NYC tech takes on the classroom | Crain’s New York Business

New boost for interactive content:

Partly spurred by its concentration of intellectual talent, New York is also becoming a hotbed of innovation in educational technology. Venture capital investment in education-related startups in the metro area totaled $95 million in 2011—an 84% spike over the prior year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers/National Venture Capital Association. The number of startups receiving investment money rose to 14, up from eight in 2010.In the long run, newfangled interactive textbooks like the ones Apple and its publishing partners previewed last Thursday are likely to be a minor aspect of education’s digital revolution. But Apple’s entry is certainly helping the revolution along.

All doesn’t seem to be well, however:

In the fourth quarter, VC financing in the New York area plunged 40%, compared with the prior quarter, to $545.1 million.

But experts say the tech-education industry is just getting started. The U.S. business for e-learning products and services in the pre-K to 12-and-higher education markets will grow to $11 billion in 2015, from $7.6 billion in 2011, according to research firm Ambient Insight.

(Via NYC tech takes on the classroom | Crain’s New York Business)

Hat Tip: Samudra Sen

Better Future for a MOOC

Audrey Watters recently wrote an “introductory” post about the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)

The acronym MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. The meaning of “massive” is obvious; a MOOC can range from several hundred to several thousand participants. But it isn’t just the size of the classes or even their location — online — that make MOOCs different.

MOOCs redefine academic courses in several ways. They are open, for one, which means that anyone can participate. The content of the course — readings and so on — is freely and openly accessible. The content that participants create is also open. Students blog, for example, and share their learning with one another.

via Are MOOCs the Future of Online Learning? | MindShift.

Having participated in a MOOC, recently – Learning & Knowledge Analytics – LAK11, (which, I admit, I have yet to complete – and that is the beauty of it), I can tell you that the experience is enriching. However, as Audrey Watters rightly says, there needs to be a “strong commitment” to learn.

The one major advantage of a MOOC, to my mind is the accessibility of the course. Learning content that would have been otherwise unavailable to people around the world is now on your screens and at your disposal in a way that you could not have imagined. A very recent example is the MOOC being offered by Stanford University on “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” A free course from Stanford University, yes you read that right. But here’s something that may not completely be wonderful about a MOOC. According to the info pagefor this course:

It is their objective to offer identical homework assignments, quizzes, and exams in both versions of this course. Students taking the online version will therefore be graded according to the same grading criteria as students taking CS221 at Stanford. However, to receive Stanford credit, the course has to be taken through Stanford; and students have to be registered at Stanford University. Online student will only get a certificate in the name of the instructors, but no official Stanford certificate.

That is the logic of free. I have yet to see a MOOC that offers any kind of certification. If you have read Audrey Watters’ article, you will have seen that a MOOC is necessarily an informal learning. So you’d participate in a MOOC more for the love of learning than certification itself.

A few thoughts on the way forward for MOOCs:

  • It would be nice for MOOCs to have industry participation. For all the cries of talent shortage that the industry makes, it is ironic that would not want to participate in such a progressive and contemporary learning initiative.
  • It would be even more worthwhile, if they endorse such courses. It would help provide additional motivation to the participants to take up MOOCs as supplementary qualifications.
  • MOOCs use well-developed technology platforms for delivery; an ePortfolio would be helpful, something that the participants can carry in lieu of of a formal certificate.
  • Since MOOCs usually have thousands of participants (not all of them quite serious learners), a method of filtering folks that you would like to follow and engage with. Also, a method to identify and discover folks who are actively engaged in the course.

These notes, to an extent, invalidate the very idea of informal and open learning. However, I believe the MOOC has the potential to address some of the gaps that education needs to fulfill.

Finally, the one irony of a MOOC, I cannot but help noticing, is the accessibility of a MOOC. By virtue of it being an online course, those who could be best served by the value of a MOOC, are the ones who do not have access to the Internet.

No Next Button – Some Examples | MinuteBio

Having seen my share of eLearning courses, built a few, and reviewed quite a few, this link was interesting to read.

No Next Button – Some Examples | MinuteBio

The Back/Next navigation, which relegates interaction outside the content has been done to death, almost like PowerPoint. The learner is a passive consumer of the content – the said interaction is no interaction, but a chore to push the passive state of content from one screen to another. There is no excitement in the “interaction” and the said “interaction” is in a frame that contains the interaction.

Instructionally, this imposes a way of navigating on the learner, that leaves no scope for discovery or exploration. More often than not, moving media (animations, video clips) embedded in the content is often passed for interactive content. This is, at best, active content.

Not all samples in this link are the best in terms of instructional design, but they definitely make a case for breaking away from frame-based navigational interaction.

Hat Tip: Stephen Downes

Blog Overlap? Perhaps

I started a new blog with great amount of apprehension. Another education blog, so to speak. I already have this blog – which in spite of it’s vague description (more due to its evolution) and all-inclusiveness has tended to be blog related to education, nevertheless.

I have recently started pursuing my MA in Education from IGNOU. Along with the obvious excitement of putting in some structure all that I think I already know (and of course finding out that I don’t really know), I was equally excited about being in the experiment of evaluating the use of online tools in an educational setting — as against observing the practice of the use of these tools as a non-participating entity. I think that makes a difference

I had to start that off with a blog.

Also, though I have great respect for IGNOU, this institute has a long way to go. So, the objectives for this new blog are two-fold: one, to get my learning online and see how it really works, and two, to share my experience of a distance education course and the institution itself.

To my mind these two blogs will have a certain level of overlap, but for now, I am going with this overlap. This one has got more to do with the business of education, as such, while the new one is specific to the course and the institution.

The MA (Education) blog is at

Technology & Teachers

“The technology is simple, open source and so available for anyone who wants to make and sell it, which ensures that it is priced low. He says it will not make ‘one laptop per child’ outdated or irrelevant. A child can take it home. This complements it by introducing group learning, he says. Where does that leave the teacher? In the background.”

It’s the “In the background.” that I take exception to. The word background in this context is a bit vague and may mean many things. Especially if you are a teacher. There is enough scepticism from teachers (that it replaces them) about the use of technology in classroom.

Technology in education does not put the teacher in the background – it put’s them in better control to manage a class better.

Via Sreelatha Menon: The teaching table

The Pull of the Push

What was really the lack of creativity, was well converted to an experiment.

For a few days, I did not update my status on Facebook. Part of it was also sheer laziness. I was expecting that a few friends, who seem to be tracking all the status updates, good bad and some downright useless, would take note and prod me into updating. In fact, I did not do anything on Facebook during this period, save a couple of comments on a some other status messages. I had a feed that used to update some photos on Flickr and my posts from my personal blog.

No one asked me about the update for about 20 days.

Made me wonder (I started calling this an experiment after I had cleared my status after five days) if anyone really takes notice of what they want to read. The ubiquitous “River of Streams” from Facebook to Twitter to Friendfeed throws up interesting questions.

Push technology has been the mainstay of how we live our lives today; how we consume information and how it comes to us is changing. I read with great interest, a tweet from PersonaNonData. In the linked article, Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of US technology and culture magazine Wired discusses the Internet’s challenge to the traditional press, new business models on the Web and why he would rather read Twitter than a daily newspaper.

Here’s a small bit from the article:

SPIEGEL: So how do you stay informed?

Anderson: It comes to me in many ways: via Twitter, it shows up in my inbox, it shows up in my RSS feed, through conversations. I don’t go out looking for it.

SPIEGEL: You just don’t care.

Anderson: No, I do care. You know, I pick my sources, and I trust my sources.

I know of quite a few friends in various social networks, who accumulate many a feed in their readers, which interestingly also becomes a bit stressful as time goes by and the unread count increases.

Back to the the “Facebook Experiment”, it seems to me that once you have accumulated a large number of friends on Facebook, the updates become pretty useless. For one, Facebook has evolved into much more than a simple social network. It is an appstore of sorts. (Frankly, sometimes it makes you wish you didn’t have so many friends exploring what colour they are or what villain they were in past life). In reviewing the river of friends’ activities, how does one look for something that they really want to read about? (Tweetdeck did something useful, by allowing you to categorise Twitterers based on your own method.)

The one problem that access to Internet solves is that of breaking the limits of geography. And with this solution, it has brought a problem of its own. Unlimited access to everybody who is wired, into this world. Which means that our social network becomes broader (grows horizontally) by the day. You make friends online and connect to them (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Effectively you have access to a whole host of information that is being sent to you. How you make sense of that information, however, is left entirely to you.

The reason I quote Spiegel and Chris Anderson above, is what I feel I have learnt from this little Facebook experiment of mine. It is not just enough to pick trustworthy news sources. It is important to have a way and means of moving relevant information to the top of the stack.

I had written about RSSing Comment Conversations a while ago. And it seems now, that RSS will have to evolve much more than just riding on the one advantage of pushing and aggregating. Relevance, prioritisation, and contextualisation has to be built into RSS (readers). Else, we are spending a considerable time in deciding what we would like to consume.

Destabilising Establishments

While the news in itself isn’t something that is new or unique, it certainly is one in line for establishing a trend that labels will have to rethink their strategy.

Prince Gives The Finger To The Labels—Again: “[...] So it’s fitting that, his latest project, aims to offer fans a smorgasbord of digital content with little to no label interference. [...] Since die-hard fans will only be able to legitimately access this content through the site, it’s a nod to my colleague Rory’s suggestion that labels (but also artists) set up their own digital-distribution platforms instead of relying on third-parties like iTunes and Amazon.”


Music, somehow has always set an example for other content to follow. Will authors publish themselves? And while the Artist formerly called Prince probably has the wherewithal to set up a platform to distribute music, what of the individual author?

Of Slow Blogging and Active Participation

Recently, I took up another of Lorelle’s Blog Challenge on my personal blog. This time around, the challenge was to write about favorite blog post failures (the parameters were primarily about attention and statistics). In my analysis, of a post that I believe failed, I wrote that my post failed because:

1. A high-level of abstraction,

2. A lack of direct (or any) context for the reader,

3. An assumption of what starts a conversation,

4. A dense word-smithery, and

5. While I didn’t mention it explicitly, the length of the post.

In a personal blog, one might think that these factors are permitted, given the nature of the content and the purpose of the blog. However, I insist that if a blog exists, readers are expected and therefore there needs to be (at least some) regard for the audience.

And some rules will apply, irrespective of the genre of the blog. I am grateful to Lorelle for putting these rules in a structured way. A better analysis than mine.

I have further come to believe that very few people read long posts (see #5 above). We have a fast shrinking attention span. We read only that which relevant to us, for that specific moment, and usually forget it after that data point has served its purpose. We seem to be seeking data rather than access knowledge. Byte size is over-hyped (is that a tautology or excessive exaggeration?)

Google search, for example, has caused a certain behavioral change in some of us, where we choose not to remember things (all things can be stored for future access). Anything can be Googled, even from a mobile. Doesn’t matter where you are.

And while I was almost succumbing to this notion of progress and change in lifestyle, of living life byte-sized, I read:

“[...] I do slow-blogging or meditative blogging. At least that’s what I’d like to work towards. It takes time for the many loose strands of thought to converge into a unified post; it takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy, and a lot ( I know, I know sometimes too much) writing. And some posts never quite find their footing; they remain awkward and tangled when I don’t have enough time or courage or energy or ability to go deep.” Slow Blogging: Context, Transitions and Traditions « (the new) bgblogging:

(Via George Seimens @ elearnspace > Chris Lott @ Ruminate.)

Along comes Michele Martin’s post on Learning through Blogging, where she summarizes responses from bloggers and learners, of how participation helps the learning process, and within that, possibly, how the level of active participation affects the level of learning:

“I don’t disagree that learners can get a lot from reading and ‘lurking’ online. Certainly I learn a ton from reading and I know that many others do, too.

[...] what I take issue with is the level of learning that takes place when you are only reading and not actively engaging with the content.

Looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy, for example, we can see that passive reading might be effective for lower-order cognitive skill development, but when we start to move into higher order thinking, we really need to start actively engaging with information. How can I apply, analyze, evaluate and create without in some way interacting with this information? And even if I can, is my learning going to be as deep?” The Bamboo Project Blog: More on Learning Through Blogging: What Readers Think

Seeing the analysis of my failed post, I do realize now that it is not so much the length or the abstraction of the post that caused it to fail, it is perhaps that I wrote it fast and have not bothered to spend time (even after it was published) to check if I said exactly what I wanted to say, if I was coherent, complete and precise. And if the post was capable of transmitting the same message to my readers.

Slow blogging starts making sense now. In a way that, with enough and relevant thought, it enables slow, thoughtful and active participation, which further allows you to refine and build upon your ideas.

Power of Free

Interesting article in The Guardian today, found, not surprisingly via PersonaNonData. Michael’s article of course, talks of Author As Brand. My interest, however, was in the power of free.

“Coelho discovered the power of free when a fan posted a Russian translation of one of his novels online and book sales there climbed from 3,000 to 100,000 to 1m in three years. ‘This happened in English, in Norwegian, in Japanese and Serbian,’ he said. ‘Now when the book is released in hard copy, the sales are spectacular.’”: Coelho finds the perfect alchemy of print and digital | Media | The Guardian

The Harper-Collins ‘compromise’ strategy is interesting — putting out a Coelho novel out for free, every month.

Is free a driver for all things e?

I believe there is definite potential there. Whether as a teaser for premium online services or a related purchase in the real world. In reading the entire Guardian article, you will notice, there is continuous effort (from Coelho) to engage the reader, which I think is a perfect strategy (for sales and “adoption”). And the effort doesn’t cost money — to either the publisher or the consumer. Which makes it more interesting as a strategy!

The power of free on Social Networks.

As a subscriber on GoodReads, I have seen how Coelho engages with his reader, so the contents of this article do not come as a huge surprise. What does come as a surprise is the low level (or lack of) engagement by the publishers on most social websites; it is very easy to engage with sites like GoodReads (am sure they would be mighty pleased). Simple promotions that cost a fraction of conventional promotions can be held at such places and reach more than ten times (wild-guessing, here) the audience that they would have, More so, depending on their privacy policies and such, publishers can reach a very targeted audience.

While Facebook, MySpace and Orkut have been labelled as the playground for college students, the demographics of these sites is definitely changing. Consider this:

Facebook visitors are “maturing”: In June of 2007, nearly over 35% of Facebook traffic came the 18-24 year old segment, compared to around 22% in June 2008. With the bulk of this traffic shifting towards the 25-35 year old group, this movement could be a result of the site’s original base of college students. (Via Facebook vs. Linkedin – Network, Socialize, Be Professional?)

There is more than just photos of college antics and on Facebook. And Facebook, is just an example; like GoodReads, there are other such social networks that publishers may find worthwhile participating. In fact, anyone who wants to promote content, cannot ignore the reach and focus of using social networks.

Facebook Pages, then, is something else that comes to mind. And much more.

A Nice Coffee Shop

Social software does work for learning!

“Paul Aoki, director of the language learning center at the University of Washington, Seattle, signed up at LiveMocha primarily to see if his students might benefit. He says he thinks the site’s social networking component makes it useful. ‘It seems to be a pretty powerful opportunity for people around the world to connect with language partners,’ he said.”: Learning From a Native Speaker, Without Leaving Home – New York Times

In your Face!

Making a difference, not just in the world – in the way we look at social networks.

Since other Social Communities are profit-oriented companies, they have to maximize the return for their investors. Hence, the monetization of user data is a natural consideration. kaioo, by contrast, is a non-profit foundation and therefore has objects which are different from maximizing profits. In other words, there is no conflict of interest between the objects of kaioo and the protection of the user’s privacy and data.


Opening Up Networking

Yesterday, Google announced the details of their OpenSocial project (More Information: TechCrunch).

For a long time now, social networks have been the center of discussion in educational institutions. Facebook was too closed, and perhaps, MySpace was too open. This did open a (albeit not so popular) avenue for social networks focused on education – ELGG is an example. Ning, though limited till now, has more opportunities, now that they have signed up for OpenSocial.

From the TechCrunch Site:

OpenSocial is a set of three common APIs, defined by Google with input from partners, that allow developers to access core functions and information at social networks:

  • Profile Information (user data)
  • Friends Information (social graph)
  • Activities (things that happen, News Feed type stuff)

Hosts agree to accept the API calls and return appropriate data. Google won’t try to provide universal API coverage for special use cases, instead focusing on the most common uses. Specialized functions/data can be accessed from the hosts directly via their own APIs.

Unlike Facebook, OpenSocial does not have its own markup language (Facebook requires use of FBML for security reasons, but it also makes code unusable outside of Facebook). Instead, developers use normal javascript and html (and can embed Flash elements). The benefit of the Google approach is that developers can use much of their existing front end code and simply tailor it slightly for OpenSocial, so creating applications is even easier than on Facebook.

Will the ‘open-ness’ of the project reveal itself as the holy grail of including social networks in online education? Time will tell. However, it does seem that there is potential now — beyond using just the networking features of a social network (read: administrative learning features) for education.

I am especially keen to see what Ning, LinkedIn and Salesforce are able to make of it. I use all of these networks. LI and SF aren’t especially suited for educational purposes, and therefore Ning is the candidate who can possible exploit this the most.

Their update blog is the one that needs to be RSSed!

PS: Dave Winer doesn’t think it will work!

Blogged with Flock

RSSing Comment Conversations – II

This is becoming really interesting.

Here is a representation of what I wrote hastily in the post below.


(Funny, that I was building this graphic, while Michele wrote her post, asking for one! Sue was also looking for a graphic, a tool actually, to draw her idea out). While this may help bring a larger conversation in context, I believe it also lends itself to create a body of knowledge (BoK). Before that, a few notes about this intelligent RSS and about the graphic:

We all subscribe to blogs, so we sure know how to to do that. We can also mark individual posts to track comments on them. (I know this happens in a few RSS readers – RSSBandit, for example, and I am missing it sorely since I shifted to a Mac).

Here is how I think this “Intelligent RSS” thing might work. (Apart from what RSSbandit is able to do, all the stuff hereafter is imaginary).

  1. In our RSS reader, we set up something called an “Intelligent Topic Feed”, or ITF. We pick a topic, Michele’s topic called “How Can We Facilitate Conversations BETWEEN Commenters on Our Blogs?” for example, and add it to the ITF called, let’s say, “Facilitating Conversations“.
  2. We set the ITF ‘depth’ to Level 1 (more about this level thing, in a minute).
  3. What the ITF now does is tracks all comments on Post 1 (see image). So all comments on Michele’s post are delivered to the RSS reader. Skelliewag’s idea still holds true and let’s assume that commentators are conversing with each other on the post.
  4. Then, Michele’s post gets a pingback (trackback).
  5. The ITF automatically adds the posts from the new blogs (e.g. the post on Kenfinity and Designing for Civil Society, viz, Post 2 and Post 3 in the image).
  6. The ITF now begins to track the comments on Post 2 and Post 3.
  7. As you would expect, there will be further pingbacks on Post 2 and Post 3. This is where setting the ‘depth’ of level comes in. For example, if I would have set the depth level to 2, the ITF would automatically add all the posts that link to Post 2 and Post 3. This has the potential to become unwieldy, therefore, the option to set the depth.
  8. (While we are imagining things) I could then be asked by the ITF if I would like to add further posts (manual setting) to the topic and I could then track a larger conversation. I could choose the posts that I want to track and leave the others for the “dumb” RSS to pull.

Potentially confusing, but I hope, it isn’t too confusing.

What has fascinated me about this idea is the potential about the thoughts that this ITF can contain. It has a chance of becoming a significant body on a particular topic and can be used as a learning aid.

If the RSS Reader becomes even smarter and is able to create a document about this topic …

RSSing Comment Conversations – I

Michele Martin of the Bamboo Project has asked in interesting question about “How Can We Facilitate Conversations BETWEEN Commenters on Our Blogs?

The post has some interesting responses…er…including mine. In some form or the other, most commentators do ‘converse’ with other commentators on a post — however it is all informal and unstructured. It is usually like, “I don’t agree with what X is saying though Y has an important argument about what Z wrote above, and my take is….” X, Y, and Z all being commentators on a post, i.e.

Christy Tucker makes an interesting point about the nature of blogs in that:

Part of it boils down to the fact that blogs really are designed more for the conversations around one person’s ideas than around each other’s ideas. Conversations that are really in-depth are often more suited to become actual posts, either on the original blog or on the commenter blogs. And blogs in general are more for parallel dialog than direct dialog;…

And I am in agreement — after all a blog is an individual’s take on topics — if there is a conversation that is to occur between many people then there is always the discussion forum. Sue, on the same post, notes an observation about what happens when a “thread” is implemented in place of comments.

RSS to the rescue?

WordPress has an interesting feature (now Blogger has it too, thought most ‘Bloggers’ haven’t implemented it), where it is possible to subscribe to a feed of the comments on a post (or the entire blog). If we go by Christy’s thought — which I completely agree with — and in-depth responses to posts are presented as posts on the commentators blog, then we have a small problem of tracking the entire conversation. What we have is a multiple posts as responses — and someone who is tracking the topic, now needs to go many places to see what people are responding.

Is it possible for RSS to become slightly more intelligent such that it tracks (a) the comments on Michele’s post, (b) the response posts to Michele’s post, and (c) the comments/responses to the response posts on Michele’s post?

As I write this, I am already imagining the load on my RSS reader — yet, am sure I don’t mind a bit of manual intervention to teach my reader where to stop.

What I am visualising is a very rich body of knowledge on that one topic/subject/thought which can be a relevant educational aid.

Guess we will have to wait for RSS 2.0