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How do we get to the Learner as Customer?

Jon Mott hit a chord here with his post on the institution as customer rather than the learner as customer.

As I posted here on Michael Feldstein’s blog, I think that ultimately there needs to be a change in the way schools (Higer Ed and K-12) purchase technology for their communities in order to liberate the marketplace to build solutions that satisfy the end-user (instructor or learner).

The Web 2.0 marketplace is filled with great solutions that generally focus on one feature or at least one concept.  Flickr does photos.  YouTube does videos.  Delicious does bookmarks.  WordPress does blogs.  Disqus does comments.  Digg does news aggregation.  Wikispaces does wikis.  Second Life provides 3D worlds.  Facebook does sharing with friends.  What this produces (besides too many logins) is an environment where teams of people are pursuing excellence at one element of information production and sharing.  The overall effect is that in the last 3 to 4 years the web has gone from a place where companies put up their marketing/info websites and you can buy stuff on ebay, to a place where people are participants in the largest groundswell of information production in human history.

In order to liberate this kind of marketplace for the academic environment, individuals must be encouraged to use products that work for them.  The idea that the school can purchase one single solution and force everyone to use it needs to go the way of the dodo.  We need to move the mentality of decision makers from “What are the consequences of forcing everyone to use this?” to “How can we provide more opportunities for our teachers and learners to find solutions that work for them?”

How do we turn the learner into the customer?  Any comments, suggestions?

OMG, a Good Idea: Educational Value-Added Assessment System

Good Ideas in education are hard to come by. People in Education like Lofty Ideas – ideas that sound good but have vague execution plans and no difficult choices or dirty work, and thus no results.  Good Ideas have difficult, politically challenging implementation processes and actually produce results.  Good Ideas don’t just sound nice, but they have guts and teeth.

I knew about EVAAS (Educational Value-Added Assessment System), but I didn’t KNOW about EVAAS until, at a BBQ in San Francisco, I met Claire Robertson-Kraft, a Penn/TFA alum who works at Operation Public Education. OPE has formed a team of leading experts across the country to develop a compehrensive approach to school reform. One of their consultants is Bill Sanders, who apparently invented EVAAS with his own two bare hands.

Claire sent me an insider’s look at Operation Public Education’s Comprehensive School Reform Model, which is a Good Plan (as opposed to a Lofty Plan).  (It has to be with Gates Foundation bankroll and love.)  They’ve got a fair and comprehensive method to determine value added from state assessments (which, I acknowledge, are limited) coupled with a killer Observation Framework for instruction developed and operated by Charlotte Danielson.  Add a little Administrator Evaluation as robust as the teacher observation.  Give it some incentive pay to get people moving towards the goals, and give it support with peer review and remediation.  Finally, give it teeth with mandatory remediation and ultimately dismissal with underperforming teachers.  Oh WAIT, new teachers also start as Apprentices and have to move up; if they can’t in five years, they are dismissed.  Yeah, like I said.  Its a Good Plan.  With a capital G and a capital P.

But, of course, to make it politically feasible there’s even a “Grandfather Clause” that allows existing teachers to keep the old compensation model.  Fine.

I know, critics argue that the assessments are non-comprehensive and a mere end-of-year, 3 hour clip of a summative assessment that students don’t even really care about.  True.  Alas, it’s better than nothing: the state tests are, for the most part, disastrously easy for well-educated children, and you gotta start somewhere.  OPE is already thinking about the next level of assessments, integrating comprehensive, varied, and authentic assessments is one of their chapter-worthy goals.

This is what I’ve been looking for: a plan that couples comprehensiveness and noble direction with guts and teeth.  Thank goodness.

Schools Should Embrace Facebook and Social Networking, Regardless of Impact on Instruction

Why should a school embrace Facebook and other social networks?  In addition to it being a completely futile battle against the tides, students get a lot out of it. That’s right administrators and professors – its not about you.

The seemingly meaningless interactions like pokes, wall posts and picture comments are not a waste of time, Sam Gosling, a psychologist from the University of Texas, pointed out at his talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  Gosling stated that such interactions help to solidify real, existing relationships.

Nicole Ellison, a professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University, recently spoke at Facebook, invited by my friend and our advisor to Courses and Schools, Jeff Hammerbacher.  Her relevant work centers around social networking as a means of students developing social capital.  For those who ever went to a reputable school (especially, say, business school), a good portion of the utility of education is the social capital amassed during the program.

Ellison found in her research that there is a significant (and large) correlation with facebook use and bridging (community), bonding (close friends), and maintaining (previous communities) social capital.  Particularly notable for administrators and staff that work with students was that students with lower self esteem and lower satisfaction with life make more gains in bridging social capital, or making connections to their university community.

I can explain all this, theoretically, from my learning in BJ Fogg‘s Psychology of Facebook course at Stanford.  There is a concept in social psychology called “interpersonal attraction,” a descriptor of the magnetism between two people.  People with strong interpersonal attraction would want to talk with one another, sit with one another, and develop trust between each other.  Interpersonal attraction is strongly predicted by proximity, familiarity, and similarity.  Facebook overcomes proximity, promotes familiarity, and allows students to find similarities.  Therefore, people actively using Facebook have a large amount of interpersonal attraction with a larger number of people.

Schools should embrace Facebook because there students are building and maintaining relationships through the medium, and a large value add of the school setting are the relationships that are created and maintained.

Schools will probably eventually find that their alumni that use social networking tools feel more connected to the community are better contributors and participants, and prospects with more ties to current students and alumni through social networking tools will be more likely to matriculate.

Professors like George Bogaski, Mid America, and John Curry, Oklahoma, generally articlute that using Facebook to augment instruction results in more positive feelings toward the class, more bonds between classmates, easier contact with students, and even anecdotal higher performance.  This is without even using CMS applications like Courses.

As someone who is trying to merge social networking and instruction (I am currently out of the classroom working on Courses and Schools on Facebook), I believe that the merger of the two can and should happen.  But until the perfect tool comes along, administrators and staff should embrace Facebook and social networking for what it is – a medium where people are developing and maintaining relationships.  And remember: it’s not about what YOU get out of it, it’s about what they get out of it.

Education 3.0 (What Web 3.0 means for Education)

For those not privy to internet futurism, Web 3.0 is a term encompassing fledgling developments in the internet that will most likely become mainstream trends over the next decade or so; the gist is that web applications will be able to greet you as if they know you and go get information for you they don’t already have by cooperatively sharing or intelligently finding data; the components include the Semantic Web, web Operating Systems, mobile and geographic integration, and heavy identity-based services coupled with data and identity portability.  If I missed anything for internet gurus, comment below.  The impact on education that I am betting on are primarily threefold.

1) Interoperability and Data (liberation) Portability:  Course data such as title, time, credits, instructors, etc, and personal data such as education history, learning preferences, instructional modifications, etc, will become transferable across applications and software.  This will increase the number of services that schools can provide with marginal additional expense, as well as the services’ ability to integrate with each other to cooperate to provide a cross-platform, integrated learning environment.

2) Identity-based Services:  Services can take that data and cooperate to create distributed, adaptive learning environments and learning management systems, as well as give information to instructors that can help them scale data-driven, adaptive instruction.  These services will seemingly take anonymity out of computer services and personalize learning.

3) Mobile device Integration: Services will be integrated across devices, with particular emphasis on mobile offerings that fill a void in both frequent off-site, low-commitment interactions, as well as synchronous solutions for in-class instructional support tools.

A little background.  I give the Semantic and Data Operability aspect of Web 3.0 considerable thought as I build Standardissimo, a standards-based content publishing, discovery, planning, formative assessment and data analytics tool still in private alpha.  (Comment if you’d like to be included in the alpha).  We’ve been grappling with the inconsistencies of the data model for state standards and the lack of anything close to a Resource Description Framework across states and subjects.  States don’t even try to tag their HTML so that you can easily do something with the data.  They treat it like text, obliviously creating barriers for people trying to improve education through technology!   I just found Academic Benchmarks, a company that solves this problem by affordably offering national database with an abstracted data model and publishing standards in XML to subscribers potentially in all 50 states for all subject areas.  Life saver.  Check them out if you’re looking to create solutions around state standards.

At Inigral, our biggest challenges have been getting hold of and using data sets that should, from a pragmatic perspective, be public and easily integrated into web services; particularly course and enrollment data.  IMS Global and SIF are the organizations devoted to developing data, metadata, and data transfer standards to increase the interoperability of software systems for education; and I’ve found the movements they represent particularly inspiring even if the development of these universal standards are bureaucratic, boring, and mindnumbingly complicated.  (Thanks to Jason Wrage for trying to make sense of SIF on his blog.)

For the instructional version of Education 3.0, Derek Keats seems to have given it a bit of thought here.

If you work in education or educational technology, think about how you can help position your organization to take advantage of and contribute to moving toward Education 3.0….  Namaste.

What About the Early Grades?

In the A Nation at Risk, 25 Years Later edition of education week, I was happy to hear someone emphasize the early grades.  Ed Hirsch Jr. might as well have been a secondary insider.  His critique was this: we’ve done high school reform acrobatics since A Nation At Risk with no overall effect, so the reform arena should recognize that early grades matter.

I can confirm that many secondary teachers spend a considerable amount of time aghast and powerless in the face of forces they seem to have no control over – the child’s parenting, personality and energy, for example.  However, we feel particularly bitter when students arrive without the skills and background knowledge to participate in our class.  We inevitably curse their primary experience.

I’m not necessarily in agreement with his argument that elementary curriculum needs to have more actual content rather than a focus on skills, nor that there needs to by a unitary curriculum.  I’d instead focus on the raw talent, pay, respect toward and parent involvement with elementary teachers.  But, as a former High School teacher and victim of the secondary reform acrobatics, any efforts by foundations and think tanks towards primary school is a much appreciated endeavor.  They need you.

Get Savvy with Interactive (Rich) Media.

Rich Media is different from typical media in the sense that it has some point of interactivity. (To be honest, I’m not sure if Rich or Interactive is the preferred nomenclature.) Advertisers are all over this. The web is increasingly splattered with flashy little ad widgets inducing you to click on them.

Teachers like to rant about the failing attention spans of young people. Never mind that they’ve been doing that since the classroom was invented, instead lets pay attention to the fact that teachers can now upgrade the delivery of their material.

The pedagogy behind this lies on three central tenants – chunking, inquiry-based learning, safe self-remediation. Material can be broken down into bites manageable by our 8 minute attention spans. Students can explore information as they develop questions. And, students capable of monitoring their understanding can interact with the material more to be sure they do understand it without revealing to their peers that they needed a little extra help.

Teachers: not so savvy with Rich Media. Of course, this will change over time. Online services are popping up to get this show on the road. Of the services available, I recommend Omnisio to make interactive media out of your PowerPoints and Apture to make it out of your texts. These are basic start points to get you on the road to interactive media.

Omnisio allows you to chunk a video with slides and allows both the author and users to make comment bubbles on the fly. Your video, in addition to supporting the jumping from one slide to another, will now become an interactive discussion.

Apture allows hyperlinks in online text to become an interactive, inquiry-based learning object. Links pop up embedded content, from simple text to rich media in itself. Students browsing your articles or blog can jump from perusal to in depth understanding just by following the click trail.

In general, there is a scale of interactivity and the simple ability to fast forward, rewind, speed up and slow down is a huge advantage to the static continuum of information delivery in the classroom. Of course, technology can also offer more sophisticated ways to monitor understanding and get richer and more interactive. But if I was trying to set you off on a path to building a Massively Multiplayer Onling Role Playing Game you’d probably not start.

Feeds in the Educational Context

Vicki Davis speculated here that FriendFeed’s new groups feature meant that you could keep a feed running for your class.  True.  But, why would you want to?  (<- rhetorical)  And, if you’re designing educational technology, why include a feed as a feature?

In that Psychology of Facebook class at Stanford I was taking, we talked a lot about explaining the compelling nature of the Social Web to people that “just don’t get it.”  (Like, your mom or people that only email when their forwarding pictures of LOLcats.)  So, I figured I’d give it a go.

You should develop a CourseFeed because:

1.    Interpersonal attraction amongst students.  “Attraction” here is not sexual, it’s the general gravitational pull of one person upon another, and according to psychology that’s highly correlated to familiarity with a person.  For instance, I’m attracted to Vicki Davis not because I’d like to take her on a date to the Olive Garden, but because she occupies my RSS reader, my Twitter, and my Facebook status updates.  Everywhere I go online, I see her.  If I walked into a digital bar in Second Life, I’d probably go over to her table first and make fun of all the other avatars that I’m not familiar with.  Students spend half a semester just getting comfortable with one another.  This would be greatly accelerated with a CourseFeed.

2.    Aggregating casually shared content, asynchronously.  Schools still haven’t figured this one out – the world has moved from a “synchronous” model where everyone has to be present at the same time, to an “asynchronous” one where I do my bit at my convenience and you do your bit at yours.  As is, if you are going to share something with the class, they all need to be in class.  Absent ones – they won’t know.  Ones that aren’t paying attention, they won’t get it.  I know, I know, they stiffs in the administration pay for some system you don’t use that can handle some asynchronous information distribution. But, students don’t log in so it’s useless.   But they don’t log in because the content there is generally formal and unidirectional (coming from you, cough (boring) cough).  Kids want to share and publish themselves.  They’re doing it everywhere online and guess what, right now you nor your class are included in the fun.

There are my reasons.  Take’em or leave em.  Oh, and follow me on FriendFeed, I’m lonely over there.   Oops, one more thing, join the Classroom 2.0 Room.

Schools Need to Take Control of their Online Identity

Jeff Utecht made a great post here discussing the implications of students out there on the social web creating an online identity for their school.  They create Facebook groups, leave comments everywhere on MySpace, edit wiki pages, and even put up their own websites that represent their school in certain lights.  These disaggregated snippets form a dialogue out on the web that schools are completely ignoring.  Teachers and administrators need to be on the internet and the social web to take part in the discussion, at the very least to be aware of what is being said.

If you are an administrator or teacher, I’d be happy to talk to you about this.  You can also post at

RSS, Information and Education

The Newspaper is all but dead.  The responsibility of reading just one major metropolitan newspaper is long over.  Instead, the internet is teeming with publishers of both text and multimedia.  The immediate future is syndication over the internet, with individuals seeking out and customizing their own multimedia news sources, sharing them with friends and family, and publishing them over the internet.  Educators need to be actively involved in coaching young people to seek good information, keep themselves informed, and share and publish information online as a form of dialog between them, their friends, and the rest of society.

Netvibes, Pageflakes, and Google Reader are competing neck and neck to offer a top browser-based product that performs the best at RSS (Really Simple Syndication, an alternate form of viewing the material that has tags that other programs can understand and import) aggregation, organization, sharing, and publication.   They are the tools of choice for blog readers – the task of a blog reader is to stay abreast of enormous numbers of blogs.  It’s a job that’s as much filtering out poor sources, choosing relevant articles, and pushing good articles on others as it is reading.  It’s no relaxed reading the paper.

Oddly enough, the death of newspapers was part suicide.  They became less able to create new and original content through good (expensive) journalism by treating that practice as what stood between them and maximum profits.  Meanwhile, they got more adept and rehashing whatever came through the wire.  Now, there’s an ocean of news out there but not a drop to drink save a few bastions of integrity.

Enter blogosphere.

Fortunately, a lot of bloggers are in the thick of industries or locations newsworthy, and they put out content for free as a mode of self-expression or community building.  Watchdog organizations and activists can now publish instantaneously and at little cost.  In a way, we’re just getting rid of the middle man.

Unfortunately, the blogosphere is not full of skilled writers trained in the scruples of effective and moral journalism.  That middle man, the journalist, was the filter.  People trusted that the local paper of any decent sized town would inform them of all relevant information at the local, state, national, and perhaps even global level.  The responsibility was to read one paper.   Filtering done for you.

Now that every day citizens in their jobs and their locations and their activities are becoming both the content producers and the content filters, there’s more responsibility for intelligent information processing than ever.  Educators have to take more responsibility for teaching the student ways to cope with infinite information, ways to discern the quality of information, and ways to interpret and use that information.

College Counselors in Middle School, Raising Expectations or Setting up for Failure?

Mildred Avenue Middle School in Boston will be the first middle school in Boston to get a full time college counseling office. 

I suspect – if other investments are not made in creating a more rigorous curriculum, teaching students to study and think independently, and guiding them through becoming fluent in written and mathematical analysis and processes of creativity, collaboration, and research – it will be a dramatic failure at producing students that are prepared for college.

Getting more and more children aware of college does not automatically have the affect or effect of getting them prepared to go to and succeed in college.   That, schools don’t want to recognize, takes innovation and work by everyone at all levels in all subjects.

I also posted this on College Redi

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