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Get Your Fetus Ready For College.

 I made this post at CollegeRedi

 I found the No Excuses University Network, which is a set of schools at the K-8 levels determined to help students get ready for college.  That’s right, there are elementary schools that are a part of this.  This stems from the culture that’s been created in the wake of the reports like “College Readiness Begins in Middle School,” by the ACT. 

These policy/professional development movements are based in some reality: students who start thinking about college early as well as have accesses to resources for and encouragement to plan and execute a program of rigorous coursework through late middle and early high school are more likely to get admitted to competitive programs and succeed in them.    

Unfortunately, what’s happened in education has been to turn this into a policy of trumpeting the virtues of college to younger and younger audiences who have no possible way to take on a curriculum that would get them prepared for college.  You can hum college to a fetus all you want, but that’s not going to get them doing full on research projects with multivariate regression.

True college readiness lies not in the planning and the number of AP exams, but in the rigor of the output of the classes they do take, particularly at ages 16 and 17 when the brain has started coping with bodily hormones and the social labyrinth enough to start internalizing process schema for intellectually rigorous work. 

Standards-Based Report Cards

The New York Times Opinion Page had a piece (which I seem to have misplaced) describing new report cards featuring state mandated standards from a parents perspective. They found the several page document bewildering, and this is coming from a member of the New York Times Editorial Staff. Imagine how the average mom and pop might feel with a report card that reads:

2.1 Understand negative whole-number exponents. Multiply and divide expressions involving exponents with a common base.

Most of the problems in education come from terrible feedback mechanisms. Teachers don’t have the time to give substantial feedback in person, nor do they have time to write intensive analysis on a per student basis. Parents are completely in the dark, even if they try to follow along (and most don’t even try because the information they get isn’t good enough). And students delude themselves into thinking whatever they want to think about their performance. The need is great for better, real-time, actionable reporting to all stakeholders in a kid’s life. The Truth Will Set You Free, or in this case The Truth Will Give You Power Over Your Students.

Standards based reporting is coming. The question is whether or not it can be presented in a fashion that means something and promotes the action necessary to increase student learning and performance.

Best Practices for Educators Using Facebook

I gave a presentation at Classroom 2.0 Live this past weekend about best practices for educators using facebook. Here’s the presentation, Driving Engagement and Belonging with Facebook, if you want to have a look.

Driving Engagement and Belonging with Facebook

Right click the link above and open it in a different window.  The presentation uses the Courses application on facebook towards the end.

Data Interoperability Framework

So, in an earlier post I was proposing that schools use their Student Information Systems to make their data readable in XML. It turns out that SIS makers have been working on this, as usual in an overly-complicated, clunky, and proprietary way. But, they seem to have given it some serious thought. There are two standards organizations, one for higher ed, IMS Global, and one for k12, SIF. Of course, this doesn’t mean schools will make this data available to the entrepreneurial cowboys bent on revolutionizing education through AJAX, even though that’s what they should do because that’s the only way to help drive innovation in this industry on a hill.

Classroom 2.0 Live Reflections

The most helpful part of Classroom 2.0 Live in San Francisco this past weekend was the lightning rounds and the product demos. The ones who did have an hour, including myself, probably would have been better off staying within fifteen minutes. Here are some products in the order of my personal preference:

1. Diigo ( is perhaps the most useful site I’ve seen lately, of course elegant in its simplicity. It promotes a better version of social bookmarking with features that enable clipping, quoting, and annotating among much else.

2. Voicethread ( allows you to put up work (in the form of media and images) and discuss them in a way very similar to real life discussion and analysis. A really great way to get time to discuss each students work from both the teacher and peers.

3. Ustream ( enables live, interactive broadcasting from multiple broadcasters. You could, with a chat room, have a virtual review session with multiple instructors broadcasting and students participating from home.

4. Wikispaces ( ) in case you hadn’t heard of it is a very simple wiki host. Suggested activities include creating lecture summaries and test review sheets. Mandatory perfect grammar on all wikis is a good way to increase

5. Empressr ( ) is a sweet browser-based multi-media presentation editor. It’s really slick.

6. Vyew ( supposedly empowers teams to collaborate on documents and projects, like some sort of massively multiplayer visual editing system. To me it seemed too messy to be practical, but I was told that this is the last frontier in educational technology.

Edmodo(, Edu20( ), and my own product Courses on Facebook ( are offering totally free versions of Course Management Systems to complement existing tools.

Steve Hargadon, of Classroom 2.0 fame, the evangelist for Ning in educational settings, did a great job putting the event together and had just the right attitude and strength of character to make the event a more than swell experience. He’s modifying the CR2.0 Live concept a little and plans on making a replicable professional development model that can be scaled in the internet sense of the word.

Observations from the Bottom Up.

It’s not every day that some of the leading edubloggers give a noob a shout, but today both Michael Feldstein and Stephen Downes gave me air time. Downes even challenged me to write a little more often, so I thought I’d relay a depiction of a trend of which I seem to be a part.

There’s a lot of excitement for new internet products in education; in specific Web 2.0, scalable, affordable, interactive, usable, interoperable, and dependable products. This excitement didn’t come from administrators having shrimp and cocktail meetings with Blackboard, WebCT and D2L. It came from instructors seeing their students use products like Myspace, which suddenly made 100 million people publishers, and Facebook, which proved that it is possible to make highly scalable social networks while respecting privacy, and Ning, which made private social networks a few mouse clicks away. And let’s not forget those that came before – Friendster, Livejournal, and even Geocities – which managed to prove that young people are more than eager to leave Generation X and Why behind and move on to read/write, participatory, multimedia technoanarchademocratic culture.

Yes, Generation You has graduated and handed up their cultural tools to instructors, who are just now starting to realize the educational power of the read/write web. I will summarize this power in a single sentence: The web has the power to transform the work of a student shared with an audience of one teacher into a publication for all classmates, friends, peers, and the rest of the entire world. The entire set of excuses for apathy and lackadaisical efforts are no longer valid. The students’ work matters. It is no longer the practice, it is the event. It is no longer a 12 year audition, it’s a play in which everyone takes part and everyone has tickets.

Even till now, educational institutions have given poorly run technology firms hosting poorly made technology a monopoly of browser-based inter-school interaction. Each interaction is publishable only at the class level. Schools pay too much for not enough.

Conspicuously absent in all of this is the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial engine. Education is a locked gate, a closed door. It’s run by firms like Blackboard with BS patents and investors tied to Washington (Carlyle Group, so I hear).

This is on the verge of changing. There’s a silent movement boiling up. As long as instructors everywhere start demanding change, it will happen. Slowly, but surely. Forbidden Cities are opening their gates. Technlogies like Rails, CakePHP, and Django are letting kids with laptops build entire suites to solve problems in education. put out William Li at Berkeley and Oycas! put out by Arash Sanieyan from come to mind. These still don’t have much traction, but that’s because interests are still too entrenched and barriers are still too high. So, professors and teachers need to keep working their way around archaic systems, and start becoming vocal about the contrasts between systems that are locked in and closed and ones that seem to be readily available on the web.

Hey, a man can dream, can’t he? Join Educators Using Facebook if you are on Facebook.

Universities and Urban Renewal

The Chronicle of Higher Education podcast featured a talk with Oberlin College President Marvin Krisolv about the relationship between the College and the community of Oberlin.  Oberlin claims to be taking an active stake in the local economy, helping to invest in infrastructure and service programs as part of an Urban Renewal effort.  Having observed many schools, I think that their success inextricably linked to the livability and opportunities in their immediate surroundings.  Oberlin is not taking it far enough.

In particular, Harvard and Stanford have dramatically altered and managed the towns around them.  Owning and managing the surrounding community to promote a safe, clean, and livable environment is only the first step.  The next seems to be to promote the location of research institutes nearby, as well as set up space for and engage the industries of the future.  Stanford has done this and more: it has been the most extreme example of helping to jump start Venture Capital firms, and the firms have a home bias that inevitably has made Silicon Valley one of the wealthiest areas of the planet.

University involvement in urban renewal seems to be the trend, but service programs are temporary and are more of a band-aid than a solution.  If a university really wants to see their community improve, they need to become the spark of economic development through the active management of residential, commercial, and high tech industrial real estate, the creation of research institutes, and the support of Venture Capital.

Course Data Needs to Open Up

Since I’ve been working on Courses on Facebook, a lot of other web application developers with interest in the education market have approached us hoping to tap into “courses”, to make their product available to our users in the context of participating in their courses. From turning camera photos into scanners, to a virtual whiteboard, there are lots of developers out there trying to make innovative products.

However, it is difficult for most of these applications to gain traction due to a “brick wall” around course data. All accurate course data is closed, kept for school use only. As a result, the only software available that can be used in courses has to be marketed from the top down. Either that, or users have to be so compelled to use the product that they enter and clean data on their own, which is rare. As a result, much of the developer talent avoids the education space.

What if course data and even course membership data could be open? There could be XML tags around them, including <uni_name> <term_name> <term_start> <term_end> <school> <program> <department> <course_title> <course_code> <primary_instructor><instructor id=n>

Opening course data could remove the “brick wall” and increase user adoption of numerous web applications trying to create better or even new ways of sharing information in and around courses.

Yet another set of Data Gymnastics

I just read an article that revealed how the US News and World Report’s best high schools in the country (at getting kids ready for college) are identified. As usual, I was beside myself at the naivety of the data gymnastics involved.

The researchers measured whether a school performed better than average on the state exam, including disadvantaged groups compared to other disadvantaged groups at other schools. Then they take the weighted average of the AP participation rate and performance, as well as the ratio of students passing the AP exams over the number of graduating seniors, do a little index magic and outcomes the praised number.

This, of course, has very little to do with college readiness. The ratio of passed AP exams to the total graduating class directly measures only the number of students signing up for AP classes with the confidence and money to take the exam.

While there is reason to champion the AP program as well as the AP exam, it is only a standardized exam that measures content knowledge with (as every multiple choice exam) mild treatment to analytical ability, reading comprehension, and form writing.

The AP exam cannot measure a students’ habits in the absence of supervision, nor can it measure a students ability to solve comprehensive problems that cannot be contained within a few paragraphs of text. It cannot measure knowledge of research procedure, or of self-monitored study-skills. While a commitment within the structure of high school and parent led homes can be inferred, true motivation nor an intrinsic love for learning cannot.

The AP exam is heralded simply because its hard data, but college readiness lies in much more qualitative assessments. With some serious effort on the part of policy makers and administrators, perhaps we can start touching on that too one day.

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