Harvard’s Professor and EdTech Visionary Robert Lue Dies at 56 From Cancer

IBL News | New York

The Havard, Open edX, and edX community lost this week a key leader, Robert Lue, 56, Researcher and Professor of Biology at Harvard, Founder of LabXChange.org and HarvardX, edtech visionary and a firm advocate of open source and scientific education.

Harvard University reported that Robert Lue died from cancer. His death caused a deep impact on the Harvard and edX community.

“Rob was one of the most creative teachers; he was always thinking about how we could do a better job of engaging our students, and he was particularly gifted in imagining how technology and data could be used to enhance the learning experience,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow. “The kindness and thoughtfulness he brought to his work over the years infuse many of the pedagogical improvements made at Harvard. He was a valued colleague, and he will be missed.”

Robert “Rob” Lue was Professor of the practice in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology,  Faculty Director of the Harvard Ed Portal, Richard L. Menschel Faculty Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, UNESCO Chair on Life Sciences and Social Innovation, and Faculty Director and Principal Investigator of LabXchange. He co-authored two biology textbooks and worked extensively in the field of scientific visualization.

In 2012, Lue became the founding faculty director of HarvardX, shaping the institution’s engagement in online learning and expanding its reach.

Lue’s vision was to improve education “by bringing equal opportunities for learning science [to] anyone and anywhere,” said Valtencir Mendes, Senior Program Lead in UNESCO’s education sector.

Anant Agarwal, CEO at edX, said, “Rob was an early and ardent believer in edX. Always willing to help across our network + quick to share his grand and inspirational visions of the shared mission we were all working toward. Rob was a friend and I will miss him dearly.”

Up until his death, Lue was leading LabXchange, a breakthrough, Open edX-based virtual platform launched in October 2019, with over 2.5 million visitors.

“Rob was always so happy when students thanked him [for changing] their view of biology by creating these animations,” said Alain Viel, Director at the Northwest Undergraduate Laboratories and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard. Viel was his partner of 30 years.

An online forum was filled with tribute messages to Lue.

News stories about Robert Lue at IBL News


View: A New Learning Platform During Pandemic Times? The Must-Have List of Features

IBL News | New York

Traditionally, the U.S. educational system has been slow to evolve, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed that weakness.

At pre-pandemic educational shows and conferences, keynote speakers often joked that if Benjamin Franklin were to visit our country today, the only place he would recognize would be the school classroom.

But the classroom has changed overnight, and LMS platforms haven’t been incapable to evolve for the new teaching environment.

Instructors must radically rethink how to efficiently engage students. The shift from face-to-face to remote teaching requires a non-legacy, new generation, pedagogically–robust Learning Management Systems (LMS). It is not about managing the classroom but coping with the new demands of education.

Your new learning platform or ecosystem should be the foundational rock that supports the new learning environment.

These are seven key chapters to consider when choosing the right learning platform to deliver an effective, rock-solid experience in this new challenging time.

  1. Simplified, user-friendly, and scalable access for students, enhanced with Single Sign-On (SSO) authentication. Interactive and easily accessible, downloadable, offline-viewable content.
  2. Easy to use CMS for instructors, not needing to be tech-savvy, and avoiding any dependence on the IT department. Admin dashboard.
  3. Mobile friendly, elegant, and visually distinctive UI-UX enhanced platform.
  4. Course catalog website, learner portal, landing pages, along with integration with other LMS and applications within the university or business organization.
  5. Social-learning powered platform, enriched with digital, blockchain-based, and career-advancement ready credentials.
  6. Data-driven and AI analytics dashboard, plug-and-play interoperability with other systems, and Student Information Systems (SIS).
  7. Backed by a reliable, experienced–check its portfolio of customers–and forward-thinking LMS supplier and partner, who provides robust post-implementation technical support and is able to optimize the platform with the latest pedagogical innovations. Consulting service review and recommendations.


Google Introduces New Analytics with Machine Learning and Predictive Models

IBL News | New York

Google announced the introduction of its new Google Analytics with machine learning at its core, which is privacy-centric by design. They are built on the foundation of the App + Web property presented last year.

The goal of the giant searching company is “to help users to get better ROI and improve their marketing decisions.” It follows what a survey from Forrester Consulting points out that improving the use of analytics is a top priority for marketers.

The machine learning models include will allow to alert on trends in data, like products seeing rising demand, and help to anticipate future actions from customers. “For example, it calculates churn probability so you can more efficiently invest in retaining customers at a time when marketing budgets are under pressure,says in a blog-post Vidhya Srinivasan, Vice President, Measurement, Analytics, and Buying Platforms at Google.

It also adds new predictive metrics indicating the potential revenue that can be earned from a particular group of customers. “This allows you to create audiences to reach higher-value customers and run analyses to better understand why some customers are likely to spend more than others, so you can take action to improve your results,” wrote Vidhya Srinivasan.

The new Google Analytics provides customer-centric measurement, including conversion from YouTube video views, Google and non-Google paid channels, search, social, and email. The setup works with or without cookies or identifiers.

They come by default for new web properties. In order to replace the existing setup, Google encourages to create a new Google Analytics 4 property (previously called an App + Web property). Enterprise marketers are currently using a beta version with Analytics 360 version with SLAs and advanced integrations with tools like BigQuery.




• Introduction to Google Analytics 4 for Higher Education Institutions

Another Zoom Challenger: Engageli Capitalizes on Video Conferencing Limitations

IBL News | New York

Coursera’s Co-Founder and CEO of Insitro Daphne Koller and her husband, computer scientist Dan Avida launched this month Engageli, an online learning platform that tries to give an answer to Zoom video conferencing limitation for higher ed.

This Silicon Valley startup company started a few months ago, raised $14.5 million in seed funding. In addition to Koller and Avida, investors include RM, Emerge Education, Alex Balkanski–general partner at Benchmark Capital–Lip-Bu Tan–CEO of Cadence Design Systems–and Rob Cohen–former president of 2U.

The story is similar to ClassEDU, recently started by the co-founders of Blackboard with $16 million in funding. The two companies want to replicate the social feeling of being in a classroom while adding live data about student engagement on a browser-based tool. However, Engageli is designed from the ground up to work on any browser, and ClassEDU is built on top of Zoom. Engageli’s users won’t have to download an app to access class.

Engageli features students seated at different virtual tables, in groups of up to 10, assigned by instructors. Students can see, hear, and chat with one another, along with the teacher. But they cannot do so with students at other tables. Students raise their hands and are given permission to speak. A color-coded circle overlaid on each student indicates how engaged he or she is.

Instructors can add questions to any presentation slide and stream videos directly on the platform.

“For anyone who’s used Zoom or Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, Engageli doesn’t take long to learn,” said Dan Avida, CEO of Engageli.

Engageli–which currently has 20 full-time staff–is now introducing the platform through a pilot program with a small set of universities considered to be early adopters. Pricing has not been disclosed yet.

Press Release of the launch 

IBM Will Focus More on Cloud and AI, while Placing Its Low-Margin, Legacy Tech into a New Public Company

IBL News | New York

IBM (International Business Machines) announced yesterday it will split into two public companies, in a bid to focus more on higher-margin businesses like cloud computing and AI. Currently, AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Microsoft dominate the market for cloud services.

The 109-year old company shifted into the cloud with the acquisition of Red Hat for $34 billion in July 2019.

IBM –which currently has more than 352,000 workers – said it expects the separation to cost $5 billion.

The tech giant will list its legacy IT infrastructure services unit as a separate entity named NewCo by the end of 2021. Software sales and demand for mainframe servers have been in decline in recent years.

NewCo will have 90,000 employees and $19 billion in annual revenue. It will serve 75% of Fortune 100 companies when it makes its share market debut, according to IBM.

The market received well IBM’s announcement, and investors praised the move by CEO Arvind Krishna, with shares closing nearly 6% higher.

“We divested networking back in the 1990s, we divested PCs back in the 2000s, we divested semiconductors about five years ago because all of them didn’t necessarily play into the integrated value proposition,” Arvind Krishna – who took over as CEO in April –wrote in a blog post. “To drive growth, our strategy must be rooted in the reality of the world we live in and the future our clients strive to build. Today, hybrid cloud and AI are swiftly becoming the locus of commerce, transactions, and over time, of computing itself.”

Wedbush Securities analyst Moshe Katri said, “IBM is essentially getting rid of a shrinking, low-margin operation given the cannibalizing impact of automation and cloud, masking stronger growth for the rest of the operation.”


Thinkific Reports a 200% Increase in People Making Courses and Raises $22M

IBL News | New York

Course-creation platform Thinkfic announced that it raised $22 million in new funding led by Rhino Ventures, which was already an investor. Previously, the Canadian startup raised $3 million.

Vancouver–based Thinkific claims that over 50,000 users have earned over $650 million by building and selling online courses through its platform. The startup company also reported a 200% increase in people making courses since March.

“We have been profitable for many years [since 2018], but we chose to raise this additional funding to accelerate innovation, and scale our team,” wrote Greg Smith, CEO & Co-Founder at Thinkific in a blog-post. The plan is to grow from a current team of 180 employees to 500 people within a year or so. “We want to help one million knowledge entrepreneurs grow successful businesses in 5 or 10 years.”

The company – which competes with Udemy, Teachable, and Skillshare, among others – highlights stories like those of John Michaloudis, who was able to grow an Excel course to $20,000/month in just 6 months, or Tim Vipond, co-founder and CEO of Corporate Finance Institute (CFI), who’s been able to train 600,000 financial advisors.”

“Our users want control over their brand, own customer relationship, and build their own sustainable businesses,” explained Greg Smith. The firm doesn’t take a cut of the revenue from creators nor charges transaction fees, contrary to its competitors.

“Thinkific’s business model, user numbers, and ~ 150% year-over-year revenue growth tracks, by stage, very closely to Shopify which is now Canada’s most valuable public company,” stated Rhino Managing Partner, Fraser Hall.

The company was built out of a need of Greg Smith when he wanted to offer an LSAT class online as an instructor. Along with three more co-founders [in the picture below], he created Thinkific to enable entrepreneurs to build and commercialize courses of their own.


Teachers Worldwide Find Creative Solutions to Avoid Education Disruption Due to COVID

IBL News | New York

The education of over 90% of the world’s enrolled student population–nearly 1.6 billion learners–continues to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments. For six months now, teachers around the world have been finding creative approaches to face school closures, adapting and improvising to keep their students learning.

There are many inspiring stories on how teachers kept doing their job throught the crisis. They remind us that teachers are a vital lifeline for their students.

Some teachers travelled for hours each day to establish small learning groups around a laptop, others walked door to door to distribute thousands of much-needed school meals during the lockdown, yet others delivered their classes from the back of a truck.

“This crisis has created an unprecedented context that has brought to the fore teacher leadership, creativity and innovation,” said a recent report by UNESCO.

“In the majority of cases, teachers were forced to act without much warning and with little time to prepare. Curriculums were modified or condensed, lesson plans adapted, working methods turned on their heads. But, whether via the internet, mobile phone, television, radio broadcast or the mail, teachers continued to provide an education to their students.”

In countries with poor connectivity, where over 40% households do not have a computer or online access, many teachers have prepared take-home packager for their students, along with digital communities and support groups on Facebook and Twitter.

In order to celebrate teachers’ leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, UNESCO plans to celebrate their work on October 5th, with World Teachers’ Day, on the anniversary of the signature of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers.

The organization has released an event’s website.

A Startup Company Raises $16M for User Interface that Adds LMS Capabilities to Zoom

Mikel Amigot, IBL News | New York

ClassEDU Inc, a startup company led by Blackboard co-founder and former CEO Michael Chasen, plans to launch at the end of October a powerful LMS interface for Zoom that adds into it live assessments, attendance tracker, proctoring tool, and gradebook, among other capabilities. [See below the video showing the platform]

Washington DC-based, Class for Zoom announced this week that it closed $16 million in seed financing. Early prominent investors in Zoom, along with Deborah Quazzo, Partner at GSV Ventures, and other edtech venture capitalists participated in the funding.

“Teachers using Zoom today need frictionless tools to take attendance, hand out assignments, give quizzes, grade items, or even talk with students one-on-one,” said Michael Chasen. “We designed Class for Zoom to feel and work like an in-person classroom.”

Zoom web conferencing is currently used by over 100,000 K-12 schools and colleges across 25 countries, becoming de facto a learning platform. ClassforZoom.com took advantage of the Zoom phenomenon and built on top of this platform, attracting plenty of capital. For its initiative, it used the software development kit that Zoom makes available to third-party developers.

Due to COVID, students and teachers needed a better tool than Zoom to complete their daily learning tasks.

“Class for Zoom fills a major pedagogical gap at a critical time, by making the virtual classroom feel and operate more like the traditional classroom,” said Lev Gonick, Chief Information Officer at Arizona State University and board member of ClassEDU.

The app, designed for small virtual or hybrid classrooms, is still in development. The price of the product hasn’t been announced yet, although Michael Chasen disclosed that it will be sold to schools as an annual subscription.


Another startup built expressly atop of Zoom is Grain.co, which lets users take notes and share clips from video calls on other media platforms. It attracted $4 million in April 2020.

The University of Illinois Had a Comprehensive Anti-Virus Plan, but Students Partied On

IBL News | New York

The most comprehensive plans to limit the COVID-19 virus’ spread can break down when students party on.

The New York Times yesterday narrated the case of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where over 40,000 students take tests twice a week, cannot enter campus building unless an app vouches that they test negative, and everyone wears a mask.

University scientists developed a quick, inexpensive saliva test, and other researchers put together a detailed computer simulation, modeling the movements of everyone on campus–including some little partying of students.

However, enough students continued to go to parties even after testing positive, dismissing commands from public health officials. Common sense was absent. Partying after receiving a positive test result wasn’t on anyone’s expectation.

Some fraternities and sororities, as well as some off-campus housing, throw large parties and gatherings ignoring containment plans.

Some of the infected students even tried to circumvent the app so they could enter buildings instead of staying isolated in their rooms, university administrators said in a letter to students.

Last week, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported an uprising in cases and imposed a lockdown. Students had to stay in their off-campus dorms.

Some of the students who tested positive even tried to circumvent the app so that they could enter buildings instead of staying isolated in their rooms.

Analysis: UX / UI Will Determine the Success or Failure of Your Next Web Project

IBL News | New York

Today, creating memorable and effective user experiences adjusted to the target audience determines ultimately the success or failure of any web enterprise.

Consumers have millions of products to choose from. What separates the excellent from the mediocre comes down from the user experience.

The UX (user experience) design process starts by understanding the psychology of the user. It needs to effectively address the user’s desire to find the information quickly and convince him or her to come back.

The UI (user interface) layout should be designed to engage the audience, identifying the type of actions the user will take, whether it’s requesting more information, signing up for a service, or purchasing a product.

That’s when visuals, blocks of content, intuitive navigation, logical structure, call to action buttons, and other interactions will all come together.

UX and UI designers will start by keeping sight of businesses’ branding, marketing goals, and corporate strategy. They then put themselves in the user’s shoes, anticipating their motivators and turn-offs. Instead of making assumptions, by conducting user testing, surveys, and research on how people interact, it removes the guesswork and provides a starting point.

Consider also that consumer habits change. A website that left people satisfied two years ago, may now be less effective. It’s interesting to check the latest trends in web design.

Tools like FlowMappStormboard, and Whimsical can help construct user flows, determining how a design needs to be structured to later building a wireframe and prototype. Lastly, usability testing is the final step before the project goes live.

The golden rule on UX, UI, and usability processes, is to keep users at the center.

ResourceUX design process: a simple (but complete) guide


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