The Social LMS - Students love it but will Instructors too?
2012 started with off with a $5 million funding round for Coursekit, a New York based startup founded by Joe Cohen, Dan Getelman, and Jim Grandpre. The three University of Pennsylvania students were not happy with the LMS technology (Learning Management System) and hence decided to build their own.
Fueled by a $1 million seed round in May 2011 Coursekit has been piloting the LMS at 30 universities and came out of beta in November 2011. The Coursekit team takes a grassroots approach to bring their LMS to market. Other than targeting university administrators, Coursekit get in touch with individual professors.
The second difference to established players like, of course, Blackboard is the focus on social interaction rather than on administration.
Needless to say, there are the features one would expect from a classic LMS like grading, calendar and resources, but Coursekit is clearly focusing on social interaction. Earlier this year Joe Cohen stated that "Our goal is to turn courses into communities online."
Another important aspect is the fresh and elegant design that especially attracts the student side. No one wants to use a software that looks like it is still from the 90es these days. Even if there is nothing wrong with the product itself a user interface that is not up to today’s standards won’t make students want to use it.
Coursekit is free to use. The plan is to add e-commerce functions to the site as soon as the userbase hits critical mass, offering textbooks and other education related products.
Throughout 2011 we saw a lot of LMS systems enter the market to take on Blackboard. LearnBoost, another free LMS that is based on Google Apps, Edmodo which is also free and focused on classroom communities just raised another $15 million. Instructure started with a bang by adapting Apple’s famous 1984 commercial to their launch of Canvas.
I was talking with Christopher Dawson, Contributing Editor at ZDNet about the LMS space in the 2011 wrap-up episode of review:ed the other day. Chris is watching this space very closely and he thinks that at least in the near future those new competitors will most likely be successful as niche solutions for smaller colleges or K12 schools. And the biggest challenge will be to get the instructors on board and make them feel comfortable using those new systems as they need to drive instruction with those tools.
For students it is not a problem to quickly adapt to a LMS centered around social interaction similar to Facebook or Twitter. Instructors who are used to work with the more enterprise-centric software approach of Blackboard and not used to socialize with their students outside of the classroom hours the change might be too abrupt.
Nevertheless, Chris predicts an ongoing leave from Blackboard as it is still very expensive which is a strong argument for cheaper or free alternatives like Instructure, Moodle being the darling of educators and other competitors in times of economic uncertainty and ongoing budget cuts.
Picture: Coursekit Founder Team
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Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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