Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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What has becoming somewhat of a tradition….ok…it’s really just my geek side coming out (yes this would imply I have another side….not sure what that is though), I sat down on Thursday last week to watch the Google I/O conference. For years now I have watched the Google I/O conference as well as the Apple’s WWDC (coming June 8th) for no other reason (or so I tell myself) than to fill in teachers at my school what was announced and how it might impact them. When living and working in China and Thailand this meant staying up until 2am or so to watch it live and write an email that would be in every teachers inbox by the next morning. Now living in Seattle it means a cup of coffee, four devices and watching it on my TV.

flickr photo shared by pestoverde under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license
flickr photo shared by pestoverde under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

It also means I no longer work in a school or have teachers to send this to…so you get my thoughts this year. Basically a brain dump of things I’m thinking after watching Google layout the next year and beyond of the future of technology.

Education was at the front of this year’s talk. I say that every year of course because I hear and see things through an educational lens. For example, Google’s new Photos app (Android, iOS) had nothing to do with education…or they just made it even easier for students to take pictures, create movies, stories and share those photos with their classmates and teacher. A common photo app on both Android and iOS devices with unlimited upload and storage space for all the photos and video you want to take. Yes…this can and will impact some classrooms.

“Please take out your phones and record via videos and photos your experiment today please. One person in your group needs to be the recorder for the experiment and I expect to see written notes along with video and image evidence of what happened.”

Google Expeditions

One of the biggest educational announcements was the release of Google Expedition. A virtual reality toolkit for educators being released, I’m going to guess, in time for next school year. Using Google Cardboard and any Smartphone (again both Android and iOS) you turn every classroom into a 3D immersive experience. This is very early stages but if you think 2 or 3 years down the road what this means for classrooms it could be very powerful.

“OK class….please get out your cardboard and we’re going to go live to Martin Luther King Jr. speech today. Group A  you will be viewing it from the back of the crowd. Group B I’ve put you in the middle of the crowd and Group C you are towards the front. I would like your group to experience the speech from these different perspectives and then discuss how your view and angle of the speech impacted you and notice the people around you within Cardboard. How did it impact them?”

What if we can “be there”. Instead of saying “Oh…you had to be there to see it, or to feel it” can we get one step closer of actually being there?

Google Sidestepping Universities

However, the announcement that has me still thinking and still blowing my mind is the announcement Google made about teaming up with Udacity to offer an Android Developer Nanodegree. Udacity has been rolling out these Nanodegrees for awhile now and this latest announcement from Google just adds to what could be a real movement in higher education.

The “NanoDegree” offering a narrow set of skills that can be clearly applied to a job, providing learners with a bite-size chunk of knowledge and an immediate motivation to acquire it. (NYTimes, 2014)

nanodegreesThat motivation being both AT&T and now Google are backing these degrees saying they will consider graduates of these degrees as being qualified for hiring within their companies. So instead of going to University and having to take all those classes you don’t want to take or you know don’t really point you in the direction you want to go, you get a Nanodegree instead. $200 a month for 8 months or so? Basically I get a degree for $1600? That’s a lot less than any public University where I live.

Now I could go on and on about where I think this is going and the future of nanodegrees. What I really want to focus on is what do students need in order to complete one of these degrees?

If we go to the “Prerequisites and Requirements” section for the new Android Developers degree. We see a list of prerequisites including some background knowledge you’ll need in Java and other programs. All of which can be found on Udacity’s website of course. But the one that caught my eye was this one:

Dedication and Mindset

In addition to 1-2 years of prior programming experience and intermediate technical skills, students are expected to demonstrate the following characteristics:

Resourcefulness: Ability to search for and find solutions in documentation, backed by the belief that all problems in code are discoverable;

Grit: Ability to work through challenges and persevere when code breaks and tests fail.

Growth Mindset: Belief that intelligence is NOT a fixed entity, and can be boosted by hard work in the process of learning and practice.

Let’s make these just a bit less techie for a second:

Resourcefulness: Ability to search for and find solutions in documentation, backed by the belief that finding problems is just as important as solving them.

Grit: Ability to work through challenges and persevere when things don’t go as expected and failure is seen as leading to solutions.

Growth Mindset: Belief that intelligence is NOT a fixed entity, and can be boosted by hard work in the process of learning and practice.

Are we making sure that students that graduate from high schools all around the world this month are leaving with this Mindset? I hope so….because this mindset will get you farther in life than any degree no matter how major or nano it might be.

Gigaom had a great article this week on some of the push back that MOOCs and Coursera in particular are seeing from university professors.

A couple quotes:

Princeton professor Mitchell Duneier told The Chronicle of Higher Education Tuesday that he will no longer teach his class out of concerns that it could undermine public higher education.

In April, Amherst rejected a partnership with edX citing concerns that MOOCs could take tuition funding from middle- and lower-tier schools and lead to a degraded model of teaching.

MOOCs
Photo Credit: mathplourde via Compfight cc

You can read the article yourself and I also encourage the comments. What I am hearing is that things are getting scary here in this MOOC world. That both professors and universities are starting to either feel the effects or see the writing on the wall that things are going to change. The problem is….I don’t know if they can really control it or stop it.

When anyone anywhere can learn anything and all they need is an internet connection and a device to access it….things change.

Just a quick post to point to two pieces of information that shows the slow march we’re seeing to online learning and how it is going to effect high schools in the near future. The disruption is near for sure.

A small study done by Millenial Branding with college students shows that many believe they can get as good if not better education online. Here are some figures from the survey.

50 percent of students said they don’t need a traditional classroom to learn, but 78 percent do think that it’s easier to learn in a traditional classroom than online. (associationsnow.com)

Not sure what to make of this. Is it a good thing or bad thing that 78% of students think it’s “easier” to learn in a traditional classroom? I have talked to people who have taken online courses and most do say they are more work as you can’t “hide” in an traditional class but not in an online course. I would have rather them say it was more educational or it was more “fun” to learn in a traditional classroom. Not sure what the questions were on the survey…but not sure I like “easier”.

43 percent say that online education will provide them with courses of the same or higher quality than traditional colleges. (associationsnow.com)

So not all of them believe online is the way to go….but they do believe it is the way education is headed. There are some other good stats to look at in the survey.

As this survey comes out asking millenials in college about online education, News. Corp’s Amplify launched a High School MOOC course. The first course is an AP Computer Science course and is aimed at preparing students to take the College Board exam.

The online program, taught by an experienced high school teacher, is free to students. And an added option, called MOOC Local, which provides schools with students in the CS MOOC additional resources, will cost $200 per student but is free to schools for the first year. (gigaom.com)

Photo Credit: mathplourde via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: mathplourde via Compfight cc

So if your school doesn’t offer AP Computer Science and you have students that want to take it, now they have a choice. The MOOC Local option looks like the future to me. Where a school has a “coach” who helps students when they need it, who can be that connection and even connect students within a school. Think how this could change what it means to be a teacher…..

Anyway….just two articles that have me thinking this week. It’s not that online learning has to be “better” than traditional. It just have to cost less, give students time to work a job, or fill a course need/want that their local school doesn’t offer to start making a mark on high school education. I think of these articles and the day I spent with Alabama ACCESS online educators a few weeks ago where they have the third largest online high school serving over 65,000 students. Or as the director put it 65 – 1000 student high schools. We’re going to continue to see growth in this area and the MOOC approach will be part of it for sure.

Four great articles have come to light lately that point to research being done and what many of us in the Ed Tech community have been saying for a long time might just be on the horizon. That is that this technology stuff can improve education.

So let’s start at Mashable one of my favorite Web 2.0 blogs to read. Back in August they posted a fantastic article titled What is the Future of Teaching?

Until recently, online learning has mainly been of the expository sort,
essentially a traditional lecture format adapted for the web. But
newer, social and multimedia technologies are allowing online tools to
evolve to offer more active and interactive lessons. No longer is
online learning just reading a module and answering questions — it can
now include synchronous or asynchronous discussions and peer-to-peer
learning exercises. As a result, online learning is becoming a more
useful tool as both a replacement for and enhancement to traditional
face-to-face learning.

Ah…..yes….we’re starting to get the hang of this online learning stuff. We’re starting to understand that you can’t take the old model and apply it to a new medium….you need a whole new model of learning.

In the Mashable article they point to research done by the US Department of Education (PDF) and link to this New York Times Post which talks about the findings of the study.

A recent 93-page
report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the
Department of Education,
has a starchy academic title, but a most
intriguing conclusion: “On average, students in online learning
conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face
instruction.”

and

Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were
quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the
same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that,
on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank
in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average
classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile. That is a modest but
statistically meaningful difference.

Yep…we might just be getting the hang of this online teaching thing. But wait! There’s even more news about learning with technology that broke last week in a BBC article titled “Phone texting ‘helps pupils to spell’

A study of eight- to 12-year-olds found that rather than damaging reading and writing, “text speak” is associated with strong literacy skills.

Researchers say text language uses word play and requires an awareness of how sounds relate to written English.

This link between texting and literacy has proved a surprise, say researchers.

Cell PhoneFantastic! So through away those cursive books (really kids you won’t use it after elementary school anyway) and let’s give ever 2nd – 5th grader a cell phone to practice their spelling on. Oh..wait…they all already have one (well at my school anyway).

Really a surprise? It’s surprising that teenagers today who send something like 2,000+ text messages a month (as reported by the New York Times) are actually learning how to spell? Text writing is all about phonetic spelling which we’ve been teaching in schools for…..well…..longer than I’ve been around.

Then there’s just the shear number of hours kids are spending in front of screens which according to the latest research is closing in on 11 hours a day (See my previous post on Active vs Inactive Screen Time).

Now we return to the Mashable article with the biggest shocker of them all:

…all things are not equal. Students spending three hours per day in an
online environment under the guidance of a great professor are likely,
and not surprisingly, going to be better prepared than those spending an
hour per week in a classroom with a mediocre one.
And because the study’s results were correlational and not causal,
it is impossible to say for certain whether it was actually the online
learning environment that caused better tested performance. We can
conclude that those in online learning environments tested better, but
not necessarily why.

You mean the teacher still matters? You mean after all of this we still can’t say whether it is actually the online learning that is creating these changes? Maybe it’s the best teachers taking the best approach, which incorporates the use of online tools to enhance the learning. In the end a good teacher is still needed. Will there ever be away to compare two “great” teachers? Who says what is “great”? A great teacher for me might not be one for you. So I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the bottom of this…..but you better bet we’re gonna spend a lot of money trying. 😉

But I’m not giving up! I believe that using tools/methods that engage students in the learning process is what leads to learning…and I believe that for this generation many of those tools/methods have technology embedded in them.