Flipped Classroom – The Wave of the Future?

I’ve been working with my local school district to implement a 1:1 learning initiative which will provide each high school student with their own laptop. Pending final budget approval from the town, it looks like it will start in the fall of 2012. There will be innumerable learning opportunities provided by this technology which will come online slowly as teachers get up to speed on the possibilities. One of the easiest and most exciting is the concept of the Flipped Classroom. Knewton published a very easy to understand infographic on the idea. Check it out and let me know what you think. www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/

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Ted Talks at the Serious Play Conference on August 23rd

Ok, so it’s not that Ted Talks (at least not yet), but I will be speaking at the Serious Play Conference in Redmond, Washington August 23rd – 25th. I’ll be presenting my ideas about Using Commercial Video Games as Serious Games in a Standards-based curriculum and walk through some of the teaching guides available on this site as examples of how to use these entertainment games to excite, engage and motivate modern students. If you’re not familiar with Serious Play, here’s a quote from their promo material – “The leading serious game developers, analysts covering serious games, authors of the latest books on game design and senior project directors already leveraging games for corporate and military training, healthcare and education are heading to Serious Play Conference Tuesday – Thursday, Aug. 23 – 25, 2011 at DigiPen Institute of Technology.” It will be my first big presentation, so any advice you may have on how to not completely embarrass myself would be welcome.

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The Recession Good for eLearning?

This is an interesting question posed in the article by Marc J. Rosenberg Marc my Words: Is the Recession Good for eLearning? published in Learning Solutions online. In it, Rosenberg states that the previous recession was bad for elearning because it was a relatively new industry in 2002 and most companies didn’t want to take the risk and switched back to “traditional” learning (whatever that is). But this time, the technology and proliferation of elearning is such that schools and companies are seeing a way to get more training/learning for their buck. I think this idea has got to be true on some level, but how does this translate for instructional designers? As we’ve seen since the dawn of online learning, a lot of bad courses will probably be created by people with no ID skills who just pile a bunch of words and pictures onto some new-fangled LMS and call it a course. The smart companies will recognize the greater potential and hire professional instructional designers to create their courses and training to ensure they are as,  if not more, effective than their previous incarnations. I’ve seen a lot more ID jobs activity being posted on the various blogs and groups I belong to, both for fulltime and contract positions, so by that measure, I guess the recession is good for business. All that activity then begs the question, is the recession good for online instructors?

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Online Learning Gone Wild!

There was an interesting article in the NY Times today about the proliferation of online courses in public schools entitled More Pupils are Learning Online, Fueling the Debate about Quality. Advocates say that it’s a great way to give more students access to more courses and prepares students for online courses they’ll need to take in college and beyond. Detractors say they’re just being used to teach more kids for less money, get rid of those meddlesome teachers and are ripe for fraud and plagiarism.

Having been an online teacher and instructional designer for many years, you’d think I’d be jumping up and down about how great it was that online classes had finally made it to the bigs. Instead, I’m standing, maybe swaying a bit, but that’s about all. On the one hand, I think that every kid should be required to take at least one online course before they escape from high school as it is definitely a format they will see again whether they become a mechanic or robber baron or a rock star (yeah, even rock stars learn online as the Berklee College of Music so aptly demonstrates). Online courses also provide access for certain courses that may not be available in every school and are ideal supplements for home-schooled kids, star athletes, and other youngin’s whose schedules don’t abide by the conventional school daze. 

You know there’s a “but” coming and here it is. Most online courses are only partially-baked. We’re still in version 1.0 of online learning (okay, maybe 1.732), but the technology to support truly interactive, engaging, motivating, exciting, relevant, contextual and personalized learning at the k-12 level isn’t all there yet. This isn’t to say there aren’t some great online courses or that every classroom provides a rich learning environment or that adult learners are benefitting immensely from the availability of online programs, but it’s very easy for younger students who aren’t self-motivated and hungry to slack off in an online course and the temptation to “borrow” material from other sources and submit it as one’s own is very high (can you say Wikipedia?)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge believer in online learning, I just think the reason it’s getting a lot of play right now is more as a budgetary cure than as a great pedagogical panacea to the state of public education. And I fear it will only get worse before it gets better as kids are forced to take more and more “core” courses online (like in Florida where they have a class size limit, but not enough dough to pay teachers, so they stick the kid in front of an online Algebra II course and say “learn”). The technology is improving everyday with adaptive learning platforms such as Knewton and Wireless Generation, but it ain’t quite there yet. Unfortunately, the kids are.

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It’s Broke, so Let’s Fix It

I’ve been a fan of Will Richardson for a while now. He’s one of those guys you’d love to have a beer with, prime him with a few insightful questions and then just sit back and listen. A true visionary for fundamentally changing education, he co-founded Powerful Learning Practice which offers teachers and school leaders real methods and strategies to help drag education into the 21st century, albeit kicking and whining. In this recent presentation, Will talks about the importance of helping kids find their passions and fostering deep learning, but describes how the current education system does everything to prevent this. The focus on test prep by its very nature means that whenever politicians or the educational bureaucracy talk about making schools “better”, they essentially mean making them do better at preparing students for tests, not better at helping them become engaged global citizens with the skills needed to adapt to careers that don’t even exist yet. He crystalized the current state of education when he asks “Do we want our kids to be prepared for their future by a system that hasn’t fundamentally changed in 125 years”?

I’m completely on the same page with Will and think he’s doing an incredible job of evangelizing for disruptive education reform. Although the cynic in me worries that the powers-that-be are so entrenched and protective over their fiefdoms that, especially in this political climate of blame the teachers and “back to basics”, truly meaningful reform is a sysiphian task that will either lead to binge drinking or a stint in Belview (or whatever psychiatric facility is currently in vogue). But, each day is another opportunity to convince just one more person how dire the situation is and hopefully enlist their help behind the rock.

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One to One Computing – Get on the bus!

One of my other passions right now is one-to-one computing – putting a laptop or an iPad into the hands of every student and teacher in the country (ok, that maybe a bit ambitious, so lets start with every high school and move out from there). How will students possibly get the tech-filled skills they need to be succesful in college and their career if they just get to visit the computer lab once a week or are constantly waiting for the laptop cart to be available. I’m working with my local school district to help implement this in the 2012-2013 school year and have been doing a lot of research which has only hardened my already hard head about the importance of one-to-one. At a recent meeting with teachers, some of them expressed concerns about the idea, so I put together this list to help debunk some of the myths and inform them of positive aspects of one-to-one. This doesn’t touch on the whale in the room, how to finance such an initiative, but are as many ways as there are schools and I’ll get into that in later posts.

In no particular order:

  • Although all students will have computers, this doesn’t mean they need to be used in every class everyday or even for an entire class. They can be used for a quick, 15 minute activity, then put away.
  • Teachers shouldn’t feel pressure to have computers fully integrated into their classes on the first day. This will be an ongoing process and will vary depending on the teacher and subject. It will take time to incorporate them effectively – certainly months if not years to get entirely up to speed. Slow, but steady is the way to go.
  • Student computers allow for greater teaching flexibility – reverse lessons, differentiated instruction, collaborative projects, hybrid courses, etc.
  • Student computers build skills imperative for students to be successful both in college and their careers (word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, collaboration, research, media literacy, online safety and etiquette, etc).
  • One-to-one increases parity by giving every student access to technology. This eliminates the “digital divide” and helps reduce the achievement gap.
  • Student computers increase instruction time by reducing the time associated with going to a computer lab or utilizing a laptop cart. They also end logistical issues with same and remove problem of trying to schedule learning around the availability of technology.
  • Research shows that students in one-to-one programs are extremely responsible with their computers – the vast majority protect them from damage and bring them to school everyday.
  • Computers shouldn’t prove to be any more of a distraction than that which already exists with cellphones and Blackberrys. Students won’t be able to use them for non-class activities (Facebook, YouTube, IM, etc.) during class. Access to some of these applications could be blocked if they start to present a problem, though this has not been a significant issue with most other one-to-one programs. A strong Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) will be put in place governing the use of student computers on campus.
  • There will be ongoing and relevant professional development that will provide practical ways to utilize student computers to increase engagement, collaboration, creativity, motivation, differentiated instruction, and achievement.
  • There will be adequate and ongoing technical support to keep all the computers up and running including spare batteries and loaners. This doesn’t mean there won’t be issues, especially in the beginning, but there will be systems in place to handle problems with the goal being to have as little downtime as possible.
  • Students will have access to charging stations in case their machines aren’t fully charged (again, research shows that this is not a significant problem).
  • The new high school is designed to have the bandwidth to adequately handle one-to-one computing.
  • Student computers allow for use of a LMS (Moodle, It’s Learning, etc.) which will enable a host of useful applications and tools to enhance instruction. Again, this doesn’t mean that teachers must use all of them right away, but they are available for those who want to:  
      • Online tests and quizzes which are graded automatically (saving teacher time) and providing students with instant feedback
      • Homework and class notes distributed online – no paper
      • Homework turned in online – no paper
      • Synchronous online study groups and/or one-on-one student help sessions
      • Increased student/teacher and parent/teacher communication
      • Student ePortfolios
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Adaptive Learning – Future of EdTech

Gotta start somewhere, so might as well be with something bleeding edge. New York City based Knewton is developing an adaptive learning platform that will utilize the same types of technology that’s been used by Amazon, Google and Netflix for years. Using student input, it will constantly be analyzing their progress and customizing the material they are given to cater to their individualized strengths and weaknesses as well as their specific learning styles. Sounds like a no-brainer, I know, but it’s been a long time in coming. There’s been major breakthroughs in technology in terms of speed, memory, processing power and, especially price over the last few years and education seems to be the one industry that’s not taking advantage of it (if we only had the brains behind Wallstreet’s computerized micro-trading in education we wouldn’t be aspiring to be Finland). It reminds me a lot of when the Xbox 360 and PS3 first came out. I was producing video games at the time and was incredibly excited to see how developers would use the power of these new platforms to create new styles of gameplay that we’d never seen or even imagined. But alas, instead of innovation, what we got was the same old games with slicker graphics and cooler cut scenes. Then finally the Wii arrived and completely altered the way people thought about and played video games.

This is how I feel about the Knewton adaptive learning platform. Adaptive learning has the potential to completely disrupt our educational system. Instead of using technology to enhance drill and skills, adaptive learning platforms like Knewton’s engages students in completely new ways, adding relevancy and immediacy and empowering them to take control of their own learning. How cool is that! Check out this video that describes what their platform does:

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