Updates and Upgrades

Bret Victor has responded to Khan Academy’s new computer science curriculum with an amazing essay, Learnable Programming. This is a must-read. My favorite quote: “For fuck’s sake, read ‘Mindstorms’.” Indeed. I’m really really really hoping that, having claimed to have been so inspired by Victor’s Inventing on Principle talk, that everyone who’s now building a learn-to-program startup (whether it’s a for-profit like Codecademy or a not-for-profit like Khan Academy) actually reads some goddamn Seymour Papert. Please.

Math teacher Dan Meyer has released some updates to 101questions, his math site that lets you explore and respond to videos and photos that in turn prompt math-related questions and, in Meyer’s words, “perplexity.” New features to 101questions include file uploading and downloading and better sharing.

The publisher Wiley & Sons announced a partnership with the adaptive learning company Knewton, bringing the latter’s “Math Readiness” course to university students in Australia and New Zealand.

According to The Digital Shift, Macmillan will begin a pilot project to test e-book lending its titles to libraries. As I’ve noted many, many times, the Big Six publishers (of which Macmillan is one) have been very reluctant to work with libraries, restricting access to digital content or limited the number of digital loans. 

ClassConnect (which I’ve covered here and here) has rebranded as and launched the beta of its “Github for lessons.”

Storypanda left beta this week, with the release of its iOS app Storypanda Books (iTunes link). The interactive e-reader app lets kids and families create and not just consume e-books.

In news I missed last week, Smarterer, a Boston-based startup that tests people on their digital skills, has tweaked its product slightly, focusing now on helping users improve those skills rather than just proving them to others. Rather than having a public profile now where people can showcase what they know about SEO, Facebook Page management and the like, Smarterer now offers a private dashboard so people can track their own accomplishments.

The academic publisher Elsevier announced this week that it will provide for free the required textbook to those students enrolled in the edX class “Circuits & Electronics.” Sounds like great news, right up until you read the fine print: the textbooks is in a PNG form that you can’t even download (not even a PDF, for crying out loud.) You can, of course, still buy the textbook for $99.95 (which was written — what a coincidence — by MIT professor, edX head, and the teacher for this class, Anant Agarwal).

Edsurge reports that the educational data startup Junyo (founded by former Zynga exec Steve Schoettler) is pivoting and “refocusing its efforts around building tools for analyzing data on student performance.” Details are pretty light here on what exactly that means, but Edsurge suggests that schools might be backing out of partnerships they’d formed with the startup. Vaporware much?


Early childhood app-maker Duck Duck Moose has raised its first round of funding: $7 million. Duck Duck Moose has released 14 apps, and 14 have won Parents Choice Awards. The funding will help the founders expand its team and its product line.

Web-based calculator Desmos announced this week that its raised a round of funding from Google Ventures.

PandoDaily reports on a new investment fund by First Round Capital aimed at funding college students’ startups. The Dorm Room Fund will start at the University of Pennsylvania and expand to other campuses soon.

The Gates Foundation and Facebook held a hackathon this week as part of the former’s College Knowledge Challenge — building apps to boost college readiness and college completion. The Gates Foundation is offering $2.5 million to developers to solve these challenges... or to build apps, more accurately, I suppose. 

Research and Data

The College Board released data about the SAT scores for the Class of 2012, who have the distinction of earning the lowest scores in reading since the Class of 1972. There are lots of reasons for the falling scores besides the “education is broken!” narrative, including the fact that more students (and a more diverse set of students) are taking these tests than ever before. The SAT scores continue to correlate with family income — the wealthier you are, the higher your scores.

The Department of Education has released data for the first time on three-year federal student loan cohort defaults. The default rate for the 2009 cohort: 13.4%. (The default rate for for-profits: 22.7%. For public institutions: 11%. For private not-for-profits: 7.5%.)

According to research by Corinne A. Moss-Racusina, John F. Dovidiob, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman on gender-bias in sciencescience professors rate their male students as smarter than their female students. The study gave professors applications to assess based on competency, hirability, and willingness to mentor — all the applications were the same save one detail: some were labeled as “John” and some as “Jennifer.” Faculty — both men and women — all rated “John” higher for everything.

Politics and The Law

California governor Jerry Brown signed two bills yesterday that call for the establishment of an online library of digital, openly-licensed textbooks for 50 of the most popular courses at the state’s public universities and community colleges.

College students in Quebec took to the streets this past spring to protest tuition hikes (among other things), and in one of the first moves by the newly-elected provincial government, that fee increase is history. Tuition will go back down to $2,168, the lowest in Canada.

Earlier this month, Toys R Us announced that it would be launching a kid-oriented tablet. Now the company is being sued by rival tablet-maker Fuhu Inc for stealing trade secrets.

UC Davis has reached a settlement with 21 students as a result of the pepper-spraying incident on campus last fall. The university will pay out $1 million and will also work with the ACLU to develop policies on student demonstrations.

Hires and Fires

Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture capital fund, has hired former DC mayor Adrian Fenty as a special advisor, reports The Wall Street Journal. Just think of it! The folks who claim that “software is eating the world” are teaming up with the guy who hired Michelle Rhee to restructure the DC schools and who claimed at this spring’s Education Innovation Summit that if he just could’ve fired more teacher, the city could’ve purchased more technology for the classroom. I don’t know about you guys, but golly gee is Fenty plus Andreessen Horowitz ever going to be exciting for Silicon Valley and ed-tech.

Classes and Competitions

10gen, the company behind the open source NoSQL database MongoDB, announced that it’s going to be offering a course on the edX platform. It's an interesting move to see new technologies take to the MOOCs as, arguably, this sort of subject (MongoDB, let alone NoSQL) is not part of many schools' traditional CS curriculum.

Congratulations to NoRedInk, the winner of the 2012 Citi Innovation Challenge, part of NBC’s Education Nation. The grammar-boosting startup (which I covered here) walked away with a $75,000 check.

Photo credits: Su Neko

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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