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.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Coming Clash in Blended Learning: Part II

This past weekend, Tom Vander Ark tweeted about Michael Horn from the Christensen Institute kicking off a small wonkish blended learning conference.  Horn was one of the authors along with Clayton Christensen and Curt Johnson of a book called 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 in a post in 2010 that included an exchange with Horn, the first edition of their book didn't mention blended learning.  They've since added a section on their brand of blended learning in later editions.

I replied to Vander Ark's tweet with the following tweet: " Not differentiating replacement / empowerment of teachers"

To which Vander Ark replied: "off base (like your blog); all about Improving Conditions & Careers for teachers, see paper I think he was referring to this post.

We then exchanged a series of tweets;  I'm @sabier on Twitter if you want to look them up.  The Disrupting folks are beginning to realize that disrupting class or disrupting the public school system which appears to be their ultimate goal is a big job, and their teacher replacement model is not likely to get much traction except in schools that are really desperate.   The schools that Vander Ark has worked with so far are all charter schools, or new schools of some type, or home school networks, or severely stressed school districts like Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Nashville, and Clark County. 'Working with them' seems to involve some kind of private foundation support and some kind of reorganizing how teachers are paid. They don't seem to know how to implement blended technology without disrupting the governance/financial structure of a school.

One of the tell-tale signs that they're really interested in teacher replacement is how Vander Ark's group explains how a teacher will earn more pay with their brand of blended learning  "teachers can extend their reach by teaching a larger number of students without increasing class size because, at a given time, some of their student are using digital instruction with paraprofessional supervision, while teachers use the face-to-face teaching time for higher-order learning and personalized follow-up" - see here for more details on this clever scheme.  They're replacing teacher time with digital instruction and paraprofessionals.

One of the later issues in the Smart Series that Vander Ark suggested that I look at is actually pretty good. It contains some sound advice about steps that districts should take when implementing blended learning, especially the section on using a learning management system.  But the paper doesn't get at the basic decision that a district needs to make about how teachers will be included in the implementation.  What are the district's core values about teachers and teaching?  Is the blended learning system going to be a top down directed system utilizing corporate created content, or will it be driven by teachers using teacher created content and  using assessments managed by teachers.  Will all teachers be empowered and supported, or will the system be used to sort teachers into the keepers and the expendables?

Blended learning doesn't mean the same thing to everybody.