Investment continues to flow to ed tech, with $803 million injected during the first six months of the year, according to the industry news website EdSurge. But half of that went to just six companies, including the celebrity tutorial provider MasterClass, the online learning platform Udemy and the school and college review site Niche.
From the outside, the ed-tech sector may appear as if “there’s a bonanza and it’s like the dot-com boom again and everybody’s printing money,” said Michael Hansen, CEO of the K-12 and higher education digital learning provider Cengage. “That is not the case.”
Even if they want to buy more ed-tech tools, meanwhile, schools and colleges are short on cash. Expenses for measures to deal with Covid-19 are up, while budgets are expected to be down.
Analysts and industry insiders now expect a wave of acquisitions as already-dominant brands like these seek to corner even more of the market by snatching up smaller players that provide services they don’t.
Tech-based contact tracing could put schools in murky privacy territory
- A white paper from the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP) suggests the use of contact tracing technology by schools could erode student privacy and may not be effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus.
Despite the pandemic, schools still must conform to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other laws governing student privacy. Districts can disclose information to public health officials, for example, but information can’t be released to the general public without written consent from parents.
The Safely Reopen Schools mobile app is one tool available for automating contact tracing. The idea is that if two mobile phones are close enough to connect via Bluetooth, the phone owners are close enough to transmit the virus. The app includes daily health check-ins and educational notifications, but no personal information is exchanged between the phones, and the app won’t disclose who tested positive.
Colleges are also using apps to help trace and track students’ exposure to coronavirus. In August, 20,000 participants from the University of Alabama at Birmingham were asked to test the GuideSafe mobile app, which will alert them if they’ve been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The app determines the proximity of two people through cell phone signal strength. If someone reports they contracted the virus, an alert will be sent to anyone who has been within six feet of them for at least 15 minutes over the previous two weeks.
Critics of the technology claim these apps aren’t actually capable of contract tracing and could undermine manual efforts to do so.
more on ed tech in this IMS blog
Pearson “digital first” strategy.
My note: see our postings
It also enables Pearson to staunch the bleeding caused by an explosion in the second-hand market. A company called Chegg launched the first major online textbook rental service in 2007; Amazon followed suit in 2012. Both advertise savings of up to 90 percent off the sticker price.
But more technology doesn’t always mean better results. Within K-12 learning environments, the digital divide means that students in low-income and rural households have less access to reliable internet and fewer connected deviceson which to complete the online portions of their homework. And while Pearson’s initiative applies only to textbooks in higher ed, the shift to digital has implications at the collegiate level as well.
Just as traditional software has a thriving open source community, textbooks have Open Educational Resources, complete textbooks that typically come free of charge digitally, or for a small fee—enough to cover the printing—in hard copy. And while it’s not an entirely new concept, OER has gained momentum in recent years, particularly as support has picked up at an institutional level, rather than on a course by course basis. According to a 2018 Babson College survey, faculty awareness of OER jumped from 34 percent to 46 percent since 2015.
One of OER’s leading proponents is OpenStax, a nonprofit based out of Rice University that offers a few dozen free textbooks, covering everything from AP Biology to Principles of Accounting. In the 2019–2020 academic year, 2.7 million students across 6,600 institutions used an OpenStax product instead of a for-profit equivalent.
The knock against OER is that, well, you get what you pay for. “One faculty member told me only half-jokingly, that OER is like a puppy that’s free. You get the free puppy, but then you have to do all the work,” says Cengage’s Hansen, who argues that traditional publishers provide critical supporting materials, like assessment questions, that OER often lacks, and can push more regular updates.
By virtue of being free, OER materials also heavily skew toward digital, with hardcover as a secondary option. (Or you can download the PDF and print it out yourself.) The same caveats about efficacy apply. But at least OER doesn’t lock you into one digital platform, the way the major publishers do. OpenStax alone counts around 50 ecosystem partners to provide homework and testing support.
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Or you could always split the difference.
That’s the territory Cengage wants to stake out. Late last summer, the educational publishing behemoth—it announced a planned merger with McGraw Hill in May; the combined company would surpass all but Pearson in market capitalization—rolled out Cengage Unlimited, a “Netflix for Textbooks” model that rolls all textbook rentals and digital platform access into a single rate: $120 for a semester, $180 for a full year, or $240 for two years. Almost a year in, the US-only program has a million subscribers.
My note: more about Cengage and McGraw Hill in this blog
this added Sept 13, 2019:
more on textbooks in this IMS blog
MindTap Offers Users Free Access to Digital Portfolio Tool
By Sri Ravipati 08/03/16
MindTap, an online learning platform from Cengage Learning, will be able to build digital portfolios of their work for free and keep them for life.
mobile app version is available on the Apple Store and Google Play.
more on e-portfolio in this IMS blog: