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.
“This shouldn’t be something that teachers are facing on their own as an individual. This is something that schools should be having conversations about: What are the expectations, and how are they communicating those expectations?” https://t.co/XMhjz0rWnO
Even before the pandemic, texting and school communication apps—like Remind or ClassDojo—had given students and families new ways to contact teachers 24/7. But teachers like Davis say that school closures have increased the pressure to be “always on” for students and parents, as remote instruction has blurred the boundaries between work life and home life.
Teachers want to be available to their students, to clarify their questions and calm their fears. But it’s also crucial that teachers set time aside for themselves, and that schools and districts respect—and even help create—these boundaries
Developing systems that protect teacher well-being should be a priority for schools in the fall, …, as the demands of remote learning aren’t likely to disappear.
An ‘Internal Battle’ Over Boundaries
administration set a policy that teachers didn’t have to respond to messages sent after 5 p.m. until the next day.
distributing responsibility. Grade-level teams could take turns having “on” hours
the HyFlex model for the fall… reflects a rift between administrators and professors, who are raising alarms over the health risks of teaching in person, and about the logistical, technical, and pedagogical complications of the model itself. Search HyFlex on Facebook and Twitter and you’ll come across comments like this one: “Whoever the hell thought of this is a bean counter, not an educator, and an idiot.”
Teaching experts and others familiar with hybrid teaching say that HyFlex can work, but it requires effective technology, careful planning, instructional support, and creative course design.
“If HyFlex is part of the plan, it has to be done with will faculty participation,” says Brian Beatty, an associate professor of instructional technologies at San Francisco State, who created the model. “Otherwise, if it’s top down and the administration is saying, We’re doing this, then the faculty are saying, But why are we doing this?”
Much of what bothers professors about the push for HyFlex is that so many details about its mechanics remain ill defined. And assumptions about its value seem rooted in a particular idea of teaching, one where the professor stands at the front of a classroom and lectures.
“We are the ones holding the bag if this does not work, or if it’s chaos,” says Michelle Miller, a psychology professor at Northern Arizona University and author of Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.
Miller is a fan of the original HyFlex model from San Francisco State, but says that colleges need to be mindful that the conditions under which it’s now being adapted — quickly, at scale, and without giving students much choice — will limit its effectiveness.
To work effectively, she says, hybrid teaching requires a lot of support, such as having teaching assistants help manage the complexities of working simultaneously with two different audiences. Otherwise it risks becoming a “lecture-centric, passive consumption view of learning.” That goes against years of hard work faculty members have been doing to make their classrooms more inclusive, active, and engaged.
To help think through pedagogical challenges, faculty groups are testing out teaching strategies, some departments meet weekly to discuss course design, and a student-leadership team is providing feedback and creating online tools to help their peers learn effectively online.Even so, the process has been challenging and frustrating at times for faculty members. Professors are both looking for templates and wanting to maintain control over their courses, which inevitably creates tension with the administration.
So far, the why question seems harder for many institutions and their leaders to forthrightly answer, yet it is vitally important.
Presidents have also shared their views through anonymous surveys, highlighting worries about hitting enrollment targets or managing revenue losses. There is an unmistakable sense that they see their responsibility mainly in institutional terms: We must resume in-person instruction to ensure the financial viability of the college or university. Protecting institutions’ budgets is apparently also worth the risk.
Rationales like these have gaping holes. Some problems are obvious, like being silent on the health and safety of faculty, staff, students and community members who aren’t aged 18 to 25. The disregard for people working on and near campuses recalls practices at an Amazon warehouse or meat-packing plant, where the expectation is that workers must show up in the interests of the organization and consumer.
The rationales I’ve seen are problematic for other reasons, too. First, they show little concern for slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Second, they demonstrate a disregard for serving the public good. I haven’t read a single announcement or plan that anchors an institution’s decisionmaking in shared community interests. Few presidents are willing to say that what the public needs right now is to live in a society free of a deadly virus, and that it is the responsibility of higher education to contribute to that effort by keeping people off campuses that were often
Third, the rationales I’ve seen don’t seriously contend with the differential effects of the pandemic by race and income. Racism means that people of color are more exposed and less protected when it comes to the virus. When a president says returning to campus is worth the risk, who is bearing the burden of that risk-taking?
Finally, the plans I’ve seen have a strained relationship with truth and science. In many states, new virus cases and hospitalizations are rising, with clusters in nursing homes and daycare centers. Yet presidents continue to announce that it is safe for students to return to residence halls.
Katherine Newman, president of the University of Massachusetts Boston, provided an example that other presidents could follow by announcing that the institution would continue to be primarily online in the fall. Explaining this decision, she noted that that Black and Latinx “populations have borne a disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality in the pandemic, and many students live in multi-generational minority households where exposure to the virus would be particularly problematic.”