Monthly Archives: January 2015

Are Technical Innovations Enough to Save Education?

We all know about the great work being done by both the headliners and the very small businesses in terms of introducing technology into the classrooms. We have gone from chalkboard to whiteboard and from smart board to tablets. Whatever we have thought about MOOCs, their arrival on the scene woke up the sleeping giant of online learning, and now innovators such as Canvas Infrastructure have challenged Blackboard for one and are making a name for providing tools for universities to get more classes and programs online. This is all good. In K-12, we have gone from Oregon Trail to Minecraft and all sorts of newer games to teach competencies such as problem-solving and specific skills like reading, math and science. Classroom teachers use platforms such as Edmodo and others tools to share resources with one another and to offer content and content creation capability to their students. Soon more teachers will be incorporating cellphones into the toolset that they and their students access in order to support the learning process. This is all great progress. But let’s explore what we really mean by innovation when it comes to education.

Is technology innovation?

We are all familiar with the fairytale history of Introduction to AI, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig’s Stanford University Massively Open Online Course that garnered an enrollment of 160,000 students from around the world in the fall of 2011. When the course ended, 23,000 students from 190 countries finished the course. Then the debate started over the merits of MOOC-style learning.

Is “access” innovation?

The connectivist concepts inherent in MOOC learning and the sheer volume of students enrolled in these offerings contribute to defining the role that MOOCs play in innovative educational practices. Being able to reach so many students in so many countries fulfills one highly regarded mission, that of access. And there are those who would argue, as Dan Friedman did in this article on TechCrunch, that access is something that we may already have been solved by iTunesU with over 1 billion downloads of its courses.

How can we measure learning innovation?

Since early on, people have been asking how much knowledge is actually retained in the MOOC model and how many students remain engaged and complete the programs. Critics point to figures that show 4 to 6 percent of people who registered the classes actually completing them. However, in analyzing completion data for nine HarvardX courses, researcher Justin Reich observed that a large percentage of students actually sign up for classes with no intention of completing them. Looking at self-reported data, Reich concluded that only 58 percent intended to earn a certificate, and amongst those 22 percent actually did.

Over time, learners will tell us what they need (or provide it themselves).

It may be more interesting to look at how MOOCs are evolving and the changes being made to the courses, sometimes by the learners themselves, in order to make them more effective. One example from early on in the MOOC game relates the challenges learners experienced in using the existing

discussion boards to better understand course material and work through course assignments together. One inventive student coded a piece of software that enabled everyone to more effectively scan discussion subject headings without leaving the page where the video was playing. It’s one small example among many, but it shows how learners in the course were actually contributing their talents to making learning more effective.

How people actually use technology and adapt it within the learning situation seems to be the biggest measure of innovation there is.

Innovation in K-12

Within the K-12 realm, there’s a lot of technology being introduced to support an existing (albeit relatively new) educational model. With the new technology come new business models and new ways of operating. The partnerships between technology companies and schools are powerful examples of ways to leverage the latest technology within the schools.

But as long as we’re stuck supporting a model of education centered on high stakes testing, it’s difficult to register these practices as entirely positive innovations. Creating a platform for blended learning is a great step in the right direction. Being able to personalize learning with programs designed to tailor learning to individual needs is one of the best uses of technology that we are seeing in edtech today. But when the majority of that learning is focused on performing better on the next exam, it loses its edge.

Innovation in education has to be innovation in learning practices that contribute to learners becoming more capable of thinking for themselves. Some of the partnerships that we’ve written about previously support innovation in K-12 learning, including Tools at SchoolsThe Future Project, and Betaversity. These are organizations that focus on design thinking, entrepreneurship and maker spaces respectively.

The Innovation Challenge for 2015

We have such a solid foundation of change on which to build the successes of the coming year.

  • In higher ed, it would be great to see more online programs that leverage technology to offer courses with optimized facilitated learning opportunities. In addition to the technology and instructional design to make that happen, we also need business models that enable cost-effective course development and tuition costs, and means of faculty resourcing in order to build and facilitate the courses.
  • In PK-12, let’s leverage that foot we have in the door to create technology assisted learning opportunities to build problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • In both spaces, let’s work to offer more hands-on learning activities to prepare students for real world challenges as they prepare to enter the workplace of tomorrow.

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on learning design for social impact.

To School or Not to School: That Will be the Question

OK, (following on my last blog), it does not necessarily take a learner from another planet to see what is happening in our educational system. Our kids are exhausted and many are disenfranchised, and our teachers are expected to relearn not only what they learned in school but how to teach so that we can meet a set of standards that we don’t even know will be applicable when these kids enter the workforce. There’s great work being done in edtech and professional development to support the schools as they undergo these trials, but unless we look at the actual design of the curriculum, the situation remains something to be fixed rather than something to be maintained or supplemented.

What happens when students get bored?

Wired recently ran an interesting interview with the real life teachers behind the movie Spare Parts. Fred Lajvardi and Allan Cameron, if you don’t know the story, saw that students were bored, underperforming and dropping out. They created a student robotics club that eventually won state and national championships and more than $1 million in scholarships.

Lajvardi and Cameron claim that teachers “are stymied by bureaucracy and confounded by rigid curricula optimized to produce better test results, not better students.” The work they do on the robotics project isn’t even a part of the curriculum. It’s an afterschool program. But Lajvardi and Cameron continue to work with students in hopes of providing them with skills and motivation to fit the real world needs the workplace will demand of them.

What are some alternative models to explore?

I’ve written in this space before that we can benefit from observing the homeschooling and unschooling communities. Not only is learning child-centered and self-directed, but as a lifestyle, it sets the stage for lifelong learning in a way that our current educational system cannot possibly emulate. It’s clear that not everyone can choose this path, as our entire socioeconomic structure is built a very different model, and the challenges of deviating from that are significant. That being said, homeschooling is a legal, viable option that continues to grow (2-8% per year), and we should watch and learn from the over 2 million children studying at home.

For those who may be concerned that academic rigor might be lost on homeschooling kids, there are a number of interesting observations that have been made. For more statistics, click here and here.

  • Home-educated students typically score 15-20 percentile points above public school students on standardized tests.
  • Home-educated students typically score above average on the SAT and ACT tests.
  • 7% of homeschooled students graduate from college, compared to 57.5%.

One obvious reason that homeschoolers do very well in college is because they are self-disciplined and motivated. Joyce Reed, quoted in a 2002 issue of the Brown University alumni magazine commented, “These kids are the epitome of Brown students.” She believes they make a good fit with the university because “they’ve learned to be self-directed, they take risks, they face challenges with total fervor, and they don’t back off.”

Peter Gray’s 2011 study of unschooling substantiates these observations, with many respondents noting “the learning opportunities that would not have been available if they had been in school, about their relatively seamless transition to adult life, and about the healthier (age-mixed) social life they experienced out of school contrasted with what they would have experienced in school.”

What are we preparing students for in the future?

We need to find a better way to prepare young people for adulthood. We need to look at the 21st century worker in order to understand how to best educate people to enter the workforce. We need to continue to look at the environment in which our children are being raised in order to encourage their participation in lifelong learning.

Today’s workers need to be problem solvers and innovators. They need to digest information from a multiplicity of sources and apply what they learn to the problem at hand. Today’s learners will have jobs that are less defined than ours are (or were when we first started out), and they won’t be safe waiting to be told what’s next.

I’m reminded of Sir Ken Richardson and a couple of the many things he said regarding schools and creativity. One is “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never be right.” Kids need the time and space to experiment with their ideas, to be wrong, and to try again. Do we have enough of that in our current curriculum? His other comment, from the same Ted Talk, speaks again to the importance of creativity and its impact on today’s learners and the role they will play in tomorrow’s workplace. “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” If you haven’t seen Sir Ken’s Ted Talk on How Schools Kill Creativity, click here. Again, are we allowing enough time for creative pursuits that will not only motivate students but help build problem solving skills that will serve them well later in life?

What will learning look like in the future?

As the homeschooling and unschooling movements mature, as its practitioners form stronger social networks and technology continues to expand the opportunities for learning outside of the traditional classroom, we’ll see more families migrating to this mode of learning. The future of school-based learning is yet to be written. The possibilities are huge and the benefits may be pulled from the same sources as those for homeschooling and unschooling; the role of technology is certainly playing a part in how schooling is evolving, providing more opportunities for blended learning and personalization. Just as in the workplace, learning is now being pulled from a wider range of resources, so too are schools beginning to do the same. The curating of learning will perhaps be more of a hybrid model, a joint exercise amongst all concerned parties.

In the end, it may not matter where you learn but more importantly what you learn,how you learn, and how that extends into adulthood. The one question we never want to have to ask is whether or not you want to learn.

For related blogs on today’s topic, please see:

Continue to stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on designing learning for social impact.

Learner from another Planet

Consider a scenario in which a visitor comes on a mission of educational discovery in which she is invited to visit a family of four and trail them at school for a day. What does she observe and how does that impact on her opinion as to how we are educating our children?

In our scenario, the visitor completes her stay and is interviewed about the experience by the local paper.

What was the family’s morning routine like?

The family I stayed with sends their two children to a public school a few miles from where they live. In the morning, the mother of the family entered the children’s bedroom three times urging them to wake up and get ready. The first time, at 6:30am, she simply walked past the room and told them to wake up. Ten minutes later, after putting together a simple breakfast, she went into the room and nudged them to get out of bed. Her efforts were met by grunts of discontent. The third and last time, she stood in the doorway and screamed that they were going to be late and threatened to revoke Internet privileges if they did not get out of bed.

At the breakfast table, after being reminded that she had a tutoring session after her soccer practice that afternoon, the middle schooler said she’d rather just come home and eat dinner. Her mother reminded her of an upcoming test that she would be taking as part of determining which high school she would be attending the following year. The girl whined in response and said she didn’t want to go to a special high school.

The high schooler had her computer at the breakfast table and was finishing a paper that she needed to hand in that morning. When her mother challenged her on this, the girl said she had had no time to finish it the night before because she had to submit an online test by midnight, and a glitch in the program at 11:30pm delayed her submission.

The parents reminded the children that they would be home later that evening because of parent-teacher conferences at the older girl’s school. The mother asked for confirmation of the teachers she most wanted them to see, just in case they ran out of time to see everyone.

Were you able to attend any classes? What was the interaction like in the classroom?

That morning, I visited the girl’s middle school and observed a math class and a language class. In both classes, the student’s sat in assigned seats in rows, with the teacher positioned at the head of the class. In the math class, students reviewed a test they had taken previously, with the teacher going over each problem, occasionally asking for student input, with the same four students, three girls and one girl, raising their hands each time.

In the language class, students spent most of the period finishing a movie they had started watching two days ago, and answered three questions on the board. The teacher corrected pronunciation and had the whole class repeat each time a correction was made.

In the afternoon, I visited the older girl’s high school and visited three classes. I observed a class where the teacher was reviewing a slide show on the roles of the different branches of government. I also saw one digital photography class she is taking as an elective, where I observed the teacher preparing the students for an assignment by sharing examples of work done by previous students. In the language class, the students were practicing taking quizzes on tablet PCs.

What kind of interaction is there with between parents and teachers?

That evening, I went back to the older girl’s school to tag along with the parents for what they call parent-conferences. I waited on line outside with the mother, who had left work early to get a “good spot.” When the father arrived, she delegated three teachers for him to visit. Upon entering the school, I ran after the mother as she signed her name for the four teachers she hoped to see. As we waited for the first visit, she called her husband to make sure he had signatures at his three assigned rooms. She started yelling at him when he reported that the third list was already so long, he did not want to add his name.

At the first room, my host family’s mother asked what areas her daughter needed to focus on in order to improve. After locating the girl’s grades on his tablet PC, the teacher said she was missing one assignment, and that otherwise she was doing fine. Maybe she could speak up more in class. The mother was surprised by the missing paper and said she was sure the girl had handed it in. At that point, the student monitor announced it was time for the next parent to come in.

After leaving the first room, we pushed our way through the wall of parents waiting outside other classrooms, and made for the stairway. The mother called her husband for an update, and he reported having missed his slot with the history teacher because he was checking the list to see where he stood on the science teacher’s room.

By the end of the evening, the parents had seen all but one teacher, had not learned anything new about their daughter, but seemed satisfied that they had made eye contact with those 6 teachers.

Did you spend any down time with the family?

My visit started on Thursday night and lasted until Saturday morning. When we arrived home Friday evening after the conferences, the girls were in the living room halfheartedly watching a movie but more interested in whatever they were doing on their personal devices. Mom kicked off her shoes and sat down to share their experience with the parent-teacher conferences. She started with the teacher and the missing assignment, and after that was fully disputed, provided as much of a summary as could be cobbled together. For the most part, all the teachers had positive things to say and offered advice encouraging more participation in class. After the mother and father finished, the girl looked at them and asked one final question, “But did they seem to like me?”

The rest of the evening included planning for the weekend, which included a tutoring session, a writing workshop to help with college prep for the older girl, a soccer game, and ballet recital.

What are your final observations?

The parents of these two girls seem to be earnest in their wishes to help them “succeed.” To that end, they talk to the girls about their schoolwork, they arrange for additional help to increase test scores, and they keep on top of what is happening in each of their schools. But the girls are exhausted and not passionate about their daily learning experiences. Most of their time in school is spent preparing for a test or listening to a teacher review a test they have just taken. Or, as in the case with the language classes, the students are not actually spending much time in the classroom practicing the language. I wondered why the students could not watch the movie for homework.

The above scenario highlights a few of the challenges in today’s educational landscape. Although not all schools suffer the same roadblocks to learning, curriculum that does not engage the learner in ways other than constant testing cannot open the door to a lifelong love of learning.

For more Designs2Learn thoughts on innovative curriculum design, see these blogs:

If a learner from another planet came to your community, what kind of learning would she observe?

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on meaningful curriculum design for social impact.

E-Learning Days Pave the Way to More Flexible Educational Models

With winter starting to dig in its heels, I’m thinking again of the concept of e-learning days, as many schools and school districts have labeled them, days when kids do their work from home rather than attend school. E-learning days were first devised as a means of providing instruction on “snow days,” when students could not make it to school. Now some schools have added e-learning days to their school calendars in order to regularize virtual learning days as part of their regular curriculum.

As more schools implement e-learning days, or “cyber learning days” as some refer to it, the concept is evolving in terms of the range of tools being used to implement it and the degree to which it gets integrated into the culture of the schools and the means of instruction. Is the growth of e-learning days any indication that schools may be headed toward a more flexible model of instruction? Will students be spending more time out of the buildings learning on their own, or in the company of peers, and under the tutelage of community-based “mentors?”

As I’ve written before, most students would benefit from less time in the classroom participating in more practical pursuits of learning, especially as they get older and closer to participating in the workplace. The growing acceptance of e-learning days is a step in the right direction.

For the short term, incorporating e-learning days into the curriculum has a number of benefits both administrative and pedagogical.

Administrative Benefits

  • When e-learning days are used to provide instruction that would be lost due to inclement weather, e.g. snow days, they can minimize or eliminate the need to add extra days at the end of the year.
  • Eliminating extra days at the end of the year saves money as well in terms of getting kids to school, keeping the buildings open, etc.
  • Opportunities for professional development. Some schools are incorporating professional development activities into planned e-learning days, when teachers may work part of the day responding to student questions and part of the day working together (virtually) on professional development.

Pedagogical Benefits

  1. Building students’ (and teachers’) digital literacy.
  2. Increased opportunity for teamwork and problem-solving activities. Working at home, students can practice those skills which they will later on be applying in the workplace while at the same time receiving the support of fellow students and their teachers and perhaps parents as well.
  3. More consistent instruction than may occur on days when schools remain open on inclement days but attendance is irregular. By planning for a number of such days per year, we may avoid these gaps that occur when some students can make it to school but others can’t.
  4. More personalized learning and increased participation. For students for whom the classroom experience is overwhelming, there may be an opportunity to shine in online discussions assigned for e-learning days. Students can also focus more or less on specific areas of an assignment when working from home.

Addressing Concerns

Even as more schools begin to adopt this approach, there remain some consistent concerns around e-learning days:

What about kids with no access to computers?

While most schools who have implemented e-learning days are also able to ensure that students have access to computers at home, they do have a number of contingencies should internet access be a problem:

  • In some schools, the e-learning day material is downloaded onto student computers or iPads in advance.
  • Other schools permit work assigned for e-learning days may be handed in 2 days to two weeks later to account for technical or scheduling issues that arise.
  • Schools also recommend students with no internet access use available community resources such as libraries and local businesses with free Wi-Fi.

What if students have trouble with the material?

Each school or district is adopting its own policy, but in general, teachers can support students on these e-learning days by:

  • Holding “electronic office hours”, that is being available during certain hours of the day via text, skype, or other means.
  • Responding to student email questions.
  • Providing videotaped lectures or notes to accompany their lessons for the day.

At the end of the day, as schools begin to adopt more technology to support learning, building e-learning days into the curriculum becomes increasingly easier. For schools already using content or learning management systems, students can upload their assignments for instructor or peer review that same day. Teachers can easily access the material for grading. Communications via cell phone or personal computer make feedback and team work an extension of social interaction students are already familiar with. Having students watch a teacher’s lecture at home as part of an e-learning day rather than in class is just another example of the flipped classroom we see gaining in acceptance as more teachers use class time to address more specific questions.

E-learning days are not meant to replace classroom instruction but can be part of a fantastic movement toward a more blended, more flexible curriculum model that uses technology to its best advantage.

Contact Designs2Learn to discuss how we can partner with you for more impactful learning design. Click here to participate in our Educational State of the State Survey, now open until the end of January.

Dear NYC School Principals: Let Cell Phones Be Used for Learning

Last week, we learned that the New York City Department of Education will be lifting its long-time ban on cell phones in the schools. Kudos to the teams of educators who worked to make this happen!

Much of the reporting on the lifting of the cell phone ban has focused on Mayor de Blasio’s comments on the issue, mainly around fairness and parental access. Many people criticized the ban as unfairly implemented and particularly harsh on students from low-income communities. In these areas, because of metal detectors in use, students needed to store phones outside of school, often paying $1 a day to businesses that cropped up to meet that need. In terms of access, the mayor was not alone in feeling that parents should be able to stay in touch with their kids throughout the day. It’s significant that removing the ban can address the issues of inequity and lack of access. The way the regulations are written, though, it’s up to the principals (with the attendant teacher and parent input) to determine how cell phones are handled once they are officially allowed in the buildings.

From a learning design perspective, the main issue is whether or not lifting the ban will increase opportunities for mobile and personalized learning in the schools. Now that cell phones have made it into the buildings, will they make it out of the lockers and into the classrooms? How will they be used once they get there?

The importance of cellphones as part of the whole BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement correlates to many of the issues we’ve discussed before:

  1. Meeting our children where they live. Our children live in a digital world. While much of their interaction can be considered social, much of that can also be part of the learning process. We need to harness the facility that our kids have developed in communicating with one another and apply that to the learning process. Many of them do this already themselves, and have added their phones to their learning toolbox in ways that can now be incorporated into classroom best practices.
  2. Connecting the world of learning outside the classroom to work inside the classroom. We’ve talked in this space before about going out into the community to learn. With cell phones, students can capture interviews, take pictures, do fact-checking and additional research, and compile data for projects that can continue inside the classroom with the support of their teachers. Then there’s also the ability to expand the students’ network and engage on projects with students in other schools, other neighborhoods. Each student on his/her own device can make such activities more engaging.
  3. Personalizing instruction. Using cellphones inside the classroom, teachers and students can work together to ensure that everyone in the classroom is getting the most out of each day’s material. Whether accessing an existing blended learning program, or doing further research on a classroom topic, students’ access to a cellphone can provide that extra boost that makes learning all the more meaningful on an individual level.
  4. Improved digital citizenship. By officially sanctioning the use of mobile devices in the classroom, teachers can now participate more actively in the modeling and monitoring of our growing digital citizenry. Supporting the safe and appropriate behaviors while the devices are in hand makes much more sense than speaking in the abstract.
  5. Preparation for the workplace. Most jobs today require knowledge of and ability to use online resources effectively. The more we incorporate these tools into the school environment, the better equipped our kids will be to use them effectively on the job.

Perhaps one of the greatest outcomes of this move by the New York City Board of Education is one that we can’t even predict right now. In one of my favorite essays on technology and innovation, Stephen Shapin wrote “ . . . users can acquire knowledge that would never have occurred to the innovators.” Today’s students will find uses for the cellphone as part of the learning process that none of us has thought of just yet. That’s why I think it’s so important to make sure that now that cellphones will be allowed into the schools, they get to stay out of the lockers and in the hands of our learners. New York City has an opportunity to lead the BYOD movement. Let’s do it, folks!

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on how we can partner with you for more impactful learning design. Click here to participate in our Educational State of the State Survey, now open until the end of January.

Flipping for a Change in Educational Models

We’ve talked previously about evolving, adapting, adjusting to the changes in the educational landscape. An article this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education has prompted me once gain to raise the issue of flipped classrooms and the great value this model can bring to all levels of education.

In “When a Flipped-Classroom Pioneer Hands Off His Video Lectures, This Is What Happens” Jeffrey Young reports on the popularity of the videotaped lectures that Norman Nemrow, a former accountant with a passion for teaching, produced, and the challenges the videos presented to the traditional lecture-based teaching model.

The Nemrow lectures became very popular at Brigham Young, where Nemrow taught and originally developed the videos “because he became tired of repeating himself and answering the same questions.” But he soon found that “93 percent of his students reporting learning more effectively from the flipped format than from a traditional one.”

A couple of things fascinate me about the “Video Norm” phenomenon. One is that Norm went into teaching after retiring quite early from successful consulting and real estate businesses. He donated his salary to Brigham Young and has subsequently donated proceeds of sales of the videos to charity. The second thing that interests me is the challenge that other instructors at BYU and other institutions had in adopting his materials.

The resistance in part was due to other instructors’ discomfort with a new model of teaching, in particular with giving up that lecture part of the experience. Having taught in a highly creating and productive teaching department at the university level for 15-plus years, I am more than familiar with the “not invented here” syndrome that affects many in the field of teaching. This is another part of the challenge to adopting “Video Norm.” The material was not the teacher’s own.

The best advantage of the flipped classroom approach is that it allows for more effective use of class time for teachers to do what they do best, which should not be all about lecturing but should be more about working directly on problem-solving activities with both individuals and groups and dealing with questions about material that students have been given enough time to absorb and test drive on their own.

Whether the material for those at-home lectures comes from “Video Norm,” “Sal Khan,” or “Sheri Handel” shouldn’t make so much difference to the classroom teacher as long as the quality of the material is the best it can be.

In an earlier debate over community college use of existing MOOCs produced by elite schools as a means of outsourcing lectures, Bill Gates stated that “The quality of those lectures, as they go through the competitive process, will be extremely good,” he said. “No individual performance is likely to come up to that level.”

This obviously offended a large portion of very dedicated and well-spoken community college faculty, but once again, we should not let ourselves forget the other part of the “flipped classroom” equation: the use of class time for more targeted and individualized instruction.

Once again, we need to bring the conversation back to the topic of our students and how to best reach them in today’s paradigm.

The MOOC: If You Can’t Beat It, Leverage It

Without spending too much time lamenting that many newcomers to online learning believe that there was no online learning until Coursera released its first MOOC, and that there are obviously many different ways to leverage technology to extend an institution’s reach, suffice it to say with so much money being spent and so much attention being paid in the exploration of this model, it makes sense to see how institutions of all sizes and budgets can leverage the model to their advantage. And again, this should be one model of online learning amongst many that you explore.

When Flipping or MOOCing, Consider Your Resources Wisely

No doubt there are thousands of community college instructors whose lecturing skills compare well to or surpass those of some of the MOOC lecture content we have seen out there. But it takes not only someone well-versed and well-spoken in his or her subject matter to produce a good quality course. It takes dollars and skills to produce that lecture and the surrounding content in a well-designed offering. That’s what Video Norm provides and what a lot of the very spiffy existing MOOCs offer as well.

Do Flip the Classroom to Make the Most of Your Teaching Talent

Flipping the classroom is not only something that higher education can benefit from. In PK-12, less presenting of the content in the classroom can free up time for teachers to work should-to-shoulder with students on those specific problem-solving activities after the students have review the content at home.

For institutions of higher learning, if this is a space you want to compete in, and you have the dollars and resources to produce quality content, then any institution can and should consider some means of leveraging the technology to extend not only your institution’s reach, but also the benefits of your great teaching talent.

Less time repeating that (great) lecture every semester will free your faculty to do what they do best, working with individual students to improve their mastery and application of challenging course content.

If you are resource constrained, then you might take Bill Gates’ advice, or you might consider collaborations with other institutions or companies to leverage their expertise in areas like instructional design, technology-enabled instruction, etc. Even if you do not have the internal resources, there is still an opportunity to engage in this approach.

NB: In the Chronicle article on the Nemrow lectures, we learn that Melissa Larson, one of the BYU instructors teaching an introductory accounting course using the Video Norm content is already producing her own “pencast” videos to help her students work through specific homework problems. Kudos to Ms. Larson for her ingenuity and initiative at taking the material one step further.

What do you think about flipped classrooms? Are you doing this already? How’s it going?

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn to learn about partnering to become part of the change in education.

Reflections on Learning Part II: Back to the Future

At the close of 2014, Designs2Learn shared memories of early learning: the rituals of school, learning journeys, learning how to fail, and becoming conscious about learning. As we enter 2015, we begin the process of creating the memories from another new year of learning. What will we learn and how we learn it? How can we design meaningful learning experiences and curricula that will persist into the future of our students’ workplace lives?

A few key points come into perspective when thinking about how we will reflect back on 2015 at year end. This is how I would like to remember this year of learning:

  1. We utilize technology to support successful learning rather than technology driving learning altogether. MOOCs are the primary example of this phenomenon; we are now in a period of self-correction. This was a fantastic mistake to make because it alerted those who may have been asleep at the wheel that online learning is something to be incorporated not only into the higher education realm but PK-12 as well. Corporations have known this all along, and recent learning expenditures indicate that 2015 should be a good year for online learning. But we need to go back to some basics in terms of understanding and incorporating learning theory into edtech design in order for these experiences to have the lasting value we seek. The tools we put in the hands of the universities are merely platforms on which to deliver learning. The learning still needs to be effectively designed. The tools that we provide to school kids at an early age should help plant the seeds for more independent learning and critical thinking rather than a mere dependence on technology.
  2. We extend the role of mentorships in all educational domains. From PK-12 to higher ed and in the workplace, there is a definite place for mentorship. There is some wonderful work being done by groups like the Future Project and iMentor in the schools and by Enstitute and UnCollege beyond PK-12. So much of what we learn takes place between people in one-on-one engagements. Let’s bring more of the 70:20:10 model into the schools and establish the groundwork for this type of learning early on.
  3. We involve more community resources into the educational experience.Beyond the classroom teacher, in addition to our cadre of mentors, there’s a wealth of resources in the community to extend the learning experience. From libraries to local businesses, we should be spending more time of the classroom and helping kids make the connection between what they learn there and the outside world.
  4. We incorporate more experiential and maker curriculum into the schools. Providing opportunities for children to observe their environment, to define a problem, to embark on the design process to investigate and solve that problem and to become proficient in the tools required to do so will have a tremendous effect on that person’s confidence and abilities moving forward. Imagine the advantages to a workplace populated with people who have grown up having engaged in this process. The Maker Education Initiative is one of several prolific organizations supporting the maker movement, with a range of resources and programs to help schools and individuals get started; Tools at Schools is another group whose work within the schools is helping to utilize design thinking to engage students in meaningful projects.
  5. We look to homeschooling and unschooling for inspiration. There is so much work that has been done by these communities in terms of examining the learning process and creating models for user-driven learning experiences. The majority of us understand now that one size does not fit all, and technology-enhanced blended learning experiences are becoming more common in the schools, but let’s not forget that there are alternatives for students who are not best served in the school environment. The resources and community-building that the homeschooling and unschooling families have created have a lot to teach us all.

The coming year has a lot of promise for those of us in the educational arena. With so much investment in edtech, and the formation of meaningful partnerships in the educational space, there’s great potential to make some good memories to reflect back on. The role of the teacher is constantly evolving and this year may also reveal significant progress with how we incorporate best practices in teaching and learning into the ever-changing equation.

Stay connected to Designs2Learn for more on how we can partner on learning design today to help shape tomorrow’s workforce. Click here to participate in our State of the State in Education Survey.

Reflections on Learning Part I: Memories from the Early Years

I can play the moments back in my head like a movie. But it’s more than that. I can see images, but there are also sounds, smells and textures. Even the sense of touch plays a role when conjuring the memories of how I have experienced learning throughout my life.

I have always loved learning. From the early days of kindergarten, moving amongst the Montessori-influenced “stations” to my decision in grad school to write a dissertation rather than sit for an exam, I can see myself in those situations. Like those crazy Facebook compilations that tell you about the year you had, these images tell the story of learning that has helped to form the thinker I am today.

The Rituals of School

It was not only the specific lessons, but the entire experience of preparing for and attending school that I recall so well. Some of you may remember covering your textbooks with paper from grocery bags. It was a ritual we engaged in. And there were those rubber straps we used to hold our books together. Remembering getting snapped by those when you tried to cram too many books together with a single strap? Like trying to contain my enthusiasm for what was yet to come.

I attended a public school only several blocks away from the apartment where I was raised. Each year the walk seemed shorter, but for the first few years, it appeared a substantial distance from home. We walked in groups led by one parent or another from our building. How brave I felt to walk that distance on my own for the first time!

Learning Journeys

My recollections of early learning also include those hours spent at the public library, starting with story hour, and as I began to read on my own, selecting and reading parts of the books I would bring home that day. With my growing independence came the privilege of walking to the library on my own and the freedom to make my own choices as well. The books were the impetus for these journeys, and those walks across town became learning experiences of their own.

Learning How to Fail

While I always looked forward to the start of the school year, not all my memories are fond. Like most, I faced challenges in some areas and suffered several public embarrassments along the way. There was the time I had to use a piece of chalk and string to draw a perfect circle on the blackboard and was brought to tears when I failed. Several times. I’ve since learned to use failure to my advantage, but I’m not sure that I saw the benefits back then.

Becoming Conscious about Learning

I don’t recall discussing learning much back then, except when the teachers in our city went on strike and groups of families banded together to form ad hoc study groups to keep us occupied during the time away from school. But even then, it was a matter of logistics and somewhat an adventure. It was quite a social experience, sitting with a group of 5-6 friends at someone’s dining room trying to focus on the lesson at hand.

Some memories are puzzling, like the one where on a field trip to a nature preserve, my sixth grade teacher lit a cigarette to ward off the swarms of mosquitos that plagued us in the wilds of Long Island. We stuck close to him, inhaling the seemingly protective vapors as we trudged through the unfamiliar wetlands. I can still smell the smoke and see the reflection of my fellow city dwellers in Mr. Klein’s Ray Bans. He seemed hip and heroic. We learned that mosquitoes don’t like cigarette smoke. We learned that Mr. Klein smoked.

Other memories provide their share of humor, such as the time while on a fire drill, my third grade teacher warned us “Not a peep out of you all!” and I unfortunately, literally, “peeped.” I never got into trouble before, but there was something in that challenge that got to me. Upon returning to the classroom, I was placed in the corner and remained there for the rest of the hour. I never “peeped” after that, but I am still somewhat outspoken. And I do love new challenges.

For many of us, the memories of learning remain fixed in the interactions between ourselves and teachers, classmates and others at the school. But where does all that early learning go and what remains of it once we enter the workforce and strive to contribute in meaningful ways?

We’ll pick up on this in our next segment. But for now, please share your own reflections of learning in the comments section below. Do you have a seminal memory from your early years in school? How did those days shape the thinker you are today?

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on partnering for impactful learning design. Click here to participate in our State of the State in Education Survey introduced in last week’s blog. The survey will remain open until January 9th.

Listen for the Sound of Change in Education

Listening. That’s the big idea. It may be a simple idea, but it’s one that doesn’t seem to be common practice these days. While we all agree there are problems with the current educational system, there seems to be little agreement as to the specific nature of the problems or of how to solve them.

In order to come to better consensus, we need to:

  1. Ask the right questions. As learning designers, we know how to devise the right questions to prompt a conversation around what is missing and how to get there. We need to get back to asking the questions before we provide the answers.
  2. Use silence to its best advantage. Some people are uncomfortable with silence, but in the moments between asking your brilliant questions and your target audience responding to them, some powerful thinking is taking place. I’ve been nudged plenty of times but held my ground and been pleased with the results.
  3. Bring the right group of people together to make the conversation meaningful. I’ve written about the fantastic partnerships taking place between the public and private sector these days. Business and technology are finally at the table. Let’s just make sure that the voice of today’s educators and today’s students continue to be part of the mix.

In the cacophony that is educational reform, there appears to be no shortage of solutions, many of them involving the application of technology in one form or another:

  • Learning management systems to track formal learning
  • Tin Can API to promote informal learning
  • Competency-based learning management systems to provide credit for life experience
  • Blended learning programs to address personal learning
  • Gaming to enhance engagement, etc.
  • New professional development programs and platforms to catch teachers up with all this new technology

These solutions all have great potential to change the way we approach learning in PK-12, higher ed and in the workplace.

But before we start throwing money and code around any further, can we stop for a minute to listen? That’s my big idea for 2015, to start a campaign for listening. And I’m going to launch that campaign right here and right now with a focus on PK-12. If you are interested in having your voice heard, please share your top three concerns with us in the comments section, or, better yet, take a few quick minutes to submit your responses to our quick Education State of the State Survey here.

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How Tragedy Opened the Door to a Teachable Moment

Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov’s decision to reject a student petition to suspend failing grades this semester has sparked further debate over academic flexibility, the lack thereof, and the importance of final exams and grades. The petition garnered over 1,000 signatures calling for suspension of the normal grading system and a no-fail mercy period to allow for student participation in and distraction over the decisions turned down in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. Critics from all perspectives have weighed in, from those defending the student request to those questioning the students’ academic integrity. Other schools across the country, and not only institutions of higher learning, have grappled with student protests and the impact on classes and the routine in general. Amid objections to the petition itself and despite criticisms against the students themselves, we have to pause and consider the broader ramifications.

These events created more than a single teachable moment, and what is of primary interest is the nature of the challenge to the status quo and the response to it. How can we most effectively support students in the wake of such tragedies?

  1. Help raise awareness as a response to tragedy. Beyond the tragedy in the recent deaths of Brown and Garner, and those before them, some have spoken in hopeful terms of the response to these events, particularly that of a younger generation of Americans. In high schools and colleges, at dinner tables, and in the omnipresent social media, kids were talking about the verdicts while their parents, teachers and grandparents started drawing connections between events of the present and those of the past. As educators, parents and guardians, we should be prepared to deal with these conversations.
  2. Let the students drive the learning around their own concerns and interests. If ever there were a time to trash (or postpone) a lesson plan and let students drive the learning, it was in the days after the killings first and then the verdicts when kids were asking all sorts of questions, trying to make sense of what to so many seemed senseless, and trying to understand how to participate in the growing response to the events. In some cases where students did take events into their own hands, some groups did leave school buildings to hold vigils and discussions outside the purview of teachers and schools administrators. In other cases, like at Oberlin and other schools, students focused their protests on specific school locations (particularly libraries during finals week) for the purpose of disrupting the routine there.
  3. As administrators, support the teachers and families dealing with the aftermath of these events in the classroom. A lot of learning took place as students engaged in their own forms of protest and worked with other young people to organize these events. I suppose there was a substantial dose of learn-by-doing in all of that. At home, during dinner table conversations, young people attempted to find their voices and to learn from their parents’ experiences in earlier periods of social unrest. But what is the role of the school administration when it comes to such events?

In many cases, it appears that the school administrators left it up to the rank and file to make adjustments as necessary. Columbia and the New School, for example, encouraged faculty members to consider requests from students asking for rescheduling or extensions on papers or exams as a result of recent events. And even at Oberlin, although the administration would not officially alter its grading policy, they did extend the deadlines for requesting incompletes, and President Krislov also asked faculty members to consider “to exercise additional flexibility” in considering student requests for incompletes. Some schools brought in speakers, provided discussion time for students to air their feelings over the decisions and the implications thereof, and also instituted processes for dealing with similar events moving forward. Clear lines of communication with families and distribution of relevant resources for handling the difficult conversations (particularly for families in PK-12) would go a long way in providing a cohesive response.

The events following the Ferguson and New York verdicts revealed a powerful interest by and need for young people in engage in active conversation and protest around social justice and racial issues. While this was disruptive for institutions of learning at essentially all levels, adhering to the status quo is not a viable response and does not promote the type of learning that can result from such unfortunate and tragic events. A certain amount of flexibility is required in order to help us all through such times and to ensure that the needs of our learners are being attended to.

How did the young people and the institutions of learning you know respond to these events? What can we learn from these responses to make improvements moving forward?

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more insight on learning design and strategic consulting in today’s evolving educational landscape.