Hack Education Weekly News: Shark Week

Happy 16th birthday to Malala Yousafzai, who addressed the United Nations today on the subject of education. Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban less than a year ago for her activism about girls’ education. (The transcript of her speech is here.)

The MOOC, the Campus Tsunami, and Sharknado

Coursera announced this week that it’s raised another round of funding: $43 million from the International Finance Corporation (the investment arm of the World Bank), Laureate Education (a for-profit education company formerly known as Sylvan Learning), GSV Capital, Learn Capital (of which Pearson is its largest limited partner) and Yuri Milner, Russian tycoon (formerly with the World Bank). “We hope it’s enough money to get us to profitability,’’ Coursera founder Daphne Koller told The New York Times. “We haven’t really focused yet on when that might be.’’ The Forbes article on the investment hints loudly at an IPO.

Blackboard Announces New MOOC Platform,” writes The Chronicle of Higher Education, but it’s not really clear based on the article how this will be different than its CourseSites offering. Other than in that ever-important branding, of course.

The Chronicle reports that not a single student at Colorado State University-Global Campus has signed up for MOOC-for-credit. (Students there can purportedly pay $89 for a proctored exam, “compared with the $1,050 that Colorado State charges for a comparable three-credit course.”) The deluge of students wanting to acquire cheaper credits – is “not happening as quickly as we had hoped,” says Chari Leader Kelley, vice president of LearningCounts.

I feel compelled to throw in a Sharknado reference here after a truly WTF week of education news. Because nothing signals the coming “campus tsunami” like television, sharks, hype, and "science." Or something.

Non-MOOCed Degrees and Accreditation

The University of Phoenix will not lose its accreditation or be put on probation status as a regional accreditor has simply put the university (along with Western International University, also owned by parent company Apollo Group) on “notice.”

The University of Wisconsin system’s “Flexible Option” program has earned approval from its regional accreditor, reports the Wisconsin State Journal. The competency-based program is aimed at working adults and lets them use prior experiences and test out of classes.

Law and Politics

Apple has been found guilty of colluding with publishers to fix e-book prices. Publishers had already settled with the Justice Department in the case. A hearing on damages is set for August 9, although Apple says it plans to appeal the decision.

Despite some indications earlier this week that a deal was in the works, it appears as though the US Senate has failed to reverse the rise in interest rates on student loans. Fail.

Representative Steve Stockman (R-Texas) has introduced a bill this week that would block federal funding for schools that enforce rules that punish students for playing with imaginary weapons. Because clearly education is broken and someone should fix it.

The final version of the new national curriculum for English schools was published this week. The curriculum includes 5-year-olds learning fractions and programming. “According to a Whitehall source: ”Three-dimensional printers will become standard in our schools – a technology that is transforming manufacturing and the economy. Combined with the introduction of programming, it is a big step forward from Labour’s dumbed-down curriculum.’" Zing. (Scotland does not have a national curriculum, in case you’re curious. But they do have a Wimbledon champion. Take that, England.)

From the NSBA’s Legal Clips blog: “A unanimous three-justice panel of the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that a police officer’s seizure of an eight year-old elementary school student for the purpose of scaring that student so another student would confess to theft was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The panel, having found that the student had been seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and that the seizure was unreasonable, concluded the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity because it was clearly established law that it is unreasonable for a police officer to seize a student for the purpose of intentionally frightening him in order to induce another student to confess.” This had to go to court?!?

Surveillance and “Security”

“Kids lose their school IDs but they don’t often lose their eyeballs,” reads the headline of the CNN press release article on schools that are increasingly turning to iris scanning for IDs. “‘Imagine a world where you’re no longer reliant on user names and passwords,’ Eyelock CMO Anthony Antolino told CNNMoney. ‘If we’re going through a turnstile and you have authorization to go beyond that, it’ll open the turnstile for you.’” Imagine we stop thinking about schools as places with prison-like security and turnstiles.

The latest revelations from The Guardian (and Edward Snowden) detail Microsoft’s collaboration with the NSA to circumvent encryption of messages and files. Enjoy your Surface tablets, ISTE attendees!

The news is a little old, but worth noting nonetheless: the Gates Foundation have bought a 3% stake (worth £110 million) in the security firm G4S. The company, known for its bungling of its London Olympics security contract, also supplies services for Israeli prisons and military checkpoints in the West Bank.

The New York Times reports that schools that are considering allowing employees to carry concealed weapons are facing higher insurance rates, with some insurance providers threatening to drop coverage altogether. “More than 30 state legislatures introduced bills that permit staff members to carry guns in public or private schools this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.”

Launches and Upgrades

Versal launched its online learning platform this week, one it describes as “an open publishing platform for anyone to create interactive online courses - no coding required.” It’s also launched a foundation to support educators and non-profits with grants ($1,000 to $25,000) to create “forever-free,” openly-licensed courses. “Versal’s killer app is something it calls the ‘gadget’ tool,” reports ReadWrite, which wins for the headline-of-the-week: “Online Learning Is Broken, And Versal Wants To Fix It.” (I thought online learning was going to fix broken brick-and-mortar education, but it’s hard to keep everything straight.)

Acrobatiq, a company spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative, says it will launch in August to offer “customizable courseware, learning analytics capabilities and consulting services to educational institutions looking to improve learning outcomes for students.”

The credentialing company ProExam has launched “ProExam Vault,” a Web-based platform that will issue and store digital badges. (The new product conforms to Mozilla’s Open Badges Infrastructure.)

Math education startup Motion Math has released its latest iOS game, Questimate, which as the title suggests involves asking questions and making estimates.

The Chicago Public Library is opening an Innovation Lab and a Maker Space at the Harold Washington Library Center and will “offer access to a variety of software such as Trimble Sketchup, Inkscape, Meshlab, Makercam and equipment including three 3D Printers, two laser cutters, as well as a milling machine and vinyl cutter.” Awesome.

The language-learning and Web-translation startup Duolingo has released an iPad app. More details at Techcrunch.

Responding to some recent speculation about the organization’s staffing, OLPC says that the XOTablet will launch on July 16 “exclusively at Walmart.”

Orbit Software, which makes software to manage schools’ transportation needs, says it’s partnering with Pearson to make student transportation data available in the education giant’s student information system Powerschool.

There’s been lots of talk post-ISTE from teachers saying they’re not rock stars. Indeed, they’re not. Or at least that’s the message from the Broad Center and ActivatED, which have made a video series showcasing “Education’s Rock Stars” that includes investors, policy wonks, reformers, and industry insiders.

Downgrades and Discounts

Microsoft is slashing the prices on its tablets, down from $499 to $199.

Funding and Acquisitions

Pearson has sold the National Transcript Center (NTC), its student records and transcript business, to the education company Hobsons. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Financially struggling business school Thunderbird School of Global Management is selling its campus to Laureate Education, reports The Wall Street Journal. (See the Coursera funding news above for more from Laureate Education this week.)

Warren Buffett has given $2.6 billion in Berkshire-Hathway stock to the Gates Foundation. Ah, philanthropy.

TSL Education has been acquired by the private equity firm TPG Capital LLP for $600 million. TSL’s best-known product is TES (Times Education Supplement) Connect, which serves as the platform for a partnership with AFT for its ShareMyLesson product.

Pandodaily reports that data analytics startup BrightBytes has raised $2.5 million in Series A funding.

The Next Web reports that Blikbook, “a Quora for higher education” has raised $1.3 million. Investors include Leaf Investments, Delta Partners’ Bank of Ireland Start-up and Emerging Sectors Fund, Enterprise Ireland and existing investor Forward Investment Partners.

From the HR Department

Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, will be stepping down in August to take the helm of the University of California system. “UC officials believe that her Cabinet experiences –- which include helping to lead responses to hurricanes and tornadoes and overseeing some anti-terrorism measures – will help UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and aid its federally funded research in medicine and other areas,” says The LA Times. I’m torn between making another Sharknado reference and noting how handling terrorists is apparently a plus when handling students and faculty.

Long-time Blackboard engineer George Kroner is “switching sides,” so to speak, leaving the LMS giant to join the University of Maryland University College.

Competitions

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Imagine Cup, Microsoft’s student engineering competition. Among the winners, Ana Ferraz from Portugal, who built a “low-cost and portable prototype that can save the lives of people requiring blood transfusions in emergency situations by determining a patient’s blood type in five minutes.”

“Research” and Data

According to USA Today, “More than 260 colleges and universities in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have students who are more likely to default on their loans than full-time freshmen are to graduate, an analysis of federal data shows.”

Research by economists Kevin Rask of Colorado College and Amanda Griffith of Wake Forest University has found that perks like fancy dorms and fitness centers have little effect on students’ college choices. More details via the Hechinger Report.

In honor of Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the UN today, The Guardian’s Data Blog writes today about girls’ access to education worldwide. And, as always, the data is available for you to download and analyze yourself.

Image credits: SyFy, The Noun Project



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