All posts by Steve Kolowich

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Cornell U. Researchers Put Robots in Conversation, and the Result Is Surprisingly Human

When the machines take over, much will change. But perhaps not the exquisite frustrations of a halting philosophical debate.

Researchers at Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab have demonstrated this by putting two artificially intelligent avatars in conversation with one another. The avatars, called Cleverbots, are sophisticated versions of the classic Eliza program, developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1960s. The Cornell researchers—two doctoral students and an…

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Udacity Will No Longer Offer Free Certificates

Udacity hopes the certificates it offers to people who complete its massive open online courses are worth something. Now the company plans to charge students accordingly.

The company, one of the big three MOOC providers, said on Wednesday that it would no longer give learners the opportunity to earn free, “non-identity-verified” certificates. People will still be able to view Udacity’s online-course materials without paying, but those who want a credential will have to open their wallets.

“Disco…

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2014: The Year the Media Stopped Caring About MOOCs?

The news media’s appetite for MOOC stories has been insatiable. So when the University of Pennsylvania sent an email inviting several hundred education reporters to a seminar on massive open online courses, it anticipated a healthy turnout.

But as the catering deadline approached at the National Press Club, in Washington, organizers realized that they had barely enough registered attendees to justify a platter of finger food.

“We didn’t have a set thing in mind as to how many would attend, b…

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Google Blocks U. of Illinois at Chicago From Emailing Its Own Students

The University of Illinois at Chicago recently found itself living a modern nightmare: Google’s automated cybersecurity regime mistook the university as the culprit in a spam attack on the university’s students and began blocking university email accounts from sending messages to Gmail users.

The blocking went on for more than two weeks, and the affected Gmail users included 13,000 of the university’s own students. University officials describe those two weeks as a Kafkaesque state of limbo.

On …

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New U. of California President Plays Down Online Education

The new president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, does not think online education is the answer to the fundamental challenges facing her system.

Ms. Napolitano, who took office last fall after serving four years as U.S. secretary of homeland security, sat for an interview this week with Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. Mr. Baldassare noted that online education did not figure in her stated initiatives. Here is how Ms. Napolitano responde…

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QuickWire: Harvard U. Students Are Silenced During MOOC Filming

An English professor at Harvard University turned heads last month when she instructed students in her poetry class to refrain from asking questions during lectures so as not to disrupt recordings being made for the MOOC version of the course.

Elisa New, a professor of American literature, instituted the policy at the behest of technicians from HarvardX, the university’s online arm, according to The Harvard Crimson, which first reported the news. The video technicians reportedly told her they wa…

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This Guy Drew a Cat. You Won’t Believe What Happened 4 Centuries Later.

Franz Helm’s illustrated manual on pyrotechnic weapons was around for more than four centuries before it went viral.

When the German artillery expert wrote the manual, in the mid-1500s, he unwittingly created a piece of media ideally suited to the tastes of 21st-century Internet culture: Cats that appeared to be wearing jet packs.

Helm appears to have been describing a creative siege tactic. In order “to set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise,” he advised in the manuscript…

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Duke U. Student’s Porn Career a Boon for Latest College-Themed Gossip Site

In January a Duke University student stumbled upon a piece of gossip that would turn out to be valuable to the campus-gossip website CollegiateACB: One of his female classmates at Duke has a side career as a porn star, working under the pseudonym Belle Knox.

On January 10 the student who had discovered his classmate’s secret shared it with attendees at a fraternity rush event. Before long, the woman’s real name had been posted on CollegiateACB, a message board where students can post anonymous…

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U. of Tennessee at Martin Encourages Helicopter Parents to Hover

Some parents want to continue parenting even after their kids go to college. Helicopter parents, as they are called, try to remain as involved as possible in the lives of their collegiate offspring, despite admonitions against coddling them into a state of arrested development.

Many colleges politely tolerate doting parents. The University of Tennessee at Martin welcomes them.

The university has given parents access to a website where they can see what courses their children have signed up for a…

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edX Adds a Second Tier of Members

edX has been trying to figure out how to build more courses, more quickly, without losing its exclusive atmosphere. Now it’s settled on a plan.

In December, The Chronicle obtained materials from an internal presentation suggesting that the nonprofit provider of massive open online courses was worried that it would not be able to grow as fast as it wanted to while maintaining a “small cohesive feel.” The presentation proposed an expansion of edX’s members-only approach that would create a second …