Sept 29 – Oct 5

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This week’s headline story: Business Supported MOOCs

empty_classroomMassively Open Online Courses or MOOCs have received a lot of attention, but questions remain as to the value that businesses place on students who receive education through MOOCs rather than through traditional colleges. That question is beginning to be resolved. Major corporations are beginning to invest in building MOOCs that meet their specific needs. Last week, MOOC provider Udacity announced the Open Education Alliance, which allows students to earn a free certificate based on a series of online courses developed with input from Google, AT&T and several other companies. Similarly, MIT and its MOOC partner edX are offering the XSeries – a series of courses based on input from a consortium of about 50 companies, including UPS, Procter & Gamble Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The XSeries will prepare students to take a test and earn a “verified certificate” in subjects like computer science and supply-chain management. Meanwhile, companies such as Yahoo Inc. have begun reimbursing employees who take certified courses from Coursera, another MOOC provider.

and elsewhere in Tech News.

  • Okay, you’re familiar with MOOCs, how about MOORs? The first Massively Open Online Research or MOOR course is being offered by a team from UC San Diego. In “Bioinformatics Algorithms – Part 1,” students will work in teams on specific research projects under the direction of prominent bioinformatics scientists from around the world.
    Is Massive Open Online Research the Next Frontier for Education? [UCSD News]
  • Scientists at Stanford University have built the first functioning computer based on carbon nanotube transistors. “This could be a revolutionary technological leap,” says Dan Olds, an analyst at The Gabriel Consulting Group. “It takes much less power to change the state of a carbon nanotube versus today’s transistors,” Olds said. “Nanotubes are much better at dissipating heat. You can pack more nanotube transistors onto a chip. We would see devices that can do a whole lot more useful work while using a whole lot less juice — and that’s a great combination.”
    Replacing silicon with nanotubes could revolutionize tech [Computerworld]
  • The creator of the world wide web and director of the web standards body W3C, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is backing measures to embed support for Digital Rights Managament in HTML5. The measures Berbers-Lee backs would add support for Encrypted Media Extensions to HTML 5 allowing media companies to publish DRM-protected music, movies, and other media to the web reducing worries that users will download and distribute the media illegally. Berners-Lee believes that supporting DRM on the Web is necessary in order to get media companies to utilize the Web for media distribution. Free software advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Free Software Foundation, have called the proposals “disastrous”. They argue it is an attempt to elevate the business interests of media companies over the greater good of an open web where information can be shared freely, and would place unacceptable restrictions on how individuals use computers.
    World wide web creator rules DRM support should be baked into web tech [ZDNet]
  • NASA is planning to send a 3d printer into space next year allowing astronauts to print tools and parts as needed.
    NASA To Launch 3-D Printer into Space [NewsFactor]

and in Tech Industry news…

  • Microblogging service Twitter has filed for an initial public offering and should debut on the stock exchange in November. The firm aims to raise as much as $1 billion under the TWRT ticker symbol.
    Post-IPO, Twitter Co-Founder Moving to Billionaire Status [NewsFactor]
  • Apple has displaced Coca-Cola as the leading global brand in Interbrand’s 14th annual Best Global Brands report, ending the soda maker’s 13-year rule. Google took 2nd place pushing Coke down to 3rd.
    Apple, Google Stomp Coke in Global Brand Ratings [Ecommerce Times]
  • There is unrest amidst Microsoft’s Board of Directors. Several of the board members are pressuring Bill Gates to step down as chairman. They are looking to reboot the company with fresh ides from a new CEO and new Chairman of the Board.
    Mutiny at Microsoft Over Gates’ Future Role [Ecommerce Times]
  • Amazon is about to join Apple, Roku and others in the set-top box business. Amazon’s box will provide instant access to Amazon Videos, as well as Netflix and Hulu Plus.
    Amazon To Debut Set-Top Box For Holidays [NewsFactor]

and finally…

  • The new iOS7 recently released by Apple for iPhones and iPads has a new user interface where icons seem to float above the background, and apps zoom in an out as the user interacts with them. While most users think the new user interface is cool, a minority are complaining that the zoom animations are making them nauseous and giving them headaches.
    Does iOS 7 Make You Feel Sick? [NewsFactor]
    Twitter IPO Filing Shows It Ain’t No Facebook [Technology Review]

Do you MOOC?

MIT’s open-source online learning platform, MITx has launched its first course. The course is an electrical engineering course titled Circuits and Electronics and has 90,000 students enrolled on campus and off. MITx is MIT’s latest experiment in MOOC – Massively Open Online Course where anyone in the world with an Internet connection can enroll in an MIT course to view lectures, work on projects, and take exams. Stanford is offering five new MOOCs with classes beginning March 19th. The courses are Design and Analysis of Algorithms, Natural Language Processing, Cryptography, Game Theory, and Probabilistic Graphical Models. Enrollment is currently at 335,000 students registered.

First course offered by MITx begins [MIT News]
Stanford offers more free online classes for the world [Stanford Report]

Start ’em Young!

Educators and innovators are calling for an earlier introduction to computer science for U.S. school children. “Producing computer scientists and engineers to fill the demand from domestic companies should be a national priority,” says Jeannette Wing, head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University. While enrollment in engineering and computer science schools is growing, it is not growing at the same pace as other countries. In many such programs U.S. citizens are a minority. The class of 2012 at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science drew 2,390 applicants – 590 from the United States, 602 from India, 678 from China, and the rest from other countries. “Most (U.S.) students are not exposed to computer science in the same way they are to biology and physics,” Wing said. She is pushing for incorporating computer science in the K-12 curriculum.

Some educators believe that increased exposure to computers has naturally created a generation of computer whizzes. Digital natives are often assumed to have heightened computing and technical skills. Microsoft senior researcher Danah Boyd says the stereotype is false. While the vast majority of digital natives know how to chat on Facebook and text their friends, many lack media literacy and information literacy skills. “Ironically, they are often less skilled when it comes to technology than those already in the workforce. They may, on the whole, be more experimental, but they’re not necessarily more skilled,” Boyd states.

MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten group is working on one possible solution. The group has released tools that allow preschoolers and kindergartners to create animated stories on the computer through the use of modular blocks. The technology prepares children for learning how to program later in grade school. Mitch Resnick, director of the group, states that the intent is to allow children to “develop a relationship with the computer where they feel they’re in control.” “We don’t want kids to see the computer as something where they just browse and click. We want them to see digital technologies as something they can use to express themselves,” Resnick said.

Researchers at Cambridge have designed a fully functional Linux computer on a single circuit-board that is selling for just $35. Just connect a keyboard and display or television and you’re ready to go! The product is called the Raspberry Pi, and is selling like hotcakes. The primary intent of the inventors is to promote computer science and programming in grade schools. In an article about the device, columnist John Noughton points out that so far “we’ve taken a technology that can provide “power steering for the mind” (as a noted metaphor puts it) and turned it into a lesson for driving Microsoft Word.” Like the others quoted here, Noughton hopes that school systems can begin early in teaching children how to control and program computers to extend human capabilities and shape our future. Not to be passive users, but to become active developers and innovators.

MIT Offers Certificates for Online Courses

Soon students who complete courses in MIT’s free OpenCourseWare program, will be able to claim credit for them on their resumes. MIT plans to offer certificates verifying the completion of some online courses. The new, interactive e-learning venture, tentatively called MITx, will provide online learning materials, interactive activities, and secure online exams that allow students to verify that they have mastered the course material. A “modest fee” will be required for the certificate. MIT is still ironing out the wrinkles. If successful the new initiative could serve as a serious disruptor to traditional model of higher education.

Is the U.S. losing its edge?

In a recent report, the U.S. Commerce Department stated that the U.S. is losing its competitive edge in the global economy. In the report, Commerce Secretary John Bryson, stated that “Our ability to innovate as a nation will determine what kind of economy – what kind of country – our children and grandchildren will inherit.” The report points out a relative lack of innovation in many industries but especially in the tech industry. Historically, the U.S. has run a trade surplus in advanced technology products. However in 2010, we ran an $81 billion trade deficit. The report blames the deficit on the poor economy, and the relatively small number of students graduating with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

U.S. report sees perils to America’s tech future [Computerworld]

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan

This past week, the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan. The 360 page document is the first step in extending broadband Internet service to millions of U.S. residents. The Plan intends to influence U.S. broadband access in four ways:

  • First, in designing policies to ensure competition among Internet service providers in order to drive innovation and lower costs,
  • Second, in ensuring efficient allocation and management of assets such as wireless spectrum, and network infrastructure,
  • Third, in reforming service mechanisms to support the deployment of broadband to high-cost areas, at a price affordable to low-income Americans,
  • Fourth and lastly, in reforming laws, policies, standards and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in public education, health care, and government operations.

The National Broadband Plan has six primary long-term goals to be accomplished over the next decade:

  1. 100 million U.S. homes to have 100 mbps download speeds
  2. The U.S. leads the world in mobile innovation
  3. Every American has affordable access to robust broadband service
  4. Every U.S. community has at lease 1 gigabit per second service to schools, hospitals and government buildings
  5. First responders are provided with nationwide, wireless, interoperable broadband over a national public safety network
  6. The U.S. leads in the clean energy economy using broadband to track and manage real-time energy consumption.

The plan is expected to cost over $15 billion. The FCC believes that it could raise a significant percentage of the cost by auctioning off portions of the wireless spectrum. While portions of the Plan are likely to be controversial, broadband providers and consumer groups are praising the plan as just what the country needs to stay ahead in the global economy.

Join the National Digital Literacy Corps

The FCC has proposed the formation of a National Digital Literacy Corps, to assist individuals and communities without Internet access in becoming connected. Like Americorps, the Digital Literacy Corps, would target communities in the U.S. with low numbers of broadband subscribers to assist them in getting online and reaping the benefits provided by the Internet. The proposal is part of the national broadband plan due out this week.

FCC to propose national digital literacy corps [Computerworld]

Spy Schools?

In Pennsylvania a high school student’s parents are suing the school district for spying on their family at home through the built-in Web cam on the school-provided laptop. The laptops which are given to all students have software installed that allows the school administration to remotely turn on the built in camera to watch the user. The family suing the school district first discovered they were being spied on when the student was called out by an assistant principle for engaging in improper behavior at home with photos from the Webcam used as evidence. The school district has acknowledged the use of remote Web cam monitoring but only to track lost, stolen, and missing laptops.

Online Students Outperform Classroom Students

2839515040_be462f8cc4A recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Education found that “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.” The research included 99 independent studies over a 12 year span focusing on quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance over the same material. The New York Times reports that the study found that “students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.”

The study’s lead author states that ““The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.” While this hardly suggests that classroom education is not valuable, it does suggest that online education is poised to ramp up over the next few years. Philip R. Regier, the dean of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program expects enrollment in the schools online courses to triple over the next three to five years.

Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom [NYTimes]