52:365 - Rainerbow

The Law

In a 7–1 decision, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, sending the affirmative action case back to a lower court. More details about the decision and how it will (or won’t) change university admissions at Inside Higher Ed.

The Supreme Court has declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a 5–4 decision in United States v. Windsor. As The Chronicle of Higher Education. notes, the ruling will have a major effect on education, including changes to financial aid for married gay couples.

In a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court issued a decision on University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, ruling against Naiel Nassar who said that the university had retaliated against him after he complained of discrimination. More details via The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in Vance v. Ball State University, finding that a company is only liable for workplace discrimination under Title VII when that discrimination happens at the hands of a supervisor, “someone with the power to take ‘tangible employment actions’ (like hiring, firing, etc.) against the victim; someone who merely directs the day-to-day activities of a worker does not count,” writes SCOTUSblog.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered that Boston student Joel Tenenbaum pay $675,000 in damages for sharing 30 copyrighted songs illegally.

Launches and Upgrades

The non-profit Common Sense Media has launched a new tool for teachers called Graphite that will share ratings on education apps and websites. The ratings include grade level, subject area, platform, price, and teacher reviews. (There’s still a huge gap here in addressing Terms of Service and data ownership issues of education products.)

In a press release that mentions “open” 37 times, Pearson unveiled its OpenClass Exchange, “a significant expansion to its open and free learning environment, OpenClass.” The new feature links to OER. Wowee.

Pearson also announced the names of the startups that will participate in its new accelerator program, Catalyst for Education: Spongelab, VLinks Media, ClassOwl, ActivelyLearn, Full Stack Data Science, and Ace Learning Company.

Microsoft announced that later this year it will launch “Bing for Schools,” a way to “tailor the Bing experience for K–12 students by removing all advertisements from search results, enhancing privacy protections and the filtering of adult content, and adding specialized learning features to enhance digital literacy.”

The lesson marketplace BetterLesson is partnering with the NEA to, according to the BetterLesson blog, “to build the first educator-created body of knowledge around effective teaching.” You’d think educators would have done created a body of knowledge about good teaching by now, but hey.

Techcrunch reports on the launch of Ranku, a new startup that will be a “Yelp for universities.” “Its site lets you browse different programs, and compare their price, online interface, and performance of graduates. The TechStars-backed Ranku wants to bring transparency to the sketchy business of choosing a digital education.”

Both Apple and Google have announced new features for their mobile devices that could make these easier for schools to manage: Android management and iOS7 features.

LearnBoost, a startup I chose as one of my favorites back in 2010, has pivoted away from education and towards file-sharing. More details on the startup, now called CloudUp, via Techcrunch.

Downgrades and Closures

Bitmaker Labs, a Canadian learn-to-code startup, has shuttered its doors temporarily, following an investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. The MTCU is tasked with regulating vocational schools, but Bitmaker Labs hadn’t registered with it, something the Ministry discovered after reading a positive review of the startup in the Globe & Mail. Heather Payne, the founder of another Canadian programming education startup HackerYou, weighs in “on education and regulations and innovation.” (Update: Brad Deguid, Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, has just tweeted that the folks at Bitmaker Labs are "back in action." Good, swift government action. See? It is possible.)

The math tutorial company Virtual Nerd sent an email to users this week announcing it was shutting down at the end of the month. It says that its “portfolio of products and services has been acquired by Pearson Education. This exciting news means many of Virtual Nerd’s innovative features and high-quality instructional videos will reach an even larger audience.” Um. “Exciting.”

Barnes & Noble announced that it will cease making its own versions of the color tablets. It will still produce the black-and-white Nook, but the news sure doesn’t sound good for the bookseller.

MOOCs, MOOCs, MOOCs, SPOCs, and Stuff

A back-and-forth between UC Santa Barbara professor Christopher Newfield and Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun this week. Newfield penned an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed about the costs (and lack of savings) of the Georgia Tech/Udacity partnership. Thrun responded on the Udacity blog, charging that the analysis was “misleading.” And Newfield responded in turn, this time on the Remaking the University blog, noting the series of retrenchments in MOOC rhetoric. “…Though we shouldn’t expect a company CEO to protect the public interest, we can and should expect it of public officials. After 18 months of MOOC-promises of a cost revolution, the public discussion of MOOC budgetary detail boils down to one intrepid reporter, Ry Rivard, who got the spreadsheets through a public records act request, one professor who spent hours thinking about them, and one company executive who replied.”

“In 2012, edX reinvented education. In 2013, the edX learning sciences team is charged with reinventing education, again.” Now hiring programmers.

The European telecommunications company Orange says it will launch a francophone MOOC platform later this year.

IIT Bombay has joined edX.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a recent survey finds the public isn’t paying attention to MOOCs (despite all those “shares” of NYT op-eds by Friedman and Brooks too, eh). “While an overwhelming majority of respondents to the survey said they were familiar with online education in general, only 22 percent said they were familiar with MOOCs, and only 4 percent said they were very familiar with them.”

Moody’s Investor Services says that offering MOOCs could boost a university’s credit ratings. Earlier this year, the ratings agency called into question universities’ revenues (and hence their ratings). Moody’s was investigated in 2011 by the Justice Department for its ratings actions during the recent mortgage crisis, so I don’t know about you, but I totally trust what they have to say about education’s financial viability.

According to the Harvard Crimson, HarvardX will offer 11 new classes this fall, including some that will be open only to Harvard students. The school is calling these “SPOCs” – “small, private online courses.” 

News Corp’s education wing Amplify is also offering a MOOC-that-isn’t-a-massive-open-online-course. It’s calling its AP computer science offering a “MOOC Local," and while there's currently a free trial this will eventually cost $200 per student per year.

Clearly it’s time to add a MOOC subdomain to your site, folks, to join those at and See also and, none of which (sorry guys) can hold a candle to

Politics and Policies

Student loan rates will double on Monday – from 3.4 to 6.8% – because Congress thinks its July 4 holiday is more important than actually governing. Good job, team.

In an attempt to help curb childhood obesity, the US Agriculture Department updated the nutrition standards for food that schoolchildren can purchase outside the cafeteria – in vending machines, snack bars, and school-run stores. According to The New York Times, “foods sold in schools would have to contain more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein. Food high in sugar, sodium and fat would not be allowed.” Textbook content high in sugar, sodium and fat is still permitted.

The UC Regents have approved a new company – called “Newco” for the time being – that “promises to further privatize scientific research produced by taxpayer-funded laboratories…would block a substantial amount of UC research from being accessible to the public, and could reap big profits for corporations and investors that have ties to the well-connected businesspeople who will manage it.”

Oregon State University has adopted a policy that “requires faculty members to make their scholarly articles available for free through the digital repository ScholarsArchive@OSU.” The school boasts that it “the first university, public or private, in the Pacific Northwest to adopt a university-wide open access policy, and one of the first land grant universities in the nation to do so.” Go Beavers!

Funding and Acquisitions

The digital publisher Inkling has raised $16 million, reports San Francisco Business Times. This brings the startup’s investment to around $33 million.

Jason Griffey has launched a Kickstarter for LibraryBox 2.0, a library-oriented version of the PirateBox project. (I covered the earlier version of Griffey’s project last year.)

ConnectEDU, which offers services to help students make the transition to college and to career, has raised $5.5 million in funding.

Edu data analytics company Civitas Learning has raised $8.75 million in funding, reports GigaOm.

Edsurge reports that the Danish startup Labster “which has a 12-person team, which raised 3 million Danish Kroner ($525K) seed funding in 2012 has raised $1 million in grants and non-equity support from the Danish Business Innovation Foundation, the Danish Ministry of Science and corporate sponsorships.”

The Gates Foundation has handed out a number of new grants this month. Among the largest education grants: the Fayette County Public Schools ($840,000), the National Association of State Boards of Education ($800,000), the Council of Chief State School Officers ($799,825), Teachers United ($650,723), and Athabasca University ($402,555).

The Apollo Group, which owns the giant for-profit University of Phoenix, released its quarterly report this week, revealing that “third-quarter earnings plunged 40 percent as fewer students enrolled. The University of Phoenix’s enrollment fell 17 percent to 287,500 students. New student sign-ups dropped almost 25 percent, to 38,900. The company’s shares slid more than 5 percent in after-hours trading.”

From the HR Department

Jesse Stommel, currently the Digital Humanities Program Director at Marylhurst and the director of Hybrid Pedagogy, has accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin Madison as an advocate for lifelong learning and the public digital humanities.

According to OLPC News, a site that tracks updates about the One Laptop Per Child project, several key staff have left the OLPC Foundation, including its CTO, lead software architect, and director of learning.

The Obama Administration has selected its second round of Presidential Innovation Fellows. Working for the Department of Education on various data projects are James Sanders and Garren Givens. (I’ll be headed to DC too as my boyfriend, Kin Lane, has been named a PIF as well. He’ll be working for the VA.)

The Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews, has resigned following a string of “embarrassing incidents”, which included being spotted holding a protest sign outside a school slated for closure – a school his policies had slated for closure. Awkward.


Google announced the 15 finalists of its annual Science Fair, along with the winner of its Science in Action award. The latter was won by Elif Bilgin from Turkey as the winner for her work using banana peels to produce bioplastics. She will receive $50,000 and and a year’s worth of mentoring from Scientific American.

“Research,” Data, and “Data Magnets”

The OECD released its latest “Education at a Glance” report this week. Inside Higher Ed has a write-up on some of the findings in the 480+ page report.

Stanford University’s CREDO has released another study of charter schools in the US. (PDF) While the report did find that charter schools have improved over recent years, they’re still on par with public education: 25% of charters did better than nearby public schools at teaching reading, while 19% did worse, and the rest – 56% – were about the same. In math, 29% of charters performed better, 31% performed, with about 40% the same as public schools. EdMedia Commons has a roundup of the coverage from various news outlets.

Statistics superstar Nate Silver takes a look at changes in college majors, partly as a response to a recent NYT op-ed lamenting the decline of the English major. The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann also weighs in on English majors, pointing to their low(er-ish) unemployment rates.

Inspired by the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced effort to track the pay of university adjuncts, comes GradPay, a survey about graduate student working conditions. Working conditions are learning conditions, let’s not forget.

The Cleveland Plains Dealer has published the names and “value added measurements” of teachers in Ohio. The move is controversial, not simply because of privacy issues but because of concerns about the accuracy of this measurement of teacher performance. But as Plain Dealer Assistant Managing Editor Chris Quinn says, it’s public information and “the people of Ohio have paid for this.”

The Pew Internet and American Life project has issued its latest report on “Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations.” Among the findings, “three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.”

The personal data of some 47,000 student teachers-in-training at Florida State University was accidentally leaked earlier this month during an insecure transfer of information to a new server.

The Department of Education released data from School Improvement Grant (SIG) schools for the 2010–11 school year, including information about student and teacher attendance.

And continuing its push for more transparency around college costs, the Department of Education also added more data to its College Affordability and Transparency Lists, including information on which schools have the highest tuition and which ones’ costs-of-attendance are rising the fastest.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “kids apps are data magnets.” “A Wall Street Journal examination of 40 popular and free child-friendly apps on Google’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS systems found that nearly half transmitted to other companies a device ID number, a primary tool for tracking users from app to app. Some 70% passed along information about how the app was used, in some cases including the buttons clicked and in what order.” Stricter restrictions about this practice will go into effect July 1 with updates to COPPA.

ISTE “News”

ISTE unveiled a new logo and branding at its 2013 conference and took a formal position on the Common Core State Standards in a press release that included an infographic. According to one investor blog, the top conversations at the event involved the Surface RT giveaway and Google GlasseSchoolNews wrote up its list of “10 Engaging Ed-Tech Booths.” Edsurge's coverage included startups’ parties. Good grief, some weeks the disruptive innovation is just too much to handle.

Image credits: Nomadic Lass, The Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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