Gates Foundation and Online Learning

You probably don't read Bill Gates' annual letter about the priorities of his $34-billion endowment. I wouldn't have clicked the link someone provided on Twitter either except that it said that it was about online learning.

I wrote earlier that Gates' blog (which seems to also have ghostwriters) contains several posts about online courses that he has taken/viewed. Now, he says he is in favor of the open courseware movement to publish course materials free online.

He gives props to systems like the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University that can gauge what students learn and point them in the right direction for a next step.

"So far technology has hardly changed formal education at all. But a lot of people, including me, think this is the next place where the Internet will surprise people in how it can improve things—especially in combination with face-to-face learning."
Some sound bites from the letter on things "we" need to do:
- We need to bring together the video and interactive pieces for K–12 and college courses.
- We should focus on having at least one great course online for each subject rather than lots of mediocre courses.
- A teacher can watch and learn how to make a subject more interesting. A teacher can assign subsets of the material to students who are behind and finding something difficult. A teacher can suggest online material to a student who is ahead and wants to learn more. A teacher can assign an interactive session to diagnose where a student is weak and make sure they get practice on the areas that are difficult for them.
- Self-motivated students can take entire courses on their own. If they want to prove they learned the material to help qualify for a job, a trusted accreditation service independent from any school should be able to verify their abilities.
- There is a lot of online material being developed, but it isn’t organized in a way where it is easy to find the best material that fits what you want to do.
- We need a simple way of taking all of the education pieces and organizing them and then rating them in context.

Data Liberation

When do people worry about backing up their data? When it's lost, of course. The same thing is true - perhaps to a greater degree - when it comes to trying to just move their data that is stored within a software product or application.

If you teach using any course management system (Blackboard, Moodle et al), your institution and you should both be backing up the course data. Problem number two comes when you try to move it - try taking your old WebCT course over to Moodle etc.

But what about your private email or your blog or your photo site?

There are some commercial services that can backup your online and "cloud" data. One such service (which I currently use) is which is offering a free account until January 31.  And there are online services to back up the data you have on your own machine (as opposed to putting it on another hard drive, flashdrive or CDs) such as

But what happens when you want to just MOVE your data to another service? Let's say you have been using Hotmail for 3 years and want to move to Gmail. Can you easily move your folders and contacts over? Nope. How about moving your blog from one free service to another blog host? Liberating your data can be very difficult or just impossible in some cases.

So, it's good to see an effort like the Data Liberation Front. It is an engineering team at Google whose goal is to make it possible/easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products.

Doesn't it seem logical that you should be able to export any data that you create in (or import into) a product? That's what this team is working on so that Google users can control the data they store in any of Google's products.

For example, it has provided a way to get all your Gmail out to take to a different provider, if that's what you want to do. (This is not a backup service. This is moving data.)

Cloud computing is great and many people and institutions are moving towards the cloud. But one of the drawbacks and benefits of any hosted service is that your data is stored within their service.

Using the Blogger import and export facilities is pretty easy. And if you have been putting your home videos into YouTube and want to move them out, that can be done too.

Viva liberation!

Want a Data Liberation Farms sticker from Google?
Details on their blog.

Apple 1984 to 2010

With all the talk about Apple and Steve Jobs introducing a tablet today (the worst kept secret in tech so far this year), I thought it would be fun to look back. It was 26 years ago this month that Steve Jobs introduced the first Macintosh. It's fun to watch the video and compare - Steve in his jacket and bowtie and that Mac with its amazing (by 1984 standards) graphics and sound that look so primitive now.

Before a crowd of 3000 people who treat the little Mac like a rock star including a five minute ovation.

Horizons - Real and Artificial

The annual Horizon Report is a collaborative effort between the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) and the New Media Consortium (NMC). Each year, the report identifies and describes six areas of emerging technology likely to have a significant impact on teaching, learning, or creative expression in higher education. It also puts those technologies within three adoption horizons: a year or less, two to three years, and four to five years.

They list as the emerging technology we should see adopted in the next year: Mobile Computing and Open Content.

For the 2-3 year adoption, their choices are Electronic Books and Simple Augmented Reality.

The two technologies that they feel need 4-5 years to adoption are Gesture-based Computing and Visual Data Analysis.

This is no blogger opinion poll. The 2010 Report resulted from the work of the 47-person Advisory Board, with experts from ten countries.

Predicting the future is tough, but what I like about the Horizon Report is that they are fairly conservative with their choices. Since we can't really see the tech horizon, it's good to have a kind of artificial horizon.

Pilots use an artificial horizon (AKA an attitude indicator or gyro horizon) in an aircraft to inform them of the orientation of the aircraft relative to earth. It indicates pitch and bank or roll and is a primary instrument for flight in instrument meteorological conditions.

In other words, when you can't tell which side is up, it helps you.

How do we measure the success of these predictions? Well, last year, the 2009 Horizon Report said that in the year that just passed the 2 things to be adopted in education would be Cloud Computing and Mobiles. Both of them had a strong year, especially cloud computing which require a lot less of an investment for users or institutions. But mobile made their one year list this year too, so that's a bit of a cheat.

They tagged Geo Everything and The Personal Web as ones to watch for two more years. Though geo and location-based apps have made inroads, especially in mobile devices, I can't say that I see much penetration into educational uses. It's not fair to judge these choices based on the short labels they have been given. What is the Personal Web anyway?  According to last year's report:

"Fifteen years after the first commercial web pages began to appear, the amount of content available on the web is staggering. Sifting through the sheer volume of material — good or bad, useful or otherwise — is a daunting task. It is even difficult to keep track of the media posted by a single person, or by oneself. On the other hand, adding to the mix is easier than ever before, thanks to easy-to-use publishing tools for every type and size of media. To cope with the problem, computer users are assembling collections of tools, widgets, and services that make it easy to develop and organize dynamic online content. Armed with tools for tagging, aggregating, updating, and keeping track of content, today’s learners create and navigate a web that is increasingly tailored to their own needs and interests: this is the personal web."

I also like that the Horizon Reports include a section called "Relevance for Teaching, Learning, Research, or Creative Expression" for each technology. So, for the "personal web," they say that "The tools that enable the personal web are also ideal toolsets for research and learning. The ability to tag, categorize, and publish work online, instantly, without the need to understand or even touch the underlying technologies provides a host of opportunities for faculty and students. By organizing online information with tags and web feeds, it is a simple matter to create richly personal resource collections that are easily searchable, annotated, and that support any interest."

In the longer view, the report last year saw Semantic-Aware Applications and Smart Objects as needing until 2012 or so to be adopted. Like their 2010 prediction for that horizon far ahead, these technologies are not even being adopted in a broad way outside education. And all of us in education know that technology almost always comes to academia after it gets a foothold in business and the public sector. You'd think it would be otherwise, but it's not.

Not to take the airplane metaphor too far, but when educators are "piloting" some of these emerging technologies, they do need that artificial horizon so that they can stay aware of what's happening on the ground where they teach. And it wouldn't hurt to have the "attitude indicator" operating when you need to deal with budgets and administration.

PDF a Web Page

PDFmyURL is a site that will convert a web page into a PDF document.

This can be a useful utility when you want to retain a page as a handout (You address the copyright issues!) and it can also make those web pages that end up printing on multiple (wasted) pages more manageable