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    Facebook Takes a Step Into Education Software

    Ohanian Comment: I tried Facebook but didn't last very long. And I find their push into educational software alarming.

    Remember the penultimate line in "The Graduate"? Plastics.

    Today it would be Software.

    From the Wall Street Journal, Oct. 10, 2010

    Mr. Cox says Facebook is just at the tip of the iceberg with the potential for social design. He imagines a world where social design can improve many more aspects of life online.

    "A killer one would be when you turn on the TV, and you see what your mom and friends are watching, and they can record stuff for you. Instead of 999 channels, you will see 999 recommendations from your friends," he says.

    "The music store will look like that, as will the newspaper," he says. "It would just be good if we could all be connected through these currently anonymous devices."
    Cox envisions a future in which what your friends recommend on social networks plays a bigger role in what you buy, do, or watch on TV. He told The Wall Street Journal that he believes there will be a time “when you turn on the TV, and you see what your mom and friends are watching, and they can record stuff for you. Instead of 999 channels, you will see 999 recommendations from your friends."

    According to the article below eight Facebook employees will be working on this project. Facebook 10,955 employees as of June 30, 2015. I really hate to think about what the other 10,947 are doing.

    Here's the board of directors:

    Board of Directors

    Mark Zuckerberg Founder, Chairman and CEO, Facebook
    Marc Andreessen Co-founder and General Partner, Andreessen Horowitz
    Susan Desmond-Hellmann CEO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
    Reed Hastings Chairman and CEO, Netflix
    Erskine Bowles President Emeritus, the University of North Carolina
    Peter Thiel Partner, Founders Fund
    Sheryl Sandberg COO, Facebook
    Jan Koum Founder and CEO, WhatsApp

    About that $100 million gift to improve Newark schools, read The Prize: Who's In Charge of America's Schools? by Dale Russakoff is fascinating reading.

    And Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, has it right: Beware of Facebook when it comes to student privacy.

    by Vindu Goel and Motoko Rich

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook, which transformed communication with its social networking service, now wants to make a similar impact on education.

    The Silicon Valley company announced on Thursday that it was working with a local charter school network, Summit Public Schools, to develop software that schools can use to help children learn at their own pace. The project has been championed by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's co-founder and chief executive, and one of his top lieutenants, Chris Cox.

    "We've seen that there's an opportunity to help apply our skills to the future of education, and we all wanted to find a way to help make an impact by doing what we do best -- building software," Mr. Cox wrote in a blog post announcing the initiative.

    Eight Facebook employees have been assigned full time to work on the project, which began quietly last year after Summit's chief executive, Diane Tavenner, asked Mr. Zuckerberg for help improving the tools developed by Summit̢۪s lone software engineer.

    "It's really driven by this idea that we want to put learning in the hands of kids and the control back in the hands of kids," Ms. Tavenner said in a telephone interview. The software, she said, allows students to work with teachers to create tailored lessons and projects. Teachers can also administer individualized quizzes that the software can grade and track.

    The platform, which is separate from the Facebook social network, is now being used by nine Summit schools and about 20 others. Ultimately, Ms. Tavenner said, "our motivation is to share it with everyone and anyone who wants it," including other charters and public school districts. The software would be free for all users.

    Facebook and Summit said that they adhered to the student privacy practices recommended by the federal government, and that Facebook could not use student data for its other businesses.

    Critics were skeptical of such commitments.

    "Facebook does not have the greatest reputation when it comes to privacy," said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit group that has criticized technology companies, contending that they violate student privacy.

    Although the effort is still small, Facebook said it was making a long-term commitment to education. That ambition echoes the company̢۪s other big save-the-world effort, Internet.org, which aims to bring Internet access to the billions of people who do not have access now.

    Educators are increasingly talking about the importance of tailoring lessons to individual student needs, often championing technology as a potentially transformational force. But even supporters warn that teachers need assistance to use new software effectively, and that the evidence is mixed on whether technology supports better student learning.

    "You can̢۪t expect that we̢۪re just going to create the perfect platform and plunk it into every school and assume that every student is going to be comfortable knowing how to use it," said Rebecca E. Wolfe, who directs an initiative focused on personalized learning at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit education policy group.

    Mr. Zuckerberg has shown an interest in education since 2010, when he donated $100 million to improve public schools in Newark. That effort has had largely disappointing results so far.

    Last year, he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, pledged an additional $120 million to help underserved students in the San Francisco Bay Area, and they have distributed funds to about a dozen organizations, including Summit.

    Like Internet.org, Facebook's latest education initiative is not quite philanthropy and not quite business. The company owns the rights to the contributions it makes to Summit's original software and could use that to eventually enter the education software business.

    Mike Sego, the Facebook engineering director running the Summit software project, said making money was not an immediate goal. "Whenever I ask Mark, 'Do I need to think of this as business?' he always pushes back and says, 'That shouldn't be a priority right now. We should just continue making this better.'"

    Vindu Goel reported from San Francisco and Motoko Rich from New York.

    Vindu Goel is a technology reporter at The Times, focusing on coverage of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter.

    — Vindu Goel and Motoko Rich with Ohanian Comment
    New York Times
    September 04, 2015

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