Desire2Learn Becomes Brightspace

The edtech company Desire2Learn said on Monday that it was renaming its learning-management system Brightspace and will add new features including game-based learning.

The company also said it was teaming up with IBM to improve the LMS's predictive analytics and partnering with Microsoft to add a Windows 8 mobile app for e-books to their offerings.

That Facebook Research and Academia

I have waited a few weeks for the Internet to react to the Facebook research that was revealed and caused a big buzz (again) about privacy. The short summary: Facebook manipulated the news feeds of thousands of its users, without their knowing consent, in order to do some research. They wanted to know if they could have an effect on people’s behavior in the network.

Oh wait - that was back in 2010 when they were looking at U.S. voting patterns in the midterm elections. That story was told in 2012 by Nature magazine. Not much of a public reaction. No real outcry about questionable ethics.

But this latest study that Facebook conducted was co-designed by researchers at Cornell University. This research examined how positive or negative language spreads in social networks. If you see more negative comments and news, do you become more negative yourself in your posts?

This time there were two negative reactions by the public and the press. First, in this year following the NSA and Snowden revelations, there was a very vocal outcry of criticism about whether
Internet users should be informed about experiments that test human behavior. (Facebook likes to point out that users did "allow" the study by agreeing to the terms of service.)

The second concern was that a university played a role in the research design.

What were the results of the research? Users who saw fewer positive posts were less likely to post something positive, and vice versa, but the effect was small and faded as days passed. That sounds like common sense, right? Actually, existing research had seemed to indicate that seeing a number of happy, positive news feed items from friends, they felt a negativity about their own lives.

Researchers in academia are used to having research approved first by an Institutional Review Board. Did that happen at Cornell?  The data scientist at Facebook conducted the actual research. He collaborated with a Cornell researcher and his former postdoc on the design and subsequent analysis. But, since the Cornell researchers did not participate in the data collection, the university’s IRB concluded that the study did not require oversight as it would usually require with human-subjects research. 

The research study was published in early June in the respected journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The revelations about the NSA snooping had a split reaction. Some people saw Snowden as a hero whistle-blower alerting us to wrongdoing and wanted changes to be made in what was allowed. Others saw him as dangerous because he revealed a kind of research that the government needs to do to protect us.

The Facebook/Cornell research certainly doesn't come anywhere near the complexity or seriousness of the NSA case. Nevertheless, some people want to see this kind of research controlled or stopped and our online privacy protected better. A smaller number think that this is part of the price of using the Net and social media.

My conclusion? This kind of social research will continue. BUT - it will be done (with your approval, even if you don;t read the fine print before clicking that AGREE button), but it is unlikely to be public. It will be kept private and will not be published. And colleges will be much more careful about making research collaborations with corporations - especially those that operate online.

33 Ethicists Defend Facebook’s Controversial Mood Study

A group of bioethicists wrote in a column that Facebook’s controversial study of mood manipulation was not unethical, and harsh criticism of it risks putting a chill on future research. The article was written by six ethicists, joined by 27 others.

Maybe Reading This Post On A Screen Is Making You Stupid

Before you start this post, concentrate on trying to identify the main point from cognitive research while you are reading.

"Do Screens Make Us Stupider?" asks Julie Sedivy in a Discover article subtitled "Time for a Rethink of Reading."

She teaches at a university and the company that just published her textbook tells her that 90 percent of students prefer the paper version to the e-book. Why?

Is it true that information is more securely fixed in people’s minds when they read it from paper?  Does the visual fatigue of navigating text onscreen interfere with the processing of information? Have we developed superficial reading habits while online or onscreen - and might it be even shallower on a phone screen as compared to a traditional computer monitor?

Sedivy gets into a bit of the cognitive research on reading, which is inconclusive. The way we read varies widely in different settings, with text acting as a prompt for very different kinds of mental pursuits.

The same material can trigger very different thoughts depending on the reader's cognitive goals. Telling a reader to focus on imagery seems to lead to better retention of the material.

But those goals can also be unintentionally triggered.  Researchers asked people to unscramble sentences that contained words like evaluate, judgment, and personality before reading and just seeing those seemed to have the same effect as asking them explicitly to judge character in their reading.

Does simply encountering words on a screen rather than a paper page now create an unintentional "goal" in our mind?

Researchers keep playing with the experience. Given a product review in a harder-to-read font, readers more carefully evaluated the merits of the arguments. Did they turn on their focu because the information felt harder to process.

Should I write my posts in harder-to-read fonts and set up reading goals before each post?

One takeaway from the research is the idea that the presentation of text plays an important part in what a reader does cognitively while reading and also what the reader retains after the reading experience.

Did the goal/prompt at the start of this post change your reading or retention at all?

More at

Orkut Farewell. Orkut?


You won't be logging into Orkut any more - if you ever did log in.

Remember Orkut? Maybe this post about its demise is also your introduction to Google’s first foray into social networking.

Started in 2004, Orkut saw impressive early growth and has been popular in some countries, but never caught on in English-speaking countries. It didn't help that 2004 was also the year that Facebook started in 2004. 
Orkut by 2008 was the top social media site in Brazil and India. 

Eventually, Facebook overtook Orkut even in Brazil and India. In India, Facebook surpassed Orkut in terms of total registered users in 2010. In Brazil, the same happened in 2012. I have written about Orkut a few times and had created an account to see what it was all about, but never really found it compelling.

Meanwhile, Google launched its current attempt at a social network, Google+, in 2011. Plus has been more successful in the U.S. but is still struggling and user numbers still lag way behind those of Facebook.

Google announced it would shut down the service (as it has done with a good number of other services like Buzz and Wave) on September 30, 2014 and is no longer accepting new users.

You can export your profile data, posts and photos using a service called Google Takeout that will be available until September 2016.

Learning Analytics Summer Institute

The Learning Analytics Summer Institute (LASI) is being held now at at Harvard and runs for three days (June 30 – July 2).

The mission for the Society for Learning Analytics Research is to make data and algorithms open and accessible to researchers in order to create transparency around how analytics are being used in teaching and learning.

They are live streaming LASI and the schedule of speakers, panels and keynotes, is available now and if you scroll down the page, there is a live video feed.

A global network of LASI-Locals in Hong Kong, Egypt, South Africa, Netherlands, Spain, Latin America, UK, and other regions is in place. If you are interested in learning analytics and how they are being deployed by researchers and students, join this distributed global conversation with a few thousand peers who are exploring data, analytics, and learning.

Tag for the event: #lasi14