Virtual School Meanderings

April 6, 2020

SITE 2020 And K-12 Online Learning

So the 2020 annual conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education begins today – although in a virtual, fee-based format.  In looking over the conference program, here at the K-12 distance, online, and blended learning sessions I was able to identify (which is actually quite easy, given you have the “K-12 Online Learning” SIG which you can search for, and then do a bit of additional searching based on common phrases.  Anyway, this is what I came up with…

Tuesday, April 7

Wednesday, April 8

Thursday, April 9

Friday, April 10

Virtual Papers

I’ll be honest and say that I’m said to be missing on some of these topics.  Unfortunately, my university isn’t funding any conferences right now and I’m not shelling out the $250 from my own pocket.  Just wished SITE, as the “friendly society,” had taken their lead from AERA on he pricing issue.

March 4, 2020

CSSE 2020 And K-12 Online Learning

Earlier in the week I received this message.

le français suit
CSSE Conference Program: First Draft Available
Dear Members and Conference Delegates:
The first draft of the CSSE 2020 conference program is now available on the CSSE web site at You can use the search feature in Adobe Reader to search for a word in the title or the name of the author.
To request minor edits (title, name, spelling, affiliation), please contact the Michael Holden at Changes that involve moving sessions are unlikely to be accommodated. If you are no longer planning to present at the conference, please inform Mike Holden and your program chair. The deadline to request minor edits is March 13, 2019.
Program App
We encourage all delegates to use the conference app (to be released later this spring) instead of requesting a print program. Printed copies of the program will only be available for distribution at the conference to registered delegates who have pre-purchased a copy with their registration payment. If you have already registered for Congress but did not pre-purchase a program, you can return to your registration and add that option.
We apologize to those who are receiving this message more than once.
CSSE Secretariat
Programme du congrès de la SCÉÉ :
première version maintenant disponible
Chers membres et délégués au congrès,
La première version du programme du congrès 2020 de la SCÉÉ est maintenant disponible sur le site Web de la SCÉÉ au Vous pouvez utiliser la fonction recherche dans Adobe Reader pour trouver un mot dans un titre ou le nom de l’auteur.
Pour signaler des modifications mineures à apporter (titre, nom, faute d’orthographe, affiliation), veuillez communiquer avec Michael Holden à Il est peu probable que nous puissions donner suite aux demandes concernant le déplacement d’une séance. Si vous prévoyez ne plus présenter votre communication au congrès, veuillez en aviser Mike Holden et le responsable du programme pour votre section. La date limite pour demander des modifications mineures est le 13 mars 2019.
Appli du programme
Nous incitons tous les membres à utiliser l’appli du congrès (qui sera lancé plus tard au printemps) au lieu de demander une copie imprimée du programme. Des copies imprimées du programme ne sont remises lors du congrès qu’aux délégués inscrits qui ont prépayé leur exemplaire en même temps que leurs frais d’inscription. Si vous vous êtes déjà inscrit au Congrès des sciences humaines, mais que vous n’avez pas prépayé une copie imprimée du programme, il est possible de revenir sur votre inscription et d’ajouter cette option.
Nous vous prions de nous excuser si vous recevez ce message plus d’une fois.
Le secrétariat de la SCÉÉ
Canadian Society for the Study of Education | 204 – 260 Dalhousie StreetOttawa, ON K1N 7E4 Canada

Looking over the program, I noted the following sessions related to K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning.

1:30 – 2:45 P.M. / 13 h 30 – 14 h 45
31 May / Le 31 mai 2020

Session/Séance 5.21
Room/Salle: John George Althouse
Faculty of Education Building – FEB 2023

TATE-TFEE – Multi-paper / Plusieurs communications
Virtual schools and ESL/ELL students

K-12 E-learning: Evolution of Technology in a Canadian Virtual School
Nadeem Saqlain (Memorial), Dennis Mulcahy (Memorial), Michael Barbour(Touro)

Finding the Right Fit: Exploring ESL Teachers and Students’ Perceptions of iLit ELL, a Technology-based Literacy Program’s Use with High School English Language Learners
Sara Shahbazi (Windsor)

A Longitudinal Study Exploring the Pedagogy of AR Implementation in an ESL Classroom
Shuyuan Liu (Queen’s)

9:45 – 11:00 A.M. / 9 h 45 – 11 h 00
2 June / Le 2 juin 2020

Session/Séance 16.2
Room/Salle: John George Althouse
Faculty of Education Building – Gym – FEB 1059

TATE-TFEE: Roundtables/Tables rondes
Table 16: Teaching and learning with computers and AR

Narrative as an embodied experience: A multimedia project with AR technology
Mary McDonald (UBC), Natasha Boskic (UBC)

Online teaching and learning: Students’ view on Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) in a Canadian university
Ying Huang (Western)

Promoting Self-efficacy in Computational Thinking of School Teachers
Ming Zhao (Shannxi Normal), Hong-liang Ma (Shannxi Normal), Xiao-hong Wang (Shannxi Normal)

1:30 – 2:45 P.M. / 13 h 30 – 14 h 45
2 June / Le 2 juin 2020

Session/Séance 19.22
Room/Salle: Alexander Charles
Spencer EngineeringBuilding – SEB 1056

TATE-TFEE – Multi-paper / Plusieurs communications
Online and digitally-enhanced learning environments

Educating awarenesses: Preservice teachers’ growth through observation, reflection and teacher feedback
Sahana Mahendirarajah (Ontario Tech), Brianne Brady (Ontario Tech), Robyn Ruttenberg-Rozen (Ontario Tech)

What Good is Technology? Separating Fact from Fiction in E-Learning
Beyhan Farhadi (OISE-UT)

Preservice Teacher and Associate Teachers’ Use of a Digitally-enhanced Learning Environment in Teaching & Learning
Kamini Jaipal (Brock), Candace Figg (Brock), Dane Di Cesare (Brock), Min Huang (Brock)

February 26, 2020

The 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings – K-12 Online Learning Version (Ranking)

Drum roll please…

Rachel and I unveil the 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings – K-12 Online Learning Version, ranking the scholars listed in Tables 1 and 2 of the article “K-12 Online Learning Journal Articles: Trends from Two Decades of Scholarship” that was published in the journal Distance Education (see here for an open access version of the article) who did the most last year to shape educational practice and policy.

See this earlier post for an explanation of the selection process and all the methodological details.

Without further ado, here are the 2020 rankings (scroll through the chart to see all names and scores or click the link below the chart to view the table in a new tab).

The 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings – K-12 Online Learning Version (Rubric)

Last week I was reading through The 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, and it got me to thinking about what this might look like for K-12 online learning scholars.  Rick Hess describes this methodology at in an article entitled “The 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Scoring Rubric.”  So I figured I’d try to give it a go (with the able assistance of Rachel L. Wadham – Education and Juvenile Literature Librarian at the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University)…

The results of the analysis will be posted in the next entry – which is available at:

The 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings – K-12 Online Learning Version (Ranking)

I began by using all of the scholars listed in Tables 1 and 2 of the article “K-12 Online Learning Journal Articles: Trends from Two Decades of Scholarship” that was published in the journal Distance Education (see here for an open access version of the article).

Table 1.
Google Scholar and Scopus Ranking of K-12 Online Learning Scholars by Arnesen et al. (2019)

Google Scholar: # of Articles Google Scholar: Points Scholar SCOPUS: # of Articles SCOPUS: Points
57 149 Michael Barbour 11 23
19 47 Cathy Cavanaugh 6 13
18 49 Ken Stevens 4 12
16 44 Elizabeth Murphy 8 24
15 26 Charles Graham 7 14
14 38 Margaret Roblyer 3 8
14 35 Jered Borup 6 18
12 33 Leanna Archambault 6 16
11 26 Diana Greer 3 6
10 24 Dennis Beck 4 9
10 24 Niki Davis 5 11
9 22 Kathryn Kennedy 4 10
8 22 Kevin Oliver 2 6
8 19 Dennis Mulcahy 0 0
8 16 Maria Rodriguez-Manzanares 6 12
8 14 Richard Ferdig 5 10
7 21 Glenn Russell 1 3
7 14 Sean Smith 3 7
7 12 Erik Black 4 7
5 10 Meredith DiPietro 3 7
5 5 Randall Davies 3 3

The analysis began with the overall rankings in the two tables in Arnesen et al.  Then I went through and attempted to apply the categories listed in Hess’ rubric in the manner described below.

In describing the 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Scoring Rubric, Hess (2020b) indicated that each scholar was scored in nine categories with a potential maximum score of 200.  We attempted to apply each category, as appropriate, to the list of scholars developed from Arnesen et al. (2019) – with the exception that we did not cap points for any of the categories.

Google Scholar Score: This figure gauges the number of articles, books, or papers a scholar has authored that are widely cited. A useful, popular way to measure the breadth and impact of a scholar’s work is to tally works in descending order of how often each is cited and then identify the point at which the number of oft-cited works exceeds the cite count for the least-frequently cited. (This is known in the field as a scholar’s “h-index.”) …the measure recognizes that bodies of scholarship matter greatly for influencing how important questions are understood and discussed. The search was conducted using the advanced search “author” filter in Google Scholar. For those scholars who have created a Google Scholar account, their h-index was available at a glance. For those scholars without a Google Scholar account, a hand search was used to calculate their score and cull out works by other, similarly named, individuals. While Google Scholar is less precise than more specialized citation databases, it has the virtue of being multidisciplinary and publicly accessible. (¶ 6)

We applied this category to the K-12 distance/online learning scholars in two ways – both of which were consistent with Hess’ description.  First, 12 of the 21 scholars had established profiles on Google Scholar. Second, for the remaining nine scholars the researchers used the software Publish or Perish to determine the h-index between 17-19 January 2020.

Hess (2020b) described the second Edu-Scholar Public Influence Scoring Rubric category as:

Book Points: A search on Amazon tallied the number of books a scholar has authored, co-authored, or edited. Scholars received 2 points for a single-authored book, 1 point for a co-authored book in which they were the lead author, a half-point for co-authored books in which they were not the lead author, and a half-point for any edited volume. The search was conducted using an “Advanced Books Search” for the scholar’s first and last name. (On a few occasions, a middle initial or name was used to avoid duplication with authors who had the same name, e.g., “David Cohen” became “David K. Cohen.”) The search only encompassed “Printed Books” (one of several searchable formats) so as to avoid double-counting books available in other formats. This means that books released only as e-books are omitted. To date, however, few scholars on this list pen books that are published solely as e-books. “Out of print” volumes were excluded, as were reports, commissioned studies, and special editions of magazines or journals. This measure reflects the conviction that the visibility, packaging, and permanence of books allows them to play an outsized role in influencing policy and practice. (¶ 7)

This category was applied as described by Hess.

The next category was Highest Amazon Ranking, which Hess described as reflecting “the scholar’s highest-ranked book on Amazon. The highest-ranked book was subtracted from 400,000 and the result was divided by 20,000 to yield a maximum score of 20” (¶ 8).  This category was excluded because of the lack of books identified in the previous category, and the fact that the only scholar who had any number of books was Rick Ferdig – but only two of those books were actually focused on K-12 online learning.

Hess (2020b) described the fourth Edu-Scholar Public Influence Scoring Rubric category as:

Syllabus Points: This seeks to measure a scholar’s long-term academic impact on what is being read by the rising generation of university students. This metric was scored using, the most comprehensive database of syllabi in existence. It houses over 6 million syllabi from across American, British, Canadian, and Australian universities. A search of the database was used to identify each scholar’s top-ranked text. (¶ 9)

This category was applied as described.  Essentially, the score was the total number identified in the database when I searched both the scholar’s first and surname AND the scholar’s name with their initials.

Hess’ fifth category was Education Press Mentions, which measured the total number of times the scholar was quoted or mentioned in Education Week, the Chronicle of Higher Education, or Inside Higher Education during 2019. Unfortunately, searches of the first third of the Arnesen et al. (2019) scholars yielded zero results.  As such, it was decided that any education press mentions would be included in the Newspaper Mentions category.

Hess (2020b) described the sixth Edu-Scholar Public Influence Scoring Rubric category as:

Web Mentions: This reflects the number of times a scholar was referenced, quoted, or otherwise mentioned online in 2019. The intent is to use a “wisdom of crowds” metric to gauge a scholar’s influence on the public discourse last year. The search was conducted using Google. The search terms were each scholar’s name and university affiliation (e.g., “Bill Smith” and “Rutgers University”). Using affiliation served a dual purpose: It avoids confusion due to common names and increases the likelihood that mentions are related to university-affiliated activity. Variations of a scholar’s name (such as common diminutives and middle initials) were included in the results, if applicable. (¶ 11)

This category was applied as described by Hess.  The search was also done with the scholar’s name, with no initial, and their most recent organization.

Hess described the seventh category of the Edu-Scholar Public Influence Scoring Rubric as:

Newspaper Mentions: A Lexis Nexis search was used to determine the number of times a scholar was quoted or mentioned in U.S. newspapers. Again, searches used a scholar’s name and affiliation; diminutives and middle initials, if applicable, were included in the results. To avoid double counting, the scores do not include any mentions from Education Week, the Chronicle of Higher Education, or Inside Higher Ed. (¶ 12)

A search of Newspaper’s by ProQuest was used to determine the number of times a scholar was quoted or mentioned in newspapers.  Newspaper’s by ProQuest indexes over 700 news sources from the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Australia.  ProQuest was used instead of Lexis Nexis because of limited access through the researchers institutions. The use of ProQuest also represented a more pure representation of newspapers so using this source did not require the removal any mentions of the education news sources that Hess was required to eliminate.  The search was conducted during a two week period of February 2020.. Searches used the scholar’s first and last name in both direct and reverse format (i.e. “first name last name” or “last name, first name”). Since newspaper citations will almost always use full name references at least once it was deemed unnecessary to use diminutives and middle initials.  Results where then arrowed the by date to return only mentions published Jan 1, 2019-Dec 31, 2019. For those unique names that returned less than 100 results, each result was viewed and applicable ones were noted. For example obituaries, editorials, or other items that were clearly not academic citations or names that were connected to other disciplines (for example botany, sports or film) were disregarded.  For those names that returned over 100 results within the narrowed date frame further narrowing was required. To accomplish this key terms that indicated the discipline of the researchers was added (i.e. (education or teach* or learn* or design or distance or online or blended or instruction or student*)) In every instance this addition returned less than 100 results and each result was viewed and noted if it was applicable.

Hess’ eighth category was the Congressional Record Mentions: , which was described as “a simple name search in the Congressional Record for 2019 determined whether a scholar was referenced by a member of Congress” (¶ 13).  An initial search of the Congressional Record for the first third of the Arnesen et al. (2019) scholars yielded zero results, as such this category was excluded from the analysis.

Finally, Hess (2020b) described the ninth Edu-Scholar Public Influence Scoring Rubric category as:

Twitter Score: Since Kred and Klout no longer score individual twitter accounts, this year Followerwonk’s “Social Authority” score was used. Followerwonk scores each Twitter account on a scale of 0-100 based on the retweet rate of the user’s few hundred most recent tweets, with an emphasis placed on more recent tweets while accounting for other user-specific variables (such as follower count). While I’m highly ambivalent about the role played by social media, it’s indisputable that many public scholars exert significant influence via their social-media activity—and the lion’s share of this activity plays out on Twitter. (¶ 14)

This category was applied as described above.

January 6, 2020

The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade [K-12 Online Learning Mentions]

Back on New Year’s Eve Audrey Watters posted an entry on her blog entitled “The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade.”  If you haven’t read it yet, I would encourage you to review all 100 items.  Below, I have simply copied and pasted those items that I believe are specific to the field of K-12 online learning (note that the language can get a bit salty in the items pasted below).

95. “Roaming Autodidacts”

“[The] literature [on online education] was preoccupied with what I call ‘roaming autodidacts’. A roaming autodidact is a self-motivated, able learner that is simultaneously embedded in technocratic futures and disembedded from place, cultural, history, and markets. The roaming autodidact is almost always conceived as western, white, educated and male. As a result of designing for the roaming autodidact, we end up with a platform that understands learners as white and male, measuring learners’ task efficiencies against an unarticulated norm of western male whiteness. It is not an affirmative exclusion of poor students or bilingual learners or black students or older students, but it need not be affirmative to be effective. Looking across this literature, our imagined educational futures are a lot like science fiction movies: there’s a conspicuous absence of brown people and women” — Tressie McMillan Cottom, “Intersectionality and Critical Engagement With The Internet” (2015)

82. “The End of Library” Stories (and the Software that Seems to Support That)

If there was one hate-read that stuck with me through the entire decade, it was this one by Techcrunch’s M. G. Siegler: “The End of the Library.” It was clickbait for sure, and perhaps it came too early in the decade — this was 2013 — for me to be wise enough to avoid this sort of trollish nonsense. You can learn anything online, Siegler argued. (You can’t.) The Internet has “replaced the importance of libraries as a repository for knowledge. And digital distribution has replaced the role of a library as a central hub for obtaining the containers of such knowledge: books. And digital bits have replaced the need to cut down trees to make paper and waste ink to create those books.” (They haven’t.)

Libraries haven’t gone away — they’re still frequently visited, despite dramatic drops in public fundingMore and more public libraries have started eliminating fines too because libraries, unlike Techcrunch writers, do care to alleviate inequality.

But new technology hasn’t made it easy. Publishers have sought to restrict libraries’ access to e-book lending, for example, blaming libraries for declining sales. And libraries have also struggled to maintain their long commitment to patron privacy in the face of new software — e-books and otherwise — that has no such respect for users’ rights.

72. Chatbot Instructors

“Imagine Discovering That Your Teaching Assistant Really Is a Robot,” The Wall Street Journal gushed in 2016, documenting an experiment undertaken at Georgia Tech in which a chatbot called “Jill Watson” answered questions in a course’s online forum. “Students didn’t know their TA was a computer,” the university’s press release stated, seemingly unbothered about any ethical issues that might raise.

(Consent? It matters.)

Watson, as the name might suggest, was built using the IBM Watson “AI” technology. College of Computing Professor Ashok Goel and his team used the 40,000 some odd questions that students had asked in previous versions of the course to build out Jill’s knowledge-base. “One of the secrets of online classes is that the number of questions increases if you have more students, but the number of different questions doesn’t really go up,” Goel said. “Students tend to ask the same questions over and over again.” But instead of redesigning his course or materials so that students didn’t have to ask these questions, he built a chatbot and called it a TA.

It’s not just the teaching assistant labor that chatbots are seeking to replace. As Inside Higher Ed recently reported, they “have started to infiltrate every corner of higher ed — from admissions to student affairs, career services and even test prep,” arguably making institutions that are struggling to treat people humanely even less human.

59. Clayton Christensen’s Predictions

In 2008, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn published Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and predicted that the growth in computer-based instruction would accelerate rapidly until, by 2019, half of all high school classes would be taught over the Internet. NopeWrong.

In 2013, Christensen told investor Mark Suster that, in 15 years time, half of US universities would be bankrupt. As with K-12 education, he believed (believes) that online education would provide the “disruptive innovation” to force traditional schooling out of business. In 2017, he doubled down on his prediction — half of colleges and universities would close in a decade. I have set a Calendar reminder for 2028. We can check back in then for the final calculation. Meanwhile, Phil Hill has run the numbers on what higher ed closures actually look like, with visualizations that helps underscore that the vast number of these were to for-profit institutions — and there just aren’t enough of those left to make up the “half of all colleges” claim.

As Jill Lepore reminded us in her scathing critique of Christensen’s “gospel of innovation,” “Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.” But it’s the sort of propheteering that hopes if you repeat a story enough times, that everyone — taxpayers, administrators, politicians, pundits — will start to believe it’s the truth.

33. Online Credit Recovery

In 2017, Slate published a series of stories on online credit recovery programs — classes offered to students who needed to quickly make up missed credits in order to graduate high school on time: “The New Diploma Mills,” it called them. These classes were “fast, isolating, and superficial,” the series reported, describing the experiences of one student who, after failing her junior year English class, was able to make up the course online in 2 days. It told of another student who paid his friend $200 to take a course for him.

Schools are pressured to use these online options — products offered by companies like Apex, Edmentum, Odysseyware, and Edgenuity — in part because of their desire to boost graduation rates. And efforts to crack down on providers offering “bad online courses” were often countered by lobbying from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which “has made expanding online learning — unfettered and in all of its forms — one of its priorities.”

28. Computer-Based Testing Blunders

The new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards were to be administered via computers, prompting as I noted above, a great deal of expenditure on new devices. But the new mode of testing caused a great deal of headache too. 2015 marked the year that states implemented the tests associated with the standards, and many struggled with that very implementation. That’s not a surprise, as a COSN survey that year found educators pleading that “We’re Not Ready for Online Tests.”

There were worries about how the move to online testing might affect scores. There were worries that there weren’t enough computers for test-taking. There were worries about kids’ abilities to type. There were worries about Internet connectivity, particularly in poor and rural schools. And many of the worries were well-founded. The problems weren’t just with district infrastructure; there were problems with vendors’ websites. There were technical problems in MinnesotaFloridaColoradoNew JerseyNevadaNorth DakotaMontanaTennessee, and elsewhere. Some states blamed the vendors and some blamed school IT and some states blamed “hackers.” The Common Core tests in one New Jersey school district were postponed as its entire computer network was held hostage by ransomware in exchange for 500 Bitcoins, approximately $124,000 at the time.

The technical problems were so bad in some states that they prompted concerns about the validity of the scores and about states’ ability to meet the federally-mandated levels of test participation (numbers that exacerbated too by the “Opt Out” movement). Several states accused their testing vendors of breach of contract, and several switched vendors, hoping that would fix the problem.

Spoiler alert: it did not.

27. Online Preschool

Arguably one of the best investments we could make in education would be to fund universal preschool. High quality universal preschool, staffed with well-paid professionals. High quality universal preschool, staffed with well-paid professionals in a brick-and-mortar setting and not online. But online preschool, according to some education reformers, is poised to “change the way rural America does early education.” One program, Upstart, “mixes adaptive software for preschool-aged kids, along with child development training and check-ins for parents. The program focuses on building pre-literacy skills, such as sound blending and letter names, and is designed to be used 15 minutes a day for a total of 75 minutes per week. Currently Upstart is used by about 19,000 families in Utah and in smaller pilots in about 15 other states,” Edsurge reported earlier this year. Many experts have caution against these programs, arguing for example that “Online ‘preschool’ lacks the concrete, hands-on social, emotional and intellectual educational components that are essential for quality learning in the early years. Further, online preschools are likely to exacerbate already existing inequalities in early education by giving low-income children superficial exposure to rote skills and ideas while more privileged children continue to receive developmentally sound experiences that provide a solid foundation for later academic success.”

These sorts of stories that promote high tech “solutions” for certain communities always make me wonder why we don’t opt instead to build out local capacity rather than insisting that the only alternative is education-from-elsewhere online.

23. OPMs and Outsourcing

Despite all the hullabaloo this decade about the importance of offering online classes, many schools opted not to develop the capacity internally to do so, but rather to outsource that function to a vendor. In 2017, The Century Foundation issued a blistering report on these online program managers (OPMs) titled “The Private Side of Public Higher Education.” Although universities have long outsourced some of their services to third-party providers — food services and parking enforcement, for example — OPMs could pose significant risks to higher ed, the report argued, as “the functions of OPMs are closely linked to the core educational mission of these public institutions. As a result, the quality of the services provided by OPMs has a direct bearing on the quality of the school itself and the ability of these institutions to fulfill their mission to train students and prepare them for the workforce.”

The involvement of OPMs in the establishment and growth of online educational opportunities at public institutions exposes consumers to the financial interests of decision-makers, interests that would not exist if exclusively public or nonprofit institutions were involved in providing these distance learning programs. Driven by the desire and need to make money for investors or owners, those to whom executives are held accountable, these companies may prioritize profit over the interests of online students, to whom they owe no loyalty, financial or otherwise.

As Phil Hill observed, as for-profit universities and MOOC providers stumbled this decade, several sought to become OPMs instead. (That is to say, there are really just a handful of pivots you can make in ed-tech: become an OPM or become an LMS or try to market yourself as both.)

19. Platforming Education

In his review of Nick Srnicek’s book Platform CapitalismJohn Hermann writes,

Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. And accordingly, platforms are the underlying trend that ties together popular narratives about technology and the economy in general. Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.”

In his book, Srnicek posits that platforms are poised to become the fundamental business model of our digital world — key to the new economy, clearly, but also key to political and social systems (and how these will be shaped under the control of the powerful technology industry). And certainly the goal for many technology companies — education and otherwise — has been to become a platform: that is, to become a key piece of digital infrastructure whose business model rests on the extraction of data.

In many ways, the learning management system is the prototypical education platform. The LMS has long positioned itself as an “operating system,” of sorts, for higher education, one that certainly predates any talk of a “platform economy.” But LMS providers spent the decade buying up a vast number of other companies so as to extend the functionality of their original product — companies that offered offered administratively adjacent features and would facilitate the extraction of more data from students’ and professors’ activities online than just what could be gleaned from the student information system.

(The LMS isn’t the only platform in education to be sure. Perhaps the most dominant and dangerous is Google — which nears the top of this list.)

17. Test Prep

Year after year after year after year, the most well-funded startups in education technology were those offering tutoring and test prep. Neither of these are progressive trends. These can exacerbate educational inequalities as more affluent families can afford to give their children extra academic support (or at least some extra tips and tricks on how to do well on standardized tests).

To counteract some of these inequalities — in test prep and in the testing itself — the College Board partnered with Khan Academy in 2015 to provide free online SAT prep courses (after years of insisting that test prep would actually make no difference in how well one performed on the exam). One year later, the head of the College Board David Coleman boasted “Never in my career have I seen a launch of technology on this scale that has broken down the racial divisions that so haunt this nation — never.” And in 2017, the College Board released data that showed “20 hours on free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average score gain of 115 points, nearly double the average score gain compared to students who don’t use Khan Academy.” One problem though: not all students practiced the same amount, and students with highly educated parents tended to spend more time doing so. As Matt Barnum and Sarah Darville write in Chalkbeat, “The College Board’s research doesn’t show whether Khan Academy truly caused the score increases. Perhaps the students who used Khan most were particularly motivated or were using other study aids.”

Perhaps test prep will never undo the inequalities baked into the system. Perhaps, just perhaps, it was never really meant to.

9. Virtual Charter Schools

According to recent data from the Department of Education (as reported by Education Week), “half of all virtual charter high schools had graduation rates below 50 percent in the 2016-17 school year. Thirty-seven percent of schools had graduation rates at or above 50 percent. Graduation data for the remaining 13 percent of schools was masked for various reasons, such as to protect student privacy. There are about 163 virtual charter schools educating over 30,000 seniors nationally as determined by the adjusted cohort graduation rate, according to federal numbers.” In some states — Indiana, for example — not a single virtual charter school has had a graduation rate over 50% for the past four years.

One of the largest studies of online charters, published by Stanford in 2015, found that students in these schools had less contact with a teacher in a week than students in traditional, brick-and-mortar schools have in a day, and their academic progress was so poor that it was almost like not going to school at all.

And yet, despite the abysmal performance of virtual charters, states have struggled to hold these (largely) for-profit endeavors accountable. There were the odd lawsuit, to be sure. K12 Inc, one of the best known virtual charter chains, reached a $8.5 settlement with the state of California in 2016 after it was accused of false advertising and inadequate instruction. In Indiana, two virtual charters were accused of “counting toward their enrollment thousands of students who either never signed up for or completed classes,” collecting almost $10 million in state funding along the way. In Ohio, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT, claimed to serve some 15,000 students, but state officials found the virtual charter school was significantly inflating its numbers and said the school owed back $80 million in funding. (ECOT was forced to close in 2018.)

But in spite of the lousy education and unethical business practices, profits at virtual charters are up. K12 Inc, for example, announced this summer that for the first time its history, its revenue had topped $1 billion.

3. Venture Capitalism

Billions of dollars of venture capitalism has been funneled into education technology this decade. And this list demonstrates what we have to show for it.

2. (Venture) Philanthropy

Billions of dollars of (venture) philanthropy has been funneled into education technology this decade. And this list demonstrates what we have to show for it.

In many ways, philanthropy and venture capital worked hand-in-hand — the former set the policy agenda for ed-tech and the latter fueled the entrepreneurs and stoked the market for it.

The Gates Foundation has continued to have an outsized influence in shaping public policy (even though Gates has admitted that his initiatives haven’t had a great track record).

He has been joined this decade by other tech billionaires — by Mark Zuckerberg, for example. The Facebook founder made his first, high profile education donation in 2010, announcing on Oprah, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker at his side, his plans to give the city’s schools $100 million. In 2012, Zuckerberg launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, he and his wife Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic company. And it is, to be clear, a company, not a foundation — a business structure that gives Zuckerberg more control in investing in for-profit companies and in political causes, as The New York Times explained.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos also announced a philanthropic effort (that is, when he’s not spending his billions on funding space travel).His new philanthropic effort would fund and operate “a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities.” “We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon,” Bezos wrote in a note posted to Twitter. “Most important among these will be genuine intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.”

These philanthropists’ visions for the future of education and education technology mirror their own businesses: the child will be the customer. The child’s data will be mined. The child’s education will be personalized.

Again, check out the full list at

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