials is to complement a class they're already enrolled in.

The American Sociological Association has launched a Wikipedia initiative, encouraging its members to contribute their research to the collaborative encyclopedia and to assign Wikipedia editing as part of their courses. Everyone would do well to read this piece by tech writer Danny Sullivan, however, that points to the ways in which Wikipedia remains "closed" and "unfriendly" when it comes to the editing process.

Acquisitions

Pearson has acquired the test prep company Global Education and Technology Group, reports The Guardian, in a deal worth $294 million. The company serves the booming English-language learning market in China, with over 450 centers in 60 cities.

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Audrey Watters


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