Sunday, January 17, 2010

Quality Education: 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

Education: Disruptive Technology

21, 2008 – 7:01 am by


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?
Zaggle, CEO of Excelsior

(recently bought out by
seemed to hint that not only would there be a disruption in the
nature of education, but that

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
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
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

is the ability to trend grades. This is a formula developed by
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

is that it frees the teacher from a huge amount of paperwork. The
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
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

makes it possible to try a method of teaching and test the
effectiveness immediately. The additional combination of
teachers to pinpoint which students need help, who is on the bubble,
and who is gaining mastery of concepts.

Now with
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
combination, 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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