Lisa Nielsen’s Innovator Educator blog often has interesting cross posts from blogs that write about home schooling, un-schooling, and de-schooling initiatives, many of which are technology based. Yesterday she cross-posted an essay from the Rise Out, Leave School, Start a Life blog whose mission would resonate with Bard President Leon Botstein. The Rise Out blog appears to be written for parents of students who find high school pointless, have the skills needed to succeed in college, and are wanting to get into something meaningful. The cross post by Laura Fokkena describes the steps she took to help her daughter get out of K-12 education early, skip several entry level college courses, and enter the work force “early”. How did she do this? By taking advantage of the various performance-based assessments already in place and seeking out post-secondary institutions that would accept high scores on these assessments in lieu of enrolling in formal courses. Among the tests her daughter took were:
College Level Examination Program tests: According to the College Board web-page, “CLEP offers 33 exams in five subject areas, covering material taught in courses that you may generally take in your first two years of college. Most CLEP exams are designed to correspond to one-semester courses, although some correspond to full-year or two-year courses.” Fokkena characterized these tests as “college’s best kept secret” and used these to help her daughter advance “..from being a high school sophomore to a college sophomore in the space of one summer, while she was still sixteen.”
PSATs which can be taken by non-school attending students and MAY help a youngster qualify for aid.
SATs and ACTs which help non-school students provide colleges with some independent rating of aptitude.
AP tests which may be taken without having enrolled in an AP Course, another fact that many parents don’t appreciate.
While the “traditional” entrance tests, the PSAT, SAT and ACT cannot be studied for or result in the waiving of classes in college, the CLEP tests and AP tests are proficiency tests that can lead to the award of credits in some colleges and universities. It isn’t hard to envision opt-out students taking MOOCs in courses that re tested by CLEP and AP and then testing out of their freshman year in college, saving money and time… And as noted in earlier blog posts, it isn’t hard to envision more and more parents or college bound students becoming frustrated with the public school’s emphasis on low level state tests and the conformance mentality of high school and choosing to un-school their children, allowing them to prepare for competency based assessments like CLEP and AP… But it IS hard to envision how schools are going to deal with this wave of independent learners using the current model for schooling.
Th ASCD Blog recently linked to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune describing how the state is moving away from textbooks and into a wholly digital format making extensive use of open source materials. According to the article:
…At least two state math texts are already available and the first of the science texts will be released this summer.
The state texts will be open source, meaning anyone or any school in the state may use them for free.
Proponents say digital textbooks can be cheaper, more up to date and interactive, better suiting the needs of today’s tech-savvy learners.
The notion of “crowd sourcing” the materials in textbooks is appealing not only saves money but also honors teaching as a profession. As one state official said:
States realize “they can continue to have districts serve as a flow-through mechanism to funnel public money to textbook publishers,” Wiley said, “or they can redirect those funds into supporting master teachers and others and pulling together materials that are free.”
There are some logistical glitches that need to be overcome: not all the students have their own devices, not all student homes have access to the internet, and not all students take care of the equipment the school issues. But Utah, wisely I think, sees these as issues that can ultimately be resolved. Will the notion of open source textbooks gain traction? As long as there is money to be made in the textbook industry I fear that ideas like open source courseware will face an uphill battle in legislatures when State governments seek funds for teachers to develop materials in lieu of serving as “flow through mechanisms to funnel public money to textbook manufacturers.” I try very hard not to be cynical… but those “text book manufacturers” have lots of money to lose if they go out of business and lots of money to spend on legislative campaigns to make sure they DON’T go out of business. We have some interesting times ahead!
“Teacher Knows if You’ve Done the Reading”, an article in yesterday’s NYTimes, describes how nine universities are field testing a product called CourseSmart that not only tracks whether a student is reading the assigned material, but whether they are highlighting the text and taking notes. The article provides this broad description of the new product:
Major publishers in higher education have already been collecting data from millions of students who use their digital materials. But CourseSmart goes further by individually packaging for each professor information on all the students in a class — a bold effort that is already beginning to affect how teachers present material and how students respond to it, even as critics question how well it measures learning.
The article describes how CourseSmart defines an engagement index to see how much a student reads AND how much the students gets out of the reading. It also notes that CourseSmart provides the teacher with an indication of how effective his or her instruction or how effective their text is by linking the engagement index to test scores. If a student achieves high scores on a test without reading the e-text, the teacher might surmise that the instruction negated the need for the text or that the test was not rigorous enough. If the student achieved low test scores and didn’t read the material the professor would have a clear explanation for the deficiency. If students achieved low test scores despite the direct instruction and a high engagement index, it would provide evidence that the text and/or the instruction needed to be modified. These kinds of feedback loops are impossible using the traditional methods of instruction and assessment.
One sentence in the article made me think that the Dean at Texas A and M is using the wrong metric to determine CourseSmart’s effectiveness:
Texas A&M has one of the highest four-year graduation rates in the state, but only half the students make it out in that time. “If CourseSmart offers to hook it up to every class, we wouldn’t decline,” said Dr. Hurley, the dean.
The power of e-learning is its ability to ensure mastery of the content no matter how long it takes: MASTERY is constant and TIME is variable. In our current schooling model TIME is constant and MASTERY is variable. Unless we break the time barrier we imposed to provide “efficient mass produced education” we will miss the true power of on-line learning— the ability to provide effective individualized learning.