Ed-Tech News of the Week: RIP Steve Jobs and Derrick Bell

Visionaries and Inspirations

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died on Wednesday at age 56. The memorials and tributes continue to pour in, and it feels impossible to overstate the impact that he had on shaping our usage of technology -- both in and out of the classroom.

Education lost another leader this week too: Derrick Bell. Bell was a legal scholar whose 1973Race, Racism and American Law was an important textbook in law schools everywhere. He was a founder of critical race theory and an incredible storyteller.

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, a day to recognize a woman in STEM who has inspired you. Here is my MindShift story on the event and the post I wrote to celebrate someone who's inspired me.

Awards

The Ig Nobel Prizes for improbable research were handed out, as were the Nobel Prizes. Congratulations to all the winners, but a special shout-out to the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in literature: John Perry of Stanford University for his "Theory of Structured Procrastination," which says: To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.

Politics and Policies

In an unprecedented move, Wikipedia temporarily pulled its Italian-language version this week. The decision by the Italian Wikipedia volunteers was supported by the Wikimedia Foundation and was done in protest to proposed legislation in Italy that would extend wiretapping laws to websites and demand they pull content deemed "detrimental" to anyone's image.

A win for UCLA this week when U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall decided to dismiss a lawsuit against the university, charging it had violated copyright law by streaming Shakespeare plays to faculty and students. As PaidContent.org suggests, this isn't necessarily a "win" for fair use. The judge dismissed the case because he claimed the university benefited from "sovereign immunity." But PaidContent does suggest this same doctrine may help those universities who've recently been sued by the Authors Guild for their work in making digitized "orphan works" available.

The European Commission is criticizing social media sites for not doing enough to protect children's privacy, reports The Next Web. According to a study conducted by the European Commission for the Digital Agenda, only 2 out of the 9 social media sites had default settings to keep minors' personal data from being shared publicly (those were Habbo Hotel and Xbox Live).

Celebrity sighting: President Obama has appointed Shakira to the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence. The Colombian singer has long worked for educational causes and organizations and has founded several schools.

The State of California signed into law the Reader Privacy Act which updates reader privacy law to include e-books and online bookstores. ReadWriteWeb has a good look at the new legislation, arguing that it is "still not enough."

Library e-book provider OverDrive updated its privacy policies this week, a response in part to the new availability of Kindle books via library loans. INFODocket continues to ask smart questions about how privacy really works between a library, a patron, and an online retail bookstore.

Launches (and Failures to Launch)

In news I missed last week, it appears as though Harry Potter fans are going to have to wait longer for their digital copies of the J. K. Rowling books, as well as for access to the new Pottermore site. Due to problems handling traffic (um, duh?), the site has been unable to manage just its beta-testers. So now it appears as though its official launch is being pushed back from this fall to some time in "the first half of 2012."

Several low-cost tablets hit the market this week. Researchers from the Institute for Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics (ISAID), a joint program of Rice University in Houston and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have created a solar-powered I-slate they expect to cost less than $50. And the Indian government announced its plans to subsidize the costs for villagers to access cheap tablet computers. With government aid, these Android tablets will cost roughly $35 per unit.

One of the great treatises in informal learning, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is finally available as an e-book. What took so long? The New York Times has a fascinating story in the technological constraints in digitizing a cookbook.

The website for the Digital Public Library of America went live this week. The DPLA initiative has involvement from a number of libraries, archives, universities, and institutions. It's holding a plenary meeting later this month that's open to the public.

Bots High, a documentary about high school robotics, had its release this week. The film chronicles 3 robotics teams, two of which are all-female. Look for screenings in your area. The DVD is also available for sale online.

Updates and Upgrades

Boasts of user counts and downloads make fairly boring blog fodder. But Google Earth achieved a notable marker this week, now boasting over one billion downloads of Google Earth. That's billion with a B. It's a big number and a big deal for education as its celebratory blog post notes, pointing to the work of the beloved Google Lit Trips and projects like www.OneWorldManyStories.com that take advantage of the Google Earth platform.

Online gradebook LearnBoost launched its Spanish version this week. The startup has been crowdsourcing the translation of its app into other languages. Look for LearnBoost in other languages soon.

The Open University announced that it had become the number one site for downloads in iTunesU, Apple's educational content delivery platform. Open University now boasts 40 million downloads from iTunes. That's also the figure that Stanford University touts, for those keeping score at home.

ZDNet's Christopher Dawson reports that ePals has launched ePals China. Dawson describes this as "just the beginning of a growing number of international partnerships and expansions that ePals envisions in the years to come. What this means for current and future users of ePals here in the States, though, is one heck of a powerful network that teachers can leverage to expose students to an increasingly broad world view."

Digital textbook maker Kno announced that it would provide the platform for the second edition of Collaborative Statistics. It's a noteworthy announcement as the textbook is the work of the 20 Million Minds Foundation and is an open source textbook. It's available for free as a PDF or for $20 as an "enhanced version."

Textbook rental company Chegg enters the "daily deals" space. Another place to get student discounts on pizzas. School-related products are in the works, the company says. Go team.

Research and Data

The Department of Education released statistics this week on the state of online education among U.S. undergratuates between 2000 and 2008 (PDF). The data finds, not surprisingly perhaps, an incredible increase in the percentage of students taking online classes -- from 8% to 20% over that time period. According to the Department of Education data, computer science and business students, along with adults with jobs, enroll in online classes at a higher-than-average rate.

Social learning site Grockit revealed some insight into how the sausage was made this week with a blog post that was also featured on Amazon's Mechanical Turk blog. How do you handle the millions upon millions of questions asked on a site like Grockit, all written in different languages, with different abbreviations, with different formatting? (Hint: it involves mTurk.)

Funding and Acquisitions

The Gates Foundation-fundedNext Generation Learning Challenges announced its latest round of grant opportunities, with up to $12 million available. This third wave of grants will still focus on college readiness and college completion -- just as the previous wave have. But this round is asking for "whole-program or whole-institution breakthrough delivery models, as opposed to particular technology-enabled 'building blocks."

It's official. Providence Equity has completed its acquisition of the learning management system giant Blackboard. Once the ink was dried on the contract, Providence turned around the next day and combined its ed-tech investments, merging Blackboard with Edline. Woo hoo K-12 market! Here they come! (And in other Blackboard news, Phil Hill has a great post about the company's security response on e-Literate.)

Calls for Papers (or Rather, Blog Posts)

What would you consider the "essential reads" of educational blogging? Someone asked Shelly Blake-Plock of TeachPaperless.com that question and he deferred -- to all of us. Submit your choices -- what they are and why they matter -- here.


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