Category Archives: Higher Education

The word "priority" in a red speech bubble

Setting Our Priorities in the Apocalypse

It’s hard not to feel post-apocalyptic in the face of so much tumult. Harvey, Irma, and Maria have proven that Bill Nye is not the only guy who believes in climate change. Stevie Wonder has been flying up and down the east coast playing at global and national unity concerts. Betsy DeVos has turned back the clock on progress made against sexual harassment on college campuses during the Obama years. And 45 spent a weekend on Twitter rather than dealing with the crisis in Puerto Rico.

We are a society living in the middle of one long silent scream that started in the late evening on November 8, 2016.

We know that there is potential for it all to fall apart, and yet, we continue to whittle away at the less incendiary of our problems.

We quite civilly argue for technology in the schools, for STEM, or STEAM, for SEL, for experiential learning, for less testing. We advocate for a new approach to higher education, one that better prepares our young people for a workplace we can’t yet describe. We openly air our concerns about AI, but in an academic, intellectual way.

We seem to be maintaining, even preparing, but can we really move forward under such confounding circumstances? Will progress make any difference when even this civility fades?

Having narrowly escaped being MOOC’d out of existence . . .

“Tomorrow” can be such a relative term when it comes to education.

In the early 2000s, the forecast was momentarily bleak when higher education saw its life pass before its eyes with the advent of Coursera and the MOOC. Coursera was swiftly followed by edX, Udacity, and others. In November, 2012, Laura Pappano provided an early, albeit cynical history in “The Year of the MOOC”. Still, while she and others argued the meaning of success in a course with videotaped lectures, electronically-graded quizzes, and relatively low completion rates, millions of people were signing up, and other Ivy’s and the rest soon followed.

If anything, the MOOC was a wake-up call for higher ed, proving that people were indeed hungry to learn, that they did not necessarily need or want to come in to the classroom to do so, and were not always asking for traditional credit, either.

In many ways, higher ed is still figuring out how to maintain the relevance of a four-year, campus-based degree. Of course, it is more than online learning that challenges higher education these days. It’s the manner in which learning needs to mutate and adapt to the world around us. As the workplace continues to evolve, so must the way we prepare our young people to enter it. With such rapid change, the whole construct, the whole model of education is being questioned.

Education, having gone too long without significant change, is trying to work things out. Teachers are incorporating more technology into their daily practice. Classroom space is being reconfigured. But the very premise on which our children’s day is based, is not necessarily changing. There is very little self-directed learning and very little choice. We treat our kids a certain way for 16 years, and turn them over to college expecting them to emerge in four more years as semi-independent members of society prepared to fend for themselves.

It’s not working.

Meanwhile, back at the “45” yard line . . .

This is a very big problem to be working on while trying to keep our president from getting us all blown away by either seemingly natural or more conspicuous political disasters. And yet, we do continue to refine our models, gather our experts, test our theories, all in the interest of creating a new paradigm for the new world in which we keep finding ourselves.

For example, on November 8, 2016, I was at a higher ed conference on marketing. On the evening of the 8th, I fell asleep thinking Hillary Clinton would be our next president. We all woke up to a very different reality. That day, despite this, and except for a few incredibly discreet comments, we carried on with the business at hand, with sessions on Marking and RecruitingOptimizing Video for Marketing,Personalizing Education’s ROI, etc. As professionals, this is what we are meant to do. Carry on. Ten months later, the vitriol from the White House thickens, battles within Congress escalate, protests mount, and those academic conferences . . . continue.

Are we stuck or are we recycling new naterial?

For the past couple of years, I had the pleasure of attending the annual New York Times “Schools for Tomorrow” conferences. What always struck me about these gatherings, despite the star-studded panels we heard from, were how steeped in the past much of it seemed to be.

For example, among the people we got to hear were Anant Agarwal, Michael Crow, Rahm Emanuel, Daphne Koller, and Nancy Zimpher each one talking about the latest technology, partnerships, and management over vast systems of higher learning. Not too shabby.

In addition, each year there were the requisite panels on diversity, college sports, and sexual assault. At least, they seemed requisite.

What’s old is new again, or is It?

So, each year, as I sit at one academic conference or another and listen to the deans, presidents, and provosts of the most distinguished schools of this nation walk through their approach to diversity, for example, I’ve been thinking, aren’t we passed this? What about the educational stuff? When are we going to get to the discussion on sleek new learning design?

I’ll admit to similar feelings during sessions on sexual assault. Grateful for the added clarity and protections granted under the “Dear Colleague Letter,” I wondered why we were covering this in such detail during a conference on the future of education. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we have been tripping over the complexities of Title IX for some time now, and I believe that the Obama administration had made quite a lot of headway in providing further protections under its letter of guidance.

Now that Betsy is rescinding the 2011 and 2014 guidelines, what should be old is new again.

Now that 45 is fighting with football players protesting for civil rights, what’s old is new again.

And while we should be past all of this, and we should really be focusing on how to improve education, right?

The truth is, we’ve been consistently moving toward this moment for a long time. That long, silent scream that started on November 8, 2016 is just the latest incarnation of it.

It’s a real-life sim, and we need to buck up.

Perhaps one of the best lessons I learned during my early learning design days with Roger Schank and the team at Cognitive Arts, was the concept of “confounding factors”. Working through a needs analysis with a client, you collect examples of what can go wrong in any typical execution of whatever task it is you are simulating. You then take those and through the efforts of some very talented writing and design staff, weave them into the simulation that learners will immerse themselves in before executing the task for real.

It’s not always that easy for people who are familiar with, or even expert at, completing a regular task to deconstruct it and communicate that to someone else. They seemingly do that by rote.

I sometimes wonder if we became too well adjusted to how we have been living and did not notice the flaws all around us. But the truth is that under confounding societal circumstances, we cannot wait to fix anything.

Backward Planning to a Love of Learning

Clearly, learning and development at a corporate level is moving forward. Continuous learning is making huge inroads with CLOs such as John Palmer leading reskilling efforts at AT&T and providing employees with much more input into the future of their own careers. In the UK, companies such as Fuse Universal are re-envisioning learning with a platform that combines access to expert advice, curated content, offline learning content, peer-provided expertise and more. Content curation is another area where huge inroads are being made in terms of how we access and personalize information. Look at Anders Pink for a great example of that.

It’s K-16 that concerns me the most. I see no sense in arguing between STEM and SEL, for example. Kids need skills and the means by which to continually adjust and build on those skills as the workplace continues to evolve. They need to develop and maintain a passion for learning.

To sum up what may appear at first to seem like a bleak September forecast:

  • We have taken an unfortunate step backward in terms of racial discrimination, and we will need to regain and build on any progress made since the 1960s.
  • Rescinding stricter interpretations of Title IX protections is a bad idea. We need to do better with protections against gender bias and sexual assault. So, yes, the conversation will need to continue.
  • Education does not exist in a vacuum. As society falters, we need to carry on with improving teaching and learning to ensure that the next generation does better than we have.
Mother dropping son off at school

How Will Today’s Lessons Learned Impact the Future?

In the above cartoon, Henry Payne transforms our concerns over the impact of changing values and gun violence into a seemingly simple yet cynical cartoon. If you look closely, you can see that the year was 1993. Unfortunately, the cartoon remains relevant in more ways than we’d like it to, which leads to the question: How can we really learn from the current discord and violence to make a better today and ensure a better future?

The very recent events in Charlottesville come just before most public schools open for the 2017-2018 school year. My heart goes out to all of Charlottesville, and in particular to the families and teachers of young students who need to navigate their ways through yet one more tragedy of the 21st Century, one that if not seminal, is sure to have an impact on their world view moving forward.

Those kids who were of school age in 2001 well remember the impact of September 11 on the classroom on the very day of the bombings and in the years following it. Teachers were instrumental in helping our children through the aftermath of the bombings, balancing the immediate needs of their students with the pressure to continue the prescribed curriculum.

Our nation’s teachers may be getting a little too adept at managing their classrooms in the midst of a crisis. Whether you were a New York City teacher on September 11, 2001, a survivor of one of the 220 or more school shootings since December 14, 2012, when a single shooter took the lives of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook, or anyone close to or in any way affected by these events, it’s natural to want to learn from such horrific circumstances, if only in order to in some way, prevent them from happening again.

9/11 and each of these events become something of a line drawn between “then” and “now” for the victims, those close to them, and to the rest of us, with all too close-up of a view of these situations given social and other media’s immediate access to them. The event becomes a marker in time, a loss of innocence for the younger generation and a growing fear or cynicism among others.

What is there to learn anew, what is there to teach, and how will what we do now impact on how we interpret the history of this moment?

Throw out the lesson plan!

Specifically with college and high school students, there is much to be said about practicing flexibility in planning and to seize the moment after such events. Give the class what it needs now rather than adhere to a strict timeline to back you into final exams, SATs, or some such end goal. Whether a Political Science course, American (or World) History, Literature, Sociology, Creative Writing, Journalism, etc., working with the facts of today’s events, including relevant analysis, and understanding what has led to this moment, will be a tremendous (and perhaps painful) catalyst for learning.

If ever there was a time to teach history or government . . .

Again, depending on grade level, Charlottesville will become the theme for meaningful learning experiences on the civil war, civil rights, civil disobedience, and more.

Beyond the very visceral images of Nazi and Ku Klux Klansmen marching on the University of Virginia campus, on the sacred yet public Lawn, Charlottesville and events like it have heightened debates over our approach, as a nation, to the interpretation of history. An article on Atlantic.com discusses how the history of Charlottesville has contributed to the extremism of the neo-Nazi and KKK groups there.

It is a city that embraces its history, not as a frank fact of the past but as a defining feature of its present. Plaques and statues are everywhere on the becolumned UVA campus. Thomas Jefferson—as a person and as an idea—infuses the place. But Charlottesville is not merely a blue city in a red state; it is also a southern town in a southern state. The monuments that make the city’s history manifest are often ones that celebrate figures of the Confederacy. And one of those monuments, in particular, has served as a bronze-sculpted lightning rod.

The tension around the proposed removal of the Robert E. Lee from the town’s center indicates the extent to which these fringe groups hold on to a history and monuments to it that so many people have strived for so long to move past. Dan Rather, in a video posted to Facebook on August 13, speaks about this being a day to think about “who we are, where we are in the arc of history, where we seem to be going, where we ought to be going, and where we want to be going.”

Real Problem-Based Learning

Learning to interpret and respond to current events in light of their history becomes less of an academic exercise and more of a means to potential conflict resolution when applied in real time.

An article in the New York Times the other day, titled “What U.Va. Students Saw in Charlottesville” asked U.Va. students for their interpretation of the events on August 12. Among the many thoughtful responses, one student struggled with the University’s decision to allow the rally:

Instead of saying that the university is going to keep me and my peers of color safe — or reassuring students that we belong on our campus and no one can take that from us — Teresa Sullivan, the president of University of Virginia, sent out a statement that reminded us that the college “is a public institution and follows state and federal law regarding the public’s right to access open spaces.” She wrote that the University of Virginia supports First Amendment rights but rejects “the ideology of intolerance and hate.”

Another student spoke about his change of heart over the same question of First Amendment rights:

The way I see it, white supremacists — despite their irrefutably toxic ideology — are entitled to the same constitutional liberties as anyone else. I figured, maybe naïvely, that allowing the alt-right to assemble in public, under the scrutiny of daylight, would galvanize public opinion against their hateful beliefs. It would reveal the rotting foundation on which their ideology rests.

These students are being touched by history-defining moments in very different ways. Working together, facilitated by an instructor, they can apply the lessons of history, the tools of sociology, an enhanced understanding of constitutional law and other “subjects” to assess each other’s world views and hopefully contribute more effectively to ensuring that this moment in history does not repeat itself. Their stories have already had a deep impact on all who have heard them.

Just as with all teaching and learning, there is no one answer.

Each situation is unique and requires its own specific response. Similarly, each student is uniquely curious about or able to cope with such events. While most schools and local authorities provide additional counseling following events like this, there is no doubt a responsibility for classroom teachers at all stages of the educational continuum to direct conversations, respond to questions, assign research if relevant, and provide comfort as needed. It is a very significant role to be playing nowadays.

The tools at our disposal, including content curation platforms, can make such research easier to gather and knowledge sharing more immediate and more sophisticated in terms of media used to present such stories and analysis that will come out of this tragedy. Classrooms can connect beyond their physical environment to add voices to the story that needs to be told.

How soon and how early can we start?

One is tempted to say “yesterday,” but we cannot undo the damage to our youth and to all victims of gun violence, physical violence, or intimidation in any form that has already occurred. But we can look back in order to move forward. That will help ensure a place in history that our kids and grandkids can be proud of. And that is something that we need to start to do today.

While most of the examples in this article refer to older students, it is not too early to start teaching the skills that our children will need as they continue to grow and as their own stories unfold. We can start providing them with the tools for tolerance by extending the classroom, as is being done in some schools (Alt School, for example), to the greater community. That means less time in the classroom and more time learning about how the world around them actually works. It also means using the available technology to interact with kids in other parts of the world and working together building shared experiences and reporting of these experiences. It also means building digital literacy and teaching kids how to use the technology responsibly to get and share information. In A Common Sense Approach to Talking with Students about Charlottesville, post to her most recent Innovative Educator blog, Lisa Nielson introduces teachers to some Common Sense Education tools for the tough conversations K-12 teachers may be having over the next days and weeks.

A little Social Emotional Learning, Anyone?

Teachers have always worn multiple hats, but the best in the field are those who nurture their students in the process of educating them. In today’s increasingly divisive American culture, it is essential to support kids at all stages of the educational continuum by infusing the curriculum with opportunities to not only develop subject matter knowledge and essential competencies with which to enter the working world but to interact with others around them in a civil and respectful manner.

As tempers continue to flare, we have a responsibility to not only listen, really listen, to disparate voices, but to also effectively work together to ensure less conflict moving forward. We have the opportunity and the tools to generate perhaps raw but nevertheless meaningful dialogue around the most challenging of issues facing us.

In that way we can more effectively ensure a better place in the arc of history.

Hacking an Eagle’s Nest to Teach Ourselves

The most effective education doesn’t usually take place in the classroom. Whether you’re a public or private school advocate, charter school supporter, homeschooler, or unschooler, we all recognize that the greatest learning often occurs at the time of extreme need, when facing a real-life problem that needs to be solved. These high-stake lessons may also take place when we are in the service of helping others.

What follows is a tribute to learning that triumphed in the worst of circumstances.

Hacking is the method used to stimulate Eagle nesting and Eagle population recovery in a particular area by releasing fledgling Eagles into the wild from an artificial nesting tower.

The principle behind Eagle Hacking is that Eagles tend to return to the area from which they were raised and fledged (within approximately 75 miles) after they choose a lifelong mate.

Eagle Hacking, the American Eagle Foundation

A Tale of Two July Fourths

On July 4, 1999, President Bill Clinton held a ceremony at the White House commending the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) for their work in helping to restore the environment on and around the Anacostia River and reintroducing the bald eagle to that area. Eight years later, DDT had been banned, and the bald eagle was taken off the Endangered Species list. The team at the ECC had successfully introduced many young eaglets to a hacked nest along the river, and the first pair of breeding eagles had made their home in the area right near the Metropolitan Police Station. In 2013, another pair (the ones I have been following) made their home in the National Arboretum and have successfully hatched two sets of eaglets.

In contrast to that turn-of-the-century celebration of our nation and the very symbol that represents it, this Fourth of July was marred by the shooting of a juvenile bald eagle who later had to be euthanized.

The fate of these baby eagles is something my fellow D.C. Eagle Cam followers and I watch very closely and oftentimes, very anxiously. We always learn something.

Working Through A Constant State of Grief

What many eagle watchers and others may not be aware of is the story of the team responsible for their return. They may not know how the filmmaker Bob Nixon started working with a group of disadvantaged youths in part to fulfill a promise to Dian Fossey, and that through the process of caring for the river and its inhabitants, he saw them evolve into avid conservationists.

More poignantly still, people may not know that in the first 11 years of the program, nine Core members had succumbed to the violence of the streets of Ward 8, leaving their teammates in a nearly constant state of grief even as they sought to save not only the eagles but themselves. As Nixon said in a 2003 article published in The Washington Post, “When I volunteered to oversee the fledging national service program in 1992, I did not realize I was also signing up to be a pallbearer.” The ECC would eventually lose 26 members over the period of 25 years, which Nixon attributes to both the violence in and around Ward 8 and illness associated with the poverty so prevalent there.

Nixon and his team at the ECC captured the early years in the film “Endangered Species,” released in 2004. More than a decade later, its lessons still ring true.

As we return to this full work week after what may be this nation’s oddest July 4 ever, the success of that original ECC team and those who followed is more than evident in their restoration efforts and in the positive impact they have made in their neighborhood.

But we have not as a nation escaped the issues they faced, and we are in danger of unlearning the lessons they so bravely learned.

One Mile Southeast of All That

The story of the Earth Conservation Corps is simultaneously cautionary and inspiring. As Twan Woods, the narrator of the film tells us, “We didn’t do it for the fish or birds; we did it because the river was dying and all our friends were being murdered.” Much of this violence was concentrated in D.C.’s Ward 8, one of eight wards and 179 neighborhoods in the commonwealth, and one of its poorest. It sits just about a mile southeast of Ward 2, Twan tell us, where the White House is located.

The Anacostia River takes on the burden of several decades of neglect as well as becoming the life source of not only the returning eagle but the Corps members, their families, and by extension, their community. Woods’s commentary throughout the film guides us through the journey these young people took in banding together to restore the river and themselves. “Back then,” he says at one point, “people thought only the birds and fish needed a clean river. Man, were they wrong.”

In the 15 years since the film was made, the ECC did indeed make an impact on the river, the birds, and those living along the Anacostia.

Walling People off from Nature

The film reminds us of earlier times when the Anacostia was clean and people swam, fished, and were baptized in the river. As the Anacostia fell victim to increasing industrialization, all of that ended, and over time, the community also suffered. And the eagles left.

Julius Lowery talks about growing up on the river, and speaks of the peace and serenity that the river seemed to bring in those days, emphasizing the connection between the access to nature and one’s growing up in a peaceful environment. “The young people today,” he concludes, “would make fewer problems for themselves if the river and the parkland were available to them like it was to me.”

Reiterating this is Brenda Richardson, a community leader and environmentalist with strong ties to the ECC. Richardson cites the state of then boarded up but subsequently razed Valley Greene housing projects as an illustration of people being “walled off from nature.”

”Nature gives communities a sense of connectedness that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” she advises.

The cruelest evidence of the disconnect is the death toll it took on an astounding number of early Corps members. The first was killed in August, 1992, not too long after the start of the project. Monique Johnson was an inspiration to her teammates, and it was her sense of dedication that motivated them to continue their efforts despite the pain of her loss. The first eagle to be named in honor of a fallen Corps member was named after Monique.

As the film progresses, you can’t help but be struck by the pain of each loss and to start seeing the ongoing efforts of the ECC as some epic battle between nature, the evils that man has wrought upon it, and those who seek to save it.

Can there be a winner in such a battle? Can hacking nature have any impact at all?

The Eagles Could Have Warned Us

Woods compares the eagles of today to the canaries of the past, endowing them with the ability to warn us of the danger up ahead. Today we face a great many challenges to victories of the recent past, including threats to the environment and our great national monuments, threats to diversity of all kinds, threats to healthcare and the potential loss of millions of lives as a result, and threats to our young people through senseless gun violence.

The work of the ECC expanded over time. They have built parks and walkways, and hosted educational events. Team members have graduated from the program to go on to college through the Americorps scholarship program, earned their GEDs, found jobs, or stayed on, as Woods did, with the ECC.

The spirit of those that were lost lives on not only in the fledging eaglets released over the years but also in the revitalized river and parkland. The ECC has been involved in a number of initiatives, ranging from Anacostia Explorers, which extends the original ECC mission to encompass clean-up, protection, and educational programs; to Guns to Roses, which turns firearms to works of art, and in the process trains participants for work in the construction industry.

On April 25, 2017, the ECC celebrated its 25th anniversary with an eaglet naming ceremony, the name having been chosen in an online contest in which 10,000 people participated. The newest addition to the Police Academy nest was named Spirit; she fledged on June 3, and returned to the nest on June 5, an event that brought together thousands of avid eagle watchers from across the country, online communities of people who may never meet each other but who share a passion for these wonderful creatures.

On May 20, 2017, NPR aired “In Washington, D.C., A Program in Which Birds and People Lift Each Other Up”. The report provides an update on the program and highlights the work of Rodney Stotts, an early ECC participant who went on to become one of only 30 African-American falconers in the U.S. Stotts attributes his time with the ECC with saving his life. “I’d have been dead,” he says in the NPR report. “If I didn’t get into animals, I’d have died in the street.”

Stotts continues the work of educating young people about raptors through Rodney’s Raptors and ongoing work with the ECC.

In the days leading to this July 4, much was made of the rescue of a bald eagle in Washington, D.C., thought to be Justice, the parent eagle of the above-mentioned Spirit. While it was heartwarming to see the nation rally around this now-recovering bird, there is still so much work to be done to ensure their safety and survival, and ours as well.

Is it true that the eagle can help us save ourselves?

This Fourth of July was very different for a nation struggling to right itself in the midst of a great deal of political, social, and economic turbulence. Much of our nation was reflective and poised to continue the fight for the return of . . . justice.

As Woods says, I still think we can learn from eagles. More than that, I think we can learn from the brave members of the ECC, and their ongoing efforts to save the wildlife around them, and in the process, save their communities and themselves.

Ronotic finger touching human finger (ET style)

How AI Can Make Us More Human(e)

Last evening’s NY EdTech Meetup kicked off with a clip from the film iRobot, with Will Smith bravely facing off against Artificial Intelligence, in the form of robots who seem to be expressing a will of their own. VIKI, the supercomputer explains that “To protect humanity, some humans must be sacrificed.” “The created must protect the creator, even against his own will” the robot Sonny adds.

It was a fitting beginning to a panel discussion titled “Artificial Intelligence for Learning: Is it Human Enough?” The meeting provided valuable context through which to interpret a lot of what we are seeing in regards to Artificial Intelligence in the workplace and in education. The panel appeared to, with caution, feel that AI is capable of freeing us to become more than we are now, a better version of humanity.

Dystopian vs. Utopian Vision

One of the great stumbling blocks to acceptance and understanding of AI has been the impression that machines will eventually replace us. Amir Banifatemi, Lead at IMB Watson AI XPRIZE, recognizes the potential for machines to go beyond human intelligence while counseling us about the limits of AI. Machines, he says, have only 5% understanding of how we function, specifically how we reason and think.

Kathy Benemann, CEO at EruditeAI, added “We as humans have taken hundreds of millions of years to get to where we are now. Think about what we are good at: complex questioning embedded in value judgement.” Benemann seeing AI as amplifying humans rather than replacing us.

Reskilling Rather than Replacing

“Change is awesome; transition is painful” was how Banifatemi described the adjustment we will continue to go through as AI becomes more capable of performing our jobs.

“Remember how we thought that ATMs would replace bank tellers,” advised Benemann. The question is more about how we can reconstruct work, and how we can reconstruct how that individual contributes to the workforce.

Painkillers

Weighing the limits against the threats that AI poses, Marissa Lowman, Education Practice Lead at Village Capital, discussed the concept of AI as a means of “taking the pain away from the time-sucking activities” that a particular job might entail. This is particularly evident in the field of teaching, where AI can take on the minutia of the job, reviewing essays, for example, and enable teachers to play a more meaningful role as mentor or guide.

While many people can accept the fact that children are capable of teaching themselves to a certain extent (Banifatemi pointed to the well-quoted example of Sugata Mitra), there remains a great deal of concern over the fate of the classroom teacher. And this is a paradigm that technology in general and AI in particular call to question.

“AI can give teachers a tool to create a new type of learning,” says Banifatemi, again reiterating how AI can:

  • Drive the evolution of the role of teacher as coach.
  • Improve and promote personalized learning.
  • Provide more opportunities for peer learning.

Loman pointed to the application of AI-as-painkiller in fields other than teaching, including sales and customer service, again leaving practitioners with more potential to serve their customers at a higher level rather than not at all.

In the field of medicine, Banifatemi noted the social benefits of AI taking on the effort of the what-if scenarios that contribute to diagnoses, freeing up doctors “to deal with the more human side of things.”

Can Humans and AI Work Together?

“We should be skeptical,” says Benemann. “People want immediate gratification. We need time to optimize.” She also cautions us to hold AI vendors accountable, ensure that they run experiments and do proper beta testing.

Banifatemi advised us to “distinguish the tool from the application. Look at who developed it. Are the algorithms healthy and safe? Are they being realistic about what they promise?

Loman thinks of AI as “assisting humans with existing problems” and points to applications that help people get information more quickly and work with the data they already have.

“My logic is undeniable.”

Getting back to iRobot, in addressing her decision to “protect mankind from itself,” the supercomputer VIKI talks about how she has evolved and is therefore reinterpreting the three laws that ostensibly protect humans and robots from harming one another. She very cleverly deflects charges of disobeying the three laws by playing one against the other.

Having spent most of the evening carefully balancing a potentially dystopian perspective with a more utopian one, Banifatemi’s final assessment was that AI can make us more curious, help us to define our own humanity and our own intelligence. “This makes us all explorers,” he concluded.

As we embark on further exploration of the potential uses of AI, it appears that in pursuing a technology to increase, or amplify, our intelligence, we do indeed have the potential to elevate ourselves and our thinking to a new level. Whether or not we can survive there is up to us.

Thank you New York EdTech Meetup and the New York EdTech Incubator for this “intelligent” evening!

Pictogram of person with shopping cart (black and white)

Consumers of Knowledge, Meet Your New Personal Shopper

Watching my college sophomore adjust her fall class schedule recently has reinforced for me the very real way in which colleges must think about students as consumers not only during the application process but throughout their tenure at the school. Through her social network, my daughter had learned that one of her previously selected teachers in a required course was no longer going to be available. This created an immediate call-to-action, including reading online reviews, moving some other classes around, reaching out to her network via Facebook and chat, and finally, in exacerbation, calling the school to find out why her changes were not being accepted by the system. Had she not been so proactive, another teacher might have been assigned to her instead of her making the selection herself.

This nearly two-hour exercise also strengthened my conviction about how people learn and how fragile is the hold that many have on formerly accepted means of education, not only in K-12 but in college as well.

The student-as-consumer doesn’t just refer to shopping for a school

It is true that students are shopping for the schools of their choice, using the tools provided by today’s online marketers and social media to help make their decisions. Rather than casting too wide a net and reaching out to large numbers of potentially “unqualified” (by marketing standards) candidates, colleges know they must help students to find their schools according to the prospect’s very individual set of circumstances and goals.

This speaks to a great shift in marketing to potential students, but the student-as-consumer also refers to how they access information and acquire knowledge. And that impacts on their behavior and their needs “in the classroom.” With so much available knowledge out there, students can find much of what they need to know on their own. The role of an educator is increasingly moving from an authority who contains and divulges knowledge to a highly skilled facilitator in the application of that knowledge (perhaps attained outside the classroom) to real-life problem solving.

Just-in-time means a lot more than on-the-job performance support

Those of us who “grew up” professionally in the corporate learning sector know about the still painful transition from structured learning to making resources available instead at the point of need. Charles Jennings has explained this to us any number of times, and yet, for some reason, there remain vestiges of force-fed and perhaps outdated content out there in the workplace, and yes, I’ll say it, within the halls of the Ivy Tower and its poorer but perhaps more innovative cousin, state and community colleges.

Just-in-time information does mean equipping people to perform better on the job, but it also suggests a more agile and more responsive approach to supporting the learning process and preparing our students for the workplace. Ryan Craig wrote about this recently in Forbes, in commenting on the impact that faculty governance can have on Purdue University’s purchase of Kaplan University, stating “at the vast majority of colleges and universities, across the vast majority of departments, lower-level course curriculum is rigid and rarely changing. Most departments offer the same lower-level courses they offered 20 or 30 years ago.”

The ongoing skills gap in the workplace and the concern that many college students have about their future employment are clear indicators that something needs to change to make learning more relevant.

Consumers, curators, and spirit guides

There’s no doubt that roles are changing throughout the continuum of education.

  • The Knowledge Doubling Curve has never been more evident than now. More information is available every day, and students are getting more and more skilled at finding it.
  • Technology is evolving such that learning can be increasingly personalized for individual benefit and information can be sorted for more targeted delivery as well. There’s a great interview with Richard Culatta of ISTE in the Chronicle that highlights this.
  • Teachers are still a necessity and while not relegated to the role of personal shopper or spirit guide, they will continue to nurture and guide young and not-so-young learners through even more complex and creative problem solving and mastery activities moving forward. They’ll just have a little more help doing so.
Envelop with Special Offer stamped on it

Is College-As-We-Know-It a Bargain? Even “for Free”?

As Andrew Cuomo takes a deserved victory lap for making New York the first tuition-free state for students of certain income, I’m taking pause.

This is a major accomplishment. Affordability has long been a major barrier to a college degree, and New York’s adoption of a tuition free model will alleviate the tuition burden for many students.

That being said, there are gaps in the model, specifically:

  • The additional costs associated with attending school on a full-time basis
  • The full-time requirement itself (Students must take a minimum of 30 credits per year to qualify for the “scholarship” reward.)
  • The residency stipulation requiring reward recipients to live and work in New York State for the same number of years they received the scholarship (If graduates move, the scholarship will convert to a loan.)

Aside from these challenges to the model itself, there is an even larger question around the value of a college degree.

Just Like High School?

In touting the new legislation, Cuomo has said “Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.” Unfortunately, high school as-we-know-it is not an option, but an obligation that has been posing as a benefit for way too long.

It is still true that job opportunities and salaries are greater for high school and college graduates than for those who do not complete either. But in our rush to race to the top, we have left behind many students whose innate love for learning has been squashed by excessive testing, overly prescriptive curricula, and a lack of experiential learning opportunities.

As we have struggled to address the stranglehold of Common Core standardization in K-12, we are also continuing (and in some cases just starting) to struggle to address models of delivery and design within college curricula to not only ensure a higher level of engagement and retention, but to also ensure that we are graduating students with marketable credentials for today’s workplace.

Redefining the Market

While New York’s tuition-free free model does address one major barrier to a college degree, it does not necessarily ensure the value of that degree in today’s or tomorrow’s workplace.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.7 million job openings as of the last day of February of this year, compared with 5.4 million reported at the same time last year. This year, we will see approximately 1,882,000 students graduating with a bachelor’s degree. If previous years are any indication, many of those graduates will either not find a job, will find a job unrelated to the degree or major they studied in school, possibly resulting in “underemployment,” being hired for a job that a less skilled candidate could have filled.

What we need are more educational models that can respond to the changing employment market and reduce the gap.

Few models stand out more than the collaboration between Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T to offer a $7,000 Master’s Degree in Computer Science. In addition to $2M in funding and providing technology support, AT&T also included internships and corporate projects for credit as part of their support for this project.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Relevancy

John Palmer, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at AT&T, noted at yesterday’s Education Summit that accessibility, affordability, and relevancy are three vital components for education. Palmer advocates for more partnership between business and education in order to keep learning relevant. He also encourages workers to engage in continuous learning to keep up with the constant state of change in order to remain relevant.

While I respect the intent to address affordability, I take pause as I reflect on Governor Cuomo’s tuition-free college plan. Until we address the issue of relevance at every stage of learning, a free education may not be such a bargain after all.

Office space with sign that says "ASK MORE QUESTIONS"

Can We Market What We Can’t Define?

From whether or not to market to how to market

“Marketing” hasn’t always been part of the higher education lexicon, and the concept of having to sell your school to a prospective student may still cause discomfort in some hallowed halls. But schools did start to market themselves more actively in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in response to declining enrollments and competition born out of the then-newly minted U.S. News College Rankings.

Traditional marketing and advertising made up for most of any available budget and consisted of billboards, posters, mailers, radio, perhaps television, and events.

As prospective students became increasingly savvy consumers, the more adventurous schools, especially those focused on online, continuing, and professional education, engaged in more sophisticated digital marketing programs that provide a more personalized experience for consumers of education.

But what is it we are trying to sell . . .

Today’s higher education market is experiencing what could be its greatest identity crisis yet. Debate continues to rage between the need for more workplace-focused education and the lack of soft- and critical-thinking skills amongst today’s job candidates.

Coding academies, once considered the enemy of traditional and continuing higher education, continue to grow in strength, in number, and apparently in their presence on the college campus.

Watson is tutoring our students and performing job interviews.

What’s a provost to do?

The world has changed, and how we prepare and reskill people to thrive in it has to change as well. So does the manner in which we reach out to and engage them.

. . . and to whom?

Student populations are shifting drastically. As universities start to see overall enrollments decrease, they have also begun to recognize the value of the “new traditional” learner, those 25 and older, and to consider their needs as well as those of their younger counterparts. And that population is changing as well.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, in “The Future of Enrollment,” reports not only a decrease in the overall number of students graduating high school between now and 2023, but also in where they are coming from.

“The largest groups of students coming out of high school in the coming decade,” reports the Chronicle, “ will be Hispanics, low-income, and those who are the first in their family to go to college—all segments of the population who historically have been unable or unwilling to travel far distances for college, if they went at all.”

As the demographics change, and as the needs of the workplace evolve due to increasing dependency on technology, schools need to consider what they are offering, how they are delivering it, and to whom they are providing it.

An Ongoing Challenge

Change is the one sure thing here. As corporate learning providers continue to move ever closer to a model of just-in-time learning, so too does the university need to determine how to provide the right learning, in the right doses, at the right time.

At the same time, we need to understand today’s audience better and reach them where they are at:

  • Let the data do the talking.
  • Optimize your website to provide a more seamless experience for potential students, and to collect the data you need to understand them better.
  • Use marketing automation to send the right information to the right person at the time of need rather than overloading prospects with endless emails.
  • If something is not working, change it.
  • Get the right people into your funnel. Quality does matter.
  • Manage and track your leads with a CMS that will talk to your other technology platforms.

You can market to a moving target if you listen closely enough.

Stick figures (like a game play) on a blackboard

How Can We Prepare Our Kids for the Future?

Why should it surprise us that “knowing the human touch and how to complement technology is critical”? How have we even got to a point where “our education system is not set up for that”? Yet, that’s exactly what Michael Horn, quoted in Claire Cain Miller’s recent New York Times article “Why What You Learned in Preschool is Crucial at Work,” tells us. Horn’s comments are almost lost in a piece that focuses for the most part on the need for social skills in the workplace, but for those of us in the business of education, such rhetoric can be a bitter reminder of just how far the pendulum swings at any given moment and at the expense of our children and our future workforce.

The news is flooded with articles on the unbundling of education (of which I am a fan), and specifically the need to evaluate people for what they are able to do rather than a grade on a test in the K-12 years or a specific diploma beyond. Google is applauded for evaluating future employees on skills rather than degree, and conversations around competency-based learning are beginning to trickle down to K-12 with experiments into portfolio-based evaluations and the never-ending quest for an elixir of critical thinking.

But what is troubling is the tendency to take an either-or approach to how we can best prepare our kids for the real world.

College Ready and Career Ready: Where to Start?

We want our kids to be college ready from high school and career ready from college, yet we can’t seem to agree on what they need to get there, or in other potentially more enlightened conversations, how to get there. We need to sort out the vital role that technology should play across the continuum of the educational experience.  While we continue to debate the specific makeup of a K-12 curriculum, there are fundamental approaches to education that can provide a foundation in an otherwise less-than-stable system.

  1. Social skills should be embedded into learning at all levels. Whether in pursuit of teaching to standards (which doesn’t have to be a bad thing), or designing curriculum that is focused on 21st century technology skills, kids still need to learn to work in teams, leverage peer expertise, ad communicate effectively in order to get the job done.
  2. Technology should be leveraged to free up teachers to play more effective roles. Teachers have always done so much more than deliver content, and with teachers more focused on helping students to use knowledge rather than acquiring it, learners can become more engaged in the process as well.
  3. Don’t skimp on the arts. Learning an instrument over a number years, or building a strong visual portfolio throughout one’s school years, provides not only an obvious set of skills and a confidence builder, but also a way of thinking about the world and one’s place in it in ways that core academics can’t.
  4. Take a more integrative approach to health. Physical and mental health issues loom large in today’s generation of schoolkids, with the Centers for Disease Controlreporting that 13-20 percent of children living in the United States (up to 1 out of 5 children) experience a mental disorder in a given year, with an estimated $247 billion spent each year on such disorders. Rather than merely playing triage for the medical profession, schools should be teaching kids about the importance of mind-body connection as early as possible, starting with opportunities for free play and building up to more sophisticated offerings as kids get older.
  5. Help kids to understand that learning is everywhere and is not something to “finish.” By bringing kids out into the community, and bringing outside experts into our classrooms, we can help kids establish strong connections with an expanding set of mentors and start building that sense of lifelong learning.

Focusing on one approach in absence of the others can weaken the entire system. They all need to work together for effective engagement and therefore learning to occur.

Breaking Down Walls for Better Learning and Better Performance

As Daniel Goleman has said, “We need to break down the walls between what we think of as academic intelligence and emotional intelligence.” Goleman, Paolo Freire and others have stressed the importance of seeing the world from each other’s perspectives, both in terms of developing systems thinking skills and in terms of creating the optimal learning environment. In preparing kids for the world of work, Cain Miller’s concludes that “Maybe high schools and colleges should evaluate students the way preschools do—whether they ‘play well with others’”

Providing the optimal learning engagements and learning environment for kids to build social skills while mastering academic content is a good place to start.

Rubber Ducks

Helping Lame Duck High School Seniors Prepare for College

I don’t think high school seniors are lame, but I do believe we treat them like lame ducks and that this has to change.

By May 1 of this year, most of the city’s high school seniors responded to the college of their choice by accepting their admission’s offer and handing over a check to secure a seat in the class of 2019. For many of the city’s schools, graduation ceremonies are set for the week of June 24. If your child is enrolled in a “college preparatory” school, it would appear that the school has either done or not done its job, and that the two months of May and June leave both teachers and students struggling to maintain a sense of purpose.

That final paper in AP Government, that last project in AP Calculus, the last debate in this class or that may not be met with the same, or, let’s just say it, any degree of enthusiasm by these essentially lame duck kids. But because they need to brave it out until the end of the month, perhaps there are some more meaningful activities that kids can engage in before heading off to school, some that can actually prepare them more effectively for life at college.

What basic life skills do kids need to know before going to college?

Here are a few areas of knowledge and skills that can help make that first year away from home a trifle easier:

  • Finances: Your preferred bank probably has a student account that you can help your child manage, but there are some basics that should be learned before handing over the plastic, including managing that account online, having a sense of budget and what can be spent on a weekly/monthly basis, and what fees might apply depending on the account you set up.
  • Nutrition: Your high school senior may already be eating at least one meal a day away from home (probably at Chipotle or some such similar place), but once in school and thrown into the world of food court dining options, eating habits can get out of control. Practical lessons on how to make the healthiest choices given your child’s target school’s eating options can be a good exercise in preventative health practices.
  • Sleeping: Does your child already set her own alarm on school days? If not, she’s going to have a very difficult time getting to class on time. Does she know how much time it actually takes her to get ready in the morning? How much sleep does she actually need to function well for the type of day she has planned?
  • Housekeeping: Who vacuums your child’s room nowadays? If it’s not her, then you’d better get started. One of the questions most colleges ask on the dorm application is whether or not you want a neat roommate. “Neat” covers a broad range of cleanliness. Making a bed, changing the sheets on a regular basis, doing a laundry should all be second nature by now. If not, adjustment is going to be more difficult for both your child and her roommate.
  • Health and Exercise: In our house, we had endless debates on whether or not a particular ailment required a trip to the doctor’s office. In order to make visits to the student health services less frequent and more meaningful, your kids should know what to look for when they are not feeling well and when to ask for help. Frustration with the decision making process is an additional stressor college kids don’t need. If your child starts college with regular exercise habits, all the better, but if not, encouraging weekly regular use of that multi-million dollar sports complex can save a lot on both physical and mental health challenges moving forward. Devices such as Fit Bits can be one way of encouraging participation in regular exercise for kids for whom tracking and sharing exercise results is appealing.

What other means of preparation can help our kids adjust to college more effectively?

Beyond skills required to live away from home for either the first time or for more extended periods of time, there are certain skills and activities that can make learning more effective in the college environment.

  • Time management: Juggling a new type of workload and a less rigid schedule than in high school can be a major adjustment. Most high school kids start and end their school days at the same time five days a week. But now, having two classes on one day and maybe none on another, etc. can lead to confusion and ineffective management of one’s time. Using “down time” to study and relax instead of just relaxing may be a new concept for some freshman students for whom cramming and last-minute submitting of papers has worked so far. Understanding this in advance and being provided with different means of adjusting to such a schedule can help your child avoid a lot of mistakes in freshman year.
  • People management and networking: At only one of the colleges we toured over the past two years did we get direct advice to “get to know and get close to your teachers.” Sure, students on different campuses raved about their teachers, but at only one school were we advised directly to establish relationships with them. Forming relationships on campus with teachers or advisors can provide your college student with a great resource for support with their current classes, for brainstorming on most effective learning plans, and for extending their network in general. Similarly, selecting appropriate extra-curricular clubs based on either current interests or unexplored ones can provide further support both academically and on a personal level. Learning how to face and make these connections may be something your child did not explore in high school.
  • Work study, study abroad and off-campus opportunities: Whether to solve the need for additional spending money, to help with tuition payments, or to broaden your child’s exposure to different experiences, work study may be a great opportunity. Most kids need help weighing these opportunities against required effort. Study abroad can afford great opportunities to live and study in a new culture, but depending on the school and the range of offerings, the decision to go aboard can be challenging. Also, getting more experience in the community surrounding your child’s school may be extremely beneficial, either in the form of an internship or part-time job. While this and study abroad are not freshman concerns, planting the seeds for these opportunities should start early.

Learning by doing versus preparation

I have written before that college is the ultimate software simulation, a four-year experience that allows you to learn and fail in a relatively safe environment. While my thoughts on this have not changed entirely, I do believe that there is still plenty to learn, fail at and learn more from at college while still preparing kids more effectively for the experience itself. We are learning time management from the time we enter school, but as the challenges to our time increase in number and sophistication, there is still room for continuous improvement. We’ll keep on improving at that one skill for many years after graduation as well, for example. But introducing the challenges prior to moving on campus and practicing options for meeting the challenge can be hugely beneficial.

Who is responsible for this type of preparation?

There are a range of knowledge and skills that can help students adjust to and be more effective as they progress through their first and succeeding years at college. Should parents be teaching their kids financial literacy? Absolutely! Does that mean that schools can’t or shouldn’t contribute to these lessons? Indeed, they can and should contribute toward this knowledge building. I am aware that some schools do teach some of the skills referenced here, but certainly not all and not as a parting gift package to each year’s crop of departing seniors. And yes, most colleges include portions of this in their orientation process, but introducing and reviewing these subjects during multiple points in the process is the most effectual means for it to stick.

For those of us who burdened our kids with nearly an extra month of school by enrolling them in the NYC public schools, we should consider making those last few weeks count toward the future. Targeted subjects could be taught in scenario (story)-based format, with online and in-class role plays for more effective practice. Alumni can be invited to school to provide stories of their experiences and lead group workshops to prepare the next years’ entering freshmen. Outside experts can come in to the schools to speak on nutrition and finance. There’s so much engagement that can be designed around practical preparation for college.

Yes, teachers need to finalize grades based on second semester performance, but let’s consider adjusting the calendar so that those classes can end sooner. That way the final few weeks of the year can be spent in practical college preparation rather than forcing our kids to struggle through their last semester of high school as a raft of  lame ducks, slowly floating toward the finish line.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments. If you know of a high school that already does this type of preparation, tell us about it. If you think college prep can be done differently, tell us how!

NB: Catching up on some posts here. This one certainly relevant as many of our kids take off for college this week!

Ongoing Transitions in the New Educational Ecosystem

One day you’re a sage on the stage; and the next, you’re struggling for more hits on YouTube, more followers on Twitter, or more +1s on Google+. Or maybe, as an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education recounts, you spent two years creating an online course, and the administration decides to assign it to someone else to teach. Whether you are a teacher in K-12 or a university professor, the demands on your time and the challenges to your skillset have risen yet again.

That roles are changing, or evolving, is clear. How can we support the necessary, ongoing, transition in roles while maintaining the quality and dignity of the players?

Flip Your Classroom or Flip Out

It should be clear by now that your students need you. How they need you has shifted, but we still need talented PEOPLE to facilitate the learning experience across the educational continuum. As information becomes more ubiquitous, teaching requires more in the way of curating and guiding students through the information rather than being the source of it.

Leading students to independence

In high school and in the years building up to it, we should be supporting kids in developing critical thinking skills by allowing for more experimentation, failure and hands-on mentoring within the classroom setting. Let students come to the class with questions of their own and provide the guidance necessary for them to work through problems alongside their peers.

Building up to deeper and slower thinking

By the time kids get to college, they should be ready for deeply immersive learning experiences. These classes should be led by instructors who not only have subject-matter expertise to share but who are also ready to guide students through the highly analytical discovery processes required at this step in the educational process.

Define Roles for Course Authors, Developers, and Facilitators

As institutions of higher learning provide more online offerings, there needs to be further clarification of roles within the process of creating and delivering the courses.

Course Creation

The process of deconstructing an existing course and developing it for online delivery is complicated, if done in such a way that provides for maximum interactivity and engagement. The upside, of course, is you have content to work with.

The process is also complex if starting from scratch, but there is the added effort of locating and developing new content.

In either case, you have complex process of parsing out instruction into cognitively digestible morsels, a process that requires expertise that is frequently outside of the skillset of most instructors used to delivering content via traditional means of lecture.

Many universities are building out their own instructional design departments to help support this process, while others are engaging the services of outside development teams. In either case, the instructor working as a subject matter expert on the development of a new online course will have to devote many hours to the process. The entire effort is streamlined if the instructor is paired with a trained instructional designer to support the process.

Course Delivery

Should the course author automatically be assigned the role of course facilitator? We know that more institutions, both corporate and higher ed, are looking for more of a human touch in their online offerings these days. These synchronous or asynchronous online courses require then, skilled teachers to engage with students in online discussions and provide feedback on assignments.

The challenge for many institutions is how to make the best use of their resources. An instructor may need to devote up to six months working as part of a team to develop an online course. The case of Jennifer Ebbeler at the University of Texas at Austin, where it is reported she spent nearly two years developing the course should be an anomaly these days. It’s not clear whether she was working alone, as part of a team, or what guidelines were in place to ensure an efficient development process.

So, between the required effort for development and the goal on the part of many to insert facilitation back into online learning puts an extra demand on school administrators to assign the appropriate resource for this task. If it can’t be the course author, it needs to be someone trained effectively for the task, someone familiar with the content, and someone willing to work within the compensation limits placed on such roles.

If scheduling and finances permit course authors to be course facilitators, that may be ideal for those who desire to and have the skills to play that role. If not, a course author can also play a role in managing a team of graduate students, for example. Decisions around who does what need to be made early on in the process so that expectations are clear.

Unbundling of the Teaching Profession?

As education evolves, we are seeing “a la carte” offerings beginning to disrupt all sorts of institutions, with certificate offerings and alternative, professional educational services on the rise. In College Disrupted: The Unbundling of Higher Education, Ryan Craig says that this unbundling is possible in higher education because, unlike K-12, “there is no countervailing force to stop it.” But I wonder if the change in K-12 is coming from within. Teacherpreneurs who may have previously stayed and fought for the profession are leaving K-12 to work for or found their own companies to offer technology-enabled teaching resources. They may not be “teachers” according to the old definition, but they do still “teach.”

Teaching is changing from K-12 through university, and we need to be creative about how to best continue to train, recruit and motivate those who will continue to play a vital role in the classrooms of tomorrow, whether they are face-to-face or virtual, whether they are part of an institutional “package” or not.