Weekly Ed-Tech News Roundup: Blackboard and Princeton Review Pivot

Center pivot irrigation, Eastern Washington

Acquisitions

Typically, I lead off my weekly news roundup with politics and legalities, as I think that those frame -- whether we like it or not -- shape the direction that the education industry takes. But this week, clearly, the big news wasn't from DC -- unless, I suppose, you mean DC as the corporate HQ for Blackboard. The big news: the announcement by Blackboard that it was acquiring Moodlerooms and Netstop, that it was starting an open source initiative, that it was giving Angel a reprieve from the technology graveyard, and that it would focus less on its own LMS product and more on support services. My thoughts are here and here.

Scandals?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a story last weekend following its investigation into "suspicious test scores" across the country. It says that after analyzing scores from some 69,000 schools, it found patterns in some 200 that matched those that embroiled the Atlanta schools in a cheating scandal. While the idea of widespread cheating falls neatly into one particular narrative about the results of high-stakes testing, there are some questions about the newspaper's methodology, with pushback in a WaPo editorial by education professor Gary Miron. Look for a longer story from me about this over the weekend…

For Sale

Princeton Review is selling off its test prep division to a private equity firm, according to the Wall Street Journal, along with the brand name. 

Politics and Policies

South Korea, which had promised to go fully digital with its textbooks by 2015, is now backing away from the plan, citing concerns that online learning may not be such a silver bullet after all.

But it's full speed ahead with plans for digital textbooks here in the U.S. Or at least the FCC gathered together some of the folks with skin in the game for a meeting this week. Present were those it described as "hosted leaders from the digital education ecosystem": Apple, Aruba Networks, Chegg, Discovery Education, the Idaho Department of Education, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Inkling, Intel, Knewton, Kno, McGraw-Hill, News Corp, Pearson, Samsung, Sprint, and T-Mobile. I don't know about you, but thank goodness they invited T-Mobile and Sprint. I mean, I lie awake at night worrying if the cellphone carriers are going to have a stake in national textbook discussions. AllThingsD's Peter Kafka says that the move to tablets and away from printed textbooks could save schools $3 billion a year, but the numbers that the FCC is using make little sense to me.

The New York City Department of Education wants to ban 50 words/phrases/concepts from standardized tests, in a news item that seems to be making the "LOL" rounds this week. The list includes: sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, poverty, homelessness, cancer, death, divorce, nuclear weapons, unemployment, junk food, and "in-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge." 

Following a string of cheating scandals, the SAT and ACT exams will require students provide photo ID when they sign up for the tests and when they show up to take them. The decision to establish a photo database of test-takers does raise some questions, however, about whether or not this information will be shared with college admissions departments. The ACT says it won't share photos, but it appears as though the College Board will make the database available to colleges as an added security measure. "Whose security?" is a good question to ask.

Legalities

Garrett High School senior Austin Carroll was expelled following tweeting a string of expletives, reports a local TV station. The school claims the offending tweet was done while he was on school ground; Carroll claims otherwise (and the tweet's details do say 2:03am. What's come out in the process: the school is apparently monitoring all the social media activity of its students, raising all sorts of questions about the First Amendment.

Camdenton R-111 School District in central Missourii has settled a lawsuit filed by the ACLU that challenged its Web filtering system, one that blocked access to pro-gay websites while allowing access to anti-gay ones.

Launches

Pottermore finally opened its online bookstore this week, letting Harry Potter fans purchase digital versions of the novels. The Digital Reader notes that these aren't DRM-free as was promised, particularly once you push your content to the Kindle where Amazon then proceeds to lock the content down.

Opening in movie theaters this week, Bully, a film about bullying in school. The MPAA had tried to slap an R rating on the film, meaning that the intended audience -- those under 17 -- would not be able to see it without an adult in tow. But the Weinstein Co. is instead releasing the film unrated.

Updates

One of the new hires at Khan Academy, Brit Cruise has launched a new Khan Academy Labs project called "Explorations." "Instead of having the user answer questions after each video," he writes, "I realized it would be beneficial to have them visually explore key concepts in real-time through exploratory exercises." The first two Explorations follow up on his recently-posted Crytopgraphy video and involve coin flip and letter frequency.

Research

An interesting look at where user-generated content on the Web comes from in a story in The Atlantic this week -- one that raises some interesting questions, I think, in terms of scholarship and OER. That is, the Anglophone world and the U.S. specifically still generates the "lion's share" of publishing online.

Language-learning company busuu.com has released its 2012 Language Barometer report, and while the strong support it shows for online learning should be taken with a grain of salt considering the survey's creators and respondents, there are some interesting nuggets of info there. "Why do you prefer online learning?" Just 9% said because it's fun. But then "fun" was listed as the second most popular reason why people want to learn a foreign language (after "traveling").

More research about bias in the classroom regarding girls and math. More details here.

Funding

A big congrats to Jim Groom and DS106 which hit its Kickstarter goal to support the open online course in under 24 hours this week.

The language learning startup Voxy has raised $4 million in Series A funding, reports Betabeat.

LearnZillion has raised $2.4 million in funding for its 3-5 minute educational video platform.

Techcrunch has the low-down on Famigo, an app directory for kids and families, that has just raised $1 million in funding.

Photo credits: J Brew



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