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.

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The difficulties of leading via Twitter

A Cautionary Tale: “A College Unfriends Its Social-Networking President”

The Chronicle of Higher Education carries a fascinating story about a new breed of institutional leader seeking to engage through twitter. Unfortunately, not everyone at the college seems to be fully bought in:

John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, may be the only college president to publicly describe his leadership as “in beta,” a product rolled out before it’s fully tested.

He’s tinkered with using social media to connect with constituents on and off campus. He’s blogged, posted video messages on YouTube, and tweeted more than any other college president. (He has more than 175,000 Twitter followers.)

He even has a new book due out this month, called Redesigning Leadership (MIT Press), relating scenes from his three years at RISD and samples of his tweets. One example: “When people ask if I’ve stopped designing I say, ‘No. I’m designing how to talk about/with/for our #RISD community.'”

But many professors at the art school do not appreciate being part of Mr. Maeda’s high-tech experiment in leadership. In March, more than 80 percent of faculty members voted “no confidence” in his performance. To them, all that tweeting feels more like distraction than engagement.

A cautionary tale perhaps for senior university tweeters. But don’t think anyone in UKHE has as many followers as John Maeda. It must be a bigger college than you’d think.

Ranking of Colleges’ Twitter Influence

Ranking universities and social media

Some entertaining nonsense in the past couple of weeks on ranking university use of twitter etc. Chris Sexton beat me to this with her posting on this topic which covers more than I will.

The fact that people are producing league tables of this stuff shows it already matters but it remains difficult to take it too seriously. Will universities start chasing better ‘Klout scores’? According to the Chronicle Stanford tops the list:

Stanford University’s Twitter feed is the most influential among college and university accounts on that microblogging service, according to a new ranking.

The list was published this week by Klout, an online company that tracks the popularity and impact of Tweets and gives every Twitter account a numerical score for influence. Factors reflected in the score include the number of followers a user has, how often a user is retweeted, and how a user’s tweets are being used in the conversation on Twitter

Stanford earned a Klout score of 70, with Syracuse University, Harvard University, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison all following with a score of 64.

The top 10 is rounded out by University of California at Berkley, Butler University, Tufts University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Texas at Austin, and Marquette University.

Compare this with a brief summary (which you could turn into a ranking if you really wanted to) on the use of twitter by Russell Group universities. It does suggest that UK universities are still a bit behind the curve on this.

And lest anyone think that the ranking of universities on their social media is getting too serious we have this rather entertaining Dutch analysis.

So, serious rankings of social media useage will emerge no doubt but it is all probably a little premature.

MBA Courses on Facebook. Yeah, right

Nothing to see here, move along now

The Chronicle of Higher Education carries a report on a great piece of publicity from a small private London college:

Facebook has changed the way students, faculty members, and administrators communicate outside the classroom. Now, with the introduction of the London School of Business and Finance’s Global MBA Facebook app, Facebook is becoming the classroom.

The Global MBA app—introduced in October—lets users sample typical business-school courses like corporate finance and organizational behavior through the social-networking site. The free course material includes interactive message boards, a note-taking tool, and video lectures and discussions with insiders from industry giants like Accenture Management Consulting and Deloitte. This may be a good way to market a school, notes an observer from a business-school accrediting organization, but it may not be the best way to deliver courses.

Unlike most online business courses, the Global MBA program will not require students to pay an enrollment fee up front. Instead, students can access basic course material free of charge and pay the school only when they are ready to prepare for their exams. School administrators hope that letting students “test drive” the online courses before actually shelling out the tuition money will boost graduation rates.

According to their website they expect, conservatively, to have half a million users in the first year. The courses at this School, which has only been around for a few years, are validated by a number of UK universities, including the University of Wales (which has recently had some issues with validated provision in Malaysia). But this really looks like a fantastic promotional achievement designed to boost profile rather than a major educational innovation. Bit surprising that it got quite so much coverage in the Chronicle therefore.

Twitter in Higher Education 2010

Report on the use of Twitter in Higher Education 2010

Interesting report on Twitter in HE which includes a survey on academic staff use.

Is Twitter a powerful learning tool or a colossal waste of time? It depends whom you ask. In its second annual survey on the popular micro-blogging technology, Faculty Focus found a great divide in how professors perceive Twitter, including whether it should be used in the classroom or is best reserved for networking with peers.

Of those who currently use Twitter, the most common activities include “to share information with peers” and “as a real-time news source.” Instructional uses, such as “to communicate with students” and “as a learning tool in the classroom” are less popular, although both activities saw increases over the previous year.

Non-users expressed concerns that Twitter creates poor writing skills and could be yet another classroom distraction. Many also noted that very few of their students use Twitter. Finally, a new trend that emerged this year centered on the belief that many feel they already have too many places to post messages or check for student questions/comments. As one professor put it, “I have no interest in adding yet another communication tool to my overloaded life.”

In addition, Times Higher Education has recently published a feature on social media use in UK HE:

The experts seem to be divided not only on social media’s future, but also on their present in terms of their use by academics, and the research that has been done has reached contradictory conclusions. A survey of UK institutions conducted by online consultants Jadu shows a high level of use among academics, with more than 70 per cent of respondents using social media in some way.

And includes this entertaining comment from someone slightly sceptical about the value of social media:

“You can’t get a degree on Facebook; you can’t get a degree from Twitter. Social media are forms of communication; they are no substitute for the university as the place where your curriculum is structured, where you learn. You don’t get a degree for reading books; you read books to get a degree. The same is true of social media.”

So, opinions divided then. No surprises there.

Facebook for Scientists?

Researchers need networks too

A report in the Chronicle notes:

A $12.2-million federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health will finance a network some are calling a Facebook for scientists. Several universities, including Cornell University and the University of Florida, will develop the network over the next two years in the hopes of helping scientists find other academics to work with.

If a researcher is looking for someone else in a very specialized field, he or she would usually think of all the people he has met or simply scan recent scientific journals for names, said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the grant. Mr. Conlon calls those methods “haphazard.”

facebook

People using the network will be able to enter targeted inquiries into a search box. The results will show scholars in very specialized fields. The site will also reveal relationships between academics, such as whether someone has published an article with someone else, or whether someone was an adviser to someone else.

But why create a new network to achieve this? Aren’t existing networks like Facebook or LinkedIn able to do this kind of thing better and more efficiently?

Now it’s “music that makes you dumb”

Follow up to post about books that achieve this end.

This site does the correlation with music and SAT scores.

Looking at Facebook for University of Nottingham today it seems the following represent our top 10:

Muse
1 Muse
2 The Killers
3 Oasis
4 Jack Johnson
5 Snow Patrol
6 Coldplay
7 Bloc Party
8 Radiohead
9 The Kooks
10 Razorlight

Which, in US terms, would definitely mean mid-table obscurity.

How disappointing.

Books “that make you dumb”

Interesting piece of work – a website which shows the correlation between favourite books on Facebook and average SAT scores for particular US institutions.

Lolita

The five highest-scoring books (and Average SAT scores):

1. Lolita (1317)
2. 100 Years of Solitude (1308)
3. Crime and Punishment (1307)
4. Freakonomics (1275)
5. Catch-22 (1233)

Someone, with more time on their hands than is good for them, could do the same in the UK using average tariff scores – we need a new league table.

Even more information for applicants?

According to the Guardian, in a report on a conference they have sponsored:

Universities should offer more detailed information about courses to the Facebook generation, the shadow universities secretary, David Willetts, said today. The Guardian’s Higher Education summit heard that students were sharing information about the offers they receive for university courses on social networking sites, forcing universities to rethink the kind of information they give out.

But there is already an abundance of information about universities, much of it generated by institutions themselves but also a huge amount by government, its agents, newspapers, league table compilers and various websites. Just because some of this now appears, in an even less well-informed state, on Facebook, does not mean universities have suddenly got their marketing campaigns all wrong.

lecture

Willetts said students should be able to find out how crowded seminars were likely to be, how much access time they would receive from lecturers and what form this access would take.

Fine and helpful but it is extremely difficult to produce accurate and meaningful data on these items (within a single university, let alone on a comparative basis) and institutions themselves aren’t going to start publishing data describing themselves as overcrowded or offering minimal access to academic staff except on Tuesday afternoons.

But, and this is where he does have a point, if there is no authoritative information about the undergraduate experience then it becomes more likely that gossip and misinformation will dominate. And that is not particularly good news for anyone.

In-house Facebook?

According to Business Week, this is what the big companies are now doing, ie providing an internal social networking alternative.

water cooler

By luring employees into a network, companies hope to leverage their skills and contacts. But they also hope that all that collaboration will cut out time that’s now spent mailing documents and e-mailing comments.

A bit optimistic perhaps. Seems questionable whether such homegrown facebook alternatives will actually provide a substitute for the real thing or just an additional channel. And how comprehensive is Sharepoint in any case?