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Thoughts, reflections, news, and musings from a veteran Silicon Valley journalist and commentator.

March 05, 2012

"Why Open Education Matters" Video Contest Launches

Visit the contest website at Why Open Education Matters.org
Read the official Department of Education blog post here.

July 28, 2011

Who Will Protect California's Students?

At the precise moment when government agencies should be using available technologies to lower costs and increase access to high quality educational opportunities -- at the very moment when that may well be our most pressing public need -- California is about to take a giant leap backward by ditching a longstanding rule that protects students in order to promote the use of a technology that restricts access to learning materials, imposes higher costs and shortchanges them. As the San Francisco Chronicle's education correspondent Nanette Asimov reveals in a disturbing series of recent reports (here, here, and, most alarmingly, here), if a state panel heavily influenced by commercial publishing interests gets the rule change it wants, growing numbers of community college students in California will be required to pay fees to access learning materials they will have no way to keep.

Now, we all know that old-fashioned college textbooks were certainly no bargain. But, believe it or not, these new time-expiring passwords (sometimes called "digital time-bombs") are far, far worse, particularly for community college students who typically don't have money to burn.

For starters, when a student buys one of those often over-priced textbooks, at least they get to keep the darn book if they want -- or, they can sell it when the class is over. They get something of lasting value. Not so when your fee-based password expires -- unless you have a photographic memory. So students will pay outside commercial firms for online textbooks and associated learning materials (and trust me, over time they will pay more and more and more), and when their classes end they will have nothing tangible to show for the money they invested in their learning materials. Likewise, many students -- particularly less advantaged students, enroll in a class and must drop it for some reason before the term ends. If they bought a textbook they can usually use it when they re-take the class. Time bomb passwords? Not so much. This is progress? Again, when it comes to taxpayer-supported systems of public education, new technologies should be deployed to increase access, improve quality and lower costs. The technology California is about to throw its rules out to embrace does exactly the opposite and it also insults the very idea of education itself.

Time expiring passwords make it far less likely that students will build a library of essential educational and literary works during their college years, which are supposed to be all about learning. When have you ever met an educated person who owns no books? Although I can understand why some folks want to turn students into walking cash registers they can ring on demand, I do not believe that is the best path forward for our public schools, our students, faculty, communities or country. (and yes, you can tell I am pretty hot about this at the moment, I just can't believe this latest dumbfounding news out of California).

Longtime readers of this blog know that I've often used this space to promote the use of Open Educational Resources (examples are here and here). For more than a decade now, I've made the same basic argument: given currently available technologies (including the Internet), public educational institutions should use public education dollars to support teachers and faculty who want to create free, shared public education resources that can be collaboratively improved over time. The Open Educational Resources movement is now a fast-growing global collaborative, involving hundreds of participating educational institutions, thousands of scholars and faculty, and millions of learners. For a variety of reasons (you get to keep your books, the learning materials can be easily customized, they are free, multilingual, more rapidly updated, etc.) the OER movement is already demonstrating better learning outcomes at far lower costs. Despite this important progress, however, and with just a few very notable exceptions (thank you Washington State!), few state systems of education have moved forward in any meaningful way to support the educators leading this noble work.

Instead, in most locales and despite the severe budget challenges so many states now face, an antiquated even outrageous status quo still endures, locked into place by a series of practices and relationships -- some clearly corrupting -- that harm not only students, but also our economy and ultimately, our country.

The alternative, of course, is to embrace practices associated with the Open Educational Resources movement, as leading educational institutions are already doing everywhere from the United Kingdom to Korea, the Netherlands, and even China.

Faculty have much at stake as well. One path, developing communities of practice around different sets of Open Education Resources for particular classes, respects the professional role of faculty while also offering the system a chance to retain learning fee revenues that could be used to support more adequate levels of compensation. The other path: faculty serve a content and assessment machine controlled by others that slowly turns them into little more than interchangeable proctors.

So the question is: will our government -- and California in particular -- use available technologies to lower costs and increase access to high quality educational opportunities? Or will our government representatives allow, promote and support applications of technology that enrich special interests, deprofessionalize faculty, and further widen the already toxic gap between the haves and the have-nots?

I will be watching intently in the weeks and months ahead to see how California answers that question, on which, I firmly believe, its very future depends.

May 21, 2011

Open Educational Resources and the Obama Administration

Kevin Carey, the Public Policy Director for Education Sector, an independent think tank in Washington, DC, has the best coverage yet of what I've been up to recently. Excerpt:

In the late days of March 2010, Congressional negotiators dealt President Obama's community-college reform agenda what seemed like a fatal blow. A year later, it appears that, remarkably, the administration has fashioned the ashes of that defeat into one of the most innovative federal higher-education programs ever conceived. Hardly anyone has noticed....


The concept is simple: Community colleges that compete for federal money to serve students online will be obliged to make those materials - videos, text, assessments, curricula, diagnostic tools, and more - available to everyone in the world, free, under a Creative Commons license. The materials will become, to use the common term, open educational resources, or OER's....

For its part, the Education Department hired someone with an unusual resume for a federal bureaucrat: Hal Plotkin, a community college trustee and veteran Silicon Valley journalist who has covered business, education, and technology for outlets like CNBC, Forbes, and Inc. Plotkin is no utopian, having heard more than his share of overheated claims about the wonders of technology. Yet he says the program will create "the greatest expansion of access to high-quality education and job-training opportunities in the history of the world."

Read the rest of Kevin's column here.

March 19, 2011

Public Invited to My Talk At Google HQ in Mountain View, Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I'm happy to note that my upcoming talk at Google corporate headquarters in Mountain View is free and open to the public. Seats are limited, however, and you do have to register in advance to get thru the security rigmarole. Here are the details:

HAL PLOTKIN

"How Technology Can Improve Teaching and Learning: The Case for Open Educational Resources"

Who: Hal Plotkin, Senior Policy Advisor to the Under Secretary of Education, U.S. Dept. of Education
When: Tuesday, March 29th, 12:30pm - 1:30pm
Where: Google Corporate HQ, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View, CA 94043
MTV-40-1-Kiev, VC Bridge: 3-214-2576

Summary: Hal Plotkin is the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education in the Obama administration. The office of the Under Secretary of Education is responsible for all federal higher education policies and programs. Prior to joining the Obama administration, Plotkin was a longtime Silicon Valley journalist and commentator specializing in technology, public policy, science and business, president of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees and leading proponent of Open Educational Resources. Plotkin is visiting Google to share information about the Obama administration's higher education plans, policies and proposals and is eager to have a discussion with Google employees and friends of Google about the future of higher education.

VC Bridge will be 3-214-2576 [please dial-in!]

Information for External Guests:

RSVP: Please RSVP for the event by adding your full name to this form by Friday, March 25th. Once you complete the form, Google will pre-register you with our security team. If you do not RSVP, you will not be able to attend the event. Please note that space is limited.

CHECK IN: Upon arrival, please check in at the Lobby in Building 43 to retrieve your guest badge. The talk will be held in the Kiev conference room.

DIRECTIONS: Google is located at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View, CA 94043. Driving directions are below:

From the North
Take 101 South
Exit Rengstorff Ave. (exit 400A)
Turn Right onto Rengstorff from the off-ramp
Turn Right onto Charleston (sign says Charleston/Garcia)
Look for the Google sign on the left (after Landings Dr.)
Turn Left into the driveway just past the Google sign

From the South
Take 101 North
Exit at Amphitheatre Parkway
Turn Right onto Charleston (the first light)
Look for the Google sign on the left (after Landings Dr.)
Turn Left into the driveway just past the Google sign

January 20, 2011

My First Ever Post on the White House Blog

Excerpted from New Job-Training and Education Grants Program Launched.

"Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ushered in a new era of hope and opportunity for millions of Americans today when they revealed the innovative application criteria for the first $500 million in grants under the four-year, $2 billion Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program. Grants will support the development and improvement of a new generation of free, post-secondary educational programs of two years or less that prepare students for successful careers in emerging and expanding industries.

This effort, which was developed and designed in consultation with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, sets the stage for what promises to become one of the most significant expansions in access to high-quality education and job training opportunities ever. These new investments will also play a major role in helping the Nation achieve the goal set by President Obama last year that by 2020 the United States will once again have the most highly educated workforce in the world. To read the rest, see: here.

October 07, 2010

Creative Commons Publishes my "Free to Learn" OER Guide

I'm pleased and proud to note Creative Commons recent publication of my "Free to Learn: An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials," which has already been linked here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

August 25, 2010

Jon Stewart Takes On the Fox News Smear Machine

Jon Stewart is our modern Will Rogers. He should have a medal pinned on his chest. In this short segment, he illuminates the use of the classic guilt by association smear tactic so often employed by Fox News:


The Truth About U.S. vs. Foreign Corporate Tax Rates

Few things upset me more than the free pass many media outlets give to people who say things that are just not true. In many cases, these untruths often serve some larger purpose for their purveyors. Savvy CEO's, for example, have often stampeded public agencies into decisions that fatten corporate coffers but are otherwise deeply unwise, in some cases, even catastrophic. And we all know how fear and dishonest arguments are used in Washington. Misguiding the public about real rates of corporate taxation, as Intel CEO Paul Otellini and California GOP U.S. Senate Candidate Carly Fiorina do in this article, is today's case in point:

..."If our tax rate approached that of the rest of the world, corporations would have an incentive to invest here," [Intel CEO Paul] Otellini said. But instead, it's the second highest in the industrialized world, making the United States a less attractive place to invest -- and create jobs -- than places in Europe and Asia that are "clamoring" for Intel's business. The comments from Intel's chief executive echoed statements made a day earlier by Carly Fiorina, the former HP CEO turned Republican Senate candidate..."Our corporate tax rates are the second highest in the world," and Congress has repeatedly failed to make an R&D tax credit permanent, Fiorina told the Aspen audience. It's time to start "acknowledging the reality that companies go where they're welcome," she said. (The effective U.S. corporate income tax is 35 percent, far over the industrialized-nation average of 18.2 percent.)

And here is the truth (as if that matters anymore), from today's New York Times:

The current corporate rate of 35 percent is higher than that in many other developed countries. But Congress has larded the code with so many deductions and loopholes -- including a dollar-for-dollar credit for taxes paid to foreign governments and generous deductions for depreciation and debt financing -- that the effective rate paid by most companies is below 22 percent, lower than in most developed countries.

So, what happens to Democracy when disinformation like this becomes the currency of the realm? Oh, how I wish more reporters would ask the tough questions required to reveal the unhuckstered truth.

March 15, 2010

Harris Mankin (aka Harry Boswell), RIP

My old friend, mentor and former colleague, Harris Mankin, passed away recently. You may have known him by another name (see the list and obit below, courtesy of Brian Rhea). Harry would have wanted his obit published far and wide. He was somebody. The world is a smaller and less interesting place without him.

He was born Harris Heathcoat Mankin in Queens, New York on March 7th 1942. He grew up in Sunnyside, Queens. His father, a Doctor, his loving and pampering mother a housewife. Educated in the New York public school system, he attended PS 125 for Junior High and graduated from William Collin Bryan High School, Queens in 1960. Harry's love of creative writing led him to a BA degree in Journalism from Brooklyn College - he really did want to become a newspaper man like one of his Uncles, but it was the radio bug that bit this kid from New York City at a young age. His insatiable appetite for radio was ignited through the great Alan Freed on the #1 station at that time 10-10 WINS! Harry would attend many of Alan's local theater shows but his first taste of "live rock and roll music" was with his boyhood friend Alfred Goldsmith in December of 1955. As young teenagers, they both waited on line to see Alan Freed's Rock and Roll Show at the Paramount Theater that started at high noon - featuring Count Basie, Joe Williams - The Cleftones, The Heartbeats, The Cadillacs, The Crests, The Valentines, The Rems! There was something about these shows - this excitement - this early movement that would consume him. Harry witnessed the birth of Rock and Roll and it's beloved DJ - Mr. Alan Freed - Harry would tape songs off the radio and do intros just the way his idol Alan Freed would do! Radio would never let go of Harry - even in his retirement years, he could been seen wearing big "cans" - his headset radio was most always tuned in to a ballgame or some kind of music station! His first radio job was as a "copy boy" at New York's legendary WOR in 1967. Changing ribbons on the teletype, answering phones and bringing coffee and the newspaper to Mr. John Gambling was quite an influence on Harry. It must have been something be experience part of the Gambling family morning show dynasty that spanned 75 years at WOR. To really be anything in radio - you needed a First Class Radio Telephone FCC license. Harry got his "Chocolate First Phone" license from the Elkins Institute in Chicago in 1968 (they would say, "you memorize the answers and the questions will take care of themselves") he passed on the first attempt and then went to work at WBEE in Harvey, IL 1570AM ... a Chicago suburb. In 1968, Harry got a gig filling in to read morning news at Friendly Frost's WTFM in Queens. Harry worked as Shep Shanley at WLIX on Long Island from late '68 into 1969. In 1969, Harry ventured west for the first time. He inexplicably wound up at 970AM WREO in Ashtabula OH, on Lake Erie. The first air name we know of was Grant Growdy at WPAC late 1969 – 1971. Harry worked at the sister station, WHRF in Riverhead, NY as JJ Flanders. Harry's known Air Names include: Shep Shanley Grant Growdy JJ Flanders Barney Lovesitt Harry Callahan and Harry Boswell - a name he picked with the help of John Libynski a good friend and Top 40 disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico. He was Harry Callahan on WRCN, Riverhead, NY from 1972 to March 1973. He worked at WVBN - "The Super B" in Utica, Upstate - New York. '73 or '74. Hi did Summer relief fill-ins at WHYN - Springfield, MA in 1973 & 1974 Was Harry Callahan on WNLC, New London, CT in Fall 1974 - 1975. And also Harry Callahan on KNFT, Silver City, NM in Jan 1976 - March 1976 He was in Washington DC at WMOD/WBAL after the Silver City stint and before going to KPEN in Los Altos in February 1977. Harry worked evenings at K-PEN and would sign-off the station at 12midnight. Later the station went 24 hours and Harry was moved to overnights in 1978 where he worked as the “night watchman” for many, many years. Harry Boswell worked at 97.7 KPEN through many ownership and format changes. From fusion Jazz to Beautiful Music and whether pulling an air shift or writing and producing commercials, he was always a hard working and dedicated pro. In 1987 a demo tape appeared on the desk of KFRC program director, Dave Sholin. (little did Dave know that it was a studio tape produced by his friend Brian in the KFRC production room) Spotting his obvious talent, Dave wanted to reach out to Harry for an interview. He was hired immediately and started doing weekends at RKO Radio’s newly minted KFRC Magic 61 in San Francisco. In a few short weeks he moved to his # 1 rated 9am to 1pm shift where worked full time till the early 90’s. Harry was full of radio stories. He had a ear for doing voices and if he loved you or despised you, he could capture your voice, your mannerisms, very easily. He had a "nickname" for everyone. Our name for him was friend, brother and simply, "Boz." Harry passed away in Las Vegas on December 12th 2009 after injuries he sustained from an accidental fall at his home. Today would have been his 68th birthday.

March 07, 2010

Big Ideas Fest Talk on Obama Administration Higher Education Priorities

Just learned my recent talk at the annual Big Ideas Fest is now online (and yes, I know I need to lose some weight!)...