FAIL: Schools think learning ends when the dismissal bell rings.

More schools are launching 1-to-1 computing programs, which seems appropriate in the face of ubiquitous technology and networked connectivity.

As an educational technologist, I rejected such a move in a small private K-12 school about 5 years ago because I knew the teaching culture would not change or adapt to the required use of technology. It would have been a wast of time and money for everyone.

As a parent, I recently lived through a particularly mediocre 1-to-1 implementation, and one of my biggest complaints was the school district’s utter failure to engage parents. I just came across a brief article in eSchool News covering a talk by Alan November. There’s a video of his entire talk that’s worth watching, but at the core is the question “What’s your plan for making every home a center of learning?” He references South Korea’s plan to bring gigibit data connections to each home (they are also moving to 100% digital textbooks), which is really an essential consideration if 1-to-1 computers are truly to be used for “anywhere, anytime learning”, rather than “any time you are at school learning”.

As an aside, long after the High School 1-to-1 launch, my kid’s district made robo-calls home at dinner time on Mother’s Day to ask families if they did or did not have internet access at home. Talk about poor planning…

Life’s Math Homework

You can’t have more than the whole thing, even if you try infinity+1 times or give 110%. You can, however, have less than the whole thing.

Today I came across two blog posts that dance indirectly around the concept of the “Whole Child”. (Read more about Whole Child initiatives here.) There’s a difficult equation at play as folks wrestle with measuring educational outcomes (which are different from “learning” and “teaching”) as if these measurements were somehow beneficial to the child in his or her entirety.

The first, “You Matter: A Message, A Reminder, A Connector, A Mission“, seems a bit touchy-feely but is, in fact, central to the concept of universal K-12 education. In the U.S., we educate all children because they all matter. The problem with measuring educational outcomes as required by data driven accountability (No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core State Standards, etc.) is that “You Matter” becomes ‘Your Scores Matter’ and the fundamental driver for our educational system is gone.

The second, “Why It’s Time to Eliminate Class Schedules“, brings home too much of the mundane detail of what both teachers and students experience each day they go to school.

“How can we expect them to connect Hemingway, vectors, pottery, cells, and ancient Greece every day? It’s a disjointed nightmare—to which you might say, “deal with it, that’s school.” But what I see in my students is that “dealing with it” results in a lot of material crammed for a test and then forgotten.”

This does not say “You Matter”, does it? I’m not sure that eliminating class schedules is the solution, though a colleague once proposed an intriguing model where students choose their teachers, which does hold some appeal.

Most teachers are committed to the idea that each child matters, so where is the system breaking down?

My guess is that it’s the policy makers who have never taught in the classroom. This would include Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and virtually all elected officials, and then extends to state and local superintendents who have classroom experience but who cannot imagine how to do what they know is right in the face of pressure from above. Don’t forget that there’s pressure from below, too. Communities have bought into the test results mania, resulting in civic and business leaders calling for higher scores.

The only thing that’s whole anymore is the mess, and there’s no real sense of what needs to be part of the equation, never mind what the solution looks like.

Data-Driven? Try using different data.

Data-Driven Decision Making (DDDM) became a mantra in schools about a decade ago. The concept is sound in theory, but since we don’t have common definitions for basic (but not simple) things like teaching and learning, decisions have actually become individual opinions on how to weigh and apply the “data” called achievement test results.

While I’m aware that there are schools and teachers that use appropriate data to inform the learning environment, the “discussion” at the district, state and national level is about test scores.

Here’s an idea for K-12 schools that want to positively influence classroom outcomes with data: Match student learning styles with teacher pedagogical and management styles!

Schools can regularly collect data about student learning styles, preferences and behavior along with data about teaching style, preferences and classroom management, and use these two data sets to build the schedule. Voila, a data driven decision with a high potential for success before the school year even starts.

Yes, I know that teachers use a variety of techniques and differentiate instruction and blah, blah, blah, but we all have strengths, preferences and natural tendencies — let’s capitalize on this instead of pretending that everyone is a utility player.

Anybody know of a school/district doing this? Love to know…

Links to basic DDDM information:

Too much structure on the internet?

OK, the title’s a little misleading, but I spent the last two days in Blackboard Learn/9.1 Bootcamp and I am not impressed. The training itself was fine, with requisite high and low points, but when I think about the tool, I shudder.

It’s simultaneously constraining and open ended which essentially guarantees a crippled product. The open ended means folks building a course will not build one that looks or acts like their colleagues. For the individual, this is fine, but it creates a huge problem for the institution. The thoughtful institutions sees this as a problem for students when they expect an normed experience similar to what they find in a physical classroom. Trying to enforce an institutional template will chafe at “academic freedom” notions.

Too constraining because they’ve commercialized the hosted version with ads and enhanced ties to specific online service partners (Slideshare, YouTube, etc.) that force developers to limit the functionality of internal modules — I get a thumbnail when I link to a resource through the “partner” tools, but when I use the Blackboard add URL tool to link the exact same resource, I get no visual preview of the content. Facebook, if nothing else, has lead us to expect a thumbnail preview whenever we link a URL.

Speaking of Facebook, there is a Facebook App that purports to synch content between the platforms. The student ratings are overwhelmingly one star, so It doesn’t look like they’re too serious about opening up.

When learners can readily have their needs met in venues like Wikipedia, Instructables, YouTube, and hundreds of similar sites,  Blackboard runs a great risk in offering such a mediocre product. This is especially true when viable alternatives like Moodle and Sakai are available as free, open source tools that accomplish similar goals.

Oh well, at least I can add a new skill to my resume…