Jiva Technology

The University of the People

In a pretty amazing PR coup an Israeli entrepreneur, Shai Resef, managed to get worldwide publicity including notably in the New York Times, for his new education based start-up the University of the People.  The article makes some grand claims and glosses over the fact that the plans are mainly speculative at the moment as nothing has really launched and there remain many hurdles to overcome (not least the issue of assessment and accreditation).

The growth of the open learning is undoubted (with the UKs own Open University a leading player with initiatives like OpenLearn and its iTunesU content) but despite the claims in the article I believe peer-to-peer learning remains unproven in many ways (though I do believe it is a useful concept and one that will only become more popular over time) and the reliance of a mish-mash of retired professors, MA level students and volunteers as a kind of virtual faculty does not sound hugely thought out as yet (though there is probably a workable solution in there somewhere) .

Mr Resef does have a history of running successful education themed web businesses, including his current start-up Cramster.com an online homework support network, so he well placed to have the skills and contacts to make this happen.

I’ll be watching this one closely as its an idea I’m really interested in and I think there is a business to be built around the rise in open education that also widens access to higher education, I’m just not quite sure this is it yet.

Bettr to give..

At Jiva we all get the advantage of having 10% time to explore projects a little off the beaten track from our day-to-day work.  As I’m not a developer this presented a bit of a challenge for me initially but after a brief rant on my personal blog that struck a chord with a couple of people I found myself with a little project to occupy those spare moments (and my weekends and vacation time as it worked out!)

Bettr is an unconference primarily for start-ups with an education focus but also open to all manner of folk with an interest in this area.  We are co-hosting the event with School of Everything and it will take place at DEMOS on the 14th January.  The format of the day (in true unconference style) is a bit up in the air at  the moment but already more than 30 people have signed up (with a capacity of 60) so it promises to be an interesting get together.

I have hopes that this isn’t just a one off event and that it grows into something more regular and more ambitious that supports innovation in education and the social web much the way Social Innovation Camp is doing in the wider areas.  SI Camp is very much an inspiration in the long term but for this first event my expectations are a little more grounded!  A smooth running event that allows people to do a bit of networking, listen to some short, interesting presentations and maybe enjoy a beer to finish the day would be a success in my eyes.

A little light amongst the gloom..

Not for the first time the guys at EduFire have written a thought provoking and timely blog post that I thought I would point to and make a quick comment on.

6 Reasons Why Online Education Will Boom in the Bust is a welcome ray of sunshine amongst the gloom of the global financial meltdown – which it seems that the tech blogs are now covering even more than the mainstream media!  At a time where pretty much all you read (or see, or hear) is about how hard the coming months/years are going to be and how companies are shedding staff its good to see that someone is looking for the silver lining!

At Beanbag we are particularly interested in #5 – Larger number of highly-qualified teachers. As more and more people potentially look to supplement (or replace) their income by offering their specialised knowledge to learners then Beanbag becomes a prime route to achieve that.  Then as we create more vehicles to connect with the learner community around the Beanbag brand we can offer increased opportunities to connect learners to teachers in different environment, strengthening that connection all the time.

Amongst all the gloom and doom there is one consistent message – any company that comes through these difficult times intact will be in a strong position to push on in the future.  EduFire have helped reaffirm my belief that those of us working around education will be well placed to do just that!

Investing in Education

The folks over at EduFire wrote an interesting post yesterday that pointed me to the Union Square Ventures blog for an especially enlightening insight into the sort of areas they, as early stage venture capitalists, are interested in getting in to.

Union Square have invested in an impressive portfolio of web companies in recent years and count Twitter as one of their investments (this was bound to impress me as I love Twitter despite all its teething problems!) and they have quite clearly set their stall out to look into how education can be transformed by web technologies in a way that so many other things have been.

I particularly enjoyed the following;

“With access to course materials, ability to watch lectures and even tutor at a distance, we believe that we are only at the beginning of the web’s impact on the fundamental structure of education. We expect much of that change to be away from the existing educational institutions and towards empowering individuals and newly-formed groups.”

Not surprisingly this chimed with us here at Jiva Towers as we have an avowed interest in using the (social) web to enhance education – and while we fall more into the use technology to enhance the current system camp rather than the throw it away and start again team we firmly believe that there are alot of opportunities in this space and it is gratifying to see that we are not alone in thinking that.

Over at the EduFire blog again they talk about Teacherpreneurs and I love this idea of a combination of education and entrepreneurism – something rarely seen but increasingly sought after!


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