Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is Web 20 inherently wrong for education

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

Is Web 2.0 Inherently Wrong for Education?

September 21, 2008 – 7:22 am by Brendan

Two Basic Models of Learning

The first model says that all learning is simply a ladder. You learn one skill then move to the next and the next and the next and so on until you learn everything of importance. This is a bit simplistic but I find that if I think in this way I can see why testing and standards become so very important. It is sort of like measuring the rate at which a person climbs a staircase. A normal person should go x number of steps at a time. Eventually though, everyone, normal or not, gets to the top.

In a sense there is some truth to this model. There is a lot of order that needs to go into learning. After all you wouldn’t expect a child to read War and Peace before reading Dr. Seuss. We can generally identify what a student should know or should learn during a certain grade in school. We can say 3rd grade children should know all the multiplication facts up to 10 X 10. We can then test to see if students know these skills pretty easily. Hence, we can measure the effectiveness of teacher and school. (by sixth grade a student should be half way up the ladder of knowledge).

Following this model schools, districts, states, and the Department of Education can create standards of achievements. Teachers will teach to the standards and education will be improved. If life were this simple teacher lectures would have been transferred to films in the fifties and our education system would be the envy of the world. Skill development is an important step in education, but it isn’t the only step. (Some would say it isn’t even an important step, but I disagree. I think it is very difficult to teach creative thinking if students don’t have a grasp of basic skills.)

The other basic model of education says that students learn best when they discover knowledge. Students can memorize skills, but they won’t truly “own” the skill until they see the importance of that skill. When they “own” a skill they will be able to apply it in ways beyond the context in which they learned it. (ie… if third graders learn multiplication is a ratio of numbers as well as repeated addition they can apply the multiplication skill to fractions, probability, and other skills.)

To facilitate this owning of skills requires discussion and reflection. Take for example my high school Biology class. We did a series of experiments with a partner. Each experiment required a three page write up. So basically we explored, discussed, and wrote. As a freshman I barely passed Biology with a D. As a senior I took the ACT and my two highest scores were in Biology and Math. (I had taken every math class my high school offered and the top class I took twice because I liked math.)

Shameless Promotion of the GlobalScholar platform

Schools need to be able to make adequate yearly progress according to NCLB. (After the election NCLB will probably be changed, but it won’t go away) This is the first model of education. Globalscholar allows the teacher to take his or her current lessons and unit and align them to their current standards. As the year progresses teachers can compare which lessons were most effective at achieving which standards. Teachers can share lessons easily and discuss what is working and what isn’t working.

Pinnacle Gradebook not only simplifies the grading process, but teachers can follow trend grading to more accurately determine learning going on in their classroom. Now imagine if each question on every quiz and test given were linked to a specific standard. Using Pinnacle Analytics teachers could determine exactly which standards were met and which weren’t. This makes GlobalScholar a great tool to use to show how schools are meeting the requirements of NCLB. The data created should be enough to mollify even the most stubborn of politicians.

Being able to point to the specific steps in this ladder view of education should sell GlobalScholar to a lot of schools, districts, states, and even a few countries. This is what makes GlobalScolar salable to the majority of people who make buying decisions in education, but this will not the biggest effect on improving education. This is not the best part of GlobalScholar.

Teacher Collaboration

Today it is possible to ask on a search engine for a lesson plan to teach a certain skill. The problem is often someone wants you to pay for the lesson, or there is no information on the effectiveness of the lesson, or it doesn’t quite meet the standard because there are so many different standards in use. Generally, I used the internet as an idea generator, but created the bulk of the lesson on my own.

Imagine though if a 20 year veteran teacher worked in another building in your district and had a great lesson plan. She not only shares the lesson, but she shares her reflections on teaching the lesson over the course of several years, she shares the average test scores, she shares differentiations, and everything else. New teachers can use these quality lessons to start planning their school year. They can ask questions and make modifications and repost the lesson or unit as their version. Teachers don’t have the exact same lesson plan, but they do have lessons that are proven effective in their district.

Collaboration and discussion among teachers creates better lessons, better units, and better schools.

Student Collaboration

Great lessons and analyzing data can only do so much. For the most part this is only setting the stage for learning to occur. The biggest step is getting students involved. The idea of getting students to “own” learning.

To get students to “own” learning we want to get them to discover it on their own. Obviously, we can’t wait for students to discover thousands of years of knowledge, but we can guide students with specific experiments as we do in Science.

This can still take a long time. So teachers have learned to ask the right questions, or point out benchmark ideas. Still if this were one student it would take forever. He or she might even never discover certain ideas, but a classroom of students can often discover hundreds of years of ideas in just a few hours.

Once a classroom of students discovers important ideas it is necessary to give them a bit of time to discuss the relevance of the ideas. The discussion can be guided into a formal knowledge that is the specific skill or concept the teacher is trying to teach.

GlobalScholar allows teachers to set up these discussions for each lesson, homework assignment, unit or any other part of the teaching process. The discussions are in house, so they are 100% monitored by the teacher, but students can add to the discussion anytime they have internet access. (So on Friday afternoon, when a student is going to grandma’s house and mom asks a question that leads to an insight the student can pull out the old Iphone and post a comment on the discussion board at school. Saturday three other students did some research on the internet and posted replies. Monday, six students have questions, especially because one of the replies was based on erroneous information, but the teacher is ready because she received email alerts throughout the weekend.)

Forced Rflection

(Photo from Dean Sharski)

Students had a discussion, they bounced around some ideas, but they didn’t come to formal conclusions. The teacher asks the students to reflect on the ideas and guides them to a formal conclusion. The conclusion is posted in the discussion forum and it is closed. The discussion can serve as notes that can be organized and printed for the students, or the students can be asked to summarize the discussions and the conclusion in their own journals.

What Makes This So Good

Many well meaning politicians, schools, administrators, and teachers have focused on “teaching to the test” emphasizing skills over concepts in an effort to improve standardized tests scores. Usually, this has reduced the amount of time students can spend “discovering” learning.

· GlobalScholar allows students to participate in school outside of the classroom, discussions aren’t limited to the 40 minutes a day allowed in classrooms.

· Discussion topics, lessons, and units can be tied to standards so teachers can really show how effective learning is happening.

· With a bank of questions aligned to standards teachers can give mini quizzes and tests more often and use the results to improve or reteach. (quizzes and test can be taken online anywhere any time so class time isn’t used up for testing)

· Teachers can share easily. (This lesson worked great. Help, I need protractors. I have a great lesson in Art that will illustrate the fractals you are learning in Math.)

· Discussions don’t just help students to learn discussion among teachers in the KEY to improving teacher quality (the number one factor in improving schools).

Is Web 2.0 Inherently Wrong for Education?

No, web 2.0 will change education. The question is will we make it a change for good or a change for the worse?

Addendum Can everything that is done by GlobalScholar be done with other software or even open source free software? Yes! And some of it very well, that is part of the web 2.0 reality. There are reasons to pay for a suite of software that you could otherwise get for free, but that is a topic for a future article.

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