Mobile-first learning platform EmpoweredU acquired by Qualcomm

Qualcomm, the giant $26 billion wireless technology conglomerate, acquired EmpoweredU – a mobile-first learning platform available for the education market. What does this acquisition mean?

Who is EmpoweredU?

The company was created by CEO Steve Poizner in 2011 in partnership with Creative Artists Agency, the world’s largest sports and talent agency, under the name “Encore Career Institute”. The initial work was to offer continuing ed classes targeted at Baby Boomers through the UCLA extension.  ((These are certificate programs for $5,000 – $10,000 total tuition.))  In essence, this was an Online Service Provider (OSP) model similar to Embanet, Deltak, Academic Partnerships and 2U. As described by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2011:

Poizner, in an interview at the firm’s headquarters this week, said the company combines “three of California’s greatest assets” – its famed public university system, the creative know-how of its technology center, Silicon Valley, and the cutting-edge marketing savvy of Hollywood. [snip]

In addition to its employment potential for Baby Boomers, Poizner said, the collaboration could bring new revenue for cash-strapped UCLA and thousands of new students from around the nation to its online courses.

The company changed names to Empowered Careers and then eventually settled on EmpoweredU.

In the meantime they figured out that the OSP model is high risk and expensive, often requiring investments of $1 – $10 million per program by the OSP, with revenue-sharing profits occurring several years later. EmpoweredU has pivoted over the past year to become a mobile-first learning platform with content services.

The platform is built on top of the Canvas open source version offered by Instructure and started pilots at 15+ schools this spring (including specific programs at USC, UC Berkeley, U of San Francisco, etc). This may be the most significant use of open source Canvas, and it might end up competing with Canvas, at least indirectly.

As we’ll see later, EmpoweredU is also attempting to create a learning ecosystem that can combine multiple technologies.

Why is Qualcomm making an ed tech acquisition?

I interviewed Vicki Mealer (Senior Director, Business Development, Qualcomm Labs, which is the unit acquiring EmpoweredU) and Steve Poizner today. Vicki’s description of Qualcomm’s interest in ed tech is that they are all about mobile technology, and they have had a philanthropic interest in education for years (donating over $240 million cash to various institutions).  Qualcomm wants to be a behind-the-scenes cheerleader, but they also need for an ecosystem to for each market. Qualcomm Labs started looking at education a year ago, trying to identify and overcome barriers for adoption of mobile technology. Some of the perceived barriers: Continue reading

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To see how illogical the Brookings Institution report on student loans is, just read the executive summary

il·log·i·cal
i(l)ˈläjikəl/
adjective
  1. lacking sense or clear, sound reasoning.  ((From Google’s definition))

There have been multiple articles both accepting the Brookings argument that “typical borrowers are no worse off now than they were a generation ago” and those calling out the flaws in the Brookings report. I have written two articles here and here criticizing the report. The problem is that much of the discussion is more complicated that it needs to be. A simple reading of the Brookings executive summary exposes just how illogical the report is.

College tuition and student debt levels have been increasing at a fast pace for at least two decades. These well-documented trends, coupled with an economy weakened by a major recession, have raised serious questions about whether the market for student debt is headed for a crisis, with many borrowers unable to repay their loans and taxpayers being forced to foot the bill.

The argument is set up – yes, tuition and debt levels are going up, but how is a crisis defined? It’s specifically about “many borrowers unable to repay their loans”. Is there a crisis? That’s not a bad setup, and it is a valid question to address.

Our analysis of more than two decades of data on the financial well-being of American households suggests that the reality of student loans may not be as dire as many commentators fear. We draw on data from the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) administered by the Federal Reserve Board to track how the education debt levels and incomes of young households evolved between 1989 and 2010. The SCF data are consistent with multiple other data sources, finding significant increases in average debt levels, but providing little indication of a significant contingent of borrowers with enormous debt loads.

This is an interesting source of data. Yes, the New York Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances tracks student debt, but this data is almost four years old due to triennial survey method. 1

But hold on – now we’re talking about “significant contingent of borrowers with enormous debt loads”? I thought the issue was ability to repay. What does “enormous” even mean other than being a scary word? Continue reading

  1. Also note that we’re skipping the years with the highest growth in student debt. []
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Early Review of Google Classroom

Meg Tufano is co-Founder of SynaptIQ+ (think tank for social era knowledge) and leader of McDermott MultiMedia Group (an education consulting group focused on Google Apps EDU). We have been checking out Google Classroom – with her as the teacher and me as the student. I include some of Meg’s bio here as it is worth noting her extensive experience designing and teaching online courses for more than a decade.

Meg posted a Google Slides review of her initial experiences using Google Classroom from a teacher’s perspective, which I am sharing below with minimal commentary. The review includes annotated slides showing the various features and Meg’s comments.

I have not done as much work to show the student view, but I will note the following:

  • The student view does not include the link to the Chrome Store that Meg finds to be too confusing.
  • The biggest challenge I’ve had so far is managing my multiple Google accounts (you have to be logged into the Google Apps for Edu as your primary Google account to enter Classroom, which is not that intuitive to students).
  • I wonder if Google will continue to use Google tools so prominently in Classroom (primary GDrive, YouTube, GDocs) or if the full release will make it easier to embed non-Google tools.
  • I have previously written “Why Google Classroom won’t affect institutional LMS market … yet”, and after initial testing, nothing has changed my opinion.
  • I have one other post linking to video-based reviews of Google Classroom here.
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CCSF Update: Accreditation appeal denied, but waiting for court date

It looks like I’ll have the California trifecta for the past week, having already posted on Cal State and University of California news recently. Maybe I should find a Stanford or some other private university story.

In my last post on CCSF from January:

Last week, as expected, a California superior court judge ruled on whether to allow the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)  to end accreditation for City College of San Francisco (CCSF) as of July 31, 2014. As reported inmultiple news outlets, the judge granted an injunction preventing ACCJC from stripping CCSF’s accreditation at least until a court trial based on the city of San Francisco lawsuit, which would occur in the summer 2014 at the earliest. This means that CCSF will stay open for at least another academic term (fall 2014), and it is possible that ACCJC would have to redo their accreditation review.

 In the meantime, ACCJC reviewed CCSF’s appeal of the accrediting decision, and ACCJC is sticking to its guns on the decision, as described in the San Francisco Chronicle:

City College of San Francisco remains out of compliance with eight accreditation standards, so the threat to revoke its accreditation stands, said the commission that set July 31 for the action that would shut the college down.

Accreditation won’t be revoked on that date, however, because a judge delayed the deadline until an October trial can determine if the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges properly conducted its 2012 evaluation of City College.

In other words, ACCJC has changed its determination that CCSF should lose accreditation. There are only two caveats at this point:

  • The injunction that prevents ACCJC from revoking accreditation until the October court date; and
  • A new loophole called “restoration status”.

Continue reading

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University of California’s $220 million payroll project reboot

Chris Newfield has an excellent post at Remaking the University about the University of California’s budget situation and how it relates to the recent Moody’s negative outlook on higher education finances. The whole article is worth reading, but one section jumped off the page for me [emphasis added].

The sadder example of ongoing debt is the request for “external financing for the UCPath project.” UC Path was UCOP’s flagship solution to UC inefficiencies that were allegedly wasting taxpayers’ money–in other words, new enterprise software for the systemwide consolidation of payroll and human resources functions. This is boring, important back office stuff, hardly good material for a political campaign to show the state “UC means business,” but that’s what it became. Rather than funding each campus’s decades-old effort to upgrade its systems on its own, UCOP sought centralization, which predictably introduced new levels of cost, complexity, and inefficiency, since centralization is often not actually efficient.

I had heard nothing good about UC Path from people trying to implement it on campuses, and have tried to ignore it, but this week it has resurfaced as a problem at the Regental level. The project timeline has grown from 48 to 72 months, and its costs are said to be $220 million (it had spent $131 million by May 2014) . Worse, the repayment schedule has mushroomed from seven to twenty years. Annual payments are to be something like $25 million. Campuses are to be taxed to pay for 2015-era systems until 2035, which is like taking out a twenty year mortgage to pay for your refrigerator, except that your fridge will be working better in 2035 than next year’s PeopleSoft product. Since the concurrent budget document notes efficiency savings of $30 million per year (top of page 4), UCOP may be spending $220 million to save a net $5 million per year over a couple of decades–and going into debt to do it. In the end, an efficiency measure has turned into a literal liability.

What the hell – a $220 million project to save money? How did this project get in this much trouble?

Continue reading

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