Posts Tagged ‘technology’

A Question for Washington DC.

April 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Two articles in two different publications led me to this question: If we managed to find BILLIONS of dollars to bail out the banks, who now have money to dig costly tunnels to make money that provides no value to the economy, why can’t we find money to connect ALL students to the internet?

The articles that prompted this were Paul Krugman’s op ed piece describing the huge investment made by banks to shave milliseconds off their communications. The reason: by getting information faster than other investors banks can make money. The problem with this? Krugman offers a history lesson that provides the answer:

Back in 1815 Baron Rothschild made a killing because he knew the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo a few hours before everyone else; it’s hard to see how that knowledge made Britain as a whole richer. It’s even harder to see how the three-millisecond advantage conveyed by the Spread Networks tunnel makes modern America richer; yet that advantage was clearly worth it to the speculators.

So what happens is a small percentage of high frequency traders is getting much wealthier but that dealt is adding nothing to the economy.

Meanwhile, Education Week offers sobering news on the implementation of high speed internet:

Applications for federal E-rate money show broad gaps between wealthy and poor school systems’ access to high-quality technologies, and varying abilities among districts to purchase connectivity at affordable rates, a new analysis reveals.

Among Education SuperHighway’s findings:

  • School districts that are already meeting the ConnectED goals pay on average only one-third the price for broadband as schools that don’t meet that standard. That could be because they’re buying more broadband, with economies of scale, or because they’re in geographic locations where it’s cheaper, Marwell said. But it also could be driven by other factors, he said, such as they could have greater resources and competition from providers;

  • School districts that already have fiberoptic cable connections have nine times the bandwidth, and 75 percent lower costs, per megabit per second, than districts without fiber;

  • School districts with access to “competitive options” pay two to three times less for wide-area-network connections compared with those served by “incumbent” telephone and cable companies. Ideally, those incumbents should be challenged for school district business by local utilities, muncipal networks, and competitive local exchange carriers, Marwell argues.

  • School districts already meeting the ConnectED goals have budgets for accessing the Internet that are, on average, 450 times larger than those that don’t meet those goals, and they invest $7.16 per student, compared with just $1.59 for schools falling short of the mark;

  • While just 20 percent of all school districts surveyed are meeting the ConnectED goals, the number is lower, 14 percent, among districts with at least three-quarters of students on free or reduced price lunches. By contrast, a much higher portion, 39 percent, of schools with less than 1 percent of free or reduced price lunch students are meeting the ConnectED goals.

So the affluent districts, who spend much more per student than distort serving children raised in poverty, are getting faster and cheaper internet services. The digital divide is exacerbating the economic divide and undercutting any chance for equal opportunity.

So I ask again: If we managed to find BILLIONS of dollars to bail out the banks, who now have money to dig costly tunnels to make money that provides no value to the economy, why can’t we find money to connect ALL students to the internet?

MOOCs Get Social

April 9, 2014 Leave a comment

This BBC article about how online students have gravitated toward face-to-face “learning hubs” reminded me to the perhaps apocryphal story of how architects design walkways: instead of determining their placement in advance they wait to see where students walk and THEN put them in place.

Coursera, faced with high drop out rates, has subcontracted the operation of learning hubs to partner organizations who provide “…a place where students following Coursera online courses can come to study together and get help from mentors.” While anyone familiar with student learning could have told Coursera that most students would not thrive in a completely isolated independent learning environment, the fact that these hubs grew organically is a testament to the fact that an organization committed to disruption can modify its approach much more quickly and effectively than institutions like colleges and– yes– public schools can. Oh… and formal “learning hubs” are quickly being overtaken by self-organized “meet-ups”, as described in the BBC article:

As well as the more formal learning hubs, self-organised “meet-ups” for Coursera students have sprung up in more than 3,700 cities around the world, based around specific Coursera online courses.

For example, in London there are groups meeting in cafes at the British Library and the South Bank Centre. In Paris, there are meetings in the Pompidou Centre and in university buildings.

Meet-ups are held in a whole range of public places, where students want to discuss and debate these digital courses.

They’re scheduled and arranged online, with the only vital ingredients being a laptop, wi-fi and somewhere to talk.

From where I sit and write this… in the Howe Library in Hanover NH, this is the future of education.


Utopian Possibilities

April 9, 2014 Leave a comment

I recently reblogged a lengthy post from blogger Bob Shepherd that dealt with the relationship between the CCSS and the big data, adding a dystopian overview based on the current trajectory of “schooling”. A very brief summary of his analysis: when publishers saw that open source course materials could undercut their business they decided to develop a uniform set of curriculum guidelines that would enable them to retain a stranglehold on the sales of curriculum materials. My comments envisioned a world where 20% of the students were home schooled or unschooled, 40% attended for-profit charters using some form of vouchers, and only 40% of the students remained in “government operated” schools. i concluded my dystopian outlook with this sentence:  The likelihood of this trajectory increases as long as we define “good schooling” as “high test scores” based on age-based grade-level groupings… and for that reason we need to de-couple “schooling” from “testing”.  

What would a Utopian future look like? I think that it is possible that open source advocates and progressive educators could develop a De-schooling platform that would enable students to progress at their own pace through learning materials that are readily available on-line. “Schools” would be replaced by “Community Learning Centers” where teacher/counselor/coaches would help students master fundamental reading and mathematical skills and help students find materials that interest them, compel reflective thinking, and foster intellectual growth. The Community Learning Centers would also house offices for public social service and health agencies and provide before and after “school” child care. Classrooms where students are efficiently batched by age and grade level would be replaced by ad hoc seminar rooms where teacher/counselor/coaches guide dialogues.

This kind of future might be possible for some students without public schools… well educated homeschooling parents have already created their own version of this utopian platform (without the health and social services) by pooling resources to rent space and create “learning centers” where their children are free to learn at their own pace. The parents of these students recognize the value and importance of divergent thinking, creativity, and dialogue and see that those elements of schooling are not valued in schools where testing dominates the environment. If we are not encouraging divergent and creative thinking we are leaving an entire portion of a generation behind… and at this point in time our mania with testing is doing just that.