Archive for the ‘improving education’ Category

Don Tapscott On Educating the Net Generation

Today’s educators, many of them baby boomers, have witnessed the dawn of a digital age as part of a generation whose members developed new technologies with the power to transform the world as we know it. Now, these pioneers are turning over the reins to the next generation. These digital natives are the subject of “Grown Up Digital”, Don Tapscott’s latest book and follow-up to his eye-opening 1998 work “Growing Up Digital”. In this sequel of sorts, Tapscott tracks the several hundred students he interviewed earlier as they are poised to become leaders themselves. These book-ended volumes grew out of a larger study that spanned a dozen countries and included thousands of young people born between 1978 and 1994.

This generation, with its unique birthright, relates to technology in a dramatically different way than their parents, who often mistakenly equate internet activity to mindless TV viewing and miss an important contrast. Watching television is primarily one-way entertainment, largely deserved of its criticism as a poor substitute and intellectual inferior to reading. Internet, on the other hand, is interactive, particularly for digital natives who utilize it as a tool to connect, communicate, and extend instead of as a mere data dispenser. This Net Generation of multi-tech-taskers approaches technology from a perspective that baby boomers can only imagine, without constraints or predetermined rules of conduct.

The portrait that emerges from Tapscott’s interviews is mostly optimistic. Standing as we are on the precipice of a new age, Tapscott observes that we are at an unprecedented moment in history. Today’s youth uniquely possess a mastery over us adults, their seniors. There is no turning back, no shutting the lid on this Pandora’s box. But instead of envisioning a future of digital dolts and dullards, Tapscott sees the promise of a generation without limits or global boundaries.

At a recent Consortium for School Networking, Tapscott argued that what is needed is not to merely “throw technology into a classroom and hope for good things” but to rethink the purpose of education and the role of teachers. Instead of teachers serving to transfer knowledge to student receptacles, instilling skills for lifelong learning should be the goal. Teachers don’t just need to get out of the way to allow students to make the most of technology’s amazing tools. Educators, he says, ought to be pioneers in the transformation, spending less time on lectures to allow more time for the kind of engaging tasks that prepare students for their important role as stewards of the future.

Source: Tapscott: Digital natives need tech-rich education from eSchool News

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Technology Solutions Aim to Fill Education Gaps

Despite the nation’s commitment to the ideal of universal access to education, our public schools frequently fall short of meeting the changing needs of students across the spectrum. The “no child left behind” mandate has still let some students slip through the cracks, revealing the structural deficiencies in our public school system. Schools struggle under budget constraints, and even the most dedicated teachers are only human. As it turns out, the one-size-fits-all approach is not the best fit when it comes to instruction since there isn’t just a single learning style that suits every student.

New entrepreneurial efforts are answering this need and seizing an opportunity to fill this educational gap with the latest in technology. They aim to provide educational solutions via technological avenues, offering software to supplement brick and mortar school instruction and even operating schools online. Technology offers the hope of bridging skill gaps by customizing instruction to target specific academic needs. And it helps fill the gap in science and math at the teaching level since instructors often lack experiential background in these subjects.

A major force in this new wave of online instruction is Ron Packard, CEO of K12. Inspired by his own futile search for a complete online course to help a daughter struggling with math, Packard devised a business model for a full-fledged web-based school. K12 now provides over 20,000 hours of instructional content covering the full K-12 progression (see story in Forbes). Operating its own web-based school as well as furnishing support to other online schools, K12 serves 70,000 pupils and generates $400 million in revenue.

While K12’s students aren’t a representative sample of the public school population, they all have needs which public schools failed to satisfy. They are students with exceptional talents as well as exceptional needs. Online schools cater to scholar athletes and others who find conventional school schedules conflict with extracurricular passions. In some cases, parents turn to online instruction because they see their own values in conflict with those represented by public school instruction.

Apex Learning is another entrant in this growing field. In operation since 1997, Apex Learning targets poor academic performers who are at risk of becoming part of a growing statistic, the million annual high school drop-outs. In addition to distance instruction courses, Apex Learning markets its programs to public schools, enabling more individualized, computer-focused learning in a regular classroom setting.

Making inroads into the achievement gap, Revolution Prep offers software that helps pinpoint and address concept/skill deficiencies. Its program has been adopted by Los Angeles schools to help struggling high school students pass mandated exit tests.

Confronting the challenges and limitations in our present public school system, technology is helping transform the role of teacher from lecturer to facilitator, and easing the workload on instructors at the same time. Technology provides a workable means of identifying and serving the unique academic needs of diverse students, while freeing teachers from some of the burden of devising and implementing lesson plans, and even filling the gap in subject expertise.

The idea of standardized online curriculum in public schools may strike some as revolutionary. But as weaknesses in the well-intentioned educational policies of the past grow more apparent, the concept seems tailor-made for the future of digital technologies in schools.

Google Anxious to Usher in the Digital Age in Schools

At a recent conference on Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age, Google co-founder Sergey Brin addressed the increasingly prominent role of technology in schools. Paradoxically a high-school drop-out himself, Brin is part of the search engine monolith’s mission to advance the ideal of universal computer access. Stepping up its involvement in the educational arena, Google has lately supplied schools with its top apps at no charge. But the technology giant’s agenda isn’t all altruism. Google’s growing interest and generosity serve a dual purpose, arming the next generation with the latest tools for success while weaning them on Google’s own brand, thus ensuring a pipeline of future consumers already conversant in the language of the company’s product line.

Brin expressed his conviction that today’s curriculum needs to reflect technology’s expanded role, suggesting that the subject of computer science be given a slot alongside math and English in schools. He promoted the idea of textbook downloads and proposed that students be utilized as tech tutors for younger kids as well as seniors. Students, he suggested, could polish their writing skills as Wikipedia contributors. And Brin was adamant that we could not afford to neglect teachers, insisting that our educators need to be better rewarded.

The proliferation of broadband and the increasing affordability of computer equipment are putting technology within reach of greater numbers with each passing day. Yet even as he foresees a future approaching that ideal of universal access, Brin perceives a downside for students in this digital age, recognizing that expanding horizons can be a humbling, ego-deflating experience. Gaining a global perspective can make one’s own talents seem puny by comparison.

Critics might argue that technology and its availability alone are not the answer to what ails the educational system. Putting laptops in the hands of every student is not enough without the input of dedicated teachers, involved parents, and supportive communities. Children are already wired by nature to learn. Sometimes we just need to get out of the way and remove the barriers to learning.

Providing students with the right tools only makes sense. If Google and its counterparts in the tech sector are eager to help underwrite that effort, our financially strapped schools are sure to welcome the support. However, there needs to be a caveat. Not that long ago, schools across the nation were reconsidering having jumped at the chance to earn a few perks by allowing the big soda companies to stock their products in cafeteria vending machines. Whether by coincidence or consequence, a wave of childhood obesity followed. As we usher in the digital age with the support of giants like Google, schools should take care not to sell out the malleable minds in their charge.

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Could Saving Schools Save the Economy?

Jay Mathews from The Washington Post reviews a book that argues that GDP is directly connected to student performance.

The book, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools by Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth, describes some noteworthy research in education conducted by Hanushek.

But his data also show productivity growing at the same pace as the rising education level of our work force, and international comparisons reveal a consistent pattern that strongly reinforces the notion that rising student achievement can make us all richer.

Here is his main point (excuse the jargon): “According to the existing evidence, each one standard deviation difference on test performance is related to a 1 percent difference in annual growth rates of per capita GDP.

The authors conclude that despite the government throwing large sums of money at the problem of student achievement, they have generally failed to improve schools.

While the connection with student performance and economic growth is intuitive, it is interesting to see research that finds a significant correlation. There doesn’t appear to be evidence of causation, as it could be possible that richer nations have better student achievement. Despite this, the data is a pretty compelling reason for the need for educational reform as the nation deals with the worst economic recession in decades.

Will Textbooks Be Replaced By Digital Media?

The following article from Open Education discusses whether textbooks are becoming less relevant in education due to advances in digital media.

There was a large touch of irony in an August NY Times post discussing the demise of a fixture in the world of education, the school textbook. The article, In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History, predicts the death of an industry that is becoming “antiquated” with each passing tech innovation.

Though always considered exceedingly expensive, textbooks were once considered as fundamental to the classroom learning experience as the teacher. These tombs were the source of knowledge, the drivers of curriculum, and the teacher’s most important resource.

But all that has changed in the digital world. According to experts, there are two critical factors.

First, there is the assessment of the value (learning produced per dollar) of these texts:

Dollars in the books, isolated on white background, business tra“They are expensive,” writes Seth Godin. “$50 is the low end, $200 is more typical.”


“Textbooks have very little narrative,” writes Godin. “They don’t take you from a place of ignorance to a place of insight. Instead, even the best … textbooks surround you with a fairly non-connected series of vocabulary words, oversimplified problems and random examples.”

And of course, in today’s lightening-fast world, they are out of date before the ink is even dry.

Second, while the books are essentially considered less than ideal, we are seeing an enormous change in students based on the fact they have grown up with technology. From the NY Times:

“Kids are wired differently these days,” said Sheryl R. Abshire, chief technology officer for the Calcasieu Parish school system in Lake Charles, La. “They’re digitally nimble. They multitask, transpose and extrapolate. And they think of knowledge as infinite.

“They don’t engage with textbooks that are finite, linear and rote,” Dr. Abshire continued. “Teachers need digital resources to find those documents, those blogs, those wikis that get them beyond the plain vanilla curriculum in the textbooks.”

Beyond Textbooks

Today we offer a Q & A with Andy Chlup of the Vail School District. With experience as a classroom teacher and technology coordinator, Andy is a perfect choice to head up one of the digital learning movements cited in the aforementioned NY Times article, Beyond Textbooks.

Andy notes he has been passionate about utilizing technology in the classroom from the first day he walked into a classroom. His interest in digital learning was spurred on by the wide-spread availability of open-source web-based tools such as WordPressMU, Moodle, DekiWiki, and many more.

Below, Andy discusses the move to a digital learning model, one that actually transcends any discussion of textbooks.

What would you categorize as the three biggest advantages to moving away from textbooks and replacing that tradition with a digital learning model?

  • Instant updates. Our superintendent, Calvin Baker, proudly sent out an email message to the school board when Pluto was demoted. In the message he said, we are one of the only districts in the country who’s textbooks are not obsolete.
  • Collaboration. At this phase the primary collaboration is happening between teachers but as the tools become more familiar students will be working with each other, their teachers, and the community more and more.
  • Costs. While the technology that enables digital learning still costs slightly more than a set of textbooks, it can do so much more. A digital device provides access to content and gives students a platform to create, share, and work.

You can see the full interview with Andy Chlup over at Open Education.

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6th Grade Journalist Interviews President on Education

Damon, a 11-year old student journalist from Florida got an interview with the president at the White House and grilled him on everything from school lunches, to school violence, and improving education. See the following video for more.

Obama Announces National Education Competition

President Obama recently announced a different approach to encouraging progress in education. A nationwide competition will pit states against each other for a chance to win a share of the $5 billion prize.

A US News article “Will Stimulus Money Lead to Actual Education Reform“, describes the areas that will be scored in the competition created by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

He has created a $5 billion “Race to the Top” fund for states that have made progress on the following fronts: 1) improving teacher effectiveness, 2) creating better assessments aligned to rigorous standards, 3) fixing failing schools, and 4) using data systems to track student achievement. The details of how states can qualify for this money will be released later this year.

A little healthy competition may be just what the school system needs to achieve more. It is human nature to become more motivated when you are involved in a competition. We also tend to have pride in our state – just take a look at intense college sports rivalries. Could a similar sense of purpose be created in our schools? If so, it might just encourage school leadership, teachers, and the community to step up their efforts. It could also bring more public attention on public schools. Who is the smartest state? Who will win bragging rights for the best education between your state and your neighbors. Which state has the best education? We may soon find out.

Photo by Obama-Biden Transition Project

The Paradox of Learning in the Digital Era

Christopher D. Sessums discusses the paradox of learning in the digital era, which is that the internet makes learning both more individual and yet more social. For more on this see the following post from Christopher D. Sessums blog.

The World Wide Web is more than a collection of websites. “It is also what emerges out of the collection of and interconnections among the sites that constitute it, producing software or websites that re-imagine what is possible technologically and socially.” (Thomas & Brown, 2009, p. 37) This emergence of interconnections has resulted in what we might refer to as the digital era.

However, there is a paradox associated with learning in the digital era: Learning may be at once more individual, shaped to one’s own style, eccentricities, and interests, yet more social, involving networking, cooperation, and collaboration (Weigel, James, & Gardner, 2009).

Unfortunately, in an environment of standardized testing linked to school funding, the implementation of new digital media in the classroom along with constructivist learning principles may be considered too risky, thus the innovative aspects of new digital media becomes shelved if not ignored altogether (i.e., the relevance gap).

As evidence grows concerning the knowledge, skills, and competencies gained through engaging new digital media, conventional notions of “school as the ideal locus of the full range of learning” are being overshadowed (Weigel, James, & Gardner, 2009, p. 9).

“If schools do not take seriously the positive and negative potentials of digital media for learning, they risk becoming increasingly irrelevant to the lives students lead outside of school and to the future which they are being prepared” (Weigel, James, & Gardner, 2009, p. 14).

What will change schools?
If a successful learning practice depends upon “an independent, constructivistically oriented learner who can identify, locate, process, and synthesize the information he or she is lacking” (Weigel, James, & Gardner, 2009, p. 10), then systemic change and widespread adoption requires

  • informed leadership (Fullan, 2007);
  • all stakeholders (teachers, principals, parents, community members) to be aware of and familiar with the innovations associated with digital learning (Ellsworth, 2004); and
  • schools must adopt digital learning wholesale today (not tomorrow) (Christensen, 2008).

To those who read about and engage in the new digital media, what, in your opinion needs to be added to this list? What steps are you taking? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or in your own Web space.

This article was republished from Christopher D. Sessums blog and is licensed under the Creative Commons 2.5 license.

Photo by Unhindered by Talent

The Student-Centered Classroom

The book Brain Rules discusses how what we know from brain science can be applied in the classroom. It describes the University of Bologna, one of the first western style universities which was established in the 11th century. The science lab involved a mixture of astrology, religion, and dead animals, yet the classroom was remarkably familiar to today’s classroom. The standard 11th century Bologna classroom included a lectern surrounded by chairs, which begs the question – could it be time for a change?

A recent post at Open Education suggests a student-centered classroom instead of the traditional teacher-centered classroom.

As we move towards greater use of technology within education, there is a push away from the traditional, teacher-centered classroom to one that is student-centered. While offering some very interesting potential for teachers, one element that appears to be taken for granted as we seek to make a student-centered classroom work is the need for a motivated learner.

One of the most significant criticisms leveled against teacher-centered classrooms is that such an environment actually fosters a level of student passivity over time. The belief is that using more of a “guide on the side” or a discovery-learning approach featuring essential question formats would be far superior to our current practice of a set curricula driving classroom instruction.

That belief is founded in great part on the notion that curiosity is an innate characteristic in children. Therefore, in teacher preparation programs, the focus should be on developing a teaching arsenal that unleashes this fundamental human trait.

Such a belief has lead to a discussion that we should replace traditional pedagogical or “child-leading” teaching strategies with andragogical or “man-leading” approaches. The shift is seen as moving away from “taught” education to learning that is self-directed.

But as we noted earlier, such a shift is dependent upon a certain level of motivation from the learner as well as the notion that curiosity is innate.

If students were given a more active role in the classroom, I think it would make for a much more effective education system. The challenge is how to tap into the innate curiosity and desire to learn, which may be the “holy grail” of education.

Is Obama’s Fundamental Strategy for Education Same as Bush’s?

Clues are now emerging on Obama’s strategy for improving education from language used in the economic stimulus law Obama signed in February. These clues suggest tougher standards, standardized testing, and rewards for states that show improvement. Sound familiar? Some are criticizing these ideas as an extension of No Child Left Behind.

A recent article titled “Education Standards Likely to See Toughening” in the New York Times discusses the potential direction of the Obama education strategy and some of the opposition it is generating.

“Obama’s fundamental strategy is the same as George Bush’s: standardized tests, numbers-crunching; it’s the N.C.L.B. approach with lots of money attached,” Diane Ravitch, an education historian often critical of the education law, said in an interview.

In a recent blog Ms. Ravitch wrote, “Obama has given Bush a third term in education policy.”

If the plan is to improve on Bush’s strategy, will schools really improve? Hopefully we will see more innovation in the plan above implementing stricter standardized tests. What do you think?

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