Category Archives: Innovation

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.


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!

Paradigm-Busting Lessons from Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg is blowing me away these days, again, with his taking the lead on climate change, both in terms of helping to harness the power of local government and for his willingness to contribute $15M to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to continue the work of reducing greenhouse emissions and reduce global warming.

I say “again” because Bloomberg’s actions these days remind me of his early, well, no, his entire three terms as mayor of New York City. His staunchly independent mindset and ability to effect change were reflected not only in his leadership and lifestyle choices (remember the bullpen and Gracie Mansion), but also in significant policies and accomplishments, including the no-smoking ban in restaurants, ban on trans fats, stance on gun control, the 311 number, resurgence of the New York waterfront, completion of the High Line, and more.

Of course, not everyone agreed with Mayor Mike, but the consensus is that he left the city in better condition than he found it in, and in many cases did so by questioning and challenging conventional wisdom.

And while I am tempted to take this in the obvious direction, that is to compare one rich man’s political career with another’s, I prefer to celebrate Michael Bloomberg for his courage and explore the value of paradigm busting.

Resist the need to maintain political, administrative and even physical structures out of “respect” for tradition.

The infamous bull pen is a great example of this. Mayors had traditionally occupied the most prestigious office at City Hall until Bloomberg took office, revamped the second floor chamber of the Board of Estimate, and installed about 50 cubicles there, including one for himself.

While many derided the decision for its “trading floor” design, there is much to be said for the spirit of transparency and teamwork resulting from such a set-up. A less independently-minded mayor would have been convinced to accept the status quo.

Service is its own reward, even in politics.

Bloomberg’s personal wealth did play a role in his mayoral years, relieving him of certain demands and entitlements, affording him the opportunity to finance his own campaign, accept a salary of $1 per year for each of his terms, and decline to reside in the stately Gracie Mansion as every mayor before him had. In fact, Bloomberg used his money to restore the Mansion and as a result improved the number of annual visits and its ability to fundraise thereafter.

 Stick to your . . . beliefs, despite standard party lines.

Bloomberg’s position on gun control, the right to choose, and same-sex marriage make it difficult to color him republican, and those beliefs may have cost him a successful presidential bid in the past. It’s much easier to see him for what he believes in and what he can accomplish than to label him democrat or republican, business man or politician.

While some of you may see this blog as a diversion from my usual discussions on the state of the state in education, it isn’t really that far off-topic. I see Bloomberg as a model for change within a historically prescriptive environment. His contributions to New York City were accomplished by breaking the rules in terms of how a mayor typically behaved. His direct defiance to the (admittedly grossly unpopular) president is only the most recent example of challenging a heretofore acceptable status quo (in this case that a sitting president represents the will of an entire nation).

Similarly, if we want to move the needle forward in education, we’ll need to be a little bit more like Mike, and start busting some more paradigms.

Toddler boy in office at laptop holding his hand up as if saying "stop"

How Kindergarten Can Save Corporate Learning

Continuous learning continues its slow yet steady upward trajectory in the ever-changing L&D universe. New research by Bersin by Deloitte stresses the need “to enable employees to respond effectively to change” by creating a culture of leadership and learning. The benefits to organizations that can pull this off, according to the report?

·      Two times more likely to respond effectively and efficiently to change

·      Two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets

·      Seven times more likely to manage performance problems

·      Ten times more likely to identify and develop leaders

A couple of weeks ago at the Education Summit, John Palmer spoke about the culture of learning at AT&T, and the value of continuous learning as a response to change. At AT&T, employees can opt to take advantage of upskilling development programs or choose to remain (and then leave) with relatively soon-to-sunset programs.

The two questions we should be asking ourselves about preparing for tremendous changes impacting the workforce:

1.      How agile can organizations be in responding to questions they don’t even know they will be asking in five year?

2.      How can we prepare the workers of tomorrow to be respond to change that we cannot define today?

An Infrastructure for Corporate Agility

The infrastructure on which corporate learning stands, and therefore its ability to adapt effectively to change, must include the mindset as well as the toolset to adapt. This means that learning theory needs to get converted to practice much faster than ever before. And in smaller pieces. And when people really need it. Charles Jennings has been telling us this for years. As machines become more capable of taking away many of our jobs, more people seem to be ready to listen.

If technology is threatening to eat us, we need to leverage technology to keep up, and more importantly, to remain relevant. So, now we are ready for a version of 70:20:10 that speaks more than ever to just-in-time learning, and need the tools to provide it. Just as everyone started to understand what an LMS is, we are now demanding platforms that are more flexible and that will provide access to and credit for learning from multiple sources. For a start, look at what the teams at Fuse UniversalEdCast, and Degreed are doing in terms of providing, curating, and aggregating learning.

What about the Culture of Learning?

The change starts in kindergarten with helping to shape a love of learning that goes beyond mimicry and memorization. The type of mind required to answer questions we don’t will be asked and change that we cannot yet define needs less structure and more open-minded problem solving capability.

Should we be teaching kids to code? Sure! Let’s also teach them to work with their hands as well and break down a problem into its component parts.

Here, too, let’s use the technology at hand to provide personalized learning that not only allows students to follow a path of most interest, but that understands how that student thinks and is designed accordingly.

Revising Our Perspective on Change in Education

Do you consider the current changes in education to constitute evolution or revolution?

A few years ago, in a white paper titled “Evolution, Not Revolution” I examined the then current changes in educational technology and the impact on the profession overall, especially on teachers. At that point, I was convinced that while changes may seem startling for some, they were moving us incrementally toward a more refined practice in which teachers could finally do what they do best: support student learning. It is still my belief that by putting part of what is typically transferred in the classroom online, we can free up teachers to work more closely with students on specific challenges.

This past weekend’s New York Times Magazine included a piece titled “You and I Change Our Minds. Politicians ‘Evolve’” that deconstructs the use of the word “evolve” to downplay a politician’s change in position. As Mark Leibovich points out “You and I change our minds all the time, but not so our politician; to avoid being branded as flip floppers, they ‘evolve.’

Am I about to flip flop?

Softening the Blow When People Fear Change

Quite often we hear about people who eschew change in education and question either the introduction of technology or the development of new pedagogical approaches. Those few years ago, when I wrote that white paper, I had as part of my agenda the goal of assuaging concerns among educators that technology, particularly online learning, was not something to fear. So, I titled the paper “Evolution, Not Revolution” in part to ease fears regarding technological change.

When we look at education today, there are many change factors to consider along with technology. When all is said and done, what degree of change can we ascribe to this sector? Let’s take a look at some of the current change factors. How would you evaluate the impact of each?

  1. Common Core Standards
  2. PARCC and Smarter Balanced Testing
  3. Blended learning programs used in the classroom
  4. Redesign of classroom space to account for different groupings of students and different pedagogical approaches
  5. E-learning days in which students study from home
  6. Gaming technology used in STEM and other subjects
  7. Online platform for tracking student work and keeping parents in the loop
  8. BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices)
  9. Rise in the number of Charter Schools across the country
  10. Growth of home-educated student population

Once again, if you look at this list, is your sense of change somewhat incremental? Or is it revolutionary? What is the impact on today’s learners? On the profession? On the practitioners?

Observed Change versus Required Change

Our ultimate goal is to prepare learners to participate more effectively in society, leading more independent and productive lives, keeping the economy strong, etc. The SCANS requirements detailed the set of competencies and skills for that to happen, and many of these are referred to today when we talk about deeper learning:

  • Identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources (Resources)
  • Work with others (Interpersonal)
  • Acquire and evaluate information (Information)
  • Understand complex interrelationships (Systems)
  • Work with a variety of technologies (Technology)

Are we providing our kids with the tools to develop these skills today? Are the changes we see supporting a love of learning and preparing competent participants in the workplace of tomorrow?

Maybe the question we should be asking is not the degree of change we are observing in education, but the degree of change required in education.

What Further Changes Are Required to Increase Engagement?

One of the biggest issues in education today is the lack of engagement. 1.2 million kids leave school each year, many of whom claim they have become disengaged from their learning. 2 million students currently school from home, a population that is growing at the rate of 2-8% per year. In this very self-directed community, engagement is the main driver. How do we get that into the schools?

To re-engage students and properly prepare them for the adult world, we need to design curriculum that:

  • Contextualizes learning in real-life tasks
  • Creates pathways to learning that map to students’ interests
  • Incorporates tools for learning that “get students where they live” (i.e. cell phones, tablets, etc.)
  • Attends to each student’s style of learning
  • Takes students out of the classroom into their community to learn from local business people
  • Adds maker activities to the classroom and fosters entrepreneurism

We see as many as half of all teachers moving or leaving the classroom through disaffection or in order to effect change through new teacherpreneurial ventures that address much of the above. EdTech companies woo teachers as consultants to contribute to product development or help sell their products.

While the role of teacher continues to change, we still need skilled and compassionate teachers who can help nourish and guide learners through today’s redesigned classrooms.

Evolution or Revolution?

I guess I’m going to use the “E” word and say that my own stance on changes in education have evolved. It’s not about technology, although technology is a part of the solution. And we can no longer soft-pedal the need or degree of change required,

But what about you? How far are we from where we need to be? What tools and resources do we need to get there? I’d like you all to weigh in. What degree of change is required?

Is it evolution or revolution?

Learning How to Do Good

Social entrepreneurism is a goal to which many of us aspire, but how do you even start? The team at Goodnik has made it their business to help promote social entrepreneurism, as their mission statement says “by bringing not-for-profit and private companies together to share resources and ideas about better ways to do business.” They hold workshops, connect new business owners with established partner companies and host these meetups so that people can share their projects, get feedback and network with like-minded self-starters.

Earlier this week, I attended the Goodnik Winter Demo Day, and heard about some amazing projects that leverage technology for social impact. Seen through my lens of educational impact, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned and perhaps spread some of the inspiration. helps travelers add “immersive local experiences” to your existing travel itinerary. That experience is offered by a local not-for-profit organization, lasts usually half a day, and may include some combination and variation on the following: a presentation of the organization’s work, guided tour to related sites, interaction with community members, workshops, etc.

Tour proceeds go directly to the hosting organization.

User scenario: Say you are planning to travel to Greece with your family and would like to include a social impact experience in your vacation. On the site, you simply:

  1. Select where you want to travel.
  2. Select what issues you care about.

You will be presented with one or more options. In the case of Greece, there are opportunities to

  • Aid in the recovery and rehabilitation of sea turtles
  • Visit classical sites of Athens and engage in social street work, distributing humanitarian kit (sleeping bag, clothing, food)
  • Participate in a wheel chair tour of Athens to experience it through the eyes of mobility impairment
  • Tour the food markets of Athens, visit donor establishments and the recipient groups that distribute them

These tours range in price from $17 to $68 and last anywhere from two hours to half a day. Visit the site and see the options for Peru, Cambodia, Senegal, Costa Rica and many others. was designed to educate people about countless social causes through deeply immersive engagements. Like “Ecotourism” and high school service/adventure programs, these experiences enable someone to experience a culture close-up, but for shorter periods of time and for less money. Their vetting process is well-defined and there is not mismatch of services. Partner organizations really do benefit from the involvement of the tourist participants.

The team at is as diverse and as dispersed as their partner organizations and so can offer a truly world view on social impact opportunities. Most importantly, I admire this group because they make a direct connection between providing economic development opportunities for their partner organizations and educating the public as to the issues at hand.

Amp Your Good

Remember all those food drives you participated in as a kid? Well, we now know that those cans of stringed beans were probably not the best choice of sustenance we could provide on a long-term basis to a family in need. And unfortunately oftentimes goods are delivered beyond their expiration date. Not only that, but apparently 10-60% of goods donated are never used because of mismatched needs. All that hard work, but all that waste! As I said earlier, most people want to do good, but we don’t always know how. That’s where Amp Your Good comes in.

Amp Your Good is a platform that takes a traditionally offline activity, goods-based giving, and boosts its effectiveness online. They help those who are organizing campaigns to establish their presence online and provide fulfillment services to ensure timely delivery of those goods. All this is provided free of service to those organizing the campaign. CEO Patrick O’Neill calls this “crowd feeding.”

User scenario: If you are interested in organizing a campaign, Amp Your Good sets up the page on its site for you and provides tools for helping you get started, including tips for seeding the campaign, templates for press releases, best practices, etc.

As a donor, the user scenario couldn’t be simpler.

  1. Select the campaign you are interested in.
  2. Select the product you would like to donate.
  3. Click to pay.

Because the campaign incorporates a hunger organization’s wish list, you can only donate (i.e. select and pay for) those specific items. And true to Amp You Good’s mission, campaigns can include non-perishable and perishable goods. Because Amp Your Good manages fulfillment, they can ensure all products are fresh and appropriately dated. No more unusable donations!

From a user perspective, the site is intuitive, designed as O’Neill says, “like a mini wedding registry.” The collateral is well-written and invites . . . engagement.

Not only does Amp Your Good provide tools and resources for hunger organizations and charities to meet their goals; they also are educating the public about better practices for giving at the same time they are donating to these causes.

Open Green Map

Learning about Open Green Map (OGM) makes you want to be reborn as a cartographer. But actually, because of OGM, you can participate in helping to chart relevant ecological, cultural and civic resources without being a map maker yourself.

In 1995, Green Maps Systems was a resource that Green Map groups all over the world accessed for building their own maps. The original intent was to create a database of sustainable maps to help “guide citizens toward making better everyday choices.” By 2009, they had launched OGM and Green Map Icons, an award-winning resource that enables map makers and users to contribute to the ongoing development of the project. Combined with Google Map and open source Drupal technology, the OGM links mapmakers in 65 countries who have engaged in over 900 locally led projects, and published more than 550 local Green Maps.

User Scenarios: There are many ways to engage with OGMs, including but not limited to mapmaker, map user, student, educator, researcher, and participant who would like to add a site to an existing map.

Anyone can use the site to locate restaurants and businesses categorized and tagged as sustainable living, nature, or culture and society. On the local map of your choice, you can deselect any of these categories on the Legend tab to make your browsing easier. You can also search for a specific site (establishment) if you want to.

If you are interested in contributing comments, as a registered user you can click on a specific site and add your comments or post a related image. If there is a site that you want to recommend be added to a map, there is fairly straightforward form for doing so.

Open Green Maps is already making incredible strides in terms of connecting like-minded people who want to contribute positively through this vast project. The organization does work with universities and schools, and provides suggested lessons and materials for kids both in school and out. Probably my favorite line from all the Green Maps material I have ingested recently is “Green Maps and the process of making them gives youth a better understanding of current conditions and community resources and a voice in their own future, helping them communicate with their peers, older people and decision-makers.”

Inspired Yet?

Even though at first glance the presenters at the Goodnik Winter Demo event may not have aligned directly with my work in education, it was pretty clear early on in the evening that not only can I learn so much from these organizations’ efforts but so can a lot of other people, too. Each provides further, authentic opportunities for truly experiential learning.

Thanks again, to Goodnik founder and organizer, Nate Heasley; Michal Alter, co-founder of; Patrick O’Neill, CEO of Amp Your Good; and Wendy Brawer, founder of Green Maps. Thanks, too to Brett DiDonato, a rock star of a web architect, and Ron Suarez of IoT4ClimateSolutions, an awesome site for crowdsourcing solutions to climate change, for their presentations as well.

If We Want to Change Education, We Need to Disrupt It

What do you think our greatest improvements have been in the educational sector in the past couple of years?

  • Has it been the number of students graduating high school?
  • Has it been the technology introduced to support teachers in the classroom?
  • Is it the growth of online learning expanding the footprint of higher education beyond the ivory tower?
  • Could it be the evolving business model under which we operate?

To really address the issue of improvements, I’d propose that we ask ourselves first whether our educational system is adequately preparing today’s student for the workplace of tomorrow. Are we?

Is Anything Really New?

A while back, I attended a Google + Hangout hosted by the American Enterprise Institute called “Can you be for profit and for students? Rethinking private enterprise in public education.” It brought together John Bailey from Digital Learning Now, Frederick M. Hess and Andrew P. Kelly of the AEI, and Michael B. Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute. My interest, at the time, was in the debate over private dollars in public education. I’d seen resistance to this for so long and was thrilled that progress was being made to frankly get support from the private sector.

At that time, the discussion yielded a few key takeaways:

  1. A lot of the argument against for-profits was in a simplification of the role for-profits could play.

Andrew Kelly raised an interesting point in noting that 70% of Americans were comfortable with private dollars going to food, transportation, and supplies but not whole school management.

If you look at the different roles for-profits can play, this may reveal a misconception over the intent that many for-profits have and the role they can play in improving educational access and quality.

  1. We can learn from how federal policy deals with private sector contributions to other sectors.

A lot was said in this discussion around the role that policy can play in incentivizing the private sector to support positive results in education. As John Bailey point out, in almost every other sector (health care, clean energy, space program), the consideration has not been whether or not to engage with the private sector, but how to bring them in to tackle the challenge. Education, Bailey noted, is very unique in that incentives have not been provided to make such a collaboration work. And therefore, for-profits have largely had to work outside of the system to get things done. Michael Horn added to this argument that with i3 came out “the engine of innovation was cut out of the game.”

  1. There’s enough to be done so that we can all play a part.

As an extension of the first two points, John Bailey highlighted the role of collaboration, stating that “a blended solution” wherein “the suite of tools, services, and resources that the private sector will develop” can be used inside of the institutions. These benefits of innovation funded by the private sector could be used to support the existing institutions rather than breaking into institutional management. Likewise, expertise in instructional design, program design, and business modeling shared from the private sector can lend great support to the improvement of our schools, from K-12 through higher education.

At the time, my own conclusion was that a balanced, collaborative approach would yield the best result, that based on the need to produce revenue, for-profit educational providers would be watching the bottom line and that this could be a good thing when the pursuit of quality is as important. Additionally, I felt that with technology driving innovation, collaborating with those with the greatest access to capital to drive innovation, could be a smart move.

Now I’m not entirely sure.

What is needed to truly innovate in education

That technology is being used to great effect is not the issue here. It is being used to great effect. In these following areas, the use of private dollars to help drive innovation has resulted in improvements in:

  • Blended learning models and programs
  • Gamification
  • Professional development

But remember that millions of dollars are also being spent to support the Common Core and its associated testing, which in turn is really an extension of an existing model of education that remains stale and disengaging for a large number of constituents. Amy Scott reported on Marketplace yesterday that a single multiple-choice question costs $1,000 with costs ranging between $3,000 to $5,000 per question for more open-ended questions.

To truly innovate would be to take a look at this constituency and really understand how they can best thrive both during the school years and into the workplace. So take at least some of that money spent to make our kids better test takers, and instead provide them with more experiences and skills that prepare them for an adult world:

  • Experiential, hands-on learning
  • Expanded mentorship programs
  • Community-based internships

Question the Model

Yesterday the Chronicle of Higher Ed came out with an article on the Thiel Fellowship, titled “The Rich Man’s Dropout Club.” If there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know about Peter Thiel, he is the PayPal co-founder, Facebook board member and investor who decided in 2010 to pay selected teenagers $100,000 each to “stop out” of college and work on their own start-ups. While there are those who question Thiel’s methods, I’m a huge fan because he addresses the heart of the issue, which is the model itself. The article points out that Thiel initially considered building a better university through his foundation, but instead decided “The opposite of putting faith in the system is putting faith in the young people.”

Granted, the model isn’t expandable, but like other emerging like-minded organizations, it is calling into question the accepted standard for success that has been in operation for so long. UnCollege and Enstitute are others that I have mentioned here before, providing alternate pathways to the working world.

So, while we have made progress with dropout rates, there are still 1.2 million kids a year who leave school. The system still appears to be broken. And that is where we have to begin, questioning the model itself.

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Who Is the Teacher of Tomorrow?

In my last post, I asked people to “Imagine a School without Teachers” in order to examine some of the current challenges to the profession. Some interesting conversation came out of that post, with people actually speculating a school without teachers, or some variation of that theme. It’s safe to say that with the ever evolving technology, there are great opportunities for technology-assisted learning to support both classroom instruction and personalized learning in any environment (traditional school, home school, etc.). But removing teachers from the equation is not the answer. Evolving the role is a large part of the answer, as is ensuring the curriculum addresses the real needs of today’s students.

Early Voices of Discontent in Higher Ed

Since I left the classroom over a decade ago to participate in the development of some of the first online learning programs in higher ed, I’ve been keenly aware as to how the teaching profession is evolving. I saw the great potential for those whose passion is teaching and learning.

Throughout those years, I also saw how many people felt threatened by the changes that were occurring, first with the introduction of new technology and then with the introduction of new business models, particularly within the realm of higher ed. The first step was simply posting course materials online, starting online discussions, and allowing homework submissions online: in essence, using online platforms as an extension of the classroom learning environment.

As universities started to extend their footprint via the world of online learning, many faculty began to feel they would be replaced by either the technology itself or by those more willing than themselves to engage with it in this newer form of teaching. Sure, there were those that embraced and even spearheaded the changes, but that there was discontent is no great secret.

MOOCs shook things up entirely and to a great extent ensured that online learning would never be ignored again. Higher ed is still learning how to incorporate online options into their overall business model, but it will be a while before we see massive closings of brick and mortar institutions of higher learning.

Embracing Technology within PK-12

Today, as I continue to explore the ongoing changes in PK-12, I see an overwhelming amount of effort being exerted by teachers, schools, districts, and private entities to bring technology into the classroom. According to PBS Learning Media, 74% of teachers say technology enables them to reinforce and expand on content, to motivate students to learn, and to respond to a variety of learning styles (73%). Seven in ten teachers surveyed said educational technology allows them to “do much more than ever before” for their students.” And more than two-thirds expressed a desire for more technology in the classroom.

So, what type of support is there? Let’s look at a couple of examples that differ in their offerings.

Edmodo, the online community for teachers and learners (or “the social network for schools” as it is referred to) has over 47 million users. Teachers share lesson plans and support each other through online forums. Students keep track of their learning and become content creators through blogging features. Parents keep track of learning (including homework, quizzes, grades, projects, etc.) through the platform’s notifications, calendar, and tracking tools.

ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education, has a membership of 100,000 users worldwide who collaborate to implement technology into the classroom. ISTE has online resources and Professional Learning Communities, hosts an annual conference on educational technology, has an advocacy network to share information on federal and state policies, and provides a framework (the ISTE Standards) for implementing technology in the classroom.

Teachers’ Perspectives on their Role

Teachers will continue to play a vital role in the educational process even as, and especially as that process evolves. But we have to ask if we are providing enough support to enable the change in the role.

According to a 2013 Scholastic poll, 82% of teachers felt that constantly changing demands on teachers and students was the most significant challenge to their profession. The second most significant challenge was not having enough time to collaborate with colleagues. Additionally, all teachers reported having two or more populations within their one classroom, with 23% having seven different populations (including special education, gifted, and those working below grade level).

So, from an academic perspective, providing the time, resources and classroom conditions becomes ever more vital as we seek to retain the quality of teaching we seek for our children. From a broader perspective, it is important to note that 99% of teachers surveyed agree that “teaching is about more than academics, it is about reinforcing good citizenship, resilience and social skills, and they believe great teaching demands a mastery of many skills.”

The Ongoing Role of Teacher

What will be the role of the teacher as we incorporate more technology into the classroom, and as more and more information becomes accessible outside of a traditional classroom environment?

  1. Many teachers in the PK-12 environment have already started the process of evolving as they:
  • Bring more technology into their lesson plans, having students research topics further and complete in-class assignments using desktop computers, laptops, tablets and, yes, cellphones.
  • Use blended learning strategies to differentiate and personalize instruction.
  • Flip their classrooms to make classroom time more valuable.
  • Communicate with students and parents outside the classroom via online platforms accessed on a variety of devices.
  1. As access to information expands, the concept of the flipped classroom may also expand, and the role of teachers will evolve further into those who support learning rather than deliver it directly, as:
  • Curators who help students navigate and select from the vast array of available learning material.
  • Facilitators who provide feedback and guidance within specific learning programs.
  • Mentors who offer practical guidance on real-world tasks associated with more project-based learning programs throughout their educational journey.

More change? Yes, it’s inevitable. I can see some eye-rolling right now. As the Scholastic report noted:

In conversation, teachers identify various issues within “constantly changing demands,” including changes in leadership, policies, curriculum, administrative systems and more. Many note that a large part of the challenge is the pressure these changes place on existing time and resources. As one teacher said, “Too many changes at one time waters down everything and doesn’t give teachers the time to effectively implement all of the changes.”

We need to manage change effectively, give teachers time, and broaden the support system. In an earlier piece, I wrote about Meet Johnny’s Teachers, a community of experts, inside and outside of the school who all contributed to a child’s learning. This proposed network depends to a certain extent on a more experiential curriculum. I agree with those teachers who said that a large part of teaching “is not about academics,” and I do believe the classroom teacher does not need to do it all on his or her own.

The role of teacher is changing greatly, but I don’t see it disappearing any time soon.

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on today’s changing educational market and how to partner for effective change.

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.