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Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

Upbeat Article on Virtual Learning Overlooks Several Obstacles that MUST Be Addressed for it to Work Universally

October 23, 2020 Leave a comment

Freelance writer Amanda Woytus’ JSTOR upbeat post, “Does Virtual Learning Work for Every Student?“, overlooks several elements of virtual learning that are very problematic. That’s too bad because many of the ideas she presents could be applied universally if the gaping holes in her analysis were addressed. But by overlooking them, she ends up with an article that reads like it was written by a shill for technology corporations.

Roughly half of Ms. Woytus’ generally favorable analysis focuses on the benefits of the flipped classroom, whose efficacy is generally supported by research but whose applications are largely at the secondary or post-secondary level. Ms. Woytus also bases some of her analysis on the Calvert School, a 231 student private secondary school in Baltimore, MD. Finally, much of Ms. Woytus’ analysis is based on mathematics, a course that lends itself to the hierarchical scaffolding that virtual learning does best. By basing her analysis on these three elements, Ms. Woytus misses four of virtual learning’s gaping holes: teaching primary students; teaching subjects that are not hierarchical but rely primarily on interactions with other students; reaching children who are unfamiliar with technology; and reaching children who are unable to get technology.

I am learning from the experience of tutoring my 8-year old grandson in mathematics that it is imperative that the teacher be able to look over the shoulder at the work of children as they develop their basic skills. There are ways this could be accomplished, but the software being used by the schools needs to bake this kind of instruction in.

Mathematics, science, grammar, and other hierarchical content is easy to convert to virtual learning… but the facilitated discussions that result from a master teacher’s analysis of a poem, a piece of music, or a thoughtful video or movie cannot be easily replicated on line, especially if “efficiency” is the ultimate goal and, as Ms. Woytus suggests, standardized test scores are the ultimate metric. Without the opportunity to engage in discussion the learning opportunities are greatly diminished.

The inability of students to use technology easily is related to the students’ access to technology, and several posts on this blog and several articles in multiple national publications decry the lack of access to technology among rural students and poor urban students. This issue of inequity is completely by-passed in this article. I believe it should be mentioned in ANY assessment of the universal use of technology since it is an obstacle that CAN be surmounted IF funding for broadband access and computer hardware and software was a national priority.

As noted above and in some posts on this blog, the flipped classroom has promise and hierarchical content can be delivered very effectively online. Their promise of remote learning as universal means of instruction, though, can only be realized if the inherent obstacles mentioned above are addressed.

The Endgame Has Arrived: USDOE Data Harvested to Rate College’s ROI

October 17, 2020 Leave a comment

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The day neoliberals and conservatives have been waiting for has arrived: we now have the data collected to make it possible to rank colleges based on their Return on Investment. This will prove some facts we already know: namely that any trade school preparing electricians and plumbers is better than any college or university that prepares its graduates for teaching and social work. If the only reason for seeking knowledge is to earn money it is no surprise that selfishness is more prevalent than service.

Miami Dade Superintendent Issues $15,000,000 No-Bid Contract to For Profit Software Company: What Could Go Wrong?

September 28, 2020 Comments off

Wired writer Sandra Upson’s recent article on the $15,000,000 no-bid contract offered to the profiteers at K-12 describes everything that could go wrong when ad hoc technology decisions are made under intense time frames… and it’s quite a list!

First, K-12 was unable to scale up to meet the needs of the 4th largest school district in the nation… unsurprising since it had only operated on a small scale before it put in for the contract.

Second, K-12’s training program was horrible:

The teachers received demo logins to try out the platform, but they didn’t work, and even the trainers struggled to access it, West says. From 8 am until 3:30 pm each day, teachers took notes without once trying the software themselves. “The training was make-believe, it was so, so complex,” says one teacher. “Even our techie teachers were lost.”

Third, it was slow to upload AND incompatible with common hardware:

Once the school year began in earnest, technical challenges persisted. Some students struggled to log in. Uploads could be excruciatingly slow. A particular sore point was the platform’s unreliable built-in video conferencing tool, called NewRow. It had issues with sound and screen-sharing. After about 15 minutes, the video quality started to degrade. It didn’t work on iPads or iPhones.

Fourth, the canned K-12 curriculum was horrible:

When some Miami-Dade teachers examined K12’s materials, they were horrified by what they found. One teacher came across a quiz for second graders with one question: “Did you enjoy this course?” Clicking “yes” allowed the student to ace the test. Several classes relied on K12’s paper workbooks, which the students didn’t receive. “One thing our educators complained about was, the rigor was not there. It was a very watered-down curriculum,” Hernandez-Mats says.

Finally, the K-12 platform was painfully easy to compromise… leading to a teenage prankster bringing the schools to its knees:

ON THE MORNING of August 31, the first day of school, the 345,000 students in Miami-Dade County’s public schools fired up their computers expecting to see the faces of their teachers and classmates. Instead a scruffy little dog in banana-print pajamas appeared on their screens, alongside an error message. “Oh bananas!” read one message from the district’s online learning platform. “Too many people are online right now.”

A rudimentary cyberattack had crippled the servers of the nation’s fourth-largest school district, preventing its 392 schools from starting the year online. But even once the district had quelled the distributed denial-of-service attackand a local teen had been arrested for the crime, “Banana Dog” didn’t go away. If anything, the security breach merely obscured for a few days the crippling weaknesses in the district’s plan to move every aspect of its schooling—including a revamped curriculum—onto a platform that had only ever supported half as many students (and never all at once).

The entire escapade brought to mind a Ted Sizer aphorism I often used in presentations about change.

How do you change schools? Slowly, Carefully, and All At Once

The quick fixes for the pandemic, like the one tried in Miami-Dade drove this home… and I hope that those who want to apply the quick fixes used in the private sector are thinking twice about fast change involving technology.