Notes From Techcon 2012

Techcon 2012

Techcon occurred October 26, 2012 at the Naperville Campus of Northern Illinois University. Over 160 local school administrators, technology leaders, and classroom teachers convened for the one-day session.

Google’s Jaime Casap (Twitter: @jcasap) was the keynote speaker. His presentation focused on the crisis of low expectations and that even though the jobs that will exist in 2037 are not known today, several skills exists today that are fundamental to success years away: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, analyzing information, and problem solving.

He noted that we learn and solve problems in different ways so we should have different types of assessment. Further students today have new capabilities to learn differently and that education is beginning to take advantage of new learning models.

With one of the themes of the conference was about cloud resources, sessions addressed the Illinicloud, and Google, Apple, and Microsoft cloud offerings. Other sessions outlined digital learning opportunities, a 1:1 implementation, digital mapping, Open Education Resources, and social networking applications in schools.

Apple’s Patrick Beedles (Twitter: @beedles_apple) closed the day with a summary of the day’s key points.

This day-long program is a strong collaboration of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials , the Illinois Computing Educators, and the Illinois Chief Technology Officers.

Next year’s conference is at the same location on October 18, 2013.

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Virtual School’s Symposium 2012 Summary

The student panel at the Virtual Schools Symposium 2012

 Over 2,000 conferees assembled in New Orleans, Louisiana for iNACOL’s edition of its Virtual Schools Symposium held October 21-24, 2012. Across the program, presentations looked at research in the field, instructional models, administrative successes, and policy proposals.

This year’s conference focused on the trends in the field that includes blended (hybrid) learning.  In their session iNACOL’s Rob Darrow and Innosight Institute’s Michael Horn clarified that in blended learning models, teachers have the ability to look at student achievement data daily, a feature not available in traditional classrooms.  Blended learning is a mix between traditional instruction and student control and self-pacing.

In the opening general session, iNACOL CEO Susan Patrick and Gates Foundation Stacey Childress discussed the trends in non-traditional learning:

  • Student-centered personalized learning.  In this view, students have the ability to learn at their own rates and choose their own learning paths.
  • Students will receive credit when they learn a major concept, not at the end of the course or semester.
  • Smart learning systems will be developed that learn as students use them.

During his presentation, John White (twitter: @Louisianasupe), Louisiana Superintendent of Education described the tension between traditionalists and reformers.  He asked that both sides come togther and develop a system that meets today’s needs.  The workplace and the family have changed so schools should follow.  He cautioned technologists that schools are not ready to implement technology.  Infrastructure is not ready in many parts of his state and  across the country.  White thinks that control needs to be local, that other forms of schools can be successful (vouchers and charters), and certification stops innovation.

In research provided by the Marzano Research Laboratory and Plato Learning students in online courses have greater success the more time that teachers are in the courses interacting with students and their work.  For teachers who are logged in for over 530 hours, students’ end of semester score averaged 81% compared to 62% for teachers who logged in less than 39 hours.

In a session about quality, Susan Patrick and Evergreen Education Group’s  John Watson outlined the issues.  Quality has been defined as course inputs; that is, quality courses have certain features.  Patrick and Watson described the move to performance metrics, such as portfolios, individual growth, college readiness, career readiness, and others.  They called for pilot programs to test these ideas, and to influence policy and legislation.

In another general session, Karen Cator  of the U.S. Department of Education described the need for high end assessments, multiple measures for success, and multiple proof points specifically calling for policy makers to focus on educational issues that is about individual student learning.

The student panel always highlights valuable statements from students about how they are learning in online and blended models.    In these settings, it appears that nobody speaks for them.  The discussions are usually around adult perceptions and views.

In my all-day preconference session, Judy Bauernschmidt (Colorado Department of Education), John Canuel (Blackboard), Holly Bryzcki (CAIU), and Phil Lacey joined me in taking participants through the process of starting an online program.  Our slides follow.

The field is beginning to mature in its thinking.  Policies, practices, and results will determine the success of this innovative movement.

Next year’s VSS is in Orlando, Florida.

Where’s the Education Leadership on Technology in Schools?

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In 1988, Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reported the “most promising current uses  and demonstrations” (pp.12-13) for computers:

  • Drill and practice to master basic skills.
  • Development of writing skills.
  • Problem solving
  • Understanding abstract mathematics and science concepts.
  • Simulation in science, mathematics and social studies.
  • Manipulation of data.
  • Acquisition of computer skills for general purposes, and for business and vocational training.
  • Access and communication traditionally unserved populations of students
  • Access and communications for teachers and students in remote locations
  • Individualized learning
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Management of classroom activities and record keeping (pp. 12-14)

Looking at the list, the last — Record keeping:  student information systems, payroll systems, business functions, human resources systems, and the like have been implemented in many schools.  We have implemented technology to handle the mundane.  The other applications have spotty implementation and without significant transformation.

In Technopoly, technology and cultural critic Neil Postman states that

“[T]he main characteristic of all tool-using cultures is that their  tools were largely invented to do two things:  To solve specific and urgent problems of physical life, such as water power, wind mills, and the heavy wheeled plow; or to serve the symbolic world of art politics, ritual, and religion, as the construction of castles and cathedrals. . .” (p. 23).

Considering this view with schools, school leaders are largely tool thinkers:  “Technology is a tool.”  So the focus becomes those  issues not directly related to teaching learning:  mundane management things (recording keeping, paying bills).  Yes, states are requiring data and so school leaders respond to the “urgent” demands of regulators.

Further some school leaders contend that their teachers “integrate” technology.  This is not much beyond the tool user.  Hardware and software are purchased independently of their curricular design and use.  Teachers are herded into a room shown the new gizmo and told to “integrate” it into their curriculum.   This is a recipe for failure.  Teachers have no direction, support, or encouragement to succeed.  It’s up to them to find ways to use stuff with their kids.  Just another thing to do.

School transformation occurs when school leaders insist that hardware and software are part of the curricular design and focuses on learning.  It’s time school leaders realize the potential and implement it in their classrooms.  Otherwise the other ideas that OTA identified in 1988 will continue to be on somebody’s list of promising practices.

Successful Online Courses

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The SLATE Conference is October 11-12, 2012 at the Northern Illinois University campus in Naperville, Illinois.  The conference brings together conferees who are interested in non-traditional forms of learning, especially in electronically supplementing traditional courses or implementing online courses.

My presentation is about factors for successful online courses.  They include:

  • issues of curriculum, instruction, and technology
  • the target audience
  • research about successful online students
  • multicontent tracks in courses
  • quality components
  • promising practices

The slide deck is below.

 

Starting an Online Program: To Blend or Not to Blend

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Blended Learning:  First, in all of the blended programs, the students learn in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home at least some of the time. Second, the students’ experience online delivery with some control over the time, place, path, and/or pace. (Reference)

In the rush to digital learning, school districts may be willing to grasp at any branch of the digital tree that they hear about from peer districts or at the latest conference.  It is essential to match the type of learning (blended, online) with target student group.

Dr. Margaret Roblyer’s research can help districts determine the type of delivery model.  Her research indicates the characteristics of students in fully online programs:

  • Academic Achievement — Good students are good students regardless of the learning environment.  Online learning does not suddenly make a poor student a high achiever.
  • Organization — Students learning online must be organized.
  • Technology — Technology must be present where they are learning.
  • Self-regulation — Students must be able to put themselves at the place they want to learn and to drop all distractions.

The Innosight Institute published a classification of blended learning programs.  The study largely outline the blended practices in traditional brick and mortar institutions.  The models include direct instruction from teachers, group projects, and computer mediated instruction.  In some cases, students rotate between stations or there is a flexible schedule to pull out students who need extra help or for group activities within the brick and mortar context and traditional school day.  Check the referenced research above for specific details.

Beyond the opportunities outlined by Innosight, schools can consider blending classes rather than constructing new schools.  Students could be scheduled to be in physical attendance only half the time.  A senior year experience could provide a blended environment to prepare students for their next steps in education, the job market, or the military.  It must be noted that districts and states need various policies and enabling legislation to allow students to gain credit for students in partial attendance.  In Illinois, we have legislation that allows students to participate in non-traditional programs and the school district can receive state funding for those students.

Whether to blend or to engage students fully online can be determined by the characteristics of the students. Roblyer’s research provides insight on how to develop various programs, depending on the characteristics of the students.

From this Roblyer’s, here’s how a program can work for schools:

  1. High achieving students should be put into online courses.  They can work at their own rates to be somewhat self-sufficient.
  2. Average students can be successful in hybrid (blended) learning environments, where they get the direct instruction they need, yet they can work on their own when possible.
  3. Low achievers need focused help from teachers in small groups.

Before jumping on the digital bandwagon, schools should step back to look at the target student population and consider the modes of learning where that group can be successful.

Other postings in this series:

Innovation and Democracy

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Is innovation a democratic process?

Innovate:  to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. (reference)

In Disrupting Class, author Clayton Christen informs school boards that introducing digital learning into schools may be hampered by purposeful democratic processes that are part of schools’ cultures.  Cooperative tools like “financial incentives, negotiations, vision statements, training, performance metrics, and even litigation . . . don’t work most of the time. . . . [L]eaders often waste their credibility, energy, and resources when implementing change.  The efficacy of any tools in eliciting the cooperation needed to march in a new direction depends in two variables:  the extent to which the concerned parties agree on what they want, and the extent of their agreement on how to get it.  We have concluded from examining school through this lens that democracy itself — as practiced in most school boards — is a fundamental barrier that will block implementation of many of the changes [needed for successful digital learning] unless leaders deal with it correctly (p. 227).

Reflect on this question:  When was the last time  innovative emerged from a school committee?  I am referencing issues that really improved (changed) learning for kids?  Never seen it happen in a curriculum committee and certainly never in a “technology committee.”  Legislative mandates force certain changes upon schools.  Innovation in schools does not happen from within the established system.

Real innovation occurs with through a visionary leader who gathers like minded supporters that are committed to helping the vision become reality.  Look at the picture at the top of this posting.  Was the light bulb developed by a committee?

Many of us can name innovators  of goods and services from the past two decades.  Can you name a educational leader who really changed learning in schools in the past two decades?   Not one.  Most are historic figures from the early 20th century.  (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have not innovated education.  They provided “tools” that allow teachers to do the same things electronically.  The delivery, the context, and the result are from the early 20th Century.)

As schools consider new ways to bring digital learning opportunities to their students, they need strong leadership and perhaps undemocratic methods to make this a reality.  Otherwise are kids will remain early 20th Century learners.

Technology Enhancement: Fundamentally Flawed

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The use of the term “technology enhancement” is fundamentally flawed.  First definitions from dictionary.com:

1.to raise to a higher degree; intensify; magnify;

2.to raise the value or price of.
      In schools this means purchasing a variety of techno gizmos so that teachers can teach the same way, moving overhead transparencies to slide shows.  Teachers continue to drone away at the front of the classroom and students are forced to listen.  The purchases of the devices have done nothing to change what happens in the nation’s classrooms.
     Recently, I asked a teacher who was excited about his recent “technology enhancements” about whether it was good to purchase these devices if learning did not change.  If students could learn just as well about Mexico with books and maps compared to learning the Internet and electronic resources, why should we make those purchases.  He stated that teaching in the enhanced classroom was better.  Who benefits by not changing instruction and learning?
     This notion was accented by a recent news item on CBS News (video).  Correspondent Steve Hartman reported on the success of Jim Hughes, a blind history teacher.  The report describes how Hughes has learned to verbalize his subject to a high degree for his students that it captivates them.  He has learned how to talk to kids.
     In the report one student states about his other teachers, “They are blinded with the powerpoints and the handouts and all that.  Every teacher should try a day with a blindfold and really learn how to talk to your students.”  Now that’s a technology enhanced classroom.
     The teacher is the most important piece of technology in a classroom.