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According to this press release summarizing a talk at Online Educa Berlin, Pasi Sahlberg argued that education ministers in England, Australia and the United States are continuing to invest in the GERM (Global Educational Reform) model, in spite of evidence that it doesn't work. According to Sahlberg, "unsuccessful education systems are characterised by a belief in competition, standardisation, de-professionalisation, test-based accountability and privatisation. The outstanding features of successful education systems, on the other hand, are cooperation, risk- taking and creativity, professionalism, trust-based responsibility ('not test-based accountability') and ensuring an “equitable” public education for all."
I think this is an interesting idea, but the presentation is some of the worst I have ever seen. I've reproduced the basic standards in a post, here. In a nutshell, the Transparency and Openness Promotion Guidelines are intended to describe different levels of openness (disclosure, requirement and verification) regarding data sources, algorithms, and other factors (eight in all) related to scientific research. The documentatins is broken down as best practices for funders, institutions and journals. There's a supposedly introductory article and the complete guidelines in a user-hostile content management system. They've been published, but you have to pay a subscription fee to see them.[Link] [Comment]
At the end of November we had the kick-off meeting of the new Erasmus Plus project “TACCLE 4 – CPD” hosted by ITB at the University of Bremen. This project is a new kind of follow-up of a series of projects with the brand name ‘TACCLE’. So, let us firstly have a look at the development of these projects.The TACCLE projects as support for teachers who are developing online learning
TACCLE 1 took the pioneering task to prepare a handbook as “Teachers’ aids for creating content for e-learning”. The result was a generic handbook that informed of basic web tools and online learning resources and equipped teachers to use them.
TACCLE 2 shifted the emphasis to work with online handbooks that were targeted for teachers in different subject areas as well as to primary school teachers.
These projects were also supported by specific TACCLE courses funded by the Comenius and Grundtvig programmes.
TACCLE 3 shifted the emphasis to teaching programming and coding for school children and worked mainly with the project website.
More information on the two first generations of TACCLE projects is availble on the video interviews with Jenny Hughes (recorded for the Coop-PBL in VET project in 2012):
Looking back, the earlier TACCLE projects have been successful and even more the TACCLE courses. This had created a demand for courses, workshops etc. based on the projects and their materials. This gave rise to a new project that focuses on practitioners who are developing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) initiatives for teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. From this point of view the TACCLE 4 – CPD project was shaped to draw upon the prior experiences and to expand the work from school-based education to other educational sectors – Adult Education (AE) and Vocational Education and Training. From this perspective the project was based on a limited number of partner organisations, some of which had been involved in the previous ones and some bringing new countries and/or educational sectors into the picture.
For our institute – ITB – this project is an opportunity to draw upon the experiences of multimedia training and co-design of digital tools (mainly for construction sector) in the Learning Layers project (2012 – 2016). In the kick-off meeting we presented the work with the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and the follow-up activities in different contexts:
- In the initial VET the HAKS project with craft trade companies and by the informal working groups of Bau-ABC trainers;
- In the continuing vocational training by the DigiProB project that is developing a new software ecology that links together the course management and (via moodle) the trainers’ curriculum design platform (WordPress) and the learners’ interface (LTB):
- In the designed project ProBauKo and in a prior feasibility study the ITB team and the LTB developers have explored the possibility to link the use of LTB to company-specific knowledge processes and learning opportunities.
In the TACCLE 4 – CPD project we have to see, how to link these working perspectives (and the role of vocational schools) to the way in which the TACCLE projects have supported training of teachers and trainers. I am looking forward to an interesting period of work.
More blogs to come …
This is part four of my annual look at the year’s “top ed-tech stories”
Way back in 2012, I chose “The Platforming of Education” as one of my “Top Ed-Tech Trends.” Re-reading that article now makes me cringe. I have learned so much in the intervening years, and my analysis then strikes me as incredibly naive and shallow.
At the time, I wrote about the importance of APIs; the issues surrounding data security and privacy; the appeal of platforms for users and businesses; and the education and tech companies who were well-positioned (or at least wanting) to become education platforms. I was inspired, I think, to select that topic because talk of “platforms” was incredibly popular in Silicon Valley – it had been for a while – as companies strove to become “the next Facebook.” And I wondered at the time if that would be the outcome for MOOCs. (2012, you will recall, was “the year of the MOOC.”) It was certainly the outcome that investors were hoping for Edmodo, which raised $25 million in 2012, boasting that it had 15 million users.
Edmodo was back in the news this year when Vice broke the story this spring that hackers had stolen millions of account details, including usernames, email addresses, and hashed passwords. 70+ million users’ account details. I’ll look in more details at the insecurity of education data in the next article in the series – but recognize, this is one of the grave problems with digital technologies currently, whether they’re platforms or not: they rely on data as the central element of their business model – extracting data, controlling data, selling data… and far too often losing data during security breaches.
It wasn’t a good look for Edmodo, which was discovered by privacy researcher Bill Fitzgerald that same week to be targeting users – students and teachers – with a range of ad trackers.
Edmodo was one of the early stars of the most recent resurgence in ed-tech startup founding and funding (circa 2008 onward, that is). The company has raised some $77.5 million in venture capital from high profile names like LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and from firms active in ed-tech investing such as Learn Capital. Investors surely hoped that Edmodo would become a “social learning platform” – a central place for classroom assignments, assessments, and readings; a place for student and teacher collaboration in and out of the classroom; a site that third party developers (you know, other startups in investors’ portfolios) could install their apps and expand their reach; a system where student and teacher data could be collected, integrated, analyzed. Edmodo did garner a lot of sign-ups – all those millions of stolen usernames underscores that, no doubt – but it has struggled to do much more. It has struggled, most importantly, to find a reliable revenue stream or a “path to profitability.” As such, I think it’s fair to say that Edmodo hasn’t really become a powerful education platform, despite all the hope and hype.
It’s not even an LMS, quite frankly – something Edmodo tried to use as a selling point for a little while.
One might ask, I suppose, if LMSes are platforms. Are any education technologies, for that matter? But first, a definition (or two) might be helpful.What is a “Platform”?
If you look for a definition of “platform” online, you’re likely to get something along the lines of Wikipedia’s – fairly straightforward, although quite technical:
A computing platform is the environment in which a piece of software is executed. It may be the hardware or the operating system (OS), even a web browser or other underlying software, as long as the program code is executed in it. Computing platforms have different abstraction levels, including a computer architecture, an OS, or runtime libraries. A computing platform is the stage on which computer programs can run.
Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen offered the following definition in 2007:
A “platform” is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers – users – and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform’s original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.
I’d love to provide a link but Andreessen deleted his blog in 2009. Someone generously re-posted all the content from that blog to a Posterous site. But Posterous, if you’ll recall, was acquired by Twitter in 2012 and shut down one year later. Platforms. They’re amazing.
Andreessen’s definition does begin to get at some of the reasons why platforms have been so appealing to investors – ideologically as much as technologically. They’re supposedly “engines of innovation.” Those “countless needs and niches” can be met thanks to all the data generation and data collection that happens on them.
In his 2017 book Platform Capitalism, Nick Srnicek posits that platforms are poised to become the fundamental business model of our digital world – key to the new economy, clearly, but also key to political and social systems (and what these will become under the control of these powerful technology companies). “At the most general level,” Srnicek writes
platforms are digital infrastructures that enable two or more groups to interact. They therefore position themselves as intermediaries that bring together different users: customers, advertisers, service providers, producers, suppliers, and even physical objects. More often than not, these platforms also come with a series of tools that enable their users to build their own products, services, and marketplaces. …This is key to its advantage over traditional business models when it comes to data, since a platform positions itself (1) between users, and (2) as the ground upon which their activities occur, which thus gives it privileged access to record them.
He argues that platforms can be characterized by their reliance on “network effects” – that is, the more people who use a platform, the more valuable and important the platform becomes. Think Facebook. As platforms gain more users, they tend towards monopolization. It’s a cycle, Srnicek argues, that then encourages more usage, which in turn generates more data.
Platforms are “an extractive apparatus for data.”
In reviewing Srnicek’s book in March, New York Times media journalist John Hermann wrote,
Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. And accordingly, platforms are the underlying trend that ties together popular narratives about technology and the economy in general. Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.”
In his book, Srnicek identifies five kinds of platforms: advertising platforms (like Google and Facebook), cloud platforms (like Salesforce and Amazon Web Services), industrial platforms (like GE and Siemens), product platforms (like Spotify), and lean platforms (like Uber and AirBnB). In light of Hermann’s ominous description, one might feel inclined to celebrate that there really aren’t any powerful education platforms described in Platform Capitalism. To believe that would require, of course, that we overlook the role that the major technology platforms – Google, Facebook, and Amazon – play in education.Education’s Proto-Platforms
So again: are there any platforms in or specific to education? If so, what are they?
Arguably, one of the best candidates is the learning management system. The LMS has long positioned itself as an “operating system,” of sorts for higher education. The LMS constructs (and, I’d argue, circumscribes) “digital pedagogy,” and it has come to define the ways in which professors and students interact online. Indeed, while there are handful who work arduously to undermine its privileged position in education technology – god bless them – to many more, it is simply impossible to imagine a future of teaching and learning without the LMS.
The LMS predates the “platform economy” by several decades – five decades if you date its history to PLATO. The LMS giant Blackboard celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. (I mean, one of its founders celebrated. Not sure anyone else did.) The earliest learning management systems were portals of sorts, offering Internet access to and a browser-based interface for the student information system (SIS) and the data it stored on students and courses: student records, rosters, class schedules, and the like. But LMS providers have sought to extend the functionality of their products, acquiring other companies that offered administratively adjacent features and extracting more data from students’ and professors’ activities online than was contained in the original SIS. (Would there even be “learning analytics” without the LMS, I wonder?)
A couple of years ago, I was part of a year-end webinar with MindWires’ Consulting’s Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein and one or other of them – I don’t remember now – predicted that 2016 would be a big year for the LMS. I’m not sure it was, but then again, understanding the LMS industry is really their thing and not mine (something for which I am eternally grateful). It seems to me as though this year was pretty momentous too, if for no other reason than the open source LMS Moodle – first released 15 years ago and by far the most popular LMS in the world – raised its very first round of venture capital in October.
Raising venture capital isn’t (necessarily) good news. Indeed, a few weeks after the funding news, Feldstein wrote about “Why Moodle Supporters Should be Concerned,” questioning the sustainability of the project. Perhaps that seems counter-intuitive to those not familiar with the machinations of investors and their expectations of an ROI. But raising venture capital can make a company’s prospects of sustainability worse. VCs, remember, are looking for “high growth” and “high returns.” And how much growth can we really expect in the size of the LMS market?
For updates on the other major LMS providers – or at least, dispatches from their annual conferences, read Mindwires’ Consulting on Instructure, Blackboard, and D2L. Subscribe to their blog. Buy them a beer when you see them at an event and thank them for covering the LMS industry so I don’t have to.
Investors, it appears, do still expect quite a lot of growth in the market, as learning management systems were among the types of companies raising the most venture capital this year. (Okay, okay. That’s because I now count AltSchool as an LMS. For more details on who invested in LMSes this year, see funding.hackeducation.com.) Perhaps this is simply because of investors’ long-running faith in the profitability of platforms – in these types of companies’ “funneling of data extraction into siloed platforms,” as Nick Srnicek puts it in Platform Capitalism.
But for education entrepreneurs too, the LMS is an obvious product to build and sell (and brand oneself as). There’s an existing market there. No need to convince anyone of that. There’s an understanding – even if it’s a disgruntled one – among those in the classroom and those making procurement decisions of what the LMS is for, what it should do, and so on.
I’ve joked before that “the arc of ed-tech history is long and it bends towards the LMS.” MOOCs looked – for a short while, at least – like they were going to pivot to become LMSes. (Instead, they’ve re-branded as job training sites. More on that in a subsequent article in this series.) Facebook’s partnership with the charter school chain Summit Public Schools to build “software that puts students in charge of their lesson plans” resulted in an LMS. (Product development was officially handed over to Mark Zuckerberg’s investment company the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative this year.) AltSchool, that high-profile darling of the Silicon Valley set – initially a private school promising “personalization” through a pervasive (invasive, even) collection and analysis of student data – also announced this year it would pivot to selling its software to schools. It’s now an LMS too.
Perhaps these last two hint at ways in which platforms might also infiltrate education: tech-oriented charter schools as platforms; tech-oriented private schools as platforms. Corporate platforms attempting to control if not monopolize what has been (or should be) public institutions. (Think the private school startup Bridge International Academies that operates in Africa, for example, which Peg Tyre documented so devastatingly in The New York Times Magazine this summer.)
How technology companies are increasingly shaping the public sphere to suit their needs is one of the most important developments we must start paying closer attention to – particularly in education. It’s a theme that runs throughout almost every article in this series.“Fake news,” “robots coming for our jobs,” “the new economy,” “surveillance capitalism,” “personalization,” “the cult of innovation,” and so on – these are all narratives intertwined in the power of major technology companies, platforms, data, and algorithms. “They want to overhaul the entire chain of culture production,” former New Republic editor Franklin Foer cautions in his 2017 book World Without Mind:The Existential Threat of Big Tech. As such these companies – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and the like – are the most significant education companies.
Education’s attention – and its anger – I think, has been focused elsewhere.Pearson is Not a Platform
I’m not sure if we can still call Pearson “the world’s largest education company.” The last few years haven’t been good, with repeated scandals, job cuts, corporate losses, and ongoing attempts to convince us that the latest “restructure” is really going to fix things this time ’round.
That restructuring has involved shedding some of the products and subsidiaries unrelated to education, Pearson executives have said. The company sold The Financial Times and its stake in The Economist in 2015, for example.
And I’ll note here because it suits my argument about platforms so neatly: Pearson announced last year that it was leaving the learning management system market. Pearson does not have a platform. It has a lot of content – it’s still one of the largest textbook publishers. It still runs testing centers and has testing contracts. But Pearson is not a platform.
Pearson represents an older business model – the conglomerate. Pearson was founded in 1856 in Yorkshire, England as a construction company but expanded throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to own newspapers, book publishers, airline companies, oil companies, electric companies – the information and infrastructure of the material world. Pearson has been – until recently, that is – an active acquirer of education technology companies. That’s how it’s attempted to make a move from the material world to the digital one.
Pearson has not made any acquisitions this year. Rather it has continued to divest itself of products. It sold a 22% stake in Penguin Random House to the publisher Bertelsmann for about $1 billion. It sold its tutoring companies TutorVista and Edurite to the tutoring company BYJUs. (The terms of the deals were not disclosed.) It also sold its adult language learning company Wall Street English to two private investment firms. (The deal was for $300 million, but Pearson said its proceeds would be only a third of that – after taxes and paying off debts.) As The New York Times noted this summer, “Pearson Is Running Out of Assets to Sell.”
In February, Pearson announced a record loss – £2.6 billion for 2016, the largest loss in its history. In August, it announced another round of layoffs – 3000 more jobs cut. It is all part of the plan, according to CEO John Fallon, to become “a simpler and more digital company.”
But it’s a content company. It’s a curriculum company.
We can scoff, I suppose, that that’s what Pearson believes will help it remain viable – “sustainable,” or dare we say “profitable” – particularly in a platform economy. But I’m reminded here of what I wrote in my weekly newsletter back in early July. The Thrillist had just published an article on “The Netflix Prize: How a $1 Million Contest Changed Binge-Watching Forever.” Education journalist Alexander Russo quipped that this was what the XQ Prize and similar contests were trying to replicate in education. But Washington State University’s Mike Caulfield argued that a focus on Netflix’s algorithm was misplaced:
Since Netflix is a business and needs to survive, they decided not to pour the majority of their money into newer algorithms to better match people with the version of Big Momma’s House they would hate the least. Instead, they poured their money into making and obtaining things people actually wanted to watch, and as a result Netflix is actually useful now.
In other words, it’s not the prize-winning algorithm and it’s not the recommendation engine and it’s not the predictive analytics that makes Netflix so vaunted lately. It’s the high quality content – “something that education technologists would do well to keep in mind,” I wrote then.
Of course, for this to apply to Pearson, it would have to turn out high quality content.
I don’t emphasize the importance of content to diminish the importance of algorithms in education. Not at all. And data is still crucial to Netflix’s business, as a content creator and content provider – let’s be clear. In education, both algorithms and data are integral to the push for “personalization.” But “personalization” doesn’t (necessarily) require a platform. Pearson promises “personalization” through its “adaptive learning” products, for example. (It announced this year it was “phasing out” its reliance on Knewton provide those algorithms.)
But how will content creators compete in a platform economy – particularly when the platform has exponentially more data? How will Pearson specifically compete if one of the most powerful platforms in the world is also in the book business?
That’s Amazon, of course, whose interests in education remain perhaps less well-known than the other technology behemoths.Big Tech’s Bets
I won’t detail everything that happened with regards to the tech giants this year. I can’t. They issue a lot of press releases; technology journalists happily rewrite them. But here’s a brief summary of some of the education-related updates (those noted by the ed-/tech press):
Facebook: I addressed Facebook’s role in the building (or dismantling, rather) of knowledge in the first article in this series. The organization has also been, as I mentioned above, working with Summit Public Schools to build its LMS. And then there’s Mark Zuckerberg’s venture philanthropy firm and its commitment to fund “personalized learning.” But what did Facebook do? “New Facebook features intended for developers could, if expanded, turn the social networking site into an online learning platform,” Inside Higher Ed reported in June. “Facebook Giving Virtual-Reality Kits to Every Arkansas High School,” Education Week reported in August. “Facebook rolls out AI to detect suicidal posts before they’re reported,” Techcrunch reported in November. There’s no way to opt out apparently. This from a company that was found earlier this year to be enabling advertisers to target teens who felt “worthless.” In December, Techcrunch reported that Facebook would be launching a Messenger service for kids – those under the age of 13.
Microsoft: “Microsoft launches Intune for Education to counter Google’s Chromebooks in schools,” Techcrunch reported in January. “Some colleges cancel their contracts with online education provider Lynda.com after double-digit price hikes, saying the company is pricing itself out of the higher education market,” Inside Higher Ed reported in January. “Microsoft’s new education push plays to its strengths, the cheap and familiar,” Techcrunch reported in May. “As LinkedIn’s Video Library Grows, Company Says It Has No Plans to Compete With Colleges,” Edsurge reported in June. “Now Any Organization Can Create Content for LinkedIn Learning,” Edsurge reported in June. “‘Schoolifying’ Minecraft Without Ruining It,” NPR reported in June. “Microsoft is really scared of Chromebooks in businesses and schools,” The Verge reported in June. “Microsoft Moves to Enable Streamlined Purchasing of Bundled Products for Education,” Education Week’s Market Brief reported in September.
Apple: “Apple iPad Sales to Schools Jump 32%, Selling 1M Tablets in Fiscal Q3 2017,” Edsurge reported in August. “Ohio State collaborates with Apple to launch digital learning initiative,” the university announced in October. Students will receive iPads.
Amazon: “Amazon Education GM leaves; company says it ‘remains committed’ to K–12 technology,” GeekWire reported in March. That’s Rohit Agarwal who headed the K–12 education division after his math company TenMarks was acquired by Amazon in 2013. “What Happened to Amazon Inspire, the Tech Giant’s Education Marketplace?” Edsurge asked in June, following up in July with the announcement “Amazon Inspire Goes Live (But Without Controversial Share Feature).” (Amazon Inspire is the company’s OER platform.) From the Amazon press release in August: “Amazon Announces TenMarks Writing – New Online Curriculum for Teachers That Combines Rigor and Fun to Unlock the Writer in Every Student.”
Google: No surprise, the company with the mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” has the largest footprint in education. Google extended the availability of its pseudo-LMS, Classroom, to those without G Suite for Education accounts in April. Google launched a “Be Internet Awesome” digital citizenship campaign in June. “Google Launches $50 Million Effort on the Future of Work,” Education Week reported in July. “Forget ‘US News’ Rankings. For Online College Programs, Google Is Kingmaker,” Edsurge reported in September. “Google Unveils Job Training Initiative With $1 Billion Pledge,” The New York Times reported in October. “YouTube Kids update gives kids their own profiles, expands controls,” Techcrunch reported in November. (I will look at YouTube and the dangers of algorithmic content delivery in more detail in an upcoming article in this series.)
Dear Jack: stop providing a platform for Nazis and maybe I’ll include you in a list of “powerful tech companies” some day.
While there were obviously a variety of software releases and updates, the major efforts of Apple, Microsoft, and Google still involve wooing schools to buy their hardware. These devices, to be clear, provide the gateway to their respective platforms – offering access to software and also gaining in return a privileged sort of access to users’ activities – to users’ data.The Battle for the Educational OS
Updates from the ongoing battle for the K–12 market came this year with headlines like this: “Microsoft Looks to Regain Lost Ground in the Classroom.” “Apple’s Devices Lose Luster in American Classrooms.” “Apple’s Bid To Reclaim The Classroom From Chromebooks May Be Too Late.” “How Google Chromebooks conquered schools.” “How Google Took Over the Classroom.”
According to a report released by the market research firm Futuresource, Google’s Chromebooks accounted for 58% of the 12.6 million devices shipped to primary and secondary schools in the US last year – that’s up from 50% in 2015. Apple’s share of the market – which includes its sales of both iPads and Mac laptops – fell to 19% – down from about a quarter of the market. Microsoft Windows devices – again, that’s laptops and tablets – remained at about 22%.
Google offers plenty of PR as to why it’s become so popular. It heavily courts educators through its certification programs, for example. (The company doesn’t actually run these itself anymore. They’ve been outsourced to other companies such as EdTechTeam. But teachers still readily pursue the credentialing – and the branding – opportunity.)
The most important feature of Google for schools – despite all its talk of “collaboration” and whatnot – is undoubtedly that its software suite is free. Or “free,” rather. You pay with your data. Schools pay with their data. Schools pay with their students’ data. (Google might not sell advertising against student data, but it does still utilize this information to fuel its product development and its algorithms. More on algorithms and surveillance capitalism in the next article in this series.)
And certainly the appeal of Chromebooks is their low cost – some are available for less than $200 a pop. (Google doesn’t make money directly on Chromebooks. The device manufacturers, Samsung and Acer, do. But Google does charge schools a per device management fee.) But there are trade-offs. The Chromebooks are not fully-functioning laptops. They cannot perform many tasks that require more than a browser-based interface, and they’re quite reliant on Internet-connectivity in order to function. (In fairness, Google has added some offline capabilities to its productivity suite.)
As long-time educator Gary Stager argued this fall, “The Chromebook might be sufficient if you believe that the primary purpose of school to be taking notes, looking stuff up, completing forms, and communication. I find this to be an impoverished view of both learning and computing. Children need and deserve more. If you find such uses compelling, kids already own cellphones capable of performing such tasks.”
The problem might be more than simply limiting what students can do on their devices to note- and test-taking. It’s that these limitations in turn start to dictate what schools imagine students can and should do. How we imagine the future of teaching and learning is shaped by the constraints and affordances of a technology platform. By the data we surrender.
I plan to discuss Alexa and “voice assistants” in more detail in a subsequent article in this series, but I do want to note briefly here that Amazon is taking a slightly different approach to its move to platform education. While some schools have adopted Kindles and other Amazon tablets – I’m kidding. No one really uses the Amazon Fire, right? – Amazon has not heavily marketed its devices in education. (Librarians have long complained that these devices are terrible to manage.)
But Amazon has begun marketing Alexa to schools, making a high profile donation to – you guessed it – ASU to place the devices in college dorms. “In a ‘first-of-its-kind’ partnership, Amazon is working with Arizona State University to create a voice technology engineering program, which includes an option for students to get customized Alexa-powered Echo Dots in their dorm rooms,” GeekWire reported in August. “ASU’s main motivation was to develop an opportunity for its engineering students to gain skills in voice technology, an emerging field,” a university spokesperson told Edsurge. Amazon’s motivation: to establish its voice-activated platform as the way in which people interact with the digital world. This isn’t simply about how the voice commands will be used in educational settings, of course – although you can now talk to Alexa and get some information in response about the Canvas learning management system, which I am certain is the ed-tech breakthrough everyone’s just been dying for. But it’s also an indication that the move towards a platform economy will increasingly implicate education in the practices of surveillance and in a pervasive culture of commercialism.Education Disrupted: How Silicon Valley is Shaping Public School
To understand the power of these technology platforms – power that goes well beyond any product feature or press release, read the articles that The New York Times reporter Natasha Singer has published this year in her series “Education Disrupted – A series examining how Silicon Valley is gaining influence in public schools.”
- How Google Took Over the Classroom
- The Silicon Valley Billionaires Remaking America’s Schools
- How Silicon Valley Pushed Coding Into American Classrooms
- Silicon Valley Courts Brand-Name Teachers, Raising Ethics Issues
- How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom
As I detailed in the first article in this series, these technology platforms have an incredible amount of influence on knowledge and information – shaping what we see, what we know. As such, these platforms threaten not only to re-shape journalism, but to re-shape education.
Their positions are already incredibly politically powerful. The tendency of platforms, as Nick Srnicek has argued, is towards monopolization: control of data and control of the governance.
Google, for its part invests heavily in political lobbying. It is now the largest corporate lobbying spender in the US. Google also invests in think tanks, the policy and research institutions that are so prolific in Washington DC and so influential in turn in helping to shape policy and the narratives about the future.
In August, The New York Times reported that the Open Markets team, a group of scholars and analysts who research monopoly power and influence, had been dismissed from New America after Google Chairman Eric Schmidt expressed his displeasure with the group. Google is a major donor to the think tank, having previously given some $21 million to it. (Google gives a lot of money to similar sorts of groups, including many, many education-related ones.)
How is Google influencing policy? How is Google influencing research?
In July, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign.” Drawing on a list of names created by The Campaign for Accountability, the article accused Google of helping to finance academic research that would suit its needs legally, in particular defending it against regulatory challenges. The article came under fire almost immediately. Many scholars questioned the list of names altogether, challenging the contention that they’d been paid by Google for their work. Whether Google’s influence is direct or indirect, “it’s complicated,” Wired admitted. And one of the funders of The Campaign for Accountability? Google’s arch-nemesis, Oracle.
In November, Fortune reported that Google was being investigated by the Missouri Attorney General John Hawley for violating the state’s anti-trust laws. Turns out that effort has ties to some of Google’s enemies too. Peter Thiel, an investor in several of Google’s key competitors including Facebook and his own data surveillance company Palantir, made a $300,000 political contribution to Hawley’s campaign.
Monopolies are good for society, Thiel has argued. Unless they’re monopolies he doesn’t have a financial stake in, I guess.
In his book World Without Mind, former New Republic editor Franklin Foer talks about the tech giants as “a new style of firm: the knowledge monopoly.” He admits, in a footnote, that his “casual use of the term ‘monopoly’” is likely to annoy economists and antitrust lawyers.
It has a technical meaning, they will grump. “Oligopoly” might be a more accurate description of some of the markets I describe. These criticisms are fair but I am not making a technical argument. Indeed, I believe that technical arguments have strangled the discussion. My hope is that we revive “monopoly” as a core piece of political rhetoric that broadly denotes dominant firms with pernicious powers. This might not fly in the bar association, but such usage has a proud and productive lineage tracking back to Thomas Jefferson.
The sweeping powers of these technology companies must be challenged, particularly as they turn their sights on public policy, public research, public education, and public infrastructure: Apple’s attempts to brand its stores as the new “town square” (and let’s do note: where those stores get built – who are the imagined consumer-citizens with access to this corporate-civic space). Google’s plans to redesign the waterfront in Toronto. Bill Gates’ acquisition of land in Arizona to build his version of a “smart city.” Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing attempts to define “community” based on the roadmap for the Facebook platform, not to mention his plans to revive “the company town.” Amazon’s plans for a new headquarters, in which cities trying to lure the corporate giant to move there, offered up control over municipal taxation and decision-making – using “democracy itself as the bargaining chip,” as The Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat put it.
As more data flows into these companies’ systems and as they use the “network effects” to amass more users and more money, the Web – that other major technology platform, but one without one powerful corporate owner – dwindles. “The system is failing,” its creator Tim Berners-Lee lamented in an op-ed in The Guardian this fall. Mozilla, which once sought to secure a foothold for education on the Web through its Web literacy initiative, announced this year that it was ending its work in digital learning. Silicon Valley has been declaring that “The Web is Dead” for a long time now, of course. More accurately, perhaps, the Web is undead, propped up by Google AdSense and bent to serve the needs of the platform economy.
One of the key questions that education technology’s evangelists must ask: are students and schools also being bent to serve those same needs? Are we compelling students to more become “productive” – through free labor, of course – on these platforms, not just as data points but as the very raw material that these companies are building their billion dollar businesses upon?
Can democracy co-exist with the powerful technology monopolies that dominate the platform economy? (Peter Thiel doesn’t think so. And remember, he’s pretty stoked about that.)
Financial data on the major corporations and investors involved in this and all the trends I cover in this series can be found on funding.hackeducation.com.
This is an intelligent and well-thought out account of the ethical implications of open badges. Open badges can be used for good, or they can be used to perpetuate discrimination or to reify the advantages of an already privileged group. "Open Badges are not innocuous," writes Serge Ravet. "They can heal or kill, empower or control, enable or disable, recognise or exclude. In the perspective of Open Recognition, it is critical to define an ethical framework."[Link] [Comment]
Late last Friday, the US Senate did pass its version of a tax reform bill, one with scribbles in the margins and handwritten addenda because everyone now thinks “move fast and break things” is a genius tactic. Thanks, Zuck.
Via The Washington Post: “ After a high-drama vote, here’s what the Senate tax bill means for schools, parents and students.”
“8 Grad Students Are Arrested Protesting the GOP Tax Bill on Capitol Hill,” The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adam Harris reported on Tuesday. But now “House Republicans May Be Backing Away From Taxing Grad-Student Tuition Waivers,” Harris says.
Via The Hill: “GOP bill would eliminate student loan forgiveness for public service.” That bill: the move to re-authorize the Higher Education Act.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “A graduation rate requirement for access to special funds for minority-serving institutions in a proposed House Republican rewrite of the Higher Education Act would exempt historically black colleges and universities.” HBCUs would be exempted.
“Higher-Ed Lobbyists Are Told to Make Peace With Republicans,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Via Edsurge: “How a ‘New’ GI Bill May Shape Tomorrow’s Education-to-Employment Pipeline.” Let’s watch how the “new” for-profit higher ed takes advantage of this, shall we?
“Without Net Neutrality, How Would Internet Companies Treat K–12 Districts?” asks Education Week’s Market Brief.
I’m not sticking this story in “the Betteridge’s Law of Headlines” section even though the headline is in the form of a question, and that’s because I very much hope that we can get to the answer “yes” here. Indeed, our future depends on it. From Rachel Cohen and Will Stancil, “Will America’s Schools Ever Be Desegregated?”
“How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party” by Jennifer Berkshire in The Baffler.
Hey, what’s Betsy DeVos’s brother up to these days? Oh.(State and Local) Education Politics
A couple of profiles of Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz this week – good to read side-by-side. “Success Academy’s Radical Educational Experiment” by The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead. “The Charter-School Crusader” by Elizabeth Green in The Atlantic. (Green also penned a piece in Chalkbeat: “Why my Eva Moskowitz story is the scariest one I’ve ever written.”)
“A ‘portfolio’ of schools? How a nationwide effort to disrupt urban school districts is gaining traction” by Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum. Any time you hear that word “disrupt,” taxpayers, get out your wallets.
Via the AP: “Colorado school board votes to end voucher program.” Specifically, the Douglas County school board, in the suburbs outside of Denver.
Via Chalkbeat: “Gov. Eric Holcomb says Indiana’s low-rated online charter schools need ‘immediate attention and action’.”
Via Motherboard: “Half of West Virginia has Applied for Broadband Assistance.”
Via the Bangor Daily News: “White Maine students are least likely in nation to see kids of another race at school.”
Via ProPublica: “How Students Get Banished to Alternative Schools.”Education in the Courts
“As lawsuits mount over access to learning technologies for people with disabilities, universities consider banding together to share accessibility reviews of vendor products,” Inside Higher Ed reports.
Via The New York Times: “Brock Turner Is Appealing His Sexual Assault Conviction.” Of course he is.
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Supreme Court Allows Travel Ban to Go Into Effect.”
Via The New York Times: “Too Many Children in California Can’t Read, Lawsuit Claims.”
Via The New York Times: “Harvard Agrees to Turn Over Records Amid Discrimination Inquiry.”The “New” For-Profit Higher Ed
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Adtalem Global Education, the company that owns DeVry University, announced Monday that ownership of the for-profit institution would transfer to Cogswell Education LLC.” “Troubled DeVry University Gets Sold Off For A Pittance,” Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy reports. “Huh?” says “Dean Dad” Matt Reed.Online Education (and the Once and Future “MOOC”)
Via The Columbus Dispatch: “ECOT again fights repaying millions in taxpayer money.” ECOT is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school company that has been battling Ohio for quite some time now.Meanwhile on Campus…
Via The Huffington Post: “Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach Whatever They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.”
Via the AP: “US charter schools put growing numbers in racial isolation.” “Racial isolation” here is a nice way, I guess, of saying “segregation.” Even with the euphemism, this story made education reform folks mad mad mad.
Via The New York Times: “Now on Oracle’s Campus, a $43 Million Public High School.” Curious if students are allowed to use any tech products made by Oracle’s arch-nemesis, Google.
Via The Richmond Times-Dispatch: “In CodeRVA, a high school experiment with hopes for a diverse region.” CodeRVA is a new high school in Richmond, Virgina focused on computer science.
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Steve Kolowich: “Spotted at a White-Power Rally, but Still Popular With Campus Republicans.” Popular with campus Republicans at Washington State University, that is, who just re-elected him their president.
Via The Chicago Tribune: “Bus company serving University of Illinois criticized for ’racist and bigoted’ ad.”
Via Teen Vogue: “School Shooting in New Mexico Leaves Three Dead.” It’s heartbreaking that this was hardly news at all this week.
Via The Atlantic: “The Two Clashing Meanings of ‘Free Speech’.”
Via the BBC: “Oxford University raises £750m from biggest bond issue.” Phew! I was so worried about its financial wellbeing and ability to stay afloat.Accreditations and Certifications and Competencies
Via Edsurge: “Why New Jersey is Banking on a Credential Registry to Boost its Middle Class.” I hope the state isn’t really banking on it. Seems like there are some other things one might do to boost the middle class other than create a database that lists all available higher ed credential. But what do I know.Testing
“Worried about the drop in U.S. scores on international literacy test? Well, stop it,” says Valerie Strauss.Go, School Sports Team!
Via Inside Higher Ed: “University of Mississippi has been punished yet again by the NCAA for giving cash to recruits, its third such violation since 1986.”From the HR Department
Via The Washington Post: “Georgetown University refuses to recognize graduate student union.”The Business of Job Training
Via Motherboard: “To Solve the Diversity Drought in Software Engineering, Look to Community Colleges.”
Via The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Everyone Agrees on Value of Apprenticeships. The Question Is How to Pay for Them.”This Week in Betteridge’s Law of Headlines
“Is Protesting a Privilege?” asks The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Is Private Education in Africa the Solution to Failing Education Aid?” asks the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
“Can Entrepreneurs Balance Educational and Financial Returns?” asks Edsurge.
“Should Children Form Emotional Bonds With Robots?” asks The Atlantic.
“Will Open Online Education Disrupt the Master’s Admissions Funnel?” asks IHE blogger Josh Kim.
(Reminder: according to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”)Upgrades and Downgrades
It’s Computer Science Education Week, which means everyone had to crank out articles on why, to prepare for the future of work, “everyone should learn to code” (or not): Edsurge. Techcrunch. Edsurge again. Mashable. And many others but I got bored of jotting down the links. So much industry-driven fun fun fun. “Should Teachers Get $100 For Steering Kids To Google‘s ’Hour of Code’ Lesson?” asks a poster on Slashdot. More details about more industry money for Code.org in the venture philanthropy section below.
“Silicon Valley Takes Over Classrooms: Yes and No (Part 1)” by Stanford University’s Larry Cuban.
This is my new favorite analogy for “personalized learning” and “algorithmic, predictive, adaptive blah blah blah” in education:
"The Los Angeles Police Department asked drivers to avoid navigation apps, which are steering users onto more open routes — in this case, streets in the neighborhoods that are on fire." https://t.co/I3sICDIF4A— Joel Rubin (@joelrubin) December 7, 2017
Via Inside Higher Ed: “Cengage, the publisher and technology company, is introducing a subscription service that will enable students to access Cengage’s entire digital portfolio for one set price, no matter how many products they use.” The price tag: $179.99/year. Just what ever college student wanted.
“Dubai Private School Market Presents Opportunities for Curriculum Providers,” says Education Week’s Market Brief.
Via David Perry in The Atlantic: “The Futile Resistance Against Classroom Tech.” I’m cited in this but I strongly disagree that “classroom tech” is inevitable and that resistance is futile. I just have zero time right now to weigh in on the “ban laptops” debates.
Via NPR: “A Tech-Based Tool To Address Campus Sexual Assault.”
Via Mic: “Neo-Nazi wealth is rapidly growing. Why? Bitcoin.” Enjoy those blockchain transcripts, everyone.
Evicted gave Bill Gates "a better sense of what it is like to be poor in this country than anything else [he has] read." Also, his house is worth 150 million dollars. https://t.co/9jtgUPiQYo— Zach Griffen (@runzach) December 5, 2017 Robots and Other Ed-Tech SF
“Robot Learning Improves Student Engagement,” the Communications of the ACM claims.
“If the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Work is Unclear, What Can Schools Do?” asks Education Week.
Kiwicampus: a robot delivery service on campus.(Venture) Philanthropy and the Business of Ed Reform
Via The Verge: “Code.org gets $12 million in funding from the Gates Foundation and others.” Here’s a list of the other companies backing this “learn to code” initiative.
Via The Chicago Tribune: Google gave $1.5 million to the Chicago Public Schools and to Chance the Rapper’s education foundation.Venture Capital and the Business of Ed-Tech
ALO7 has raised $37.5 million in Series D funding from Legend Capital, GuoHe Capital, UG Investment, Qualcomm, New Oriental, and Vickers Venture Partners. The language learning company has raised $45.7 million total.
Early childhood education company Kinedu has raised $1.1 million from Dila Capital, Promotora Social Mexico, Social + Capital, Advenio, Stella Maris, and the Stanford-StartX Fund.
Instructure has acquired the video-based assessment platform Practice. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
VitalSource has acquired corporate learning company Intrepid Learning. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
I guess I’ll take TechShop off my list of startups in the “ed-tech deadpool,” as The Washington Business Journal reports “TechShop to be acquired, reopen maker space locations.” The new company will be TechShop 2.0 LLC, and while it’s not quite clear who the new owners all are, I’m sure the “2.0” insures this is all gonna work out great.
More acquisition news in the for-profit higher ed section above.Privacy, Surveillance, and Information Security
Via The Chicago Tribune: “Data mining program designed to predict child abuse proves unreliable, DCFS says.” “Unreliable” is an understatement here. This story is just layers and layers of awful solutionism.
Rutgers has suffered a data breach, exposing some 1700 students’ information.
Via The San Francisco Chronicle: “Stanford University data glitch exposes truth about scholarships.” Spoiler alert: Stanford University is not a meritocracy.Research, “Research,” and Reports
The best way to predict the future is to issue a press release. Or maybe a slide deck that includes the products you’ve invested in, and then get the folks at Fast Company to cover it…
Via The Outline: “How brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company, and HuffPost stories.”
FutureSource is out with its latest report on trends in the education mobile OS market.
“There’s an implosion of early-stage VC funding,” says Techcrunch, “and no one’s talking about it.”
“Educators are ill-equipped to help victims of dating violence,” writes Melinda D. Anderson in The Atlantic, pointing to research about the lack of training and preparedness among teachers and administrators to address the issue.
“Self-Affirmation Gets Minority Students on a College Track,” says Pacific Standard. What a great example of placing the expectation of change on the individual and not on the structure.
Via Vox: “Groundbreaking empirical research shows where innovation really comes from.”
Via Education Week: “U.S. Graduation Rate Hits New All-Time High, With Gains in All Student Groups.”
This story. Again. “The World Might Be Better Off Without College for Everyone,” Bryan Caplan argues in The Atlantic. Of course, we don’t have “college for everyone.” Caplan, for those keeping score at home, is an economics professor at George Mason University, a Cato Institute scholar, and the author of a new book The Case Against Education. This is what Koch money buys you, folks.
Icon credits: The Noun Project
When my old friend and former colleague Oliver Quinlan invited me to write a chapter for his new book, I didn't need to take long to decide. The title of the book itself was enough to convince me to participate in the project. The book finally arrived through my letter box yesterday, and I'm glad I did take part.
The slim volume (140 pp), edited by Oliver and Natalia Kucirkova (Senior Research Fellow at University College London), is published by McGraw Hill and draws on the experience and knowledge of a raft of digitally agile researchers, scholars and journalists, including Christian Payne (you will know him on Twitter as @documentally), Victoria Pearson, Carl Gombrich, Ian O'Byrne, Gemma Ware and Mark Russell.
There are chapters on open scholarship, academic blogging, the use of smartphone and tablets, crowdsourcing data, developing a digital profile, getting started with Twitter, personal learning networks, and leveraging the power of social media, as well as my own chapter on 'Using social media for action research: the benefits and limitations'.
It's a book that provides essential reading for all academics in a time where digital, mobile and social media technologies are an increasingly important part of the research equation. Each chapter also presents Common Pitfalls and Best Practice panes to support the texts. To quote the sleeve of the book: "With a range of helpful strategies, The Digitally Agile Researcher is a credible and practical guide for academics at all stages of their career, doctoral students, early careers researchers or experienced academics."
Digitally agile research by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
"The new offer, called Cengage Unlimited, will give students access to more than 20,000 Cengage products across 70 disciplines and 675 course areas for $119.99 a semester." That's more than twice what the going rate has been, so I'm expecting this price to drop quickly. But it reflects a trend that we've seen in other industries - mustic, for examplem with Spotify, or video with Netflix. Thee company has also "set a strategic goal of being 90 percent digital by 2019. The new strategy is a notable departure from the traditional publishing sales model, which historically has relied on the sale of individual print textbooks."[Link] [Comment]
Remember Knewton? Pundits loved it. It positioned itself as "the world’s leading adaptive learning technology provider with the mission of bringing personalized education to the world" and drew some $157 million in funding. Now they're executing a pivot "along with mounting criticism that its founding CEO, Jose Ferreira, overhyped its technology." Now the company is trying to compete with publishers. "The secret to its swift entry into publishing was OER (open education resources). Rather than hire authors to write textbooks from scratch, the company is now curating open-educational materials already on the internet." Only the open educational resources won't be free. "Each online textbook costs $44 for two years of access, or $9.95 per month."[Link] [Comment]
IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering,
Dec 08, 2017
The vote to launch this was taken just a couple weeks ago and mine was the sole vote against, this based solely on the name, which I think is a bad idea. The engineers are getting far ahead of the theory in e-learning, and as a result, we're getting solutions thta are inappropriate. And I don't think that learning is something you can engineer as though it were a bridge or an electrical circuit. But it still makes sense to have a consortium supporting the development of, say, learning technology engineering.[Link] [Comment]
En el marco de la Semana de la enseñanza de la informática, un acontecimiento internacional que este año se celebra del 4 al 10 de diciembre, el INTEF ha organizado la jornada “La hora del código”, con el objetivo de mostrar la diversión, la belleza y el potencial educativo de la programación y la robótica, y demostrar que todo el mundo puede aprender a programar y disfrutar de la experiencia.
La jornada ha estado dirigida a niños y niñas de entre 3 y 12 años, que han acudido acompañados de un familiar adulto. Los padres y las madres, por supuesto, también han participado en las actividades, puesto que el objetivo ha sido que aprendieran juntos las bases que les permitan seguir realizando actividades y aprendiendo juntos en casa.
La actividad se ha dividido en cuatro rincones por los que todos los participantes han ido pasando. Por un lado, en el Rincón de la robótica se ha realizado un taller de introducción a la robótica con sencillos robots programables, en el que los participantes han aprendido a dar instrucciones a un robot a través de los botones que éste integra en su parte superior. La actividad implica la planificación previa de la secuencia de instrucciones para llevar el robot de un punto a otro del tapete, su ejecución, y la visualización del resultado para comprobar si se ha realizado correctamente y, en caso contrario, proceder a depurar la secuencia.
En el Rincón “unplugged”, por su parte, se ha realizado una actividad sin ordenador ni dispositivos con el objetivo de mostrar a las familias que es posible trabajar el pensamiento computacional de manera divertida sin contar con apenas ningún recurso que no pueda encontrarse en el hogar. En concreto, la actividad desarrollada implica interpretar y ejecutar una secuencia de instrucciones facilitada por los dinamizadores para construir una estructura con vasos de plástico de colores.
Una de las actividades estrella se ha desarrollado en el Rincón de la conexión del mundo digital con el mundo físico, en el que se han utilizado placas que permiten interactuar con los personajes de proyectos digitales, como videojuegos o creaciones musicales, a través de elementos del mundo físico, como pueden ser frutas o los propios niños participantes.
Por último, en el Rincón de la programación cada participante ha seguido un tutorial de “La hora del código”, escogiendo un escenario entre los que eran indicados para su edad. Cada tutorial se estructura como una serie de desafíos de complejidad creciente que van guiando al aprendiz para programar un juego sencillo.
Con el objetivo de que cualquier docente pueda replicar esta actividad en su centro educativo, el Instituto Nacional de Tecnologías Educativas y de Formación del Profesorado ha creado una guía y ha recopilado todos los recursos utilizados durante la jornada poniéndolos a disposición de la comunidad educativa en la web Code.EducaLAB, el portal sobre programación, robótica y pensamiento computacional del MECD.