Posts Tagged “internet”

From our ONLY IN AMERICA FILES: Pirated movies shown to prisoners in Lorain County prison |

Pirated movies shown to prisoners in Lorain County prison |

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 10.32.25 AM.pngRichard Humphrey, 22, of North Ridgeville

Patrick Cooley, Northeast Ohio Media GroupBy Patrick Cooley, Northeast Ohio Media Group 
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on May 19, 2014 at 8:56 AM, updated May 19, 2014 at 11:02 AM

GRAFTON, Ohio – The Lorain County Correctional Institution

Institution acknowledged Friday that pirated movies are being shown to prisoners there, even as inmates serve time for illegally downloading movies.

Richard Humphrey, 22, of North Ridgeville was sent to the Lorain County prison in February for a parole violation and remained there until May 6. According to a post on the, while he was a prisoner, he said guards showed inmates “Ride Along” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” before they were released on DVD.

He was on parole for a charge of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, to which he pleaded guilty in 2010. A year earlier, he pleaded guilty to criminal copyright infringement in federal court for selling downloaded movies before their commercial release.

He said the girl contacted him via Myspace, and her page said she was 21 years old. He said she often drove to his house and bought beer, and he had no reason to believe she was underage until the police came to his house to question him.

A spokesperson for Lorain County Correctional Institution Warden Kimberly Clipper said prison officials are aware that pirated movies are being shown to prisoners and the issue is being investigated. But she said she couldn’t comment further because the investigation is ongoing.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said Friday that it is looking into pirated movies being screened at the Grafton prison, but a spokesperson said she couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation.

The spokesperson said movies must be reviewed and approved before being shown to prisoners, and the department is looking into whether prison staff brought unapproved movies into the facility.

In April, 2010, Humphrey was sentenced to 29 months in prison for selling pirated copies of movies through the subscription-based

According to a press release on the U.S. Department of Justice Website, Humphrey operated the site from December 2006 to October 2007.

“It was just a hobby,” he told the Chronicle-Telegram of Elyria. “I didn’t understand the severity.”

The practice is so common, he said Monday, that some people probably watch pirated movies and don’t even realize what they’re doing is illegal.

Humphrey said he saw “Ride Along” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” three or four times while he was in an intake pod that every prisoner must go through at the beginning of their sentence.

“There were others, but those are the ones that stood out,” he said.

In some cases, Humphrey said the movies appeared to have been illegally recorded by theater-goers.

“You could see people walking in front of the camera,” he said.

He said the problem doesn’t seem to be systemic, but some prison staff are aware they are showing pirated movies.

Humphrey said brought the problem to the attention of prison officials. He posted a phone conversation with Clipper online in which the warden assured him the matter is being looked into.

Even with the assurance, Humphrey is doubtful prison officials will take the issue seriously.

In a video he posted on the video sharing site Vimeo earlier this month he accused prison officials of hypocrisy.

“How do you expect someone to be rehabilitated when there’s authority figures that are running those institutions that are copyright infringing?” Humphrey said.

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YouTube to Acquire Videogame-Streaming Service Twitch for $1 Billion: Sources | Variety

YouTube to Acquire Videogame-Streaming Service Twitch for $1 Billion: Sources | Variety.


Twitch to live stream game content

Deal would be biggest ever for YouTube

Google’s YouTube has reached a deal to buy Twitch, a popular videogame-streaming company, for more than $1 billion, according to sources familiar with the pact.

The deal, in an all-cash offer, is expected to be announced imminently, sources said. If completed the acquisition would be the most significant in the history of YouTube, which Google acquired in 2006 for $1.65 billion. The impending acquisition comes after longtime Google ad exec Susan Wojcicki was named CEO of YouTube earlier this year.

Reps for YouTube and Twitch declined to comment.

San Francisco-based Twitch lets users upload and watch free, live gameplay videos that can be streamed from Microsoft Xbox and PlayStation 4 consoles. The company claims to have more than 45 million monthly users, with more than 1 million members who upload videos each month. It also has deals to distribute shows from partners including CBS Interactive’s GameSpot, Joystiq and Destructoid.

SEE ALSO: Major League Gaming, Twitch Compete to Become the ESPN of Videogames

YouTube is preparing for U.S. regulators to challenge the Twitch deal, according to sources. YouTube is far and away the No. 1 platform for Internet video, serving more than 6 billion hours of video per month to 1 billion users worldwide, and the company expects the Justice Department to take a hard look at whether buying Twitch raises anticompetitive issues in the online-video market.

Twitch was launched in June 2011 by Justin Kan and Emmett Shear, co-founders of, one of the first websites to host livestreaming user-generated video. Shear currently serves as CEO of Twitch.

Founded in 2011, the startup has raised about $35 million in funding. Investors include Bessemer Venture Partners, Alsop Louie Partners, WestSummit Capital, Take-Two Interactive Software, Thrive Capital and Draper Associates.

One of Twitch’s competitors is Major League Gaming, a New York-based company whose investors include Oak Investment Partners and Relativity Media CEO Ryan Cavanaugh.

In March 2014, Twitch represented 1.35% of all downstream bandwidth on North American fixed-access broadband networks — nearly triple from last fall, according to bandwidth-equipment company Sandvine.


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Bankrolled by broadband donors, lawmakers lobby FCC on net neutrality | Ars Technica

Bankrolled by broadband donors, lawmakers lobby FCC on net neutrality | Ars Technica.


The 28 House members who lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to drop net neutrality this week have received more than twice the amount in campaign contributions from the broadband sector than the average for all House members.

These lawmakers, including the top House leadership, warned the FCC that regulating broadband like a public utility “harms” providers, would be “fatal to the Internet,” and could “limit economic freedom.”​

According to research provided Friday by Maplight, the 28 House members received, on average, $26,832 from the “cable & satellite TV production & distribution” sector over a two-year period ending in December. According to the data, that’s 2.3 times more than the House average of $11,651.

What’s more, one of the lawmakers who told the FCC that he had “grave concern” (PDF) about the proposed regulation took more money from that sector than any other member of the House. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) was the top sector recipient, netting more than $109,000 over the two-year period, the Maplight data shows.

Dan Newman, cofounder and president of Maplight, the California research group that reveals money in politics, said the figures show that “it’s hard to take seriously politicians’ claims that they are acting in the public interest when their campaigns are funded by companies seeking huge financial benefits for themselves.”

Signing a letter to the FCC along with Walden, who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, were three other key members of the same committee: Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Robert Latta (R-OH), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Over the two-year period, Upton took in $65,000, Latta took $51,000, and Blackburn took $32,500.

In a letter (PDF) those representatives sent to the FCC two days before Thursday’s raucous FCC net neutrality hearing, the four wrote that they had “grave concern” over the FCC’s consideration of “reclassifying Internet broadband service as an old-fashioned ‘Title II common carrier service.'”

The letter added that a switchover “harms broadband providers, the American economy, and ultimately broadband consumers, actually doing so would be fatal to the Internet as we know it.”

Not every one of the 28 members who publicly lobbied the FCC against net neutrality in advance of Thursday’s FCC public hearing received campaign financing from the industry. One representative took no money: Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV).

In all, the FCC received at least three letters from House lawmakers with 28 signatures urging caution on classifying broadband as a telecommunications service, which would open up the sector to stricter “common carrier” rules, according to letters the members made publicly available.

The US has long applied common carrier status to the telephone network, providing justification for universal service obligations that guarantee affordable phone service to all Americans and other rules that promote competition and consumer choice.

Some consumer advocates say that common carrier status is needed for the FCC to impose strong network neutrality rules that would force ISPs to treat all traffic equally, not degrading competing services or speeding up Web services in exchange for payment. ISPs have argued that common carrier rules would saddle them with too much regulation and would force them to spend less on network upgrades and be less innovative.

Of the 28 House members signing on to the three letters, Republicans received, on average, $59,812 from the industry over the two-year period compared to $13,640 for Democrats, according to the Maplight data.

Another letter (PDF) sent to the FCC this week from four top members of the House, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), argued in favor of cable companies:

“We are writing to respectfully urge you to halt your consideration of any plan to impose antiquated regulation on the Internet, and to warn that implementation of such a plan will needlessly inhibit the creation of American private sector jobs, limit economic freedom and innovation, and threaten to derail one of our economy’s most vibrant sectors,” they wrote.

Over the two-year period, Boehner received $75,450; Cantor got $80,800; McCarthy got $33,000; and McMorris Rodgers got $31,500.

The third letter (PDF) forwarded to the FCC this week was signed by 20 House members. “We respectfully urge you to consider the effect that regressing to a Title II approach might have on private companies’ ability to attract capital and their continued incentives to invest and innovate, as well as the potentially negative impact on job creation that might result from any reduction in funding or investment,” the letter said.

Here are the 28 lawmakers who lobbied the FCC this week and their reported campaign contributions:

Greg Walden $109,250
Eric Cantor $80,800
John Boehner $75,450
Fred Upton $65,000
John Barrow $60,500
Robert Latta $51,000
George Butterfield $34,500
Kevin McCarthy $33,000
Marsha Blackburn $32,500
Cathy McMorris Rodgers $31,500
Gene Green $27,000
Scott Peters $21,800
Joaquin Castro $18,250
Kurt Schrader $16,000
William Owens $15,500
Bobby Rush $15,000
Loretta Sanchez $12,000
Albio Sires $9,000
Alcee Hastings $7,000
Marc Veasey $6,750
Bennie Thompson $6,500
Sanford Bishop $6,000
Henry Cuellar $5,000
David Scott $3,500
Gregory Meeks $3,500
Corrine Brown $3,000
William Clay $2,000
Nick Rahall $0

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Malvertising up by over 200%

Malvertising up by over 200%.

Online Trust Alliance (OTA) Executive Director and President Craig Spiezle testified today before the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, outlining the risks of malicious advertising, and possible solutions to stem the rising tide.

According to OTA research, malvertising increased by over 200% in 2013 to over 209,000 incidents, generating over 12.4 billion malicious ad impressions. The threats are significant, warns the Seattle-based non-profit—with the majority of malicious ads infecting users’ computers via “drive by downloads,” which occur when a user innocently visits a web site, with no interaction or clicking required.

The consequences of malvertising include cybercriminals capturing users’ personal information or turning devices into a bot for the purpose of taking over that device and using it in many cases to execute DDoS attacks against a bank, government agency or other organization.

Just as damaging is the deployment of ransomware, which encrypts a user’s hard drive, demanding an extortion payment to be unlocked. Users’ personal data, family photos and health records can be destroyed and stolen in seconds.

In the absence of policy and traffic quality controls, organized crime has recognized malvertising as the “exploit of choice” because it offers the ability to be anonymous and remain undetected for days. Through a multi-stakeholder effort, the OTA Advertising and Content Integrity Committee proposed a holistic framework as the foundation of an enforceable code of conduct or possible legislation addressing five key areas:

  • Prevention
  • Detection
  • Notification
  • Data Sharing
  • Remediation.

“Today, companies have little, if any, incentive to disclose their role in or knowledge of a security event, leaving consumers vulnerable and unprotected for potentially months or years, during which time untold amounts of damage can occur,” said Spiezle. “Failure to address these threats suggests the needs for legislation not unlike State data breach laws, requiring mandatory notification, data sharing and remediation to those who have been harmed.”

It is important to recognize there is no absolute defense against a determined criminal. At the hearing, OTA proposed incentives to companies who adopt best practices and comply with codes of conduct.

Spiezle emphasized that these companies “should be afforded protection from regulatory oversight as well as frivolous lawsuits. Perceived anti-trust and privacy issues must be resolved to facilitate data sharing to aid in fraud detection and forensics.”

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FSF condemns partnership between Mozilla and Adobe to support Digital Restrictions Management — Free Software Foundation — working together for free software

FSF condemns partnership between Mozilla and Adobe to support Digital Restrictions Management — Free Software Foundation — working together for free software.


by Free Software Foundation — Published on May 14, 2014 05:23 PM
BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA — Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 — In response to Mozilla’s announcement that it is reluctantly adopting DRM in its Firefox Web browser, Free Software Foundation executive director John Sullivan made the following statement:

“Only a week after the International Day Against DRM, Mozilla has announced that it will partner with proprietary software company Adobe to implement support for Web-based Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in its Firefox browser, using Encrypted Media Extensions (EME).

The Free Software Foundation is deeply disappointed in Mozilla’s announcement. The decision compromises important principles in order to alleviate misguided fears about loss of browser marketshare. It allies Mozilla with a company hostile to the free software movement and to Mozilla’s own fundamental ideals.

Although Mozilla will not directly ship Adobe’s proprietary DRM plugin, it will, as an official feature, encourage Firefox users to install the plugin from Adobe when presented with media that requests DRM. We agree with Cory Doctorow that there is no meaningful distinction between ‘installing DRM’ and ‘installing code that installs DRM.’

We recognize that Mozilla is doing this reluctantly, and we trust these words coming from Mozilla much more than we do when they come from Microsoft or Amazon. At the same time, nearly everyone who implements DRM says they are forced to do it, and this lack of accountability is how the practice sustains itself. Mozilla’s announcement today unfortunately puts it — in this regard — in the same category as its proprietary competitors.

Unlike those proprietary competitors, Mozilla is going to great lengths to reduce some of the specific harms of DRM by attempting to ‘sandbox’ the plugin. But this approach cannot solve the fundamental ethical problems with proprietary software, or the issues that inevitably arise when proprietary software is installed on a user’s computer.

In the announcement, Mitchell Baker asserts that Mozilla’s hands were tied. But she then goes on to actively praise Adobe’s “value” and suggests that there is some kind of necessary balance between DRM and user freedom.

There is nothing necessary about DRM, and to hear Mozilla praising Adobe — the company who has been and continues to be a vicious opponent of the free software movement and the free Web — is shocking. With this partnership in place, we worry about Mozilla’s ability and willingness to criticize Adobe’s practices going forward.

We understand that Mozilla is afraid of losing users. Cory Doctorow points out that they have produced no evidence to substantiate this fear or made any effort to study the situation. More importantly, popularity is not an end in itself. This is especially true for the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit with an ethical mission. In the past, Mozilla has distinguished itself and achieved success by protecting the freedom of its users and explaining the importance of that freedom: including publishing Firefox’s source code, allowing others to make modifications to it, and sticking to Web standards in the face of attempts to impose proprietary extensions.

Today’s decision turns that calculus on its head, devoting Mozilla resources to delivering users to Adobe and hostile media distributors. In the process, Firefox is losing the identity which set it apart from its proprietary competitors — Internet Explorer and Chrome — both of which are implementing EME in an even worse fashion.

Undoubtedly, some number of users just want restricted media like Netflix to work in Firefox, and they will be upset if it doesn’t. This is unsurprising, since the majority of the world is not yet familiar with the ethical issues surrounding proprietary software. This debate was, and is, a high-profile opportunity to introduce these concepts to users and ask them to stand together in some tough decisions.

To see Mozilla compromise without making any public effort to rally users against this supposed “forced choice” is doubly disappointing. They should reverse this decision. But whether they do or do not, we call on them to join us by devoting as many of their extensive resources to permanently eliminating DRM as they are now devoting to supporting it. The FSF will have more to say and do on this in the coming days. For now, users who are concerned about this issue should:

  • Write to Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal and let him know that you oppose DRM. Mozilla made this decision in a misguided appeal to its userbase; it needs to hear in clear and reasoned terms from the users who feel this as a betrayal. Ask Mozilla what it is going to do to actually solve the DRM problem that has created this false forced choice.

  • Join our effort to stop EME approval at the W3C. While today’s announcement makes it even more obvious that W3C rejection of EME will not stop its implementation, it also makes it clear that W3C can fearlessly reject EME to send a message that DRM is not a part of the vision of a free Web.

  • Use a version of Firefox without the EME code: Since its source code is available under a license allowing anyone to modify and redistribute it under a different name, we expect versions without EME to be made available, and you should use those instead. We will list them in the Free Software Directory.

  • Donate to support the work of the Free Software Foundation and our Defective by Design campaign to actually end DRM. Until it’s completely gone, Mozilla and others will be constantly tempted to capitulate, and users will be pressured to continue using some proprietary software. If not us, give to another group fighting against digital restrictions.”


Media Contact

John Sullivan
Executive Director
Free Software Foundation
+1 (617) 542 5942

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users’ right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software — particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants — and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software, and its Web sites, located at and, are an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF’s work can be made at Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

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Pentagon document lays out battle plan against zombies –

Pentagon document lays out battle plan against zombies –

 Zombies stumble across the East Plaza of the U.S. Capitol to promote 'The Warehouse: Project 4.1' urban haunted house in Rockville, Maryland, on Wednesday, October 3, 2012.
Zombies stumble across the East Plaza of the U.S. Capitol to promote ‘The Warehouse: Project 4.1’ urban haunted house in Rockville, Maryland, on Wednesday, October 3, 2012.

Washington (CNN) — Never fear the night of the living dead — the Pentagon has got you covered.

It has also devised an elaborate plan should a zombie apocalypse befall the country, according to a Defense Department document obtained by CNN.

In an unclassified document titled “CONOP 8888,” officials from U.S. Strategic Command used the specter of a planet-wide attack by the walking dead as a training template for how to plan for real-life, large-scale operations, emergencies and catastrophes.

And the Pentagon says there’s a reasonable explanation.

“The document is identified as a training tool used in an in-house training exercise where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario,” Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze, a spokeswoman for U.S. Strategic Command, told CNN. “This document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan.”

Nevertheless, the preparation and thoroughness exhibited by the Pentagon for how to prepare for a scenario in which Americans are about to be overrun by flesh-eating invaders is quite impressive.

Read the Pentagon’s Zombie apocalypse plan

A wide variety of different zombies, each brandishing their own lethal threats, are possible to confront and should be planned for, according to the document.

Zombie life forms “created via some form of occult experimentation in what might otherwise be referred to as ‘evil magic,’ to vegetarian zombies that pose no threat to humans due to their exclusive consumption of vegetation, to zombie life forms created after an organism is infected with a high dose of radiation are among the invaders the document outlines.”

Every phase of the operation from conducting general zombie awareness training, and recalling all military personnel to their duty stations, to deploying reconnaissance teams to ascertain the general safety of the environment to restoring civil authority after the zombie threat has been neutralized are discussed.
And the rules of engagement with the zombies are clearly spelled out within the document.

“The only assumed way to effectively cause causalities to the zombie ranks by tactical force is the concentration of all firepower to the head, specifically the brain,” the plan reads. “The only way to ensure a zombie is ‘dead’ is to burn the zombie corpse.”

There are even contingency plans for how to deal with hospitals and other medical facilities infiltrated by zombies, and the possible deployment of remote controlled robots to man critical infrastructure points such as power stations if the zombie threat becomes too much.

A chain of command from the President on down along with the roles to be played by the State Department and the intelligence community for dealing with the zombie apocalypse are clearly spelled out in the document.

‘Walking Dead’ finale: The biggest reveals
The training document was first reported by Foreign Policy magazine.

This is also not the first time zombies have been used as the antagonist in U.S. government training operations. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Homeland Security have used the creatures as a vehicle for training their personnel in the past.

Defense officials stress the report in no way signals an invasion of zombies is on the horizon. The only real purpose of the document was to practice how to execute a plan for handling something as large and serious a situation like flesh-eating beings trying to overrun the United States.

And why zombies?

Officials familiar with the planning of it say zombies were chosen precisely because of the outlandish nature of the attack premise.

“Training examples for plans must accommodate the political fallout that occurs if the general public mistakenly believes that a fictional training scenario is actually a real plan,” the document says. “Rather than risk such an outcome by teaching our augmentees using the fictional ‘Tunisia’ or ‘Nigeria’ scenarios used at (Joint Combined Warfighting School), we elected to use a completely impossible scenario that could never be mistaken as a real plan.”

So, practice for the when, where and how to plan for a more likely disaster scenario? Yes. But zombies of all stripes would be well advised to take note of this directive to Strategic Command personnel buried within the document.

“Maintain emergency plans to employ nuclear weapons within (the continental United States) to eradicate zombie hordes.”

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Q&A with Knewton’s David Kuntz: ‘Better and faster’ learning than a traditional class? | Hechinger Report

Q&A with Knewton’s David Kuntz: ‘Better and faster’ learning than a traditional class? | Hechinger Report.



When education investors talk about so-called adaptive learning, in which a computer tailors instructional software personally for each student, the name Knewton invariably surfaces. The ed-tech start up began five years ago as an online test prep service. But it transformed the personalization technology it uses for test prep classes into a “recommendations” engine that any software publisher or educational institution can use. Today the New York City company boasts it can teach you almost any subject better and faster than a traditional class can. At the end of 2012, 500,000 students were using its platform. By the end of this year, the company estimates it will be more than 5 million. By next year, 15 million students. Most users will be unaware that Knewton’s big data machine is the hidden engine inside the online courses provided by Pearson or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt or directly by a school, such as Arizona State University and University of Alabama.

David Kuntz

The Hechinger Report talked with David Kuntz, Knewton’s vice president of research, to understand how the company’s adaptive learning system works. Kuntz hails from the testing industry. He previously worked at Education Testing Service (ETS), which makes the GRE and administers the SAT for The College Board. Before that Kuntz worked for the company that makes the LSAT law school exam.

(Edited for length and clarity)

Question: On your company’s home page, there’s a McDonald’s hamburger counter that says you’ve served more than 276 million recommendations to students. What exactly are they? Are they like a book recommendation on Amazon?

Answer: It’s not like book recommendations on Amazon. Amazon’s goal is for you to buy the book. The goals that are driving our recommendations are the big things you need to learn. This recommendation is just one piece along the way for you to get there.

The question our machine is trying to answer is, of all of the content that’s available to me in the system, what’s the best thing to teach you next that maximizes the probability of you understanding the big things that you need to know? What’s best next?

It’s not just what you should learn next, but how you should learn it. Depending on your learning style, it might be best to introduce linear equations through a visual, geometric approach, where you plot the lines and show the intersection. For others, they might respond better to an algebraic introduction.

Q: How are the recommendations “served”?

A: That depends on how our partner [the developer of the educational application, such as Pearson or University of Arizona] designs its online course.

Sometimes, the recommendations drive the whole course experience. The student comes in, signs on, and the system will say to them, “Let’s work on this.” And they work on this. There’s formative feedback all the way through. And then the machine picks the next lesson based on how the student did in that lesson. “Now, let’s work on this other thing.”

In other cases, it may be a study aid sidebar, “Okay, you’ve just completed your assignment, and didn’t do as well as you might have liked. Here’s something you should do now that will help improve that.”

It can be tailored remediation, or the full scope and sequence of the course or a blend of those.

Q: Bring us inside your black box. How have you programmed your adaptive learning platform to come up with these recommendations?

A: We have a series of mathematical models that each try to understand a different dimension of how a student learns. We model engagement, boredom, frustration, proficiency, the extent to which a student knows or doesn’t know a particular topic. Imagine three dozen models.

Take proficiency. We use an IRT, or Item Response Theory Model, which is commonly used in testing. It estimates the probability that a student is able to do something based on an answer to a particular question.

The data gets filtered through all those models in order to come up with a recommendation in real time.

Q: Where does the data come from?

A: We know nothing about a student until he logs on. But then we can have the full click stream. That’s every mouse movement, every key press. If they click on a link to review part of a chapter and then they scroll down and scroll back up a couple times, those are things we can know. If they highlight stuff on the page, if they ask for a hint, if they select option choice C and then change their mind 4 seconds later and select option choice D, those are all pieces of information we can know. That’s part of that click stream.

Q: I’m told this is “big data.” How much data are we talking about?

A: It’s a ton. The storage component of that data is the largest portion of our Amazon Web Service’s bill (laughs). It’s fair to say that we have more than a million data points for each student who’s taking a Knewton platform course for a semester. That’s just the raw click stream data. After the raw data goes through our models, there’s exponentially more data that we’ve produced.

Q: There’s a lot of concern by parents and policymakers about how companies are exploiting and safeguarding private student data. How do you keep it private?

A: We don’t know anything personal about the student at all. We don’t know their name. We don’t know their gender. We don’t know where they live. No demographic information whatsoever. All we know is that this is a student in this particular course.

Q: Can all subjects be taught through an adaptive learning platform? Or is it best for math?

A: We love math. Math is great is because it has a rich, deep structure to it. The concepts build upon one another. Physics and chemistry are similar to math that way.

Biology has a totally different structure. It’s more about different clusters of things, connected by crosswalks.

Often, it’s less about the subject than the goals of the course.

Take freshman philosophy. If it’s a survey course of great ideas and the evolution of those great ideas, it may start with the Greek philosophers all the way up to Rene Descartes (“I think therefore I am”), up through European Western twentieth century civilization. You talk about logical positivism, and then post positivistic philosophy…

Q: (as Kuntz is rattling this off, I can’t help but multitask and Google his bio. Yep, he was a philosophy student at Brown).

A: In that case, there really is an evolution to those ideas that can be described in a knowledge graph. And our models can recommend content on this knowledge graph for students to learn.

But the other kind of freshman philosophy course is less about the subject of philosophy itself. It cares about exposing to students to some of the great ideas in the survey course. But the goal is to use these great ideas as a spur to promote creative critical analysis and discussion. In this case, most of the interaction and most of the evaluation takes place in class discussions and in written papers.

For a freshman philosophy course that is focused around teaching students how to think on their feet, come up with counter examples rapidly, and interact with other students in an engaging and intelligent way, our approach may not work as well.

Q: How does your machine decide whether to focus on a student’s weaknesses or to go deeper into an area that a student is really interested in?

A: Student engagement and interest – those are factors we try to take into account. We try to balance areas where student is having problems with areas that a student is really interested in.

If our partner [such as Pearson] has enabled direct expression of a student’s interest, we can take that data and incorporate that into the process of making a recommendation.

Q: Does the data know better than an experienced teacher’s wisdom? Does the Knewton machine ever recommend something that runs completely counter to what a veteran teacher would do?

A: One day we’ll have some really good answers to that question. What we have seen, in some cases, is that the engine has made recommendations that teachers have found surprising. But pleasantly so. Something they hadn’t anticipated that the student would need. But when presented with it, the teacher recognized that it was something good for the student to be doing.

Q: This is hard to understand.

A: It requires putting aside a lot of the things we take for granted because we grew up and were educated in the current system. We think about things in terms of syllabi and chapters. It’s hard to step back from that. Are there better and different ways that we can organize and present content?

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