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August 22, 2014, 01:03 PM ET

How Streaming Media Could Threaten the Mission of Libraries

Digital music has made it easier to buy and share recordings. But try telling that to librarians. In March 2011, the University of Washington's library tried to get a copy of a new recording of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, playing Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique that the library could lend to students. But the recording was available only as a digital download, and Amazon and iTunes forbid renting out digital files. So the librarians contacted the Philharmonic to see if there was some way they could get a copy of the album that they could lend out like a compact disc. The orchestra referred them to a distributor, which referred them to the publisher, the Universal Music Publishing Group. At first the corporation said it couldn't license the recording to the university, according to the librarians. Later it offered to license 25 percent of the album for... Read More

August 21, 2014, 03:08 PM ET

Why Students Should Own Their Educational Data

ToddRoseDesigning a textbook or lecture with the average student in mind may sound logical. But L. Todd Rose, who teaches educational neuroscience at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, argues that doing so means that the lesson is designed for nobody. In a TEDx talk last summer, the professor explained that most learners have a “jagged profile” of traits when it comes to learning. One student might have an affinity for science but have below-average reading skills. Yet standard teaching practice assumes at least average skills across the board. “Because our science textbook assumes every kid is reading on grade level, we’re in trouble,” he said in the talk. “For her, science class is first and foremost a reading test, and it’s doubtful that we will ever see what she’s truly capable of.” Mr. Rose believes that technology can help, by giving educators detailed data on students ...

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August 20, 2014, 04:56 AM ET

That's Not #Funny: Higher Ed's Least Clever Twitter Accounts

Earlier this month, a puckish Twitter user going by the handle @ProfJeffJarvis managed to provoke two actual professors into fits of outrage. Rurick Bradbury, the technology entrepreneur who runs the account, has been sending up the jargon of contemporary “thinkfluencers” since 2012, amassing 11,000 followers. He named the account after Jeff Jarvis, a writer and professor at the City University of New York’s journalism school, although the object of Mr. Bradbury’s satire is not necessarily Mr. Jarvis but a wider culture of new-media seers. Tweeting in character, Mr. Bradbury got into a scrape with Nassim N. Taleb, a writer and professor of risk engineering at New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering—and then with Mr. Jarvis himself, who said Mr. Bradbury “crossed a line” by imperiling his reputation in the eyes of Mr. Taleb. We hunted around for other... Read More

August 5, 2014, 03:30 PM ET

Are Courses Outdated? MIT Considers Offering 'Modules' Instead

People now buy songs, not albums. They read articles, not newspapers. So why not mix and match learning “modules” rather than lock into 12-week university courses? That question is a major theme of a 213-page report released on Monday by a committee at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology exploring how the 153-year-old engineering powerhouse should innovate to adapt to new technologies and new student expectations.
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“The very notion of a ‘class’ may be outdated,” the report argues. That line appears in the context of online courses, but one of the report's authors, Sanjay Sarma, who leads MIT's experiments with massive open online courses, said in an email interview that the sentiment could apply to in-person settings as well. Students want to pick and choose. The... Read More

August 5, 2014, 04:55 AM ET

Why This Professor Is Encouraging Facebook Use in His Classroom

Facebook and academe aren't exactly friends. Over the years, the social-media company has been the source of ethically questionable research, the purveyor of uncomfortable teacher-student interactions, and, of course, the consummate classroom distraction, scourge of lecture halls the world over. At least on that last note, however, one researcher says higher education has unfairly maligned the social-media behemoth. Kevin D. Dougherty, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, has spent the last two and a half years measuring how the Facebook group he created for his introduction-to-sociology course affected student performance. He found that students who participated in the online group enjoyed the course more, felt a stronger sense of belonging, and got better grades than those who did not participate. In short, Mr. Dougherty says, the class's Facebook group helped... Read More

August 1, 2014, 04:55 AM ET

Can You Really Teach a MOOC in a Refugee Camp?

One narrative that has driven widespread interest in free online courses known as MOOCs is that they can help educate the world. But critics like to emphasize that the courses mostly draw students who already hold traditional degrees. So when Coursera, the largest provider of MOOCs, published a blog post about how a professor had used one of its online courses to teach refugees near the Kenya-Somalia border, it sounded to some like a satire of Silicon Valley’s naïve techno-optimism: Hundreds of thousands of devastated Africans stranded in a war zone? MOOCs to the rescue! Read More

July 29, 2014, 03:25 PM ET

Feds' Drone Regs Draw Profs' Fire

Some professors are worried that the federal government will stifle their ability to teach and do research with unmanned flying machines. In a letter sent to the Federal Aviation Administration last week, 30 professors argued that its recent pronouncements on drones would unreasonably restrict scholars' ability to use the small aircraft for academic purposes, the Associated Press reports. “To the best of our knowledge, no fatalities have resulted from academic research with model aircraft,” says the letter. “It is difficult to identify any other high-value activity that occurs in the outdoor airspace and has such an extraordinary safety record. Even baseballs are statistically more deadly.” Colleges have been trying to use drones—the peaceable kind you can buy online for a few hundred bucks, not the $4-million killing machines used by the U.S. military—for academic... Read More

July 23, 2014, 04:55 AM ET

What's in an Ed-Tech Name? Here's All U Need 2Gnō

The name of the company was 2gnōME. 2gnōME is pronounced "to know me,” according to the company’s website (although in my head it sounds more like a vinyl recording of some actual word playing in reverse). It is a pun on the word "gnōme," which means "thought" in Greek. There’s a “2” in the mix as well because we live in The Future now. The company's product is a "feedback platform with novel methodologies that assess 'soft' skills and qualities, based on situations and behavior," according to its website. A Pennsylvania State University professor was using 2gnōME in his courses to raise the interpersonal skills of his students, explained the marketing person who pitched me on the company in April. The experiment was going quite well, she said, and did I want to talk to the company's chief executive? 2gnōME is not alone in its efforts to sell education products by... Read More

July 21, 2014, 05:00 AM ET

With Scrim and Rolling Desks, a Journalism School Seeks a Tech Edge

A little over a century after his death, Joseph Pulitzer still looms large at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. The building that houses the school bears his name. Every year the school announces the Pulitzer Prizes from the World Room, a reference to The World, his New York newspaper. A bust of the publishing tycoon and school founder peers across the first-floor lobby and into what has been a construction zone for the past nine months. But on Monday, professors are to move into the space, the new headquarters of the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation. In its sleek design and open layout, it feels like a cross between a newsroom and a start-up. An official opening is planned for September 16. A gauze-like scrim covers the interior. By day it will allow students and professors to project images onto the walls. By night the material's... Read More

July 18, 2014, 02:20 PM ET

Should You Build a Data Center Today? 2 Universities, 2 Answers

When it comes to building campuses from scratch in the information age, few institutions have a track record like New York University's. Under its current president, John E. Sexton, NYU has opened campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. In 2012 it earned New York City's backing for a new graduate-level institute in downtown Brooklyn. While in New York recently to cover Cornell Tech and its ambitious plans to build an applied-sciences graduate school on Roosevelt Island, I asked members of New York University’s IT brain trust how they’ve approached similar challenges. Many of their responses mirrored what I heard at Cornell Tech: Don’t focus on individual technologies. Make flexibility a priority. Keep a long-term outlook, even if all the eyes will be on opening day. Those are principles, though. Some might call them platitudes. What universities actually do often reveals the hard... Read More