Thursday, December 29, 2011

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I had the occasion to clean out the storage space under the stairs today. No I didn't find Harry Potter's wand, but I found a poster I made for a project in grad school. Some quotes from interviews with professors, TA's, principals, and teachers along with some graphs from surveys I sent to parents.

All right my poster was almost nothing but words. I'm sure I would get some Presentation Zen going if I were to do this today, but as I did this in 1999 we will have to let it go.
If you clicked through and looked closely at the graphs you would find that the parents, teachers, and students all thought the integration of computers into the school was going just grand. It was very interesting that there was such a positive vibe, not just about computers, but the way they were being used. It wasn't like most of the teachers in the school knew what they were doing on a computer. And if you remember the standard educational software back in 1999 left a lot to be desired. I think there was this general idea that this was the tool of the future and we will learn to use it in the classroom together.
That was the school I student taught in anyway. A small parochial school in the suburbs. As you can see from some of the quotes from the principal they had a visionary leader.
I fell that we have an obligation to prepare children to face their future, not our future, their future, and what they are going  to have to know in the business world or jobs or wherever they go."
Their future not ours.
"We hope that by the time they graduate they also realise they are a social being and they need to operate in the world as part of a team."
Remember pre-facebook pre-cell phones in everyone's hands.
"My hope is that I will at least open their minds a little bit to the possibility."
I'm not sure whose minds needed to be opened but I think it was the teachers and the fact that computers were going to be playing a large role in the future of education.
"Teachers just have to remember that computers are another tool for them to use."
Just another tool in the old toolbelt.
"I do believe however that technology is not the end all and be all, that it's a tool or resource,
There was also some stuff that wasn't so visionary, but heck it was over 12 years ago, back then Mark Zuckerberg still couldn't drive.
I also spent some serious time interviewing an education technology professor and his teaching assistants. See if you can determine who is who.
"Engagement isn't everything"
Ten years later and we will haven't figured this out.
"I don't think you can just take a million dollars worth of software and not know what to do with it."
But they do
"Software games like glorified storybooks, I really have my reservations about that. It's crazy the way they're coming up with software that just stinks."
And we still keep buying it. I still liked Oregon Trail if only for the journaling aspect.
"Doing technology right is a very big investment."
And not in just money.
"To ... mandate it doesn't help ... A lot of gentle support or training and education know-how for teachers by themselves before they do anything with their students can help."
Ten years later and we still can't get the training we need.
"For me the role of computers and education is to help achieve other important learning objectives that have to do with the subjects being taught rather than the computers themselves."
Why do we still debate this fact a decade later?
"If I had to choose right now, which would be a terrible thing to do, I would probably still choose hands-on experience."
Will anything ever beat hands-on experiences?
"If your aim in your school is to make the kids behave, the way you use computers is going to be very different from the way you would use computers if your aim is to teach the students to think very critically."
Read that one again, then go read Howard Rheingold.
"A computer program used by a skilled teacher can expand the way learning happens in a classroom."
Don't forget the part about the skilled teacher.
"the best thing .. is when their own children go away to college and start using e-mail to communicate. Often times that serves as the icebreaker, teachers overcome resistance because they see computers as something that can have a positive influence on their life."
Just like our students we could care less until it become important to us.
"For my own personal view of what effective use of technology is, it is being used to enable students to engage in open-ended activities... Engaging in meaningful activities where they are creating..."
open-ended, meaningful, and creating.....
"Computer literacy is a prerequisite not a goal."
I think computer literacy has changed a lot in the last decade, but knowing how to get the computer to do what you want it to do is very important.
"I think contrary to what most people think kids find thinking extremely motivating, if you can get them to do it."
Imagine that, kids don't tune you out because its difficult, they tune you out because they are bored to tears.
"I found I had to know my stuff in terms of pedagogy and content, but the kids were perfectly happy to be experts on the computer."
My 4 year-old teaches me stuff all the time. It's one way to learn. It also keeps him from destroying the house.
"With this information explosion you have to proceed with more caution...the encyclopaedia, of course, you would think has a good editorial board, though some books aren't very good."
This was pre-wikipedia, but yeah some books just aren't very good. We can't even rust highly paid editors to give us THE right answers.
If you were trying to figure out which quotes were from the professor and which were from the TA. The second set of three quotes and the fourth set of three quotes were from the professor

I think my favorite quote was "I think if you have a computer teacher that person better be really good or it will lead up to teaching keyboarding, because I think the use of the computer just like the use of the pencil, this needs to be integrated into the curriculum as a whole."
If we just had a #pencilchat tag it would be perfect.

So what does this all mean? Simply, that as much as the world has changed in the last 10 or 12 years in reality it hasn't.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

K12 Education

My honest opinion. It wasn’t the purpose of cyber-school founders to make money on the backs of children. It wasn’t the intent of cyber-school founders to suck money directly from the government teat. They really wanted to improve education. I don’t even think it is the purpose of most people who work at cyber-schools to put profits over people. These sort of things just happen despite the best of intentions.

I read this article on today. It reminded me, I used to work for a subsidiary of Knowledge Universe Education, I have friends, who are good educators, that still do work for them. I also trained to work for K12 and Agora, also subsidiaries of Knowledge Universe Education.

I didn’t finish the training. I tried but I ran into glitches and couldn't finish without help.  I found it ironic that the training materials emphasised the need for teachers to monitor students closely and how to spot trouble spots early. Then as I had difficulties figuring out what and how to finish the last part of my training I couldn’t find anyone to help me.

At any rate the training course at least covered the basics as far as I was concerned. It just seemed to be more of an independent study program with the simplest form of assessments. You know the kind where they ask a question and you use a word find or a google search to figure out the answer.

In the end I never became a teacher for K12 and I was actually pretty glad I didn't. $12 an hour to be a part-time teacher isn't very exciting. On the other hand the fact that I haven't had money for luxuries such as new underwear isn't very exciting either.

The sad part is I think cyber-schools can and should be a part of the future of education. I think anyone can see how a cyber-school would be great for a motivated learner who wants to move beyond what is taught in school. I can even see how the flexibility of cyber-school could be a benefit for any student.

What I can’t see is:

  • How cyber-schools can improve education for students who don’t want to go to school in the first place.
  • How cyber-schools can help students who need more individualised support not less.
  • How cyber-schools can help students who spend most of their school day avoiding work and hiding from teachers.