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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Free Computer Science University

Can 42 US, a free coding school run by a French billionaire, actually work?

by Chris Schodt/Edited by Jennifer Hahn.

FREMONT, Calif.—As you read these words, hundreds of students are hunched over iMacs in a massive computer lab. Most of them have little, if any, programming experience, and they haven’t paid a cent to get here.
And yet, here they sit, just 7.6 miles directly across the Dumbarton Bridge from Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, dreaming of joining Silicon Valley’s legions of programmers. Each day, the students get new programming assignments, but there are no teachers. There is a help desk, or rather a “help” desk—which really, really doesn’t want students to ask for guidance—all in the name of “peer-to-peer learning.”

Cyrus Farivar

Welcome to 42 US, a free (as in beer) coding school, which opened just last month. Even the optional dorms are free. (Good news: laundry is also free! Bad news: you have to pay the dorm $75 a week if you want two meals a day.) Admittedly, it sounds totally crazy.
By comparison, programming boot camps have become big business across the United States. Recent research from Course Report shows that nearly 18,000 students nationwide pay an average annual tuition of more than $11,400, which results in annual revenue of nearly $200 million industry-wide.
But Xavier Niel, the billionaire founder of Free, France’s second-largest ISP, wants none of that.
The first 42—and yes, it’s named after the answer to life, the universe, and everything—opened in Paris in 2013. That location has more charm to it, what with its roof hot tub and wine cellar.
Despite being Silicon Valley-adjacent and down the road from an historic local farm, 42 US is actually in a former DeVry University campus that Niel bought in February 2016 from that for-profit trade school. Driving up to the building feels like going to a boring office park that could be in Anytown, USA. Immediately outside is a largely empty parking lot.
When Ars arrived earlier this month, it wasn’t even obvious at first if we were in the right place. We couldn’t see any “42 US” markings anywhere. The first person we encountered was a DeVry employee, who helpfully walked us over to 42’s section of the building. There, we found a Frenchman seated at a computer in a room that was entirely black. It looked like a small high school theater.
Eventually we were led to Brittany Bir, the school’s chief operating officer. She tried to answer our most fundamental question: why offer a free coding school?
“I do know that what [Niel] has been very interested in doing is to fill this gap that we have with Web developers to get projects to advance so that we can continue to evolve as a society and a community together,” she said.
“If we put up barriers to education with money or with backgrounds, that means there are innovative talents and individuals that are not able to have access to education. So the idea behind 42 is to create an opportunity where individuals from all different kinds of backgrounds, all different kinds of financial backgrounds, can come and have access to this kind of education so that then we can have new kinds of ideas. Because in order to innovate, you need to have new people who think differently.”
For now, the school clearly needs to do much more outreach, particularly to women: when we visited, 81 percent of the students were men.
“We’re only limited by the amount of women that want to apply to the program,” she said. “For us, we’re more than willing to take in more women, but more need to apply.”

Jump in, the water's fine

Cyrus Farivar
While the Fremont location is equipped to handle hundreds of students, 42 US has plans to expand it to thousands.
“Rather than going to a class with a professor and sitting and listening to lectures, this simulates what you would be doing in real life when you leave 42,” Bir said as she walked us through the space.
The school recruits online and has done well through word of mouth. We saw students from South Korea and Israel, as well as many Americans. Because 42 isn’t a bona fide licensed university, it can’t help with student visas. Students must already have legal status in the US in order to be accepted.
Bir explained how the 18- to 30-year-old students take an online logic test to see if they have the general aptitude and temperament for 42. If they do they are accepted into its “piscine,” the French word for swimming pool, meant to connote the school's “sink or swim” ethos. Students need not provide transcripts, personal essays, or anything else.
The piscine is 42’s month-long crash-course in programming, starting with learning C from scratch. Students spend 12 or more hours per day, six to seven days per week. If they do well, students are invited back to a three- to five-year program with increasing levels of specialty. The school expects many students to drop out, either because they can’t hack it or, ideally, because they get a job. Case in point: the piscine we saw started off with 250 students, but when we visited during the third week, 75 students had dropped out. (The next piscine, which began on August 8, welcomed 500 students, with plans to expand to 2,048 students.)
Bir herself went through the school’s program in Paris. When she started out, she had a degree in Spanish and no programming experience at all. Years ago, Bir left the US to pursue graduate work in Europe, where it would less expensive. She got a master’s degree and taught English at a computer science school before getting connected with 42. While in France, she met her husband, and she was eventually asked to help run 42 US. For now, she and her husband live in the dorms amongst the students.
“It’s kind of a blast from the past,” she said. “It’s reminding me of my days from college.”

A gentle push

Beginner students get lessons in re-coding some of the basic functions in the C library. But how do students know if they’re on the right track?
“In the end they correct each other,” Bir explained. “We have a program which will randomly select five members of our community, who will then be assigned to go correct.”
Students are required to do all work onsite. The school evaluates based on their attendance as well as their ability to grasp the relevant concepts and move forward at 42’s demanding pace.

Lou Guenier is the pedagogical director at 42 US.
Enlarge / Lou Guenier is the pedagogical director at 42 US.
Cyrus Farivar
Bir oversees not only the students, but a group of mostly French men who work as the help desk, serving as a gentle guide more than anything else.
“We make sure they have enough projects to work on,” Lou Guenier, the pedagogical director, told Ars. “During the piscine, if they can finish every exercise of every day, that’s not a good thing.”
He said he’s been impressed by this round of students.
“They have more to lose than in France,” he added. “Because in France, we have free education, free universities. They don’t. Many students gave up two or three jobs just to do the piscine. So they are way more motivated, and I think in America they have the culture where you have to fight for something.”

From one boot camp to the next

One of Guenier’s students and Bir’s dorm-mates is David Lee, a dedicated 24-year-old from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He came to 42 straight from serving five years in the US Army, most recently as a medic in Qatar. He said that he hasn’t seen anything crazy happening late at night in the dorms.
“Usually most people are coming back, either dead tired or trying to do their laundry,” he said. “It’s very quiet.”
Lee said that he has been learning a lot and would love to join a tech company. But that seems years away for now.
“Before this I had no programming experience, none whatsoever,” he said. “Initially it was really hard. Being able to explain what a type is, finding out how to read a function. Here they basically give you everything you need and [say] watch these videos and go figure it out.”

Hope Czuba, when not programming, is a fire performer.
Enlarge / Hope Czuba, when not programming, is a fire performer.
Cyrus Farivar
In some ways, Hope Czuba is Lee’s total opposite. This confident 21-year-old recently arrived from Chicago, where she had been a semi-nomadic fire performer. She came to Fremont recently after considering other boot camps, but was put off by their high cost. At 42, she thrives under the pressure of learning so much new information quickly.
“The expectations are too high,” she said. “It’s supposed to simulate a real-life work environment where your employer is asking too much of you, and you have to learn to be balanced in yourself.”
“I see tech as this really beautiful thing that is at the forefront of every revolutionary industry,” she said. “I’m not really sure how I’m going to help the world, but I would like to be able to help a lot of people all at once.”
Listing image by Cyrus Farivar

How to Use Edtech to Get Your Learners Active and Moving

Shutterstock / Hurst Photo
Winter weather sometimes means nasty rain and snowstorms, indoor recess, and less physical activity for our students. But instead of dusting off the DVDs buried in your desk drawer, consider using these edtech-powered ideas to get your learners’ bodies moving and brains working.

Open Class With “Activators”

Teachers do not have to wait until the bell rings or until they have formally addressed the class to get their students’ learning started. They can have an enticing challenge waiting for students as they enter the room. I like to call these challenges “activators” because they activate curiosity, thinking, and problem-solving in students’ brains. Certain edtech tools allow the teacher to use a dashboard to track student progress in real time, including:
  • Socrative from MasteryConnect: This has been a go-to for teachers for years because of its simple interface that allows teachers to create assessments in advance or on-the-fly. Socrative’s free version does not require students to create accounts.
  • Formative: This tool and its varied question types fit more content areas (even advanced math and science) than most other platforms. It also boasts Google Classroom integration.
  • Pear Deck: This platform has a new dashboard in beta that users can activate in the add-ons section, meaning it is easier for students to engage in self-paced activities.
These three platforms offer great options for providing students with engaging and challenging activities to look forward to immediately upon entering your classroom. Just project the necessary codes onto a screen at the front of the room, and watch students dive in.

A Little Healthy Competition and Movement

Review games often inject energy into a classroom before a test, and right when students need a jolt of energy to get that over that summative assessment hump at the end of a unit. Activities that push students to work in teams and use their combined knowledge and skills to achieve the best results will add noise and movement to your classroom, as well. Here are a few tools to consider using in the process.
  • Kahoot! is a go-to because the music alone gets students moving. From upper elementary to 12th grade, students are unable to resist standing up, moving around the room, and even cheering at the results.
  • A common tool seen in the world language and social studies classrooms at my school is Quizlet Live. Students are up and moving, talking, and cooperating to compete with their classmates to answer the quiz-like questions.
It is worth noting that both of these tools offer modes for self-paced studying and learning. Engaging students in modes that include bright colors, music, and even competition is only appropriate when they are already relatively confident with the material. Try those other modes when students are first learning content and need to practice at a pace that’s right for them.

Explore the Hallways

After notifying administrators–just to ensure there isn’t some other school event that would interfere–use edtech tools and students’ mobile devices to move the lesson beyond your classroom walls and spill into the hallways. Depending on your students’ skill level and the time you can dedicate to the adventure, here are three approaches.
  • Teachers can create scavenger hunts with Klikaklu. Even before Pokemon Go, teachers were creating indoor and outdoor scavenger hunts for their students with this tool. Just scan in images of objects and places you want your students to visit; they will find that object based on learning clues you set up to be revealed in the app as they go.
  • Students can work together as a class to create their own scavenger hunt with QR codes. I recommend i-nigma as a free QR code scanner due to it’s speed and ease of use. Students can do their own research, and then make it accessible to their classmates via a jaunt through the hallways using the steps detailed here. (Not a fan of i-nigma? Just Google “QR code creator” to find a wide array of free generator tools.)
  • Augmented reality is another option. Students or teachers can trigger videos, articles, or other content to appear when scanning preselected images. Try this kind of scavenger hunt at your school’s next art showAurasma is a great go-to tool for creating your own augmented reality experiences. You can find even more ideas in Monica Burns’s recent book Deeper Learning with QR Codes and Augmented Reality.

Brain Breaks

Brain breaks help learners to re-energize when they are in an energy slump or refocus when they have become distracted. Whether it is with silly songs and dancing or classroom yoga, edtech products can help.
  • Students can refocus their brains and bodies with breathing and stretching thanks to amaZEN U. There are sample videos to try out with you class right on the homepage, as well as a monthlong free trial available to all teachers.
  • A favorite in my own home with my second grader and preschooler is GoNoodle. When young learners have the post-lunch slump or deserve a reward for nailing that tough Common Core math activity, a song and dance–mixed with a little dose of empowerment–is just what they need.
Teaching mindfulness and self-control is such an important part of encouraging young learners to self-advocate and push themselves through frustrating moments. These services can provide the content and motivation to help your students when they need a mental and/or physical boost.
Do not let winter’s cold temperatures and wet storms keep your students from learning with activity and movement. Rather, facilitate a more physical and focused learning experience—particularly when the winter blues have settled in.

Kerry Gallagher (@KerryHawk02) is a Digital Learning Specialist at a 1:1 iPad school serving 1500 students grades 6-12. She is also the Director of K-12 Education for ConnectSafely.org, and an EdSurge columnist.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

World's Largest Education Company Crashes After Dire Warning, Warns Of "Unprecedented" Business Decline

World's Largest Education Company Crashes After Dire Warning, Warns Of "Unprecedented" Business Decline

Tyler Durden's picture
by Tyler Durden
Jan 18, 2017 5:57 AM
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British education group, and the world's largest education company, Pearson PLC lost a quarter of its market cap in an instant this morning after it issued a dire warning about the state of the textbook business, cut profit forecast, and warned of an "unprecedented" decline in its North American business. It also put its stake in the iconic Penguin Random House book business for sale in a bid to raise cash, not long after selling the Financial Times to the Nikkei.

In an unscheduled update ahead of its full-year results in March, the former owner of the Financial Times said it was revising down its prior operating profit goal for 2017 and rebasing its dividend this year after a sharp slump in an arm of its American business. Pearson said its North American courseware market was “much weaker than expected”, with net revenues falling 30 per cent in the fourth quarter, taking the overall yearly decline to 18 per cent. Operating profit in 2017 will be 570 million pounds to 630 million pounds, the London-based company said in a statement, below the average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg of 702.9 million pounds. The world’s largest education company withdrew its profit goal for 2018 after sales of materials for U.S. higher education dropped 30 percent in the fourth quarter.

“Whereas we had previously anticipated a broadly stable North American higher education courseware market in 2017, we now assume that many of these downward pressures will continue”, the company said. Furthermore, while Pearson said it expected 2016 operating profit in line with guidance, it scrapped its 2018 profit goal.

Chief executive John Fallon said Pearson was taking “more radical action to accelerate our shift to digital models, and to keep reshaping our business”.

“The education sector is going through an unprecedented period of change and volatility. We have already taken significant steps on restructuring, reducing our cost base by £375m last year”, said Mr Fallon.

The stunned market reacted quickly, and the company lost about a quarter of its market cap in minutes at the start of Wednesday trading. The shares were then halted on volatility after continuing their decline as analysts peppered executives with questions about their business and the industry on a conference call that extended past an hour. The company’s enrollment projections were too aggressive, Chief Financial Officer Coram Williams said on a conference call. Pearson sank to 585.5 pence in early trading in London, cutting the company’s market value to 4.81 billion pounds ($5.9 billion)

Pearson's sudden capitulation contrasts with months of optimistic statements CEO John Fallon about the challenges Pearson faces in the U.S., where college enrollments and its testing business are down, and textbook sales unexpectedly declined, Bloomberg reports.

“It’s a difficult time for Pearson,” Fallon said on the call. The company is seeking to build a more sustainable and growing digital business, he said. “We’ll manage our balance sheet so we can sustain the company through this challenging transition.”

Despite record amount of student loans in the US, fewer older students are enrolling, community college admissions also are dropping, and more students are renting textbooks.

The company will also issue an exit notice over its 47% stake in publisher Random House to JV Bertelsmann, Europe’s largest media group by sales, “with a view to selling our stake or recapitalising the business and extracting a dividend”. The Penguin stake may raise as much as 1.2 billion pounds, according to Ian Whittaker, an analyst at Liberum Capital. Pearson will use it to strengthen its balance sheet and return excess capital to shareholders, the company said.

The dividend, which amounted to 52 pence a share for 2016, will be cut beginning this year to reflect the lower earnings guidance. The current dividend equals 6.4 percent of Pearson’s share price, the highest yield among companies in the U.K.’s benchmark FTSE-100 Index.

As Bloomberg adds, analysts have been questioning the health of Pearson’s education business since last year. Neil Campling, an analyst at Northern Trust Securities, called the announcement “the warning we’ve been expecting,” in a note on Wednesday. “The higher education business declined further and faster than the company expected in 2016 although in light of the plethora of negative data points we have highlighted throughout the year we are not surprised,” Campling wrote. “The North American higher-education courseware market essentially collapsed in the critical fourth-quarter back-to-school season.”

Pearson combined Penguin with Bertelsmann’s Random House in 2013, leaving the British company owning just under half of the venture, which publishes books from writers including John Grisham, Ken Follett and George R. R. Martin. In 2015, it generated revenue of 3.7 billion euros ($3.95 billion) and operating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of 557 million euros.

Random House, the world’s largest book publisher. The German company is open to increasing its stake in the venture “provided the terms are fair,” CEO Thomas Rabe said in a statement. “Strategically this would not only strengthen one of our most important content businesses, it would also once further strengthen our presence in the United States, our second largest market,” Rabe said.
Pearson gets almost all its profit from education after already selling the Financial Times and its half of the Economist Group. The company announced a reorganization last year as it seeks to address sluggish demand in its main business.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

If $3B of school turn around funding does not help, what does?

I suspect the answer is that great school leaders make great schools.  Everything else is window dressing.

School Improvement Grants: Implementation and Effectiveness

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 injected $3 billion into the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program, which awarded grants to states that agreed to implement one of four school intervention models in their lowest-performing schools. Each of the models prescribed specific practices designed to improve student outcomes. Despite the sizable investment, comprehensive evidence on the implementation and impact of SIG has been limited. Using 2013 survey and administrative data from nearly 500 schools in 22 states, this report focuses on whether schools receiving a grant used the practices promoted by SIG and how that compares to other schools. The report also focuses on whether SIG had an impact on student outcomes. Findings show that SIG schools reported using more practices than other schools, but there was no evidence that SIG caused those schools to use more practices. There was also no evidence that SIG had significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

OER Content vs Curriculum

Memo to OER Purveyors: Teachers Don’t Want Content, Teachers Want Curriculum!

It’s not an uncommon mistake — especially for those who have no classroom experience — to confuse content with curriculum. After all, the “stuff” that is supposed to be learned in a K–12 classroom is content and curriculum is, well, a kind of content, right? For example, we have heard — on numerous occasions, in fact — educational technologists say statements of the sort:
  • "We have to make sure the teachers have the content they need."
And, here is a definition from an educational website that appears to be conflating the two notions:
  • "The term curriculum refers to … academic content …"
But: curriculum is not a type of content. Curriculum does include content, but curriculum includes all sorts of other elements too, e.g., learning goals, instructional strategies, methods of assessment. And, curricular elements are sequenced and organized in a structured, coherent fashion. Curriculum is constructed; curriculum is created through an active design process. And, teachers use a curriculum — not content — to direct them in helping their students learn the content. As well, students use a lesson — an example of a curriculum — to guide them in their learning activity.
While textbooks were dominant, there was no big need to worry about the distinction between content and curriculum: Textbooks — and their accompanying teacher’s guides — provided teachers with curriculum. Of course, of course, of course: Teachers changed the curriculum that was provided to them — to take their own locale into consideration, to differentiate the materials to better address differences in their students’ learning abilities, etc.  
But, with the demise of textbooks, K–12 teachers are being asked — encouraged, might be more accurate — to create curriculum — to actively engage in a design process to produce instructional materials for their classrooms. So, teachers need to construct coherent, rationalized sequences of learning activities that use content-oriented resources, e.g., watch a video, read a PDF, write a report, collect specific things.
So, if textbooks are out, where do teachers find content-oriented resources which they use in the construction of curriculum? Drum roll, enter, stage right:
  • "Open educational resources (OER) are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes."
And, most conveniently, there are a number of websites  OER marketplaces — that provide teachers with those content-oriented, "free and openly licensed educational materials." For example, gooru.org, one of the OER marketplaces, points out that it contains “2 million” OER resources.
Here’s where it becomes "interesting." (Translation: Here’s where the challenges arise for K–12 teachers.)  
While some OER sites are providing actual digital curricula (e.g., gooru.org has posted 35-plus full courses as OER), the focus of the OER marketplaces tend to be on the pieces of OER content, e.g., the 2 million PDFs, videos and assessments. But, curriculum is a product of an active design process. Yes, each of the OER marketplaces does have tools to support teachers in creating curriculum using their content-oriented resources. But, quite frankly, the UI — the user interface — of the OER marketplace tools leaves much to be desired in the UX — user experience.   
Indeed, as we have argued before, in moving to a 1-to-1, digital classroom, support for the entire life cycle of a digital lesson needs to be provided:
  • Create a lesson/Modify a lesson: A teacher must be able to quickly and easily create a digital lesson from scratch using OER resources — or take an existing digital lesson and modify it, e.g., add/delete an OER resource. For example, see Collabrify LessonBuilder, a tool that enables teachers to construct digital lessons from OER elements, e.g., check out a sixth grade lesson on thermal energy expressed as a Roadmap — a node-arc, visual depiction of a lesson.
  • Distribute a lesson: A teacher must be able to send a lesson to her/his students quickly and easily. Importantly, a teacher needs to be to put students in groups so that the students can work collaboratively on the lesson. (Of course, it must be quick and easy to add/delete a student from a collaborative group, since on the day of lesson enactment, invariably students will not be in class.) For example, see Collabrify Dashboard, a tool that enables teachers to distribute lessons to groups of collaborating students or to students working solo.)
  • Monitor the enactment of a lesson: A teacher must be able to quickly and easily "watch" what her/his students are doing as they are enacting the activities in a lesson — and make both written and verbal comments to the students on their work. For example, using Collabrify Dashboard teachers can monitor students as they enact the learning activities in a Roadmap-specified lesson, while the students themselves are using Collabrify LessonLauncher, a tool that enables students to engage in the learning activities specified in a Roadmap-represented lesson.
  • Post-enactment, assess and provide feedback: In a lesson, students may well create three to five different artifacts using artifact-appropriate applications, e.g., use a concept-mapping tool to create a concept map, use a word processing tool to write a report. Teachers must be able to quickly and easily access all the artifacts created by the students (solo and/or collaboratively). For example, teachers can again use Collabrify Dashboard, this time to view all the artifacts created by students during lesson enactment.
  • Provide learning analytics: Teachers must be able to quickly and easily see key analytics that characterize student performance. For example, if the students are working in groups, a teacher needs to see at a glance if one of the group members is not contributing.
Over the years, in textbook-based classrooms, teachers have developed effective procedures for managing paper-based assignments. In contrast, it is early days for OER marketplaces and LMSs (Learning Management Systems) in supporting all the phases of the life cycle for digital curriculum. For example, while a specific digital lesson can use an OER element such as a video or a PDF on the OER website, when the lesson calls for a student to write a report, say, the writing application is, typically, accessed outside of the OER website making the monitoring of students’ actions and making access to the resulting students’ artifacts challenging, to say the least. And, while the tools in our free, device-agnostic, Collabrify Roadmap Platform (e.g., LessonBuilder, LessonLauncher, Dashboard) address many of issues in the life cycle — we readily acknowledge that more work needs to be done!
There is no question that OER marketplaces are wonderful sources of content for K–12 teachers. But, the following lament from a third grade teacher reminds us that teachers don’t want content per se — they want content as it is integrated into curriculum:
  • "In the absence of textbooks, individual teachers are forced to spend hours searching the internet for resources. The process is not only time­consuming, but much of the material online has little to no editorial oversight. With no textbooks, every teacher becomes an improvisational curriculum designer, which they try to do on-the­fly while also teaching their classes every day. When this amount of effort is multiplied by all the teachers doing the same thing around the country, it is clear that we are reinventing the wheel, nightly, to the detriment of both the students and the teachers."
About the Authors
Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io. 
Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc. 

Google Unveils Graduation for G Suite
  • 12/09/16

Google for Education earlier this week unveiled a new product to build out its G Suite for Education offering, as well as additional features for parents and guardians.

Next year, high school students transitioning to the next chapter of their lives will be able to keep all of their digital work without the hassle. “Students will be able to copy emails and Drive files from their G Suite for Education accounts into another Google account before they leave the domain,” according to the Google blog post announcement. “This will enable students to easily retain their emails, essays, resumes, science projects and any other files stored on Google Drive if their school removes access to their old account.”

Although the feature launches early in 2017, administrators can now adjust their Admin Console settings according to the needs of their schools (i.e. allowing access for one grade level at a time). Schools with Takeout enabled will have access to this feature by default.

For parents and guardians, Google is providing easier access to email summaries of student work in Google Classroom, allowing them to receive updates without a Google account.

The updates were revealed at Google’s free, online conference, Education Air, held on Dec. 3. A video recording of the Education of Air Product Keynote explaining the new G Suite for Education features is available here. Further information is available on the Google blog.