Stone Arch Bridge on a December Morning

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Our Schools Don't Need Saving

      Austin Dannhaus' recent piece is a perfect example of what David Hursh describes in his new book, The End of Public Schools: The Corporate Reform Agenda to Privatize Education, as a manufactured crisis created by corporate reformers where they "misrepresent data to have us believe that our public schools are failing so that public schools can be privatized." 
   Dannhous' pieceTechnology Won't Save Our Schools appears in various online outlets - I saw it first via Edsurge. Now, why might Dannhaus be interested in privatizing public schools? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that he's the Director of New Ventures at a business called Free Range Studios. Free Range Studios is involved in, from their website: 

                    Research insights brand innovation storytelling content strategy workshops new product                        & market exploration brand & growth strategy campaign & fundraising strategy new                        brand and growth strategy analytics & optimization ux/ui product experience design.

   I'm guessing public school systems are not target clients of a business that does all of that unless they're going to help one district do a merger with or acquisition of a neighboring district. There probably isn't a lot of requests for such 'services.' So it's not surprising that they don't list much experience with public education. Dannhaus appears to only have two years in a Prince George County elementary school as a TFAer after which he became a consultant and then a director of new ventures.

  One of Dannhaus' complaints is that "So far, edtech has only contributed small improvements rather than the scalable and systemic disruptions to which it might aspire." Who says we need to systemically disrupt our education system? Oh, yeah, the people who want to privatize education; that's who.

  What if we were to use technology to actually improve the system we already have? From my experience of more than twenty-five years implementing technology in various education settings, the reason that technology has not changed education very much is that very few people are bothering to train teachers how to integrate technology into instruction and assessment.

 It's not easy and quick for all of our teachers to learn how to use all of the great new tools that are available that will improve teaching and learning. Dannahus got this part right - education is complicated. Given the very little, if any, support they've gotten from their administrations or the teacher training institutions, it's not at all surprising that results have not changed. Dumping a bunch of tablets into classrooms without planning and professional development in a scalable and systemic way is obviously going to cause confusion and frustration. It doesn't need to be done like that.

 Let's give adequately supporting the great teachers and schools we already have a real chance instead of blowing up the system.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Moodle Competencies / Student Learning Outcomes

MoodleMootUS2015 (#MootUS15) was held this past week at the U of Mn Minneapolis campus. In his keynote Marting Dougiamus offered encouragement to all who have been longing for Moodle to finally make the reporting of student learning outcomes, or competencies, something that is easy to do and makes sense.  Note that I said encouragement. Martin didn’t say when the useful reporting of student learning outcomes in Moodle will actually happen, but he and a lot of other people are working on it.

Moodle has had the idea of student learning outcomes defined for many years.  It’s just that those  outcomes currently can’t be aggregated beyond the course level.  So, outcomes in Moodle are currently not something useful for anyone other than the teacher of a particular course which makes them not very useful.  As they are now, Moodle outcomes don’t provide information to program coordinators, to department chairs, to Academic Deans, to principals, to superintendents, to any of the people other than the teacher who might be interested in who is learning what.

Reporting student learning outcomes based on assessments of student learning as evidenced by work submitted via the Moodle LMS will make life easier for lots of people when it finally becomes available.  After spending time everyday last week talking to Moodle people about student learning outcomes I understand better why this hasn’t happened, yet.  Most of the people at the Moodle Moot were the IT developer types; there were very few people who were in the academic leadership of their institutions.  And, therein lies the explanation for why useful kinds of reports of student learning outcomes hasn’t happened, yet - the academic leaders don’t really understand what’s possible, and the IT developers are hesitant to make what’s possible a reality until they get some direction for academic leadership.

Reporting student learning outcomes beyond the course level alters the way lots of things in academic institutions have always been done.  This is not something that just impacts online learning or hybrid learning; reporting student learning outcomes is a systemic change.  It’s a change that won’t happen without leadership at the highest levels of an academic institution.  The reporting of student learning outcomes that can be sorted and filtered in a variety of ways is a change that is coming and will be a good thing once it’s available. The logical place to start is with those programs that have already clearly defined the desired student learning outcomes of their programs.  In higher ed that’s the professional prep programs:  teacher training, nursing, social work, health services, and  technical trade programs.  In K12, most areas have defined learning outcomes, but standardized testing has been falsely offered as a way to find out what students are learning.  So, the reporting of learning outcomes based on assignments created by teachers will need to compete with standardized testing.  That systemic change is possible, but will likely take more time because there are still way too many people who think that standardized tests are the same things as tests based on standards. The real sense of possibility in the air just below the Falls of St Anthony this past week gave me hope that we'll soon see student learning outcomes reporting in Moodle even though a firm date wasn't promised.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Missing from Horn's Blended...

The book that  Michael B. Horn wrote with Heather Staker "Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools."  ignores some important things about blended learning.  In his previous book, he ignored blended, and then I called him on it in a blog post, (see this blog for August 2010and then he started a whole series of work on his brand of blended learning leading up to this book.  I've recently finished a quick first read of my Kindle copy of the new book.  The nice thing about a Kindle is that you can use the search feature to look for certain words.   A search for terms came back with nothing or very little for some of the concepts and practices that are very relevant to blended learning. 

Terms that aren't included in this book are:

1:1 or one to one,

BYOD (bring your own device)



Universal Design

Terms mentioned only briefly:

OER Open Education Resouces (mentioned once in passing)

LMS or learning management system (again once in passing)  How can you even think about blended learning without considering a learning management system.

Also missing from Horn's book is an examination of the work of the many others who have studied blended learning.   Not even mentioning the seminal concept of blended learning as presented by Garrison and Vaughan in their 2008 book, is a major oversight, in my opinion. It's true that Garrison and Vaughan focus primarily on higher ed while Horn and Slaker are focused on K12, but in order for blended learning to be effective in K12, we'll need to learn from the experiences of those who've used the evolving practice in higher ed just as higher ed will need to learn from K12.   

TPACK, in the list above, is another important academic construct that deserves to be included in any serious discussion about blended learning.  Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra's work which takes off from Lee Schulman's, is too valuable to not talk about with educators who are undertaking blended learning.  TPACK, like the Community of Inquiry approach of Garrison, Vaughan and Cleveland-Innes, keeps teaching integral and essential in the discussion.  Horn and Slaker's notion of blended learning is too much about the deployment of devices and substitution of devices for teachers and not enough about teaching and learning.  Horn and Slaker are not teachers; they're business people.  Their attempt to apply business school management principles to the complex art of teaching may be with the best of intentions, but it falls way short of what's needed in our classrooms today.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Measuring Student Learning

     Last week, the Education Department released a draft of its proposed college ratings framework.  One of the interesting things that the Ed Dept said in its announcement about the framework is that it is not going to consider student learning outcomes.  They say learning outcomes are central to understanding the value of an education "but vary widely across programs and institutions and are communicated in many different ways." OK, that's true, but it doesn't mean that student learning outcomes couldn't effectively be included in a college ratings framework.

       How about asking colleges to report whether or not the college is measuring student learning outcomes? I'd like to see the Education Department provide some leadership communicating about student learning. It might be useful to compare the colleges who are actually keeping track of student learning outcomes to the ones that aren't.   Of course, it would be important to define, at least, generally how the institution was tracking the student learning outcomes.  A few simple characteristics would be good for a start.  For instance, are student learning outcomes measured in all courses or just some? how often are student learning outcomes measured? what kinds of tools or systems is the college using to measure student learning outcomes?  Asking the colleges these simple questions would provide a great start to understanding that which is, in the departments words, "central to understanding the value of an education."

        The Ed Dept said that it planned to primarily rely on data sources to which it already had access.  That makes sense if you're trying to keep things easy, but it's not likely to produce much in the way of new and possibly game changing information.  If the Ed Dept really wants to expand the opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, it needs to require reports on measures of student learning sooner rather than later.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Blended / Hybrid Learning Exists - Now

Some folks at a thing/place called An Estuary are claiming that blended learning doesn't exist, yet.  The An Estuary is pretty good at getting press, so I'm guessing this posture might be just a way to get more attention for their new thing.  Fair enough, and maybe blended/hybrid learning doesn't exist yet down there in the coastal backwaters, but it does up here in the headwaters.

And, This HLC Best Paper explains the nuance of hybrid and blended learning. More discussion will be needed before a consensus is reached about what to call what we're doing in classrooms these days.

This post points to the confusion.
Looking to the Christensen Institute for insights into blended learning is like asking the Baltimore Ravens players for insights into walleye fishing.  Professional football and walleye fishing are both in the category of 'sport,'  but they're very different.  The Christensen Institute is 'involved in' education, but there isn't anyone in the institute with any substantive experience in teaching.  Real insights into blended learning come when one has actually done it for a few years.  It helps if one has done it both as a teacher and student, and also at varying levels.

Some of us have been doing it for a few years, and I'm pretty sure someone at An Estuary has seen blended learning before, even if it wasn't labeled as such.  This guest post describes blended or hybrid learning, but labeling the learning isn't what's important.  As noted in this post where I,  again, took issue with the Christensen Institute, Anders Norberg has called blended learning A Boy Named Sue.  

 The point is, if you're paying attention to what's available for you to use as a teacher, you'll likely be doing what could be called blended or hybrid teaching, and your students will doing blended or hybrid learning. Good teaching and learning is the goal.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Coming Clash in Blended Learning

Blended learning doesn't mean the same thing to everybody.  The model being touted by the Christensen Institute  is essentially a teacher replacement model.  The model described by Garrison and Vaughan focuses on the quality and quantity of the interaction between student and teacher and "the sense of engagement in a community of inquiry and learning, achieved through the effective integration of Internet communication technology."

That difference was highlighted in a webinar I listened to recently by two of the Christensen Institute's disciples, Arthur VanderVeen, VP of Business Strategies for Compass Learning, and Tom Vander Ark,  author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World and CEO of Getting Smart, a learning advocacy firm. The different models might be attributable to the different arenas in which the two pairs work.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are part of the corporate business world that is trying to take over the K-12 educational system; Vaughan and Garrsion are professors of education and researchers and have so far focused primarily on higher education.  Both  groups have intentions of impacting the other's realms. 
Their respective intent and purpose probably has more to do with the different models, though.  Garrison and Vaughan are interested in developing a stronger richer community of inquiry and learning; Vander Ark and Vander Veen want to blow things up and make money putting them back together again.  They follow the Christensen's Institute's disruptive model.  I've written about Christensen's disruptive model previously in a discussion of the book, Disrupting Class.   That book was all about using technology to replace teachers and create new models for the U.S. K-12 education system.  As I pointed out, the first edition of the book didn't mention blended learning.  They've added a section on their brand of blended learning in later editions.

 9 and 1/2 minutes into their webinarVander Ark and Vander Veen  brought up the notion that their blended learning model would reduce the need for teachers and change teacher work rules; that's code for fire teachers and bust unions.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are selling to the corporate / charter school money making interests all too prevalent today.  The counterpart to that in the higher ed world is the MOOC phenomenon, which is also based on the notion that teachers are expendable and cost too much.  Vander Ark and Vander Veen are well connected to moneyed interests, so I'll give them the best odds for the early rounds in the coming clash between these two models of blended learning.  In the long run, though, I think "the quality and quantity of the interaction and the sense of engagement in a community of inquiry and learning" will carry the day.  I'll go with Garrison and Vaughan.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jim Lenfestey's Phantom Quiz - An update of Walt Whitman’s 'By Blue Ontario’s Shore'

Jim Lenfestey recently gave me a copy of his outstanding new book of poems, Earth in Anger: Twenty-five Poems of Love and Despair for Planet Earth.   We were both reading at an Open Book event which had been arranged by our mutual friend, John Caddy.  The event was supposed to have happened on Earth Day, but it got snowed out and was re-scheduled for a week later.  Jim hadn't been scheduled for the original Earth Day event because the launch of his new book was happening that evening.   Earth arranged for Jim to read his poems two weeks in a row.  I guess some of the people who drove through the blizzard to get to the original reading were a little miffed that it was cancelled.  I hope they pick up Jim's book and divert that energy as he recommends with his poems.

Jim read By Azure Huron's Shore as his last offering that evening and it's the final entry in the book, but I think it should be read first.  This Phaantom's quiz places the poems in an context of urgency that allows the supple rhythms of the poems more space to undulate.

NOTE: In 1848 journalist Walt Whitman and his brother Jeff traveled to New Orleans to help establish the newspaper the Crescent.  After three months, according to his own hand-drawn map now in the Library of Congress, they returned up the Mississippi and through the Great Lakes, passing through the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Huron, then Erie, then Ontario.  In the 1867 edition of “Leaves of Grass” he included “As I Sat Alone By Blue Ontario’s Shores,” in which he encounters a “Phantom” who quizzes him on the qualities necessary to undertake the American project of creating and healing a nation.  Inspired by Whitman’s interrogation, I wondered what “many and stern” questions the Phantom would put to poets and citizens today to undertake our necessary project, healing and reclaiming our broken, reeling planet.  In the Invocation, I changed but one word of Whitman’s, substituting “earth” for “nation.”  The rest of the Phantom’s interrogation came fresh through me in one burst as I sat alone by azure Huron’s shore.  Originally published as a broadside, it may be reproduced free forever.


(An update of Walt Whitman’s By Blue Ontario’s Shore, section 12)


Are you he who would assume a place to teach or be a poet here on this earth?

The place is august, the terms obdurate.

Who would assume to teach here may well prepare himself body and mind,

He may well survey, ponder, arm, fortify, harden, make lithe himself.

He shall surely be questioned beforehand by me with many and stern questions.

Who are you indeed who would talk and sing of the earth?



Do you know the depth of the waters, and the height of the sky, and their composition?

Have you befriended the trees where you live, know their roots, their crowns?

Have you studied the rocks beneath them, to the fifth epoch?

And the birds above, their songs and what they eat, and where they nest?

And the people who lived there before you, and your ancestors, to the second millennium?

And the rivers and lakes, their subtle watersheds and hidden springs?

And do you swim in the chill and warm waters of your seas and lakes indiscriminately? And with relish? And know the sources of pollutants threatening your waters? And fight against the dark rain with armies of petitions and voters’ guides and drives and meetings?

Are the glaciers and the jungles your friends, the serpents and beasts and birds your guides, the pigs of the sty your helpmates, the microbes and fungi your intimates?

Do you shun or reform all religions that deny the primacy of the earth and its processes? That believe mankind unable to destroy everything good? Or save everything good?

Do you accept with joy the findings of science?

Are your taxes paid to the federal, state and municipal authorities without complaint, as the recognized price of civil living?  Do you wish to pay more?

Do you believe in the Holy Trinity: the water, the grass, the air?  And do you worship them every day with acts of kindness and political clout?

Are you sickened unto death that the biodiversity of the earth is plummeting? The Arctic sea ice melting?  The oceans acidifying?

Have you read the 4th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Or at least the Executive Summary?

And know that its finding of warming for the most part due to the burning of fossil fuels has been everywhere affirmed, including by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, even the George W. Bush Administration?

And are you hot with anger at the lies about the cause of changing climate spouted by those with fingers black with oil, breath black from smoking mines?

And will you slay with dark thoughts the miscreants at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Rush Windbag and others who perpetuate those lies?

Will you fight back with evidence and heat and love for the atmosphere which is the life blanket of our planet?

Do you firmly believe there is no such thing as evil, but only abundant ignorance, stupidity, shortsightedness, self-dealing, self-loathing and fundamentalist self-righteousness?

Do you “fear a lie as others fear fire,” as Chekhov said, and know that “inside you is an inexhaustible fountain of ideas,” as Brenda Ueland said?

Do you believe in families and communities green and cheerful with good schools and happy parents and joy shouted from the schoolyards?

Have your studied Emerson’s essays The Poet and Nature, foundation stones of the spiritual democracy of our nation and all nations, who saw the divine in every person and particular of nature, including these Great Lakes?  He who begat Thoreau and Whitman and Dickinson and Bogan?  Jim Bogan?

When you gaze at the person you love, and the multitudes you love, do tears of gratitude spring to your eyes?   Do your hands fall open in gratitude to the waters, the grass, the air?  And for people who fight for the waters, the grass, the air?

By azure Huron’s shore,

do you stand at the water’s edge, tasting the delicious energies of the grass, inhaling the delicious energies of the air, and fearlessly plunge into the dark waters, for the sake of your soul, and the soul of the earth?