Big Data Stories

Lots of revelations this week about government data mining efforts: On Wednesday, The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald reported that the NSA is collecting the phone records of all Verizon customers, and on Thursday he reported on PRISM, an NSA program that gathers data from major technology companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Skype, and Google. The education angle? Well, cloud computing, data gathering, predictive modeling, surveillance and control, a push for more digital learning by the Department of Education and tech and telecom companies, for starters.

The American Federation of Teachers issued a statement this week about the ongoing privacy concerns surrounding inBloom, a data collection initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. “Any potential inBloom has to improve and personalize learning is being overshadowed by a growing lack of public trust in its early communications and operations, and genuine concerns about the security, privacy, sharing and exploitation of data,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten (who I would recommend take a look at the privacy policy for its own Share My Lesson which also indicates that it sells teacher data).

Law and Politics

The US Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Maryland v King this week to uphold a state law that allows the police to collect DNA swabs from suspects for serious crimes. Writing for the dissent, Antonin Scalia wrote that allowing this could enable this sort of DNA collection for other institutions, including for children in public school. But hey! That silly Scalia. What on earth would give anyone the idea that the government or non-profits or technology companies would be interested in a massive database of our personal information?! Oh. Yeah. All that stuff above.

And, oh the timing on this one, as President Obama unveiled a new initiative called ConnectED, “ which will connect 99 percent of America’s students to the internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within 5 years.” Or as the Big Bad Wolf put it, “All the better to see you with, my dear.”

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been up for reauthorization since 2007 – no rush, Congress, no rush – and this week Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced new, competing legislation that would update and revise No Child Left Behind (the ESEA’s current version). The bill faces an “uphill climb,” according to The New York Times. The Hechinger Report summarizes the news, also saying that there are “slim chances” for reauthorization of ESEA.

California SB 520, which would push the state’s public universities to accept credit for online courses, has passed out of the state senate by a vote of 28–0. As Bob Samuels writes, “While many legislators clearly do not like the content of the bill, no one wants to kill the pet project of one of the most powerful politicians in the state” – State Senator Darrell Steinberg.

Launches and Upgrades

Adaptive learning company Knewton has partnered with textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to bring, according to the press release, “truly personalized learning experiences to K–12 students, using HMH’s comprehensive portfolio of education solutions including market-leading products in math, reading, and other core subject areas.”

Junyo, a edu-data company founded by one of Zynga’s co-founders, said late last year that it was pivoting away from helping schools manage their data, and this week we learned a bit more about the new direction with the launch of EdLights, a product that will sell school data to vendors and publishers. Edsurge reports that “its $79 per month ”Prospector“ subscription pulls together much data in an easy-to-use interface; a $4,000 enterprise version, EdLights File Service, will send companies CSV data (designed to fit in companies’ existing databases. And for an undisclosed price, EdLights will make available the names (and addresses) of thousands of relevant school employees.”

Downgrades and Closures

Saint Paul’s College, a historically black college in Virginia, will close. Founded in 1888, the school has been suffering financially and recently lose accreditation.


The British MOOC initiative FutureLearn turned on its website this week, and you can almost taste the online learning rainbow. And some watchful eyes, not blinded by the colors of the new site, noted that the FutureLearn and Udacity Terms of Use are nearly identical. More on FutureLearn’s Terms via Lorna Campbell.

The University of Chicago has joined Coursera.

EdX has released the code for its learning platform under an open source license, noting contributions from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and the University of Queensland.

The Oakland Tribune reports on the “hidden costs” of a partnership between San Jose State, Udacity, and an Oakland charter school where students were enrolled in the college’s for-credit math program: “It turned out some of the low-income teens didn’t have computers and high-speed Internet connections at home that the online course required. Many needed personal attention to make it through. The final results aren’t in yet, but the experiment exposed some challenges to the promise of a low-cost online education. And it showed there is still a divide between technology-driven educators and the low-income, first-generation college hopefuls they are trying to reach. To make it work, the institute had to issue laptops to students, set aside class time for them to focus on the online course, and assign teachers to make sure they stayed on task.”

“Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom: Research into edX’s First MOOC” was published this week in Research & Practice in Assessment (PDF). The research examines the MITx class “Circuits & Electronics” and contains lots of interesting details about student demographics and resource usage. (88% who responded to the end-of-class survey were male; 37% had a bachelor’s degree and 28% had a master’s degree.)

The Sundance Channel has given the nod to “Dream School,” a new TV series from executive producers rapper 50 Cent and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. “Set to premiere this fall, the six-part hour-long series follows troubled teenagers - all high school dropouts - attending a learning institution where classes are taught by top industry professionals in a number of fields, including music, filmmaking, science, acting, art, and politics.” OK, this isn’t a MOOC, it’s a reality TV show. But still, there’s video, and I bet there’ll be online forums where we can talk about it…


The learning management system startup Instructure has raised $30 million in a Series D round of funding, bringing the total it’s raised to $50 million. The company says it’s aiming for an IPO in the coming years. More details via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

SoFi, a student loan provider that connects alumni investors to students, has raised $41 million in investment from Bancorp. It raised $60 million from Morgan Stanley a couple of months ago. Clearly the business of profiting off of college students remains good.

Hullabalu has raised $1.8 million in funding for its children’s storytelling iPad app. More details on the company and the app via Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez.

Although news of a recent round of funding for scientific research network ResearchGate isn’t new, this week we learned more about the size and the participating investors: $35 million from “Bill Gates and Tenaya Capital with participation from Dragoneer Investment Group, Thrive Capital and the company’s existing investors Benchmark and Founders Fund.”

From the Human Resources Department

Berkman Center Fellow Justin Reich started a new gig this week as the Richard L. Menschel HarvardX Research Fellow where he will “conduct research on the learning experiences that people have on the HarvardX platform and to consult with HarvardX faculty in creating and facilitating courses, both to make them better for students and better designed to advance our knowledge of online learning.”

Zac Chase is putting his PhD on pause to join Bud Hunt as a district technology coordinator in the St. Vrain Valley School District – which, if you know those two, spells only the very best kind of troublemaking.

Edsurge reports that Paul Edelman, the founder of the education resource marketplace TeachersPayTeachers, is stepping down as CEO. He’ll be replaced by John Yoo, formerly of Scholastic.

Ohio State University president Gordon Gee announced his retirement, following anger over comments he made about Catholics and rival universities.

NYU says it has no plans to fire visiting professor Geoffrey Miller after his fat-shaming tweets on Sunday night. (“Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.”) His home university, the University of New Mexico, say they are investigating the incident. More details in the Pacific Standard on Miller’s research and interest in eugenics.

“Research” and Data

According to information from the latest Diploma Count report, high school graduation rates in the US reached 74.7% in 2010, the highest rate in 40 years. (The figure is different from that reported by the Department of Education, which put the rate at 78.2%.) Asian students have the highest graduation rate – 81% – while Native Americans have the lowest – 51.1%.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released its latest report on smartphone ownership, noting that for the first time since it’s been tracking this that the majority of Americans now possess a smartphone. 91% of all American adults own a cellphone; 55% say they have a smartphone.

KPCB’s Mary Meeker has released the latest version of her Internet Trends report. The whole thing is definitely worth reading, but slides 98–101 address education specifically.

The Horizon Report’s 2013 K–12 edition has been released. On the immediate horizon: cloud and mobile computing. You can view the wiki and the work that went into creating the report here.

Project Tomorrow has released its Speak Up 2012 report which details what K–12 students, along with their parents, teachers, and school administrators, think about the uses of technology for learning. Among the findings: 65% of students in grades 6–8 and 80% of students in grades 9–12 are smartphone users, but among those high school students, just half say they’re allowed to use their devices at school. And just 18% of high school students say they’re allowed to use their personal laptop at school.

According to a study by the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University, 78% of parents reported no conflicts with their children over media usage (including TV and tech). More details on the study, which certainly contradict the popular notion that parents are concerned about their kids’ media consumption, in The New York Times.

The GAO issued a report on college textbooks, based on the disclosure that’s required under the Higher Education Opportunity Act. “Faculty GAO interviewed said they typically prioritize selecting the most appropriate materials for their courses over pricing and format considerations, although they said they are more aware of affordability issues than they used to be.”

Historian and data scientist Ben Schmidt takes a closer look at a story in The Wall Street Journal describing falling enrollments in the humanities. “Anyone looking at it closely will notice, as Michael Bérubé has, that the real collapse of humanities enrollments happened in the 1970s. The Great Recession has been less ruinous to enrollments than were the mid–1990s. Sure, a few Harvard majors have switched from history to government in the last decade: is that really a story? …We shouldn’t be assessing the health of the humanities by market-share metrics that are far more about demographics and the changing face of higher ed than they are about the intellectual shifts at the heart of actual humanities practice.”


Makey Makey, one of my picks for the best education startups of 2012, is holding a “Group-How-To-Contest,” asking folks to create guides to group activities with Makey Makey. More details here.

Expulsions, Explosions, and Graduations

Kiera Wilmot, the Florida teen who faced criminal charges for causing an explosion in her chemistry class, will be allowed to return to her high school this fall. (She’s since been attending an alternative school, where she hasn’t been able to pursue her foreign language learning or orchestra classes.)

Conrad Farnsworth, a Wyoming high school student, who built a nuclear reactor in his garage was disqualified from the International Science and Engineering Fair this month on a technicality. The problem was not building a nuclear reactor in a garage, but rather Farnsworth had apparently competed in too many science fairs.

100 students and 8 adult chaperones from a Brooklyn high school were kicked off a flight this week after the students reportedly failed to listen to warnings to sit down and turn off their cell phones.

Patrick Brown, a senior at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, was suspended last week after he posted on Twitter about his district’s school budget using the hashtag #shitCNSshouldcut. ”I was called down to the office and told I was being suspended for harassment of teachers, which no harassment was ever committed,” Brown told ”I proved them wrong and instead they suspended me for cellphone use in class and disrupting the education process because the trend I started created a social media riot.”

The Cleveland Plains Dealer reports that a fight broke out at a kindergarten graduation, resulting in the arrest of 8 people, charged with “aggravated rioting.”

A prank at a Chimacum High School in Washington helped fuel the “skool is broken” narrative when someone painted the words “senior power” outside the school this week. KGW reports that “Both instances of the word ‘senior’ were misspelled, however, so that the phrases were ‘senor power’ and ‘seinor.’ The school’s principal said that the prankster was most likely in a hurry, but added that it did not reflect very well on the educational system.”

But hey! Congratulations to all graduates!

Image credits: Tilemahos Efthimiadis and The Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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