Friday, February 25, 2011

Underestimating change in the long run

In the Spring of 2004 I did some PowerPoint pages as part of an educational technology strategic planning effort in which I pointed out that the first website was created only 13 years earlier and that the typical student bookback in 2015 would contain the following:
  • One E-paper book containing all textbooks, supplementary reading material, and reference resources the student normally needs
  • One tablet PC for on-line resources; distance learning, virtual fieldtrips, videoconferencing, etc.; test-taking; personal academic planning; etc.
  • Accessories (headphones, fold-up keyboard, back-up battery, recharger & power plug)
  • Back-up paper pad, pen, and pencil

With 2011 looking like the year of the tablet, ebook sales outstripping hardcopy sales, and more etextbooks (even some excellent open-source efforts) coming on-line, 2015 is looking like a pretty good guess.

But my point 7 years ago was actually not about the technology in a student's book bag, it was about the changes required in instructional planning and materials:

  • Identifying, obtaining, and sharing instructional resources with students, teachers, and parents;
  • Aligning these resources to applicable academic standards and cataloging them thoroughly; and
  • Integrating the resources into lesson planning, student record-keeping, parent outreach, professional development, and flexible and seamless delivery platforms.

Alot has happened there too, with the on-going evolution of what used to be course management systems into more robust learning management systems with increasingly open architecture for "learning objects."

The other frontier I've become aware of since then is the evolution of advanced learning systems. In 2003, the Federation of American Scientists published a roadmap for Learning Sciences and Technology R&D that argued that "For the first time in history, technology exists that can" allow us to cost-effectively implement the one-on-one tutoring strategies that were shown in 1984 to effect improvements in student achievement of 2 standard deviations over group instruction - the equivalent of improving the performance of 50th percentile students to 98th percentile students. (Benjamin S. Blook, "The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring," Educational Researcher vol 13: no. 6, June-July 1984.)

There's a lot of working going on with these systems too - it's hard to see the big picture of it and unfortunately, the FAS roadmap hasn't (publicly at least) been kept current.

But it's a safe bet here that the rule holds: "We over-estimate change in the short-run and under-estimate change in the long-run." Advanced learning systems that can facilitate self-paced learning supported by automated tutoring are coming. Just as the challenge of the 21st century bookbag isn't what's in it but how we support it, the challenge for schools of advanced learning systems for schools isn't the systems themselves, it's organizing to take advantage of them and/or get out of their way. And it's time to start working on that too.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Standards vs. Innovation?

Rick Hess made a great point in a blog entry that sums up: "Common Core... enthusiasts... need to do a far better job of thinking and talking about the real-world impact of their elegant stylings, or they're going to build an exquisitely engineered project that is at cross-purposes with the practical concerns of an array of policymakers, parents, and educators." (

I think it can be done, and I certainly believe common standards should not lead to the "locking down" of the curriculum as the mechanism he articulates (what I think of as "embedded assessment" could do). But I confess it's a danger, and I'm not sure all "Common Core enthusiasts" are on the same page about this. Standards should establish the floor and point to the sky, not define the walls, ceiling hight, plumbing and lighting specs, etc...

I loved the 1939 parody of curriculum development one of his commentators linked to: "The Saber-tooth Curriculum" (

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tom VanderArk's 10 Ways to Hack Education

Nice overview of some of the change trends afoot in K12 education:

Another take on bringing innovation to K12

Disrupting Class has gotten, deservedly, tremendous attention for showing how online learning can and will help change education. But there are other theories of how innovation spreads (or doesn't). Right now I'm trying to read Structuring an Energy Technology Revolution (Weiss and Bonvillian) and am struck by the parallels with Education. I have more to read and will try to report back, but bottom line is that there are a LOT more levers to pull than to merely try and stimulate innovation...

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Another thing the Swedes do better

"Sweden does not allow schools to disaggregate data for ethnicity or race. Instead, Swedish schools report achievement based on whether the student is a first- or second-generation immigrant and by the education level of his or her parents." (Quote from "Swedish For-Profit Chain to Run Charter School in N.Y.C." by Sarah D. Sparks in Education Week, February 9, 2011)

In addition to race, the US uses eligibility for Free or Reduced Lunch, an imperfect proxy for "socio-economic status" in part because of how variable reporting is. But we've always known that education level of the parents is the better predictor and therefore the better "denominator" of student learning to use in tracking the effectiveness of schooling. I don't know how the Swedes gather the data, but if done well it makes much better sense.