Posts Tagged ‘On-line learning’

What T.H.E. Journal Analysis Says… and DOESN’T Say

February 21, 2018 Leave a comment

I was intrigued by the headline of an article in THE Journal that read “Cost to Connect Rural America: $19 Billion or Less“. Dian Shaffhauser’s article draws on the findings of a study completed by public sector consultancy CTC Technology & Energy found that

If appropriate funding were found and those construction efforts were coordinated among state and regional authorities, the proposal asserted, a savings of up to 50 percent would be possible.

The report stated that the deployment costs could be reduced by using an open application process that would allow both commercial and non-commercial providers to bid. It also suggested that broadband infrastructure be opened to “interconnection,” allowing existing infrastructure “to be used rather than building out additional, duplicative infrastructure.”

My hunch: this kind of coordinated effort could best be accomplished by the federal government, especially if broadband were viewed as a utility… that is if the FCC reversed itself and restored the rules of the game that existed two years ago. My further hunch: that isn’t going to happen any time soon… and as a result those who live in “rural backwaters”— like me— will remain unable to connect to broadband for the foreseeable future… and the digital divide will persist and widen…



Koch Brothers Want to Individualize at the expense of Democracy. Only State Legislatures and Local School Boards can Stop Them

February 2, 2018 Leave a comment

From the beginning of my career as an educator, I have been an advocate of individualization as a means of allowing students to progress through subjects at their own rate and to pursue subjects that are especially interesting to them. But my vision for implementing individualization would incorporate self-paced and self-defined learning within a framework where students instruction in social skills, inter- and intra-personal skills, and governance skills would be explicit. The role of teachers would be to monitor and coach students as they proceed through curricula that help them develop hierarchical and factual information and to facilitate dialogue sessions where student learn the skills required to operate in a democracy and make it thrive. A blend of Sal Kahn’s approach to “personalization” of content and the collaborative Harkness method used at Philips Exeter Academy comes closest to the kind of instruction that would achieve this kind of vision. If schools were organized in this fashion age cohorts would gather in groups of 12 to wrestle with age appropriate ethical issues drawn from common readings. The reading need not be complicated or lengthy: Aesop’s fables, for example, could generate in depth dialogue among students no matter what their reading level or their learning pace. From my perspective, the act of gathering around a table to debate and gain an understanding of these issues is the heart of democracy, and absent that kind of opportunity children have no way to learn how to conduct themselves with civility, how to empathize with others, or how to reflect on their own views.

The Koch Brothers, though, have a different view of the ideal education. Where progressive idealists like me want to ensure that students have an opportunity to learn from each other, learn how to collaborate, and learn how to think reflectively, the Koch Brothers view schooling as a sorting machine designed to winnow out the weak and celebrate the strong. “Public Education in Koch Network’s Sights“, Martin Levine’s article in the recent Non-Profit Quarterly offers an unsettling description of the Koch Brothers’ ultimate goal in their effort to change public education. In reading the recent Washington Post article that reported on the Koch Network’s annual meeting, Mr. Levine concluded that democracy itself will be imperiled if the Koch’s vision is adopted across the nation— and sees that as the ultimate end-game for the Koch Network:

The Koch Network’s new strategic focus appears to move beyond debates over school choice, common core curriculums, and testing; instead, they’re working toward longer-term changes in societal thinking. The Network’s vision is one of highly tailored individualized learning, which leaves little space for education to support core democratic values…

In an earlier post on this sameI encouraged local voters to WAKE UP to the Koch Brothers’ stealth funding of political campaigns at ALL levels of government, especially state legislatures and local school boards. A quick read of Mr. Levine’s article makes the alarm more urgent. He concludes his essay with this:

Those who believe public education is a shared responsibility entrusted to local governments will surely want to resist this. Replacing “public” with “individual” is a radical change that could further divide our nation along racial and economic lines as well as serve to undermine notions of equal opportunity. The Koch Network has passion and money to fuel its work. How public school and nonprofit civic advocates respond to these assaults could greatly affect our future.

One thing is clear to me: if “…public school and nonprofit civic advocates” remain on the sidelines we will not only divide our nation along racial and economic lines (and) undermine notions of equal opportunity, we will undermine democracy itself.

Unsurprising Results in Online Courses: Self-Actualized Learners Do Fine… Others, Not So Well

January 21, 2018 Leave a comment

The NYTimes featured an op ed article by University of Michigan professor Susan Dynarski earlier this week with the unsurprising headline: “Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need Help the Most“. The article describes a study that concluded that “…the growth of online education is hurting a critical group: the less proficient students who are precisely those most in need of skilled classroom teachers.” But, as Ms. Dynarsky notes, these are the very students who are being steered into online coursework in the name of efficiency and equity.

Online learning is more efficient. After all, a single teacher— or in some cases and single teacher and an algorithm— can oversee hundreds of students working online. But too often, online courses are used for the purpose of credit restoration, and when students “pass” an online credit restoration course they gain far less understanding than students who take the same content face-to-face. But passing as many students as possible is important when the metric for “success” is pass rates and if one can achieve a pass rate using computers it saves a substantial amount in the budget.

Online learning can provide equity, but only if the students are highly motivated. As Ms. Dynarsky writes:

Online courses have many real benefits… They can help high achievers in need of more advanced coursework than their districts provide through other means. This is especially true in small, rural districts that offer few specialized, traditional courses for students working ahead of their grades.

A study in Maine and Vermont examined the effect of online courses on eighth graders with strong math skills in schools that didn’t offer face-to-face algebra classes. Students were randomly assigned either to online algebra or to the less challenging, standard math offered in traditional classes.

Both groups of students were tested at the end of the school year. The online algebra students did substantially better than their counterparts in standard classrooms. They were also twice as likely to complete advanced math later in high school.

Having worked in rural schools, this result is unsurprising. Often small schools enroll weaker students in a course labelled as “Algebra” in order to provide the course for children in their school… but many of the students in the course are only marginally prepared for the rigors. The online courses, though, are often limited to those students with “strong math skills”, which would account for the differential in performance at the conclusion of the course.

The real damage done to struggling students occurs at the higher education level:

n colleges, especially in nonselective and for-profit schools, online education has expanded rapidly, too, with similar effects. These schools disproportionately enroll low-income students who are often the first in their families to attend college. Such students tend to drop out of college at very high rates. Students with weak preparation don’t fare well in online college classes, as recent researchby professors at Harvard and Stanford shows.

These scholars examined the performance of hundreds of thousands of students at DeVry University, a large for-profit college with sites across the country. DeVry offers online and face-to-face versions of all its courses, using the same textbooks, assessments, assignments and lecture materials in each format. Even though the courses are seemingly identical, the students who enroll online do substantially worse.

The effects are lasting, with online students more likely to drop out of college altogether. Hardest hit are those who entered the online class with low grades. Work by researchers in many other colleges concurs with the DeVry findings: The weakest students are hurt most by the online format.

And to make matters worse, these for-profit “colleges” often use false advertising to entice enrollees who take out loans to pay— or more accurately OVERpay– for the courses they take. Ms. Dynarksy leads this conclusion out of her analysis: This scam, more than anything, adds to the student loan crisis facing our country.


Christensen Institute’s Julia Freedland Makes An Important Distinction: Behaviorism vs. Constructivism

January 14, 2018 Leave a comment

In her recent Christensen Institute post flagging the “5 Big Ideas for Education Innovation in 2018“, Julia Freedland encourages critics of disruption to focus on the distinction between constructivism and behaviorism in their analyses. Under the heading “Stop debating technology, start debating constructivism and behaviorism” she writes:

The ever-simmering edtech debate is starting to boil over. Commentators are stuck arguing whether tech is good or bad, whether personalized learning is synonymous with robot teachers or high-touch teaching, whether technology is under-researched or offers a high payoff. I worry that these debates draw false dichotomies. They risk entrenching different camps in their feelings about the form a tool takes rather than its function. I suspect that the deeper tension undergirding these debates may have less to do with technology itself and more to do with competing behaviorist and constructivist philosophies. I’m hoping that mainstream edtech conversations dedicate more time to examining these competing pedagogical philosophies—and how edtech tools do or don’t support each—in 2018. This year I’ll keep following thinkers like Larry Cuban who have become more vocal about this distinction.

In the article Mr. Cuban wrote, he contends that “personalized learning” is used to describe programs that range from de facto programmed instruction where students more through teacher-constructed playlists at their own pace to technologically enhanced Summerhill-like approaches– where students dictate both content and pace. I think his nuanced perspective, one that eschews “value-loaded” words, is far superior to that of those who bundle all technology into the Skinnerian end of the spectrum.

As one who advocates the elimination of age-based grade levels and the open-ended opportunity for students to explore subjects that interest them in depth once they’ve mastered reading and mathematical skills, I tend toward the constructivist side of the spectrum. But as one believes there is a place for technology in school improvement, I also hope educational critics will heed Ms. Freedland’s dictum and “Stop debating technology, start debating constructivism and behaviorism“.

“Micro credentials” for Teacher Recertification COULD Open the Door to Mastery Learning in the Classroom, OR Micro-Vouchers

January 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Earlier this week  Education Week published an article by Stephen Sawchuk titled “Inching Toward Relicensurc, One Microcredential at a Time”. In the article, Mr. Sawchuk describes a re-certification process Tennessee is piloting whereby teachers can get their teacher’s license renewed by completing a series of “microcredentials”, which he defines as “badges (teachers earn) by submitting evidence that they’ve mastered small components of instruction; their submissions are scored by outside reviewers. It strikes me that the concept of micro credentials would help teachers transfer the concepts of mastery learning implicit in the awarding of micro credentials to teaching in their classroom. Instead of “covering” material in a set time frame and then assessing students on that material using a pencil-and-aper test, teachers might see the value of assuring that the students are fully prepared by “…submitting evidence that they’ve mastered small components” of the course and have that evidence reviewed by outsiders. That could be a very favorable outcome of this pilot program.

There is a downside to this concept, though, unless public schools fully embrace mastery learning. Namely, the awarding of micro credentials for teachers could lead to the awarding of micro vouchers for students. Longstanding readers of this blog might recall reading about this similar concept that was presented in a book by Lewis Perelman in his 1992 book titled “School’s Out: Hyperlearning, the New Technology, and the End of Education”. Perelman envisioned a day when employers and colleges would focus more on the demonstrated mastery of material instead of the issuance of a diploma, and envisioned a day when something akin to wait badges would serve as the vehicle for demonstrating mastery. He took this a step further, suggesting that instead of public schools being the sole source of certifying mastery, private enterprise might step in and the marketplace would winnow out the purveyors of worthwhile credentials from those who were issuing slipshod “badges”.

Obtaining micro credentials is analogous to on-line learning in that it is far more convenient than traditional coursework at a college or university that requires travel time and fixed times for courses. Once teachers discovered on-line alternatives to traditional courses they flocked to them, with some earning Master’s Degrees in less than two years. Their use of on-line courses to earn credits made it difficult for them to push back when students sought the same opportunities… even though those on-lne opportunities could ultimately result in fewer jobs at the high school level. If teachers begin earning micro credentials, will that similarly open the door for students to seek the same kind of avenues? And, if so, will that open the door to the micro-vouchers Lewis Perelman wrote about over 25 years ago?

Technology is Fast and Cheap… but it Isn’t Good.

January 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included on that had a link to an article she wrote recently for EdSurge, a pro-technology website. In the article she identified five major risks associated with the use of educational technology. After reading her article I left this comment with a link to this post:

The tech industry is serving shareholders, politicians and, alas, voters who don’t want to spend more for education. Technology is currently cheap and fast… but it isn’t good.

A consultant whose name escapes me gave a presentation to the administrators in the MD district I served in the early 1990s. She wrote three words on the board (this was pre-powerpoint era): “fast”, “cheap”, “good”. She said that in any undertaking you could only choose two of these. (NOTE: I just learned from my friend “Google” that this is now called the “Iron Triangle”— and example of technology’s utility).

Technology promises to provide all three… but it really only provides “fast” and “cheap” means of covering the curriculum that is measured by standardized tests. It’s faster than the laborious face-to-face tutoring it supposedly replaces. Its’ cheaper because it lowers the costs to school districts by selling the data it collects to third parties. But because it is fast and cheap it isn’t good: it takes the “costly” human interaction out of teaching; it has a limited scope because it only delivers instruction in areas that can be measured by standardized tests; and it requires schools to compromise the principle of student and parent privacy in order to secure the low costs valued by politicians and voters.

Like Diane Ravitch and several of her commenters, I was an early adopter to technology applications. As a public school administrator I found technology a godsend for scheduling, tracking budgets, preparing cost-benefit analyses, calculating the impact of collective bargaining proposals, and especially for writing. And while the introduction of the internet was a mixed blessing (emails tended to eat into my daily schedule on the job and outside of it), it did provide a means of making every decision transparent and disseminating information rapidly. And as one who tends to think in bullet points and one who used an overhead projector as a teacher, I found powerpoint to be very useful in preparing presentations on everything from budgets and building projects to future directions I hoped we might be able to take.

But unlike Ms. Ravitch and her commenters, I was a school superintendent and, as such, witnessed the intense pressure to suppress costs while simultaneously introducing children in schools to the technology school board members and I were using every day on our jobs. One thing I learned was that the use of technology required some degree of standardization.. and some teachers and parents bridled at any form of standardization. In devising schedules and linking the schedules to computerized report cards, for example, I needed to demand that teachers re-name some of their courses to “fit” the fields “the computer” allowed. In implementing a computerized parent portal that enabled parents to monitor their child’s progress in various subjects periodically we needed to ensure that teachers entered grades into their grade books regularly and not at the very end of the grade period. In collective bargaining, we needed to make certain both parties were using the same spreadsheets to calculate the impact of changes in compensation. Each of these “standardization” efforts resulted in faster and more efficient operations… but whether it was BETTER was debatable in the minds of some people in virtually every case.

My bottom line is that the effectiveness of technology is limited by the factory paradigm we insist on retaining in public education. As long as we group children by age and measure their progress by tests that are linked to their cohort group we will continue to mis-use and abuse technology. The ideals espoused by progressive educators like John Dewey are not based on operating an “efficient” (i.e. cheap and fast) system in the fashion the industry leaders envisioned at the turn of the 20th century. We need to let children roam free in the real and virtual worlds and not be limited to pre-programmed electronic worksheets that quickly and inexpensively move them through a standardized curriculum. Doing so might be slower and/or more expensive than what we are doing now, but it would be better.

Net Neutrality Is Dead… and So, Too, is the Opportunity for Technology as a Means of Achieving Equitable Education

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment

To no one’s surprise (or at least not to MY surprise), the GOP dominated FCC yesterday announced that it was repealing a set of regulations that resulted in “net neutrality”. As described in Steve Lohr’s article in today’s NYTimes, this does not appear to be a big deal for public schools. Here’s his description of th backdrop:

The net neutrality rules were passed in 2015 during the Obama administration when Democrats controlled the F.C.C.

The goal was to adapt regulations in such a way as to acknowledge the essential role of high-speed internet access as a gateway to modern communication, information, entertainment and economic opportunity. So the F.C.C. opted to regulate broadband service as a utility — making the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone.

By making “the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone” the FCC was guaranteeing that every customer served would receive the same level of service… which means that every customer would have the same rate of uploading and downloading speeds. Thus, presumably, a child who has a smartphone in public housing in the Bronx would get the same speed internet as a child in a posh penthouse in Manhattan and a school with internet access in a poverty stricken community in Appalachia would have the same speed internet as a student at, say, Phillips Exeter Academy.

But with the repeal of net neutrality, these rules no longer apply. As Mr. Lohr writes, the biggest concern of those who support net neutrality:

…is that the internet will become pay-to-play technology with two tiers: one that has speedy service and one that doesn’t. The high-speed lane would be occupied by big internet and media companies, and affluent households. For everyone else there would be the slow lane.

If this rule applied to electricity and telephone service, electrical companies and phone companies could charge higher rates for those in geographically remote areas and, arguably, lower their baseline services to offer different levels of service for different kinds of customers. This is what could easily occur with the internet where homes like mine (and similar “geographically remote” homes) that are not served by cable companies will never get the same level of service as homes a half-mile away that DO have connectivity to the cable system. Moreover, the current speeds for the internet will be the baseline moving forward, which means that those seeking higher speeds (and the computer applications that are available with hose higher speeds) will need to pay more or settle for what they have. This will inevitably result in a widening divide between the affluent and the-rest-of-us and will bake in the existing disparities forever…. and potentially make them worse in rural America where competitive markets do not exist, as Mr. Lohr explains:

But a weakness in the free-market argument, industry analysts say, is that in some regional and rural markets, households have only one internet provider available to them. That undermines the theory that competition will protect consumers.

Roger L. Kay, an independent technology analyst, predicted that larger bills — not content blocking — would be the most likely result. If the big internet and media companies will have to pay their carriers more for high-speed services, the expenses will trickle down to households.

Consumers, Mr. Kay said, “will end up paying higher prices for essentially the same service.”

The parents of children in affluent households will pay the bills and their children will have access to all the advances that occur in the delivery of services… and so will the schools that serve those children. The parents of children in poverty-stricken households and the schools they attend may opt out of the internet altogether… And, as a result, their children will miss out on learning opportunities and the economic divide will widen.