Wes Freyer recently reported on a digital learning conference in Oklahoma. In this report he included a video about the money potential in digital learning that is embedded below. The presenter outlines the money in Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Schools along with the scope of the money involved in digital learning and executive salaries.
Education is already dealing with big money;
School Lunch program cost $10.8 billion in FY10 (reference)
In Illinois, school transportation costs approached $1 billion in Fy09 (reference)
Putting computers in schools have cost about $20 billion during past twenty years (Disrupting Class, 2011, p. 81)
Total annual spending on education in U.S. is $800 billion (reference)
The point is that education is already big business. To vilify the digital learning movement over executive compensation is a red herring. Nobody is in the education “market” for altruistic motives. While teachers pledge to help students, they have mortgages, children’s college tuition, and utilities to pay. Everybody gets paid.
The video ends with a student staring into a computer screen into a darkened room. Another red herring. As has been written here before, learning online is not learning alone. Interactions with other students and teachers are essential for digital learning.
The challenge for educators is that we need to be engaged. We have been able to block many movements, but this one has the capacity to change schools as we have known them. It’s more than “integrating” technology into classrooms. Digital content a new way for students to learn and a new way for teachers to teach.
Today is the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s space flight. It was a different era, a time of competition for the high frontier. Three times around Earth was an accomplishment beyond comparison. In his 1999 memoir, Glenn described the perils of his trip and the challenges in space flight that followed.
Glenn and his contemporaries inspired a generation to learn science and mathematics. I can remember being crowded into an elementary school classroom with many other students to watch the mission on a small black and white television. In the years that followed, teachers included more TV broadcasts into their lessons as we watched astronauts test their resolve and their equipment. Through space flight our teachers encouraged our passion about science.
We need John Glenns who will take bold steps; who will take the risks; and who will challenge our capacities to improve. We need them for inspiration for us to take risks. It seems that today, we insist on everything being risk free. We continually need inspiration to reach outside ourselves.
After his flight in Glenn’s closing remarks to Congress he said, ” As our knowledge of the universe increases, may God grant us the wisdom and guidance to use it wisely.”
We continually need new examples of excellence to help us and our children have reasons to look back and to keep counting and honoring incredibile accomplishments. Thanks, John Glenn for the inspiration to show us how far we can go.
Ron Packard of K12.com spoke today at an Illinois Policy Institute program today in Chicago. He thinks technology is a distraction in schools because it in not fully part of the core learning. A classroom may have a few computers at the back of the room and they become diversions from learning rather than being core parts of the learning. Further, technology has not produced much efficiency based on the number of adults employed in schools, although he misses the point that new regulations have caused
schools to provide more services. When every student has a computer along with engaging curriculum and strong assessments, powerful learning can occur, he opines. Further technology allows students to advance at their own rates because students can spend extra time on subjects.
He started K12 over a dozen years ago when he tried to find high quality math instruction on the Internet to supplement his the first grader’s math instruction.
In the past decade, K12 has grown to about 100,000 students. He thinks that Chicago is the center of innovation in online learning. His Chicago Virtual Charter School has about 600 students. Students attend a school once a week and then learn online at home, with the help of certified teachers who track students’ achievement levels and then provide instructional assistance with video classroom software.
He observes that kids are asked to power down in schools. When kids have access to powerful technologies at home, school does not look exciting.
Further, he forecasts that within a few years high school elective courses will be offered online. He thinks this will help eliminate the maximum number of electives a student can take. He thinks students will have more choice in courses and more opportunities at lower costs.
His catch words are: Educational liberty, transformation, and open enrollment (across districts).
Packard claims he is not political and his words are the most neutral I’ve heard from the online providers and digital learning proponents. He did not talk about reforming schools, taking on teachers’ unions, or battling special interests, although he recognizes the political forces as he did not realize he would spend most of his work time tacking through the political headwinds.
He cited multiple successes in his schools that I will look at further and outline here in another posting.
With online learning, shouldn’t we do better? Shouldn’t we have higher expectations? Shouldn’t we stop telling partial truths? Partial truths don’t help online learning initiatives. All learning through technology is not all powerful.
When I was in elementary school, the teachers used controlled reading projectors. These contraptions used modified film strip projectors to display the text of stories. The projectors fed the story’s text through the film gate while a single line was revealed from left to right. The speed of the text was regulated from 15 lines per minute to 120 lines per minute. Supposedly, the projector was used to help us develop horizontal movement of our eyes to read and to increase our reading speed. Didn’t work for me. My eyes sometimes do not track across the page and it helped make me a non-reader for most of my youth. Technology “solutions” do not always work.
When I was in junior high, my oldest brother was in the U.S. Navy. While he spent most of his time stateside, he was involved with the Navy’s target drones. The Navy had small unmanned airplanes that they launched in the desert near Twenty Nine Palms, CA. His crew prepared and launched the target and then another group attempted to hit it with it with a missile. But I digress.
After Basic Training, he prepared for his work with targets in Memphis, TN. He learned about them through programmed instruction. He left his instructional materials at home when he went to his next duty station.
During those youthful days, I was fascinated with any vehicle propelled by propeller, jet or rocket engine. Through the programmed instruction books he left at home, I learned about radial reciprocating engines and aircraft marshalling. It was self-paced and interesting for me. No teacher demanding that I put away the books so they could move on to the next subject.
My point is that programmed instruction has been used for many years. It allows students to progress at their own rates. From theory developed by B.F. Skinner, it evolved into an instructional method. With computers, it has been called mediated instruction or computer aided instruction. We know that this is a highly effective methodology, but it has largely fallen from favor. It is based on mastery learning, yet is not a favored instructional strategy.
There are readers who will claim that this time it’s different. Yes, first there needs to be a sense of urgency. (See the national number about physics teachers below.) Financially, the current educational system cannot sustain itself. Yes, technology gives us a new dimension of student tracking not available before. Technology allows us to add many different forms of exciting media. However, the learning system is not new — programmed instruction, CAI, mediated instruction, yet it is rebranded as digital, blended or online. There is no new methodology, and it is limited; it does not accent or support other skills students need to be successful in their world.
So I ask the question, “Are the blended learning models proposed in many circles a rebirth of programmed instruction?” Earlier this week I attended a presentation by Bob Wise that was sponsored by the Illinois Policy Institute and the Peoria (IL) Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Wise gave his standard presentation about the need for digital learning. (I’ve heard this in other venues. The video of the presentation will be added here when it is available from IPI.) His reasons for favoring digital learning are around shrinking state budgets, loss of experienced teachers and the need for an educated workforce. He proposes that digital learning allows for comprehensive data systems that can track student learning, converting bubbles to clicks — as I have written about before. The essence of Gov Wise’s thesis is that for our country to compete in a global market we need a highly educated workforce. We need more high school graduates that move into higher education, he postulates. Yet, where do we teach the skills that industry tells us students need: problem solving skills, ability to collaborate, communication skills, etc.? These can’t be measured with a bubble or a click.
The online learning proponents must set the bar high as naysayers will continue to cite the latest alleged deficiencies quoted in the popular press (NY Times, AZ Republic). We need to maintain and professionally enforce quality standards.
Here are three examples in Gov Wise’s presentation that need
We need digital learning for students who don’t have qualified teachers, for example, the state of Georgia only has 80 some physics teachers. I have heard this before. There’s never been a reference provided when I’ve heard this number cited by various sources. Here’s some more powerful, documented information: In 2007, 66.5% of the nation’s students were taught physics by a teacher without certification in the subject (reference). In 2007, the Georgia’s higher education system produced only 3 physics teachers (reference). The national number is frightening and a strong reason to provide high quality digital learning for these underserved students.
Carpe Diem, a blended learning school in Yuma, Arizona, is cited as having excellent results with low costs, lower than average Arizona costs and lower than national costs. However, it is average in Yuma County, AZ (reference). It’s ok to get great results with average expenses. This should be celebrated, not selectively removed from the presentation.
Working with some of the district’s most economically challenged students, Valley High School has dramatically improved its test scores during 5 years. While Gov Wise praises “longitudinal data systems,” AYP is not longitudinal. Further the principal did not do this alone. During five years, many of the students came from a middle/junior high school and that school had to be raising their test scores as well. This was a multidimensional effort — not just that of one school. It is a longitudinal effort not an AYP effort that focuses on results on single grades or levels.
I hope that he reads this to strengthen his presentation about the need for high quality learning opportunities for all kids.
Over 1,900 conferees assembled in Indianapolis for the Virtual School Symposium November 9-11, 2011. My notes from the day follow. A wiki is available for the event.
On Wednesday, I participated in a day long workshop for participants starting online programs. Holly Brzycki, John Canuel, David Glick, and Phil Lacey presented about their specialties: curriculum, leadership, technology, policy, and professional development.
Fostering Quality in Digital Learning. I wrote a separate review of the session here. The essence of the presentation was policy development so that market forces can produce new learning platforms. My thoughts are that the presenters are missing an important factor in their calculations — teacher-student relationships.
Presenters were no-shows at two of the sessions I attended, although audience members rose to lead discussions that were similar to the titles in the program. This speaks to the interest of the participants, but the program committee, of which I am a member, needs to do a better job ensuring that speakers are in attendance.
In the lunchtime presentation by Steve Midgley (US Dept of Education), he reviewed technology advances with Google, Youtube, and others. Not much new here.
Mickey Revenaugh from Connections Academy lead a panel discussion about course quality. This was a different discussion from the policy issues discussed earlier in the day. While vendors were on the panel, the discussion was about how to develop quality courses. The participants did not feel “sold.” The design process includes visual literacy concepts and prototyping new courses sections with students. Teachers’ loads are determine by the amount of grading effort by the teacher and teacher-student interaction. Assessments, standards, and such were discussed. Some measures of quality include end of course exams, mastery learning, and growth models. Interestingly, one vendor collects student feedback on each lesson with a 5 star rating system and a text box for specific comments. Ratings and comments are used to make changes in content.
On the evening of the first day of VSS, the planners provided an exceptional evening of food and entertainment at the Indiana Roof Ballroom. Vendors had evening receptions, making it a parade of events for the evening.
On Friday morning, Michael Horn and Paul Peterson had a panel discussion about a world class education. Peterson quoted PISA scores showing the apparent dismal scores of American students, yet later he stated that he was not an assessment expert. If you’re unfamiliar with the possible problems with PISA, start here. Peterson described the idea of co-production — how unpaid labor increases productivity. They include:
Big box stores where customers troll the aisles with carts, moving goods from the stores to their cars.
Banks were ATMs serve customers and banks use online statements.
In schools, Peterson stated, students are the most important part of unpaid labor. We must look for student engagement in courses to get them to learn what they should know.
Like others, including Horn, Peterson stated that we are at the beginning of digital learning and much possible as technology improves, such fully interactive and 3D.
He stated that competition between blended learning and online learning will improve options for students.
Peterson closed with three areas to observe success:
The system must be transparent with standards, curricula.
Student accountability is essential. The learning must be verified.
The system must be flexible.
There must be a policy framework for competition.
Next I attended a panel discussion led by former West Virgina Governor Bob Wise. Participants gave specific information about success in their programs. Some general ideas from the presenters:
Blended learning ensures success for many types of students.
Success in blended learning depends on quality teachers
Professional development is important.
Social networking will become important.
Next I attended a session where Robyn Bagley described the process how Utah Senate Bill 65 was passed to encourage digital learning in that state. She described a new model for Utah:
Funding follows the student.
Funding based on successful completion of the course.
Students customize their education with blended learning
Students provide courses and provider
Subject matter mastery replaces seat time
Student have access to the best courses and best teachers.
She outlined how she was able to shepard the bill through the Utah legislature. Robyn was passionate and articulate about the topic. She has a winning attitude.
My final breakout presentation was about how Hall County, GA is implementing digital learning in its schools. The program includes curriculum development and sharing, infrastructure design, assessments, and professional development.
The day and conference concluded with a student panel presentation. Students explained how and why they were in online and blended learning programs. They talked about their challenges — some of the content is hard to learn — to their triumphs — I can take my school with me when I travel.
It was a great closing to this conference.
The next VSS is October 21-24, 2012 in New Orleans.
On October 18, 2011, 35 individuals representing 27 organizations attending a start-up meeting at the DuPage County (Illinois) Regional Office of Education to discuss an online learning initiative in the region. The presentation is included below. Participants identified several areas for further discussion:
Standards, Practices, Policy
Technology for online learning, LMS, teacher technologies, student technologies
Professional Development for Teachers
Online Curriculum, OER, digital content
Reasons for Online, promotion, faculty buy-in
Summer School, Curriculum extensions
Visit online programs
Subgroups will be forming in early 2012 to explore these issues.
To be included in informational communications, express your interest to idupageonline (at symbol) gmail.com
In addition an administrator academy course is being developed by the ROE about online learning. This will be available later in the year.
Help me with this thought. Recently, I listened to other technology leaders talk about virtualizing iPads so the schools could run Windows applications and Flash content on those devices. This seems counterintuitive to the idea of portable technologies as well as vastly increases the costs of putting mobile technologies in schools.
Several years ago, I worked on a desktop virtualization project with a popular product. It worked well with putting current applications on older computers, but when it didn’t work, it raised havoc on computer labs. It gave me more chest pains than it was worth. And over about five years, its cost was nearly that of replacing the computer labs with new computers.
Help me understand why we want to buy tablets and then pay the expense to virtualize them to run Windows 7 and Flash.