Science is Awesome

36 years after it was launched, Voyager I has moved out of the sun’s reach and has entered interstellar space, the first human-made object to do so. I blame our failing schools. Oh. Wait.

Science is Awful

Pink slime. It’s back in school lunches.

Massive Open* Online Courses (*Some Restrictions May Apply)

San Jose State University has released its report on the spring pilot program it ran with Udacity. The NSF-funded research doesn’t really offer any surprises here: student “effort, measured in a variety of ways, trumps all other variables tested for their relationships to student success.” More analysis of the report from Inside Higher Ed, Phil Hill, and Michael Feldstein.

Timed with an appearance on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt by Sebastian Thrun and California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, Udacity announced the Open Education Alliance, a partnership with several tech companies, which has jack shit to do with “open education,” but hey, it’s co-opted “MOOC” so why not this phrase too.

Google is "joining the “open Edx platform.” It’s not really clear what that entails – I mean, other than making “open” even murkier – as it says it will continue to maintain the open source code for its Course Builder software “but are focusing our development efforts on Open edX.” Slate calls the partnership a “YouTube for MOOCs,” so the comments section (“forums”) should be an awesome place to learn. See also:

Coursera announced this week that it’s earned $1 million in revenue from its Signature Track courses. (The company has raised some $65 million in venture funding.) According to its blog post, “Over 70% of the students earning them already have a bachelor’s degree or higher.” One happy customer says that "The Verified Certificate boosts my credibility in my new role as CTO of a startup. We use gamification in our products for employee growth.”

The HarvardX Neuroscience MOOC MCB80x is running a Kickstarter to raise funds so that students in the class will all get a “spikerbox,” a DIY neuroscience kit made by Backyard Brains. (I covered Backyard Brains here.)

Peking University has joined Coursera.

MOOCoW. Because someone had to do it.

ISTE is running a MOOC. Well, it’s a STEM conference, but marketed as a MOOC. Because of course.

HarvardX has released enrollment data for its courses, with 43% of participants coming from the US. More numbers and an interactive visualization via The Harvard Crimson.

Karen Head wraps up her Chronicle series on the “First-Year Composition 2.0” MOOC she taught on the Coursera platform, with a look at what was “successful” and not about the course. An excerpt:

“I don’t think any of us (writing and communication instructors) would rush to teach another MOOC soon. For now, the technology is lacking for courses in subject areas like writing, which have such strong qualitative evaluation requirements. Too often we found our pedagogical choices hindered by the course-delivery platform we were required to use, when we felt that the platform should serve the pedagogical requirements. Too many decisions about platform functionality seem to be arbitrary, or made by people who may be excellent programmers but, I suspect, have never been teachers.”

Non-MOOC-Related College News

Wake Forest University is joining Semester Online, the online education consortium run by 2U.

Students at CUNY protested the first class offered by former CIA director David Petraus. (Video here.) It’s gonna be a long semester, General.

South Carolina’s Converse College is cutting its tuition by 43%.

Law and Politics

Tamara Cotman, a school administrator in Atlanta brought up in charges relating to the school system’s cheating scandal, was found not guilty on Friday of influencing witnesses during a government investigation. This was the first case brought to trial in that investigation, one that led to the indictments of over 30 educators, including the school superintendent Beverly Hall.

Sallie Mae has dropped its membership from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The conservative group works with corporations and legislators to write laws, primarily at the state level. More about ALEC and education here.

From the press release: the California Community Colleges Board of Governors has voted to require that any works created under contracts or grants funded by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office carry the Creative Commons Attribution license that gives permission to the public to reproduce, distribute, perform, display or adapt the licensed materials for any purpose so long as the user gives attribution to the author."

Negotiations got underway in DC this week for new “gainful employment” regulations. Inside Higher Ed has more on the proposals and rule-making sessions.

The Department of Education has denied Texas’s request to waive NCLB testing requirements of elementary and middle school students.

The Department of Education told California that it couldn’t scrap its NCLB-mandated state testing system in order to field test the new Common Core tests. Arne Duncan has threatened to withhold funds if it does so. But the state legislature has moved forward regardless, passing legislation that would suspend standardized testing for a non-high-stakes test of new assessments.

Lots of back and forth this week on whether or not former Indiana (and now too former Florida) schools head Tony Bennett has been exonerated in the grade-changing controversy that prompted his resignation. Or has he been drawn into another scandal?

Bill de Blasio won the Democratic primary in New York City mayor’s race this week. His victory is being hailed in some corners as “full speed reverse on education reforms.”

The SEIU has authorized a strike against the Oregon University system. The UO student union is calling for a student walk out in support. In its negotiations with administrators, the UO faculty union (different from the SEIU) is concerned that the university plans to “decouple academic freedom and free speech.” But, hey, the football team is 2–0 and that’s what really matters. Go Ducks.

Surveillance and Schools

The administration at Johns Hopkins University requested that cryptography researcher Matthew Green take down a blog post he’d penned about recent NSA revelations. The university later apologized. More via ProPublica.

Launches and Upgrades

Apple held a press event this week. Blah blah blah blah new iOS. Blah blah blah gold iPhones. Blah blah blah fingerprint scanners.

The non-profit CodeNow is expanding to the Bay Area, launching its youth programming classes there (as well as in NYC) this fall. Students receive 40+ hours of training, and those who successfully complete the program can earn a laptop. (I’ve written previously about CodeNow here.)

Kaplan’s Ed-Tech Accelerator Program, run in conjunction with TechStars, had the Demo Day for its first cohort this week. VentureBeat has a look at the participating companies and their pitches.

DHThis, sort of like Reddit but for the digital humanities, launched this week. Adeline Koh, one of its creators, has a write-up on the project in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Techcrunch’s Sarah Perez covers the launch of appoLearning, an education-focused app search and discovery portal from the folks at Appolicious. (Didn’t I note just last week that portals were a big ed-tech trend this year?!)

The CK–12 Foundation unveiled several new features on its OER site, including reporting features to track student progress and an assignment creation tool that lets teachers “mix and match concepts from different subjects to create a single assignment.”

Figshare has launched “Figshare for Institutions,” “a cloud-based repository that enables universities and colleges to host datasets, papers, videos, and other research outputs and make this content publicly available.” More details in the School Library Journal.

Downgrades and Closures

Y Combinator-backed tutoring startup Tutorspree is closing its doors “because we could not make it the company we wanted,” the founders write on their blog. PandoDaily’s Erin Griffith writes up news of the closure, suggesting that “Some in the ed-tech industry believe there was an investment bubble for early stage ed-tech startups and it has popped. General VC’s are not as eager to invest in early stage education as they were six to 12 months ago, several industry observers said.”

And in “almost ready to close news,” there’s Dabble, an education startup that’s turning its struggles into a “30 Days of Honesty” blog series, detailing “their day-to-day struggles and personal doubts about running Dabble. Each day, they write openly about debates over raising prices so they can take a greater cut, asking readers for marketing tips and questioning how long they’ll feel comfortable committing to the company.” Mashable picked up the story, so hey, maybe there’s hope.

Funding and Acquisitions

The learning management system Desire2Learn has acquired Knowillage Systems. Knowillage is the maker of the adaptive learning system LeaP, which according to the press release “uses language processing and analytics to determine gaps in a learner’s skill set and then provides the right tools, content, and techniques to address those areas of weakness.”

TechVibes reports that Class Messenger, a messaging service for teachers and parents, has raised $1 million in funding from Scholastic.

Mindsy, which aims to be the “Netflix of e-learning” has raised an £80,000 seed round, reports Techcrunch.

The commenting system Livefyre has acquired the curation tool Storify. Please, don’t screw it up, guys.

In un-funding news, Kentucky’s Centre College announced this week that a $250 million gift to the school has been withdrawn. Ouch.

From the HR Department

He’s been the acting deputy since April, but now the White House has officially nominated Jim Shelton as Deputy Secretary for the Department of Education. Prior to the DoE, Shelton worked for the Gates Foundation and for New Schools Venture Fund.

Jeff Raikes announced his retirement as CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He says he’ll stay on board ’til a replacement is found. Hey guys, I hear Steve Ballmer will be looking for work soon…

Following the departure of co-founder and CTO Devlin Daley, Instructure has a new CTO: Joel Dehlin.

Gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer has resigned from his teaching position at Pasadena College following revelations that he’s had sexual relationships with several students. Good riddance.

“Research” and Data

Your Annual Reminder to Ignore the US News & World Report College Rankings.”

A study released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research was translated into headlines like this: “Tenured Professors Make Worse Teachers,” “Ad­juncts Are Bet­ter Teachers Than Tenured Professors,” and “Study Finds Students Learn More from Non-Tenure Track Instructors.” The study tracked cohorts of freshmen at Northwestern University, following their enrollment and grades after taking classes taught by non-tenure track instructors. The abstract doesn’t mention “adjuncts” at all, but golly gee look how the media spins the story.

In other research news that just seems perfectly designed to be skewed for the sake of headlines – “Bad news for teachers, good news for Teach for America” – a new study compares the effectiveness of TFA and Teaching Fellow teachers. The study found that “TFA teachers were more effective than the teachers with whom they were compared. On average, students assigned to TFA teachers scored 0.07 standard deviations higher on end-of-year math assessments than students assigned to comparison teachers, a statistically significant difference.” Education writer Dana Goldstein has some useful thoughts on the research design and interpretations.

Welcome to Harvard, Class of 2017.” According to a survey of incoming freshmen, 42% say they’ve cheated on their homework. 35% say they’ve had sex.

The Open University has released a report on “Innovating Pedagogy,” which offers a look at 10 education theories, tools, and practices which it says “have the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice, particularly in post-school education.” Among the 10: gaming, MOOCs, and badges.

ProPublica looks at financial aid data from the Department of Education and finds that “from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants — as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts — to students in the lowest quartile of family income.” Read the whole story.


Congratulations to the winners of this year’s IgNobels! Among the winners, “‘Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder’: People Who Think They Are Drunk Also Think They Are Attractive” (which won the Psychology Prize) and “Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public, AND to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding” (who won the Peace Prize). The complete list of winners is here.

NCWIT (the National Center for Women & Information Technology) will open submissions for its Aspirations in Computing award on September 15. The award is for “all creative coders, hackers, designers, & technical young [that is, high-school level] women.”


On the heels of some pretty bad publicity, the education accelerator program Socratic Labs is launching a new initiative: “Edtext: Context for Solving Big Problems in Education.” The month-long event will bring together “New York educators, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and technologists to learn about the context of education needed for real innovation.” Tickets – for educators and for entrepreneurs – cost $1200, but “if selected for the Socratic Labs Accelerator Program in December, participants receive a full refund of the course fee.” Hrmm.

It’s time for another round of “Twitter vs. Zombies,” an online version of the campus version of “Humans vs Zombies.” The game starts today, but it’s not too late to sign up and eat the brains of digital humanities professors. Um, digitally of course.

In Memoriam

Education professor and policy researcher Jean Anyon passed away this week following a battle with cancer. Her Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, which examines how the schools of different social classes educate students, is a must-read.

Image credits: NASA and the Noun Project

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

Back to Archives