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Archive for March, 2015

Because Badges ARE Better Than Degrees, MOOCs Will Eventually Prevail

March 25, 2015 Comments off

Earlier this month, Kevin Carey wrote an Upshot article that, if anything, understated the value of “badges” or “verified certificates” as opposed to degrees. As noted in several earlier posts and described in Carey’s article, “badges” are earned by the completion of a series of courses or activities embedded in a course, and when these “badges” are recognized as bona fide credentials the MOOC movement will gain irreversible traction:

Free online courses won’t revolutionize education until there is a parallel system of free or low-fee credentials, not controlled by traditional colleges, that leads to jobs. Now technological innovators are working on that, too.

The Mozilla Foundation, which brought the world the Firefox web browser, has spent the last few years creating what it calls the Open Badges project. Badges are electronic credentials that any organization, collegiate or otherwise, can issue. Badges indicate specific skills and knowledge, backed by links to electronic evidence of how and why, exactly, the badge was earned.

Some of the commenters criticized Carey’s naiveté or his desire to turn higher education into a utilitarian enterprise that turns out “cogs in the machine”. From where I sit, “badges” have tremendous promise for students— especially those students who are NOT engaged in formal education past high school or those directionless students who enroll in college because it is what their parents expect. Moreover, from my perspective as a former employer and a current consumer I can think of several places where “badges” are already in place:

  • Technology repairs
  • Auto repairs
  • Accounting
  • Medical providers
  • Real Estate

The list could be extended endlessly because we are obsessed with credentials, many of which, as Carey notes, are meaningless at worst and obtuse at best:

… H.R. departments know what a bachelor’s degree is. “Verified certificates” are something new. But employers have a powerful incentive to move in this direction: Traditional college degrees are deeply inadequate tools for communicating information.

The standard diploma has roughly the same amount of information that prisoners of war are required to divulge under the Geneva Conventions. College transcripts are a nightmare of departmental abbreviations, course numbers of indeterminate meaning, and grades whose value has been steadily eroded by their inflation.

Instead of the diploma being the coin of the realm for HR staff, a detailed summary of the skills learned at college would take it’s place… in effect a portfolio of the work completed in college would replace the numeric GPA and single sheet of course listings. Once that takes place, HR staff members will likely place a diploma bearing applicant on equal footing with a non-degrees applicant who has superior job-specific skills as evidenced by a certificate. This happens already in technology-related areas where an applicant with a specific product certification is deemed superior to someone with a generic computer technology degree when they are applying. In our school district which used Apple computers, for example, we sought “Apple Certifications” in all applicants and valued experience in a school environment over a generic technology degree. I imagine auto dealers seek the same kind of product-specific training in their applicants and trust that the phlebotomist at my doctor’s office has certification in that area.

As Carey reports, the details on “badges” are being worked out in an organic fashion… and once they are worked out and in place the MOOC revolution will happen rapidly and education at all levels will need to adapt just as quickly.

 

Yes… Surveillance Cameras ARE Helpful… but the Trade-offs are Not Worth It!

March 23, 2015 Comments off

My antipathy for video surveillance is evident to most readers of this blog, and even well crafted arguments in its favor, like those found in a recent K-12 TechDecisions post by Brian Armes and Guy Bleisner cannot dissuade me from that perspective. Armes and Bleisner, in an article describing the limitations of surveillance cameras, note that a camera, unlike live human beings, provides cold, objective reportage of incidents that require adult and/or parental intervention and, in doing so, provide caring adults with “teachable moments”. The case study they cite, involving two young men engaged in a shoving match while a nearby teaching assistant tended to a minor medical problem, resonated with me. There were several instances when I worked of six years as a high school disciplinarian that having a video record could have saved hours of sorting out who-did-what-to-whom. But the thought that students are being conditioned to video surveillance during every moment that are in school is chilling… even more so when I read one of the introductory paragraphs:

Unlike commercial and industrial organizations, few K-12 schools can afford full-time monitoring of their video surveillance systems and lack an immediate response capability. Passive monitoring by a secretary with a long list of other duties is about the best schools can hope for. With this kind of limitation, video surveillance in the K-12 environment is relegated to a reactive approach at best. In most cases, it becomes an investigatory and forensic tool after the fact.

Armes and Bleisner begin with the de facto assumption that the absence of video cameras is a “limitation” and that employees in “commercial and industrial organizations” are conditioned to a work environment with total and complete video monitoring.

Socialization is part of the hidden curriculum in school, and as a classroom teacher and school administrator I felt that the discipline in the school was based on an ethos of honesty. If there was a dispute between students about who-did-what-to-whom my preference was to have students work it out face-to-face even though it would have been much easier to review a videotape. Running a school based on robotic video surveillance has a far different feel than a school based on mutual respect and honesty. A video monitoring system feels like a police state while a mutual trust system feels more like a neighborhood watch… and I prefer the moral force of neighbors over the legalistic force of police. My belief: by relying on video surveillance we are increasing our fear of our neighbors and adding to the disconnection that is emerging in our communities. To paraphrase a tired aphorism, it takes a village to raise a child… not a police state.

 

This Just In: Takeovers Don’t Pan Out!

March 21, 2015 Comments off

In the latest item to add to the “failed assumptions of reform” file, add this report from Detroit where Detroit News op ed writer Nolan Finley laments the failure of three “emergency managers” to rectify the financial problems with Detroit’s school system and the likely failures of the fourth one, Darnell Early, who has just taken over. But here’s the kicker: Finley mentions in passing that Governor Snyder has a plan for fixing the schools… and it’s one that will work very well from the Koch Brothers standpoint:

There’s talk of placing all schools, traditional and charter, under a new education czar, who may or may not be (Detroit) Mayor Mike Duggan. Where that leaves Earley and his plan, who knows?

Well I’ve got a wild guess as to where it leaves Darnell Early: on the outside looking in! And where does it leave Detroit school children? The same place. And where does it leave the privatizers who are likely the ones who are promoting the “talk of placing all schools, traditional and charter, under a new education czar”… laughing all the way to the bank. Welcome to the 21st century version of for-profit public schools.