21. November 2012 13:17
If you have heard of MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, you know that they are the latest trend at many high-tiered college campuses. Professors offer these classes free for students, and virtually anyone can join. MOOCs are not usually offered for credit, but they do give many students from all over the world the opportunity to study new material with some of the leaders in academia. The first MOOC was offered by a Stanford professor in 2011, and over 160,000 students in 190 nations signed up for his free course. As a result, universities have been encouraged to remodel their ideas about classes and credit hours, envisioning a world where, someday, everyone can have access to a university-level education.
In particular, universities that now use MOOCs are often considered some of the top schools in the U.S. While Stanford started the trend, Princeton, Harvard, and MIT have all followed suit. The expense is often too much for smaller schools to handle, but it makes sense that universities where the “best” education is available would want to spread their knowledge to everyone who desires it. Since their names are extremely recognizable, it is also understandable that many students would be attracted to their free courses. In fact, top universities have the most to gain from MOOCS, which clearly help increase their reach and prestige.
So how do the courses work? Usually, the professor posts videos of his or her lectures. Online discussion boards are normally employed, but when there are 160,000 students in a course, it is impossible for the professor to view all the comments. Instead, students can vote on the best comments, so that they become more visible. This allows the professor to see the main points of discussion and tailor his or her lectures accordingly. Grading also become nearly impossible with these massive numbers, so peer grading is often utilized. Students might read and rate a few of their classmates’ essays. In the same strain, final grades for the class are usually pass/fail. Clearly, MOOCs are student-driven, and they require the student to take on new roles in the virtual classroom.
Additionally, some schools have seen the immense popularity of the MOOCs and decided to offer them for credit. For credit, students might have to pay for proctored exams or for a certificate of completion. However, universities are often concerned about giving credit when the final grade rests solely in students’ hands. Peer grading, while proven to be helpful for students, can also provide means for cheating or unfair grading. While professors have attempted to refine rubrics, peer grading will never be perfect. Thus, it remains to be seen how MOOCs will be used to fulfill college credit requirements.
Because of their massive numbers, MOOCs really emphasize learning over grades and requirements. Most likely, students who enroll in these types of classes would be more interested and enthusiastic about the material and less preoccupied with fulfilling a list of dull requirements. In other words, these classes might hold more engaged learners, maybe even more than the average college classroom. MOOCs can give retirees a way to continue learning and provide students in China with access to a Harvard-level education. While credit for these classes might not yet be ideal, MOOCs seem like a perfect way to offer free education for the masses.
What do you think about MOOCs? Should they be offered for credit or just for fun learning? What effects will this have on college education as a whole?
14. November 2012 10:36
Although the funding of charter schools is often the center of fierce debate, recently, The New York Times
reported that charter school attendance is at an all-time high. In fact, over two million American students now attend charter schools, a number that has increased 13% from last year alone. For those who are unfamiliar with the details, charter schools are primary and secondary schools that receive public/government money, as well as private funding. However, unlike public schools, they are not bound by specific state and federal education laws. Instead, charter schools’ regulations stem from their charter, which usually indicates the goals of the specific school. Thus, charter schools seem to blend elements of public and private education, a formula that continues to draw the admiration and the ire of tax payers across the nation.
In New Orleans, after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, charter schools seemed to blossom overnight. Surprisingly, over 70 percent of New Orleans students now attend charter schools. In Detroit, Washington D.C., and St. Louis, charter school attendance is also high, at around 30 percent. Interestingly, out of 110 school districts across the nation, over 10% of district students attend a charter school.
So what makes parents want to send their children to a charter school? According to The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, parents like options. Most parents see charter schools as a personalized path of education. They believe charter schools cater to students’ specific needs and abilities, shying away from public schools’ one-size-fits-all-approach. In addition, charter schools usually offer more interest-specific classes, more AP or college-credit opportunities, and increased fine arts funding. In many cases, they also have greater access to new technology. Clearly, the budget of charter schools allows for more flexibility than their public school counterparts.
On the other side of the spectrum, opponents believe charter schools take needed funds away from public schools. For them, it makes more sense to invest in public schools for everyone than support the needs of a smaller group of elite students. They argue that more “gifted students” are attracted to these charter schools, which often leaves students who are harder to educate at public schools, where money is even tighter than before. Opponents also point out that the success rate of charter schools is not particularly stellar. While some do boast of higher test scores and college acceptance rates, other charter schools perform the same as public schools, or even worse.
With those arguments in mind, it will be interesting to see what happens with charter schools in the future. Their enrollment is growing, and states have continued to support their development. Georgia just passed a charter school bill, allowing them in the state, and Washington will soon decide if charter schools are allowed within their state lines.
Comment on charter schools! Do you think they limit public school funding, or do you think they are a viable option for students looking to excel? Will the growth of charter schools inhibit the growth of public schools?
7. November 2012 11:26
While social networking normally involves individuals or companies, recently, school districts have taken to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to get information out to parents. E-mail blasts, text messages, and personalized Web portals also inform parents about their children’s grades, lunches, and even their locker combinations. This instant access enables school administrators and teachers to immediately connect with parents anytime and anywhere, making parents feel more involved in their children’s education. Additionally, when school districts utilize social networking, parents are encouraged to become more technologically diverse and are able to gain better insight into their own children’s desire to use Facebook, Twitter, etc.
In fact, in many metropolitan school districts, social media has become the main way to engage parents. In New York City, schools send text messages, in English or Spanish, to parents in order to update them on school news. In Los Angeles, the school district recently hired its first social media director, who gets information out to parents via YouTube, Twitter, and Tumblr. In the Fairfax school district in Virginia, over 84,000 people have subscribed to the district’s news and e-mail service; the district also has 26,000 likes on Facebook and over 8,000 Twitter followers. Clearly, the way schools and parents communicate is changing. Gone are the days when teachers send hand-written notes home with their students. Lately, even some parent-teacher conferences are held on Skype, like in the North Penn district in Pennsylvania.
Although many parents are quick to create a Facebook or Twitter account, other parents, especially those from lower incomes, are unable to even log on to the internet. Interestingly, school districts, like the Houston Independent School District in Texas, are combatting this problem by creating parent-oriented “super centers,” where parents can use the Internet or even gain knowledge about computers in general. The Houston super centers also provide training on office software, Internet use and safety, and the district's online grade-reporting system. For many low-income parents, this set-up has made them feel like their opinions are truly valued by the school district. Teachers and administrators want them to be informed and desire their opinions on student performance. Houston’s program encourages parents to become technology-literate, which in the long run, will enable parents to help their children with homework, and even guide their children’s internet choices.
Obviously, when parents become more informed, their children can be positively impacted, particularly with how they engage in social media. A parent who is familiar with Facebook can make sure their child is being safe on the site, while a parent who is unfamiliar with social networking might not be aware of privacy settings. Likewise, children can benefit from the open communication between schools and parents. When parents are more involved with the educational process, students will win.
Add your voice! Does your school district use social media to connect with parents? Does this help parents become more engaged in the educational process? If you are a teacher, do you think social media is a beneficial way to speak with parents?
Check out this video on Houston’s parent super centers: http://vimeo.com/49701965
26. October 2012 11:15
In the past, schools have relied on familiar methods of standardized testing, a system that usually includes multiple-choice questions where students fill in the designated answer bubbles. While this method does supply answers about students’ learning, new technology is enabling instructors to learn even more about the degree of their students’ knowledge. This new form of testing, called adaptive testing, is completed online. Depending on the program, students often have over 800 questions to choose from. Once a student starts the test, the software picks questions catered to that specific student, challenging him or her with questions he or she may or may not know.
The answer to the first question will influence the content of the second question and so on.
This provides an extremely detailed picture of how much a student actually knows.
In fact, adaptive testing was first introduced in Delaware. The Red Clay Consolidated School District picked up on the idea, and with parent and teacher support, along with state funding, they were able to implement these high-tech tests. The school district decided to make the change in order to gain a thorough understanding of their students. While regular, fixed-form testing works well with the majority of students, teachers often learn less about high performers and low performers. High performers might not miss many questions on fixed-form tests, so while these students know the material on the test, it is impossible to find out what else they really know. Testing the extent of their knowledge is limited by fixed-form tests. Likewise, low performers might miss many of the questions, and it can be hard for teachers to figure out how far behind they really are. Fortunately, adaptive testing can provide immediate insight.
Additionally, with adaptive testing, the percent of questions a student gets right is no longer applicable. In fact, most students will only get about half of the questions right. Instead, scores are created by assessing the level of a question’s difficulty. Since these tests are catered to a student’s specific needs, students have also reported that adaptive testing is more interesting and engaging. Questions with videos and graphics also help increase the interest of the test-taker. Likewise, because students are taking individual tests, chances of cheating are greatly reduced. Adaptive tests are truly about finding what a student actually knows on an individual basis.
Clearly, there are many reasons why schools should introduce adaptive testing, but like many new things, it has yet to be perfected. Writing is almost impossible to assess through the exams; the evaluation of writing really calls for human judgment. Because of that reason, the tests do not emphasize writing, and teachers are afraid students will miss out. Likewise, teachers remark that test results should be clear and more useful. Others believe the format is too challenging; when students keep answering tough questions incorrectly, they simply shut down. While adaptive testing may be in its early stages, it is evident that testing methods are leaning towards assessing students on an individual basis.
So, what do you think about adaptive testing? Would you want it implemented at your school? Does its emphasis on the individual help students in the long run?
Check out this video about adaptive testing: http://bcove.me/be40myzh
Here are some of the companies that are developing adaptive testing: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/
27. September 2012 15:39
Earlier this week, a new report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) suggested that schools make a complete switch to digital textbooks by 2017.
The report outlines the steps that schools should take to accomplish this feat.
With the new Common Core Standards on their way to schools across the United States, SETDA leaders believe the timing is ripe for a complete digital takeover in the classroom.
Likewise, SETDA leaders think increasingly tight school budgets and changing student needs make the shift ideal.
For SETDA, the textbook is a tool of the past.
Digital books, on the other hand, will be able to keep up with the continual change in information, and their on-the-go availability will cater to the widespread, diverse needs of students.
To accomplish this digital shift, the report encourages schools across the nation to increase internet speed at their facilities. In order for classrooms to go completely digital, students must have high-speed internet access. The report also hopes government policies will aid the digital shift. As of now, government funds help cover the cost of textbooks, but e-books rarely receive any funding. SETDA hopes to combat this issue by changing the very definition of a textbook, broadening the term to include digital content. Finally, SETDA hopes states will develop a marketplace for digital educational resources for students and teachers. These marketplaces could hold an unlimited wealth of information.
However, while some educators buy into SETDA’s theories, others believe the switch will be costly. After all, in order for students to use e-textbooks, they must have e-readers. Interestingly, a recent technology report stated that a 500-student school could save anywhere from $35 to $250 per student by switching to digital content alone. Unfortunately, the report estimated the cost of a tablet at $250 dollars, which is low for many readers, particularly the iPad. While some basic e-readers can cost around $100 dollars, these usually lack internet capabilities and are solely used for reading text. With tight school budgets and frequent teacher layoffs, it seems unrealistic to believe the government could provide funds for every student in America to have a new tablet.
So, while the switch to digital content may be exciting, it might not be ideal – at least not yet. Today, it does not make sense to have students use outdated textbooks that are 8 years old, but something should also be said about the look and feel of the book. As an e-reader owner myself, I have discovered that it is much easier to navigate and flip through a regular book. Similarly, although I enjoy the mobility of my e-reader, it is equally nice to have a book directly in front of you, where you can feel and flip through the crisp pages. Plus, the temptations that tablets offer, like games, apps, and music, might be tough for students to resist during class time.
What do you think? Will public schools be able to go digital in 2017? Should they? What can be said about books and e-books? Is one better than the other? Here is the full SETDA report: http://setda.org/web/guest/outofprint
11. September 2012 10:59
In 2011, over 6.1 million college students took part in online learning.
This number is a 10 percent increase from 2010, and the number of online learners is expected to grow throughout the 2012-2013 school year.
This collegiate trend has encouraged high school educators to take the plunge into online learning.
Today, states like Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and Idaho require high school students to take at least one online course before graduation.
Other high school districts throughout the United States are also implementing online learning.
What are the benefits of online learning? First and foremost, high school educators believe that online learning will prepare students for college and the business world. It is now expected that a college student will take at least one online course during his or her college years (I know I did!), and oftentimes, companies require their employees to undergo specific online skills tests for their position. Both college students and employees are required to be computer literate, so any computer experience will be a boon.
Educators also believe students are less intimated by online learning. If they provide an incorrect answer for a problem, only the instructor is aware of the mistake. In an online environment, students might also believe they do not have a teacher watching their every move, which takes some pressure off. Educators are also excited about the financial impact of the transition. Online learning may help students graduate high school in less time, which will ease the stretch on school budgets in the long run.
Of course, there are some limitations to online learning. School districts must ensure that all online learners have access to a computer and high-speed internet. Even with tight budgets, however, districts have provided extra computer lab time for online learners and even teamed up with local libraries for support. Other districts have created apps for online learning, allowing students to access their classroom material from a phone or other personal device. Face-to-face learning is an important part of education and socialization, however, and it remains to be seen how online learning will affect students’ development.
What do you think? What are some of the other pros and cons of online learning? How do you think online learning will affect students? Is face-to-face instruction more important? Check out some of these other links on online learning.
Why Online Education Has Gained Revolutionary Momentum
Online Learning Can’t Replace In-Person Experience
31. July 2012 14:09
New technology is continuously emerging and has become the driving force of our century, advancing our society and changing our culture. While infinite societal progress has been made, young people’s developmental progress is hindered by the overwhelming amount of daily technological communication.
“Tech-speak”, specifically “text-speak” in text messaging, is a new term referring to the omission of letters to shorten words and use of homophone symbols (@), e.g. “Wut r u up 2?” A recent study conducted by the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State University surveyed 228 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in central Pennsylvania on their daily habits including texting. They were then given a grammar test, which showed that the more often students sent text messages using text-speak, the worse their grammar.
Where does the pressure and influence to use tech-speak come from? The need to respond quickly and briefly in text messages and on Twitter (140-character limit) pressures students to cut out unnecessary sounds. Our fast-paced society influences us to take shortcuts in communication, putting grammar on the back burner.
Experts suggest that teachers canhelp students practice proper grammar by making them more aware of their grammar usage. For example, assigning students to write a letter to the president might be more likely to trigger students to use more formal language. Essentially, once students secure their grammar skills, they can be encouraged to think about their grammar choices in texting more closely.
As teachers and professionals, have you seen the rise of tech-speak in the classroom? What suggestions do you have for reducing it? Are there any benefits to using this type of “language?” We want to hear from you!
18. April 2012 15:30
This week, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (a state-represented consortia under U.S. Department of Education funding) selected CTB/McGraw-Hill as developers of the first Common Core Assessments test items. These items will eventually be included in the Smarter Balanced assessment system. This system, in turn, will be rolled out for use in the 2014-2015 school year.
This represents another enormous step forward for the Common Core State Standards, which continue to gain steam in a somewhat divided national education landscape (a few states have not yet accepted the new system). A development such as this emphasizes the fact that, for most teachers and students, Common Core is here to stay.
What will these test items be? According to CTB, there will be "a variety of innovative formats, challenging performance elements and rich technological enhancements." Once created, the plan is for states to develop assessments around these items for student testing.
With many districts, schools, and teachers struggling to transition from previous systems to Common Core, this development adds a little more fuel to the fire. What is your school or district doing to facilitate this change? How will you handle the transition? Share your Common Core thoughts with us!
28. February 2012 13:11
At Bridging the Gaps in Education, we blog a lot about new and emerging technologies in the classroom. Needless to say, there is an abundance of such topics about which to write. It seems that at any time, there are several new technologies, devices, or ideas competing for the world's attention, all clamoring that they're the next big thing. A recent article on Education Week's website has me wondering, at last, if it isn't all too much.
The article deals with one technology in particular - interactive whiteboards. It wonders if the whiteboard's time has come and gone, and along with it, the innovation's opportunity to alter the educational landscape. The author cites emerging tablet technologies, Bring Your Own Device initiatives, and restricted budgets and funding as harbingers of this once next big thing's demise.
As I read the article, I couldn't help but ask myself: Is the field of educational technology shooting itself in the foot? And, more imperative: Are the ricochets boring holes in our students' learning experiences?
Think about it. Teachers: how many times have you been encouraged or tempted to look into a new device that purports a revolution for you and your students? Parents: How many changes have you witnessed to your child's learning environment in the last few years (let alone the last few decades), all for the better? Computers. Laptops. Online learning. Gaming. Cell phones. Smart phones. Whiteboards. Tablets. Even I, at 28, only experienced the dramatic educational impact of computers and the Internet. The sheer number of changes and enhancements being plugged in switched on now is, when considered at once, staggering.
Truth be told, it's overwhelming.
How can we keep up? It's clear we don't have enough money to do so. With so many options, school districts and administrators are forced to focus available funding on one technology or device, after which they must fervently hope they've chosen properly. Or, they can sit on their hands and wallets, waiting out the fierce melee, until a clear winner separates itself from the rest. What kind of a choice is that for the future of our students?
Look, I'm not questioning the value of technology in the classroom. Nor the importance of constant innovation and foresight. But it seems that technology is a double-edged sword when wielded on the field of education, and it's important to consider which side bears the keener edge. Are we cutting into the future? Or are we cutting off chances to truly change tomorrow's classroom for the better?
There are no easy answers to these questions. It's a difficult situation confronting us. Education Week describes a "fad factor" in technology. Our eyes are always forward, our hands grasping for the next game-changing device or iteration. When it comes to education, I'm beginning to fear that, while focusing on an ever-changing horizon, we're overlooking the only truly important thing - the best possible education for our students and children.
16. February 2012 16:44
The February 2012 issue of Learning and Leading with Technology features three editorial pieces on BYOD (bring your own device), a hot topic in education and technology spheres. BYOD advocates students bringing and using their own devices in the classroom, rather than working on school-provided technologies. Instead of using dated computers, for example, students work on their cell phones, iPads, or eReaders.
A debate is raging over whether or not BYOD is a good thing for education. The theory is a wonderful one. Students use devices they know and love to define their individual educational experiences. The concepts fed to a classroom are the same, but each learner is free to shape how he or she attacks them. A student that struggles with math facts uses a smartphone to make flash cards; another uses a tablet's dictionary application to reinforce a weak vocabulary. The teacher is free to monitor technology use and provide individual instruction as needed.
Put under a microscope, however, some of BYOD's glossy possibilities lose their shine. It's easy to assume that, in today's plugged-in society, every student has access to a high-functioning device, but what of the kids without smartphones or internet-enabled tablets? What of those without any device whatsoever? Do they share with better-equipped classmates? Do they use outdated and barely functional school reserves? What about the less than tech-savvy teacher? It's unreasonable to expect one person to easily keep up with multiple learning styles and the devices that allow them.
The need for technology in education is unquestionable, and the increasing prevalence of newer and better models among students seems to support those clamoring for BYOD. But does the idea's most basic premise, that of allowing students to use better and more personalized tools to maximize learning, hold up under scrutiny when there's no guarantee every boy and girl can take such advantage? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.