Category Archives: Technology

Ed-Tech Is In Fashion, But Universities Will Adapt

There was a great piece published in Venture Beat on Friday that examines the sudden surge of funding pouring into education technology. It’s an industry that exploded with activity after the Khan Academy‘s educational YouTube videos (up over 200 million total plays at last count) proved the market was ripe for massive open online education. But author Miro Kazakoff (CEO of SAT prep tool Testive) warns against dismissing the old model, noting that universities can and have adapted to technological advancements in the past.

Technology won’t kill university education any more than television killed radio, but it will transform it. While your kids will still go to college, and it will still cost a fortune, their study time will look radically different than it does today. Even though our university classroom teachers may be replaced with robots, websites or direct-to-brain Ethernet jacks, on-campus higher education will still have a place that no Massive Open Online Course will supplant in our lifetime.

The full piece is worth a read: School 2.0 – Teachers Will Be Liberated From the Classroom.

This Week in Online Learning: Which Classes to Take, Learnist’s New Video App, and More

Gee, doesn’t it seem like just yesterday we were talking about Codecademy teaching Python?  Seems like old news now.  As usual, the world of online learning is moving at a breakneck pace and it’s all we can do just to keep the names of the startups straight.  But all this change is a good thing — it means we’re making a difference in people’s lives. Here’s this week’s news, ranging from the newest educational video app to an extensive report on the current state of online education.

EdSurge Nabs $400K From Washington Post, NewSchools To Be A Resource For All Things EdTech by Rip Empson at TechCrunch

We’ve long sung the praises of EdSurge here in the Smarterer office — it’s an excellent place to get reliable and extensive edtech news, reviews and analysis.  Plus, its newsletter actually reads like a human wrote it.  While it’s received support in the past from bigwigs like Bill Gates, EdSurge needed more funds to continue and expand its existing coverage.  They got it!  This article from TechCrunch gives a great overview of why EdSurge exists, what it’s doing differently and why you should care.

Grockit steps beyond test prep: Learnist brings social learning to iPhone and iPad by Devindra Hardawar at VentureBeat

From providers of online SAT prep comes an app that may be the Pinterest of online learning.  Learnist has thousands of videos created by experts and professional teachers — but also allows you to create a learning map to plan your approach to a topic, take assessments to make sure you’ve got the material down, and make your own videos to help others.  Now they have an app for iPhone and iPad.  VentureBeat says it’s easy and fun to get lost in the videos, so here’s to hoping Learnist can hold its own against video competitors like Khan Academy and Knowmia.

 Plan Your Free Education at Lifehacker U: Fall Semester 2012 by Alan Henry at Lifehacker

It’s that time of year again — if you’re a student, you’re heading back to school, and if you want to be a student now’s the time to sign up for online classes.  The problem is, there are just SO many options.  How do you narrow them all down?  Lucky for us, Lifehacker has put together an awesome guide to the best courses available this fall, from programming to poetry.  Each entry includes the professor, a description of the class and a handy link so you can sign up immediately if one of the classes really appeals to you.

The future of education in Africa is mobile by Steve Vosloo at BBC Future

How do we extend the opportunities of online education to parts of the world where computers are scarce, illiteracy is scarily high, and great teachers are hard to come by? In sub-Saharan Africa, nonprofits are trying to reach students on their cell phones, through reading programs, social networks and even mobile tutoring.  They’re banking on the premise that even when students can’t get access to a real classroom or a physical book, cell phones can provide a pocket-sized source for constant learning.  Pretty cool to see how nontraditional education is evolving around the world.

Schools Open Doors To New E-Learning Rules, Ideas at Education Week

There’s a ton going on in online learning, and these roundups don’t even begin to cover the magnitude of the changes happening every day.  But there are some fundamental questions that we have to keep returning to — What’s the best way to assess how well all these new products and methods are working?  How do we keep providers accountable? And how are we going to pay for all this? Education Week tries to answer some of those questions in a 16-page supplement that covers topics like the trendy flipped classroom and state legislation on online learning.  It’s a well-reported must-read on the biggest issues facing K-12 online education, and has relevance for all online learners.

That’s the news this week!  Did we miss anything?  Let us know in the comments or tweet @Smarterer.

The 5 Best Twitter Features You Aren’t Using Yet

Twitter is full of hidden gems.  We know because on our Twitter test, there are some questions that almost nobody gets right — meaning almost nobody knows that these certain tricks exist.  Remember this post about little-known Google search tricks?  We used the same methods to find some cool Twitter features.  We’ve also gone searching to the far corners of the Internet to see what else users have turned up.  Turns out Twitter has some surprising features that can help you do anything from finding new friends to following people without really following them.  Read on to find out how.

  • The Fast Follow Program
    Don’t have a Twitter account, but know about one or two accounts that you’d like to follow?  Or maybe you do have one, but there’s an account whose tweets you’d like to have sent directly to your phone.  Twitter’s made it easy with this program — just text “Follow @username” to 40404 and you’ll start receiving the tweets directly as text messages.  This is great for receiving emergency information or news updates from a couple of trusted sources without having to go into Twitter every time.
  • The Twitter Chat Google Doc
    Want to find some people interested in talking about the same things you are?  Check out this google doc that lists more than 600 Twitter chats taking place on every topic from college fashion to parenting to Indian politics to Business Card digitization (really).  The Google doc is organized alphabetically by hashtag and includes a contact handle for each chat, as well as the day and time the chat takes place each week.  If you’re trying to get more into the social aspect of Twitter, this is the place to go.
  • Shortcuts
    Twitter is all about saying something fast — you only get 140 characters, so you have to be concise and to the point. So why should you spend any more time than you absolutely have to clicking around on the site? For example:

    • Search “keyword?” to find only tweets that ask questions about a certain keyword.
    • To send a direct message, press “M” or simply compose a new tweet starting with “D”.
    • Type “GH” to go to your home page.
    • Type “?” to see a pop up list of keyboard shortcuts for Twitter.
  • #WelcomeToTwitter
    You can personally let new Twitter users know who you think they should follow!  Just create a list and put #WelcomeToTwitter in the description.  That way, when someone signs up for Twitter from your page, they’ll get your list!  Don’t let whatever weird algorithms Twitter has developed tell people who to follow — give them the real scoop on who’s interesting and relevant.
  • Advanced Search
    You probably automatically think to use Advanced Search when you’re, say, searching a library database or something.  But Twitter?  Not so much. Actually, this tool can be really helpful and surprisingly specific. To get to the search, type something into the search box and press enter.  When the results come up, click on the gear button in the top righthand corner and select “Advanced Search.”  You can search for tweets from specific accounts, locations, languages and even moods — the search gives you the option of positive ( :) ), negative ( :( ) or questions.  So if you really need to find someone tweeting happily in Hungarian from the Cape of Good Hope, you’re in luck.

Did we miss any other cool Twitter features?  Let us know in the comments or tweet @Smarterer!


Bridging the Skills Gap? We Think There’s Hope For That

Let’s talk about those two scary words that employers keep saying, the words that seem like two more nails in the job search coffin: Skills gap.

The world is changing fast, and the skills needed to run it are changing fast, too.  I’m a journalism student, and just last year my professors were teaching their students Adobe Flash.  This year, they had to improvise an introduction to HTML and CSS.  In a couple of years even those may be gone, or they may have transformed into something nearly unrecognizable from the very first iteration.

How much truth is there to this alleged skills gap?  According to a study released in April by the World Economics Forum, 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled because of a lack of skilled workers.  Another report from the U.S. Department of Labor put the total job openings across all areas at 3.8 million.  The gap will only worsen as baby boomers retire.  The workforce needs skilled workers in the STEM fields — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — right quick.

Luckily, there are a lot of people working to bridge the gap.  Here are a few examples:

Startups and Websites

  • Sites like Codecademy and Khan Academy are offering free online programming classes to get people into web development, one of the most in-demand professions.
  • Coursera, Udemy and Udacity offer free classes from the best college professors, giving people the opportunity to learn a skill they need without paying for it.
  • Instructables even posted a quick 6-step guide for how to program your own iPhone app.
  • Skillcrush encourages women to learn how to code.
  • The Hatchery teaches beginners to code, and companies hire them on a project-by-project basis.  The students get paid for working on the project with a supervisor.

Government and Company Programs

  • Targeting teenage girls: So far, it’s girls who have been the least interested in STEM careers. In Delaware, girls participated in an event called “DigiGirlz” in May, created by the Delaware Education Department and Department of Technology and Information, where they listened to speakers and programmed robots to compete against one another.  Girls Who Code, an initiative with big-name backers such as Twitter, Google and eBay, is a teaching and mentoring program to help girls learn the basics of website construction and entrepreneurship.
  • Partnering with local educational institutions: The Financial Times reports that many companies are partnering with local colleges or other institutions to provide their employees with the training they need, especially if it’s too costly to train employees internally.  One factory even set up a program where struggling high school students or dropouts could work six hours per day, then learn for two hours in a classroom within the factory.
  • Community Colleges: The City Colleges of Chicago offer certificates and associate degrees in manufacturing technology.  Ray Prendergast wrote in the Huffington Post that many of his students are offered jobs before they graduate by skills-desperate companies — and he has to try to convince them to stick around long enough to earn the degree that will boost their salaries.
  • Mixing it up: Amy Kaslow wrote recently that these companies need to make sure they have a good mix of young and older workers who can exchange ideas and help each other.  Employers also need to provide opportunities and encouragement for employees to learn new skills.

What’s the future?

These companies seem to be addressing the problem of coolness in STEM fields — Staring at numbers, writing in a language that humans don’t speak… it just doesn’t seem that enticing.  That is, until these websites show people that the STEM fields are all about creation. They’re about creating amazing products, beautiful art, meaningful experiences and even human relationships.

The internet went crazy when Khan Academy announced its new computer science curriculum last week, but not because it would teach people faster or in some brilliantly efficient way.  Khan’s method provides instant gratification — you can see the consequences of each thing you type.  It shows beginners the potential, beauty and usefulness of what they’re learning, as they learn it.

“It’s too early to tell how well the new tutorial will teach programming concepts, or whether it will win over critics,” Klint Finley wrote in Wired, “But it is a sign that the organization is listening to critics and moving beyond its roots.”

Yesterday, we showed you Microsoft’s infographic on STEM education.  Boys got into STEM from play, girls from their mentors.  There is incredible promise in the existing technology and programs available to teach kids the skills they need, with more opportunities being developed every day.  We have to keep pushing — there’s a reason the skills gap got so wide, and there’s no quick and easy fix.  But with the programs mentioned above, hopefully the country can move slowly but surely toward creating a better and more skilled future.

What do you think are the best solutions to the skills gap?  Let us know in the comments!