PIPA, the Protect-IP Act

When I logged into my tumblr blog, i was given the option to " Black out my blog for the rest of the day to protest PIPA.

I chose not to - because I think it might be more effective to post about what PIPA is all about than to go black. (I can't wash the educator out of me)

Thanks to action by a broad and bipartisan coalition of Internet users, companies, and organizations, the U.S. House of Representatives has now put the brakes on SOPA, a well-intentioned but deeply flawed bill that would use Internet censorship to combat overseas copyright infringement. Even President Obama's White House has joined the opposition.

But nevertheless, the Senate is continuing to move forward — and fast — with its equally dangerous version of the bill, called PIPA, the Protect-IP Act.As written, PIPA would import censorship and surveillance techniques pioneered by countries like China and Iran, reversing longstanding U.S. policy on Internet freedom, betraying U.S. First Amendment values, damaging our standing around the world, threatening our job-creating innovators, and undermining Internet security for everyone.

Today is a day for action across the Internet.Learn about these destructive bills. Tell your Senator what you think. Congress needs to hear from you.


iPhone Application Development

Most of us can't get a seat in Stanford's popular iPhone and iPad application development course, but luckily the open side of courseware allows anyone with app dreams to follow online. 

Stanford has released the iOS 5 version of their "iPhone Application Development" on iTunes U. You can download course lectures and slides for free. The obvious audience is students of all ages interested in developing apps, but if you are teaching or planning to teach such a course yourself, it would make sense to take a look.

Stanford offered an iPhone apps course online in 2009 and it made some history by scoring a million downloads in its first seven weeks. The instructor is Paul Hegarty and he teaches students how to program apps for iPads and iPhones. It is the most popular download on
Stanford's iTunes U site, with more than 10 million views.

It is no small task to learn to create apps. Unofficial prerequisites: If you are unfamiliar with Apple's operating systems, you need to learn Objective-C.  If you were a Stanford student, you would have taken a year of computer science classes and had object-oriented programming before taking the apps course. Two Stanford prerequisite courses, Programming Methodology and Programming Abstractions, are also available on iTunes U.

Disrupting Education With Apps

Tomorrow, I am giving a keynote for faculty at Bloomfield College. It's about how software apps and mobile computing in general is impacting teaching. "Educating in an App World" is still to come for most classrooms.

Sure, "There's an app for that" has gone from being an advertising tagline to being a solution for many software needs. Apps – small, easy to download software for mobile devices – are definitely changing how students at all level are using technology.

Watch pre-schoolers playing with their parents phones and tablets. Have you seen a 3 year old go up to a TV screen and try to drag or pinch an image? It's how they expect to interact with technology.

I have found more apps available for the K-12 world than for higher education. But, we limit the use of mobile devices in classrooms, especially in the lower grades. Teachers are more likely to ban phones than make use of them.

But that IS changing. Apps are changing the way colleges design and deploy software and it is moving into classrooms.

The idea of "disruptive innovation" (which was coined by Clayton Christensen) is that a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market but then moves “up market" and eventually displaces the established competitors.

Disruptive innovation: cellular phones disrupted fixed line telephony; traditional full-service department stores have been disrupted by online and discount retailers; doctor’s offices are being displaced by medical clinics. Maybe the traditional four-year college experience is being displaced in degrees by community colleges, online learning and school 2.0.

The problem is that education isn't business, no matter how much politicians and critics want it to be.

Take innovation. Companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change. There are newer phones but customers who don't want to upgrade yet. The company ends up producing products or services that are actually too good and too expensive for many of their customers. But in education, those "customers" that we prefer to call students innovate faster than the schools. Students probably have the technology in their hands before we can offer it or have a way to use it in our classrooms.

What is changing in higher ed? Firts, is how students use technology with or without our guidance. That is driving changes in the way colleges design or purchase websites and software. Go back more than a decade and a school had to get a website. Then they had to get a better website. Now, you better have some apps. 

The ways colleges deploy software is also changing. Did your school offer software on CDs? Did it move to downloads? Did it move away from even supplying software or requiring a computer? Will it offer apps?

The greatest change comes when educators can implement apps for teaching. Initially, colleges use it for campus-wide initiatives like admissions, but we are seeing it begin to move into classroom use.

Do you agree with this critic? “For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.”   That was Socrates on the written word, see Phaedrus, 340 BC.

Welcome to the app world.

The Turbulent Waters of the Course Management Systems

The CMS or LMS (course or learning management systems) world is somewhat chaotic the past few years as big commercial players like Blackboard, Desire2learn, Angel, compete, get bought out and battle in courts over patents. Add to that chaos the rise of "free" (though not without cost) open source systems like Moodle and Sakai.

And we also have offerings that are a blend of free and commercial. In late 2011, Pearson announced its own free course management system called OpenClass.

Instructure also unveiled last year Canvas, which The Chronicle of Higher Education described as a "Upstart Course-Management Provider Goes Open Source".

Coursekit is yet another new CMS jumping into the pond. A trio of UPenn dropouts have raised more than a million dollars in venture capital to design their own online course platform. It is one that is supposed to emphasize social networking and an easy-to-use interface. Of course, it has all the usual tools too - discussions, grading, shared calendars and links, student profiles etc.

Thirty universities tested Coursekit last fall (Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania included).

What might be unique is that the company has 80 student ambassadors to introduce the new course-management system to students at colleges across the country.

Coursekit's home page says "Make your course come alive. The simple way to manage your course and engage your students. Instructors: It's free and always will be. 
an international team backed by the European Union and based out of Berlin has introduced a new, free, dual-language learning management system with a large dose of collaboration functionality built in.

And there are new international systems too. One cloud-based offering is iversity. One of their claims of uniqueness is the concept of "social reading" to go along with the features we expect. Their homepage declares that it is "The Collaboration Network for Academia - Organize courses, research groups and conferences – for free." They claim more than 12,000 students and faculty members as beta-testers from 80 colleges and universities. They also have a a team of young graduates from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Singapore, and other countries that have rebuilt the platform to address user feedback. (iversity is now available in English and German.)

The "social reading" feature allows users to annotate PDF documents collaboratively.

The software is free to individual users, but the company can also offer customized services to institutions. In Germany the company offers a low-cost service that allows students to order printed copies of faculty-assigned reading. This project was initially funded by the German Federal Ministry of Science and Technology with additional funding coming from a regional development organization using both EU and local funds as well as a German venture capital firm.