Friday, March 25, 2016

Let’s Follow the Lead of the ACPS.

This post is a response to the comments made by Anthony Cody to a previous post. Anthony made his comment via a link to his blog.

Thank you, Anthony, for articulating your fears and anxieties about CBE. I think you’re voicing concerns that are shared by everyone who doesn’t, yet, understand learning management systems. As I said in my previous post “Using a learning management system (LMS) for instruction and teacher created assessments is not something that has been done by very many K12 public school teachers in the U.S. It's not taught in most schools of teacher preparation and not something that most large public school systems promote.” Let’s start with some of the basics. You’re correct that I didn’t define learning management systems in my post. I was referring to learning management systems like Moodle, Canvas, and Schoology which, I think, are the three mostly widely used LMSs in U.S. K12. It would have been more accurate to say that using an electronic web based learning management system (LMS) for instruction and teacher created assessments is not something that has been done by very many K12 public school teachers in the U.S., yet.

The truth is that almost all teachers have always used some kind of learning management system. Some teachers are still using spiral notebooks or 3-ring binders to keep track of student learning and then they transfer that information to the forms, usually electronic these days, that their districts require. When my dad was Superintendent of a small school district in South Dakota 50 years ago, he and his teachers used faux-leather spiral ‘gradebooks’ and then transferred the information about student learning to cards in pre-printed manilla envelopes that were sent back and forth between parents and teachers until the end of the year when they usually went home with the student. Before the cards were sent home at the end of the year, the teacher was responsible for re-recording the information about student learning in the official file in the big gun metal gray cabinet in the main office. The information recorded was a summary of what the teacher had observed and documented about student learning over the course of the year. Student created artifacts were not kept by the school.

Now, as I said, school districts have only recently begun to implement electronic web based student learning management systems and few have yet to promote using them for teacher created assessments. It is now practical to use Learning managements systems for instruction and teacher created assessments because devices and wifi have become ubiquitous and less expensive than paper systems. In addition to being less expensive, the new LMSs enable enormous potential for teacher and student collaboration within the classroom and with the larger community. But, the LMSs that enable teacher created lessons and assessment are facing huge very well funded competition from LMSs that don’t promote teacher created lessons and assessments. In some cases, far too many in my opinion, teachers are actually discouraged from creating authentic learning experience and are steered toward adaptive or computer suggested next steps. That’s the trend I’d like to see thwarted.

The way to thwart the machine driven learning management systems is to use teacher driven learning management systems.  Teachers don’t need to build LMSs; they’re already built. Teachers just need to collectively decide to use them rather than having the machine driven systems forced into service. But, please, let’s not be so desperately naive as to think that most school systems will not be using some kind of electronic web based learning management system as soon as they can practically get them working. The simple fact that LMSs make OER so much more useable makes the use of LMSs essential for schools going forward from today. The question is very clearly what kind of learning management system will we use in our schools. The spiral bound gradebook - manilla envelope - gray metal cabinet system is no longer an option.

If teachers don’t learn how to use the LMSs that maximize their skills and authority, they will be required to use LMSs that minimize teacher skills and authority. Opting out of using a learning management system that permits the use of free, customizable, remixable, revisable, retainable, globally shareable open education resources is not the same as opting out of standardized tests that are created by for profit corporations and scored by for profit corporations. Let’s spend the $9 billion per year we’re currently spending on textbooks developing our teachers’ capabilities to use free, customizable, remixable, revisable, retainable, globally shareable open education resources on free open source learning management systems and keep for profit companies out of our public schools.

Having teachers masterfully using LMSs and OER is what will enable districts to choose to use competencies like the very enlightened ones the Albemarle County Public Schools use. The  ACPS has very wisely chosen to focus first on creating wise competencies and then on creating content that fulfills those competencies and including teachers in the process all along the way. When the ACPS is asked to report on those competencies, they’ll easily input teacher and student assessments of learning into the LMS of their choice. Learning to use the CBE features of an LMS is not going to be a big deal for the teachers of the ACPS. They’ve already got the competencies defined and processes in place to report on student achievement of those competencies. Let’s follow the lead of the ACPS.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rumba and The Test by Anya Kamenetz

Anya Kamentz's book, The Test, is really good. It's something that parents and teachers and anyone who cares about parents, students or teachers in the U.S. should read. She does a nice job of covering the background of testing as it is today and offers some good options for how to handle the current situation. But, she missed the Rumba option.

The Rumba option is my name for an assessment scenario that is possible today that she didn't write about. I came up with the name, Rumba, by including the first letters of the names of the four scenarios she did mention: Robot, Unicorn, Monkey, Butterfly and adding a fifth element - Accessibility. I like calling the scenario a name usually associated with a dance which is what assessment of learning is like a lot of the time. The Rumba is also a human activity, not a thing or real or imagined animal. And, it can be fun which is what teaching and learning can be when done well.

It's important to focus on the addition of Accessibility which is where more education eyes need to be focused. Education and assessment both need to be more accessible for more students, and using open education resources housed in or delivered with a learning management system that includes all of the reporting features to satisfy all of the people that need to know is the best option for making education and assessment accessible.  Game builders aren't so likely to make their games as accessible as they need to be, and I just don't trust them to be the best stewards of our children's education records. Games will likely be available in English and Spanish and probably Chinese, but will they work with screen readers, and will they be capable of being translated on the fly into all of the languages a good LMS can handle?

The LMS model I'm envisioning includes portfolios - that's been included in my scenario for a few years. It includes project based learning, maker stuff, and authentic teacher created formative assessments. It can include standardized tests, but I don't think they'll be necessary, and I'd be more than happy if they weren't included. The investment required to make this model work will primarily be investment in teacher and administrator training because there are good proven open source options readily available. I'd rather my tax dollars go to build the capacity of the teachers in my community than into the coffers of the makers of standardized tests. So, Let's Rumba !

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

OER, LMSs and Platforms

In January, I suggested that promoting the use of OER with LMSs would benefit both OER and LMSs.  I've been in Twitter and email exchanges lately with people who don't distinguish between LMSs (learning management systems) and 'platforms.' The term Platform these days tends to refer to a whole bunch of different things. Including LMSs in with all of the other things that are included in the term platform isn't going to serve the promotion of OER. Doing so is similar to what David Wiley refers to as "theory neutrality." Wiley says, "Software vendors and standards bodies describe their learning object related work as being “instructional theory neutral.” Were this the case all would be well in learning object land. Problematically, a more accurate description of their products is “instructional theory agnostic,” or in other words, “we don't know if you're employing an instructional theory or not, and we don't care.” As stated above, it is very likely that the combination of learning objects in the absence of any instructional theory will result in larger structures that fail to be instructionally useful."

Putting LMSs in the same category as platforms is a weak attempt at being all inclusive; my point in suggesting that OER and LMSs will benefit each other is to highlight what LMSs will do for teachers who use them in concert with OER. A LMS "delivers and manages instructional content, identifies and assesses individual and organizational learning or training goals, tracks the progress towards meeting those goals, and collects and presents data for supervising the learning process of the organization as a whole.[4] A learning management system delivers content but also handles registering for courses, course administration, skills gap analysis, tracking, and reporting.[5]  Platforms don't necessarily do those things above, and doing all of those things with OER is what needs to happen in order for teachers and the institutions they're a part of to adopt OER more often.

Teaching is still largely done as a function within a larger system, and rightly so. Teaching and learning are community activities. Sure, teaching and learning can happen and often does happen as part of a one to one relationship, but it's that relationship within the context of a larger institution that gives the larger meaning to the teaching and learning. Learning happens in colleges that are part of a university; learning happens in classrooms in schools that are part of a district that are part of a state system of education. The LMS serves as the mechanism that defines the learning in the larger context. If OER is to be more relevant in schools of all kinds it needs to be explicitly and intentionally connected to the larger systems of the institutions. It's OK and even preferable to use the term LMS. The quicker that happens the better.

Let Teachers Control Assessment of Learning

I’m on the same side as Anthony Cody in supporting teachers in the classroom and thwarting  corporate control of U.S. Public Education,  especially when it comes to assessment. I don’t want assessment of learning to be defined as the external monitoring of the work inside the classroom. I agree with Cody that teachers are the ones who need to be making judgments about what students learn, how they learn it, and how learning is assessed. I want teachers to control the teaching and learning tools used in the classroom. So, that’s why I want teachers to learn how to use the tools available to them to use for instruction and assessment. I don’t want something that teachers don’t drive being forced on them by corporations and those who want to ‘disrupt’ our public education.

When I suggested in a recent blog post that I didn’t think he was fully informed, yet, about the possibilities of CBE and its various other names - standards based grading, student learning outcome reporting, and etc., I think (based on the flurry of tweets in the hours just after I posted) he thought I was siding with Bill Gates, Tom Vander Ark, Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and the other business people who are trying to get their hands on the very limited amount of money available for public education. I’m not. I’m on Anthony’s side.

Using a learning management system (LMS) for instruction and teacher created assessments is not something that has been done by very many K12 public school teachers in the U.S. It's not taught in most schools of teacher preparation and not something that most large public school systems promote. I get it; state departments of education and school district bureaucrats are all about control and not so much about authentic teaching and learning. I was an Open School elementary teacher in the Minneapolis Public Schools for sixteen years. Most of those years I also served as a teacher lead on the district technology advisory committee (back when they actually included teachers in planning about technology.) I also served as a building union steward for many of those years and did my fair share of butting heads with the district on contract issues, especially when it came to allowing teachers to choose what kind of professional development they would do and how they would do it.

I want teachers to be the best users of all tools that can be used for instruction and assessment of learning. Learning managements systems were not practical for most public schools until devices and wifi became as ubiquitous and as inexpensive as they are today and will continue to be in the future. Now, it’s time for teacher preparation schools, and district administrators, and education bloggers to work to support teachers in using all of the tools that are available. We can’t pretend that current technology is not a wonderfully powerful teaching tool. It’s unfortunate that we as a society have taken as long as we have to come to understand that. But, free open source learning management systems are available now. Free, digital open education resources will soon be as ubiquitous as public libraries. Teachers need to know how to use them. Let’s not let the disruptive business people take charge of instruction and assessment tools.

Keeping track of who knows what is still a crucial part of education. Let’s not let the disruptive business people take control of our necessary record keeping.   That means that teachers need to do it. It’s very possible and might even make teaching fun again for public school teachers.