Unlike the US (see here), the EU has just passed a law, securing net neutrality, thereby avoiding a two tier internet society. It goes even further by preventing mobile carriers from blocking access to Skype because it hurts voice, calling, and text-messaging revenues.

bandwidth_meter_cr

This is not the only good news from Brussels: They also decided to abolish roaming costs for voice, data, and text by end of 2015. I have often felt that it is a massive competitive disadvantage for European consumers (incl. business customers) against the US, where you can move around the continent without roaming charges. It is also hugely inconvenient to always make sure that your data roaming is turned off, when getting close to the border!

So, my sincere thanks to the European Commission for empowering Europeans in this way. The only sad aspect is that this needs to come from regulators. It shows that the telecom industry (as I am certain other industries) is unable and unwilling to regulate themselves in the customer’s interest. What happened to the “customer is king” principle? Where is the “user needs driven” approach?

 

{lang: 'en-GB'}

Reading this article from the Telegraph, I was wondering whether this is an indication of the decline of HE. After decades of growth in foreign students coming to the UK, the numbers have now for the first time fallen from 311,800 to 307,205.

Whether this change is due to rising fees or a harsher immigration rhetoric by the government is open to debate. There are other possible reasons that are not mentioned in the article:

(1) declining population figures in some foreign countries: I only have decade stats from Eurostat. They show that from 1980 – 1990 the fertility rate e.g. in Portugal declined quite dramatically from 2.25 children per woman to only 1.56. These would roughly be the age groups of past and present incoming students.

(2) better (and cheaper) education offers in other countries: It is worth considering that universities in the threshold countries (India, China) are growing in reputation internationally, but also in their own countries. It may no longer be considered a second-class education to study “at home”.

Combine this with the tripling of fees to £9,000 and the ongoing strain on family incomes and you have a perfect recipe for declining participation in general. However, to get a more comprehensive picture, one needs to also look at the home student numbers. Here, the HESA site is helpful in showing that the total student figures fell by -6.3% (of which only-1.5% are foreign students). The economic argument is further strengthened by Scotland only showing -0.7% decline (mainly in the post-grad sector). Scotland, of course, doesn’t have the same fee structure as England (where figures dropped by -7.3%).

From this, I think it is pretty save to conclude that this isn’t a natural decline, but mostly economics that are played out here. By consequence, we can expect that HE participation will fall even further should the economic situation not be repaired. A warning sign to the Department of Education!

{lang: 'en-GB'}

This is interesting reading and shows us where Big Data is heading in Higher Education: Mapping the Postsecondary Data Domain: Problems and Possibilities. It’s clear that Learning Analytics, or in this case Business Intelligence of HEIs is gaining more and more foothold in education and even more so in politics. The aim of the policy document is to promote convergence of a large variety of data sources for the benefit of better understanding the HE system. And I do have a problem with it!

More than one, actually: Firstly, there seems to be no problem statement. The section “why do we need better postsecondary data” is just rhetorical to convince that we do, but doesn’t start with the question “why do we think we need better postsecondary data?”, or, in other words: what is wrong with our understanding of HE. Maybe it is the values that we put to it. Is this going to be answered by enrollment data?

My second criticism is that unified data searches for the one-and-only right answer. This is implicit in the quest, that if we have all the data, we can give the ultimate authoritative answer. But life isn’t like this at all, and it doesn’t require a scientist to tell you so. At the same time, though, unification robs the system of diversity and of vitality through areas of renewals. As soon as an institution has to officially report on something or other, the rules of autonomy and self-determination are changed.

Then there are obvious strange things in the suggested quest for data information:

2014-03-21_161530

The assumptions (in the left column) are quite far from a problem statement, other than that they are in themselves most problematic:

- Consumers need to know the demographic profile of the student body: why? To sell them particular items? If you think about it, this statement is quite anti-inclusive; it’s there to discriminate against parts of the student population (like: rich kids only go to colleges with their sorts).

- Institutions need to know which students they are serving: how would this increase access? Such knowledge has traditionally led to exclusion not to widening access. Indiscriminate access is what’s needed and for this I don’t need people-categories. Especially so, since the authorities do not mandate intake of quotas of e.g. Native Americans, immigrants, special needs, etc.

- Policymakers need to know which institutions provide sufficient access to a diverse array of students: why? Should general access not anyway be the norm? What does “sufficient access” mean?

The criticism is further exacerbated by the data asked in the right column like race/ethnicity and gender.

Starting with the wrong questions isn’t going to provide useful answers, if data can even be expected to give an authoritative answer not a political one. Neither in politics nor in economics, where loads and loads of data have been available and used extensively, has it provided us with answers on how to do things right: the one-and-only answer has been missing. Why should this be any different in education?

{lang: 'en-GB'}

This will excite all music fans: Google offers a great tool with its Google Music Timeline to explore music genres and discover new artists.

2014-03-21_154426

It shows a map of genres across the decades (starting from 1950) based on the data from Google Play. This map is clickable and searchable.

2014-03-21_154604

When clicked, the timeline shows sub-categories and popular suggested artists, down to individual artists.

2014-03-21_154340

It’s kind of cool to see when artists have been quite active. Albums can be played in Google Play, but this service is not free.

{lang: 'en-GB'}

Following innovative trends in education has turned from an exciting venture of discovery and creativity into annoyance.

The three part BBC Radio 4 series called “My Teacher is an App” talks about the supposed education revolution happening right now and in that wording already follows the loud-mouthed bandwaggon. In doing so, the series is closer to propaganda than to journalism. Instead of reporting on innovation, it follows the hype and tries to indoctrinate and brainwash the audience by already giving the obvious and only answer: that MOOCs will kill the university! It’s the kind of antagonistic reporting, which, unfortunately perhaps, leads not to infectious dissemination of new ideas but, providing that you’re not nodding in agreement all the time, to alienation, skepticism and an intrinsic gut reaction of “all right they are just selling MOOCs & co. again as the answer to all education problems”.

It’s a typical example of how trends and changes are manipulated and blown way out of proportion. Virality is key, jumping on the bandwaggon packed with sensational wordings (like ‘revolution’), voyeurism and shaming (like ‘look at those poor folks left behind’). There is no space for an idea growing and spreading. This is also why so many of these hypes fail. At least they fail as a trend, though sometimes they return in a much more modest and mature way.

What the marketeers of viral hypes obviously don’t realise is that:
(1) innovation and change has much to do with plausibility. People want to be convinced not persuaded
(2) technology never produces any miracles
(3) successful innovation and change does not break with tradition
(4) innovation almost never works bottom-up alone

As much as trend-marketeers try to make us believe that “revolutions” happen around us every day, a system as interwoven as the education system, tied into basic ideas of citizenship, personality, employment and self-fulfilment, isn’t replaced easily by something else. Buy-in has to happen at all levels for it to succeed.

{lang: 'en-GB'}

The Austrian Federal Ministry is experimenting with an open source thin client to roll out virtual desktop services to education institutions including schools. Following a commitment to Open Source, they decided for the Ulteo Open Source Virtual Desktop which is currently piloted.

2014-02-17_182006

For those who are unfamiliar with virtual desktops and thin clients, like Citrix, this technology allows portable desktops. Using a browser or software client (Java or HTML5) users can access a common but personalised desktop with a set of software tools for productivity. Since clients are now also available for tablets and ipads on all major smartphone systems, your work/study desktop is available from anywhere via an internet connection. The desktop and software programmes can be personalised (theme, background image, and bookmarks etc.). The most beautiful thing is that the virtual desktop links to the local hardware and drives. So it is a computer in a computer, where users can access the local printer, HDD and DVD drive, as well as sound gear and camera.

Our pilot is currently fully open source, using a Linux desktop and providing OS software tools like Libre Office and the Gimp. But Thin Clients also help in software licencing as access to tools is happening at the host computer (in the office).

{lang: 'en-GB'}

My colleagues here at the Vienna University of Education are involved in a series of interesting studies and projects that investigate the interface between the education system (schools) and sciences in real life and the home.

Divide

One rather shocking piece of evidence emerging from these is that youngsters behave in a very disparate way to the level of their knowledge! When project researchers in the appropriately called McKioto project tested 800 kids on their general school-informed understanding of biocultural diversity, climatic footprints, and healthy eating, the level of informedness was relatively well-developed and showed no significant divergence in pupils from differing socio-economic backgrounds. On the other hand, when asked about their daily habits (eating, physical exercises, etc.), kids from low income families showed little or no manifestation of that knowledge in every-day life. In a similar vein, according to many studies, the smoking behaviour in society has changed from originally being a high-class habit (gentlemen’s clubs) to a sign of poverty and poor education.

Not that these results provide us with totally new insights, but they raise many questions when one’s confronted with the evidence. Why does knowledge developed in kids stay merely theoretical and in school? Why is the impact on children’s lives so much greater at home (even where parents spend less time with kids than teachers)? Why is unhealthy behaviour so persistent in low-income families. Fact is that healthy eating, physical exercise, avoidance of unhealthy behaviour (e.g. smoking), or clima conformant activities (cycling) are often more affordable than their unhealthy variants. Still, there is a cultural divide that needs to be bridged urgently, and it is critical for the well-being of the next generation that schools play a shaping role in this change.

{lang: 'en-GB'}

This is the beauty of technology: breaking the confines of space and time. Some 500 Greek pupils took part in a virtual visit to CERN in Switzerland. This is a wonderful example of how technology can enhance learning and make Science interesting.

DSCN5198

Think about it, a real life excursion to Switzerland with 500 under-age children would be a major effort. Not only would it cost an arm and a leg, it also requires substantial numbers of accompanying teaching staff and supervisors. Even the logistics and safety concerns involved in traveling, finding accommodation and visiting CERN would be too much for most schools to handle. Guiding such a large group of kids through a relatively narrow passage way of the CMS would almost certainly leave some in the back not being able to see or hear what’s going on; or, alternatively when divided into small groups of 10, would take a very long time to complete.

Another lovely event recently was the waking up competition for the Rosetta space observer, organised by ESA. Some 1000 Greek kids took part in an activity that was posted to YouTube, more participants came from other contributions, shown at the bottom of the ESA site. The efforts are also documented on a facebook Rosetta Mission page.

It is a declared goal of the European Union to make Science careers more attractive to young people, and these events in bringing exciting events into the classroom do just that!

{lang: 'en-GB'}
One of the biggest debates in the use of linked open data concerns the protection of personal rights of real persons and legal entities. In connection with the preparations for the LinkedUp data challenge, the project investigated the legal constraints connected to LOD applications. The legal compliance will be one of the evaluation criteria for the forthcoming data challenge.

Roughly speaking, we distinguish legal issues relating to data protection, IPR and copyright, and privacy. While the former two are relatively well established in European law, the latter is a bit more fuzzy and connected to ethical understanding that shows a wide variety of interpretations.

Data protection laws typically demand that individuals must not be identifiable through distributed datasets. That is to say that not only direct personal information is protected from distribution (names, address, birthday, etc.), but also inferable information that may lead to the identification of an individual (e.g. personal attributes, context they live and work in). All submissions to the LinkedUp competition will need to be checked that they comply with this demand by effectively anonymising user data.

IPR and copyright is a legal entitlement that comes automatically into force when something is created. In the world of big data, however, it it important to note that small content items with little or no originality are not falling under copyright protection laws. This mean that the typical content of data fields will not enjoy legal barriers for being exposed as open data. On the other hand, database structures are protected by copyright laws and this may lead to concerns regarding the use of datasets in the LinkedUp context. One possibility to evade this problem is to apply an open licence such as the creative commons sets of usage licences to datasets.

As this legal debate continues to evolve LinkedUp will keep an eye on the latest developments and use them in forthcoming future activities. Awareness of application designers and programmers, however, is equally essential.

{lang: 'en-GB'}

Supriyo Chaudhuri asks a very relevant question: If MOOCs are not the future, what is? He notes that after the 2012 hype, there is widespread disillusionment about the power of this form of free open online courses to transform higher education. At the same time, he remarks, there is enormous positive energy and activity happening at a great many places. Is this a contradiction? Are these efforts doomed to fail in the light of rising negative sentiments? Or are we, as he proposes, asking the wrong questions?

I agree with his point that “instead of looking at the possibilities of enhancement of learning, the wonderful capabilities of technology to connect people and enable conversations, we are looking at MOOCs … as if they were the panacea of the cost disease in Higher Education”! A very good assessment, I find. Nevertheless, despite all the good things that happen with constantly improving networking tools, it should have become clear over the past decade and a half , that free open education does cost money. Why else would grants and investments even be needed to facilitate the development and delivery of free courses (think OCW, OpenLearn, etc.).

The big issue, as I have often complained, is that education has moved from a societal humanist mission to a simple industrial system dominated by money making and the promise of revenue. When this doesn’t materialise within a very short time, it quickly leaves burnt soil. But behind the low attention span of the news media and venture capital, something lasting can be sown and sprout. But this requires long term thinking and independence from market fluctuations and austerities.

{lang: 'en-GB'}

Next Page »