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Baker, L., Roumeliotis, G. and Stone, M. (2105) Education company Blackboard seeks $3 billion sale – sources Reuters, July 28
Fleming, B. (2015) The Real Vision Behind the New Blackboard, Eduventures, July 31
I have a special interest in Blackboard. In 1995, I gave a grant of $25,000 from the university’s fund for distance education to a young, untenured associate professor named Murray Goldberg in the Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia, to cover the costs of two of his research assistants who were finalising the development of WebCT, the first real LMS. In 1999, WebCT was sold to ULT, who then in 2006 sold the product on to the current owners of Blackboard, Providence Equity Partners LLC, who further developed the product to its current state. So in a sense I was a midwife to Murray’s Blackboard baby. From a small acorn grows an oak.
So I was particularly interested when Reuters reported that:
Blackboard Inc… is exploring a sale that it hopes could value it at as much as $3 billion, including debt.
Now $3 billion is a lot of money for a company that specialises in software mainly for the higher education market. (It’s a lot of money for a company specialising in anything, for that matter). So what makes Blackboard think it is worth this amount to a buyer?Blackboard Ultra
It’s probably no coincidence that Reuters reported this at the same time that Blackboard announced its new learning platform called Ultra. (Yes, groans from all the faculty who have just moved up to the latest version of Blackboard Learn). However, although I have not yet seen Ultra in operation, it is reported to be much more than just an LMS. According to Brian Fleming, a senior analyst at Eduventures:
Ultra consists of an integration of three core products (Learn, Collaborate, and Mobile) into one coherent, responsive, and immersive platform. It includes a radically improved user experience (UX) and a number of improved workflows, including drag-and-drop capabilities, embedded grading tools, mobile communication features, and expanded analytics.
In other words, it’s more of a complete learning platform than an LMS. Fleming believes this makes Blackboard Ultra a:
product that is on par, if not prepared to outmatch, its most agile competitors (ahem, Canvas).
More importantly, according to Fleming,
Bb now has the foundation it needs to develop a comprehensive learning analytics platform unlike anything the education world has seen.
But before you rush out to buy Blackboard stocks, you might like to listen to this old midwife (especially as the company is private at the moment and isn’t publicly listed, so it has no stock to buy.)Risks and opportunities
I’m not a financial analyst, but I do know a bit about learning technologies, and here are some of the risks or challenges I see for Blackboard in the future that might influence whether or not you rush out to buy the stock of any company that buys Blackboard. (I doubt whether anyone actually contemplating buying Blackboard will read my little blog, but the advice is free.)1. A maturing market
There are signs that the rapid growth in online learning is beginning to slow down, if not flatten out. The Babson Surveys had been recording growth of between 10-20% per annum in online enrolments in the USA over the 10 years up to 2012. However, the U.S. Federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey showed an overall decrease in DE enrolments of 4% from 2012 to 2013. The biggest area was the for-profits, which declined by 17%. Even the Babson Survey recorded a slower growth rate in online enrolments in 2013.
There are technical reasons that make measuring the growth in online learning very difficult, and one year is not enough to determine a trend. However, the rate of students taking fully online courses in the USA (and Canada) is likely to slow in the future for two reasons:
- there is a limit to the market for fully online studies and after 10 years of fairly large gains, it is not surprising that the rate now appears to be slowing down
- as more and more courses are offered in a hybrid mode, students have another option besides fully online for flexible study.
However, offsetting this is the much bigger move to blended and hybrid learning, resulting in the use of online learning in campus-based classes. This is a much bigger overall market than the fully online student market, and has hardly been touched yet outside North America (Blackboard is actually used more for on-campus than fully online courses in the USA). As more and more institutions move to blended learning, so will the demand for software to support such course designs. So while the market is changing, the demand for some kind of platform to manage the online, and increasingly the on-campus components, is likely to continue well into the future. The market then may be maturing but there is still plenty of room for growth, especially internationally. At the same time, the product has to meet the demands of new blended course designs and not be merely an online platform somewhat adapted to use on campus. It remains to be seen whether Ultra can really respond to that requirement.2. Increasing competition from other integrated platform providers
This is probably Blackboard’s most obvious (but not necessarily most serious) challenge. It is operating in a market with more than 50 direct competitors, and the list grows almost daily. Some of the later entrants, such as Instructure and Desire2Learn, have been taking a big bite out of Blackboard’s market in recent years. Learning platforms still require a relatively low-entry level of technology/software development and it is not difficult to design alternatives on the general theme. While Ultra certainly will help Blackboard to push back against its competitors, they too will not stand still in new software developments and approaches. So while the overall market may be maturing, the consolidation into two or three dominant players seems to be moving even further away.3. Alternatives to course platforms
The design of Ultra in bringing together a range of disparate but proprietary products into one integrated, consolidated product or platform is being countered by moves to lighter, stand-alone, often ‘open’ technologies that the end-users (both teacher and learners) integrate on an ‘as needs’ basis. This can be seen particularly in the use of social media, such as blogs, wikis, You Tube videos, and mobile apps.
On the other hand, I have also argued elsewhere that the need for some kind of platform that enables learning materials to be stored and organised, limits access to registered students and appropriate teaching staff, provides secure assessment and learning analytics, and offers a central, single location for student work, is not likely to go away well into the future.
The question though is whether the kind of proprietary system such as Ultra is the best way to provide such a platform. Open source solutions such as Canvas and WordPress provide more flexibility and allow more easily for future technology developments and new teaching approaches to be incorporated.Watch this space
These arguments of course may be actually just academic. No-one has yet made an offer and although suggestions have been made that Oracle, Microsoft or some other company with data-based products might be interested, Blackboard sits in a fairly small, niche market.
In the meantime it will be interesting to see how many institutions, having made the investment in Blackboard Learn or some other LMS, are willing to go through the major upheaval needed to move to a new platform such as Ultra. If I had $3 billion to spend, I’d wait and see – but then that’s why I don’t have $3 billion in the first place.
Firstly, if you tried to pick these balls up, you might do yourself a mischief. They are heavy, because the sculpture is a whole load of tennis balls bonded together, and they are fixed to a solid wooden plinth. If they were individual tennis balls, you could pick them up more easily (a few at a time, like the tennis players do).
If they were separated they probably wouldn't look as impressive, because clearly, this structure is attractive, whereas a pile of tennis balls are... well, just a pile of tennis balls.
If you tried to bounce it, you wouldn't be successful. Individual balls have a certain freedom that this cube does not. They can be hit or thrown in any direction, and you can put a spin on them. These balls have been glued together, forced into a configuration. Personal learning is not something that should be ordered. Learning is always personal, and messy .... and occasionally chaotic. This cube of tennis balls represents anything but personalised learning.
Secondly, the balls are tethered to a surface. They aren't going anywhere soon. Immobility has been imposed upon them. This is important to maintain the integrity of this sculpture, but tethering is increasingly a problem in education. Tethered learning may be convenient for schools to manage, but it's not optimal. Having students sat in orderly rows or tiers (tears) may be easier for the lecturer or teacher to manage, but for the students it's not always a good scene.
I never liked having to sit at my desk and face the front for hours on end. I wanted to get up, get out, and explore. I still think more clearly and solve problems faster when I'm pacing around, wandering through libraries or moving across uncertain terrain (literally or metaphorically). I am not comfortable in meetings when I have to sit for long periods at a table.
Tethered devices are not much better. The desktop PC keeps you in one place, and limits your posture. Mobile devices allow learners to take their connection with them, discover for themselves, and to learn on the move. That is situated learning, where what is being learnt is in its context, and it's a lot more effective for many students.
Thirdly, this configuration of balls is not a network, it's a cube. If it were a network, the nodes would be more separated, but there would also be more connections. In its present configuration each ball can be connected to no more than 6 other balls. In a network, connections are virtually infinite.
The power of the network is in the exponential nature of the connections that can be made, and thence in the amplification power this affords. Learning networks find their power in the number of connections, as can be demonstrated by the way neurones within the human brain connect to each other. This cube of balls is absolutely the antithesis of a network, because connection is so limited.
The future of learning is where all learners are connected to as many other learners and teachers as possible, so that learning is mobile, personal, limitless and unconstrained by configuration. The future of learning is connected, social, mobile and personal.
Photo by Steve Wheeler
A lot of balls by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England as a part of the #blimage challenge and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
Long and enormously useful post from Alec Couros describing 'semi-structured' open courses. The concept is drawn from Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown: "The new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is a massive information network that provides almost unlimited and resources to learn about anything. The second is a bounded and structured environment that allows unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries."[Link] [Comment]
Is justice 'fairness'? Is there a requirement that big data be fair? That is the underlying presumption behind this paper that argues that the needs and interests of minorities are subsumed under the unflinching generalizations of big data. Empirically, I think there's no doubt that Moritz Hardt is right. This is the sort of observation that has spurred philosophers since John Stuart Mill to warn of the "tyranny of the majority". How much does it matter, though? Will it even slow down the adoption of big data? It should - but will it? In medicine, we have the "do no harm" principle to prevent doctors from unthinkingly prescribing stock solutions to special cases. But we have no equivalent in education. We don't really get an answer - and at the very end I see the purpose of the article is not to actually address the issue, but to promote a conference. How disappointing.[Link] [Comment]
This is a set of slides on the employability narrative for higher education, which as George Siemens says, is becoming overpowering. "While I certainly agree that work is important," he writes, "I think the framework of 'getting a job' is too limiting for the role that higher education (can and should) play in society." I agree.[Link] [Comment]
I know my article from yesterday on what I learned from philosophy can be tough sledding, but seriously, it's a Rosetta Stone for understanding pretty much everything in our field. Consider the present post. The focus is on big data, and yes, that is the topic. But how is it that a new 'social contract' would work with respect to big data? Would we (and by 'we' I mean you and me) ever actually negotiate such a thing? I agree, and probably so does everyone else, that "there is a lot of good stuff that can come from using large data sets, but we need to figure out who gets to decide which uses are beneficial." But how do we get from there to here? It will take more than government transparency, regulations, and self-education.[Link] [Comment]
There are a lot of things that are hard to evaluate from the outside when gauging how a company is doing under new management in the midst of a turnaround with big new products coming out. For example, how good is Ultra, Blackboard’s new user experience? (At least, I think the user experience is what they mean by “Ultra.” Most of the time.) We can look at it from the outside and play around with it for a bit, but the best way to judge it is to talk to a lot of folks who have spent time living with it and delivering courses in it. There aren’t that many of those at the moment. Blackboard has offered to put us in touch with some of them, and we will let you know what we learn from them after we talk to them. How likely is Blackboard to deliver the promised functionality on their Ultra to-do list to other customers on schedule (or at all)? Since this is a big initiative and the company doesn’t have much of a track record, it’s hard to tell in advance of them actually releasing software. We’ll watch and report on it as it comes out. How committed is Blackboard to self-hosted customers on the current platform? We have their word, and logical reasons why we believe they mean it when they say they want to support those customers, but we have to talk to a bunch of customers to find out what they think of the support that they are getting, and even then, we only know about Blackboard’s current execution, which is not the same as their future commitment. So there are a lot of critical aspects about the company that are just hard and time-consuming to evaluate and will have to wait on more data.
But not everything is hard to evaluate. Communication, for example, is pretty easy to judge. Last year I mocked Jay Bhatt pretty soundly for his keynote. (Of course, we have hit D2L a lot harder for their communication issues because theirs have been a lot worse.) In some ways, it is so easy to critique communication that we have to be careful not to just take cheap shots. Everybody loves to mock vendors in general and LMS vendors in particular. We’re mainly interested in communications problems that genuinely threaten to hurt their relationship with their customers. Blackboard does have serious customer communication problems at the moment, and they do matter. I’m going to hit on a few of them.Keynote Hits Sour Notes
Since I critiqued last year’s keynote, an update in that department is as good a place to start as any. It’s sort of emblematic of the problem. This year’s keynote was better than last year’s but that doesn’t mean it was good. Of the two-hour presentation, only the last twenty minutes or so directly addressed the software. The rest was about values and process. I get why the company is doing this. As I said in last year’s review, they are nothing if not earnest. So, for example, when Jay Bhatt says that we need to start a “revolution” in education and that Blackboard is inviting “you”—presumably the educators in the room—to join them, it doesn’t carry the sinister tone of the slick Sillycon Valley startup CEO talking about “disrupting” education (by which they generally mean replacing dumb, mean, unionized bad people teachers with slick, nice, happy-faced software). Jay comes across as a dad and a former teacher who honestly cares about education and wants very much to do his part to improve it. But his pitch is tone-deaf. No matter how earnest you are, you can’t take center stage as the CEO of a software company that has a long and infamous reputation for disregarding customers making education worse rather than better and then, giant-face projected on the jumbotron and simulcast on the web, convince people who you are just a dad who wants to make education better. It doesn’t work. It’s not going to win over skeptical customers, never mind skeptical prospective customers. No matter how much you sincerely mean it. No matter how much it is said with the best of intentions. You also can’t spend the first 90+ minutes of the keynote talking about process and then get around to admitting that your revolutionary software is a year late. Phil and I both give Jay and Blackboard tons of credit for being forthright about the delay in the keynote, and for generally showing a kind of honesty and openness that we don’t see very often from big ed tech vendors. Really, it’s rare, it’s important, and it deserves more credit that it will probably be given by a lot of people. But in terms of having the intended effect on the audience, owning up to your delivery problems in the last 10 minutes of a two-hour keynote, most of which was also not spent talking about the stuff that customers most immediately care about, will not have the desired effect. The reason Blackboard went though that first 90 minutes is that they, really, really want to tell you, with all their hearts, that “Gee whiz, gang, we really do care and we really are trying super-hard to create something that will make students’ lives better.” But if the punchline, after 90+ minutes, is “…and…uh…we know we told you we’d have it done a year ago, but honestly, we mean it, we’re still working on it,” you will not win converts.
The one thing I did like very much, besides the honesty about missing their delivery dates, was the day-in-the-life walk-throughs of the software. They very compactly and effectively conveyed the quality of thought and concern for the student that the first 90 minutes of process talk did not. If you want to convince me that you really care about students, then don’t talk to me about how much you really care about the students. Show me what you have learned from them. Because talk is cheap. I won’t believe that you really care about students in a way that affects what you do in your business until you show me that you have developed a clear and actionable understanding of what students need and want and care about. That is what the walk-through’s accomplished (although they would have been even more effective with just a smidge less “golly gee” enthusiasm).
There’s one simple thing Blackboard could do that would vastly improve their keynotes and make a host of rhetorical sins more forgivable. They could bring back Ray Henderson’s annual report card. Every year, Ray would start the keynote by laying out last year’s publicly declared goals, providing evidence of progress (or not) toward those goals—quantitative evidence, whenever possible—and setting the goals for the new year. This set the right tone for the whole conference. “I made you some promises. Here’s how I did on those promises. Here’s what I’m going to do better this year. And here are some new promises.” As a customer, I will hear whatever else you have to say to me next much more charitably if you do that first. For example, Phil and I have heard a number of customers express dissatisfaction with the length of time it takes to fix bugs. At a time when Blackboard is trying to convince self-hosted customers that they will not be abandoned, this is particularly important not to let get out-of-hand because every customer who has an unaddressed bug will be tempted to read it as evidence that the company is secretly abandoning 9.1 and just lying about it. But if Blackboard leadership got up on stage—as they used to—and said, “Here’s the number of new bugs we had in the past year, here’s average length of time that P1s go unaddressed, here’s the trend line on it, here’s our explanation of why that trend line is what it is, and here’s our promise that we will give you an update on this next year, even if it looks bad for us,” then customers are going to be much more likely to give the company the benefit of the doubt. If you’ve addressed my concerns as a customer and said your “mea culpas” first, then I’m going to be more inclined to believe that anything else you want to tell me is truthful and meant for my benefit.What Is Ultra and What Does It Mean For Me?
Another problem Blackboard has is that it is very hard to understand what they mean by “Ultra.” Sometimes they mean an architecture enabled by a user experience. Sometimes they mean a user experience that may or may not require the architecture. And at no time do they fully clarify what it means for hosting.
Here’s a webinar from last December that provides a pretty representative picture of what Blackboard’s Ultra talk is like:
Most of the “Ultra Talk” is about the user experience. So it makes sense to infer that Ultra is a new user experience which, for those with any significant experience with Blackboard or many of the other LMS providers, would suggest a new skin (or “lipstick on a pig,” as Phil recently put it). And yet, Ultra doesn’t run on the self-hosted version of Blackboard. Why is that? A cynical person would say (and cynical customers have said) that Blackboard is just trying to push people off of self-hosting. No, says Blackboard, not at all. Actually, the reason we can’t do self-hosted Ultra is because Ultra requires the new cloud architecture, which you can’t self-host.
Except for Ultra on mobile. You can experience Ultra on mobile today, even if you are running self-hosted 9.1.
OK, so if I want to run Ultra, I can’t run it self-hosted (except for mobile, which is fine). What if I’m managed hosted? Here’s the slide from that webinar:
There you go. Clear as mud. What is “Premium SaaS”? Is it managed hosting? Is it private cloud? What does it mean current managed hosting customers? What we have found is that there doesn’t seem to be complete shared understanding even among the Blackboard management team about what the answers to these questions are. Based on what Phil and I have been able to glean about the true state of affairs, here’s how I would explain the situation if I were a Blackboard executive:
Ultra is Blackboard’s new product philosophy and user interface. Rather than just sticking in a new tab or drop-down menu and a new bill from a new sales team every time we add new capabilities, we’re trying to design these capabilities into the core product experience in ways that fit with how customers would naturally use them. So rather than thinking about separate products living in separate places—like Collaborate, Community, Analytics, and Content, for example—you can think about synchronous collaboration, non-course groups, student progress tracking, and content sharing naturally when and where you need those capabilities in your daily academic life.
Blackboard Learn Cloud [Note: This is my made-up name, not Blackboard’s official product name] is the new architecture that makes Ultra possible for Learn. It also enables you to gain all of the benefits of being in the cloud, like being super-reliable and less expensive. But with regard to Ultra, we can’t create that nifty integrated experience without adding some new technical infrastructure. Learn Cloud enables us to do that. Update: Ultra is still a work in progress and may not be ready for all professors and all courses. Luckily, Learn Cloud also runs the traditional Learn experience that is available on Learn Enterprise. So you can run Learn Cloud now without impacting your faculty and have them switch over to the Ultra experience—on the same platform—whenever they are ready for it and it is ready for them.
Blackboard Learn Enterprise [another Feldstein-invented name] is the classic architecture for Learn, currently on version 9.1. We think that a significant number of customers, both in the US and abroad, will continue to want to use the current architecture for a long time to come, in part because they want or need to self-host. We are committed to actively developing Learn Enterprise for as long as a significant number of customers want to use it. Our published road maps go out two years, but that doesn’t mean we only plan to develop it for another two years. It just means that it’s silly to create technology road maps that are longer than two years, given how much technology changes. Because Learn Enterprise shares a lot of code with Learn Cloud, we actually can afford to continue supporting both as long as customers are buying both in numbers. So we really do mean it when we say plan to keep supporting Enterprise for the foreseeable future. We will also bring as much of the Ultra experience to Enterprise as the technology allows. That won’t be all or most, but it will be some. The product will continue moving forward and continue to benefit from our best thinking.
Self-hosted Learn Cloud isn’t going to happen any time soon, which means that self-hosted Ultra isn’t going to happen any time soon. It is possible that the technologies that we are using for Blackboard Cloud will mature enough in the future that we will be able to provide you with a self-hosted version that we feel confident that we can support. (This is a good example of why it is silly to create technology road maps that are more than two years long. Who knows what the Wizards of the Cloud will accomplish in two years?) But don’t hold your breath. For now and the foreseeable future, if you are self-hosting, you will use Learn Enterprise, and we will keep supporting and actively developing it for you.
Mobile is a special case because a lot of the functionality of the mobile app has lived in the cloud from Day 1 (unlike Learn Enterprise). So we can deliver the Ultra experience to your mobile apps even if you are running Learn Enterprise at home.
Managed hosted customers cannot run Ultra on Learn for the same reason that self-hosted customers cannot: They are currently using Learn Enterprise. They can continue to use Learn Enterprise on managed hosting for as long as they want, as long as they don’t need Ultra. We will, eventually, offer Learn Private Cloud [yet another Feldstein-invented name]. Just as it sounds, this will be a private, Blackboard-hosted instance of Blackboard Cloud. Managed Hosted clients are welcome to switch to Learn Private Cloud when it becomes available, but it is not the same as managed hosting and may or may not meet the client’s needs as well as other options. Please be sure to discuss it with your representative when it becomes available. In the meantime, we’ll provide you with detailed information about what would change if you moved from managed hosting of Blackboard Enterprise to Blackboard Cloud, along with detailed information about what the migration process would be like.
To be clear, I’m not 100% certain that what I’ve described above is factually correct (particularly the made-up names), in part because Phil and I have heard slightly different versions of the story from different Blackboard executives. The main point is that, whatever the truth is, Blackboard needs to lay it out more clearly. Right now, they are missing easy wins because they are not communicating well.
Time will tell whether Ultra pays off. I’m actually pretty impressed with what I’ve seen so far. But no matter how good it turns out to be, Blackboard won’t start winning RFPs in real numbers until they start telling their story better.
Earlier this summer, the tech blog Techcrunch pronounced that “Investors Rethink EdTech As Dealflow Declines.” No one likes tech blog gaffes more than other tech blogs, so there’s been a lot of crowing in the last few weeks as the investment figures from the first half of 2015 have been calculated. It looks like Techcrunch was wrong. According to investment analysis firm CB Insights at least, “Funding To VC-Backed Education Technology Startups Soars 96%.” Investments in ed-tech are at a record high, Inside Higher Ed and Education Week (among others) have observed. Whee.
This week, Edsurge published its report on ed-tech investments in the first half of the year. According to its figures, there were some $1.6 billion in deals from January to June.
Edsurge rightly notes that there are substantial discrepancies between its calculations and those of its competitors.The Numbers Source Deals Dollars Crunchbase 111 $686 million CB Insights 127 $1.4 billion Ambient Insights 262 $2.5 billion Edsurge 161 $1.6 billion Hack Education 142 $1.5 billion
As Edsurge points out, much of this difference stems from the various definitions of “what counts” as ed-tech. (Is SoFi ed-tech? Is AltSchool? Does Fifty Three's funding round count since it says it plans to use the money to enter the education market?)
Some of the difference too comes from the challenges in tracking on this data. Despite rules requiring investments be made public via an SEC filing, investors and entrepreneurs are not always very forthcoming about their funding. Furthermore, Crunchbase, which is a crowdsourced database, is full of errors – incorrectly applied keywords, for example, that put startups in the education category when they shouldn’t be. So everyone's numbers are iffy; what matters is the analysis, right?
Me, I'm not particularly interested in the right numbers or whether or not this will be a blockbuster year for the 1%. Record-breaking investment does not mean ed-tech is now awesome or innovative. It means there are investors who think they can get rich(er) - or maybe at least see a nice return - on what they currently deem a lucrative market.
But I do want to identify some of the dominant trends in ed-tech, and looking at funding is one way to do so. (Test prep: still going strong.) I want to know who’s getting the dollars – new startups or established companies? It's worth noting that much of this year’s record numbers are a result of several whopping investments in Series B and beyond rounds – rounds whose size isn’t really in line with the “typical” funding. (Over half the funding rounds I’ve tracked so far this year were $3 million or less.)
According to my calculations, here are the largest investments of 2015 (that is, those greater than $40 million):
- Social Finance $200 million
- Lynda.com $186 million
- 17zuoye $100 million
- AltSchool $100 million
- Udemy $65 million
- Yuantiku $60 million
- NetDragon $52.5 million
- Genshuixue $50 million
- Orbotix $45 million
- Duolingo $45 million
- LittleBits $44.2 million
- Instructure $40 million
As this list indicates and as many industry observers have noticed as well, there is immense investor interest in Chinese ed-tech companies - a trend to watch, no doubt.
Of course, venture capital funding is just one side of the investment equation. On the other side: the anticipated return on investment: the exit. By my count, there have been over 60 acquisitions in ed-tech so far this year. Again, some of these are pretty notable: LinkedIn buying Lynda.com; NetDragon buying Promethean; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt buying Scholastic’s ed-tech business; Pearson selling The Financial Times. Rarely are the dollar figures disclosed in these deals, but they're important deals to watch nonetheless.
The steady drumbeat of acquisitions, along with some of these sizable funding rounds for established startups, suggests that the ed-tech startup world is consolidating. (I really hate the description that it’s “maturing.” FFS, ed-tech is over a century old. It's already mature; folks just don't like the shape it's taken.)
When we think about the consolidation of the industry, we should reflect on it in terms of politics and power, not just finances and funding. Which investors and investment firms are intertwined most closely with education policy and with the call for education reform? Why did AltSchool get so much money, for example?
I’ve updated the Google Spreadsheet where I’m tracking on investments, acquisitions, and mergers. I have also made the data available in JSON format for your machine-readable pleasure:
See, it’s not enough to read someone else’s report and trust that they’ve got it right; you should be able to crunch the data yourself. You can find all of this in a GitHub repo (for free!), which you’re welcome to contribute to or fork.
(Reminder: this is the first year I’ve tracked on this, and next year I do plan on adding more fields so that it’s easier to see if the money is going to K–12, higher education, corporate training, and the like. I’d also like to track which investors are funding startups with diverse founders. Other suggestions welcome.)
The Obama administration will announce today that it will offer Pell Grants to some prisoners, “the first adult inmates to be eligible for the grants since Congress barred prisoners from receiving them more than 20 years ago,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education. More via Politico.
Meanwhile, in a policy speech, Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the administration plans to focus on higher education accountability and outcomes and not costs or debt during its final 18 months.
Via Buzzfeed: “The University Of Phoenix Is Being Investigated By The FTC.” “Regulators are looking into allegations of ‘deceptive or unfair’ marketing practices at the school, which is struggling to turn its reputation around.”
A campaign in the UK is pushing for the right for young people to be able to delete and edit content they post online. According to the BBC, Baroness Shields, the Minister for Internet Safety and Security, backs the idea.
“Legislation working its way through the New Jersey Senate would require colleges to disclose the number of students who die from suicide each year,” Inside Higher Ed reports. Via The New York Times: “Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection.”
University of Cincinnati police officer Raymond Tensing has been indicted on a murder charge for fatally shooting Samuel Dubose two minutes into a traffic stop. Prosecutor Joe Deter, who described the shooting as “senseless, asinine,” has called for the university’s campus police force to be dismantled. Via The Atlantic: “How One Campus Cop Undid a City’s Police Reforms.” Via Vox: “Why nearly all colleges have an armed police force.”
Via The New York Times: “Three former members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone on Wednesday for defamation and infliction of emotional distress, saying the magazine’s discredited article on a campus gang rape had a ‘devastating effect’ on their reputations.”
Kaplan Career Institute and Lincoln Technical Institute will pay $2.4 million in a settlement with the state of Massachusetts over allegations that the for-profits had inflated job placement numbers.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “A California judge said Friday that she was issuing a temporary injunction to restore control over a massive database of research on Alzheimer’s disease to the University of California at San Diego. UCSD sought the injunction after the scholar who has led the project announced he would move to the University of Southern California and take the research with him.”Testing, Testing…
Caving to pressure from conservatives, the College Board is revising its AP US History curriculum in order to include more about the founding fathers, less about dead Native Americans, and to make Ronald Reagan and Manifest Destiny sound less horrible. As Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson suggested, after taking the previous new version of the AP, “I think most people, when they finish that course, they’d be ready to sign up for ISIS.”
Via The New York Times: “The principal of a popular elementary school in Harlem acknowledged that she forged answers on students’ state English exams in April because the students had not finished the tests, according to a memorandum released Monday by the New York City Education Department. On April 17, the same day that someone made a complaint about the cheating, the principal, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, of Teachers College Community School, jumped in front of a subway train. She died on April 25.”
I’m guessing that Udacity is pounding the pavement, trying to drum up interest in a new round of investment. Why? Because a number of articles about the company published this week, all using the phrase “Uber for Education” – an analogy that venture capitalists understand about a company that currently boasts a very high valuation. Of course, I’d ask why the hell we’d want Uber in education – unethical practices, privacy issues, refusal to accommodate people with disabilities, a dismantling of legal and labor protections (“Mr Thrun knows what he doesn't want for his company; professors in tenure”) and of public infrastructure. But hey. You won’t find any tough questions in this MIT Technology Review or Financial Times write-up.
Facebook is publishing its course on how to manage bias in the workplace so that other tech companies can learn from it. LOL as Facebook’s workplace diversity is pathetic: “Last year, 31 percent of staffers were women. This year, it’s 32. Last year, 2 percent of its employees were black. This year, it’s exactly the same. The number of women filling tech jobs at the company slid slightly, from the already paltry 16 percent to 15 percent.”
Spelman College is discontinuing The William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship.
Leopard injures 3 in a school in India. (Video!)Go, School Sports Team!
Bryan Alexander continues to chronicle universities’ decisions to make the “queen sacrifice,” but notes that the University of Akron has “hacked around” that by cutting (161) staff not faculty positions.Upgrades and Downgrades
Anonymous messaging app Yik Yak has introduced photos. What could possibly go wrong.
Via Education Week: “Amazon Digital Services Inc. would create a comprehensive online shopping source for e-books and digital content available for New York City schools, under a $30 million contract that is expected to be approved next month, the city’s department of education confirmed Thursday.” Teachers (well, and Amazon of course) will be able to see what their students are reading and how quickly they’re doing so. Gee, no privacy concerns here.
The venture capital fund NewSchool Venture Fund is launching NewSchools Ignite, an accelerator program to support startups “that will support entrepreneurs tackling the most pressing gaps in K–12 education technology.” The first gap: science education.
Here’s the headline from the CK–12 Foundation blog: “Announcing: CK–12’s new partnership with Google Classroom.” It’s not really a partnership, from what I can gather however. It’s a “share” button that lets you share CK–12 materials into Google Classroom.
Via the Getting Smart blog: “Global Personalized Academics, a new Orlando based education venture launched last week aiming to provide virtual classroom learning to help students across the globe transform the way they learn. The company is headed by Julie Young, a virtual learning pioneer and former Founding President and CEO at Florida Virtual School.”
According to a report from Reuters, Blackboard is going up for sale. The company, currently owned by a private equity firm, is looking for a buyer who’ll pay up to $3.4 billion. More speculation via The Chronicle of Higher Education and Mindwires Consulting's Phil Hill. Pre-sale analysis from Mindwires Consulting’s Michael Feldstein.
On the heels of reports that it would sell The Financial Times, it looks like Pearson is offloading The Economist too. “All the better to eat you with,” said the Wolf springing up to eat Little Red Riding Edu-Hood.
The adaptive learning startup Acrobatiq has raised $9.7 million from Draper Triangle Ventures, Hearst Ventures, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Via Edsurge: “Village Capital has announced a $13.2 million fund that will make 100 investments in 75 companies around the globe tackling tough social problems including education.”
Also via Edsurge: “Here’s a $5M Seed Fund to Support Higher-Ed Innovations Besides MOOCs.” The fund comes from the VC firm University Ventures.
The controversial chain of charter schools Success Academy announced that it has received a gift of $8.5 million from hedge fund manager John Paulson in order to open more schools in NYC.Data, Privacy, and Surveillance
The inBloom dream is back, revived by Carnegie Mellon University, thanks to $5 million in funding from the feds to build “the biggest open repository of education data” in the world, says The Hechinger Report. In charge of the project, Ken Koedinger of Carnegie Learning, “cognitive tutor” fame. Ah, the zombies of ed-tech.
FERPA dictates that students (and until they’re 18, their parents) can access their education records. According to Reason, the Goodrich Area Schools in Michigan initially billed a mom $77,718.75 when she demanded access to her son’s records.
Google Glass is coming back, says Wired, this time pitched as a workplace tool. I can’t wait to see if Google plans to market this surveillance device to schools.
Two trends you just know ed-tech will pick up on: “App Used 23andMe’s DNA Database To Block People From Sites Based On Race And Gender.” And “Using Algorithms to Determine Character.”
Tony Bates on “Privacy and the use of learning analytics.”Data and “Research”
The Jefferson Education Accelerator will partner with Echo360 in order to “test and showcare” its tech platform. And that sort of partnership is why I put “research” here in this section in quotation marks.
Well-timed “research” from G2 Crowd, which claims to have found Blackboard topping overall satisfaction ratings for LMSes.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “How Unemployment Rates Shift Choices of Majors.”
From the Pew Research Center: “15% of Americans don't use the internet. Who are they?”
A round-up from the World Bank’s Michael Trucano on various global initiatives regarding “tablets in education.”
Llega el mes del descanso por excelencia, cuando casi toda la maquinaria productiva [excepto la del ocio y el turismo] baja su nivel de actividad, y también en [e-aprendizaje] nos vamos a tomar un descanso. Es cierto que el ritmo de publicaciones de esta bitácora no es el que era, pero hay que tener en cuenta que los espacios donde escribo se han diversificado y la agenda diaria no da más de sí.
No quiero marcharme sin hacer un breve balance de lo aprendido este año [porque trabajar es aprender] mirando hacia los proyectos que me esperan en septiembre.
El curso comenzó a comienzos de septiembre del 2014 con una formación presencial con apoyo on-line para profesorado de la Escuela de Arte de Granada, colectivo con el que ya habíamos trabajado anteriormente [y también con el alumnado de la Escuela a través de la Fundación Robles Pozo], en cuestiones relacionadas con la identidad digital y la marca personal, un tema especialmente relevante para el alumnado de este centro, artesanos y artistas que necesitan hacer visible sus creaciones a través de la Red.
A final de ese mismo mes tuve la suerte de participar en una sesión i-deo en la Escuela Andaluza de Salud Pública junto a Jordi Adell y Esteban Romero, sobre Educación, PLE y MOOCs, jornada que aprovechamos para grabar varios vídeos que formaron parte del curso #easpMOOC13.
El mes de octubre fue especialmente complicado con la entrega al INTEF de la publicación Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje (PLE): Aprendizaje Conectado en Red, y la preparación de los últimos detalles del mencionado #easpMOOC13, un MOOC para la Escuela Andaluza de Salud Pública dirigido a personal de salud con responsabilidades de formación en sus organizaciones y abierto a otros profesionales de la formación, y del proyecto ecopatents, una interesante propuesta del grupo de investigación ISDE de la Universidad de Granada para compartir los resultados de un proyecto de investigación a través del formato xMOOC.
Estos dos cursos abiertos de tipo masivo comenzaron en noviembre y terminaron en diciembre, y mi trabajo como coordinador de ambos, en el primer caso tarea compartida con Mariano Hernán, aligeraron mi agenda de eventos presenciales con la salvedad de las Jornadas de Bibliotecas Escolares celebrada en Málaga, en las que intenté plantear algunas ideas sobre Cómo articular un programa desde la Biblioteca para incentivar y configurar Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje, y mi participación en la mesa redonda en el Congreso Internacional de EDUTEC compartida con dos grandes, Jordi Adell y Linda Castañeda.
El mes de diciembre me ofreció la posibilidad de compartir algunas ideas sobre formación a lo largo de la vida y desarrollo profesional en las XVI Jornadas de Hipatia que me llevó a publicar el artículo Siete Propuestas para estimular el Aprendizaje Informal en tu Organización, uno de los que más impacto ha tenido en LinkedIn, una red que por otra parte no uso demasiado. También participé con una presentación sobre marca personal e intraemprendizaje en las jornadas sobre Emprendimiento en la Universidad de Granada organizadas por GrinUGR [#emprendeGrinUGR] y participé un año más como profesor colaborador en el Master de e-learning que dirige Carlos Marcelo desde la Universidad de Sevilla.
Todo lo anterior me dejó tiempo suficiente para terminar la documentación que forma parte de mi trabajo para el Proyecto Ikanos, aún no publicada de forma abierta por el Gobierno Vasco, pero de la que puedes ver un adelanto en el post iPLE: Entorno Personal de Aprendizaje Ikanos, un PLE para la emPLEabilidad.
El año 2015 me ha brindado la posibilidad por una parte de conocer al fantástico claustro del Colegio Pinolivo, gracias a una formación en centros solicitada por el CEP de Marbella, que conté en el artículo Colegio Pinolivo: liderazgo, comunidad y cultura de aprendizaje, así como iniciar una colaboración que se ha mantenido hasta final de curso con la red de centros concertados del país vasco que se agrupan en Kristau Eskola, en primer lugar a través de la I Jornada Topaketa auKEra en Bilbao y posteriormente con dos acciones formativas en línea, de la mano de mi buena amiga Itziar Kerexeta de Airea e-Learning, todo ello enmarcado en el proyecto #auKEraRTIC.
En febrero subí de nuevo a Euskadi para participar en el III Workshop de Ikanos, en la mesa redonda ‘Aprender en Red’ junto a Linda Castañeda y Maite Goñi moderada por el ínclito Roberto Lejarzegi, y tuve mis dos primeras sesiones en el Master de Profesorado de Secundaria de la Universidad de Granada, en el que vengo colaborando desde hace varios años en la parte de uso didáctico de las TIC.
Los meses de marzo y abril estuvieron repletos de reuniones para el lanzamiento de varios proyectos, así como de eventos diversos como un curso para el Centro de Profesorado de Ronda, una nueva sesión de i-deo, una visita al IES Nazarí de Salobreña [a la clase de mi amigo Aitor Lázpita], un encuentro radiofónico con Nuria Chicón de Zahareña, mi asistencia como oyente/aprendiente a las jornadas sobre Comunidades de Aprendizaje organizadas por CODAPA, o la celebración de EABE, fantásticamente organizado y coordinado por Gloria Herrero, Manuel Jiménez, Sinuhé Navarro y otros muchos compañeros y compañeras [creo que no exagero si digo que ha sido mi mejor experiencia EABE hasta la fecha, abierta, participativa, emocionante,…].
La última semana de abril dio el pistoletazo de salida a la nueva convocatoria de cursos abiertos del INTEF que hasta final de 2015 ofrecerá un total de 10+1 cursos MOOC en los que Conecta13 tiene la responsabilidad de llevar a cabo la dinamización y la facilitación didáctica. Yo he coordinado el primero de ellos, sobre Competencia Digital, en compañía de Juanfra Álvarez y Clara Cobos, y el cuarto y último antes de las vacaciones de verano, la segunda edición del MOOC sobre Entornos Personales de Aprendizaje, con Rosa Díez y de nuevo Clara Cobos.
Entre los meses de mayo y junio tuve dos sesiones formativas para el curso de marketing digital organizado por la Cámara de Comercio de Almería que coordina Juanpi Seijó, una charla en el CEP de Antequera de nuevo vinculada al trabajo de la Red BECREA de Málaga, una ponencia en las Jornadas de la Red de Formación de la comunidad extremeña celebradas en Mérida [recomiendo leer el artículo Nuevos Ecosistemas de Aprendizaje para la Formación de los Profesionales del s. XXI], una charla compartida con mi compañero Fernando Trujillo en la UCAM dentro de las Jornadas de Buenas Prácticas que llamamos ‘Del Manifiesto MOOC a la Experiencia MOOC de Conecta13‘ y una sesión en el Master MOSM de la Universidad de Granada.
El mes de julio ha girado en torno a tres eventos. El primero de ellos ha sido aulaBLOG, el cuarto gran movimiento de reflexión educativa en España en el que aún no había estado de forma presencial, donde participé en una mesa redonda junto a Mar Izuel, Zoraida Pérez y Carlos Magro.
El segundo ha sido el curso de verano de la UPV ‘La Competencia Digital en el marco de una Educación Abierta‘, en colaboración con la Dirección de Innovación Educativa del Gobierno Vasco, en el que aporté la visión de los PLE tanto a nivel personal como a nivel de las organizaciones educativas [o de otro tipo] en las que desarrollamos nuestra actividad, y en el que he tenido la oportunidad de reecontrarme con buenos amigos como Anusca, Itziar, Ana, Roberto, Josi, Garbiñe y Mikel. La presentación está en Slideshare de Conecta13.
La tercera y última actividad de este mes ha sido un taller doble [seis horas en dos jornadas] para el curso de verano de la USC sobre ‘MOOCs y Aprendizaje en Redes Sociales‘ en el que además he tenido la oportunidad de conocer a uno de mis gurús de cabecera, Stephen Downes, también apodado O Peregrino por su actividad febril recorriendo Santiago durante los cinco días que duró el curso
Adjunto una foto con Downes aunque la realmente divertida es esta… ¿quién dijo que los gurús no tienen sentido del humor?
Puedes consultar la presentación que usé para dinamizar el taller, o bien acceder a todos los materiales [incluidos los elaborados por los participantes en el mismo], que están recogidos en el site Taller MOOC. En este vídeo puedes ver un resumen de la actividad que desarrollamos:
A toda esta actividad más formal se suman muchas otras actividades en mi propio centro, en colaboración con el claustro y con el AMPA, que merecen mención aparte, además del lanzamiento del proyecto #CamiCitas en colaboración con Néstor Alonso y LolaCamisetas, que nos tiene a todos los de Conecta13 muy emocionados.
El próximo curso me esperan dos grandes proyectos de acompañamiento en el desarrollo de MOOCs, uno con la Universidad de Mondragón que ya está en marcha, y otro con las redes de salud andaluzas, más un tercer proyecto con una de las grandes instituciones españolas dedicadas a la formación de personal de la administración que está dando sus primeros pasos y del que aún no puedo contar nada.
Con este balance y deseándote un feliz mes de agosto me despido hasta el 1 de septiembre. ¡Se feliz!imagen de cabecera | verano vía Shutterstock
Are newsletters making a comeback? As social media becomes less and less useful, maybe people are turning to (as this We Media updates suggests) that 'one thing' that they can rely on to be relevant. I've long since given up making any guarantees :) so I'm quite happy to pass along this notification. Because I do like media. "You can’ t keep up with everything. But you can manage One Thing, the newsletter from Andrew Nachison. No promises on format or frequency. Get it by email." And Doug Belshaw, your survey kept timing out on me, but I think a daily newsletter from you would be welcome too.[Link] [Comment]