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Women in STEM

Last week I was at the 2016 Summit of the National Center for Women and Information Technology.  It was an interesting conference in several ways (the large, mostly empty, slightly creepy desert hotel constantly evoked the warm smell of colitas), but mostly because of the very powerful keynote by Melissa Harris Perry.

She began by giving us a brief introduction to intersectionality and laying out the issue (a familiar one to this audience) of women’s underrepresentation in STEM, with some compelling (frightening) specifics.

For example, earlier this year, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein was awarded a PhD in theoretical physics at MIT.  Nothing really surprising or unusual about that (although good news for Dr. Prescod-Weinstein), until you realize that Dr. Prescod-Weinstein is not just an African-American woman, she is one of only 83 African-American women to receive a PhD in physics or a physics-related field.  83.  Not 83 in the past year, or 83 at MIT, or 83 with hyphenated last names.  83 African-American women with PhD’s in physics EVER.  In all of American history.

Then Dr. Perry showed us this graph (which I’d seen before, but which shocks every time) from the AAC&U study in 2010. (source)


Those lines show the numbers of degrees and faculty ranks for women of color in various fields.  In physics, math, engineering and computer science, the numbers are low from the start.  But look how all the numbers dive off a cliff when you get to the rank of full professor.

So the problem is real (and she had plenty more examples, some personal).  And the audience knew it, and were more outraged still to hear all the examples and specifics.  And Dr. Perry was very good about explaining how very many of the attempts to solve this problem (computer engineer Barbies, coding boot camps, job “opportunities” that don’t address the culture of organizations, internships or training programs that never lead to actual decision-making roles), even when they’re well-intentioned, are doomed to go nowhere, because they don’t address the roots and real causes of the problem.  Which, of course, is deep, cultural, and complex.

But, to her great credit, Dr. Perry went even further than explaining the problem and critiquing unsuccessful solutions.  (I was at first worried that this was going to end up as one of those “it’s a bigger problem and therefore we have to just throw our hands up in the air” talks) She provided a list of real practical steps, with deep reach and broad foundations, that could actually, systemically, successfully, pave the way to creating and improving real opportunities for girls and women of all kinds to participate in real ways in the STEM careers and academic pursuits in which they are underrepresented.

Here are those steps, as I captured them.  Working from my notes, hastily scribbled, I am certainly missing and mis-paraphrasing some of what she said.  But I thought this was real enough and strong enough to document.

  1. Fight voter suppression.  This one clearly surprised the audience, as it seemed somewhat unrelated.  But Dr. Perry’s link of underrepresentation to questions of policy and power and funding (controlled by the people who are most affected) made perfect sense.
  2. Reproductive justice and real sex education.  Women can’t easily make the whole ranges of choices about their careers and educations if they can’t make choices about their bodies and families and partners.
  3. Comprehensive immigration reform. So that women can pursue opportunities globally.
  4. Cite a woman of color.  Every time.  In every publication, in every talk, always cite at least one woman of color.  If you haven’t cited any, don’t assume there are none to cite.  There are, and the fact that you don’t know of them is part of the problem, not a reason to continue the problem.
  5. Follow Black girl leadership.  Don’t tell the girls what’s the “right” kind of STEM or of making, let them tell you.  Reading, or rocking, or singing or painting, can be just as much a way to learn STEM as coding.  Schools (and especially STEM programs in schools) need to stop acting like making art or music in school is some kind of weird distraction or waste of time.  (STEAM not just STEM).
  6. Honor the different intersections of all types of women and girls.  Talking about “women and minorities” completely ignores the people who are simultaneously both.  Girls and women come in all types of shapes and sizes and races and abilities.  Not all women are cis women.  Not every girl wants to be an astronaut or an athlete.  Lipsticks and head-scarves and boots and suits and leather jackets and fuzzy sweaters all need to be welcomed.
  7. Community engaged research. Projects and studies that meet the needs and answer the questions of real communities will often work better to engage real people than “Hello World” or fighting robots.
  8. (Here she quoted Antoine de St. Exupery) “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”  It’s not about specific tasks.  It’s not about learning to code or learning calculus.  It’s about the endless immensity of the sea.  Get people inspired, not about tools but about goals.  Not about tasks, but about dreams. (as it turns out, St. Exupery might not have said exactly this.  But the point still needs to be made, and I still love it).
  9. Right to fail.  Not just that people have a right to fail, which of course we do, but that it’s right to fail.  It’s the exact right thing to do.  If you’re not failing, you’re not learning.

(As I said, I’m probably misquoting Dr. Perry, and almost certainly missed some of what she said.  9 points is a start, but only a start.  There’s more.  But I really love the way she looks at concrete practicalities as well as global principles)

As we at CUNY and all of education and higher education, and as I personally, work to include more opportunities for more people who have been left out of STEM (STEAM), I want to remember these as principles to work with.  And I would love to hear more discussion of all of them, at all levels.  Let’s talk about specific programs and initiatives, sure.  But also about bigger challenges and wider changes that address the real issues.

The Technology of Smarthistory

(A long and technical post follows.  If you don’t care to read it, if you’re of the TL;DR school, then go, right now, to Smarthistory.org and take a look at what kind of a beautiful OER can be made with WordPress.)

As anyone who knows me knows, I’m a big supporter (and helper, I guess) of Smarthistory (one of the most important Open Educational Resources on the web). I’ve been involved since the beginning.  I’ve posted about it before, more than once.  But Smarthistory has just reached another important milestone.  For years it was an independent stand-alone website, with several different designs.  The original iteration was in WordPress.  I built that one, and it looked…well, see for yourself.oldsh

That site was the beginning of Smarthistory and it did a lot of the good things that Smarthistory still does.  And I was proud to have built it with open source tools and for free. It even won an award, because it did work.

Then there was a small grant and a new design and new site in another open source CMS, ModX.  I didn’t build that one, and the design was much better as was the functionality.


That one actually won another award, a Webby, and got a lot more attention.  It was a great and beautiful site.  Then Smarthistory became part of Khan Academy, and eventually keeping up the separate website wasn’t viable anymore.  So the Smarthistory site went to the Internet Wayback machine.

Well, now, once again, Smarthistory is an independent site!  Beth and Steven have a blog post announcing and explaining the new setup.  And what their goals were.


The new site is even more gorgeous than before–I think–and even more functional.  Some of the goals (as Beth and Steven explain) were to make the art the beautiful center, and to use the menus as teaching tools.  That point–that information architecture can be a kind of pedagogy, is one that I hope to take up at some length in a later piece.  Here I just want to detail, for those who might be interested, just how I made the site happen with WordPress and gave it the kind of elegance and functionality it needed to have.

So let’s dig into some of the technical details.

Smarthistory is running on WordPress, hosted by the wonderful folks at Reclaim Hosting.

Smarthistory is using a child theme based on the Customizr theme. This is a very bare-bones theme, and very clean (letting the images take the stage).  It is also somewhat difficult to work with, since it doesn’t use exactly the standard WordPress setup of template files, and all the functions are controlled by hooks…which are sometimes not so well documented.

That child theme uses quite a bit of custom css (and, unfortunately, a lot of the !important declaration.  I know that’s not usually best practice, but in this case it was often necessary).  In some cases I had to use CSS to duplicate what customizr does for some of its non-template templates.  One example of that is the Popular Now page, which, like the Browse by Image pages, came out particularly nicely.

There’s also a rather extensive custom functions.php file.  (I’m happy to share both of those, in detail or in full, if anyone wants).

And then there are the plugins…we’re using a lot of standard ones (akismet, for example), but there are some really special ones we discovered and used.  Here are the most important–all highly recommended for anyone working on any kind of similar project.  Most are free.

Ajax Search Lite provides the really powerful and image-friendly (with thumbnails!) search bar.

Co-Authors Plus allows us to have authors listed for articles (and even more than one author, hence “co-authors”) who do not have to have an account on our WordPress system.  Even better, it gives us (with some special help from the great Daniel Bachhuber, formerly of CUNY, who originally wrote the plugin) a very beautiful and functional alphabetical list of all the site’s contributors.  And each of them has a particularly nice author page.

Maps Marker Pro let us make custom maps which are so important to telling historical stories.

NextEnd Accordion menu let us have very specific and contextual left-side nav menus, different on different pages (the top-nav is a different plugin–see below).

Ubermenu gave us that top nav.  This is an absolutely amazing responsive menu, and when a site has such a large and complicated structure, this is critical.

Of course the site is Creative Commons licensed…and I consider that goes for the technical details, too.  So anyone who has questions about how we made things or made them work…I will always share and answer!

To make a site with (literally) hundreds of pages and (literally) hundreds of different menu items, and to make that into a resource that teachers and learners anywhere can use anytime for free…I am so happy and proud to have been involved with that!  And I should also mention the great assistance of Gwen Shaw and Nara Hohensee, both CUNY colleagues, who put in long hours and excellent work in getting the site ready for launch.

A long and balanced MOOC report

I was interviewed for this report, although my role was small, and now it’s out, and I think worth a read. It’s long, but that means it’s comprehensive. I was impressed by the real openness and curiosity of the researchers and the way they didn’t start with preconceived notions.

So give it a read: MOOCs: Expectations and Reality


Thanks to Michael Branson Smith for the great tip to listen to Adam Savage’s talk “Why We Make” at the 2012 San Francisco Maker Fair.

Savage explains with some brilliance how art is always part of STEM (art is where it all begins), and how learning works best when it comes through “making what you can’t not make.”

This is just an excerpt from the end of the talk, the part most relevant to teaching and learning. The entire talk is well worth a listen, but for those with limited time, this clip is the heart of it.

Smarthistory and the Google Art Project

Big news today in the world of art–and the world of teaching and learning with and about art–and the world of “jailbreaking” the museum (or access to all kinds of cultural knowledge).

Actually it’s two items of big news.

The first is Google’s announcement of version 2 of their already tremendous Google Art Project.  They’ve now got 151 museums, from 40 countries (up from only 17 when they first launched).  That’s 32,000 works of art.  But these are not just little clipart low-quality watermarked jpgs.  They’re gorgeous, high-resolution, full color, zoomable, suitable-for-study images.  For some of them there is even “museum view” which lets you simulate walking around the museum and seeing the art in the context where it currently sits.

And then there’s the other fact, which of course has a strong personal resonance for me (on many levels!). For quite a few of these works of art (over 100), there are videos made by the wonderful folks at Smarthistory.  Of course these add to the enjoyment, the understanding, the learning, the questioning of the art.  A great example, a favorite of mine, is Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Tower of Babel.  It’s fantastic, with so much to see, but it’s in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  Except now, it’s not only there, it’s also got a version on the Google Art Project. Take a look.  Zoom in.  Pan around.  Really see what’s happening there.  And then click on the “Details” link at the top of the screen, and you won’t only see the “normal” kind of details you might expect (description, map, style, material), but you’ll also see a video.

And that video, like over 100 others on the new Google Art Project, comes from the one and only Smarthistory team.  Conversational, informal, engaging, informative and provocative…just what we want and expect and need!

As the Smarthistory team says in their announcement:

We jumped at this opportunity because the Art Project has such enormous educational potential. It is critical to gather works of art from different institutions to tell the nuanced stories of art history. The Art Project brings together works of art from 151 museums in 40 countries within a cohesive visual environment. The high resolution images, powerful zoom function, “Museum View” (an interior version of “Street View”) and the ability to collect and annotate images, are all features that are ideal for teaching and learning.

Viva the Museum without Walls!

“Rebuilding the LMS”

Campus Technology has a feature this month on “Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century.”  The reporter interviewed me at some length a few weeks ago, and did a pretty good job of capturing what I said.  All in all, a pretty good article. Of course, I would probably say it’s better to throw the LMS away and build something flexible and open.  But I guess that’s really what I said…

Not at all a bad interview, and if some of it is a bit aspirational, it is still, in essence, what we’ve done and are trying to do.

The first MIT.x course

MIT has opened enrollment for the first of the new MIT.x courses, “Circuits and Electronics.” The course is free, and in this first pilot instance, even the certificate gained for completing the course successfully will be free (MIT expects to start charging for those some time soon).

6.002x (Circuits and Electronics) is designed to serve as a first course in an undergraduate electrical engineering (EE), or electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) curriculum. At MIT, 6.002 is in the core of department subjects required for all undergraduates in EECS.

The course introduces engineering in the context of the lumped circuit abstraction. Topics covered include: resistive elements and networks; independent and dependent sources; switches and MOS transistors; digital abstraction; amplifiers; energy storage elements; dynamics of first- and second-order networks; design in the time and frequency domains; and analog and digital circuits and applications. Design and lab exercises are also significant components of the course. You should expect to spend approximately 10 hours per week on the course.

“Great!” I thought.  “I can do that! I will try it! Sounds like a fascinating subject, and way back in high school I did think that I might become an engineer. And it will give me a chance to try out and blog about the new MIT.x platform.”


In order to succeed in this course, you must have taken an AP level physics course in electricity and magnetism. You must know basic calculus and linear algebra and have some background in differential equations. Since more advanced mathematics will not show up until the second half of the course, the first half of the course will include an optional remedial differential equations component for those who need it.

That rules me out, I’m afraid!  For about six different reasons.  And, I think, it should rule out some of the complaints/skepticism about these courses.  We can (we should, we will) make learning more open and more accessible.  But in some very important ways, there really aren’t any shortcuts.  Engineering is engineering, and it can be open to everyone…but it’s still engineering, and without the physics and the math, it just isn’t going to be understandable.

Still, I hope someone reading this who does have those basic qualifications will give it a try and blog about the experience!  You can enroll here 6002x.mitx.mit.edu.


Of iBooks and textbooks. And Authoring. By Students.

So there’s been a lot of excited posts–positive and negative–in a lot of different places about Apple’s announcement last week that they were ready to “revolutionize” the world of textbooks.  Some of the best of those that I’ve seen are from Audrey Watters at Hack Education and Kathleen Fitzpatrick at ProfHacker (both of these are mainly critical). (And just as I’m writing this post, I see that Michael Feldstein at e-literate has weighed in with his usual sharp brilliance!) And there have been some other good ones, too.  I think a lot of the criticism has been warranted.  And a lot of the excitement has been justified.

But I think that even the best of these have missed some important points, and misunderstood some others, so I wanted to give my own take.

A couple of opening premises:  I have felt for quite a while now that the “textbook” as an entity (a genre, a medium, a format, whatever it is) is long past its expiration date.  The extremely expensive physical book, which all students are required to purchase, which digests the critical information on a given academic subject, is something that was ever only of very limited value, and whatever value that was is pretty much long gone. (And “digest” is really the right word there–what these books do is take subjects and chew them up and pre-process them, so that they can be metabolized without effort…and without flavor or pleasure, either.  A textbook is to learning what Ensure® is to fine dining.)  The monopoly aspect, the new editions every year without any real content, but mostly the deadening effect on the learning, made me stop using textbooks in all my classes years ago.  I use books, not textbooks (and sometimes not even books, but that’s a separate topic).  Of course this is easier to do when teaching English…but I don’t think it’s impossible in any subject.

So I’m no fan of textbooks, but I have known and do see that they’re not exactly an escapable dinosaur right now.  Teachers with little time to innovate resources, or teachers mandated by a centrally-determined curriculum, or teachers who have found textbooks they really do like and find engaging and useful are still going to need to have those textbooks be as good as they can be–and as affordable and usable as they can be.

It seemed right from the start that Apple had knocked out a couple of the big problems with textbooks.  A cap of $15 is a big savings.  The ability to include video, 3-d objects, interactive charts and graphs, in-line review quizzes and hyperlinks adds a lot of new ways to engage with content.  And of course the reduced schlep-factor is an advantage.

And an easy and convenient (like iTunes) distribution method (cutting out the gouging of many campus bookstores) could help, too.

Miller and Levine's Biology
Miller and Levine's Biology text

So I tried this for myself.  I updated my iBooks on my iPad. I installed iBooks Author and started messing around with creating a textbook.  I downloaded the free (and beautiful) sample of E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth.  And I spent the $15 on Miller and Levine’s Pearson textbook Biology.  They definitely are beautiful.  And they definitely have the advantages that an iPad can give.  The video is terrific and plays smoothly and is integrated well.  The interactive demonstrations and graphs helped me to understand the concepts.  The photography in brilliant color, swiping to change photos and pinching to zoom, and the rotating and manipulable 3-d objects are terrific.  I took some quizzes and checked my answers and found out why I was missing what I was missing.  That was all great.  But what was still disappointing to me was that these are still textbooks.  They still have that same bulleted, condensed, digested approach to the content.  I got to read about what Darwin thought, but I didn’t get to read Darwin.  I got to see examples of what the book said I should know, but not look at examples and determine for myself what they told me.

EO Wilson's Life on Earth
EO Wilson's Life on Earth

I have been having a problem with almost all the ebook initiatives for schools that I have been reading and hearing about.  I can’t really support them, because they almost all see text as being something that can be just seamlessly translated into an electronic version and then left there.  That’s fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.  A textbook on a screen that is just text, without all the advantages that a screen can give (media, links, and so on), just seemed like a big waste to me.  And now I’ve found that even a beautiful multimedia textbook on a screen, taking advantage of what a screen can do, if it’s still a textbook…it’s better, but it’s still not good enough.

Now, there are also the disadvantages that are described in the posts I linked above.  There isn’t a means for interaction among students.  There isn’t as much of a savings for school districts where they have always purchased one set of books per class, to be re-used each year.  iPads are expensive and breakable.  And so forth.  Those are real.  But they aren’t to me the real disadvantages.

However.  And this is a big however and the main point I wanted to make.  There’s something else going on with this announcement, with this offering.  And that something seems to be missed in almost every post or reference I’ve seen. In addition to iBooks and the publisher-created textbooks for sale, Apple is also offering, as a free download, iBooks Author.  And that’s where things get really interesting.  Nobody has really missed that this product lets teachers create their own textbooks. And then offer them to their students (or anyone else).  Like any Apple product, iBooks Author has some incredibly beautiful ease of use features.  Like any Apple product, if you want to go outside the bounds of what Apple has predicted you will want to do, it’s frustrating.  And like any first-generation product of any kind, there are some bugs and issues (particularly with previewing and exporting) which will be resolved in future updates, to be sure.

It’s a giant time vampire, too–in a good way, though.  It’s very easy to get involved in adding this, arranging that, moving things, aligning things, thinking about where a picture would help or video or a hyperlink would be good or a glossary entry is necessary.  But some of this is actually very good thinking work, making decisions consciously about how to arrange and present content.

And that, right there, is what might be the real value in this product.  Not in having teachers create textbooks which they will then push out to students who are required to use them.  Like iMovie, like GarageBand (and yes, with their frustrations and problems), iBooks has the potential to put the creation into the hands of students.  That’s where we can have some exciting results, some really gorgeous and useful products.  Even better than that, it’s where we can have some vital and powerful processes.  When students create content, when they actively and critically think about what should be in their “textbook,” when each student (or small group of students) can create their own “textbook” and share it easily and actually get an audience who will be critical and responsive…that has the potential to be actually revolutionary.  They get the experience of doing the chewing, the swallowing, and the savoring (and even the creating the recipe and the cooking, if I’m not pushing the metaphor too far).

I will certainly make a textbook (more than one).  But I will also use the tool to think through how students can create something (some things) that aren’t really textbooks at all (although for convenience we might call them that.  Or maybe call them “untextbooks”).  A tool that lets students interact with course content in a way that is creative, expressive, and distributable, is a tool that I can use, that I’m excited about using, and that can really benefit students.

I’ve seen (everywhere!) the strong criticism that these textbooks, whoever creates them, are really only usable on iPads.  That’s true (although I’m not sure how permanently true that is.  I remember when music bought from iTunes could only be played on an iPod, and that’s not true anymore).  Even if it’s only temporarily true, it’s a valid criticism.

I’ve also seen (also everywhere, and even more angrily) the stronger criticism that Apple’s EULA on iBooks Author is too too restrictive.  That you can only sell the content you create through the iBooks store.  Only.  That’s true, too…but I care a whole lot less about that one.  Because Apple has also included, very explicitly, the condition that if you make your content free of charge, you can distribute it any way you want.  No limitations.  We need a bigger universe of free content, and this model could (will, I think) help to promote that.  If you want to sell, sell through Apple.  But better yet…don’t sell.  Give it away.  Let Pearson and McGraw Hill continue to sell their books for $15 or whatever they want.  We (we including our students) can make better content–things that are not just textbooks, but new kinds of representations in multimedia, for free, and we can give them away for free.  And we can use Apple’s distribution channel…or not.

We do have to find ways to make these new things (untextbooks) useful on more than just the one kind of device.  I doubt that will be far off.  An online iBooks format emulator? A translator to HTML 5? There will be a way, I’m sure.

Look for my untextbook Quacks, Yokels and Everyday Folk, coming soon!

Early thoughts on Pearson’s OpenClass

This was a major topic of conversation at Educause last week, and I had the chance to chat briefly with Adrian Sannier of Pearson on the exhibit floor–and also to try it out myself.

A few quick facts/impressions. A lot of the early buzz was about “Google’s new free and open source LMS” or similar. Almost none of that is accurate. It’s not a Google product, it’s a Pearson product. It’s available (for now) through the Google Apps marketplace, and integrates (or will–this week, they’re promising) with an existing Google Apps for Education database if you have one. But everyone I talked to from Google was very quick to point out that they didn’t develop this, aren’t offering it, don’t really have much of anything to do with it. They marched me straight over to the Pearson folks if I even tried to ask a question.

It’s also not at all Open Source. Pearson uses the term “open” very very loosely–so far I haven’t seen anything at all open about it. Adrian Sannier says that that is coming–some way for teachers to identify parts of their courses that could be shared with a wider network, multiple campuses or maybe all users of the system or maybe the whole world. But that’s not available yet. And the source code is definitely not open or available. There aren’t even API’s yet (although again, Adrian promises that there will be).

What is, however, is free of charge. That’s the main “selling” point, and when asked if that’s the distinguishing feature he would most want to claim, Adrian was very clear (both to me and to my friend Michael Feldstein. Michael has a very good blog post about OpenClass here ). This is not going to cost anyone money–free as in free beer, not as in free speech–and that’s what they’re proud of and what they’re promoting.

For now (and this should change sometime early in 2012), OpenClass is only available to Google Apps for Education campuses. Since we at Macaulay do use Google Apps for education, I (like hundreds of others) went immediately after the announcement and installed OpenClass to check it out right away.

I could talk at some length about what I discovered in testing–and we’ll be doing a lot more testing and trying (maybe for some spring classes, perhaps) as time goes by. It’s still very much in beta, with some features that aren’t quite working yet–some of them essential–and some little bugs that they’re still working on. The Pearson people seem to be extremely committed to fixing those bugs–they are responsive on twitter and by email, and in fact, when I pointed out a bug to their folks at Educause at about 3 in the afternoon, they called me back with more questions within 45 minutes, and then had the problem fixed by dinnertime that same day. That’s impressive, and not something that most LMS vendors would ever dream of doing for an end-user. That kind of response is reserved for high-level “escalated” tickets. Will that last? Who knows. But it did leave a good taste in my mouth.

As for the product itself, even given that it’s in beta, I have to say and somewhat hate to say that I’m not all that impressed. It’s an LMS. A fairly ordinary LMS. It’s not got revolutionary features, and the so-called social networking integration (mostly just an activity wall pulling together everything that is happening throughout the LMS for a given user as a main front page) is pretty much a big meh. The discussion board is not particularly attractive or navigable, and the general features (gradebook, announcements, submission/dropbox, assignments, documents) are just standard. Functional, but nothing interesting. The design is fine, but not very elegant and hardly customizable at all.

This is a standard LMS for a class (not a fully online class, Pearson is trying to make that distinction very clear) where a teacher and students want to do the basic LMS stuff–post a few things, assign and submit a few things, check grades, have a little bit of discussion–mainly just for asking and answering questions, not what I call a “real” online discussion (wide-ranging, digressive, engaging, critical, multi-media). Multi-media capabilities are limited. Sharing with the world outside the classroom, or escaping the silos of course and semester that the LMS is so married to, are both just about non-existent.

But all of that could come. At least for now, the promise or potential for most of that seems pretty strong. And one thing that Adrian also pointed out–with a free LMS, upgrades and new features can come much more quickly and easily. Most of the time, they will come fairly transparently. Nothing at all like an “enterprise” LMS upgrade. So that all remains to be seen.

I’m really interested to see how this will open beyond Google Apps for Education. When (and again, it could be just a few months) this opens up more widely, will that be to all Google customers? So that if I’m not affiliated with any institution, but I want to (for free) set up a class where I could teach and/or learn about birding or reef aquaria or the history of haberdashery, can I do that? And can I do it in a way that will make sense for learners–not just for a traditional class/semester-based type of education? Open questions!

I will also say that OpenClass is still a long, long, way from being even a bit close to the kinds of features and functionality, and from the kind of “disruptive” innovation that we are already seeing and demonstrating and doing at Macaulay (and elsewhere, of course) with WordPress. It’s like some of us are already working with refining a very low-cost and efficient warp drive technology, while Pearson has just introduced a fairly nice three-speed bicycle which they will give away for free.

But…when the overwhelming majority of classes in this country are riding around right now on a ten-speed bicycle, for which they are paying $100k a year (or whatever), a nice shiny three-speed for free is going to sound like a pretty good deal. If possible, though, I’m always going to want to do the deeper exploration that a cruising speed of warp 6 or 7 can allow.

Smarthistory joins Khan Academy

Big news today in the field of Open Educational Resources!

I’ve posted before about my admiration for smarthistory.org (and I do have a personal connection!). Today the news is out that they have joined forces with the Khan Academy. Two fantastic OERs are now working together, and the world of open learning, available to all, is wider than before. This means great things for smarthistory, great things for Khan Academy, and great things for learners everywhere.

Here’s the announcement direct from Smarthistory:

Dear Smarthistory Contributor/Supporter,

We have some terrific news! As you know, Smarthistory has been growing fast. Our content and usage numbers are way up (visits are now over 150,000 per month) and we have been working hard to make the site an indispensable resource for students and informal learners. At the same time, we have been actively looking for similar initiatives. For the past year, the one that we were most excited about was the Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org). So you can imagine our excitement when Sal Khan contacted us. To make a long story short, we’ve joined forces.

Rest assured, Sal and the rest of his amazing team are committed to the same principles as Smarthistory. Their content is entirely free, uses the same creative commons license that we do, and they accept no advertising. Like Smarthistory, Khan Academy is fully committed to open education, and they are also a not-for-profit. And Smarthistory isn’t going away, it will retain its own identity, but within the Khan Academy umbrella. As of today, Smarthistory.org simply redirects to Smarthistory.khanacademy.org (they have MUCH better servers!) (EDIT–Not anymore!)

If you’re not familiar with the Khan Academy, here’s some info from their site:

Khan Academy is a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.

All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.

And if you haven’t seen it, watch Sal’s TED Talk to get a better idea of their history and goals and how they’re using learning analytics to “flip” the classroom:


or read this recent article in the Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21529062.

We look forward to continuing to work together to create open resources for art history education.

Beth & Steven

Khan Academy’s blog post about the news is here.

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