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Can the billion-dollar ed-tech industry, flush with funds from venture capital firms, keep up its record-setting investment pace, or is it setting itself up for a massive crash?

Not too long ago, Santa Ana College instructor Susan Gaer found herself in class describing the steps required to obtain a passport. Her students – mostly English Language Learners of varying ages – began typing notes into their cell phones. This alarmed Gaer, given the somewhat complicated process and the limited functionality of the phones her students were using (a mix of smartphones and feature phones).

Who majored in Slovak language and literature? At least 14 IBM employees, according to LinkedIn.

Late last month LinkedIn unveiled a “field of study explorer.” Enter a field of study – even one as obscure in the U.S. as Slovak – and you’ll see which companies Slovak majors on LinkedIn work for, which fields they work in and where they went to college. You can also search by college, by industry and by location. You can winnow down, if you desire, to find the employee who majored in Slovak at the Open University and worked in Britain after graduation.

On a Friday morning in April, I strapped on a headset, leaned into a microphone, and experienced what had been described to me as a type of time travel to the future of higher education. I was on the ninth floor of a building in downtown San Francisco, in a neighborhood whose streets are heavily populated with winos and vagrants, and whose buildings host hip new businesses, many of them tech start-ups.

The University of California System, after five years and millions of dollars spent, is asking for more time and money to get its systemwide online education initiative off the ground.

Scholars are exhilarated by the prospect of tapping into the vast troves of personal data collected by Facebook, Google, Amazon and a host of start-ups, which they say could transform social science research.

Once forced to conduct painstaking personal interviews with subjects, scientists can now sit at a screen and instantly play with the digital experiences of millions of Internet users. It is the frontier of social science — experiments on people who may never even know they are subjects of study, let alone explicitly consent.

John R. Barker paces the front of the lecture hall, gesturing at slides with a laser pointer and explaining to a room full of undergraduates how scientists use data to make predictions about global climate change.

At the moment Mr. Barker, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Michigan, is facing a climate crisis of his own: The atmosphere in this lecture hall is dead.

This week, NPR Ed is focusing on questions about why people play and how play relates to learning.

Imagine you're playing a computer game that asks you to design a poster for the school fair. You're fiddling with fonts, changing background colors and deciding what activity to feature: Will a basketball toss appeal to more people than a pie bake-off?

Then, animal characters — maybe a panda or an ostrich — offer feedback on your design. You can choose whether to hear a compliment or a complaint: "The words are overlapping too much," or, "I like that you put in the dates."

Massive open online courses will return to the University of Wisconsin at Madison next year -- or something that looks like them will, anyway. Having reviewed the results from its first round of MOOCs, the institution will offer new courses that are shorter, cover fewer topics and target Wisconsinites.

Facebook and academe aren’t exactly friends. Over the years, the social-media company has been the source of ethically questionable research, the purveyor of uncomfortable teacher-student interactions, and, of course, the consummate classroom distraction, scourge of lecture halls the world over.

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