Davos - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012

Education’s Davos?

Some 800 investors, entrepreneurs, and politicians met at ASU Skysong this week for the Education Innovation Summit. That Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn called it “Davos in the Desert” speaks volumes I think: the political and economic elite gather to discuss “problems” that they can resolve neatly and profitably. I’ve tried all week to figure out how respond to what I saw on my Tweet stream coming out of the event: a call to fire teachers to pay for more technology, calling education “war,” wishing universities be more like corporations. I storified some of the Tweets, but really I recommend George Siemens’ analysis.

Politics, Policies, and Pepper-spray

The title of Brad Hicks’ blog post says it all: “Sometimes, When ‘All the Facts are In,’ It’s Worse: The UC-Davis Pepper-Spray Report.”


The Supreme Court will hear a case that could have sweeping impact on what’s known as the “first sale doctrine.” The case, Supap Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, involves buying textbooks overseas and reselling them here in the US Writing for The Chronicle, Jen Howard argues that "the case has the potential to affect many categories of copyrighted work. In a blog post on Monday, the advocacy group Public Knowledge wrote: ‘This ruling could cripple markets for used books, movies, CD’s, toys, and any other goods that contain copyrighted works. For example, many cars contain copyrighted computer programs, so used-car sales for foreign-manufactured would become illegal (without the copyright owner’s permission).’

Updates and Upgrades

Thanks to the good folks who control the AP Stylebook, it’s now accepted to use the word “hopefully” to mean “we hope.” Prior to this week’s update, the AP frowned on the modern usage, saying that “hopefully” could only be used to mean “in a hopefully manner.”

The textbook price-comparison app Slugbooks announced a partnership this week with 20 Million Minds, a California-based non-profit that’s seeking to reduce the cost of college textbooks. Slugbooks will now power a widget on the 20MM website where you compare prices and adoption.

And Akademos, another company in the textbook business, has also launched a tool to help professors make their textbook decisions based on price and faculty peer review.

The social study group company Open Study has tweaked the way it hands out badges to those who participate on the site, unveiling what it calls a “smart score,” “a snapshot of your high-performing skills in core categories of teamwork, problem solving and engagement.”

Research and Data

A new California law requires all eighth graders take algebra, but according to research from UC Davis education professors, the requirement may do more harm than good. “We have an obligation as educators to ensure that the lowest-performing students do not see school as a punishment in the form of lower grades, social embarrassment and parental ire,” says Dr. Heather Rose. Indeed.

Uh oh. It looks like there are some problems with Florida’s standardized science test, including some major gaffs in, um, science. These include defining predator as “an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms.” Ya know, like how cows obtain nutrients from plants. Good thing we’re testing students to make sure they know this stuff!

Uh oh.  It looks like New York state (okay, actually, Pearson) took an absurdist piece of writing from the wonderful Daniel Pinkwater and used it in an eighth grade standardized test.  There the story was both excerpted and altered (one of the protagonists changed from an eggplant to a pineapple), where it made even less sense than the original, particularly when all the multiple choice questions were equally right or wrong.  The New York Times has a longer look at the story, which was being dubbed on Twitter "Pineapple-gate."

The Modern Language Association has launched a tool to compare colleges and the percentages of their faculty that are tenured, tenure-track, and non-tenure track, as well as full and part-time. It’s part of President Michael Bérubé’s commitment to address the state of the profession, which he describes with the words “shocking” and “exploitation.” (I heart Michael Bérubé.)

Justin Reich’s done an excellent job looking at the automated essay grading software – the Kaggle competition, as well as the potential usage in the classroom: Part 1, 2 and 3. And just for laughs, here are a couple of places that’ll automate paper writing for you: Essay Generator and the CS paper generator (this one is particularly awesome as it will submit your paper to an academic conference.)

One Laptop Per Child responds to the recent headlines about test scores in Peru.

The Book Industry Study Group has found that, much like college students are sorta “meh” about e-textbooks, faculty still prefer print. 12% of faculty say they like digital content (compared to 16% of students who say they prefer digital to print).


The Pulitzer Prizes were announced this week, and there were a number of winners whose work addressed education, including the Harrisburg Patriot-News (for its coverage of the Penn State sex scandal) and the Philadelphia Inquirer (for its look at violence in the city’s schools).

Funding and Acquisition

The Digital Harbor Foundation, an awesome new non-profit in Baltimore, has just announced it’s received $200,000 from the Abell Foundation to support its EdTechLink program. It’s a digital literacy and tech economy workforce development program that’ll provide tech-related teacher training as well after-school programs for K–12 Baltimore public school students.

The New York Times suggests we’re poised to see student loans become a major political issue as the interest rates are set to double on July 1 (to 6.8%). President Obama wants to extend the low interest rate. Not really clear why the Republicans are opposed to this, but they’re stonewalling the President here. Because that’s politics, I guess. To hell with the rest of us.

Social tutorial site Sophia has been acquired by Capella University. I covered Sophia’s launch on Hack Education last year, noting the founder Don Smithier was a long-time Capella exec. So there ya go.

The learning management system startup Schoology announced that it has raised $6 million in funding, bringing its total investment to date to $9.3 million.

Techcrunch reports that the learn-to-develop-for-the-Web startup Treehouse has raised $4.75 in funding.

The latest in the recent spate of MOOC startups, Coursera announced it has raised $16 million in funding. My coverage is here.

Recommended Reading

George Siemens, Remaking Education in the Image of Our Desires

Dan Meyer, Ten Design Principles for Engaging Math Tasks

Jose Vilson, An Ode to the Big Tests

Photo credits: the World Economic Forum

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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