Executive Director | Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society | Harvard University

“Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (“BKC” or the “Center”) is a University-wide research center and one of the largest and most influential conveners and accelerators of scholars, technologists, activists and makers working on cyberspace and related law and public policy matters in the public interest. The Center now seeks an Executive Director to join our team, appreciate our legacy, and help us shape the next generation of making an impact. The Executive Director leads and directs senior leadership, staff, and our extended community executing development, research, and outreach.  

This is a rare and unusual opportunity to join a flourishing, intellectually robust community of faculty, students, fellows, and affiliates from multiple disciplines and backgrounds, committed to studying and improving the digital space by building in it. The Center works on the cutting edge of research and development while operating amid, and benefiting from, one of the most revered educational institutions in the world. We contain legacy and innovation, history and future-vision, ambition and humility. The reach of the Center is global and local, and our passionate, committed community builds, studies, educates and connects. We make a difference in the world. And we are looking for a very special leader. …”

Executive Director | Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society | Harvard University

“Since 1997, Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society has pioneered the study of, and building within, the digital environment in the public interest. The Center now seeks an Executive Director to help us shape the Center’s next generation of work and engagement on technology and society. 

This is a rare and unusual opportunity to join a flourishing, intellectually robust international community of faculty, students, fellows, and affiliates from multiple disciplines and backgrounds, dedicated to studying and improving the digital space by building in it. The Center works on the cutting edge of research and development while operating amid, and benefiting from, one of the most revered educational institutions in the world. We contain history and innovation, ambition and humility. The reach of the Center is global and local. The work and well-being of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society are profoundly strengthened by our differences in background, culture, experience, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, ability, and more. Our passionate, committed community builds, studies, educates and connects. We make a difference in the world. And we are looking for a very special leader….”

IBM, MIT and Harvard release DARPA “Common Sense AI” dataset at ICML 2021 | IBM Research Blog

“Before we can build machines that make decisions based on common sense, the AI powering those machines must be capable of more than simply finding patterns in data. It must also consider the intentions, beliefs, and desires of others that people use to intuitively make decisions.

At the 2021 International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML), we are releasing a new dataset for benchmarking AI intuition, along with two machine learning models representing different approaches to the problem. The research has been done with our colleagues at MIT and Harvard University to accelerate the development of AI that exhibits common sense. These tools rely on testing techniques that psychologists use to study the behavior of infants….”

What the edX Acquisition Means for the Future of Higher Education

“By entering into this deal, Harvard and MIT have shown that they’re committed to a new business model. That is, they’ll continue their excellence in the residential model for a select few but will also leverage their expertise and teaching resources to provide high-quality education to the masses at affordable prices. To start with, they developed an incredible collection of content in edX, which netted them $800 million. They’ll use that money to further expand their online strategy.

This development should serve as a wakeup call for other colleges and universities. Lamenting a lack of government support and declining enrollments won’t help. They must instead ask how they can orchestrate an ecosystem to offer high-quality education at low cost. They currently follow a vertical integration model where they perform the entire value chain in house, from admitting students all the way to awarding degrees. They must start thinking about how to unbundle the value chain and outsource areas where others possess superior core competencies — for example, to content creators like Outlier.org, outreach platforms like edX, and those in the gaming industry with expertise in artificial and augmented reality and capabilities to create immersive experiences. By partnering and controlling significant parts of value chain instead of resisting them, universities can gain a significant portion of revenues that would steadily migrate toward EdTech companies. Those additional revenues can provide seed capital to universities to drive their own EdTech initiatives. Right now, they’re mere spectators in the game.”

Open Access Mandates in Universities: Challenges and Opportunities

“An Open Access mandate refers to a policy adopted by a funder, institution or the government which necessitates researchers to make their research articles public. This can be done via two routes: Green OA or Gold OA. The former refers to the researcher depositing her research article to an open access repository, generally institutional. The latter refers to submission of research to open access journals?—?some of which may levy Article Processing Charges (APCs) that can be paid by the researcher, his institution or from the research grant.

Universities that have adopted OA mandates include Harvard University (the first to do so), MIT, ETH Zurich, University of Liege and University College London. Harvard University has also developed a model policy language document for institutions looking to implement an open access policy for their faculty….”

MIT and Harvard Have Sold Higher Education’s Future

“Last week Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sold their edX platform to a for-profit company for $800 million. Founded by the two institutions nearly a decade ago, edX was higher education’s answer to the venture-backed start-ups jostling for an online-course windfall. With the sale to one of those firms, Maryland-based 2U, Harvard and MIT have surrendered. Their decision to fold is a major, and potentially fateful, act of betrayal.

Alan Garber, Harvard’s provost, adopted the language of edX’s profit-maximizing rivals in conceding defeat. “Taking full advantage of [online learning’s] potential,” he told The Harvard Gazette, “will require capital investments at greater scale than is readily attainable for a nonprofit entity like edX.” The decision to sell comes as investor interest in higher education has swelled during the pandemic. Coursera, the Silicon Valley online-course provider, went public in March, and Instructure — the maker of the popular learning-management software Canvas — filed for an IPO last week. The Covid Zoom boom has brought the inevitable wave of start-ups hoping to cash in on the virtual college classroom. So it’s no surprise that the market value of 2U, after the edX announcement, surged past $3 billion.

Before the sale, edX was academe’s public option — a mission-aligned satellite of the brick-and-mortar campus. Now all the major players in the sector are profiteers, legally obligated to maximize shareholder return….

By the turn of the millennium, most societies had handed over their journals to be published by the big commercial players, in exchange for a share of profit. Now most scholarship is published by an oligopolist quintet of information conglomerates that, in turn, charge their college customers usurious fees.

That industry is among the most profitable in the world, in part because academics write and review for free. As the historian Aileen Fyfe has shown, there was nothing inevitable about the joint custody — nonprofit colleges and for-profit publishers — we’ve ended up with. We owe our current predicament, in part, to the decisions of learned societies who chose short-term cash over their scholar-members’ long-term interests. Harvard and MIT have just made the same disastrous miscalculation….

2U’s mission is fundamentally misaligned with the university tradition. 2U, Coursera, and their venture-funded competitors are built to squeeze profit from our students, using our faculty and course offerings. Harvard and MIT had no right, in the meaningful sense, to sell us off. None of us — not faculty members, not students — signed up for edX to increase Silicon Valley’s wallet share. We will look back on this careless abrogation of stewardship as the tragic squandering that it is.”

edX: A Look Backward

“It soon became clear that edX was pursuing a strategy fundamentally different from that which I had signed up for. Rather than being a force for innovation and educational research, it would instead be content aggregator, marketing platform, and a (second-tier) LMS.

This week, edX announced that it would be absorbed by 2U in exchange for $800 million that would establish a non-profit dedicated to access, research, and innovation 

Talk about lucrative investments. Over nine years, Harvard and MIT transformed an initial “loan” of $60 million plus a subsequent investment of $20 million into $800 million that will be fund the non-profit that the two institutions will govern. 

By my calculations, that’s a return of 900 percent – or over 29 percent a year.

It’s my understanding that neither Harvard nor MIT will receive any cash from the transaction. But the two institutions will no longer have to bankroll any aspect of edX and will, it appears, exercise control over the new non-profit entity that the edX sale will create….

edX’s sale will not be widely mourned. But I, for one, feel an acute sense of loss, frustration, and, yes, disappointment. edX had promised to make high quality courses by the best professors in the world available globally for free. It was to drive technological and pedagogical innovations in online education. It was to create an international consortium of educational researchers and innovators. Spoiler alert: It didn’t….”

Harvard and MIT to Sell edX for $800 million | Harvard Magazine

“HARVARD, MIT, AND EDX ANNOUNCED TODAY that edX, the two institutions’ 2012 joint venture into online education, would be sold to leading educational technology company 2U for $800 million. 2U, a publicly traded company listed on the NASDAQ, with revenues expected to approach $1 billion in 2021, is an online program manager. The company provides digital platforms and marketing and logistical support that allows colleges and universities to offer online instruction but does not itself provide degrees. 

As part of the agreement, which is subject to approval by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey ’92, 2U will own and plans to operate edX as a public benefit entity, which means that in addition to creating value for shareholders, edX will also provide a specific public benefit—in this case, online courses, some of which can be audited for free. Currently, edX offers more than 3,000 online programs. “With the acquisition,” according to a University statement, “2U’s network will expand to include more than 230 partners, including over 185 nonprofit colleges and universities and 19 of the top 20 ranked universities globally.”

 

 

Harvard University provost Alan M. Garber said in an interview that the most important aspect of the match with 2U is that the company will continue edX’s mission. “They have committed to continuing to provide free audit tracks—in other words, free courses—in a wide range of subjects. And there are other provisions of the agreement,” said Garber, “that give us a great deal of comfort” that they will continue to make “great courses available at low or no cost to learners throughout the world.” …”

Three Charts That Help Explain the 2U / edX Acquisition – PhilOnEdTech

“I won’t describe the announcement here but instead list preliminary media coverage and then share three charts that I think help explain why 2U would acquire the edX assets for $800 million. I’ll add some additional analysis on what this deal means for online education in a second post….”

 

2U, Inc. and edX Agree to Industry-Redefining Combination in Higher Education.

“2U will acquire substantially all of the assets of edX—a leading nonprofit online learning platform and marketplace—for $800M in cash. Together, 2U and edX will reach over 50 million learners globally, serve more than 230 partners, and offer over 3,500 digital programs on the world’s most comprehensive free-to-degree online education marketplace. The combined scale, reach, capabilities, marketing efficiency, and relationships of 2U and edX will unlock unprecedented opportunity for learners, universities, and employers worldwide….”

 

The big deal this week in online ed.

“The announcement on Tuesday that 2U will buy the assets of the nonprofit MOOC company edX for $800 million is shaking up the world of online higher ed. It also means I’ll riff on that news for you this week instead of giving you an annotated reading list, per The Edge’s summer programming (back to that next week).

This deal has ramifications in many directions. For starters, it will realign the commercial marketplace for online education, where colleges now pay billions annually to companies known as online-program managers, or OPMs, to help develop, market, and deliver online courses and degrees. The $800 million now headed to a successor nonprofit to edX could also have a huge impact on the future of open-source online options — and maybe breathe new life into the original mission of the nonprofit, which began in 2012 with the goal of democratizing education around the world.

I say “could” because, at this point, we know precious little about what the new nonprofit plans to do with this gargantuan infusion of cash. A joint news release says the money will be “dedicated to reimagining the future of learning for people at all stages of life, addressing educational inequalities, and continuing to advance next-generation learning experiences and platforms.” Lofty, ambitious language to be sure. But $800 million is a lotta clams, and I’m sure the hundreds of colleges and thousands of professors whose own financial and in-kind contributions over the last nine years have helped bring edX to this point would love to know some specifics — perhaps even more than I would….”

2U Buys edX for $800M, In Surprise End to Nonprofit MOOC Provider Started by MIT and Harvard | EdSurge News

“When MIT and Harvard University started edX nearly a decade ago, it was touted as a nonprofit alternative to for-profit online course providers. Today, the universities announced that they are selling edX to one of those for-profit providers for $800 million.

edX had fallen behind rivals like Coursera, a similar platform founded by Stanford University professors, in fundraising and reach, though it still boasts 35 million users and more than 3,000 courses….

What happens now is a bit complicated….

In the end, 2U officials said in a statement that they have pledged to:

Guarantee affordability through the continuation of a free version of online courses
Protect the intellectual property rights of faculty and universities that contribute courses
Protect the privacy of individual data for all learners who use the edX platform
And contribute to the ongoing development of the open-source Open edX platform that the universities will continue to oversee. …”

Three big ed tech projects: cashing out or historic investments?

Over the past few days three big ed tech entities made major financial moves. I was struck by that coincidence and wanted to explore what the combination might means.

ITEM: To start with, major online program manager (OPM2U purchased much of online class provider edX for $800 million. As part of the deal Harvard and MIT will launch a new and so far unnamed education nonprofit.

For more information, here are the official announcements from 2UMITHarvard, and what seems to be the nonprofit’s placeholder, “Transforming Digital Education.”  There is also some good, early commentary and analysis from EdSurge and Trace Urdan.

ITEM: Language learning app Duolingo, founded by Luis von Ahn, filed an IPO.  As  TechCrunch and others have noted, the market values Duolingo above $2 billion.  Its user base and earnings are rising.

ITEM: major learning management system/virtual learning environment provider Instructure, maker of Canvas, also  filed for an IPO. They tried this before, so now it’s a  second attempt.  Instructure is, unlike Duolingo, losing money.

So what does this big money trifecta tell us?

It may be a huge boost for 2U. They now have access to tens of millions of potentially new students.  According to a slidestack for investors, 2U stands to gain:

Increases TAM through combined 50M+ global learner base, 1,200+ Enterprise clients, 230+ university and corporate partners, and comprehensive suite of 3,500+ offerings ranging from free-to-degree

Combined entity will have massive global audience and strong consumer brand, top five education website with traffic of 120M+

They can also trade on the elite reputation of campuses associated with edX, namely MIT and Harvard.

Eddie Maloney and Joshua Kim go further, seeing the 2U+edX combination as a challenger to the much larger Coursera. What we see now are OPMs on steroids.  As Paul Fain put it, “MOOCs have become OPMs.”

Well-placed source on 2U’s acquisition of edX for $800M — “It simply formalizes what we knew: MOOCs have become OPMs.” https://t.co/bLMQC7Au0z

— Paul Fain (@paulfain) June 29, 2021

 

I’m not sure what to make of the new MIT-Harvard nonprofit since there’s so little information available. I do like Goldie Blumenstyk’s comments:

It’s hard to even fathom the potential impact of an $800-million nonprofit devoted to the future of online learning and eliminating educational disparities around the world. Add to that the academic muscle undergirding the nonprofit, overseen by edX’s founders, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the societal, technological, and pedagogical potential here feels enormous. But what actually will be realized? Harvard and MIT promise that the new nonprofit’s mission, name, research, and other activities will be developed more fully in the coming months. [emphases in original]

Even more from Phil Hill here.

Duolingo: much depends on how the sale goes and what happens to its value over the next few months, but a successful infusion of cash could drive the owl into expanding or adding offerings.  New languages are a clear development, but what about adding conversations with native speakers, or even branching out into new curricula beyond language?

Note that criticisms of Duolingo – for not being good on spoken languages, for not doing much on culture and language – don’t seem to have dimmed its prospects so far.

Instructure: Phil Hill does good work in showing the complexity of the offering, based on the structure of Instructure and its holding.  I don’t have a good sense of its odds for a successful IPO.

Overall, these three stories remind us that serious money is interested in ed tech.  COVID-19 may have increased investments as so much of higher ed moved online.  Perhaps that’s a long-lasting change… unless people flee the pandemic’s online experience and rush to embrace in-person life, in which case June 2021 might represent a peak before a financial fall.

What do you think about these three ed tech financial stories?

2U, Inc. and edX to Join Together in Industry-Redefining Combination

“2U, Inc. (Nasdaq: TWOU), a global leader in education technology, and edX, a leading online learning platform and education marketplace, today announced they have entered into a definitive agreement to join together in an industry-redefining combination that will help power the digital transformation of higher education, expand access and affordability, and usher in a new era of online learning. 

2U will acquire substantially all of edX’s assets for $800M in cash. Together, 2U and edX will reach over 50 million learners globally, serve more than 230 partners, and offer over 3,500 digital programs on the world’s most comprehensive free-to-degree online education marketplace.

Proceeds of the transaction will flow to the nonprofit that will continue under the leadership of edX founders Harvard and MIT and will be dedicated to reimagining the future of learning for people at all stages of life, addressing educational inequalities, and continuing to advance next generation learning experiences and platforms. Drawing on insights gained at Harvard, MIT, and other institutions, this organization will develop strategies and partnerships to help close the learning gap. …”

edX acquired by education technology company 2U – Harvard Gazette

“Today, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and edX announced a joint effort with education technology company 2U to further the reach and impact of online learning across the world.

Under the agreement, edX will be converted to a public benefit entity that is fully owned and operated by 2U. 2U will use its resources to grow the online learning platform with the speed, and at the scale, that learners need today.

The proceeds of the acquisition will be used by a nonprofit led by Harvard and MIT that will focus on closing the learning and opportunity gap through the development of new partnerships, digital tools, and strategies. The nonprofit will devote significant resources to forging partnerships with institutions of higher education, particularly community colleges and other educational institutions that serve under-resourced communities. It will also seek to partner with other nonprofit organizations to tackle longstanding inequities in education, and with enterprises and governments to address workforce reskilling needs, while advancing learning experience platforms and research in all these areas….”