The current sustained economic recession is the immediate cause of systematic failure. First, schools increased class sizes, cut sports and music programs, and turned off the heat at the last bell. Then came the furlough days, and the trimming of administrative positions. Now, instruction is being outsourced to unproven, and in some cases, fraudulent, online education purveyors simply because they will meet state education obligations (some of which the online education lobby has re-written themselves) for a lower cost. Hang onto these crumbling walls a high needs child population, 26% of whom now live in poverty. Let them eat Ketchup! The situation is as grim as it has been in more than half a century.
But this is America, home of Hollywood. In our stories, whenever the protagonist is beaten down and appears to be taking his last breath, rock bottom gives him the foundation he needs to spring once again to his feet.
It is almost six o’clock on Tuesday and I am sitting in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay at the Big Ideas Fest 2011. At the core of this unique conference is a product development process called an Action Collab. Think Startup Weekend with a focus on big ideas in education, and add colored construction paper and pipe cleaners.
The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) is the organizer of the Big Ideas Fest. They are the people behind the OER Commons, and have emerged as a thought leader and organizational facilitator in open source educational resources. I am a big fan.
For better or worse, NCLB has forced public schools to be data driven. School leaders think hard every time they make a purchase, condone a new course, or approve a field trip request. And it’s not just because their purchasing budgets have shrunk by 50% in each of the last three years.
School boards, accreditation organizations, and perhaps, most importantly, local taxpayers, want to know how the decisions school leaders make will effect the bottom line of the schools they oversee. Only, the bottom line in the education game is not profit, it is student outcomes.
Of late, student outcomes has come to mean scores on standardized tests. Forgive me. I can’t mention standardized testing without at least conceiving of a diatribe about the damage we are doing to our citizenry with an inordinate focus on bubble tests. I am not alone in this perspective. I have even asked the technologist community for some help on this front in a prior post. That’s as far as I will go with my diatribe in this post, though. On to how we should measure the value added by edtech..
It is not my usual wont to review edtech tools. There are plenty of sites that do a great job of that. However, when I fall in love, the words can’t be contained. My latest affair has been with wiffiti.
As is the case with many web apps, and this is particularly true for edtech apps, the intro video for wifiti did not make clear for me how the tool would translate into classroom use. Then I tried it.
Wiffiti takes current events to a whole new level. Imagine your class is studying something related to politics in northern Africa. Exploring trends on Twitter is a great way to discover current perspectives on any issues that are easily hashtagged. Now, imagine that the hashtag feed is visual and dynamic. This is wifiti.
Wifiti leverages citizen journalism and infographic techniques to bring you a dynamic news experience that is both raw and, over-time, probably more accurate than any single news source alone.
Excuse me, I have some trends to follow. Here is one of my favorites.
Prognostication is an occult art usually left to wizards, be they charlatans or visionaries; Nostradamus or Kurzweil. In EdTech, however, there is a global cooperative engaged in predicting future trends on a yearly basis – and they’re pretty good at it.
The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report is an annual view into trends in education technology. Just as impressive as the report’s six identified trends, and the supporting evidence behind the choices, is the process used to arrive at such a consensus. Through a moderated wiki, complete with deadlines, discussion rooms, and polling, The New Media Consortium engages a global community of educators, business leaders, and technology professionals to produce a well-written, well-referenced resource. Download it now.
Education is a social enterprise. So is the process of selecting a high school. Parents talk to their friends with school-aged children and seek their opinions. Sometimes this anecdotal reporting is insightful. I suspect, given how few parents spend time in their children’s high schools during the school day, that these exchanges are rife with hyperbole.
Decisions, when there are choices to be made, are frequently made with inadequate information. Parents rarely know, for example, that their child can attend career-focussed, technical training programs as a compliment to their college-prep focused comprehensive high school. Though the inquisitive parent may know about charter school opportunities in the community, they may not know that a group of parents has been meeting for two years to form a new charter.
Twitter was founded in 2006; Facebook only two years before that. This means that the tweens who were early adopters to this current iteration of life on technology have not yet even graduated from college. How will they be different than the rest of us?
We already know that many of them, maybe even most of them, will share a whole lot more about themselves with their larger community than was the custom before. It has also become common practice to present yourself in the virtual world as you would on a resume. That is, the digital natives put their best foot forward online. Frequently, they put an enhanced foot forward online.
It is one thing to focus on your strengths and accomplishments when writing a resume to get a job. To select the best of your photos, contemplate and publish pithy witticisms in your status updates, and inflate your friends list with people you have never spoken to, all on a daily basis takes this virtual self creation significantly further than does a resume. What will be the psychological impact of all of this?
I am optimistic. Teens try on many outfits as they struggle with identity. Without the virtual playground, this exploration took place exclusively through real avenues like sports, drama, music favorites, dress, and choice of real friends. The virtual space allows teens to be much more dynamic with this exploration. They can say something to the world and get feedback with one hundred times the frequency that they would have in the real world. In the same night they can change their favorite albums, like posts by and comment on a whole new set of friends, and compare their virtual profiles to a dozen or more people that interest them.
This is significant practice. By the time these millenials graduate from college they will have had ample opportunity to explore who they are in the virtual world, and will likely have decided on an identity that jives with them. This identity will no doubt, be an enhanced one. When the world of practice that is schooling gives way to the world of action that is after schooling they will be confronted with a self that is somewhere between virtual and real, somewhere between their virtual excellence and their real averageness. When they see both of these images, side by side, I think they will strive to actualize the larger, more significant model. Kids will strive to match the stature of their Facebook profile.
Leah Mac Vie addresses the pros of cons of growing up on Facebook in this insightful post. She suggests that the social skills (I would categorize as networking) that the millenials are learning, give them an advantage over the prior generation. It is these skills, in concert with the narcissistic infatuation they have with their virtual selves, I will argue, that will enable them to approach their own self-constructed automythographies. And if they reach the top of this mountain, they will, no doubt check-in on Foursquare and then tweet their success.
It had better be. I am almost completely finished populating my circles on Google+.
Image sourced from: http://randomcentralblog.blogspot.com/
I have always had issue with my inability to share things with a select group of contacts in Facebook when outside of Facebook. Sure, you can create groups and fan pages, but you have to be logged into Facebook, and into that group in particular, to share with only that select group. Additionally, populating those groups is clunky, and members can choose to exit the group after you have placed them in there. This is messy.
However, an open Facebook group can be joined by anyone; not just people in your friend count. I am not yet sure how to do this on Google+. This made it possible to make a group that students could use, but I never trusted Facebook to keep my accounts separate. Zuckerberg himself has publicly expressed his disregard for privacy issues.
In the Wednesday press conference that Zuckerberg has called together, he had better announce something besides video chat. If not, I predict Facebook will go the ay of MySpace. They will have to find some niche, as MySpace did with music, in an attempt to remain relevant. Google already has 50% of teachers using Google Docs; and therefore nearly 50% of students as well. Growing up Google will mean the same brand name commitment that Facebook currently has.
It may take some time, but without the ability to communicate separately with your different circles of friends, family, students, and trekkie friends you met at Comicon, Facebook will be struggling to convince the world that ‘liking’ something is cooler than “+1ing” it.
It may be a bit early to talk about the end of email, but Google+ certainly appears to be a harbinger of that death knell. This article by Patricio Robles reviews comScore statistics on email use from a study of 2010 patterns. While email is still a primary means of marketing for retailers, the numbers amongst the younger set show a sharp decline in email usage with decreasing age.
Why does this matter? What’s the difference anyway? A message is a message, no matter what channel you send it through, right? Wrong. Gen Yes is teaching us that they want their world to be far more social. Instead of sending a link to a NYT article to one person, as my father does to me, they want to send that link to everyone. As they get older they may be more selective with their sharing, but if Google circles is any indication of what is to come, the selectivity of our communications will be easily facilitated with webapps that allow us to easily organize our communities.
In high school education, we have been trying hard to utilize web communications to spark discussion amongst our students outside of class. The wiki was a quantum leap forward. Facebook presented a great opportunity, but is fraught with pitfalls for the high school setting because of the lack of control that we have to censor our output, and the output of our friends that includes us. Edmodo has gained a lot of traction because it has the promise to be a better organized wiki, with applications like a simple gradebook that are catered to the K-12 set.
I think we will begin to see more and more of the student voice (evoice?) inside and outside of the classroom as sharing/messaging/plussing?, or whatever we will call it, becomes more easily filtered.
An unfortunate assumption that edupreneurs frequently make is one that is also made by administrators inside the system; the ageist assumption that older teachers are unlikely to change their practice. It is a small minority of teachers in their later years that refuse to change their practice. My experience has been just the opposite of what the stereotype suggests. Younger teachers, those in their first four years of teaching, are far less likely to adopt new technologies because they are so focussed on the number one concern of every secondary teacher, classroom management. By classroom management I mean all of the little things teachers do, like making seating charts, initiating a kickoff activity to start each class, and using 3 x 5 cards to be equitable in calling for volunteers, that keep a safe and productive environment in the classroom.
It is the senior teachers, more comfortable in their authoritative role, that are eager to enliven their practice by trying something new. Much of the action in the exploding EdTech sphere right now is happening in charter schools. Part of the reason is that charter schools are looking to accomplish the same or better outcomes with less capital. Consequently, charter school leaders are willing to take risks on things like blended learning, that might enable them to decrease the required professional teaching instructional hours required of the school. Another reason, I fear, is the misconception that gray hair equates with unmoving didactic teaching.
Unfortunately, my sample size is small when I counter this ageist assumption, and my analysis is holistic. Nonetheless, I will put it out to my community for debate. Those most enthusiastic about finding the next Brainpop, Khan, Edmodo, Polleverywhere, etc. in my district are the more seasoned teachers. My EdTech flavored Twitter feed is filled with seasoned faces, madly Tweeting about the power of technology to change instruction, flip the classroom, and improve our model from within.
Edupreneurs fear not! We are a friendly tribe, and we just might be able to help you figure out what might work and what might not.
Got my invite tonight and started to explore. The circles concept is exactly what was missing from Facebook. I could not friend my students because I did not want to see anything that would be actionable. Similarly, as I have posted before, I would not want them to see photos of my bare moon as I change out of my wetsuit as posted by my (not teachers) brothers.
Google + seems to take care of this with circles. As you populate Google + from your contacts you decide what circle you wish to place people into. I made one for current students and one for graduates. Google has default circles for friends and family. You can create as many as you want.
Since only two of my 532 contacts have invites as yet, I can’t say how insulated the circles are. Therefore I can’t give it the EdTech thumbs up, but I am hopeful
In my response to a Quora question about whether teachers should tap into the existing social networks of their students, I identify examples of how it has been done safely and for solid pedagogical reasons.
Today Google announced another attempt to inhabit the social networking world with Google +. I don’t think this is to be confused with Google +1 (out since March) which allows users to like sites so that when their friends (presumably those in their contacts list) visit the same site, they see that it has been given the stamp of approval by a friend. Google +1 is really cool irrespective of the significance that Google + ( no ’1′) may or may not have for the EdTech world.
I am hopeful for two reasons. One, I loved Google wave and tried to rope in my friends, but they had already been claimed by Facebook. Two, it appears, based on this NYT review, that you will better be able to manage subgroups of your contacts than you can right now on FB. This has been a problem for me on FB and was the inspiration that gave birth to this WordPress Blog. I couldn’t keep my FB EdTech group separate from my list of all friends when tweeting. My mom doesn’t care about Google + or anything else EdTech related. She just wants to see staged photos of the kids. And I certainly do not want my high school students seeing pictures of me changing out of my wetsuit and inadvertently showing the world a big white moon that my younger brothers tag on FB.
Perhaps Google might also be a bit more careful about protecting our personal information. Here’s to hoping.
I responded to a Quora Question about the above subject heading.
The backchannel can work in the classroom, as it does at a conference, if a teacher can monitor the conversation as it is happening. If you are making a product that includes a backchannel application, make sure any student to student messages or student to whole class messages pass through a teacher filter first.
Praise for this blog
jackcwest is one of the 50 must read K12 I.T. blogs
Teach.com, Daniel Turner
"I recently came across your blog and was sad I hadn't stumbled upon it sooner! The content is awesome, enlightening, and inspiring for everyone -- not just educators."
Mitch Weathers, Founder, Organized Binder
"Hey edtech'ers you will enjoy following JackCWest and his blog ."
Paul Edelman, Founder, TeachersPayTeachers
"Cheers for the reply and clarification. btw, i think you’re one of the most thoughtful ed tech bloggers out there. look forward to every post. thanks!"
Elizabeth Corcoran, Founder, EdSurge
"Great piece Jack!" - comment on post about Gooru.
"Jack is a high school physics teacher but one would think he's a journalist. His posts are extremely insightful with interesting statistics, insights and links to other industry trends."
Larry Johnson, CEO, New Media Consortium
" jackcwest provides a humorous and insightful summary of the key predictions of the 2011 Horizon report."
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