Future Vision 2025 Assessments: It’s in the Practice

What future are we aiming at? This series of 7 posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my personal education mission milestones. These are not predictions, they are aspirational. They are framed as significant differences one could see or make by 2025. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers, learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and when these milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), others by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Assessment 2025

In the 1970’s, I remember taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in math & English, in a few grades, for a few hours.

By 2015 a Council of Great City Schools evaluation showed students undergo standardized testing for 20-25 hours per year, not to mention testing prep time. By the time they graduate, students have been administered about 112 exams. Now, this is great fodder for the program evaluation work I do now, understanding what is working, how much and for whom. It would be impossible at scale without plenty of universal standardized test data. But in the future, given digital content, the 20-25 hours per year of standardized testing can be eliminated while retaining the benefits of the information they used to provide. This reduction of non-learning-added time is in more than just the test hours, it includes eliminating the prep hours for the style of test. And most importantly, this implodes the paradigm that test scores are the purpose, and test day is the culmination, of the school year’s efforts.

By 2025, “sitting tests” in March and April has been replaced by a continual assessment of knowledge and ability throughout the school year, via organic student interaction with the digital learning activities themselves. These activities each week still include practicing solving many problems, aka “doing problem sets.” The information generated from the digital “Practice” IS the new “Assessment.” Indeed summative standardized tests were essentially a review problem set, given in a huge dose at the end of the year. In 2025, each week every student’s use of digital content indicates mastery of that week’s content…or not. Gaps are identified as they occur, and are filled before moving on. You may ask, thinking back to cramming for a final, what about the retention that summative tests checked? In 2025, the digital content and practice adaptively checks retention of key prior knowledge for each individual student, intelligently spiraling problems back and forth to build fluency.

Moreover, beyond the conventional goal of “producing the right answer,” 2025’s digital device interface and pattern recognition assesses student strategy. Tablets collect, and the backend cloud parses and interprets, student handwriting and diagrams. “Show your work” is digitized and thus comprehensively purposeful. The information gleaned evaluates methods and strategies, and yes even productivity and speed. Insightful and actionable feedback on all of these is provided in real-time to the teacher and especially to the student. Why a student “isn’t getting it” becomes detailed and transparent. In 2025 haven’t just replaced “right answer” to “right strategy” though; it’s a different paradigm. Mastery is not tied to one “right” strategy, but it is about learning and applying strategies and methods that are productive – efficiency in thought, effort, and time.

In 2025 comprehensive content breadth and mastery of all techniques, what used to be the summative test’s job, has been measured in this digital, formative way throughout the school year. Indeed because of the continual feedback and intelligent spiraling, it has been not just measured, but refined and improved throughout the year towards fluency. There is still however a “final.” The benefits of a deadline to display one’s complete picture of a complex and broad topic are maintained. But because all that ongoing broad content mastery is already well known, the “final” can focus on a specific “narrow” area of interest. The final can  be a performance – authentic, creative and rigorous and very human which shows off the learner’s ability to communicate, and to creatively transfer to different domains.

Yes, I mean that a middle schooler’s integrated math “final” in 2025 can be a performance, hard to make, challenging to deliver, but fun and maybe even beautiful to watch.

Authentic Performance

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Future Vision 2025 Learning: The Actual Revolution!

What future are we aiming at? This series of 7 short posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my personal education mission milestones. These are not predictions, they are aspirational. They are framed as significant differences one could see or make 10 years from now. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers, learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and when these milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), others by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Learning 2025

The Learning Revolution, it turns out, was about the Learners themselves. It was about their purpose and what they expect while learning. Yes, 21st Century tech was needed to catalyze and scale the Learning Revolution. But the revolution wasn’t about the delivery mechanisms; not about devices or Web X.0. It was about the process of learning not “feeling” the same. A student from 2015, if dropped into a 2025 learning situation,  would likely be far out of their comfort zone.

What’s different for the Learner during the actual learning moments?

Learners expect that what they are learning should make sense to them. They have confidence in their ability to learn material, even if it seems incomprehensible at first. They’ve gained this confidence through personal experience of multiple successful learning breakthroughs, gained through 21st Century learning environments. So, they expect to be able to tell the difference between true, evidence-supported knowledge and unsupported conjecture or false conclusions.

Learning is consciously Learner-directed. Learners understand there are different depths of understanding. Learners decide to what depth they choose to learn any given item or area, based on their own, personal individual purposes. Learner purposes range from immediate problem-resolution, to eager curiosity, to a desire for a professional, life-long “ownership” of the content. Learners understand transferability and seek it: the agility to re-apply any bit of newly gained knowledge or skill to a different, non-routine scenario. Learners crave fluent and precise communication of knowledge. Learners can distinguish in themselves how well or deeply they have learned – and make adjustments, consciously trading off depth and speed.

Yet there is still a familiar, strong, formal educational structure and framework. It’s not just you 1:1 with Wikipedia, Khan, Google, Siri, Alexa, or Cortana. The support structure needed and sought varies with the learner’s desired depth, but it ensures appropriate range, breadth, comprehension, and connectedness. And crucially provides a social mode. “School” is of course still required to lead 5 to 18 year olds to an appropriately broad range and depth of domain literacies.

Learning has gone experiential (learning by doing). In every content area, learners are able to leverage their built-in sensory perception-action cycle. They test hypotheses, sometimes organically, sometimes consciously, via real-time, rigorously accurate feedback. The provision of this multitude of specific, experiential learning environments is where 21st Century tech has been crucial: enabling design of and access to animated simulations and informative feedback. Experiential learning environments provide concrete scenarios first, in every field and at every level. Every learning modality includes as much visually-presented information as publishers can figure out how to provide. Abstract symbolic representations follow in the wake of concrete conceptual grasp.

Learners expect deeper learning to be a lifelong, fun & satisfying, activity. The pleasure of achieving deeper, accurate understanding has become evident to “the masses.”

To many of those still hanging onto positions of power through demagoguery, confusion, lies, distractions, and fear-mongering, this gradual enlightenment of the masses is the ultimate subversive disruption.

Relativity Video

“Visualization of Einstein’s special relativity,” udiprod

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Why Not: 3 Ingredients Enable Universal, Annual Digital Program Evaluations

This post originally appeared in an EdSurge guide, Measuring Efficacy in Ed Tech. Similar content, from a perspective about sharing accountability that teachers alone have shouldered, is in this prior post.

Curriculum-wide programs purchased by districts need to show that they work. Even products aimed mainly at efficiency or access should at minimum show that they can maintain status quo results. Rigorous evaluations have been complex, expensive and time-consuming at the student-level. However, given a digital math or reading program that has reached a scale of 30 or more sites statewide, there is a straightforward yet rigorous evaluation method using public, grade-average proficiencies, which can be applied post-adoption. The method enables not only districts, but also publishers to hold their programs accountable for results, in any year and for any state.

Three ingredients come together to enable this cost-effective evaluation method: annual school grade-average proficiencies in math and reading for each grade posted by each state, a program adopted across all classrooms in each using grade at each school, and digital records of grade average program usage. In my experience, school cohorts of 30 or more sites using a program across a state can be statistically evaluated. Once methods and state posted data are in place, the marginal cost and time per state-level evaluation can be as little as a few man-weeks.

A recently published WestEd study of MIND Research Institute’s ST Math, a supplemental digital math curriculum using visualization (disclosure: I am Chief Strategist for MIND Research) validates and exemplifies this method of evaluating grade-average changes longitudinally, aggregating program usage across 58 districts and 212 schools. In alignment with this methodological validation, in 2014 MIND began evaluating all new implementations of its elementary grade ST Math program in any state with 20 or more implementing grades (from grades 3, 4, and 5).

Clearly, evaluations of every program, every year have not been the prior market norm: it wasn’t possible before annual assessment and school proficiency posting requirements, and wasn’t possible before digital program usage measurements. Moreover, the education market has greatly discounted the possibility that curriculum makes all that much difference to outcomes, to the extent of not even trying to uniformly record what programs are being used by what schools. (Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core by Matthew Chingos and Russ Whitehurst crisply and logically highlights this “scandalous lack of information” on usage and evaluation of instructional materials, as well as pointing out the high value of improving knowledge in this area.)

But publishers themselves are now in a position, in many cases, to aggregate their own digital program usage records from schools across districts, and generate timely, rigorous, standardized evaluations of their own products, using any state’s posted grade-level assessment data. It may be too early or too risky for many publishers. Currently, even just one rigorous, student-level study can serve as sufficient proof for a product. It’s an unnecessary risk for publishers to seek more universal, annual product accountability. It would be as surprising as if, were the anonymized data available, a fitness company started evaluating and publishing its overall average annual fitness impact on club member cohorts, by usage. By observation of the health club market, this level of accountability is neither a market requirement, nor even dreamed of. No reason for those providers to take on extra accountability.

But while we may accept that member-paid health clubs are not accountable for average health improvements, we need not accept that digital content’s contribution to learning outcomes in public schools goes unaccounted for. And universal content evaluation, enabled for digital programs, can launch a continuous improvement cycle, both for content publishers and for supporting teachers.

Once rigorous program evaluations start becoming commonplace, there will be many findings which lack statistical significance, and even some outright failures. Good to know. We will find that some local district implementation choices, as evidenced by digital usage patterns, turn out to be make-or-break for any given program’s success. Where and when robust teacher and student success is found, and as confidence is built, programs and implementation expertise can also start to be baked into sustained district pedagogical strategies and professional development.

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Future Vision 2025 Teachers: No more “just” a Teacher

One needs to have a vision of a future one is aiming for. And some way to tell if progress has been made. The series of 7 short posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my mission milestones, not predictions. They are aspirational, and framed as observations or inferences one could be making by 10 years from now. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers; learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and just when the milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), but many are well-marked simply by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Teachers 2025

Drumbeats

In 2025, teaching as a profession is gaining respect.

It is gaining respect because the drumbeat from frustration with test scores failure has been stilled. The drumbeat has been stilled by clearly improved performance, both on domestic measures and in international comparisons. Key have been NAEP scores are improving markedly, as well as rising U.S. rankings in the international comparisons of PISA and TIMSS.

The drumbeat has also been stilled by an overall sense of progress and improvement: the educational playing field has been made more level through a smarter policy of enlightened self-interest. For example, government goals to provide quality early childhood education experiences, regardless of any parent’s economic ability to provide them, are by now as prevalent as health and nutritional programs were in 2015.

The beat has been stilled by data showing that the floor of the “achievement gap” is rising dramatically, at scale, across the U.S. Moreover, for the upper edge of the “gap”, all is not flat. Proficient or advanced students are also gaining through deep learning which plumbs far beyond just good scores. All students are growing their talents more than ever before.

Teachers encourage their student’s thirst for deeper learning via dramatically more engaging digital learning environments. The last ten years have, finally, empirically confirmed teachers’ belief that all students can learn challenging material. The experience of teaching practice  itself, with the latest digital tools, organically fills gaps in teachers’ own understanding in real time. And the goals of school itself are more tangibly clear and relevant. In the area of mathematics, for example, teachers understand that the meta-purpose of math education is to provide children with flexible, powerful raw thinking machinery for future general learning and problem-solving.

Teachers as a group are more autonomous than ever, skillfully wielding powerful digital tools to productively engage every learner. Publisher integrated content and tools suites have very obviously matured far beyond what any individual teacher would ever dream of putting together themselves via Google. Teacher job satisfaction is markedly up – because teachers are achieving their own goals for more of their own students: positively influencing lives.

Teacher pre-service training and professional development programs of course assume that teachers will be provided with requisite, powerful digital tools. So this training gives them the expectations and distinctions to recognize which tools are appropriate and effective for which purposes. Freshly-minted teachers are more quickly effective in the classroom. Experienced, creative teachers have more opportunities than ever before to focus on their highest level of value-add, via customization, enrichment, and knowing their individual students, having trading in all their prior low level management of classroom, content, and data.

Teacher-practitioners have earned this newfound level of respect from their students, from parents, from administrators, from the community, and, importantly, feel it deeply within. No more, “I’m just a teacher.”

If you tried to take digital content and tools away from teachers, they would go on strike.

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Hold Content Accountable Too: a scalable Method

This post originally was published on Tom VanderArk’s “VanderArk on Innovation” blog on Edweek. It was also published on GettingSmart. The following is an edited version.

Specific programs and content, not just teachers and ‘teacher quality’, must be held accountable for student outcomes. A recent study published by WestEd shows how, given certain program conditions, cost-effective and rigorous student test score evaluations of a digitally-facilitated program can now be pursued, annually, at any time in any state.

Historically, the glare of the student results spotlight has been so intensely focused on teachers alone, that the programs and content ‘provided’ to teachers have often not even been recorded. Making the case for the vital importance of paying attention is this scathing white paperChoosing Blindly, Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core, from the Brown Center on Educational Policy’s Matthew Chingos and Grover Whitehurst.  The good news is: digital programs operated by education publishers for schools organically generate a record of where and when they were used.

Today’s diversity of choices in digital content – choices about scope, vehicles, approaches & instructional design – is far greater than the past’s teacher-selection-committee picking among “Big 3” publishers’ textbook series. This wide variety means content can no longer be viewed as a commodity; as if it were merely a choice among brands of gasoline. Some of this new content may run smoothly in your educational system, yet some may sputter and stall, while others may achieve substantially more than normal mileage or power.

It is important to take advantage of this diversity, important to search for more powerful content. The status quo has not been able to deliver results improvements in a timely manner at scale. And spearheaded by goals embodied in the Common Core, we are targeting  much deeper student understanding, while retaining last decade’s goals of demonstrably reaching all students. In this pursuit, year after year, the teachers and students stay the same. What can change are the content and programs they use; ‘programs’ including the formal training programs we provide to our teachers.

But how do you tell what works? This has been extremely challenging in the education field, due in equal measures to a likely lack of programs that do work significantly better, to the immense and hard-to-replicate variations in program use and school cultures, and to the high cost, complexity, and delay inherent in conventional rigorous, experimental evaluations.

But. There is a cost-effective, universally applicable way for a large swath of content or programs to be rigorously evaluated: do they add value vs. business-as-usual. The method is straightforward, requires no pre-planning, can be applied in arrears, and is replicable across years, states, and program-types. It can cover every school in a state, thus taking into account all real-world variability, and it’s seamless across districts, aggregating up to hundreds of schools.

To be evaluated via this method, the program must be:

  1. able to generate digital records of where/when/how-much it was used at a grade
  2. in a grade-level and subject (e.g. 3-8 math) that posts public grade-average test scores
  3. a full curriculum program (so that summative assessments are valid)
  4. in use at 100% of the classrooms/teachers in each grade (so that grade-average assessment numbers are valid)
  5. new to the grade (i.e. evaluating the first one or two years of use)
  6. adopted at sufficient “n” within a state (e.g. a cohort of ~25 or more school sites)

Every program, in every state, every year, that meets the above criteria can be studied, whether for the first time or to validate continuing effectiveness. The data is waiting in state and NCES research files to be used, in conjunction with publisher records of school/grade program usage. This example illustrates a quasi-experimental study to high standards of rigor.

It may be too early for this level of accountability to be palatable for many programs just yet. Showing robust, positive results requires the program itself be actually capable of generating differential program efficacy. And of course some program outcomes are not measured via standardized test scores. There will be many findings of small effect sizes, many implementations which fail, and much failure to show statistical significance. External factors may confound the findings. Program publishers would need to report out failures as well as successes. But the alternative is to continue in ignorance, rely only on peer word-of-mouth recommendations, or make do with a handful of small ‘gold-standard’ studies on limited contexts.

The potential to start applying this method now for many programs exists. Annual content evaluations can become a market norm, giving content an annual seat at the accountability table alongside teachers, and stimulating competition to improve content and its implementation.

 

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Future Vision 2025 Parents: the “Same” is no longer good enough

One needs to have a vision of a future one is aiming for. And some way to tell if progress has been made. The series of 8 short posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my mission milestones, not predictions. They are aspirational, and framed as observations or inferences one could be making by 10 years from now. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers; learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and just when the milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), but many are well-marked simply by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Parents 2025

Parents see that 2025’s learning environments for their children are different, and superior, to what they went through as students themselves – just as they expect to see that 2025’s medical options are different and superior to what was available 30 or more years previously.

Parents are noticing positive results for their children, including a background of more general satisfaction with school and learning, and higher confidence in their ability to learn challenging content – presented by teachers with new tools and in new ways.

They are even beginning to expect improvements in schooling. Rather than dig in their heels resisting classroom changes, insisting on schooling “the way I know it worked just fine for me,” parents are starting to believe in progress – because they finally see it working in their own family. They can see and hear their children apply more of their school day “book-learning” to their every day “real world”. Parents notice that for their children, school learning is making more sense, in ways it never did for the parent.

Some parents would even be upset if they found out that their child was receiving ‘only’ the good old familiar and comfortable lecture & practice that the parent remembers from their own schooling. Because they know it can and should be better for their child. Nevertheless, the inertia and familiarity of the same-old same-old keeps it the safe, default choice for education decision-makers.

So, grass roots movements have formed among highly-involved parents of school children to encourage and support teachers through the adoption and quality implementation of proven, though unfamiliar, techniques and tools – in stark contrast to the last many decades of those same highly-involved parents’ rigid adherence to the status quo, based on their conviction that whatever is new could only be degrading learning for their children.

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Future Vision 2025 Students: Adios Highlighting

One needs to have a vision of a future one is aiming for. And some way to tell if progress has been made. The series of 7 short posts, Future Vision 2025, describes some of my mission milestones, not predictions. They are aspirational, and framed as observations or inferences one could be making by 10 years from now. What’s noticeably different in 2025 when one examines students, parents, teachers; learning, assessment, media & society, and the globe? How and just when the milestones are reached are not addressed. Some milestones are indicated by the emergence of something ‘new’ (at least at robust scale), but many are well-marked simply by the fading away of something familiar and comfortable.

Studenhighlighted textbookts 2025

Afternoons and nights of laptop in lecturehunching over textbooks with highlighters, cramming facts and formulae, are no longer the dominant study mode – something new has finally supplanted it.

Lecture ‘absorption’ is no longer dominantly a note-taking exercise (by 2015, having gone ‘digital’ courtesy of Moore’s law and wi-fi to distraction-filled laptops).

Students believe in their capacity to achieve mastery over complex subject matter – whatever they set out to learn. Students believe their investment of time will be both efficient and productive. Students have the autonomy to choose the pace and depth of learning as appropriate to their purposes. They see learning as worthwhile and often exciting.

Student expectations of the learning process have expanded beyond the downloading of knowledge and acquisition of skills, to the opportunity to upload high quality “solutions” to real leading-edge problems, including creative works.

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Common Core meme provocation and response – 9 ways to Go Faster!

The “Angry Mother Destroys Common Core” internet meme got my goat when I browsed the comments section. I grant that the actual meme problem was overbearing (it’s the “write a letter to Jack”  about subtraction error using the number line). But in the comments I saw a lot of complaints about how the number line approach was not the fastest way to the answer, and thus a confusing waste. Not those commenters’ faults in a way; they are just sticking with the one-right-way paradigm about math they were taught back in the day.

So I yielded to temptation and uploaded a response comment on the meme’s thread, sharing here for (I hope) your amusement:

Apparently to many folks, the Fastest way to get to The Answer is the Point of math. Here are 9 ways to go faster:

1) Memorize lots of formulas – as many as you can.
2) Once it seems to you like one of your formulas can be applied, run it.
3) Even for addition, use a calculator (We all have one in our phones, sweet!)
4) Download a powerful calculator that has lots of formulas pre-coded for you to just punch in a few #’s. Less memorizing!
5) Have your mom do the problem for you (that’s faster, right?)
6) Have your mom just give you the answer (now we’re getting fast!)
7) Have your smartphone solve it (it knows more than Mom!) http://www.nydailynews.com/…/new-photomath-app…
8) Don’t answer the question – heck what difference does it make if you answer someone else’s canned math question anyway?
9) Don’t even bother taking a math class and save yourself years of grief – other people know how to do the math that you can’t do with a calculator or app anyhow, right? And aren’t there lots of people to tell you they never broke out a binomial or even an ‘x’ in their worklife, ever, so what a waste?

Oh, and now that speed has been served, please enjoy your trip into the real world after school, where people get good pay if they can solve real problems via pattern recognition, efficient problem abstractions, and a myriad of hierarchical solution methods, using logical thinking. Within a few months of hiring on, managers know who can solve problems and who is weak. Calculators don’t cut it.

Oh yeah one more thing: in the real world there is no 1 right answer in the back of the book.

My kids will see your kids out in the world competing for jobs. Good luck to them all!

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A Cynical Comment on the Future of College Prices

This is a comment on the Swail Letter on Education’s post: The Continuing Nightmare: Tuition and Fees will Double in Less Than 20 Years. The Swail Letter is a hard-hitting commentary on fundamental and unsustainable issues in higher education by my acquaintance Watson Scott Swail of the Educational Policy Institute.

I’m no economist, but am a parent with a “top 10″ graduating high school senior next Wednesday (insane California school year end date). To me it is obvious that (with respect to a traditional bachelor’s degree at a non-state-supported college) the market is simply in a logical process of increasing prices up to what the market will “bear”. Which means, up to a level ultimately where it becomes a coin-flip as to whether it’s better economically to attend college, at that price, or to go straight into the workforce. So, no more “good deals” on a college education. There used to be for sure, which is part of the frustration for my generation: I got two Physics degrees from UCLA for <$1,000 per year tuition+fees.

How could there be good deals in the future? Only if there is competition on price, which for major college brands there definitely is none of. And even then only if customers decide the lower-priced brands are worth paying less for. In the auto market, Hyundai cleverly built an offer and a brand to take market share at the low end of price. It took 25 years.

I must say “more power” to the following degree programs, but as parent in the market for an employee-boost for my child, and as a hiring manager, the brand of WGU or Straighter-Line or even ASU-online currently says: as a student I didn’t have what it takes to make it into a brand name, rigorous selection, high quality program.

Like driving a Kia to a first date might say to a potential future spouse: I don’t have much in the way of financial wherewithal.

School brands say a lot about us to others and especially to ourselves for our entire lives, we drape ourselves in our alma mater’s brand. The only doors out of this trap I see currently are for the “smartest money” to be perceived as following Peter Thiel’s lead and discounting the value of a traditional degree; focusing instead on acquiring and taking work-valued competencies to the market as fast as possible. Such that the future entrepreneurs, the smartest kids from high school and their parents, consciously choose and follow that de Facto Gates/Zuckerberg/Jobs path. And the next smartest money grits its teeth and discounts brand, working the system: get 1 year of credit while in high school. Get the sophomore year in at a community college. And then transfer into the closest cheapest nearby state-school for the last 2 years as a commuter student to get the sheepskin “badge” that’s required for any job. 5 years in if you play your cards right, the brand will fade in comparison to experience and accomplishments.

A 1988 Hyundai Excel did get you from A to B safely and on time. Cheaply.

However, I would bet then that based on demand, state school tuition goes up even faster than your doubling prediction of 17 years…it has a long way to rise before becomes an obviously bad financial deal!

And the $400k on-site private residential bachelors degree keeps its price point but is a luxury for the upper class, the 1%, and also for those who are deemed worthy of full-ride financial aid.

Under what scenario can anyone imagine multiple accessible and equivalently valued college brands start seriously competing on price like Toyota and Honda and Ford? I’d like to seriously know.

At least athletics are valued in America with plenty of scholarships, right?

The Digital Learning Revolution is not Glossy. (Or LTE.)

The Digital Learning Revolution Will Not Be Glossy. Or LTE.

First posted on Sums&Solutions blog.
Part one of a multi-part series

The true Digital Learning Revolution has not yet arrived. If you go into a classroom and see every student with an iPad on wifi, full 1:1, you are not necessarily seeing a Digital Learning Revolution. Counting what type and how glossy and how many are the digital devices is not how you tell.

Because the Digital Learning Revolution is not about digitizing conventional learning. Nor even about increasing access.

It’s not about digitized problem sets – even if they are gamified. Not even if the problems are scored instantly; nor even if the problem sequence can be varied based on responses (aka “adaptive learning”). Textbook-like problems presented digitally, no matter how entertainingly wrapped in back-story, music, interesting side-bar links, procedural hints and immersive 3-D exploration, are still just this: use previously memorized patterns and procedures to get THE right answer.

It’s not about digitized asynchronous lectures. By their nature they are not interactive. They are passive. Yes, even if talking heads and filmed overhead grease pen scrawls have moved from VHS-access in the 70’s to YouTube-access 40 years later, lectures are not the Digital Learning Revolution.

And it’s especially not about the advent of the latest digital hardware vehicles. Tsunamis of digital hardware have washed into many classrooms, many times. From Apple IIe’s in the 1980’s to Apple iPad II’s in the teens. With interactive whiteboards somewhere in between. First off, the change in how most subjects were taught day to day was minimal. Worse, it did not become the “new normal” for students or teachers to even just use them day to day. There was no killer app. No deep penetration. No Digital Learning Revolution – yet.

Of course, revolutionizing the learning itself depends on the content IN the digital vehicles, a point powerfully made in this excellent white paperChoosing Blindly, Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core, from the Brown Center on Educational Policy’s Chingos and Whitehurst.  And if that content is just a digitization of the conventional, then no matter how glossy and retina-resolution the screen, no matter how anywhere or anytime or speedy the access, the learning will still be “conventional” learning. By the way, how well has a focus on conventional learning, a focus where the content is considered a commodity, done over the last four decades?

Note moreover, that a narrow view of digital content + student, without taking into account the teacher’s interaction with new content and a new learning process, is also not the Digital Learning Revolution. Because as Chingos and Whitehurst point out, the Digital Learning Revolution occurs at the intersection of the student, and the content, and the teacher. So new digital vehicles, even conveying radically different content (such as interactive videogames), or, rather, especially when carrying radically different content, will not achieve the Digital Learning Revolution … without a comprehensive re-tooling of teacher understandings, processes, and goals.

Beyond Hardware

What about the other major digital game-changer of the 21st Century, you say – what about digitized access? Searchable access to the world’s libraries of content? Anywhere anytime access to the cloud through cheap personal hand-held devices?

You are a participant in that access revolution. So, look around you, what is your experience? Have you experienced, or seen a Digital Learning Revolution? A communication revolution to be sure – connectivity is off the charts. And it’s certainly a revolution in “find something, cut, and paste”. A plethora of small, disconnected written nuggets delivering instant gratification for quick trivia questions. Consumption from the cloud is off the charts. But, when you are looking for depth, you have not yet seen a revolution of learning. As I blogged here re speed v. depth, and here re googling.

The digital access revolution did not bring the Digital Learning Revolution along for the ride.

Again, the key is content. And that a Learning Revolution must involve three interacting components: student, content, and teacher. As I blogged here re blended learning. A Learning Revolution requires the teacher for social, evaluative, motivational, and yes, human communication. The Digital Learning Revolution will require humans. The best sort of humans: teachers who help others grow and improve

In the next installment: well anyhow, we should expect digital content for free, right?

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