Thursday, January 31, 2013

They were bullish on MOOCs at the Davos World Economic Forum

One of the stars of the Davos World Economic Forum was 12 year old Khadija Niazi from Lahore, Pakistan, who completed the Stanford artificial intelligence MOOC when she was 11 and has taken Udacity and Coursera courses subsequently.

Ms. Niazi participated in a Davos roundtable discussion entitled " - Online Education Changing the World." You can get a sense of the perceived importance of MOOCs by reading through the list of roundtable participants shown here, and you watch the roundtable video here or below.

University presidents and founders of the big three US MOOC companies who met at Davos were generally upbeat and predicted radical disruption in higher education. For example, the the presidents of Harvard, Stanford and MIT all acknowledged that the experiments in new models of online learning will soon radically disrupt higher learning.

The Huffington Post reported that one expert suggested many universities are facing the early days of bankruptcy and another predicted there may only be 10 universities that survive the MOOC transition.

We have pointed out that the online education market is global and MOOCs will be offered by universities and other organizations in many nations and languages. Representatives of Russia's Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, Oxford and Cambridge in Britain and Chinese universities were at Davos.

Ms. Niazi's story reminds me of the story of the young mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who rose to fame after writing Professor G.H. Hardy at Cambridge from his village in Southern India. His first two letters to Hardy are said to have been returned unopened -- tomorrow's Ramanujan will have an easier time of it. How many Ramanujans will we find enrolled online and what will be their contribution to humanity?

Read more Davos coverage in the New York Times, Huffington Post and the Harvard Business Review. (If you only look at one of these articles, make it the one in the Harvard Business Review).

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Saroo Brierley found his parents after nearly 20 years using Google Earth and Facebook

Planning missile attacks on civilians
In the early Internet days, we were confident that the Net would lead to increased democracy and prosperity, leaving dictators with a dilemma -- the need to risk political instability in order to obtain the benefits of the Internet.

Today, we have a more nuanced view of the Internet -- we see that it is not only used by democrats, but by dictators and even terrorists, as illustrated here by the use of Google Earth to plan missile attacks.

But, Google Earth has plenty of positive uses, and a recent Vanity Fair article A Home at the End of Google Earth gives a moving example. It tells the story of five-year-old Saroo Munshi Khan who was separated from his older brother at a train station and found himself lost in the slums of Calcutta. Nearly 20 years later, living in Australia, he found his way back home using ingenuity, hazy memories, Google Earth and Facebook.
Zeroing in on Khan's boyhood home

Vanity Fair also made a Google Earth video of the search with Saroo narrating. I'd read the story first if I were you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is the wireless cartel showing signs of cracking?

For some time, we have seen the rise of MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) -- companies that resell mobile access on nationwide networks. (I personally use an MVNO,

I have been parochial, watching only US MVNOs, but the same thing is happening elsewhere. For example, Phones4U will launch an MVNO, LIFE Mobile, in March, using EE's network in the United Kingdom.

In the US, super retailer Walmart is offering mobile connectivity through Straight Talk for $45 per month. They are advertising unlimited service, but will evidently slow data transmission when a yet-unspecified limit is reached during a month. While the terms are still unclear, the presence of Walmart in a market will lead to very aggressive pricing.

Today, MVNOs are living off the fat, the oligopoly profits, of their wholesale providers, but their aggressive pricing and plans may end up forcing all prices down.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Internet cartoons -- triumph of the nerds
The Economist published a neat article on Internet cartoons. It begins with a quick history of cartoons, from their origin in the caricatures and illustrations of early modern Europe to Punch in Britain, where the term “cartoon” was coined in 1843. The modern comic strip emerged as a by-product of the New York newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in the late 19th century, but cartoons became bland with large-scale syndication.

Then the Internet came along -- Punch went out of business, newspapers declined and the quirky, individual comic was reborn online.

The article goes on the highlight several online cartoons: SMBC, XKCD (and its companion blog What If?), The Oatmeal, Hark, a Vagrant, Dinosaur Comics, Megatokyo, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Penny Arcade and Bear Nuts,

Check these out -- if you are the slightest bit nerdy, you are guaranteed to find some you like. The Internet may have zapped newspapers, but it has revitalized comic strips.


Update 5/9/2013

XKCD has published a weird cartoon called "Time" at It appears to be a still image,but just leave your browser open and come back half an hour later and you will see that the image has changed. It goes on and on and on and on. You can read more about this and see the sequence speeded up at:

Friday, January 11, 2013

UC online: $4.3 million marketing campaign, one sale

UC Online prices -- click to view
The University of California had a grant and large loan to start UC Online, but the San Francisco Chronicle reported that they have only sold one course to a student outside the outside the university -- to a high school girl who paid $1,400 for an online pre-calculus course at UC Irvine and four units of UC credit.

For more on the financing, see this VentureBeat post.

It seems you can give courses away or sell degrees, but individual classes are hard to sell.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Trust, but verify -- Wikipedia is valuable, but not perfect

We teach our students to be skeptical about things they find on the Internet. For example, we can show them this list of Wikipedia hoaxes. (It is noteworthy that the list is published by Wikipedia).

Wikipedia is a great starting place for research, but students should be warned to verify what they find there and elsewhere on the Internet.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Wikipedia information is useful and accurate. This was illustrated by a study published by Nature in December 2005. Scientific experts reviewed articles in both Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Forty two reviews turned up 4 serious errors in each encyclopedia and 162 minor errors in Wikipedia and 123 in Britannica. (Details are found at

While Britannica edged Wikipedia out, they were close, and, more important, the Wikipedia errors were corrected immediately. Britannica has subsequently ceased print publication.

More Wikipedia evaluations may be found at

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Babson survey of online education in the US -- online continues fast growth

The results of the tenth annual survey of online education have been published. Here are some key findings:
  • Over 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2011 term, an increase of 570,000 students over the previous year.
  • Thirty-two percent of higher education students now take at least one course online.
  • Only 2.6 percent of higher education institutions currently have a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), another 9.4 percent report MOOCs are in the planning stages.
  • Academic leaders remain unconvinced that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses, but do believe that they provide an important means for institutions to learn about online pedagogy.
  • Seventy-seven percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face.
  • Only 30.2 percent of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accept the value and legitimacy of online education - a rate is lower than recorded in 2004.
  • The proportion of chief academic leaders that say that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy is at a new high of 69.1 percent.
  • A majority of chief academic officers at all types of institutions continue to believe that lower retention rates for online courses are a barrier to the wide-spread adoption of online education.
The report contains many PowerPoint-ready plots and graphs. You can see some highlights in this infographic.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) prove popular, if not yet lucrative

This New York Times article recounts the story of several prominent MOOC companies and notes that they are not yet generating any significant revenue. It describes potential revenue sources like charging for certificates of completion, acting as an employment service for successful students, licencing courses to other schools (which could presumably offer them as "inverted" classes), running ads, charging for ongoing forum membership after a class has ended, advertising and charging for follow-on classes.

The article is accompanied by a video that does not say much more than a segment on the evening news.


I heard an additional business model suggested on PBS this evening -- developing training MOOCs for organizations.

#digilit #jiscdiglit #highered #edreform #MOOC #pedagogy #EDUCAUSE #bonkopen

Friday, January 04, 2013

An interactive Web site on the Internet economy in the G-20

This interactive Web page from the Boston Consulting Group characterizes the Internet economy and its impact on commerce and small-medium enterprises and benefits to consumers in the G-20 nations. (The site is free to use, but registration is required).

For example, here is the Internet Economy display for the US (click to zoom):

The consumer benefit view includes results of a lifestyle survey, asking respondents whether they would rather give up a year of Internet access or a year of various other things like chocolate and exercise.

It turns out that many people would rather do without satellite navigation, fast food, chocolate, alcohol and coffee than skip the Internet for a year, but they generally prefer sex, their cars and showering to the Internet. Exercise falls in the middle -- about half of us would rather give it up than the Internet, as you see here.

You can have some fun browsing this data and, if you are a teacher, asking students to take the lifestyle survey would be a good way to get them talking.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Economist on the past, present and future of MOOCs

The December 22nd issue of The Economist has an excellent survey article on MOOCs. It begins with England's Open University, which has offered degrees on radio, television and more recently the Internet since 1971, surveys the present and speculates on the future.

We have noted the global nature of MOOCs and the article introduces, a newly formed coalition of British universities led by the Open University. It also points out that eight of Coursera's 33 universities are outside the US.

In looking toward the future, the article considers various funding and certification possibilities and includes some provocative quotes:
  • Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and author of “The Innovative University”, predicts “wholesale bankruptcies” over the next decade among standard universities.
  • Sebastian Thrun of Udacity predicts that in 50 years there will be only ten universities left in the world.
  • A spokesperson from Oxford says that MOOCs “will not prompt it to change anything,” adding that it “does not see them as revolutionary in anything other than scale.”
  • A Cambridge spokesperson says it is “nonsense” to see MOOCs as a rival; [Cambridge] is “not in the business of online education.”
(If Christensen and Thrun are correct, what institutions will pick up the research and service activities of today's universities? Professors do more than teach).

The article covers more -- asking what the implications are for poor people and those in developing nations, whether we will see a two tier education system, how MOOCs will be tested and certified, etc. Check it out for yourself.

#digilit #jiscdiglit #highered #edreform #MOOC #pedagogy #EDUCAUSE #bonkopen

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The 30th anniversary of the transition of the ARPANET to TCP/IP -- the birthday of the Internet?

Pre-network packet switching -- routing
telegrams by tearing paper tape

New Years day marked the 30th anniversary of the transition of the ARPANET to the TCP/IP communication protocols, a day many consider the birthday of the Internet. Let's look back to see why that date was an important milestone.

The ARPANET, the first large, operational, packet-switched network, was funded by The Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defence (ARPA, later DARPA) and it went online October 29, 1969. The ARPANET, which began as untested research, grew and evolved and was declared "operational" in 1975.

The ARPANET was a success, but all the connected machines used the same communication protocol -- it was like a nationwide LAN. But DOD had other networks using different protocols, so they funded the development of an inter-networking protocol to enable these dissimilar networks to communicate. The design for that protocol, the transmission control program (TCP, later split into two layers, TCP/IP), was published in a paper by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn in 1974.

TCP/IP was implemented and tested and, on January 1, 1983, the ARPANET was transitioned to TCP/IP. Was that the birthday of the Internet?
One might argue that the Internet began with the vision of pioneers like Vannevar Bush, JCR Licklider and Doug Engelbart, Paul Baran's RAND reports, early packet switching experiments, the start of the ARPANET, the first tests of TCP/IP, the diffusion of TCP/IP with NSFNet, etc., but the first large scale inter-network began with the deployment of TCP/IP on the ARPANET and TCP/IP (and Ethernet in the LAN) remain the basis of today's Internet.

Here are a few links you might want to follow if you want more on the 30th anniversary: