The Perils of SOPA

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is the proposed intellectual property laws that are now in Congress. Both houses have bills that are aimed at combating copyright infringement of movies, music and other intellectual property. Supporting SOPA are some powerful players: content creators, led by Hollywood and the music industry, who want the most stringent measures. Currently opposing them are some tech and electronics players such as Google, PayPal and Twitter. A group of those companies took out newspaper ads this month saying that the bills would "give the U.S. government the power to censor the Web using techniques similar to those used by China."

Education has not played a large enough role in the battle, but there are some some potentially serious consequences if the content creators get their way. For educators, publishers who offer electronic products (which is just about all of them) are on board with strong SOPA legislation as content creators too. The act could have serious repercussions for the use of open educational resources too.

As described by the San Francisco Chronicle:
A bipartisan bill introduced last week in the House of Representatives would mark a fundamental change in Internet law, shifting liability for copyright piracy from the infringer to the host website.

It would chip away at critical safeguards that have shaped the Internet as we know it today, and many worry it would make it far more difficult for the next YouTube, Facebook or Craigslist to emerge and succeed.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is the counterpart to the Senate’s pending PROTECT IP Act, which already had rights groups, academics and many online businesses up in arms. But the House bill goes much further.
SOPA could take away the reasonable “safe harbor” protections for internet site operators and it is unclear what effect it would have on "fair use."

It is a bill worth taking note of in the next session of Congress.

Further Reading

15 Coming Attractions for Education 2012

Serendipity35 jumps once again into the year-end pool of predictions for the twelve months ahead. But no politics, no environmental disasters here - just technology and learning.

Innovation creates disruption. It may be short-term disruption, but there is no avoiding it. If you don't like disruption, get out of the way. Most of the innovation will come from outside education, so then we will have to adapt before we adopt - which isn't the best way to do it. Innovations that come from within the system will last longer, get better buy-in and be better tolerated. I don't think the biggest disruption will come the current generation of teachers. The innovators are not here yet. I expect big things from the college class of 2025.

eBooks will make a bigger impact in 2012 - They made an impact in 2011, but not to the degree that was predicted. This will be the year that they take hold in academia the way they have taken hold in the consumer market. It may not be a call that schools or faculty make - students will just do it on their own.

Assessment will not go away as a buzz term, but we need something significant to happen this year to make it more comprehensive and continuous. You can't believe the analysis if you can't believe the data. Everyone wants "metrics" on this difficult to quantify thing we call an education. The way we do it now is not working.

The for-profit sector of education will gain even greater numbers of students and its legitimacy will also increase. Trying to put tighter regulations on them in order to preserve higher education as we knew it will fail.

Despite the rise of alternative ways to learn using technology, online learning and social networking, a good number of young people (and their parents) will still want to learn in a real classroom and pay that tuition, room and board or their local property taxes to make that happen. They will be more demanding. They will expect results and ROI, but they will be there. Their numbers will decrease, but we still have at least a decade, so make the most of it.

Administrators will still take a superficial view of how technology and online/hybrid learning makes it possible to grow despite financial problems. It does allow for that. But, if that's the only reason you do it, and you do it without some long-term planning for quality in the design, training and implementation, you will lose money in the long-term.

Students using their own laptops, netbooks, cell phones, tablets and pads will require rethinking how we deliver content. Immediately, that means our delivery system and methods, but ultimately it means how we teach.

The decline in federal and state support of K-12 and higher education will continue. Rising tuition will make college once again not an option for everyone. (That may not be a bad thing.)

Facebook has to be addressed by educators. It is going to move into education in some real way. Ignoring it is as silly as telling your students that they can't use Wikipedia. Who do you think you are? Google may be a player in this arena too.

And with that comes less restrictions on Net use in classrooms (especially pre-college) despite SOPA and other acronymed efforts to control the Net.

There will be more adoptions of open educational resources. Open textbooks is a likely candidate for easy adoption. More use of OER would happen easier if the government helped make the best content available and encouraged its use. Yes, I know, there must be lobbyists for the billions of dollars spent each year on paper copies that come from companies offering a new edition with new pictures and more references to Twitter and Facebook, but if you want to move education forward in a time of economic squeezing, then...

OER will also drive global learning communities that will offer content, pedagogy, facilitators and maybe even certifications and degrees.

Students will increasingly learn outside of school buildings. That means everything from hybrid classes and programs, to real world learning, home learning and learning that does not lead to a degree.

Courses and majors that are designed primarily to get students ready only for graduate study will be the ones to disappear first. Even programs designed to prepare students for professional school or move them right into the workplace will need to trim away components which are seen as superfluous.

Though it will be difficult to get rid of tenure, schools (especially in higher ed) this year will hire fewer people on a tenure track. It may take time for the tenured faculty to fall away, but they will, and there will be no more to follow them.

Social Search

When someone says "social search", I think of two things. One is the ability to search social sites and media. Two would be search that is coupled with a social aspect.

Greplin deals with the former and allows you to search for things in your online social life. When you put in a search term, it searches your personal accounts including Gmail, Google Apps, Facebook, LinkedIn, Evernote, Dropbox, and Yammer.(It requires registration so that it can get to those accounts.) You can add indexes of your favorite websites and search all your data in one place.

You need to set up an account which is free for 200MB of storage. They offers a premium account with 500MB of storage for $4.99/month and Premium Plus is $14.99/month for even more storage and services. They have an extensive privacy policy page which is a good idea because users are entrusting their account information.

But I think that our traditional search engines like Google and Bing will be adding social search capabilities. Google Plus connected to your email and other Google apps would make that possible to a degree already. Facebook will probably open its search capabilities in the other direction - out from their social world to other places (social or not) that you allow them to connect to.

And I suspect that those big players will add those tools for free in order to get a deeper bite of the data in your social graph for their own marketing purposes.

So, is Greplin a good idea? Yes?  Will people be willing to pay for it? Probably not. Unless the competition doesn't offer it - or they convince us that they are a safer keeper of our privacy than the others. Will people be willing to pay for privacy? Maybe.

Squeezing Out Liberal Arts

I'm sure that my post this month that said that the value of a college degree is going to fade over the next few decades, and that this will be especially true
of liberal arts degrees and programs, undergraduate and graduate, did not win me any fans in those academic areas.

All my own student work was in the humanities. I still teach in the humanities. And I still believe in a liberal arts education. But that appreciation can't change what is happening in education.

Especially now as the federal government and states (who typically provide two-thirds of the aid) tighten their allocations to public universities, the humanities is often the first area hit with budget cuts. In a speech this year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott made an argument that is heard more and more. The world outside academia sees STEM fields (science, technology, engineering & math) and medical fields as ones that offer career prospects, and the humanities fields are seen as more of an indulgence.

It is even sadder that those more desirable career-specific majors are viewed as offering a better high-tech payback. They offer returns for states,
universities and businesses because of the patent royalties, grants, and products. Research on the authorship of Shakespeare's plays doesn't have those possibilities.

This is hardly a new trend. Humanities studies peaked in U.S. colleges in the 1960s and started dropping in enrollments in the 1970s when business, technology and the other computer-related fields took off. Today, the humanities accounts for only about 8 percent of graduates (in comparison, business is 20%). Even the liberal arts colleges are disappearing.  Of 212 liberal arts colleges identified in 1990, a study published in 2009 by Inside Higher Ed shows that only 137 were still operating.

Where's Santa?

At Serendipity35, we still believe that Santa Claus is alive and well in the hearts of people throughout the world. And what more evidence do you need than the fact that NORAD is using its super-high-tech equipment to track his Christmas deliveries. Santa's sleigh and reindeer show up quite clearly on their radar.

Every year, we follow the Countdown to Christmas Eve which started on December 1st and will continue throughout Christmas Eve.

You and any other kids in the room can track Santa live as he makes his journey around the world. You can also watch videos from NORAD Santa Cams of Santa and his reindeer.

I know what you academics are thinking. If Santa's list gets bigger each year (check out the world’s population right now) and Santa has to deliver more toys in the same amount of time, according to NORAD's calculations, he would have to limit each of his stops at homes to two to three ten-thousandths of a second per home.

And yet, for 16 centuries he has been getting the job done.

There's only one logical explanation: Santa's 24 hours are not the 24 hour day we operate within. Santa functions within a different time-space continuum than the rest of us.

Follow the action on Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter too.