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


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.

Last week I wrote about the beginning of end for schools with the creation and launch of the University of the People that will accept its first class later this year. A University degree for free…or for very little money comparatively. Using free content on the web and a notion that learners can teach each other the university could be the beginning of the end. Maybe not this university, but this is a concept that I think we’ll see others try and build upon. It’s the idea that is interesting to me and that gets me thinking that the end is just a bit closer.

I feel the momentum of change coming. With the recent news of India trying to create a $10 laptop that would bring the Internet to a whole new group of people.

Again…..it’s the idea that this could even happen. Even if they make a laptop for $50 what have they done? Who have they given access to? And what will be created in its wake?

And then there is the cell phone:

Ten years ago, there was a mobile phone subscription for 5 percent of the planet. Today there are 3.95 billion mobile phone subscriptions (lets call it an even 4 billion, we’ll be at 4 billion in January). Even at 3.95 billion today, that means there is a mobile phone subscription for 59% of the population on the planet.

You might want to read that stat again. Almost 60% of the worlds population has a cell phone. I wonder what percentage of the world has access to paper and pencil? That would be an interesting comparison.

Worried yet?

Me neither…just because you have the tools, it doesn’t mean you know how to learn with them. Good thing we dodged that bullet and bought ourselves some time!

Oh…and then there is this story from David Warlick:

One of the best stories I heard was told by a school librarian, Kathy Gallagher.  Her daughter is a senior in high school and is currently shopping for colleges.  Kathy said that all of the schools her daughter is considering have their own Facebook groups — except for one, a fairly small liberal arts school.  …So her daughter set up the the group for the school.  She said, “In just a couple of days, the group grew to over 300.”

This was very impressive — to all of us.  But hoping to learn more, I asked, “So why did she set up the group?”

Gallagher looked at me, as if I had completely missed the point.  I had completely missed the point.  She said that her daughter was visiting the Facebook groups to get answers to questions about student life at the schools from the perspective of students.  She wanted to ask the same questions about the small liberal arts school, so she created the community for the school, grew the community, and then had over 300 sources for answers to her questions.

Wait just a minute….a student…an actual student….found a way to create a network that gave her the knowledge she was looking for. You mean students might actually search for knowledge on their own..and when they can’t find it create a network that will help them find it.

Please do not let students know they have this kind of power! If they could get information, and/or create learning networks without us and learn on their own we’d be doomed for sure!

Good thing somebody hasn’t applied this to education. I mean you could end up having…say…a University that people could go to to learn from each other in a peer to peer setting.

And then there is Scott McLeod’s recent short post:

I think it is becoming increasingly
clear that our current system of education is going to go away. There
are simply too many societal pressures and alternative paradigms for it
to continue to exist in its current form.

The only question, then, is: How long are we going to thrash around before we die?

Wait a minute a University Professor is worried that our current education system might be going away….and by system I don’t think he’s singling out the US system. Most education systems around the world follow the same age based system the US has adopted.

I don’t know about you…but I see the pieces slowly moving together. It’s like looking at a map for the first time after learning about the Continental Drift Theory…and for the first time you step back and you look…..and you see it….you see how all of the pieces could fit together…and you have a moment…a moment where you go WHOA!