Thursday, January 21, 2010

Disruptive Technology

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the

Disruptive Technology

Clayton Christensen who coined the term disruptive technology explains to us that disruptive technology is often dismissed by big corporations because it does not reinforce current company goals, only to be blindsided as the technology matures, gains a larger audience and marketshare, and threatens the status quo.

So today my question is: Will there be a disruptive technology that shakes up the education world? William Zaggle, President of Excelsior (recently bought out by GlobalScholar) seemed to hint that not only would there be a disruption in the nature of education, but that Pinnacle Gradebook and GlobalScholar might be the technology to do so.

I have been wondering all week how our technology might be used by the little guys to blindside the established powers in education. If we consider the powers that be in education to be large book publishing companies and state or federally controlled administrations. Then these established powers will ignore or dismiss GlobalScholar as just another fad that does not reinforce their vision of education.

At the moment the Secretary of Education supports No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB attempts to define a specific level of learning that each child should know at the end of each year. To this end traditional book publishers write books that generally cover any and all possibilities that a state might want to teach. Schools buy the books and teachers teach from the book. Curriculums become bloated and students are overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they are required to learn. Education becomes a task of grabbing and holding facts then regurgitating said facts onto tests.

To decide if William Zaggle is correct and GlobalScholar is a disruptive technology that can and will disrupt education let’s take a look at some of the education possibilities included in the Pinnacle Suite of products. Pardon me if I start to sound like a salesman for the company; you are welcome to skip the next 6 paragraphs is you wish.

One of the main features of Pinnacle GradeBook is the ability to trend grades. This is a formula developed by Dr. Robert Marzano that basically weights assessments on the same concept, with later assessments having a higher weight than earlier ones. (It’s more complicated than that, but read his books if you want to know more)

Most people don’t like to admit it, but often teachers can be put into one of two categories; either they are organized and focus more on the administrative side of teaching or they are creative and have a lot of difficulty with the administrative side of teaching. Most administrators and parents love the organized teacher. There is something to be said for the quiet clean classroom. On the other hand many students would rather learn from the disorganized, but creative teacher who makes learning interesting. The problem is determining if the creative teacher is actually teaching.

The other major feature of Pinnacle GradeBook is that it frees the teacher from a huge amount of paperwork. The GradeBook not only figures out the grade, but it has features that allow the teacher to grade and enter those grades automatically. It allows teachers to take attendance and have that attendance automatically show up in the GradeBook so you can remember who was absent on the day of the test and about a million other features that teachers love. Creative teachers who inspire students now can be organized too.

One of the major obstacles to reform in education is the difficulty in determining what or if any improvements are being made without a major commitment to said reform. Traditionally it takes about three years to determine if a new program is working in a school. Even then many reforms falter because the teacher or administrator who sponsored the reform has moved on or someone else has become devoted to the new flavor of the day and pushes it through.

When reform is based on the improvements we see on the state testing done once a year it is very difficult to see change taking place. Considering that most states have more than 50 standards per grade that students are supposed to master every year, is it any wonder we can’t gauge accurately the learning over the course of one year. The combination of GradeBook and GlobalScholar makes it possible to try a method of teaching and test the effectiveness immediately. The additional combination of Pinnacle Analytics allows teachers to pinpoint which students need help, who is on the bubble, and who is gaining mastery of concepts.

Now with GlobalScholar individual schools have planning and assessment mapped to the specific curriculum developed by local schools, schools have a gradebook that reduces time and effort spent on paperwork while at the same time more accurately assessing student mastery, and schools have the ability to analyze student performance.

So the question is how does this disrupt the established business of education?

Traditional teaching methods are difficult to abandon because they don’t fail. Meaning students may not excel, but they the majority of students will meet the low level goals required by NCLB. Reform in education usually attempts to get students to excel, but can risk having students who fail to learn basic skills. The Pinnacle Suite of software allows the schools and even the individual teachers to determine if a student is mastering individual learning standards.

Instead of working an entire year, or three, at a time teachers can work one unit or even one lesson at a time to improve learning. Individual teachers can point to units or lessons that work as examples. Teachers, students, and administrators can discuss what is working and why. They can share thoughts and improvements immediately. Soon education reform is not tied to a specific book or method. Soon education in individual schools changes and morphs to fit the needs of specific combinations, of teachers, students, and materials.

Knowing immediately if they are effectively teaching allows teachers to abandon traditional methods of teaching that are likely not to fail and use methods that are high risk and high reward. Teachers, administrators, and schools no longer fear standardized tests because they are reasonably confident of the results. Teachers no longer teach to the test, but teach to the standards or concepts that are the basis of the tests, because they know if students are learning the standards. Traditional book publishers, and the Secretary of Education no longer determine a general curriculum that local schools have difficulty meeting. Thus schools return to teaching local students.

Education may soon be thought of as dynamic rather than static. Student learning is still based on the core values of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but it can also flow and change to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.


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