Some of the News Fit to Print
Atul Gawande writes in The New Yorker: In our era of electronic communications, we’ve come to expect that important innovations will spread quickly. Plenty do: think of in-vitro fertilization, genomics, and communications technologies themselves. But there’s an equally long list of vital innovations that have failed to catch on. The puzzle is why.
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COLLEGES STRENGTHEN THEIR K-12 PARTNERSHIPS
Community colleges have long recognized the benefit of reaching out to high schools as a way of ensuring incoming students are ready for college-level work. While dual enrollment and early college initiatives are becoming increasingly common ways to do this, some colleges are taking such initiatives a step further by combining a "fifth year" of high school with the freshman year of college. The article is in Community College Times.
REBOOTING ONLINE EDUCATION
The disappointing results from San Jose State's experiment with online courses shouldn't be interpreted to mean that such courses can't help students. But the classes the university offered in collaboration with online provider Udacity were practically a model of how to do online education badly: rushed into existence and sloppily overseen. No one was even aware that some students who had signed up for the classes lacked reliable access to computers. The one thing the college did well was monitor the results of the three pilot courses and call a timeout when failure rates proved unacceptably high. The editorial is in the L.A. Times.
HOLDING THE LINE
An annual survey released today by Sallie Mae and Ipsos Public Affairs found that the amount families paid for college -- a number that includes savings, current income and borrowing by both students and their parents, as well as some outside and institutional scholarship and grant dollars -- leveled off for the school year that ended this summer after falling between 2009 and 2012. For the most recent year, families paid an average of $21,178. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
CHANGES IN E-RATE COULD SPUR AN EDUCATION REVOLUTION
According to Ronald Brownstein of National Journal, the regulatory adjustment that could trigger an education revolution is being debated far outside the national spotlight. This week, the Federal Communication Commission begins debate on the rules that determine how federal government allocates funding for schools to connect to the internet. As James Shelton, the acting Education Department deputy secretary explains, this could present a once-in-a-decade opportunity for the federal government to boost the adoption of digital learning aids like tablets and laptops to schools serving more than 76 million students. The article is in EducationNews.org.
MIT COMPUTER TRAILBLAZER IS CRITIC OF COMPUTERIZED LEARNING
Mitchel Resnick is the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. His research group is best known for inventing two blockbuster educational technologies: the programmable bricks used in the LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits and Scratch, a computer programming language that allows children to create and share interactive stories, games and animations. The Hechinger Report talked to him about whether technology is changing education for better or worse.
THE PROMISE OF PERSONALIZED LEARNING
Carnegie Senor Associate for Public Policy Engagement Susan Headden in our Washington, D.C. office writes in Education Next: As public budgets shrink, and technology enables increasingly individualized instruction, schools are justifiably looking toward online models for ways to improve student performance. The criticism of online learning has long been that, however cost-effective, it cannot replace the human element in teaching. And that is certainly true. The beauty of a hybrid model, also known as blended learning, is that it enhances the human element. Computers help students to achieve competency by letting them work at their own pace. And with the software taking up chores like grading math quizzes and flagging bad grammar, teachers are freed to do what they do best: guide, engage, and inspire. An increasing number of educators and policymakers see blended learning as one of the most promising means of educating students with a wide variety of learning styles and abilities.
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FREE COURSES FOR A BIG PROBLEM
Free online courses have run into a backlash of late. But a handful of community colleges may have found a way to dial up open-source content to help tackle one of higher education’s thorniest problems: remedial education. The two-year colleges aren’t offering massive open online courses as substitutes for their offerings, however, or for the instructors who teach them. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
GET THE FACTS
Policymakers are drowning in pools of incomparable data. And as policymakers set out to create good education policy, we see a pressing need for a unified effort to build a holistic system of metrics around the issues that matter the most for student success. With a better system in place, policymakers will be able to assess data clearly and compare it across all colleges and universities.Because there are often so many voices offering so many different types of data, we believe it is essential to gather input from a diverse group of institutions on what should be measured and how that data can be collected. The article is in The Hill.
EXPECTING MORE FROM HIGHER EDUCATION
With the national unemployment rate lingering well above 7 percent for the last four and one-half years, many are wondering if high unemployment is now the "new norm" in the United States. And if this is the case, should we expect more from our institutions of higher education? Should we be asking them to do a better job of preparing graduates with specialized training and workforce-ready skills? The commentary is in the Huffington Post.
HOW TO MAKE TEACHER EVALUATIONS ACCURATE, FAIR, CONSISTENT
New teacher-evaluation policies are being implemented pretty much everywhere with rubrics, more-frequent classroom visits, student surveys, and value-added test data. As the stakes rise, teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards have a lot to worry about. How should principals document what they see in classrooms? How and when should they use rubrics? What role should student achievement play? The commentary is in Education Week.
HOUSE MAKES BIG CHANGES ON TEACHER EVALUATION
Conservative lawmakers won a big concession today on the teacher-evaluation portion of a bill to renew the No Child Left Behind Act. Under the change, which was ultimately endorsed by the bill's sponsor, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, states and school districts would not be required to craft teacher-evaluation systems based on student outcomes. Instead, those evaluations—which are already causing headaches for states who have put them in place in exchange for the Obama administration's waivers from the NCLB law—would be totally voluntary. It is almost certain that Kline threw in the towel on teacher evaluations—a policy he was personally passionate about—in order to win final passage of the bill. A vote is expected tomorrow. The article is in Education Week.
MIT technology trailblazer is a critic of computerized learningMitchel Resnick is the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. His research group is best known for inventing two blockbuster educational technologies: the programmable bricks used in the LEGO Mindstorms robotics kits and Scratch, a computer programming language that allows children to create and share interactive stories, games and animations. The Hechinger Report talked to him about whether technology is changing education for better or worse.
Question: Millions of kids around the world are using your simplified computer programming language, Scratch. I once read that Scratch accounts for 10 percent of all visits to MIT websites. What’s worked and what hasn’t?
Answer: One of the reasons for Scratch’s success is that it’s really easy to mix together different animations, photographs and graphics. And you can share them in an online community and see what other people have created. In our mind, two of the most important aspects of any learning experience are creating and collaborating.
But the creating and the collaborating were in two separate worlds. You had to download the Scratch software and create on your own computer. Then, when you went online to the Scratch community you would see a project and wonder, “Oh, can I make a little change to that?” You’d have to download it to your local machine, then if you wanted to share it with others, you’d have to upload it to the website. It was frustrating.
In May (2013) we introduced Scratch 2.0, the biggest change since we launched Scratch in 2007. Now you can create inside a web browser. If I like one character in your project, I can just grab that character and bring it into my project. It’s much easier to share and remix.
Q: What ages are using it?
A: Scratch is usually for kids eight years and up. But we’re working on a Scratch Junior version for younger kids, ages five to seven, that will launch next year in 2014. We have a National Science Foundation grant, along with a colleague at Tufts University, Marina Bers, to develop it.
Q: Do you make money from Scratch and LEGO Mindstorms?
A: Since Scratch is free, my group and I don’t financially benefit from it. I don’t have any financial interest in any LEGO products, but I do serve on the board of LEGO Education, and I receive a stipend for that.
Q: Should every kid learn to program? Or are we in the midst of a senseless computer programming fad in schools?
A: In the last year, there’s been a lot of excitement about learning to code. New York City Mayor Bloomberg made it his New Year’s resolution that he was going to learn to code. The country of Estonia said [it is] going to teach all of its first graders to code.
It’s important for everyone to learn to code in same way that it’s important to learn to write. Coding, like writing, can help you organize your thinking. As people learn to code, they think systematically. They start to identify bugs and problems and fix them in ways that carry over to other activities. You learn basic strategies for solving problems, designing projects and communicating ideas. That will be useful to you even if you don’t grow up to be a programmer, but a journalist or a marketing manager or a community organizer. We sometimes say, it’s not so much about learning to code, but coding to learn. As you code, it’s helping you learn other things.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I taught an online course this last spring for the first time. I generally haven’t been so excited about the way many people are doing online courses. A lot of the conventional MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), for my taste, are focused too much on information delivery. But I figured rather than complaining about it, I should try it and see what I would do.
Along with a couple of colleagues, we created a course called, “Learning creative learning.” The idea was to help people learn about creative learning environments. It was meant primarily for educators.
We wanted it to be different than a lot of the conventional MOOCs. We tried to see how we could create an online course that focuses more on interacting with peers and working on projects. I wouldn’t say we came up with the perfect online course. But for me, it’s been a great learning experience.
One of the things we really liked about it was that at the end of the course, participants wanted to continue interacting with each other. Although it started as a course, it became a community. In my mind, that’s exactly what I think is best about online interactions – being part of a community.
Q: How many people signed up? And how many completed?
A: Completed is hard to answer. We did not give any type of certification or credits for this course.
That’s another thing that has worried me about online courses. They invest so much energy into credits and ways of assessing, that it takes away from other aspects of the learning experience.
In particular, if you’re going to give credit or some type of online credential for a course, then, of course, you have to do some type of assessment. And if you’re going to do an assessment of a large number of people, it limits the activities that you’re able to assess. It’s easiest to assess things that have yes/no answers, true/false or multiple choice. We wanted to avoid that. It’s much harder to assess a design project or a written essay.
But to answer your question, something like 25,000 people signed up. But that’s inflated. We spread the word about the course by sending out a few tweets. Then it got covered on some blogs that weren’t so relevant to the course. So lots of people registered and they quickly saw that this wasn’t the right thing for them. About 10,000 people took the step of registering in a Google-plus community that we set up for the class. That’s probably a better measure of who signed up. Some were active participants. A lot of other people were just lurking. In the low thousands participated in some ongoing way.
Q: Will you teach a MOOC again?
A: Yes, we’ll do the course again, probably next spring, but what’s most interesting to us is how to sustain this community. We’ll probably get some members of the community to play some role in the course. We’re now seeing the course as introduction to the community.
Q: What do you think of so-called adaptive learning, where computers tailor instruction for each student?
A: Clearly there are some advantages at having certain things personalized for you. As long as it’s some options, choices and suggestions, then it’s okay. But I wouldn’t want to be limited only to what a machine suggests for me. If it’s central to my experience, if I’m categorized in a certain way and pushed down a certain path, it could make a much worse experience for me.
The machine could have students avoid things they might have been interested in. If the machine is trying to make a guess, based on how I answered one question, what would be appropriate to show me next, even if you and I answer a question the same way, it could be for different reasons. Even if we make the same mistake on the same question, it might be for different reasons. When a machine tries to make suggestions for you, a lot of time it’s wrong. It can be more frustrating than it’s worth. I personally tend to be somewhat skeptical when the machines try to be too intelligent.
One other caution would be, it’s great to have things that are specialized for me, but it’s also great to be part of a greater community.
I sometimes worry [that] it’s very easy for computers to give feedback these days. It’s seen as this great thing. Students are filling out answers to problem sets and exams. Right away it shows them if they’re right or wrong and they can get feedback right away, which can influence what they do next. Getting feedback is great. I’m all for feedback.
My concern, it’s only easy to give feedback on certain types of knowledge and certain types of activity. I think there’s a real risk, that we as a society, are going to end up giving too much privilege to the types of knowledge and the types of activity that are most easily evaluated and assessed computationally.
Q: Are you worried about more multiple-choice worksheets in our schools?
A: if that’s the result, then it’s a really bad result.
Q: What do you think of using data to influence instruction? Using big data sets to change how schools teach kids?
A: To be honest, being at a place like MIT, people here are focused a lot at looking at data and treat data in a very privileged way. I’m often on the side of saying, “Wait a minute. We shouldn’t be designing everything just on the data.” Yes, we should take advantage of the data. But there are other ways of trying to get information as well. For example, if we want to understand how and what children learn, sitting down and talking to one of the students can also be very useful.
Q: Then why are you collecting data on Scratch usage?
A: Now that Scratch is online, we can have access to lots more data about what kids are doing. And that can be useful. If we see that certain of the programming blocks are not used, it might make us wonder, should they even be there? Or is it confusing for some reason? Should we change them to make it less confusing? It could influence our design.
If we want to see, how is it that students start using a certain concepts? When do they start using variables? Are there certain experiences that people have that are more likely to lead into using variables? There are things like that that might change some of our pedagogy.
Looking at the data might change some of our design and some of our pedagogy. But I want to be careful not to make all of our decisions based on that.
(edited for length and clarity)