Posts Tagged ‘technology’

High Speed Internet for ALL… Not Just Schools

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chairman, announced his intention today to advocate a small surcharge to phone bills to help increase the funding for broadband in public schools. In the NYTimes article on Wheeler’s recommendation, tech writer Edward Wyatt reports that one of the goals is to address inequities in the availability of online services for schools:

Greater spending for Wi-Fi and fiber-optic lines is needed, F.C.C. officials said, because schools serving more than 40 million students say they do not have broadband connections that are fast enough to take advantage of the most robust digital learning features.

Imbalances in infrastructure affect some schools far more than others, however. Seven in 10 rural districts say none of their schools can meet high-speed Internet connectivity targets today. Schools in affluent areas are three times more likely to meet speed targets as those in low-income areas, the F.C.C. says.

As I’ve written frequently in this blog, having schools connected to high speed internet is a necessary but insufficient step: each and every household needs to be connected to broadband so that each and every student and teacher has “…broadband connections that are fast enough to take advantage of the most robust digital learning features”. I daresay that students in affluent households are MORE than three times likely to have broadband than children raised in poverty and it is also highly probable that teachers do not have access to broadband at home.

Education policy makers and politicians need to understand that  we will never be able to completely transform our current factory model of learning until we make high speed internet as readily available as electricity and water. Everyone agrees we are living in an Information Age and yet we continue to deny the stream of information to millions of people in our country and wonder why we are “falling behind” in the global economy. Increasing spending on broadband is a good first step. Making broadband a utility and spending money to make it available to all is an essential next step.

Obama Champions Net Neutrality

November 11, 2014 Leave a comment

President Obama yesterday announced his full support for REAL Net Neutrality. As reported in Common Dreams, 

“Internet providers have a legal obligation not to block or limit your access to a website,” Obama said in a statement Monday morning. “Cable companies can’t decide which online stores you should shop at or which streaming services you can use. And they can’t let any company pay for priority over its competitors. To put these protections in place I’m asking the FCC to classify Internet services under Title II of the law known as the Telecommunications Act.”

This means that internet access will be treated as a utility, which will require it to be available to all citizens in the country for the same cost: no tiered system whereby superior services would be available to some users at a higher rate or some content providers would be required to pay a premium price.

Given that over four million internet users flooded the inboxes of the FCC with complaints about their intention to established tiered rates, it is hard to understand why the President didn’t make this announcement 4 weeks ago and thereby make it a campaign issue. Some media outlets suggest that Republicans might push back on this, though their rationale would be difficult to fathom given their disdain for federal regulations being imposed by agencies like the FCC. Oh… wait… there WAS some money that flowed into campaigns! MAYBE that will had some influence on the timing of the announcement? And, MAYBE that will make this into a political issue? Here’s what Craig Aaron, CEO of Free Press, a non-partisan media reform organization had to say in a press release yesterday:

“The president’s statement of support for Title II is the result of an unprecedented public outcry. More than 4 million Americans have contacted the FCC on the issue, with the overwhelming majority of comments urging the agency to create real Net Neutrality protections. And the phones have been ringing off the hook at the White House for weeks.

“The millions who’ve fought for an open Internet now will need to defend the president’s bold stand against the expected onslaught from Internet service providers and their many lobbyists. But no industry or partisan spin can change the fact that Title II is a deregulatory, flexible approach that has allowed the Internet to flourish.

This fight is not likely to end quickly… but with the White House advocating for a free and open internet and millions of users watching closely here’s hoping the FCC acts in the greatest interest of the greatest numbers. If not, I expect to have this discussion in 2016.

Ohio’s Move to Narrow Elementary Schooling

November 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch reported yesterday on the latest “reform” initiative about to be undertaken by the Ohio Board of Education: the elimination of a requirement that “… schools must have in place five of the following eight specialists: art, music, counselor, school nurse, librarian/media specialist, visiting teacher, social worker, or phys ed.”

There isn’t a single district I served in that did not meet this minimal standard by the time I left as Superintendent, though this “reform” did bring to mind my experience as Superintendent in Washington County MD where I served for ten years.

When I was appointed to Superintendent in 1987, their elementary schools had only two item from this list in place at the elementary schools: librarians and PE. Art and music were provided via Instructional Television; counselors, nurses, and social workers were non-existent; and we had four administrators assigned to handle truancy cases for 42 schools serving 17,000 students. After 10 years we had “live” music and art teachers from our staff in each elementary school; elementary counselors in each school; nurses hired by the health department in each school; social workers in the four schools with the highest poverty rates; and were setting the stage for sufficient technology support staff. One of the reasons we were able to add this staff was because of the standards set by the state and because parents mobilized in support of these needs.

When tight budgets combine with loose standards I could see districts like Washington County regressing toward the minimums. This would especially be the case where there is a need to focus on “boosting test scores” because they are the primary metric used to determine the quality of your school. I am not confident that our Board and staff could have sold the County Commissioners on the notion that elementary art, music, and PE helped us increase test scores. Nor am I sure that we could have persuaded them that elementary counselors prevented drop outs… and I know that without a State mandate we could not have staffed the schools with nurses. And in this day and age when everything is available at the click of a mouse I am not at all certain that retaining librarians would be an easy sell.

Most districts today are strapped for funds. After six years of fiscal restraint they have a backlog of deferred maintenance; teachers who have made concessions in wages and benefits to balance the budgets; higher class sizes; fewer electives; and only those support services that are mandated. On top of these rollbacks in staffing levels and wages and benefits, schools are required to upgrade their technology infrastructure to administer tests to youngsters that will be used to “prove” they are failing to provide a “quality education”. When and if State Boards roll back their staffing requirements, I would expect the financially strapped districts– which are, sadly, in the majority in this country—  to shed non-mandated staff in order to balance their budgets. Parents, school board members, and administrators like my colleagues and me who fought to get these programs funded in districts across the country look on in dismay as “reform” minded State boards gut the rich programs we instituted only two or three decades ago.

AI and Technology in Schools

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

This morning I read two articles on the effects of technology that lead me to believe that education writers and NYTimes essayists live in parallel universes and that neither seems to see the transformative potential of technology in schooling or the relationship between technology and schooling.

in his column today titled “Our Machine Masters” David Brooks describes the eerie accuracy the artificial intelligence that creates the ability for Pandora’s ability to divine his taste in music. He then describes and laments the relationship between advances in artificial intelligence’s and large networks:

Advances in artificial intelligence will accelerate this centralizing trend. That’s because A.I. companies will be able to reap the rewards of network effects. The bigger their network and the more data they collect, the more effective and attractive they become.

As (Wired technology writer Kevin) Kelly puts it, “Once a company enters this virtuous cycle, it tends to grow so big, so fast, that it overwhelms any upstart competitors. As a result, our A.I. future is likely to be ruled by an oligarchy of two or three large, general-purpose cloud-based commercial intelligences.”

To put it more menacingly, engineers at a few gigantic companies will have vast-though-hidden power to shape how data are collected and framed, to harvest huge amounts of information, to build the frameworks through which the rest of us make decisions and to steer our choices. If you think this power will be used for entirely benign ends, then you have not read enough history.

David Brooks sees that data collection and algorithms are beneficial to the end user who is looking for entertainment and information that matches their interests. He also sees its poet to transform the way we get and process information (e.g. learn). And…. he also see that if this transformative power is not harnessed properly, can lead to malevolent consequences. 

Larry Cuban, an education historian/blogger, wrote a post yesterday describing technology and school reform as “Kissing Cousins”. Cuban contends that today’s notion of using technology to improve education is no different than the earlier ideas to improve schooling:

(Reformers) saw (and, sadly enough, still see) innovative high-tech devices as singular, even exceptional, ways of transforming teaching and learning completely divorced from previous efforts at improving classroom practice through curricular (e.g., math, social studies, science), instructional (e.g., project-based learning, direct instruction) and organizational (e.g., site-based management, charters, mayoral control) reforms.

Cuban sees this as a conceptual error.

Why? Because, school and classroom reforms including technological ones, are part of the same genetic code.

Creating “blended learning” schools, introducing online learning, or deploying tablets to each and every student is an organizational and instructional reform. Teachers using Class Dojo, Chemix School and Lab, Algebrator, and other software programs are implementing classroom organizational and curricular reforms and shaping instruction.

Technological innovations, then, are kissing cousins to curricular, instructional, and organizational reforms.

I am one of those who Cuban refers to as a utopian dreamer who believes that “…new machine technologies (e.g., film, radio, instructional television, desktop computer) (could) alter how teachers teach and students learn.” But unlike earlier utopian technology dreamers (or perhaps some of today’s utopian technology dreamers) I do not believe that the machines (e.g. film, radio, instructional television, desktop computer) are a means of reforming schools. The use of machines is based on and reinforces the paradigm of the factory school, as are technology-related concepts like “blended learning, online learning or the issuance of tablets.

I believe reform, or more accurately transformation of schooling, could occur because of the software and algorithms Brooks describes in his column. The software and algorithms available on today’s machines, if harnessed properly, introduce the possibility of moving away from the factory model of schooling by offering each student a Pandora-like learning experience. For example, an on-line learning sequence could be tailored to match the student’s cognitive readiness to learn and could offer the instruction in a way the student “likes”. This might have seemed far fetched even a decade ago. But given the explosion of YouTube lessons and what Kevin Kelly describes as “cheap parallel computation technologies, big data collection and better algorithms” it is possible today… and if schools could replace age-based cohorts with this kind of tailored learning, the mission and purpose of schooling would change. Returning to Brooks’ essay, I could foresee that software and algorithms, if harnessed properly, could enable each student to gain a self-awareness of their thinking and behavior that would result in the positive results David Brooks foresees in his “deeply humanistic” and optimistic future.

In the deeply humanistic (vision), machines liberate us from mental drudgery so we can focus on higher and happier things. In this future, differences in innate I.Q. are less important. Everybody has Google on their phones so having a great memory or the ability to calculate with big numbers doesn’t help as much.

In this future, there is increasing emphasis on personal and moral faculties: being likable, industrious, trustworthy and affectionate. People are evaluated more on these traits, which supplement machine thinking, and not the rote ones that duplicate it.

If Brooks’ utopian vision of the future of technology is realized, schooling would focus more on personal and moral development and less on content that is available on Google or YouTube— or via stand-and-deliver instruction. And  if  his dystopian vision occurs?

In the cold, utilitarian future, on the other hand, people become less idiosyncratic. If the choice architecture behind many decisions is based on big data from vast crowds, everybody follows the prompts and chooses to be like each other. The machine prompts us to consume what is popular, the things that are easy and mentally undemanding.

Some closing questions:

  • Which future is standardized testing leading us toward?
  • What kind of consumers do our corporations want, “humanistic” or “utilitarian”?
  • Which direction are we headed if we think of technology as machines?

And last but not least: Who will determine how these algorithms and software products will be managed?

And the Digital Divide Isn’t Going Away

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

I read with dismay an article by Claire Cain Miller in today’s NYTimes Upshot titled “Why the US Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability”. The article opens by describing the places in the world that have far superior internet services to the United States:

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

Her answer to the question of why our country has fallen behind echoed that of Columbia law professor Tim Wu: we lack competition.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry.

“It’s just very simple economics,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School who studies antitrust and communications and was an adviser to the Federal Trade Commission. “The average market has one or two serious Internet providers, and they set their prices at monopoly or duopoly pricing.”

There’s one problem with that response. What do Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris have in common? They are located in countries where the internet was provided by the government as a utility. Competition had nothing to do with the provision of their services. Their governments saw an emerging trend and made a substantial infrastructure investment. So students in Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Hungary and France will have access to high speed internet learning opportunities at home and in school while 25% of our nation has none at all… and we want to expand the use of technology so that we can become competitive with other nations?

Sorry, folks, we might need to raise our taxes and invest in infrastructure to fix this problem that “competition” created because the “winners” in the competition so far are not going to forgo their advantage and the politicians who provide them with money are not going to go without a fight.

Digital Divide is Real

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

The Financial Times featured a blog post that included maps illustrating the impact of the digital divide in the US and… surprise… the most affluent communities have the best connectivity while the communities while low income communities and neighborhoods are left behind. The solution is obvious in a nation where 6% of the workforce has given up on looking for a job: allocate federal dollars to build out the infrastructure needed to provide every household with access to broadband. Here’s one of the maps: The brown sections have less access than the blue sections.



For more appalling data on this, see the article.

THE WORST Piece of EdTech Reporting?

October 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Each week I get a “Hack Education“, a compendium of news stories entertainingly complied by blogger Audrey Waters. Waters’s stories tend to focus on education technology but they often range into other fields and, like Yves Smith, are presented with witty and occasionally snarky commentary. One commentary in this week’s Hack Education caught my attention:

This is pretty much the worst piece of writing about education technology I’ve ever seen published in a major publication. Didn’t stop Edsurge from covering it and strangely attributing it to the WSJ and not Forbes. But hey.

Needless to say, I HAD to click on the link and read the article by Forbes contributor Phil DeMuth that was bad but maybe NOT the worst piece I’ve read— but I may be less selective in reading about EdTech than Ms. Waters.  I must confess that DID find myself nodding in agreement with some of the ideas it presented… lectures ARE boring and an inefficient means of teaching and MOOCs that consist solely of lectures are thus ineffective. And I agree that B. F. Skinner’s concepts are germane to on-line learning and should not be ignored. But I feel that DeMuth was too dismissive of Sal Khan’s work and oversold B.F. Skinner’s programmed learning as an efficient and effective means of replacing the direct instruction method we have in place.

From my perspective,Khan Academy-style teaching and learning holds the greatest promise for providing high quality supplementary instruction to large numbers of students. Sal Khan, unlike B.F. Skinner, acknowledges that he cannot replace the work of a classroom teacher. Rather he believes he can transform the teacher’s role. Instead of delivering chunks of information to groups of students batched by age cohorts and grading those students on their performance on periodic examinations the teacher can allow students to progress through lessons in content areas where information is hierarchically organized. This frees the time of the teacher to serve as a tutor in many content areas, using their accumulated skill and content knowledge to match the presentation of the materials with the child’s intellectual maturity and their accumulated skill and knowledge of child psychology to connect with each child in a fashion that motivates them to want to learn.  The shift from “sage on the stage to guide on the side” could actually occur if the teacher was no longer required to BE on a stage. The Khan Academy approach provides each student with a master teacher who can patiently provide an array of approaches so that each child can learning skills in step-wise progression or hear presentations of factual content in a fashion that will reinforce assigned readings. In effect, the large group instruction and lecture format could be replaced with supported self-directed learning— which is how self-actualized adults continue learning.

DeMuth’s biggest flaw notion that B.F. Skinner’s programmed learning is different from the traditional stand-and-deliver approach to teaching. Like the traditional model, Skinner assumes that knowledge is something that is pre-determined and poured into an individual. The lecturer splatters the content on a hall full of students while Skinner directs the stream more precisely… but in both cases the prescribed content is externally defined and imposed. The promise of education technology is that the teacher can help the student learn how to learn so the student can be the agent for learning and not a passive recipient. The current system of schooling, the factory model, insists that all students learn prescribed information at the same time. A network model would allow students to seek out the knowledge they want to master when they want to and allow the teacher to help the student to understand when mastery is accomplished. We need to use technology to help us move beyond factory schools instead of using it to make the factory school more efficient.