Walled Gardens of Technology

Entrance to Walled Garden at Farmleigh

The term "walled garden" once only meant a literal garden that was enclosed by walls.  Though I tagged this post as "tech" and "Open Everything," this topic is not about things being open at all - which of course is a topic of those who discuss openness.

There are literal walled gardens in the world. These gardens are surrounded by walls to keep out animals, unwanted human visitors and in some places, the walls shelter the garden from wind and frost. They can also be decorative and there may be smaller walls within the walled perimeter. These days if you hear the term there is a good chance that it is a figurative walled garden which is a closed platform or closed technology ecosystem. Since we borrowed the term "ecosystem" from nature and have since created manmade ecosystems (or damaged natural ones), it makes sense that we turn botanical garden ecosystems into technology ecosystems.

A tech walled garden is a closed platform or closed technology ecosystem which is a software system wherein the carrier or service provider has control over applications, content, and/or media.With that control, they can restrict convenient access to non-approved applicants or content.

We contrast this with an open platform, wherein consumers generally have unrestricted access to applications and content.

Whether on the broader Internet or a smaller network, a walled garden is a restricted section that only approved users can access. I first encountered this in the earliest days of the Internet with the walled garden of the school nework where I taught. Their server granted access only to students and staff and even that larger walled garden had smaller walled sections withing delegated only to faculty or administration.

It all sounds like something safe - maybe even comfortingly safe. A walled garden can also refer to a closed or exclusive set of information services where a user is unable to leave the closed environment without the owner giving limited points of entry. One example of this comes from Apple’s hardware, software and services work. They work well together as long as you use Apple's devices and services. (see this Wall Street Journal video report)

The Apple walled garden is so closed that it has been targeted for antitrust scrutiny. The recent Epic vs. Apple case is an example of that. The Fortnite video game developer made the case that Apple's walled garden is a monopoly that forces developers to use Apple's in-app purchase system, which gives Apple a 30% cut of all sales.

Walled gardens - literal and figuartive, botanical and technological - have their purposes and will continue to exist, but it is very nice to see gardens and tech ecosystems that are open too.

Schoolhouse World

The organization schoolhouse.house hits a lot of things that I am interested in wth education. It is a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform on which anyone, anywhere can receive live help. It is no surprise that Sal Khan of Khan Academy is working with them (CEO) since the share similar goals.

The thing that sets schoolhouse.world apart from other free services (such as MOOCs) is that you can earn shareable certifications in the topics you learn about. You also have the option to become a tutor in the topics that you have mastered.

Their current focus is on high school math and SAT prep, with plans to expand to other areas soon. All the small-group tutoring sessions happen over Zoom. During the pandemic and learning from home by choice or necessity, this is surely something many of us felt there was a need for in the K-12 world.

But there is also a higher education connection. The University of Chicago is one institution supporting schoolhouse.world in their effort to connect high-quality peer tutors with students around the world. Those tutors also have the opportunity to showcase their contributions on their college applications.

Jim Nondorf, Dean of Admissions at the University, and Sal Khan joined a group of schoolhouse.world tutors on Zoom to discuss the new program and what it means for the future.

Says Khan, "It was wonderful to hear the stories of these amazing young people admitted to one of the top universities in the world based on their ability to certify their knowledge and tutor others! I suspect more colleges like University of Chicago will value this type of evidence soon."

I hope Sal's suspicion will be confirmed.

Redefining Open Access

Open Access logo PLoS transparent.svg
Open access logo, originally designed by Public Library of Science, CC0, Link

My wife and I have co-authored an article on online education and how it has changed/developed in response to current crises and how we might look at the pandemic as a stress test for online learning. It will be in a special issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology on crises and possible solutions in higher education that will be published in January 2021, and it will be the one “open access” issue that Wiley allows AJES each year.

So, when I saw that Goldie Blumenstyk, senior writer at The Chronicle, was writing in her newsletter about "What It Means to Be ‘Open Access’ Now" I was interested and thinking about how many of my colleagues don't know anything about Open Access unless they are publishing in journals.

I have been a longtime advocate of what I call "Open Everything" which is my umbrella term for many open efforts such as open textbooks, open-source software, MOOCs, etc. A typical definition of open access (OA) refers to free, unrestricted online access to research outputs such as journal articles and books. OA content is open to all, with no access fees. 

Why should a journal offer OA? A good example is OA in science. It addresses a basic value of science: to help advance and improve society by providing immediate and unrestricted access to the latest research. That can accelerate discovery and create a more equitable system of knowledge that is open to all.

Blumenstyk writes about keeping access to education open which has been an issue getting more attention during the pandemic.

"To be an open-access institution used to be pretty straightforward, if not easy: Keep tuition low and set admissions requirements forgiving enough to let students prove themselves even if they don’t seem — or aren’t — academically ready. In recent years, consciousness of students’ basic needs, including food and housing, has also grown. The pandemic has not only accelerated that, but also added new dimensions to the definition of “open access.” Now it means a lot more outreach, time on the telephone (yes, the telephone), and a willingness to bend some established academic and financial rules. That’s some of what I heard during a Chronicle virtual forum a few weeks ago on what’s needed for higher ed to be truly open access in this moment. Here are highlights and other insights that stuck with me from that discussion, as well as my takeaways from another panel on complex universities working together while operating remotely."

What struck Blumenstyk in the forum was that "supporting students’ basic needs has become fundamental to how colleges see their responsibilities" and that "'Right now, students’ economic worries outweigh their academic concerns, said Anthony Munroe, BMCC’s president. And as he put it, 'We have a moral obligation to meet the needs of our students.'”

It is great to see conversations about open access education. That is also an umbrella term in that the use of open textbooks, journals, and software is often the way to lower student costs and allow access to learners who are not traditional, enrolled learners.

As you have probably discovered from clicking links to articles in journals and publications (including The Chronicle) not all of them are free and open, even in some partially OQ publications. But there are some. All articles in open access journals that are published by Elsevier, for example, have undergone peer review and upon acceptance are immediately and permanently free for everyone to read and download.  

Twenty years ago when I started in higher education and brought up open access to faculty, the most common question was "Why would I give away my [writing, software, courseware intellectual property] for free?" As with science, I could reply that "it's the right thing to do." But Open Access publications reduce permission requirements and eliminate price barriers for readers. In fact, many studies demonstrate that OA literature receives more citations than subscription publications and so get your name and ideas out into the world. 

Conversations about the traits of a resilient college and society before, during, and after this pandemic should include a lot of talk about open access. If this pandemic is truly a black swan event for higher education, then any successes in agility, flexibility, and resilience are critical to students, faculty, and institutions.

Useful Free Tools for Back to School From the Internet Archive

As students around the world resume their education - perhaps in a physical classroom - probably online - there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The nonprofit Internet Archive is dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge. They provide a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world—check out these tools for remote learning!

Over the past several months, the Internet Archive has collaborated with a number of educational specialists to determine how our collections can best serve teachers. You can leverage the Open Library to get new material or find lesson plans to make curriculum preparation easier.

oregon trail screenStudents can also access the Open Library books. For younger students, there are Kid-Friendly resources. For homework help, The Internet Archive has a huge array of textbooks and study guides. If you’re looking for primary sources to cite in your History assignments, our 26 million historical books and texts are a great place to start; if you’re trying to get through English class we also have thousands of works of literature from around the world.

There is even a huge collection of educational (and some less-educational) software and computer games if you need a study break.

The American Libraries collection includes material contributed from across the United States including the Library of Congress, many local public libraries, including material in the public domainand materials sponsored by Microsoft, Yahoo!, The Sloan Foundation, and others.

Everything Online Is Not Open

open access
 Open Access promo buttons - photo by biblioteekje, on Flickr

Here's my point upfront: Not everything online is open. 

This is the story of an image and a blog post that are mine and that have found their way online in other places. 

I post a lot of things online - mostly articles and images. Almost all of that is marked with a Creative Commons License. That means that with few restrictions you can use and reuse the resources. This blog is labeled in that way.

CC license

But the Open Everything movement of the past three decades has created a generation and an incorrect assumption that everything online is open.   

I found a photo of mine that I had used online in another place. It was the two Buddhas image shown here and I found it on a well-respected Buddhist journal website.

It also shows up in other places. One simple Google image search turned up 10 instances of it being used and it can also be found on other sites. I'm actually pleased to see it used and properly attributed for others to see.  

Buddha phone latte

The really important distinction is that in the case of the Tricycle journal using the photo (as you can see above), they have credited me and linked to their source which is my Flickr site. That "attribution" is part of the CC license I used. That is the way open is supposed to work. Other people have reused the image (which I did clearly mark for reuse) too but without attribution. And others after them have then reused it having no idea where the image originated and whether or not it is open for their reuse. (Another Flick example is at the top of this post.)

I have also seen other mages of mine used in places online without attribution. In some cases, they were images I did NOT license as open (such as an image on Instagram or Facebook). I'm not a professional photographer who makes a living from my images, but there are people who are and obviously this is a critical issue for them. Watermarking images, disabling right-click downloading and using smaller, lower-quality files are some ways they might try to prevent copying. But it's so easy to grab a screenshot of anything online that it's impossible to fully prevent it. Plus, you have to spend a lot of time tracking down where your images are being used and pursue misusers.

When I use free and open images from others (Google allows for that kind of search and there are many sites such as pixabay.com), I still doublecheck to see whether I need to attribute a creator or site. On that popular image sharing site, they have a Pixabay License and it also states when you download an image that it is is "Free for commercial use. No attribution required," there is an opportunity for you to give attribution. I always tag the image name with "pixabay" and I usually will still give credit. For one thing, I want others that see it and know that it's not my work and that they too can legitimately use it. The site tells you that "Crediting isn’t required, but linking back is greatly appreciated and allows image authors to gain exposure." You can also "tip" the creator with a donation. Pixabay, Wikimedia, Flickr, YouTube, and others will give you the correct code to use for attribution and perhaps even for embedding. An example is at the bottom of this post.

I have Google Alerts set for lots of words and phrases. For example, I get updates about the appearance of my name, Serendipty35, and serendipity35.net appearing n the web and I check out the sites. It's always nice to see someone linking to the blog or mentioning me in a positive fashion. It is a lot less appealing to find posts plagiarized and in a few cases, the entire posts feed being fed into some other site as its content.

As an educator for 40+ years, I have always included lessons in the proper use and citation of sources for all kinds of intellectual property. It's a lot more difficult since the Internet came into being because the copying is so much faster and easier. Educating users in and out of school and of all ages about the proper use of reusing content is a lesson that should never end.

open sign pixabay

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

An Open and Shut Educational Case

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Here are some concepts that I see used as hashtags, which is a sign that they have a following: lifelong learning, lifewide learning. open education, open learning, open universities. Around 2012, when MOOCs went large, the open of Massive Open Online Courses was a really important part of what defined those courses. Today, the open part has been lost in many instances where you see the MOOC term applied to an offering.

I created a category here in 2006 called "Open Everything" as an umbrella term for what I saw as a trend which would include MOOCs, OER (Open Educational Resources), open textbooks, open-source software and other things used in "open education" and beyond what we traditionally have thought of as "education," such as training, professional development and unsupervised learning.

It's not that this openness started in 2012. In 2006, I was posting in that category about a conference on interoperability, iTunes U, podcasts, Creative Commons and other open efforts. It wasn't until 2008 that I used the term "Open Everything" in a post as a movement I was seeing, rather than just my aggregated category of posts. 

That 2006 conference brought together schools using different course management systems (CMS such as WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) to see if there might be ways to have these open and closed CMS work together. Moodle and Sakai were open-source software and schools (including NJIT where I was working) were experimenting with them while still using the paid products. At that time, a survey of officials responsible for software selection at a range of higher education institutions responded in a survey that two-thirds of them had considered or were actively considering using open source products. About 25% of institutions were implementing higher education-specific open-source software of some kind.

On a much larger scale, there were open universities with quite formal learning, such as the Open University in Great Britain. There were efforts at less formal learning online, such as Khan Academy. There was also the beginning of less formal learning from traditionally formal places, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

The MOOC emerged from the availability of free resources, such as blogging sites, that were not open in that you probably could not get to the code that ran it or reproduce it elsewhere but were freely available. 

The Open Everything philosophy embraces equity and inclusion and the idea that every person has a right to learn throughout their lives. It champions the democratization of knowledge. 

In the 14 years since I started writing about this, we have made progress in the use of OER. Open textbooks, which I literally championed at conferences and in colleges, are much easier to get accepted by faculty than it was back then.

Unfortunately, some things that began as open - MOOCs are perhaps the best example - are now closed. They may not be fully closed. You can still enroll in courses online without cost. You may or may not be able to reuse those materials in other places or modify them for your own purposes.

In 2017, I wrote that David Wiley makes the point about "open pedagogy" that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.”

Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions." Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 

I view the once-open doors are mostly shut. I hope they won't be locked.

Creative Commons Certificate Course

In response to the growing use of Creative Commons (CC) licenses globally and the corresponding need for open licensing expertise, CC offers the CC Certificate course.

The CC Certificate trains people in copyright, open licensing and the ethos of working with our global, shared commons using CC licenses. The program is an investment in educators and advocates of open movements, offering a way to build and strengthen their open licensing and “commons” expertise.

This course is open to everyone, from university students and entry-level professionals to experts in the fields of library science and education (more fields forthcoming).

cc certs

The Certificate is a community development program, investing in people like you, who work in and advocate for open movements and the Commons. The CC Certificate powers you with the knowledge to better advise your institution on creating and engaging with openly licensed works. You will learn how to adapt and innovate on existing openly licensed materials–keeping your institution’s knowledge base relevant and up to date. You will also learn how to best support learners accessing a wider array of open knowledge resources. Finally, the Certificate equips you with skills needed to meet open licensing requirements increasingly present in government and foundation grants and contracts.

To learn more about the course, visit certificates.creativecommons.org

The Online Learning Perfect Storm

online learnerAwhile back, edX CEO Anant Agarwal wrote in Forbes "How Four Technologies Created The 'Perfect Storm' For Online Learning." The four technologies are cloud computing, video distribution at scale, gamification, and social networking. A commentary by Stephen Downes doesn't question the impact these four have had on online learning, but he does question Agarwal's claim that each is a part of edX.

For example, he notes that the claim that "social networking" is present is because it uses a discussion board. That is certainly a stretch. For gamification he cites "simulation-based games, virtual labs, and other interactive assignments," none of which is integral to edX.

Downes considers the article "lightweight" but though there may not be a perfect storm it is worth noting the impact of those four things beyond edX.

Cloud computing has allowed exponential scalability in many sectors including online learning. Online learning platforms (Does anyone say learning management systems anymore?) became more responsive and faster.

Scalability was certainly key to the emergence of MOOCs. When some colleges tried their own MOOC offerings they realized that they couldn't handle the jump from courses with 25 or 100 students to ones with thousands of students. Of curse, even if you are still offering smaller online courses, the cloud allows all students to benefit from faster, more responsive platforms.

Video has been a part of online learning for 40 years if you go back to ITV, videotapes, CDs and DVDs. Broadbandallowed video to stream and sharing and distribution really hit about the same time as MOOCs were starting to gain initial momentum. YouTube and Vimeo allowed some smaller institutions a way to distribute high-quality videos.

When I was at NJIT, I got the university to sign on in 2007 as one of the first of 16 universities to use Apple's iTunes U. That gave us a much larger presence in online learning. I wrote about it extensively on this blog. But iTunes U didn't grab the market share the way MOOCs and YouTube did. The interface was not friendly to universities or to users. You don't hear it mentioned much by educators now and I doubt that it will exist in 2020.

iTunes U was important for sharing university lectures and some supporting documents. It was more open than what we would expect from Apple because the content was opened up by the institutions (colleges and also educational institutions like museums). I consider it an early tool in the MOOC movement. 

Gamification has been a buzzword for a long time, but it still hasn't made its way into most learning platforms by for-profits or in colleges. There's no doubt that instant feedback and more active engagement in the learning process produces better success, but I find faculty still back off at the word gamification. Some of that fear or disdain is because they associate it with videogames and gaming sounds less "educational." This is a misconception, but one that has persisted. I always used to say that just say "simulation" instead of gamification and you'll get more buy-in from faculty. Sometimes that worked.

Simulations that use game strategies and components can be used in virtual labs and many interactive activities, knowledge checks (graded or not) and assignments in order to promote higher-order thinking tasks such as design, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The "fun factor" shouldn't be ignored although that is part of the hesitation from faculty. There is this sadly persistent idea that learning is supposed to be difficult and not fun.

Social networking came on strong in the era of Web 2.0. Today it comes in for a lot of criticism. I believe that many educators who were using Twitter, Facebook and other social sites in their teaching have backed away. part of that is the criticism and privacy issues on such sites and part of it is that there are some tools built into platforms that allow for a more private social experience. However, posting your thoughts in an LMS for the rest of the class really doesn't duplicate or approach the experience of posting it online for a large part of the world. Twitter boasts 330 million monthly active users (as of 2019 Q1) and 40 percent (134 million) use the service on a daily basis (Twitter, 2019).    The chance to interact and possibly collaborate across the globe is no small thing.

What will create the next perfect storm in online learning? Agarwal suggests that the next four high-impact technologies will be AI, big data analytics, AR/VR and robotics.

The Books We Teach

      

In 2015, Columbia University’s Open Syllabus Project wanted to learn what books are being taught. Using data from over one million syllabi from university websites worldwide, they came up with a list of books that have been most frequently taught over the past decade. Since the, they have added another 5 million syllabi.

Would you be surprised that the top titles on the list did not change significantly? I am not surprised. Actually, I would not be surprised to discover that our reading lists haven't changed in the past 50 or, in some cases, maybe even 100 years.

This is not a list of just American colleges. "Classics" such as The Republic and the Communist Manifesto. There are not many titles on the list that I couldn't have found on my reading list as an undergrad almost 50 years ago.  

open syllabus

You can see interactive visualizations of the data at https://galaxy.opensyllabus.org/

The “traditional Western canon" dominates the top 100. Plato’s Republic is at #2 and The Communist Manifesto is at #3, and #5 is Frankenstein. Then, there comes Aristotle’s Ethics, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Sophocles’ Oedipus, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” These titles have remained pretty stables over the years.

Who holds the top position? It is the slender writing guide Elements of Style.  

The top 50 is heavily male-dominated. However, some novelists make the list, including Jane Austen, Toni Morrison, Anne Moody, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Alice Walker.

The most-taught books tend to fall into either philosophy, literature, textbook, or guidebook. The entire list includes 165,000 texts, so there is variety. And nothing every book is "classic" since there are newer titles in areas like gender studies, media studies, digital culture, and environmental studies.

This is different from the list of the most influential academic books compiled a few years ago, although there are some shared titles. The Prince and The Republic are on this list too. It makes sense that books considered to be "influential" would make the syllabus list. But this list was made by academic booksellers, librarians, and publishers. On this list, the top spot went to Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

Here are some from that list of 20. 

  • A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
  • The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  • Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Should we interpret these results as meaning that faculty are stuck teaching the same things over and over? If so, why? Because they are "classics"? Because the faculty are a bit lazy about preparing new material? Because it is what is expected by their department or academia?  That data doesn't answer these questions. 

Wikipedia, Ants and Stigmergy

herring swarm

Swarming herring


I like to discover new words, new fields of study - new things in general. My new one for today is STIGMERGY. According to Wikipedia (an apt source or the definition, as I will explain) is stigmergy is a "mechanism of indirect coordination, through the environment, between agents or actions.” That is not a very clear definition.

The concept of stigmergy has been used to analyze self-organizing activities. Those activities cover a wide area: social insects, social media, robotics, web communities, and the wider human society.

One principle of stigmergy is that the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a next action, by the same or a different agent. This can explain the way an ant colony operates. It can also explain how Wikipedia articles are created and changed.

Social insects, like ants and bees, have long been a model of collaboration. Global knowledge sharing through asynchronous collaboration is a newer example. I believe I may have heard this word a or concept more than a decade ago when "Web 2.0" was a new and much-talked-about idea. Now, I hardly ever hear Web 2.0 mentioned - and that's not because we got past it and into Web 3.0.

The word is not all that new. It was coined in 1959 by French biologist Pierre-Paul Grassé in reference to termite behavior, from the Ancient Greek stigma, "mark”, “sign" + ergon "work”, “action."

You might hear the word used in a conversation about swarm intelligence. Swarm intelligence (SI) is the collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial and it is employed in work on artificial intelligence and applications such as cellular robotic systems. It has been studied in the natural world in ant colonies, bird flocking, hawks hunting, animal herding, bacterial growth, fish schooling and the somewhat scary world of microbial intelligence.

The World-Wide Web is the first stigmergic communication medium for humans. The earlier telephone and even email don't count as stigmergic communication since they are only readable by the people on either end. Stigmergic communication means the messages are readable by everyone. And radio and TV don't fit the definition because they are read-only mediums for most people (until the Web emerges and the read/write of Web 2.0 takes hold). 

Wikipedia with its millions of contributors is an example of stigmergy. Its editors are a good example of how these traces of articles and edits left in the wiki environment stimulate the performance of a next action, by the same person or a different person(s).

I discovered (or possibly rediscovered) stigmergy from an episode of the playswellwithothers.org podcast with guests Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation and Clint Penick, an ant researcher and assistant research professor in the Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University.

 

FURTHER READING
https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Stigmergy
"Stigmergy as a universal coordination mechanism I: Definition and components" 

Farewell to Apple iTunes

Whether you loved or hated Apple's iTunes, it was a big step iTunes as a media player, media library, Internet radio broadcaster, and eventually as a mobile device management application. Now it is being unbundled and essentially phased out, according to press release from the latest Apple Worldwide Developer Conference.

Apple Inc. announced it as a new service and tool on January 9, 2001. It was used to play, download, and organize digital multimedia files, including music and video, on personal computers running the macOS and Windows operating systems. It forced you to purchase through the iTunes Store.

My own professional interest in it focused on iTunes U which allowed universities to offer content, including courseware (mostly lectures at first) and other "podcast" materials and even print content, in a open way. I have been writing here about iTunes since 2006.

The latest move by Apple is probably much more tied to changes in the music industry and the way consumers listen to and purchase music. Apple has been pushing users to its Apple Music subscription service, like Spotify and others. That is a better deal for them since it means a guaranteed monthly fee instead of waiting and hoping that a customer will buy songs. I have not subscribed and I have not purchased music from their store in several years, and I suspect I am not alone in that trend.

Apple is phasing out iTunes in favor of three apps called Music, TV and Podcasts. This is very much how those services are already divided on iPhones and iPads.

From what I have read, iTunes will still exist as a standalone iOS app and on Windows PCs and your previous purchases and libraries will be maintained in each new app on Mac computers.

podcasting at NJITI have not found any information on the future of iTunes U. My university, NJIT, was one of the "sweet 16" schools to be there for the launch of iTunes U in May 2007. But with iTunes version 12.7 (August 2017), iTunes U collections became a part of the Podcasts app.

NJIT stopped using their iTunes U instance several years ago. They were not alone in higher education. That is a trend that does not please me as it took away one source of open courseware. But some schools have moved that content to other MOOC platforms which offer richer environments for full course offerings.

Apple says that it will not be remotely deleting years of downloaded and purchased songs and movies, but will probably find a way to bridge, manage and access downloaded content in other ways. A clear cut-off date for iTunes has not been set.

Mergers and Acquisitions in EdTech

Mergers and acquisitions are not just the business of Wall Street. They happen in education - especially in the technology side of higher education.

Last week it was announced that Cengage and McGraw-Hill plan to merge. (A move that may have monopoly implications.) They are both at the top of the country’s textbook publishers. With a merger, they would have 44,000 titles in a range of fields. 

This week, John Wiley & Sons announced they are buying the assets of Knewton. Knewton started out as an edtech company with adaptive-learning tools that could work with content from commercial publishers. But beyond that attraction, Wiley is probably interested in Knewton's more recent move towards being a platform that incorporates open educational resources (OER). In 2017, Pearson moved away from using Knewton’s adaptive-learning technology. Knewton's Alta digital-courseware is its OER platform.

Wiley’s president and chief executive, Brian Napack, told The Chronicle that the product costs students about $40 per course, and that Wiley wants to “double down” on low-cost options, "because we think the future needs to look different than the past.”

Online Learning Is Not All in English

globeAmericans are rather well known for being American-centric. President Trump's "America First" speeches make that clear. Despite what Copernicus pointed out, we tend to think we are the center of the universe. This also tends to be true when it comes to MOOCs.

MOOCs from outside the United States don't get the same amount of attention as ones from within. I started a group on LinkedIn back in 2012 when I was offering a meta-MOOC on their rising use in academia. That group over the years has been much more international and broadened the discussions to online learning in general. 

Of course, even an American MOOC taught from Stanford is international in its participants. I try to take note of international courses and efforts.

Globally about 75% of all MOOCs are offered in English. Translating MOOCs taught in English to other languages can increase participant enrollment and disperse course knowledge to non-English language learners. However, it takes a significant amount of time and resources to translate text from English into another language, and then manually replace the translated text in the targeted language.

"China's higher education is facing problems, such as traditional teaching approaches, content and the quality of teachers not meeting student demand in the new era," said Zhan Dechen, a professor at Harbin Institute of Technology. Could MOOCs could be a solution to those problems? More MOOCs in China creates its own set of challenges.

The Online Education Development Office (OEDO) in Japan has trained teaching assistants who support faculty members in all aspects of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and Small Private Online Course (SPOC) planning, production and course running as well as assistance with copyright issues. They offer a MOOC Development Toolkit which include Microsoft Excel and Python scripts to speed up the translation process in Open edX Studio. OEDO developed a Content Modification Tool that replaces English text with translated Japanese text in a localized version of Stanford University's MOOC on “Creating Effective Online and Blended Courses”, for Japanese faculty/staff development.course development in edX Studio.   

Still, that 75% of MOOCs in English have international appeal, translated or not. Google launched a MOOC to train entry-Level IT Support Staffers. It was intended for use with Americans. Before Google created its certificate program through Coursera, Google training programs designed to help low-income young adults get into the information technology industry by learning the fundamentals of tech support were being offered. Through its work with a relatively small number of learners who participated in Google internships or an IT residency program, the company discovered it could get them qualified very quickly. This is the type of course that if it was a truly MOpenOC, and translated, it could be offered for a much more global audience.

Digital Humanities and Open Pedagogy

human network

I see that the Google Science Fair is back and, though many K-12 teachers are at the end of their academic year, this summer is the time to plan for what students could do in the fall. This seems like a "science" activity, but this is where the phrase "digital humanities" should be.

Looking at the the website googlesciencefair.com, you find projects that take the science well beyond the science classroom. Closely related are the activities in Google's Applied Digital Skills curriculum. Here you can find some well-constructed lessons that can be done in as little as an hour and ones that could stretch across a week or unit.

For example, one suitable for middle and high school students is on creating a resume. It's something I did with students decades ago in a non-digital way. The skills involved here are many. Obviously, there is the writing, some research and some analysis of your own skills and ambitions. There are also the more digital forms of collaboration, document formatting and submission. I did this with undergrads a few years ago and required each of them to research and submit their resume to an internship opportunity. 

A longer activity that fits in so well with topics currently at the top of the news is about Technology, Ethics, and Security. Students research technology risks and dangers, explore solutions, and create a report to communicate their findings.

I would also note that the digital humanities must include what humanities teachers do in their work. 

Quizzes in Google Forms have been around for a few years and educators have used them for class assessments and in unintended ways as a tool. New features were recently added based on feedback from teachers' creative uses of the Quizzes. 

One example is that now, using Google’s machine learning, Forms can now predict the correct answer as a teacher types the question. It can also provide options for wrong answers. A simple example is a quiz on U.S. capitals would use this feature to "predict" the correct capitals for every state.

That doesn't mean that Google doesn't have a special interest in the computer science side of eduction. They offer special resources in those areas and professional development grants for CS educators to support those in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

I don't want to sound like an advertisement for Google - though advertising free and open resources isn't like selling something. Much of what the digital humanities can do moves teachers into an "open pedagogy." It changes the way we teach. 

This is more important than just finding resources.

David Wiley has written
"Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about open educational resources, but precious little has been written about how OER – or openness more generally – changes the practice of education. Substituting OER for expensive commercial resources definitely save money and increase access to core instructional materials. Increasing access to core instructional materials will necessarily make significant improvements in learning outcomes for students who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to the materials (e.g., couldn’t afford to purchase their textbooks). If the percentage of those students in a given population is large enough, their improvement in learning may even be detectable when comparing learning in the population before OER adoption with learning in the population after OER adoption. Saving significant amounts of money and doing no harm to learning outcomes (or even slightly improving learning outcomes) is clearly a win. However, there are much bigger victories to be won with openness."

Too much emphasis when talking about OER is on free textbooks and cost savings and not enough on the many other resources available that allow educators to customize their curriculum and even allow for individual differences. The longtime practice of curriculum designed around a commercial textbook needs to end. 

I have written here about what I called Open Everything. What I am calling now Open Pedagogy would be under that umbrella term. Others have called this pedagogy Open Educational Practices (OEP). In either case, it is the use of Open Educational Resources for teaching and learning in order to innovate the learning process.  In this, I include the open sharing of not only the resources, but also of the teaching practices.

Currently, I would say the level of openness we see is low. Others have defined the levels as: Low - teachers believe they know what learners have to learn. A focus on knowledge transfer. Medium - Predetermined Objectives (closed environment) but, using open pedagogical models and encourage dialogue and Problem-based learning. And the goal is for the highest level when Learning Objectives and pathways are highly governed by the learners.

 

Nontraditional Learning Management Systems in Higher Education

Classroom logoWhen I interviewed for an instructional designer position with Google a few years ago, I was convinced that they were looking to take their Classroom product wider and deeper. I thought that they were ready to take on Blackboard, Canvas et al and start to integrate their free LMS with student information systems, add a gradebook etc.  Mixed in with all their existing tools for video streaming (YouTube) and conferencing (Hangouts) plus Docs and the rest, I really expected them to offer a free LMS that colleges would use. It would be very tempting. Look at how many colleges switched over to Gmail as the official institutional mail system. 

"Nontraditional" learning management systems (I'm thinking of both paid and free ones) have increased in online courses. Much of that movement has come from MOOC use and also from companies who have created their own systems to promote training and course offerings.

A new article from EDUCAUSE looks at graduate student use of Google Classroom. If you were using Classroom for your course a few years ago, you were more likely to be teaching in K-12 than at the undergraduate or graduate levels.

The study looks at many of the areas that have been studied before: improving effectiveness, increasing students' interactions with each other and their instructors and building community online. The difference is the audience of grad students.

The earliest MOOCs were using nontraditional web applications like Facebook and Twitter for higher education. But their use has been more limited - perhaps for an assignment - and few educators would call any one of them or a combination to be the equivalent of an LMS.

The study also points out that products like Schoology have borrowed a lot of UI and design from sites like Facebook. 

This study is small - "When asked if they would use Google Classroom again, five of the seven participants said, "yes." I would consider using Google Classroom again as well, but only for a small course."  But it is a study worth conducting at other institutions and with larger classes, even MOOC-sized ones. 

The author, Stephanie Blackmon, feels "the stream can be a bit daunting for some students" and she is hesitant to rely on it for larger classes. I would be less hesitant, but I don't think Classroom is ready to be the nontraditional LMS for a traditional college-credit course.

But some company, perhaps Google, is going to offer that free LMS and that's when things will really get interesting.

 

 

An overview of Google Classroom features: