Personalized learning! Adaptive learning! Brain science! Learning science! Big data! New and improved! The marketing for “personalized” educational products can feel a little like a late-night infomercial. Rather than getting common-sense explanations of how the products work or being provided with peer-reviewed research to justify ambitious (if vague) claims, we are simply reassured that a product works because it is “based on the science of neuroplasticity.”
In other words, there are plenty of good reasons to be suspicious of the marketing claims even when you trust the company’s leadership completely. And how often do you trust your vendor’s leadership completely? In the worst of cases, I’ve gone as far as calling some marketing claims “snake oil.”
One morning in mid-October, Mr. Fletcher walked to the front of the classroom where an interactive white board displayed ClassDojo, a behavior-tracking app that lets teachers award points or subtract them based on a student’s conduct. On the board was a virtual classroom showing each student’s name, a cartoon avatar and the student’s scores so far that week.
“I’m going to have to take a point for no math homework,” Mr. Fletcher said to a blond boy in a striped shirt and then clicked on the boy’s avatar, a googly-eyed green monster, and subtracted a point.
The program emitted a disappointed pong sound, audible to the whole class — and sent a notice to the child’s parents if they had signed up for an account on the service.
“The business of ed-tech” is also the “politics of ed-tech.” The business and the politics of ed-tech together dictate almost all the other trends that I’ll cover in this year-end series. MOOCs. Big data. Learning analytics. Privacy. Competency-based education. Buzzwords.
One way to identify the dominant ed-tech trends is to look at what venture capitalists are funding. Another is to look at what government policies are demanding. The state of Maryland, for example, said this year that it would need to invest $100 million in technology upgrades in order to be ready for the new online testing mandated by the Common Core State Standards.
Rapid technological change can leave colleges grasping for the right legal policies. Here are words of caution, and of reassurance.
As new technologies emerge on campuses, how can colleges avoid legal land mines? What are the areas of greatest risk, and how should higher-education leaders deal with them?
Article discusses the controversial statement that Purdue’s Signals software improves graduation rates.
Across the board, since 2007, students enrolled in at least one class with Signals saw a higher graduation rate than did students who were not in classes with the software, according to data from Purdue. Retention rates for those enrolled in classes with the tracking software were also higher than for those in classes without the technology.
Indeed, students who had two or more Signals classes graduated within six years at a rate 21.48 percent higher than students who did not take Signals courses.
All 10 are listed below:
1) Student data belongs to the student.
2) Student data should never be sold or shared without explicit permission.
3) Student data should only be used to improve learning outcomes.
4) Student data should be easy to manage.
5) Student data should be very carefully protected.
6) Student data should be clear and comprehensible.
7) Students should be able to consolidate their data.
8) Student data should be portable.
9) Student data analysis should be completely stoppable — and recoverable.
10) Institutional IP should be protected.
If you haven’t heard of Pearson, perhaps you have heard of one of the publishers they own, like Adobe, Scott Foresman, Penguin, Longman, Wharton, Harcourt, Puffin, Prentice Hall, or Allyn & Bacon (among others). If you haven’t heard of Pearson, perhaps you have heard of one of their tests, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Millar Analogy Test, or the G.E.D. Or their data systems, like PowerSchool and SASI. 
In a little over a decade, Pearson has practically taken over education as we know it. Currently, it is the largest educational assessment company in the U.S. Twenty-five states use them as their only source of large-scale testing, and they give and mark over a billion multiple choice
tests every year. They are one of the largest suppliers of textbooks, especially as they look to acquire Random House this year. Their British imprint EdExcel is the largest examination board in the UK to be held in non-government hands.
The idea of “lossless learning” was inspired at first by a desire to think differently about some of the fundamental concepts we take for granted in education, like transmission and reception of information, in order to help teachers and technologists find new ways forward.
Like most ideas, we arrived at this metaphor from many different conversations and research threads serendipitously coming together over an extended period of time. I do remember Josh Coates and I talking about the potential of big data – truly big data from a cloud-native learning platform like Canvas. Canvas has a tremendous amount of data, more than we currently know what to do with. So how do you make that much learning data actionable in a way that is both reliable and meaningful? How do you know which data is important and which is not? Is it even the right data? I’d been reading and writing on blended learning for a while, and the lack of data in face-to-face was foremost on my mind. Josh related the challenge of lossiness in data storage, situations where the quality of information is lost — sometimes inadvertently, but sometimes to gain a benefit elsewhere, like in size or speed. This idea of educational lossiness — accidental or planned — lined up with the notion in blended education that you lose something when you move from teaching face-to-face to teaching online — and vice versa. And we were off.
The important thing about the idea of lossless learning is that it’s not just about some new tools or feature’s we’ve added to Canvas, it’s about how technology in general can help capture important information that would have been otherwise lost, and thereby lead to improvements in the quality of the learning experience. My hope is that by paying attention to education’s tendency toward lossiness, educators and technologists will find a fresh way to reflect on the information that is either captured and sacrificed in any learning experience in order to re-evaluate and iterate learning design for greater effectiveness and efficiency.
Student data reporting company.
According to a recent article on Reuters, an international news service based in Great Britain, “investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education. The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.”
Starting in May 2014, Pearson Education will take over teacher certification in New York State as a way of fulfilling the state’s promised “reforms” in its application for federal Race to the Top money. The evaluation system known as the Teacher Performance assessment or TPA was developed at Stanford University with support from Pearson, but it will be solely administered and prospective teachers will be entirely evaluated by Pearson and its agents. Pearson is adverting for current or retired licensed teachers or administrators willing to evaluate applicants for teacher certification. It is prepared to pay $75 per assessment.
The Pearson footprint appears to be everywhere and taints academic research as well as government policy. For example, the Education Development Center (EDC), based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a “global nonprofit organization that designs, delivers and evaluates innovative programs to address some of the world’s most urgent challenges in education, health, and economic opportunity.” EDC works with “public-sector and private partners” to “harness the power of people and systems to improve education, health promotion and care, workforce preparation, communications technologies, and civic engagement.” In education, it is involved in curriculum and materials development, research and evaluation, publication and distribution, online learning, professional development, and public policy development. According to its website, its funders include Cisco Systems, IBM, Intel, the Gates Foundation, and of course, Pearson Education, all companies or groups that stand to benefit from its policy recommendations.