The way we read…

I found this post from The Edublogger worth thinking about – the rise of social networking vs. RSS for consuming and sharing our learning. It’s a trend I subconsciously know is occurring, but haven’t yet brought it to the surface in thinking about implications. A good read…

How Online Reading Habits are Changing and What You NEED to Know

And as usual, I would say educators are behind the times, just learning how to use RSS and often times fearful of social networking tools.

Communication and Collaboration

Skill-based frameworks for education in the 21st century have been around for nearly a decade: Framework for 21st Century Learning (2007); enGauge 21st Century Skills: Literacy in the Digital Age (2003) and survival skills outlined in Tony Wagner’s recent book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – And What We Can Do About It (2008). (In fact, in 2008, the Buck Institute of Education analyzed these and other 21st century skills frameworks. You can download the spreadsheet here. Registration required.)

The skills in many of the frameworks can be boiled down to four big ideas:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Communication and collaboration
  3. Creativity and innovation
  4. Soft skills such as agility, initiative and responsibility

Communication and collaboration are skills developed through face-to-face as well as virtual interactions. In the 21st century, the potential for collaboration is expanded beyond face-to-face interaction as a result of technology. Written communication should no longer be limited to correct spelling and punctuation. Instead, Wagner suggests effective communication “creates focus, energy and passion” (p. 36). He contrasts this kind of writing with the formulaic writing process taught in schools. Students might be successful at writing according to a formula, but it does not necessarily translate into effective communication. In a media-rich world, thinking about communication and collaboration is expanded to include contexts such as multi-media documents and social networking.

One of my favorite lecture-videos that examines this shift in communication and collaboration is This is How We Think: Learning in Public After the Paradigm Shift from Rutgers professors Richard Miller and Paul Hammond. They take us on a journey that demonstrates how learning, thinking, writing and reading in public have changed significantly because of powerful applications of technology.

How do we convince others in the education profession to expand the current paradigm of communication and collaboration to include these new ways of learning, thinking, reading and writing in public? Once we alter what we value about communication and collaboration, students will experience more easily the focus, energy and passion Wagner speaks about, and students will move beyond the formulaic writing most prevalent in schools today.

Blended Learning

I’m trying to wrap my head around the potential as well as downside of blended learning. This afternoon I spent some time reading two articles and provide some reflections on the topic here.

Hybrid schools for the iGeneration – Harvard Education Letter, March/April 2011 – By Brigid Schulte

Middle school and high school students in Arizona devote chunks of their day to online instruction, in the brick-and-mortar building. The computer work consists of programs that are “interactive and multimodal – comprised of audio, video, video vignettes, Flash animation, quizzes, and games.” Does this reinforce an “instructionist” model of learning, similar to what Sylvia Martinez suggests of the Khan Academy? Or are learners engaging in questioning, problem solving and knowledge construction during the dedicated computer time?

“The online curriculum for each course is adaptive, meaning it can gauge from the students’ answers when they have mastered something and are ready to move ahead and when they may need extra practice before moving on. A bar on the upper right corner of the screen tracks students’ progress in every course and becomes part of a report automatically e-mailed to parents at the end of every week.” What do the assessments look like? Simple drill and kill? Or something deeper, focused on generating knowledge or solving open-ended problems? Assessment data is used by teachers to determine which students receive further face-to-face instruction. Again, what does that instruction look like?

After five years operating in this disruptively different way, the results are impressive. For two consecutive years, Carpe Diem, which is a majority minority school (more than half of all students also qualify for free or reduced-price lunches), led the state in the amount of growth students showed on test scores.” While it is commendable that a blended learning environment contributes to higher test scores, isn’t this like building a house on quicksand? Standardized tests are an indicator of performance on a very narrow skill set. What about the areas not tested? What about communication and collaboration skills? It doesn’t seem, at least from the description that their learning during “computer time” is very social.

Learning environments need to be created where learners learn WITH technology. We don’t need any more schools that focus on learning FROM technology.

Future Schools: Blending Face-to-face and Online Learning – Education Next – Summer 2011 – Jonathan Schorr and Deborah McGriff

This article focuses on a similar model, the Rocketship model in California. In this model “the computers are not actually “blended” with face-to-face instruction in the same classroom.” Computers are used as a kind of teacher-substitute – a more efficient one for certain direct instruction tasks. The problem with this vision is that technology is an isolated learning tool – a tool that we learn from, not necessarily with. How can we create a learning environment that provides meaningful learning with technology whether learners are online or face-to-face? How would a truly blended model of meaningful learning be more powerful than a 100% online or 100% face-to-face environment? Do any exist?

The article describes in more detail the schools they believe are models for a blended learning environment: School of One, Denver School of Science and Technology, Carpe Diem Collegiate High School, and High Tech High.

Customized learning, reimagined work spaces. Importance of data generated by computer-based assessments, but little evidence of actually learning to think with technology, socializing during the learning process, or creating products that represent understanding. High Tech High may be the only example cited in this article that uses the learning FROM technology model to gather data on student understanding while learning WITH technology – “Students use the same computer-aided design systems that they would find in a professional design firm as they model real-life, design-forward chairs.”

The most interesting paragraph in the article comes near the end. “California’s budget situation today is nothing short of disastrous. Yet High Tech High recently rejected a much more aggressive move into the blended field, a “flex” plan that would have brought students to campus only once a week, with the other four days spent online, typically from home. The plan would have created enormous cost savings by allowing five different cohorts of students to use one building each week. Yet teachers, students, and parents rejected the idea of giving up the daily campus experience, and teachers were not enthusiastic about doing a large proportion of their teaching online. “We’re not drinking the Kool-Aid,” said founder and CEO Larry Rosenstock.” How does a model like this work? Is anyone doing it? Does it benefit learning while addressing fiscal challenges?

The article concludes with a statement about the current state of blended learning. “Indeed, it seems likely that, just as happened with charter management organizations, rapid growth will take place only when the pioneers can demonstrate proof points of excellence in student performance.Ultimately any innovation will be judged on how it improves “student performance.” How will we approach our definition of “student performance”? Will we be open to new models and ways of assessing student performance. If we see blended learning as a changing model of education, we will also need to change the mindset through which we examine assessment. If we do not, we are sure to conclude that blended learning is not the innovative model some think it to be. As Michael Horn and Heather Staker caution, “the existing education system will co-opt online learning as it blends it into its current flawed model.”
Next on my list is the Horn/Staker document: The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning.

Mobile Devices and other thinking

Sunday’s are good days to bump up against some new and reinforcing ideas.

Mobile learning enthusiasts Elliot Soloway and Cathleen Norris provide some clarity to defining mobile learning in Mobile Devices as Essential Tools.

Elliot: As long as computers are a shared resource…

Cathie: …like a cart of laptops or iPads…

Elliot: …teachers will use them as supplemental add-ons to their existing curriculum and pedagogical strategy.

Cathie: So to say that using iPads is mobile learning is really a misnomer; the only thing mobile about a cart of iPads is the fact that it is moved from room to room.

The primary reason we “share” resources is financial. Is there really any pedagogical or instructional benefit to doing this? I’ve been thinking a lot about mindsets lately and ran across this thinking that reiterates the need for us to change our mindset about technology:

“Technology is an environment, not a tool and social networks are communities, not private clubs.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard us highly educated adults utter the excuse: “Technology is just another tool.” No…it’s not. Only when we give up that notion, can we begin to see that it truly is an environment. Let me take your cell phone or your laptop away. Then tell me it’s just a tool. Yet we deprive our students of this environment – the environment in which they function outside of school – our Flinstone schools as Jeff Piontek tells us in his TEDx UBC talk. My favorite line: “We have the moral obligation to stop teaching Jetson children in Flinstones schools.” Is he being overly dramatic? I don’t think so. We have teachers, leaders and policy makers with heads stuck in a paradigm that no longer suffices. Is what we are doing immoral? Are we committing educational malpractice by continuing to structure schools, teaching and learning as we always have? So to recap my takeaways from today’s RSS feeds:

  • Systemic instructional and pedagogical change will not happen until we stop sharing devices.
  • We have to stop believing that technology is just a tool – it’s an environment.
  • We have to stop believing that the education we grew up with is good (enough) for our children.

Sylvia Martinez asks a great question: How do YOU believe people learn? As we answer that question, though, we need to be open to new ideas, shaped by a technology-rich world, that will challenge those assumptions about learning. If we approach the question with our old paradigm, we’ll never change. And maybe this is why we really haven’t.