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Hack Education Weekly News: Apple's Smartwatch (and What It Says about Ed-Tech Bloggers)

Hack Education - 12 Septiembre, 2014 - 18:45

Education Law and Politics

An Open Letter To The White Teachers Who Wore NYPD T-Shirts To School

Via The LA Times, “L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy has filed a public records request seeking emails and other documents involving school board members and nearly two dozen companies including those at the center of the controversial iPad project.”

Meanwhile, the LAUSD Board has voted to destroy its emails after 1 year. Nothing to see here. Move along…

Oh wait. Looks like emails between Superintendent Deasy and then Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino showed that the district planned to train teachers on Pearson's iPad software almost a year before the one-to-one project went out to bid.

US Representative John Tierney (D-MA) was defeated in Tuesday’s primary elections. Tierney has been a long-time member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo won his primary election, narrowly defeating Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout.

The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that libraries can digitize books without securing permission from the copyright holder.

Texas history textbooks are biased. News at 11.

The San Juan Unified School District has paid out $3.4 million in settlements relating to former superintendent Glynn Thompson and accusations he bullyed and discriminated against women.

Chardon High School shooter TJ Lane escaped from prison last night, prompting the school district to cancel classes. Lane, who killed three students and wounded three others in 2012, was recaptured about 1:30am.


edX launches classes (and college counseling) for high school students. Most of the classes are AP ones, which will be offered for free, but there’s a fee for certificates.

UBC joins edX.

Pope Francis launches Global Online School Network Scholas.Social.” I’m slightly disappointed that it’s not a MOOC.

The American Council on Education (ACE) “announced the creation of a pool of about 100 online courses that will lead to credit recommendations. The courses will be low-cost or free. They will be general education and lower-division, ranging across up to 30 subject areas.”

The BBC reports that one of FutureLearn’s MOOCs – an English-language learning MOOC run by the British Council – has enrolled over 100,000 students.

Meanwhile on Campus

The LAUSD police force has 61 assault rifles, 3 grenade launchers, and 1 mine resistant vehicle. San Diego Unified School District has an armored vehicle. “At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the [Department of Defense] through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“A Taylorsville elementary school teacher somehow shot herself in the leg while in a school restroom.” Somehow.

The latest CCSS scam: fake invoices for Common Core aligned materials

A University of Toronto professor was stabbed by a student.

Kentucky State University has re-enrolled most of the students that it kicked out last week for failing to pay their tuition and fees.

How to Get Into an Ivy League College—Guaranteed

Almost 12% of Harvard students are enrolled in “Introduction to Computer Science 1” this semester – a record-breaking number.

Harvard launches a website.

Harvard has received a $350 million gift, so looks like the university will have enough cash to keep the lights and websites on. Phew.

Campus Rankings, Ranked

The US News & World Report’s Rankings, 30th Anniversary edition

The Onion's 2014 University Rankings

The Most Economically Diverse Top Colleges

The 25 colleges whose graduates earn the most

America’s Worst Colleges

America’s Top High Schools

Colleges whose graduates find meaning in their work

“Twenty-Eight out of the Top 30 “Best Universities” in U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 rankings are under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault.”

Safety Schools, Ranked

Colleges statistically most likely to get you hired at Edsurge

Go, School Sports Team!

Average student attendance at college football games is down more than 7% since 2009.

“Twenty percent of NCAA athletes admit to participating in fantasy sports leagues with entry fees and cash prizes, according to a survey conducted last year by the NCAA.” That’s against the rules.

But ya know. Rules schmules. The NCAA has lifted more of the sanctions it placed on Penn State following former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s conviction on 45 counts of child abuse.

From the HR Department

The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Board of Trustees voted 8 to 1 to terminate Steven Salaita’s tenured position (following his tweets about Palestine). Salaita and his lawyers respond.

American University professor David Pitts, chair of public administration and policy, has been placed on leave following charges that he breaks into stores and sets fires.

University of Miami President Donna Shalala will step down next year.

Valerie Barr has lost her job at the National Science Foundation because of questions about her activism in the 1980s. “Barr handed out leaflets, stood behind tables at rallies, and baked cookies to support two left-wing groups, the Women’s Committee Against Genocide and the New Movement in Solidarity with Puerto Rican Independence.”

Upgrades and Downgrades

Apple held its fall press event, unveiling the latest iPhones and a smartwatch. "What the Apple Watch Tells Us About the Future of Ed-Tech." (Interestingly, Apple's pushing a new U2 album onto everyone's iDevices is a relevant story to ed-tech, but I don't think anyone's covered that angle. Oh well. Keep up the good work, folks.)

Meanwhile, Amplify has lowered the pricing for its tablets. Originally $299 for the devices and $99 per year for software, the tablets are now $359 (including content) and $60 per year thereafter.

Amplify is also now trying to sell its educational games direct to consumers. Sounds like the whole News Corp education thing is going swimmingly.

So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class…” – now available on Khan Academy, of course.

And Khan Academy now offers videos to help students get into college too.

Known, a startup that’s part of the IndieWeb movement and one I think could be key to helping students control their content and data, has launched its public beta. Here’s GigaOm Mathew Ingram’s coverage.

John Danner, the founder of the for-profit school chain Rocketship, has unveiled his latest startup: “Zeal, an adaptive Common Core practice app with game-like features.” More on the app and its users (called “Zealots,” I kid you not) via Edsurge.

Google has made updates to Drive (Docs, Sheets, etc) to help blind users with improved screen reader support.

Another for-profit education company decides to incubate ed-tech startups, as DeVry University teams up with 1871 in Chicago. has launched Code Studio, “a combined set of tools and curriculum to get students in kindergarten through high school interested in the underlying concepts behind coding through guided lesson plans.”

Google’s Course Builder now supports LTI.

Funding and Acquisitions

Rumor has it that Microsoft is poised to buy Mojang, maker of the popular videogame Minecraft. More on Educating Modern Learners.

Flashnotes has raised a multi-million dollar Series B round from Cengage Learning, Lazerow Ventures, Atlas Venture, KAHM Capital, Softbank Capital, Stage One Ventures, Campus Agency, Lou Latiff, and Michael Solomon. The company, which allows students “exchange high quality academic materials” and create flashcards has raised $6.9 million in investment (not including this latest undisclosed amount).

Insane Logic has raised €1 million in funding from Ananda Ventures.

Looop has raised $2 million from an unnamed investor to help expand its online training platform into the UK.

Google has made a $190,000 donation to Black Girls Code.

Why Wall Street loves for-profit education.” I mean, why not.


According to Edsurge, ed-tech companies raised $153.9 million in August. “Ka’ching.”

And according to CB Insights, “Financing in Ed Tech has shown a clear upward trend, with consistent growth since 2010. Funding in 2013 represented a 212% growth in the sector since 2009. Deals have grown as well, with 334 deals occurring in 2013 representing a 35% year over year growth from 2012. Notably, 2014 is seeing funding and deal activity on pace to top 2013′s previous investment highs if the current pace continues.”

Research conducted by Matthew M. Chingos and Guido Schwerd argues that Florida Virtual School students “perform about the same or somewhat better on state tests” than traditional public high school students. Expect these findings to be trotted out in future ed reform arguments.

“In 2013, about 36,000 seniors lost part of their Social Security allotment due to outstanding student debt. That is a six-fold jump from 2002.” More on the GAO report via ThinkProgress.

Humanities disciplines still survive.

Harvard Business School alums are concerned about US economic competitiveness and the quality of US schools. Me, I’m concerned about the sorts of people who attend HBS.

Pearson surveys college students, finds that 75% of college students say tablets make learning fun but only 45% of them use tablets. Their devices of choice: laptops and smartphones.

The Pew Research Center has released surveys on “younger Americans,” reading, and libraries. “As a group, younger Americans under age 30 are more likely than those 30 and older to report reading a book (in any format) at least weekly (67% vs 58%). Adults ages 50–64 are least likely to report reading books on a weekly basis, followed by those ages 30–49 and those ages 65 and older.”

The OECD has released its 2014 report “Education at a Glance” – where 570 pages equals “glance.”

Credential Creep Confirmed

Should Technology Play with Students’ Emotions?” Shrug.

Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent,” The New York Times tells us. For what it’s worth, I hear he was also an asshole.

Image credits: Alexander Boden and The Noun Project

New steps in the Layers fieldwork – Part 2: Pilot workshops with craft trade companies go ahead

Pontydysgu - Bridge to Learning - 12 Septiembre, 2014 - 16:23

With my previous post I started to report on the recent steps in the fieldwork of the Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. I firstly reported on the participation of LL partners in the large German construction sector fair NordBau and on the stakeholder talks we had their with several companies. A major topic was to engage them into pilot activities on the LL tools in particular with the Learning Toolbox (LTB). This post will give insights into the recent Pilot workshop with craft trade companies on LL tools. This workshop was organised and documented by our ITB colleague Werner Müller. He has written a more detailed report for internal use. I will highlight here some points that give a general picture, how our pilot activities are moving on.

The workshop was planned as a follow-up to the stakeholder engagement activities that we carried out during the Well-builders’ fair in May 2014 (65. Brunnenbauertage) in Bau-ABC Rostrup. However, before launching a wide range of workshops, we agreed to have first a smaller pilot workshop. We invited two companies that we had interviewed during the initial phase of the project and with which the LL partners had good contacts.

The company K is a carpentry company with currently 36 employees. It is involved in the network for ecological construction work (Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen – LL partner organisation) and in several domain-specific networks. The company has been pioneering with company-specific apps and is in the process of introducing tablet PCs for team leaders. At the same time the company is paying attention to the fact that introduction of new ICT tools will not cause a digital divide in access to information and communication. The company has regular meetings to discuss quality issues (QT-Runde).

The company W is a larger medium-sized company with ca. 430 employers and specialised on pipeline-building. It has most of its staff working on missions in teams of two or three skilled workers. This company has a long-term cooperation with Bau-ABC. The company W has been pioneering with digital pens, mobile offices (laptops with internet access) allocated to teams and with centralised databases. Yet, the company has had mixed experiences with the effectivity of such tools regarding time used for searches vs. finding adequate solutions. The company itself has centralised databases and is concerned of knowledge management and confidentiality issues. Concerning knowledge sharing and learning across teams, there are very limited possibilities to provide face-to-face meetings.

In the workshop we presented a general picture on the Learning Layers project and invited the companies to present their own situation assessment on their use of ICT, Web tools and digital media (including use of mobile technologies). Then, we presented a demonstration on the emerging Learning Toolbox (LTB) as a framework for managing web resources and apps with a mobile device. in the next rounds of discussions we were mapping different situations for piloting with the LTB and needs to which it could respond.

At this point it is not appropriate to go into details of the subsequent discussion. For the LL project it was important that both companies found their specific entry points to pilot activities. For the company K these were more in the intra-company communication and knowledge sharing and in the network-wide knowledge sharing. For the company W they were in the filtering of different quality guidelines and requirements (provided by different electricity providers or public authorities). Altogether, both companies agreed to continue the cooperation with the project and to organise further talks and pilot workshops in their companies.

After this pilot event and after the stakeholder talks during the NordBau fair (see my previous post) we are looking forward to the next pilot workshops.

More blogs to come …


Initial Thoughts on the “Reply to Forums by Email” Feature for Moodle (it’s awesome)

Moodle News - 12 Septiembre, 2014 - 14:55
Replying by email to discussion forums will make it so easy to draft and respond to discussion posts (whether you are a lurker at or want a super easy way to respond to students without...

Learning and Connectivism in MOOCs

OLDaily - 12 Septiembre, 2014 - 11:28

In this presentation I examine the phenomenon of MOOCs as I see them, explaining how they result from and support an understanding of the world based in pattern recognition. The presentation is structured along the lines of the six major elements of the underlying literacies of network interaction.

Desconectado IV Encuentro Internacional de Investigadores en EducaciÓn Virtual, (Keynote) [Sept] 11, 2014 [Comment]
Categorías: General

New steps in the Layers fieldwork – Part 1: Layers goes to NordBau

Pontydysgu - Bridge to Learning - 12 Septiembre, 2014 - 11:05

During the summer months it has not been possible to report much on the fieldwork for the Learning Layers (LL) project. Due to the holiday periods there have been no major events. Yet, thanks to the efforts in May and June and due to preparatory measures by several colleagues, we have been able to take several steps forward when coming back from holidays and conference trips. In this first post I will give a report on the LL partners’ visit to the German construction fair NordBau that took place yesterday.

The annual NordBau fair in Neumünster, near Hamburg, is the biggest sectoral fair for construction industry and craft trades in North Germany. The exhibition halls present products, tools and services whilst the large outdoor areas are filled with heavy machinery by all major suppliers. Bau-ABC is a regular visitor and this event has served as a major opportunity for contacting suppliers and cooperation partners. This time we decided that Melanie Campbell, Kerstin Engraf and I will make a one-day-visit to join the trainers – Mr Grewe and Mr Schütte, who were attending the whole time. We agreed that we three will first explore the exhibition area of ICT service providers and then join Mr Grewe and Mr Schütte with their talks with the suppliers.

1. Observations in the exhibition area of ICT service providers

We were interested to find out, to what extent the ICT service providers were presenting services for construction workers and their supervisors in the construction sites – based on mobile devices. From this point of view the general picture was far more traditional – most of the exhibitors were presenting CAD/CAM software for design work or business management software . Very few exhibitors were promoting mobile applications – and they also were primarily addressing architects or business managers. Yet, we got brochures from some software providers to have a closer look from the LL perspective.

A special compartment was the BIM exhibition container (Building Information Modelling) that was provided by a German research project consortium. involving several universities and software developers. The project demonstrated use of RFID-technologies and integrated software solutions with which the modelling covers the whole supply chain. Starting from product design and actual production (adjusted to customer needs), following through the logistic chain (including reporting, tracking and quality control) the software solutions gave information to the point of using the products in the construction project (and reporting of good match or eventual mismatches). Here, the emphasis was on integration of software and different steering/controlling technologies. From the LL point of view it was interesting to note that this project had been working with prototype solutions without involvement of real application partners and that the engagement of real users was seen as a task for different spin-off and follow-up projects.

2. Talks with supplier companies

The second part of our visit consisted of short visits and stakeholder talks in the outdoor areas in which suppliers to construction companies were presenting their machinery and equipments. Altogether we visited the areas of the following supplier companies:

  • Liebherr
  • Wirtgen Group
  • TractoTechnik
  • Vetter GmbH Kabelverlegetechnik
  • Tramann + Sohn
  • Wacker Neuson

These visits had been orchestrated and scheduled by Mr Grewe and they were part of his normal agenda for meeting suppliers to make arrangements for cooperation in training users of such machinery in the context of initial and continuing training programmes. This time, however, during most of these visits we had discussions also on the Learning Layers project and in particular on the Learning Toolbox. To me it was important that the colleagues from Bau-ABC had already integrated the promotion of Learning Toolbox (and engagement of their partner companies) to their normal business talks. Also, in these talks the colleagues from Bau-ABC were very attentive concerning the possible benefits that the company representatives could see (and very convincing in eliminating eventual misunderstandings). Yet, it was clear to all of us that our counterparts in these talks were the sales persons (and only in few cases the managers/owners of the companies). Thus, the agreements on subsequent pilot workshops were to be made with the management representatives.

At the end of the day we could conclude that our visit was well-timed and that we got good feedback regarding the Learning Layers project:

  • Concerning the ICT exhibition area and the BIM projects, we noticed that there is a gap in providing services for construction workers on the site and in engaging them in co-design processes. From this perspective both the task of the LL project and its approach can be seen as pioneering work.
  • Concerning the talks with the supplier companies, the colleagues from Bau-ABC demonstrated clearly that they had integrated the promotion of Learning Toolbox (and engagement of partner companies into pilot activities) as an essential part of their cooperation with business partners.

Also, the fact that such cooperation is valued became clear during our chance meeting with the team from the company W. (who had just participated in a pilot workshop on Learning Toolbox – see my next blog). So, we felt very much empowered and are looking forward to the next steps.

More blogs to come …



Innovation Design In Education - ASIDE: The Centaur - How Collaborative Edtech Is Building A Brawny Hybrid Beast

Educación flexible y abierta - 12 Septiembre, 2014 - 08:49

Innovative design crosses over all aspects of education. The American Society for Innovation Design in Education, or ASIDE, seeks to infuse curriculum with new approaches to teaching and thinking. Integrating the design of information into the daily conversation is an essential part of the teacher's toolkit and the purpose of the ASIDE blog. The underpinning of innovation and educational design is based on looking at the information available and communicating meaning for a world of learners. Thinking like a designer can transform the way children learn. ASIDE's goal is to bring together as much information, resources and supportive scholarship in one place for teaching and learning.

See it on, via Educación flexible y abierta

Online learning: the UK’s scepticism is holding it back

Educación flexible y abierta - 12 Septiembre, 2014 - 08:23

The UK has a long tradition of online learning, but regulation and a shift in attitudes are needed to stay top on the international stage

See it on, via Educación flexible y abierta

Microsoft Expands YouthSpark Efforts

Campus Technology - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 23:51
YouthSpark started two years ago, and in that time, Microsoft stated, the program has "created opportunities" for 227 million people in 100 countries. The company is now nearly doubling those efforts.

Umbrella Group Backs Unbundling

OLDaily - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 23:27

Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed, [Sept] 11, 2014

In the last year or so the American Council on Education (ACE) has offered to provide credit recommendations for online courses (basically, ACE would attest to a university that the work was worth credit, and in theory, the university your agree and grant the credit). This effort has, as the story says, "fizzled". So ACE is trying a new approach. "It  announced  the creation of a pool of about 100 online courses that will lead to credit recommendations. The courses will be low-cost or free."

[Link] [Comment]
Categorías: General

Startup Launches Automatic Cloud-Based 3D Printer

Campus Technology - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 22:30
A new fully automated and cloud-based 3D printer from NVBOTS will soon hit the market, with features intended to help simplify the sometimes complex 3D printing process.

Pearson’s Efficacy Listening Tour

e-Literate - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 22:06

Back around New Year, Michael wrote a post examining Pearson’s efficacy initiative and calling on the company to engage in active discussions with various communities within higher education about defining “efficacy” with educators rather than for educators. It turns out that post got a fair bit of attention within the company. It was circulated in a company-wide email from CEO John Fallon, and the blog post and all the comments were required reading for portions of the company leadership. After a series of discussions with the company, we, through our consulting company, have been hired by Pearson to facilitate a few of these conversations. We also asked for and received permission to blog about them. Since this is an exception to our rule that we don’t blog about our paid engagements, we want to tell you a little more about the engagement, our rationale for blogging about it, and the ground rules.

The project itself is fairly straightforward. We’re facilitating conversations with a few different groups of educators in different contexts. The focus of each conversation is how they define and measure educational effectiveness in their respective contexts. There will be some  discussion of Pearson’s efficacy efforts at a high level, but mainly for the purpose of trying to map what the educators are telling us about their practices to how Pearson is thinking about efficacy in the current iteration of their approach. After doing a few of these, we’ll bring together the participants along with other educators in a culminating event. At this meeting, the participants will hear a summary of the lessons learned from the earlier conversations, learn a bit more about Pearson’s efficacy work, and then break up into mixed discussion groups to provide more feedback on how to move the efficacy conversation forward and how Pearson’s own efforts can be improved to make them maximally useful to educators.

Since both e-Literate readers and Pearson seemed to get a lot of value from our original post on the topic, we believe there would be value in sharing some of the ongoing conversation here as well. So we asked for and received permission from Pearson to blog about it. Here are the ground rules:

  • We are not getting paid to blog and are under no obligation to blog.
  • Our blog posts do not require prior editorial review by Pearson.
  • Discussions with Pearson during the engagement are considered fair game for blogging unless they are explicitly flagged as otherwise.
  • On the other hand, we will ask for Pearson customers for approval prior to writing about their own campus initiatives (and, in fact, will extend that courtesy to all academic participants).

The main focus of these posts, like the engagement itself, is likely to be on how the notion of efficacy resonates (or doesn’t) with various academic communities in various contexts. Defining and measuring the effectiveness of educational experiences—when measurement is possible and sensible—is a subject with much broader application’s than Pearson’s product development, which is why we are making an exception to our blogging recusal policy for our consulting engagements and why we appreciate Pearson giving us a free hand to write about what we learn.

The post Pearson’s Efficacy Listening Tour appeared first on e-Literate.

GAO Report: Yes, student debt is growing problem

e-Literate - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 18:57

In case anyone needed additional information to counter the Brookings-fed meme that “Americans who borrowed to finance their education are no worse off today than they were a generation ago”, theU.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report yesterday with some significant findings. As reported at Inside Higher Ed by Michael Stratford:

More than 700,000 households headed by Americans 65 or older now carry student debt, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. And the amount of debt owed by borrowers 65 and older jumped from $2.8 billion in 2005 to $18.2 billion last year. [snip]

Between 2004 and 2010, for instance, the number of households headed by individuals 65 to 74 with student loan debt more than quadrupled, going from 1 percent to 4 percent of all such families. During that same period, the rate of borrowing among Americans under 44 years old increased between 40 and 80 percent, even though borrowing among that age group is far more prevalent than it is among senior citizens.

I have been highly critical of the Brookings Institutions and their report and update. This new information from the GAO goes outside the selective Brookings data set of households headed by people aged 20 – 40, but it should be considered by anyone trying to draw conclusions about student debt holders.

Noting that Brookings analysis is based on “Americans who borrowed to finance their education” and the GAO report is on student debt holders, it is worth asking if we’re looking at a similar definition. For the most part, yes, as explained at IHE:

While some of the debt reflects loans taken out by parents on behalf of their children, the vast majority — roughly 70 to 80 percent of the outstanding debt — is attributable to the borrowers’ own education. Parent PLUS loans accounted for only about 27 percent of the student debt held by borrowers 50 to 64 years old, and an even smaller share for borrowers over 65.

Go read at least the entire IHE article, if not the entire GAO report.

Student debt is a growing problem in the US, and the Brookings Institution conclusions are misleading at best.

The post GAO Report: Yes, student debt is growing problem appeared first on e-Literate.

When YouTube Isn't Enough To Manage Your Campus Video Content

Campus Technology - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 18:27
How two groups of higher ed institutions in New York state are tackling the video management challenge and sharing content across multiple schools.  

New Service Turns Used Data Center Equipment into Dollars

Campus Technology - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 18:20
Institutions going through a data center refresh now have a way to squeeze some cash out of their old hardware.

Quick Tip: Allow User Themes to try out a new theme in existing courses (without affecting other users)

Moodle News - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 16:00
If you want to test a theme out in an existing course or site but don’t want to change the experience for all users while you test features, User Themes is a great way to change a theme across...

Stanford Researcher Designs 'Ant-Sized' Wireless Controller for Internet of Things

Campus Technology - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 15:00
Research led by an engineer at Stanford University has designed a radio chip so tiny, an American penny dwarfs it, and so efficient, it can draw all the energy it needs to function from the same electromagnetic waves that carry signals to its built-in receiving antenna.

Turn boring quizzes into Galaga-type game with Quizventure

Moodle News - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 14:29
While your students might not remember Galaga, they can now experience something similar with the new Moodle Quiz Mod, Quizventure. Quizventure is developed and maintained by John Okely and is now...

Our mutual friends

Learning with 'e's - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 11:16
This is number 28 in my series on learning theories. I'm gradually working through the alphabet of psychologists and theorists, providing a brief overview of each theory, and how it can be applied in education. Previous posts in this series are all linked below. My most recent post explored Jack Merizow's Transformative Learning theory. In this post, I will examine Stanley Milgram's concept of Six Degrees of Separation. As usual, this is a simplified and concise interpretation of the theory, so if you wish to learn more, please read the associated literature.

The Theory

You are at a party, and begin conversing with another guest. You've never met them before, but as you talk you begin to realise you have a mutual acquaintance. 'What a small world we live in' you remark. This is a phenomenon that we all seem to have experienced at some point in our lives. It fascinated social psychologist Stanley Milgram. He was interested not so much in mutual acquaintances, but wanted to show that 'even when I don't know someone who knows you, I still know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who does know you. Milgram's question was, how many someones are in the chain?' (Watts, 2003, p38.)

So Milgram's notion of six degrees is not so much a theory of learning, more a social contact theory, but it has significant implications for learning in the social media age. Milgram theorised that it could be established that no-one is separated from anyone else in the world by more than six social contacts. Who we know and who they know, he believed, define our social structure. In his Small World experiments, Milgram set out to establish evidence that this was indeed the case. The basic data gathering methods and procedures for the Small World experiment can be found at this link. The results confirmed his hypothesis, suggesting that on average in the USA, people were indeed separated by no more than 6 social connections.

How it can be applied in education

Social ties are crucially important in the digital age, for as Henry Jenkins argues, it's the dynamic and participatory elements of reaffirming a group's social ties that helps us to acquire our collective knowledge (Jenkins, 2006, p. 54). Where groups collaborate, social ties are critical in ensuring that their aims are achieved. The notion of wisdom of crowds put forward by James Surowiecki (2004) relies on people working together, even when they don't know each other directly. For teachers, seen in the context of social media, this is a key concept, because it opens up new possibilities for their students to connect with other students, or indeed world class experts anywhere in the world. Learning within a highly connected community of practice provides learners with new vistas, greater scope for exploration, and access to dialogue at the highest level in their field of study.

It is highly likely that in highly connected societies, where social media and mobile phones are commonplace and regularly used, the six degrees of separation proposed by Milgram may in fact be a conservative estimate. Social media can reduce the degrees of separation. It's much more likely that we are now able to connect directly or within one or two social connections to just about anyone who uses social media. Anyone who uses Twitter regularly will tell you that they meet many people online who have a mutual interest, and often find their connections through other people they mutually follow. When they finally meet in person, they feel they already know each other, even though their relationship has been mediated through text based messaging technology. But that is the subject matter for another blog post...

Jenkins, H. (2006) Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.
Surowiecki, J. (2004) The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter than the Few. London: Abacus.
Watts, D. (2003) Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. London: William Heinemann.

Previous posts in this series:

1.  Anderson ACT-R Cognitive Architecture
2.  Argyris Double Loop Learning
3.  Bandura Social Learning Theory
4.  Bruner Scaffolding Theory
5.  Craik and Lockhart Levels of Processing
6.  Csíkszentmihályi Flow Theory
7.  Dewey Experiential Learning
8.  Engeström Activity Theory
9.  Ebbinghaus Learning and Forgetting Curves
10. Festinger Social Comparison Theory
11. Festinger Cognitive Dissonance Theory
12. Gardner Multiple Intelligences Theory
13. Gibson Affordances Theory
14. Gregory Visual Perception Hypothesis
15. Hase and Kenyon Heutagogy
16. Hull Drive Reduction Theory
17. Inhelder and Piaget Formal Operations Stage
18. Jung Archetypes and Synchronicity
19. Jahoda Ideal Mental Health
20. Koffka Gestalt theory
21. Köhler Insight learning
22. Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle
23. Knowles Andragogy
24. Lave Situated Learning
25. Lave and Wenger Communities of Practice
26. Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs
27. Merizow Transformative Learning

Photo by Stefano Bertolo on Flickr

Our mutual friends by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's

Deadline approaching to submit you position paper on MOOCs and open education in Europe

Open Education Europa RSS - 11 Septiembre, 2014 - 10:16

The papers selected will be presented in Porto, Portugal on 27 November 2014. All travel and accommodation expenses of the invited contributors will be covered by the HOME partnership according to standard European Commission rules. The deadline for submission is 13 September 2014.

Interest Area:  Higher Education Training & Work Learning & Society