Rusty fence #33

Politics and Policies

President Obama gave his State of the Union address this week. The Nation's Dana Goldstein has a look at the elements of the speech that pertained to education, describing them as "long on platitudes and short on honest talk about the difficulties of implementing school reform." Among the proposals Obama made was mandating that all students stay in school until they either get a high school diploma or turn 18. She notes that before we criminalize drop-outs, we need to address the reasons why they do so, noting that one third drop out because they feel they must in order to support themselves or their families.

The state of Utah announced this week that it was supporting an initiative to build open source textbooks for high-school level math, language arts and science. The math and science books will be remixes from CK-12 textbooks, and the language arts books will be developed locally. The books are expected to cost $5 each (compared to roughly $80 for a "standard" textbook and even the $14.99 Apple boasted at its announcement last week).


Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun announced his plans to leave Stanford and focus instead on his new online learning startup Udacity, reports Reuters' Felix Salmon. Thrun was one of the professors teaching last semester's massive Artificial Intelligence course. Udacity will launch next month with a class on building your own search engine. The class is free and not-for-credit, although those who successfully complete it will get a letter to that effect from Thrun. This news raises all sorts of interesting questions about the future of the university, accreditation, innovation, and IP control.

OneSchool had its official launch this week, announcing too that the startup has raised $750,000 in funding. OneSchool is a mobile app that aims to be the go-to site for college students to discover all the info they need to know about their campuses: maps, course schedules, bus routes, activities, and so on. The app will launch at 8 schools. It's worth noting that OneSchool isn't partnering with these universities; rather it's scraping the data that is publicly available.

Updates and Upgrades

Google+ opened its doors to users 13 and over this week. You can read my write-up of the news here.

I'll avoid too many references to old gangster movies, but the ALA has called for a "sit down" with publishers to talk about the future of e-book lending. The ALA will meet face-to-face with executives from Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin Group -- three of the publishers that currently restrict or prevent libraries from lending e-books.


Via Scott Merrick, it looks as though ISTE Island in Second Life will close at the end of February. ISTE Island was once a strong presence in Second Life for educators and a good launching point (quite literally actually) for those exploring the virtual world.

Research and Data

Josh Coates, the CEO of the new LMS Instructure has thrown down the gauntlet to the other companies in his industry, calling for every learning management system to take part in open security audits. The challenge comes on the heels of Instructure opting to have a security firm evaluate its Canvas product (which in turn followed that discovery last year of security holes in Blackboard). You can read more about the results of the Instructure security report here. Coates argues that "Fundamentally, hiding security vulnerabilities in the LMS decreases the likelihood they will be repaired and increases the likelihood that they will be exploited." There are several interesting issues that Coates doesn't really dive into here that are worth noting: 1) how do open sources technologies fit into this (Instructure has open sourced its Canvas tool, but Blackboard and Desire2Learn, the companies Coates calls out specifically, are proprietary technologies). Do "more eyes on the code" help address this process in an ongoing, not just an annual review basis? 2) what role does the cloud play here? Instructure offers a hosted solution (although campuses can opt to run it locally). Does the auto-updates associated with SaaS (software-as-a-service) help address the out-of-date software that some schools have, simply because they haven't installed the latest versions onsite?

According to research by Bowker, the children and teen e-book market faces challenges that make it different from the rest of the adult market, in no small part because kids want to be able to share their books (with each other and with their families). The research found that teens are some of the slowest adopters of e-books, lagging behind all over age groups, in no small part because the DRM restrictions.

In news I missed last week, the White House has announced plans for a MyData button (see PDF for more details) -- an educational equivalent of the VA's Blue Button, a tool that allows veterans to download all their health records with one click. The MyData button will "allow students to download their own data into a simple, machine-readable file that they could share – at their own discretion – with third parties that develop helpful consumer tools." The project is in very early stages (and I'll be following up more on this story) but it appears as though Pearson, Parchment, and Microsoft.

Thanks to a $3 million grant from the Gates Foundation, the MIT Education Arcade is working to design and build an MMORPG (a massively multiplayer online role playing game) to help teach kids science and technology.

Early numbers are in following Apple's education announcement last week. According to All Things D's John Paczkowski, some 350,000 iTextbooks and some 90,000 copies of iBooks Author were downloaded within the first three days of their release. In other Apple numbers: the company released its fourth quarter financials this week revealing that it made $133 million per day.

Kno released the results of a pilot study it undertook with several California community colleges, testing students' satisfaction with an open source statistics textbook "enhanced" with Kno's e-book features. Kno reports that the students responded enthusiastically to the app (and it should be noted here that by using a free open source e-book, one of students' main complaints about digital textbooks wasn't necessarily addressed here -- that is, students aren't often saving money by opting to use e- rather than printed books). The most interesting data point from the survey: students who used the app version were far more satisfied than those that used the Web version (90% positive versus 70% positive).

Funding and Competitions

NewSchools Venture Fund announced a new "Seed Fund" this week, with a promise to invest in early stage companies. It also announced its first investments: Goalbook (which I picked as one of the best new ed-tech startups of 2011) and Engrade (a funding decision that strikes me as really odd since the company has been around since 2003).

Microsoft's Imagine Cup has announced the recipients of its Imagine Cup Grants, a new program that's designed to help students bring their inventions to market. The grant winners were all finalists for last year's Imagine Cup and are Team Apptenders (Croatia), Team Falcon Dev (Ecuador), Team OaSys (Jordan), and Team Lifelines (U.S.) They'll each receive $75,000 to help them launch their business.

Berkery Noyes has released its 2011 report on mergers and acquisitions in the education industry. The largest acquisition of the year: Hellman & Friedman LLC’s acquisition of SunGuard Higher Education for $1.78 billion. The busiest buyer of the year was Pearson, with 8 acquisitions.

Education giant Pearson has partnered with Startup Weekend EDU. Sigh.

Photo credits: Flickr user Alexandre Dulaunoy

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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