Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Report Points to Need for More Urgent Action to Support At-Risk Students

I attended a Brookings Institution panel today that released the Future of Children Report which contained some unsurprising findings: "Today young adults take far longer to reach economic and social maturity than their contemporaries did five or six decades ago, taking longer to leave home, attain economic independence, marry, and form families of their own. In large part, this shift is attributable to the increased importance of higher education in today’s high-skilled workforce"

Students without a high school diploma or a year of college are at increased risk of becoming part of a permanent underclass that will grow in this country as we move from the old manufacturing to a service one economy. The R word however was not used in this session--it seemed people were reluctant to mention the record unemployment that is making it hard even for top graduate students from Ivy League universities find jobs let alone students denied such opportunities. One of the most lucid panel members discussing the report was Assistant Secretary Jane Oates who now as head of the US Department of Labor's Employment and Training administration emphasizes the need for clear career pathways that include industry recognized measures such as certifications. Assistant Secretary Oates decried the fact that in the past the federal government was just interested in whether students trained could gain a low wage job--today she argued a $10.00 hour entry level job is likely to be a dead end one that will not support a family. As our already under resourced education system is buffeted by new rounds of budget cuts it seems increasingly obvious that we need to make new arrangements to support our most at-risk students in this more hostile environment. Students at much earlier stages of their careers before they make the judgment that "school is not for them" and decide to drop out need to gain career exposure, need to see that their studies in school are relevant and need to grasp how much is needed to gain a chance at the new 21st century jobs.

If we don't help prepare our most vulnerable students in this way it is likely that we will see increased deterioration in terms of our inner cities, higher crime and more social pathologies. As the report recommends we need "to design and implement effective new programs to help young people in danger of dropping out of school complete their secondary education so that they are better prepared to take the next step, whether directly into the labor force, into military or other service, or into higher education.

There was a focus on the need for more rigorous evaluations of effective programs. This seems needed but it is likely that critics of the government role will do their job of finding small flaws and use the evaluations to cut or eliminate altogether funding for otherwise worthwhile programs. Clearly no one evaluates whether jails do any good and will laugh at you if you suggested that due to their high recidivism rate we shut them down.

It is imperative that given the high unemployment rate particularly in the inner city--that we take emergency action.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Teacher Training in Crisis?

Teacher education has not been in a healthy state for years. Art Levine documents in his , 2006 study, Educating School Teachers some of the key failings, "most teacher preparation programs have low admissions and graduation standards, inadequate curriculums, disconnects between academic and clinical instruction, and alumni who say they were not adequately prepared for the classroom." The report called for sweeping changes such as shutting down low performing programs but colleges have been slow to take up the call for reform so loudly sounded by the Levine report. Now comes a completely unexpected result of the inaction--New York State Board of Regents now has established a new policy enabling non-universities, such as organizations like Teach for America, to create teacher education programs, such programs would allow the Board of Regents to grant a master's degrees to teachers. I agree with Levine's recent article/blog this is a step backwards. The knowledge base and objectivity, professional expertise a university in conjunction with discipline based resources are second to none when universities are functioning at their best. However, too many universities today are focused on bottom line issues and not operating according to highes today t ideals. Instead they are too often concerned with how many students can they attract for the lowest price --using a combination of large classess and relying on adjunct faculty. For these universities New York State Board of Regents' action should be a wake up call.

How is this related to global education--here is Art Levine's perspective,
"both universities and schools are in the midst of adapting to dramatic global change. As a consequence of demographic, economic, and technological shifts, universities and schools — like so many of our social institutions, including government, health care, the media, and financial institutions — appear broken because they were built for a different time. All of them need to be repaired, through no fault of their own."

In other words the current dysfunction is a result of global changes that have swept through other areas of society. I partially agree with that assessment but it would seem that some universities need to spend less on new buildings, administrator salaries and huge marketing budgets and more on the slow work of investing in needed reforms. This is particularly the case in the distance education world where the lure of reducing costs through large sized classes has beeen enormously tempting. An outside partner maybe needed to make dramatic reform really happen.Art Levine desribes a few instances (with the help of the Woodrow Wilson Foundtion) that are starting to yield impressive results, "We have seen universities move from a mostly on-campus program to a truly clinical program in which aspiring teachers spend most of their time in K-12 schools observing master teachers, teaching under supervision, and melding theory and practice. We have seen universities break down the liberal arts/education divide and engage discipline-specific arts and sciences professors in mentoring novice teachers."

So what is needed now is a larger discussion about how really well thought through change can occur, improvements and innovations that benefit teacher of education students and help them truly become 21st century globally aware professionals so they can assist their students thrive in the rapidly changing world they will inherit. Part of the solution will be to assist our students take full advantage of the revolutionary ways technology can be used to enable vital links between clinical practice, theory and reflection. Now universities must feel the heat and respond in ways that make us believe that they can indeed grow to be even more relevant to the new century as they were undoubtedly in the last one.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is Adaptive Testing the Key Technology for 21st century education?

Many agree that one of the keys to improving education in the 21st century will be if we can harness the potential offered by technology to personalize learning. Paul E Peterson agrees wholeheartedly in his “Finding the Student’s ‘Price Point’” op ed column in Education Week. If this happens then Howard Gardner can justly claim a large degree of credit. Gardner has made the point for example that,

“So long as we insist on teaching all students the same subjects in the same way, progress will be incremental. But now for the first time it is possible to individualize education—to teach each person what he or she needs and wants to know in ways that are most comfortable and most efficient.”

A critical tool in advancing this cause according to Paul E Peterson will be adaptive assessment, which “can quickly identify a student’s reading, math, and science skills, and the curriculum can then be adapted to the student’s performance level.”

One example of the way adaptive testing has made a difference is New York City’s “School of One” tried the idea out last summer to great applause—Time magazine named it one of the top 50 inventions of the year. The program is now in operation in three middle schools.

The Florida Virtual School is now among the leading exponents of adaptive testing. It has helped that any high school in Florida has the “option of taking a course online, from the Florida Virtual School or in the classroom of the local high school. Success in either setting is recorded on the high school transcript and counts toward a diploma. State funding goes to the school from which the student took the course.”

Peterson is such a fan of adaptive testing that he would like to see the Obama adminstration get solidly behind it even to the point of using the $650 million Investing in Innovation ( 13 ) program to underwrite the approach.

We need more research on this but it is a good bet that this innovation will transform the way schools operate more than any other single innovation.

Friday, April 16, 2010

First Signs that the i-Pad is Beginning to Fuel the E-Textbook Revolution

Well it has happened. Change is occuring in a record fast fashion. E-books will soon be replacing textbooks and i-Pads may soon replace lap tops. Evidence for all this is drawn from a recent report from Minnesota, the consolidated school in Winthrop to be exact plans to put an i-Pad into the hands of every student. The school board recently approved $265,000 that purchased 230 iPads, Additionally, it will upgrade all school buildings with Wi-Fi and provide technical training for everyone starting next year–

“The plan is that every student at GFW high school gets an iPad to use,” said Bertrang. “Then we’re going to have a team of teachers and students get together to figure out the how-to part… This (meaning an i-Pad) probably weighs one to two pounds,” said high school junior Spencer Kruggel, holding an iPad. “And this is 20 to 30 pounds,” he said, as he lifted his backpack.”

Apple is planning to make Winthrop a model i-Pad school and if things go right it will form the way for the nation. According to reports, “more than 450,000 iPads have been sold since the release date a few weekends ago. The average owner of the iPad also owns an iPhone or iPod touch already. The biggest consumers currently are males ages 35-44 and have a household income of over $100,000.” As the following blog speculates “once publishers of textbooks for colleges and universities start ramping up their production we will see a majority shift of the ages come down to more college aged users as schools figure out how to adopt this new learning tool.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Report: An Imperative for Schools to Transform?

The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project, 2010 Horizon Report: K-12, represents an ongoing research effort established in 2002 that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within education around the globe." The report happens to be one of the more insightful that I have read recently. The reports' parameters since 2002 have been clearly set out –they are to introduce “six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use in the educational community within three adoption horizons over the next one to five years." The report is long and thoughtful and I urge everyone to read it but I wanted to point out two trends in particular that stand out for me:

i) There is increasing interest in just-in-time, alternate, or non-formal avenues of education, such as online learning, mentoring, and independent study. Of the school as the seat of educational practice is changing as learners avail themselves of learning opportunities from other sources. There is a tremendous opportunity for schools to work hand-in-hand with alternate sources, to examine traditional approaches, and to reevaluate the content and experiences they are able to offer.

ii) The way we think of learning environments is changing. Traditionally, a learning environment has been a physical space, the “spaces” where students learn are becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary, and supported by technologies that engage virtual communication and collaboration. This changing concept of the learning environment has clear implications for schools.

The gist of both findings is that some if not all the institutional walls separating schools from the outside world are going to have to be removed. We need discussions about what good partnerships that might be offered--and how they might connect. One promising area is use of online mentoring that might be provided by non profits and others who have particular expertise where schools need help--particularly math and IT literacy. There is no reason why adults who are properly trained and cleared to work with young people online cannot be a great help in this area--providing the kind of close one on one attention that student require these days. The report helps us to re-conceive schools as part of learning communities that include the school, library, home and community centers as well as places such as museums, gardens, colleges, workplaces and play spaces...It seems to suggest that schools need to be the places where learners need to feel empowered to learn and then be given the resources and training to go out and work with and engage with the community at large. This seems to move us to an Ivan Ilyich de-schooling society idea--which during the 70s was viewed as quite a radical concept but today perhaps less so.

After all many schools arrange virtual field trips for their students and many more computers are available in the community for students to connect to-we also have virtual schools and home schooling all of which have expanded our notions of what schools are and can become . The report points out that many policy makers and educators believe that deep reform is needed, but at the same time, there is little agreement as to what a new model of education might look like.

But while schools are thinking about the problems of transforming the system the changes might overwhelm them. The report seems to offer a veiled warning to schools by asking them to acknowledge the fact that today “learners have increasing opportunities to take their education into their own hands, and options like informal education, online education, and home-based earning are attracting students away from traditional educational settings. If the system is to remain relevant it must adapt, but major change comes hard in education.” That is why some careful piloting and experimentation with new models of 21st century learning makes sense at this stage. We should all be actively involved in this process of working with the new technologies and finding new opportunities to find transformative learning commensurate for our times. This maybe somewhat vague --but understandably so since we are only at the beginning of understanding what those 'alternate sources' might be.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

If Statistics are Not Your Bag--This TED talk Invites you to Think Again

If you don't think statistics can be powerful ways to learn and teach then think again after you see this dynamite TED talk and get to know Hans Rosling who makes sensational animations that allow you to see trends that reveal global realities is startlingly new ways. The kind of data that we use in most classrooms is outdated and static --the real purpose of using statistics seems to me to grasp deeper understandings of underlying invisible trends.
Rosling will change the way you view the massive amounts of hidden data that take effort to find but once you understand its true power you will be calling for more transparency and openess in use of public data.

Cell phones versus i-Pads: Problems looking for Solutions?

In a thought provoking column in this Sunday’s New York Times, The Triumph of the Ordinary Cellphone, Anand Giridharadas, discusses whether the US has thought about high tech correctly when it comes to meeting the needs of a majority of the world’s citizens not jus the most affluent.

Americans went gaga last weekend with the iPad’s release. But even as hundreds of thousands here unwrap their iPads, another future entirely may be unfolding overseas on the cellphone. “Forgotten in the American tumult is a global flowering of innovation on the simple cellphone. From Brazil to India to South Korea and even Afghanistan, people are seeking work via text message; borrowing and lending money and receiving salaries on cellphones; employing their phones variously as flashlights, televisions and radios.”

Giridharadas makes a number of key points:

In developing countries the innovative ideas come from perfecting the cell phone to do more useful things for ordinary people–for example:

•Two organizations — Babajob, in Bangalore, India, and Souktel, in the Palestinian territories in Israel — offer job-hunting services via text message. Souktel allows users without Internet access or fancy phones to register by sending a series of text messages with information about themselves. A user who texts in “match me” will receive a listing of suitable jobs, including phone numbers to dial.
•In Africa, the cellphone is giving birth to a new paradigm in money. Plastic cards have become the reigning instruments of payment in the West, but projects like PesaPal and M-Pesa in Kenya are working to make the cellphone the hub of personal finance. M-Pesa lets you convert cash into cellphone money at your local grocer, and this money can instantly be wired to anyone with a phone.
Innovative companies are also able to build business models that allow larger numbers of people to share in the innovations while still preserving favorable profit margins:

In India, Reliance Communications sells handsets for less than $25, with 1-cent-a-minute phone calls across India and 1-cent text messages and no monthly charge — while earning fat profits. Compare that with iPad buyers in the United States, who pay $499 for the basic version, who might also have a $1,000-plus computer and a $100-plus smartphone, and who could pay $100 or more each month to connect these many devices to the ether.

Has the US taken the wrong road when it comes to truly developing the next generation of technology’s potential? ‘Ken Banks, a British entrepreneur who works in Africa and developed FrontlineSMS, a text-messaging service for aid groups, thinks so: “There’s often a tendency in the West to approach things the wrong way round, so we end up with solutions looking for a problem, or we build things just because we can.”

Does this type of backwards thinking also apply in education? I think so. Let’s just take one example, we have numerous free courses on the world wide web and amazing amount of other educational resources that are looking for users. But rather than figuring out whether these thousands if not millions of resources produced by organizations like NASA, the Library of Congress and Museums around the world have value and for whom – for profit companies continue to sell to schools entire courses that arguably keep reinventing the wheel. We are so busy innovating all the time we dont get a chance to stop often enough concerning whom are we innovating for and with what result. The result shiny new objects and software with brightly colored interactive features owned by fewer and fewer people, rather than less shiny and more useful objects and software owned by more people. You choose.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why I Will Be Attending Greg Mortenson's Webinar Next Week

I have been a fan of Greg Mortenson's work ever since reading, with millions of others, the best selling (100 Weeks on the New York Times bestseller charts and a recommended read on my website)
Three Cups of Tea. Edutopia will be hosting Greg's webinar on April 15th at 1:30 EDT. entitled "The Power of One: Greg Mortenson's Crusade to Promote Peace through Project Learning."
There are so many things to admire about Greg--his single minded effort after he was rescued in a mountaineering accident to build a school in the remote area of Afghanistan for girls, in part to pay the villagers back for their kindness and in part because he was so moved by the plight of these children who were otherwise destined for some terrible lives. As an aside we should be in a war not against terrorism per se (how can you fight a brutal tactic) but against fundamentalist mindsets that kill hope and opportunity for the majority of human beings on the planet. What more stirring cause to awaken the young and idealist among us than this cause in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world where women and others are unjustly oppressed? But getting back to Mortenson's great qualities--he also sees the need to reconnect his work to young children back in the US as a recent article in Edutopia states:

"Mortenson hasn't forgotten that it was children who raided their piggybanks to make the first sizeable contribution to his effort in 1994. "I had been having trouble raising money," he recalls, and was growing disheartened about ever making good on his promise to build that first school. But when he shared his saga with kids in Wisconsin where his mother was then a principal, they responded by contributing "62,340 pennies," Mortenson says. It was just the vote of confidence he needed."

Also commendable is the Pennies for Peace program

"Launched in 1996 as a program of Central Asia Institute, Pennies for Peace has expanded to include a standards-based, multimedia curriculum for grades K-12. (See below, "How to Participate in Pennies for Peace.") Although fundraising is an important part of the program, it's not the main goal. At heart, Pennies for Peace is about cross-cultural understanding -- learning to listen, and learn, from others' stories."

Altogether Greg is a modern hero, teacher and good soul--so that is why I will be listening to him on the Webinar next week.

Monday, April 5, 2010

More Teachable Moments in Understanding Global Warming

A review of a new book in this Sunday's New York Times --“Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution” (Scribner, 272 pages, $26) points out how gullible we are when it comes to companies trying to sell us on how green they are.

The author Heather Rogers asserts that "green capitalism is actually undermining ecological progress.. She says corporate America has led us into thinking that we can save the earth mainly by buying things like compact fluorescent light bulbs, hybrid gas-electric cars and carbon offsets. “The new green wave, typified by the phrase ‘lazy environmentalism,’ is geared toward the masses that aren’t willing to sacrifice,” Ms. Rogers complains. “This brand of armchair activism actualizes itself most fully in the realm of consumer goods; through buying the right products we can usher our economic system into the environmental age.”

The point has been made by many people before and noted in this blog that believing you are acting "green" and doing something worthwhile for the planet are often two different things. So here is an assignment for middle and high school students--distingush between authentic and real claims that companies make and see to what extent they are part of their "green washing" campaigns and to what extent they will do anything significant to reduce our carbon fuel dependencies and help cool down the planet.

Here is a more advanced exercise--to explore leading environmentalist Chris Goodall's contention (writing in the Guardian in 2008 ) that we don't need to find hi-tech solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions:

"Many of these are expensive and may create as many problems as they solve. Nuclear power is a good example. But it may be cheaper and more effective to look for simple solutions that reduce emissions, or even extract existing carbon dioxide from the air. There are many viable proposals to do this cheaply around the world, which also often help feed the world's poorest people. One outstanding example is to use a substance known as biochar to sequester carbon and increase food yields at the same time.

Biochar is an astonishing idea. Burning agricultural wastes in the absence of air leaves a charcoal composed of almost pure carbon, which can then be crushed and dug into the soil. Biochar is extremely stable and the carbon will stay in the soil unchanged for hundreds of years.

Never heard of biochar? Nor have I but the following link might be helpful for those who want to explore its potential--

Having thoroughly investigated a variety of claims students might conclude as Rogers seems to that we simply need to reduce our consumption.

“Around the world, many politicians, the conventional energy sector and manufacturers of all kinds oppose any major reduction in consumption,” Ms. Rogers writes. “If people start using less, then economies based on consumption — such as that of the United States, where buying goods and services comprises 70 percent of all economic activity — will be forced to undergo a colossal transformation.”

Can we live with this conclusion? At least we need to give our students an opportunity to reach this insight themselves and make their own choices for their futures. It sounds to me like both an ethical and educational thing to do. What do you think dear reader?

IPAD –Transforming E-Learning One App at a Time?

It is never easy to jump into the iPad discussion as there is so much noise and hype out there. But since many are anticipating that the sales for iPad will rival those of the revolutionary iPhone it is very tempting to make some preliminary judgments. As many of the pundits have already said –in the near term the most popular uses for the very attractive sleek electronic package, with its ever so bright 9 ½ inch screen is for reading magazines and newspapers and playing the thousands of games and other entertaining activities that will multiply in coming years as more software developers devote their energies to designing the next coolest app.

But I am seriously wondering whether the next big use for the iPad (a killer app no less) will be to transform e-learning. The breakthrough will come if someone was to develop an LMS app as Joshua Kim speculates in his interesting blog. Kim maybe right that if that were to happen we would see an incredible growth in online learning. Currently, as Kim points out, copyright laws and some odd higher education policies prevent us from going in this direction. But there is no insuperable reason why they cannot change and we could see a content rich organization (we can think of any number from the New York Times, Pearson or Harvard University) allow students to download and sync content in much the same way we can using any newspaper app available on the iPhone. Think of the customization for individual learners as students with differing learning needs can choose from a menu of content options—videos, articles, chapters from books with some marked premium content for those that are able to pay more for the opportunity to explore a concept in more depth.

Think of the iPad as a device that you can learn from more easily from where broadband connections do not exist. Although missing a camera –the device does possess a microphone and speakers and can connect with the Internet through Skype. With not much effort we could figure out a way to have the best professors in the world deliver their lectures assisted by teams of volunteer mentors (think about the hundreds of thousands of people who play chess or scrabble online) who could provide assistance to students who are wrestling with problems. Learning organizations of all types –from tiny schools through colleges and universities to large corporations could scale up in massive ways. Some institutions might empower tutors trained in the uses of the LMS to provide personal services to students –who could diagnose student learning challenges. Others would begin to automate far more functions such as providing provide short tutorials in the form of videos that explain difficult concepts in more detail than would otherwise be available currently. The key to the puzzle of figuring out how the world of open learning squares with the current higher education system would be over—learning would be open everywhere and there would be no more barriers to higher education other than the will to learn. A utopian dream may not be that far away..