Universities learning from cities

More alike than you think?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting piece on what cities can teach Higher Education. Essentially the argument is that there are many similarities and that a long term view is necessary to deliver success:

Cities and colleges are more alike than people think. Both are considered economic engines that also offer rites of passage and an escape from parochialism. Both host sports teams and their own police forces. Recently the overwhelming debts run up by cities and by students have forced themselves on the public’s attention. Yet despite the significant woes of Detroit and the impending bankruptcies of other American cities, no one is expecting urban living to disappear or be radically transformed. Higher education, however, is not so lucky. Some doomsayers predict the rise of a completely online educational system, spurred by the spread of massive open online courses.

 

Universities really don't want to be like Detroit

Universities really don’t want to be like Detroit

But perhaps one of the most interesting elements is made in relation to the student facilities “arms race”. The piece quotes a recent report which found that there are nearly 160 leisure-and-recreation projects under way on US campuses, representing an investment of some $1.7-billion:

Should we blame students for the party atmosphere on many campuses? That might be tempting, but it ignores the “Club Ed” ambitions of some presidents. Dorms, in many cases, have become full-scale resorts. What is a student to think when seeing, for instance, Texas Tech University’s leisure pool and “lazy river”?

See this recent post on this topic for more on campus facilities. But the real issue here is about looking at the big picture and not being distracted by short term issues:

Cities have also invested in projects that were meant to attract people yet do nothing to encourage the social drama that is the real attraction of cities. We must remember, however, that successful cities are not always the most efficient—that is, efficient in a hasty way. New York has, along with London, some of the most expensive real estate in the world tied up in parkland. Should Central Park be sold off to pay the city’s debts? No, there is more to a city than balancing a budget and more to balancing a budget than balancing it in one year. Whatever gains might be achieved by the quick sale of parkland would be offset by the long-term erosion in quality of life.

Just so with higher education. Philosophy and art may have no direct relation to a job qualification, but an education without them is as soulless and inhumane as the housing projects that were inflicted on generations of the poor.

Much to learn then perhaps.

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‘Digital Intelligence’ for Higher Education

Is this the future? Or just a passing trend?

keyboard

A recent post discussed the possible benefits of learner analytics for delivering a more personalised education. Now we have a broader view as The Chronicle of Higher Education provides an update on Educause, the huge US Education Tech Trade Show in which it is observed that everyone is talking about digital intelligence or education analytics:

More than 7,000 college officials gathered here this week for what is probably the largest higher-education-technology trade show in the United States, the annual meeting of Educause. Walking the trade floor, where some 270 companies mounted colorful booths, serves as a reminder of how much of college life today happens in the digital realm, and how much colleges are betting on technology to help alleviate the many challenges they face. The biggest emerging trend this year is data analytics. Company after company here promises to sell systems that provide “data dashboards” to give professors or administrators at-a-glance reports on student activity in the name of improving retention or meeting other institutional goals.

Diana Oblinger, president of Educause, described it as giving colleges “digital intelligence.” What kinds of things have colleges learned from their newfound digital intelligence? One university discovered that a scholarship program it runs to bring in high-achieving students was attracting students who were the most likely to leave—to trade up and transfer to another institution after a year or two. A professor teaching an anatomy course learned that students took longer to finish the homework she assigned than expected, and that many seemed stuck on the same point. A library at one state university learned that tenure-track male professors were not using the library as much as tenured male professors were.

The potential of digital intelligence is undoubtedly huge. And it certainly isn’t a passing fad. However, getting the data inputs right in the first place is a far from straightforward task and then making sure it is used for best effect does need to be considered carefully – how are you going to deal with that data about professorial use of the library? Digital intelligence indeed.

Norway Doesn’t Like University Rankings

The Norwegian Government Gives a Big Thumbs Down to Global University Rankings

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on an analysis commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research of Norwegian universities’ performance in international university rankings. The report concluded that the “top rankings are so based on subjective weightings of factors and on dubious data that they are useless as a basis for information if the goal is to improve higher education.”

But, as the story notes, there still remains some ambivalence in the universities themselves:

Norway and other Scandinavian countries: a bit cross

Norway and other Scandinavian countries: a bit cross

 

The NIFU report was presented at a seminar in Oslo recently, capturing much attention. “Can we trust university rankings?” NIFU wrote on its website. “University rankings criticised,” declared the Ministry of Education and Research in a press release.“A Kiss of Death for university rankings,” said University of Oslo Rector Ole Petter Ottersen in his blog, stating:“This report should be made available for everyone working within the higher education sector in Norway. Not the least, it should be available on the news desk of Norwegian newspapers.”Among the many comments, the University of Bergen announced that it was ranked 56 on the indicator for citations per academic. “This confirms Norwegian universities’ love-hate relationship with university rankings,” wrote former Bergen rector Professor Kirsti Koch Christensen on Facebook.

Love-hate relationship with league tables? I suspect they are not alone.

The Promise of Personalized Education

Is this the future of student support?

There has been a lot of talk of late about learner analytics and the potential benefits in terms of tracking student performance and identifying and intervening where they are at risk of dropping out. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a number of companies who are offering different forms of help to institutions:
613Supplement-EDTECH

This year students at Colorado State University will have their progress toward degrees tracked by technology from a company called CollegeSource. The likelihood of their encountering academic difficulty will be flagged for academic advisers and resident advisers by an online product from a company called Campus Labs. And they will receive text alerts about unsatisfactory grades via a mobile app from yet another ed-tech company, Ellucian. Students in three majors will also be assessed on their chances of succeeding in a course, on the basis of an analysis of data from thousands of previous Colorado State students who had earned the same grades, thanks to technology from the Education Advisory Board. Meanwhile, intercollegiate athletes who skip too many classes will be notified through Facebook by a company called GradesFirst that they’ve been scheduled for tutoring. And all these arrangements don’t even reflect an experiment in evaluating student progress in courses, using an analytics tool sold by Blackboard. The university ditched the experiment in the spring after realizing that professors weren’t using the learning-management system uniformly for that purpose.

While there is something quite cold and clinical about all of this, it nevertheless does offer the prospect of enabling universities better to support their students and to ensure that those most at risk of dropping out are provided with the assistance they need before it is too late.

These developments do seem inevitable as everyone looks to make more use of the student data they have and companies look to provide new and better tools for analysing it. Ultimately though all of this really does seem to offer the prospect of a significant improvement in student support.

 

Applying to uni via video

Better than qualifications?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting story on the use of videos in university applications. Whilst some institutions have been encouraging students to submit videos as supporting information, it seems at least one has now gone further and is offering students the opportunity to provide them as the primary selection tool:

Ever since George Mason University started inviting prospective students to send in videos as part of their application materials, Matthew P. Boyce, the interim admissions director there, has seen applicants try to prove their mettle in some odd ways.One young man wrote and performed a rap about why he wanted to go to the university, featuring a cameo by his grandma. Mr. Boyce recently watched footage of another candidate biting into an Indian “ghost pepper,” one of the world’s spiciest varieties. The footage was presented as evidence of the applicant’s resiliency. “It was kind of goofy,” says the admissions director, though certainly memorable.

All you need to apply to university

All you need to apply to university

George Mason is one of a handful of universities that, several years ago, gave prospective students the option of submitting short “video essays” as part of their applications.The videos were meant only as supplements to the required materials, which include standardized-test scores, grade-point averages, and recommendation letters. “It’s never going to make or break their admission to Mason,” says Mr. Boyce of the videos. Last week Goucher College announced that it was taking video submissions to the next level. Prospective students will have the option of making two-minute videos the centerpiece of an application to Goucher. If they submit a video, plus two samples of academic work, then they will not be required to send in a transcript or letter of recommendation.

Whilst the variety and opportunities for applicants may be seen as welcome it is difficult to imagine how it might be possible to ensure consistency and equity across a range of applications. Also it is not clear here what is being judged: originality, creativity, personality, film-making skills? All a bit tricky therefore and probably not something that is really going to take off.

Tooled up campus security

Guns and Grenades for University Security

Earlier this year I posted on the acquisition of an armoured truck by security at Ohio State University. The Chronicle of Higher Education has since discovered that other US universities have also taken advantage of the opportunity to buy surplus army kit including grenade launchers, M-16s, and armoured vehicles:

Should the campus police at the University of Central Florida ever need a modified grenade launcher, one sits waiting in the department’s armory. Retooled to fire tear-gas canisters, the weapon was used several years ago for training purposes, according to Richard Beary, the university’s chief of police. It hasn’t left storage since.At Central Florida, which has an enrollment of nearly 60,000 and a Division I football team, the device was acquired, a police spokeswoman said, for “security and crowd control.” But the university’s police force isn’t the only one to have come upon a grenade launcher. Hinds Community College—located in western Mississippi, with a student population of 11,000—had one too. Campus police officers at Hinds declined to comment. A woman who worked for the department but declined to identify herself said that the launcher had been repurposed to shoot flares but that the college no longer possessed it. Both institutions received their launchers from the same source: the Department of Defense.

Necessary for campus security?

Necessary for campus security?

At least 117 colleges have acquired equipment from the department through a federal program, known as the 1033 program, that transfers military surplus to law-enforcement agencies across the country, according to records The Chronicle received after filing Freedom of Information requests with state governments. Campus police departments have used the program to obtain military equipment as mundane as men’s trousers (Yale University) and as serious as a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle (Ohio State University). Along with the grenade launcher, Central Florida acquired 23 M-16 assault rifles from the Department of Defense.

This just seems extraordinary. The full table of purchases can be found here and, whilst it does include some fairly mundane items, you have to ask what on earth campus security services think they are going to need all this kit for. What kind of student protests are going to require guns and grenade launchers to keep crowds under control?

A long list of management principles

Important maxims to live and work by? Or just a long and forgettable list?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a diverting piece on a set of rules the new president of the University of Akron has issued to his senior staff:

If Scott L. Scarborough gets his way, the University of Akron will have the cleanest administration in higher education.Literally.Mr. Scarborough, the Ohio university’s newly minted president, has asked all of his senior administrators to commit to a set of “Leadership and Management Principles” that he says will ensure success. The president’s big no-nos, which are outlined in 28 bullet points, include: Failing to pick up trash. Failing to maintain an orderly and clean work environment. Being late to meetings. Losing one’s cool. The inability to answer a question directly and succinctly.

 

Looking at the first set of success factors it would be hard to describe them as particularly novel or visionary. Here’s a sample:

 

principles
And here’s the list of mistakes:

mistakes

It’s an interesting approach. I suspect though that there are very few memorable ones in here. Apart from the picking up trash one. Which really should not need a reminder.

Betting the farm

A very big gamble

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an extraordinary piece about how one investment manager gambled away $13.1 Million of her university’s money:
cash pile

Over a series of three contracts, Ms. Prizevoits signed over more than $8-million of the 96-year-old university’s money in 2008 to a Florida-based company called Betts and Gambles Global Equities LLC, to invest in collateralized-mortgage obligations. The founder of the company, federal-court documents state, instead spent part of the money on a Ferrari, a Maserati, and real estate.B y 2010, Ms. Prizevoits had become suspicious of the investments she had made with Betts and Gambles, documents state. Even so, she made another questionable investment on behalf of Ball State, sending $5-million to a California company, Blackhawk Wealth Solutions Inc., to invest in fixed-income securities called Treasury Strips. Much of that money flowed to another company, and was then used to buy a series of real-estate properties in the Bronx, N.Y.

Really does seem bizarre that anyone would do this and that they would manage to gamble away quite so much money without anyone noticing.

I would have thought through that the name of the company might have been a pointer to the problems to come: “Betts and Gambles Global Equities” should at least have raised an alarm bell?

Graduation Fails

It’s that time of year again

I’ve previously commented on graduation matters here but omitted to mention one particular challenge of the season: pronouncing graduands’ names.

Our Deans work very hard on this and it really is not a task I envy them. But now there is a possible solution. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on a start-up business designed to address this most distinctive of higher education problems:

What''s in a name?

What”s in a name?

Stanford University, whose students gave us the modern search engine, the modern sneaker company, and the modern method of money transfer, is finally tackling a native challenge: commencement. At graduation ceremonies over the past weekend, eight departments at the university used a web-based service that allows students to record their names before commencement for the benefit of whoever reads aloud the list of graduates.

Dubbed NameCoach, the start-up was founded last year by students at—where else?—Stanford. Universities using the service send a link to graduates, who are directed to a web page where they can record their names as they want them pronounced. Nervous deans can then review them at their leisure.

Praveen Shanbhag, who graduated from Stanford this year with a doctorate in philosophy, thought of the idea for NameCoach after a particularly brutal reading of his sister’s name at her 2010 undergraduate commencement. Mr. Shanbhag said the mangling clouded an otherwise happy day for the family. “It kind of tinged it with a sense of alienation and invisibility,” he says. He points to recent research on name mispronunciation as evidence of the psychological and societal damage such incidents can cause.

It’s a simple and rather neat idea and you can see on the demo page quite clearly how it works.

It might turn out to be really helpful. But it still depends on Deans getting it right on the day and there are all sorts of reasons things can go a little bit wrong with one or two pronunciations. But on the whole our Deans do a fantastic job and there is not a lot of butchering.

Even bigger fail

But name errors are sometimes the least of the problems on stage. In many years of daft behaviour by graduands I’ve not seen anything quite as splendidly dumb as this student’s failed backflip attempt during Davenport’s graduation ceremony:

 

It’s not uncommon to see a celebratory gesture or two as students make their way across the stage at college and university commencement ceremonies.

But on Sunday, the antics of one Davenport University student didn’t work out quite as planned.

After walking across the stage and shaking hands with university administrators, Robert Jeffrey Blank removed his cap, planted his feet in place and attempted a backflip.

It didn’t go well.

Blank failed to rotate quick enough, and appeared to land face first on the stage, drawing a gasp from the audience. He didn’t appear to suffer any serious injuries, though, as he can be seen quickly getting up and walking off stage.

 

Let’s hope we don’t see too many more of these. Or indeed this striking example of a typo on a Degree Certificate:

Crazy College, crazy spelling

Crazy School, crazy spelling

(this one via Inside Higher Ed)

An Ethics App?

Difficult ethical decision? There’s an app for that

I was taken by this interesting development in applying academic research to real world issues. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on a new mobile app intended to help with decision support on those difficult ethical issues:

The disclaimer on Santa Clara University’s new mobile app strikes an ominous tone:

“In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this website/app.”

Then again the Ethical Decision Making app, developed by the university’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, aims for more-consequential uses than, say, Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds. The Santa Clara ethicists hope that people who make decisions that will change lives—business leaders, hospital administrators, and school officials, for instance—will use the app as a guide.

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

Alternative ethical decision making aids are available

The Ethical Decision Making app is an attempt to bring applied ethics into 21st century. It is not so much a Magic 8-Ball as a pocket Socrates, which is to say the app asks more questions than it answers. The idea is that someone facing a decision can use it to evaluate each possible option.

Once the user gets past the disclaimer, the app asks him or her to list all the stakeholders in the decision. The app then asks the user to consider the implications of the option at hand according to five categories of “good”: utility (“Does this action produce the most good and do the least harm for all who are affected?”), rights (“Does my action best respect the rights of all who have a stake?”), justice (“Does this action treat people equally or proportionally?”), virtue (“Does this option lead me to act as the sort of person I want to be?”), and the common good (“Does this action best serve the community as a whole, not just some members?”).

For each of the five categories, the user rates where the option would fall on a scale of “more good” to “more harm,” and so on. The app also asks the user to assign a weight to each of the five categories that reflects how important it is.

Then the app spits out a number. The number supposedly represents how ethical the option would be on a scale of 1 to 100, according to the values supplied by the user.

Convinced of the value of this? I’m not sure. If you need an app to help you with your ethical positioning you are possibly not ideally placed to reach any kind of decision on an issue.

I was almost tempted to download the app and test it out on some ethical dilemmas. Then I thought I could pretend I had done so (which would be a lot quicker) and make up some absurd results. But then I tossed a coin and it told me to ditch the whole project. Ethics eh?

A New Student Services Role?

Does every University need a Course Concierge?

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had a piece about the development of the idea of the ‘Course Concierge’. The label seems to have been assigned to Paul Neill title who is director of the core curriculum at the University of Nevada at Reno, by the students there. He’s the one they contact when they can’t get into a class they need and sorts it out for them:

A few years ago, officials at the university decided that they had to do more to reduce the hassles of registering for courses. They imagined a kind of registration czar, someone who could communicate well with faculty members but who had the authority of an administrator. Mr. Neill, a faculty member who works in the provost’s office, fit the bill.

Someone else's student services centre

Some other institution’s student services centre

Soon Nevada was promoting Mr. Neill as the course concierge, the man advisers and students could turn to when stuck. Each semester, he helps 50 to 60 students solve their scheduling problems, working one on one with those who need a particular course to graduate, or who have trouble getting into classes they must take in a sequence. Often he creates a spot in a class that’s full, or steers students to suitable alternatives.

“In the past, it was often left up to the student and the professor to see who could get in where,” Mr. Neill says. “It was very informal.”

Even in times of plenty, students often learn a tough lesson when they register for courses: You can’t always get what you want. In this era of budget cuts, however, students on some campuses have scrambled to get not only the courses they would like but also those they need for their majors and to satisfy core requirements.

 

Whilst in many ways it seems like a solution to a problem more likely to be encountered on US campuses, the idea of providing additional assistance to students in this way is an interesting one. A contact of last resort on course matters might be a really valuable addition to student services offerings.

Really not sure about the title though.

Students behaving badly

Crimes and misdemeanours at university

I was greatly taken by this list of fineable offences for 18th-century students at Harvard:

Offense #19, “Cutting off the lead,” seems to refer to the lead on the college building’s roof. Lead was once used for roofing material (especially for more expensively-constructed buildings), and such buildings suffered from the depradations of thieves who would steal the lead and sell it. It’s unclear, in this case, whether the students were cutting off lead for profit or for simple mischief.

 

Students have always behaved badly. Not all of them and not all of the time but universities have often felt the need to seek to constrain the worst excesses and this list from Harvard is typical although clearly very much of its time. (See also True Crime on Campus…)

A previous post here looked at regulations in Oxford and Uzbekistan, in the 16th Century and more recently.

In 1584 at Oxford University, statutes were approved to prevent disorder among the student body. These regulations also contain references to specific degree requirements including attendance at lectures on Aristotle and an instruction not to play football. (Sylvester, D (1970), Educational Documents, 800-1816, London: Methuen pp151-153.)

These days universities around the world tend to have more comprehensive requirements (but perhaps more supportive of sporting activity). See for example the University of Nottingham Code of Discipline for Students.

An interesting development of this has been reported by the Chronicle which noted that Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Higher and Secondary Education issued a ‘code of conduct’ for students, covering such matters as how they should shake hands with professors and the proper time to visit the toilet during classes.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (quoted by the Chronicle) described the code, “Ethical Rules for Higher Education Institutions,” as an attempt by an authoritarian government to keep its youth population in line:

The ministry is requiring that its pedantic “Ethical Rules for Higher Education Institutions” be signed by every university student and professor in the country.

“These rules are being introduced to form and retain, as well as defend, the ethical integrity of members of higher educational institutions,” the document says. It promises to “prevent the decay of students…and defend them from alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as the threats of religious extremism and mass culture.”

(It’s good to see that someone is still fighting that last battle, particularly after Rutgers University paid Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” $32,000 to lecture its students in March 2011. Snooki got $2,000 more than Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning author who for $30,000 delivered the keynote address at Rutgers’ commencement ceremony in May 2011.)

 

This is the kind of thing which Harvard used to have to put up with

This is the kind of thing which Harvard used to have to put up with

Notwithstanding the lofty language of the prologue, many of the new guidelines read like a rather poor joke, the work of ministry officials with an acutely sardonic sense of humor. Article 3.8 stipulates that “members of a higher education institution, when moving, should take the right side. It is recommended to greet each other in the following way: students first greet professors; men first greet women; younger students first greet older students. Shaking hands is excluded from this rule, since elders should reach out to shake first.”

And as if that weren’t enough:

“It is prohibited to post on the Internet materials that are not in line with national values or related to the internal problems of higher educational institutions,” the rules say, before going on to note that they “categorically ban publishing, saving, or distribution via computers of different materials not related to a higher education institution.”

And just when you thought things could not get any worse: “Don’t walk around a university campus with no reason,” the rulebook advises.

So, it really does feel like a bit of a homage to Harvard. Unfortunately it is the Harvard of over 200 years ago rather than today.

Better Grades for More Ticket Sales

Novel assessment method or student exploitation?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story about marketing students at the Metropolitan State University of Denver who, it says, are graded on the basis of the number of ticket sales to professional sports games they make. Academic staff are now reviewing some of these courses which apparently generate a great deal of income for the business school:

The requirement has angered some professors who worry that students are being exploited.

The university acknowledges that three marketing courses in the School of Business require students to sell tickets to Colorado Avalanche hockey games and Denver Nuggets basketball games. The selling assignment determines 15 percent of each student’s grade in the courses.

cash pile

That will be a B+

Selling more tickets translates into a better grade, with “additional rewards” available to students who achieve “exceptional sales volume,” according to the spring 2013 syllabus for one of the courses, “Personal Selling,” offered by Scott G. Sherwood, a sales professional in residence in the department of marketing. Students are given 10 tickets for each of two games; each ticket accounts for 10 percent of the ticket-sales grade.

Whilst it is possible to imagine that students do learn something about sales from the assessment, it is difficult not to see this as at best, a slightly dubious methodology, albeit a fairly creative one. Not sure it will catch on though.

Two very different approaches to campus security

Sophisticated Mobile App or an Armoured Truck? Tough Call

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting report on the introduction of ‘LiveSafe’, a mobile app that was adopted by the university in August and has been downloaded 4,200 times:

“We get the luxury of getting a lot of information from the students because we have this platform that is really, really easy to use,” Mr. Venuti says, noting that students can text alerts to officials anonymously if they chose. “These kids are text-driven. They are mobile-device-driven. They can text faster than any of us can probably type.”

LiveSafe, according to the report, was co-founded by a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, and is one of a number of similar apps being snapped up by colleges to help with emergency comms and response. This kind of technology is apparently gaining momentum in the US “amid a national conversation about campus safety that extends all the way to the White House”:

In some ways, the technology moves institutions beyond mass-alerting systems, which became a legal requirement in the wake of Virginia Tech and allow colleges to send out emergency notifications by email, text message, and loudspeaker, among other mediums.

While specific features vary, many of the new apps can be integrated into existing alerting infrastructures while also creating a two-way channel of communication. Users send written or visual messages tagged with their GPS location to public-safety officials, who monitor the apps’ back-end dashboards through web browsers, typically on monitors in command centers or on laptops in patrol cars. Officials can respond to alerts with follow-up questions or specific instructions.

It’s smart stuff and sadly likely to be very useful at US campuses where there seem to be fairly frequent severe incidents at universities.

Meanwhile, over at Ohio State University…

Huffington Post reports that the University has acquired Military-Style Armoured Truck.

There are no suggestions that Ohio State has had a problem with roadside bombs recently but they do now have a response to such eventualities. It is, apparently, a “mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle”. It’s army surplus we are told:

The 19-ton armored truck (specifically, a “MaxxPro,” manufactured by the Illinois defense-vehicle maker Navistar) is built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IED’s, and Nuclear, Biological and Chemical environments,” according to its product description.

This does seem a little over the top – surely things at US universities aren’t this bad?

It does look like the app may have a little more value than the truck but we’ll have to wait and see.

Free Education in Rwanda?

edX and Facebook say they are offering free education in Rwanda

rwanda

A previous post on a ‘university in a box‘ noted a report on a project to bring higher education to Rwanda in a novel way. Others are now following.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a report on another initiative in Rwanda, this time involving edX and Facebook.

edX will apparently work with Facebook and two other companies to provide “free, localized education to students in Rwanda on “affordable” smart phones”. It all sounds really positive:

edX, a provider of massive open online courses that was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will help create a mobile teaching app that is integrated with Facebook and “optimized for a low-bandwidth environment.” As part of the program, called SocialEDU, edX will also work with the Rwandan government to adapt materials for a pilot course.1196px-Facebook_like_thumb

Anant Agarwal, edX’s president, said in a written statement: “Improving global access to high-quality education has been a key edX goal from Day 1. Nearly half of our two million students come from developing countries, with 10 percent from Africa. In partnering with Facebook on this innovative pilot, we hope to learn how we can take this concept to the world.”

Also participating in the program are Nokia, the device manufacturer, and the service provider Airtel, which “will provide free education data for everyone in Rwanda who participates in the program for one year.”

keyboard

The limited duration of the free data offer does rather suggest that some of the partners in the enterprise may not be entirely driven by altruism. However, this kind of initiative, in addition to the others mentioned in the earlier post, does claim to have an appropriate ethos. This really should be one of the great outcomes of current technological advances in higher education. Let’s hope it does deliver on the promise and does not stall for the want of free data packages or Facebook advertising revenue.