Online Education is Not the Disruption recently returned from the first ever Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools (OESES) conference in Southern California. Overall a pretty good conference, and on a topic that all schools need to be looking at seriously as they plan for the future. While I am interested in the topic of online education, and I think that it is important to stay abreast of the latest developments in all learning spaces and trends, what I was struck most with was my aversion to thinking about online education as the disruption that education needs to move to bring it to the next level of efficiency and efficacy. I’ve actually been meaning to write this blog post ever since reading Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, and Curtis Johnson. The premise of the book, and indeed of the conference (Michael Horn keynoted) is that online education is the growing disruption that will — and needs to — alter the heart of our education systems. I disagree. Continue reading “Online Education is Not the Disruption”

Socrates Was Wrong

(Originally posted on the Cooperative Catalyst)

Socrates was wrong?

I don’t believe that necessarily, but read on and you’ll see why I wrote it (on top of shooting for a subject line controversial enough to increase the open rate of my post 🙂

I attended a workshop this summer at the Right Question Institute in Boston. We spent two days working hands-on with the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), a process developed over the last 20 years to help people improve their question-asking skills. The technique was originally developed during work with parents from low income schools when parents said they were not getting involved in their children’s schooling because they did not know what questions to ask the teachers. The technique was then adopted by the medical community for use in patient advocacy development, and has more recently been moving into the education arena.Continue reading “Socrates Was Wrong”

Technology and the Future of Education

Why has it been so hard to ‘get technology in the classroom” for the last 40 years? Because it’s a round peg in a square hole. Technology is of a different world, where information is free-flowing and flat and wide, liquid networks prevail; where inquiry can always find fuel and sustenance at the moment of spark and grow with iterative input from others.

Technology will become an obvious extension of teaching when our century-plus old model of education shifts its paradigm to be about learning instead of sorting and conditioning; when schools put learning first and college hoop jumping gets retrofitted in, instead of other way around (at least until colleges get on board with using more meaningful metrics for admission).

Joel Rose does a nice job addressing this issue in his recent Atlantic article, How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System:

‎”…our collective charge in K-12 innovation today should go beyond merely designing and producing new tools. Rather, our focus should primarily be to design new classroom models that take advantage of what these tools can do.”

If you replace “classroom” with “learning” in Rose’s quote, I think it’s spot on. I say that because the new model may in fact preclude the idea of the classroom in any sense of how we currently know it.

And what will these new learning models look like? Here is a quote from MacArthur Foundation Director Connie Yowell on the foundation’s shift in focus from traditional school reform to learning:

A shift from institutions to networks. In the digital age, the fundamental operating and delivery systems are networks, not institutions such as schools, which are a node on a young person’s network of learning opportunities. People learn across institutions, so an entire learning network must be supported.

A shift from consumption of information to participatory learning. A new system of learning must be peer-based and organized around learners’ interests, enabling them to create as well as consume information.”

It’s about networks, it’s peer and inquiry driven, and here is a key point: we can’t build it and then hand it to the kids; they have to co-create it with us.

In closing, I offer a small example below of the power of this technology to network, to facilitate iteration of ideas between peers, and to catalyze inquiry. Thanks to the wonderful Kat Haber whom I met in Doha, Qatar (and thanks TEDx) and with whom I share a connection to many others around the world on this and many other subjects. Exchanges like the one below, involving multiple people in many cases, have helped me iterate my thinking on the points above in ways that could not have been possible in such a quick time without today’s technology.

Here’s hoping for faster iteration and evolution in education.


Higher Education is Changing (?)

A couple of items in the news recently have combined with a local tidbit to raise an eyebrow about what higher ed will look like in 10 or 20 years:

1) A local graduate school (I will withhold the name) has a team looking into whether tuition-driven universities will even exist in the near future, and how to evolve fast enough to stay relevant

2) Take it with a grain of salt since this article is from MIT news, but this is actually creating a pretty big stir.
MIT and Harvard launch a ‘revolution in education’”

3) Offering scholarships in exchange for a stake in student start-ups (Clarkson University)

Flash in the pan or the beginning of a big shift….?

From my own viewpoint I will say that I think any school of any level not looking hard at how to become nimble enough to iterate and evolve quickly in response to our changing environment – in all aspects – risks becoming irrelevant.

My crystal ball leaves me to think that in the not-too-distant future an obviously superior paradigm of education will break through, and the exodus from the current system to the new system will mimic the flow from MySpace to Facebook in scope and timeline.



How do we innovate in education?

This is a pretty important point, given that education seems to be the slowest field to innovate. Or more accurately, schools seem to be inordinately slow at innovating their cultures and structures to adjust to what we know about teaching and learning . To help answer that question, albeit in very general terms,  I offer this quote recently encountered in one of the books I am volleying between at the moment: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, by Steven Johnson.

“What kind of environment creates good ideas? The simplest way to answer it is this: innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible, because they expose a wise and diverse sample of spare parts – mechanical or conceptual – and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts. Environments that block or limit those new combinations – by punishing experimentation, by obscuring certain branches of possibility, by making the current state so satisfying that no one bothers to explore the edges – will, on average, generate and circulate fewer innovations than environments that encourage exploration.”

So what specifically is it about schools that limit their ability to innovate? Please share with the rest of the class…..

eTextBook Review: MBS Direct Digital

This is a followup to my recent posts relating to digital textbooks, Apple iBooks for eTextBooks- getting there? and EdTech Policy – Drinking the Kool-aid?

I recently attended a live demo  of MBS Direct’s Direct Digital solution, in which I and several colleagues (teachers and techies) got to Q&A a top developer on the current product and where it is headed. The verdict in a nutshell? Overall all pretty impressed, but watch out for those DRM agreements!
(View a recorded demo here: Blue “WEBINARS” button, then choose the third pre-recorded option – “Direct Digital: Your Content, Your Reader, Any Device”)

I dutifully report here what we discovered.

Continue reading “eTextBook Review: MBS Direct Digital”

EdTech Policy – Drinking the Kool-aid?

Every student should have an iPad with textbooks in iBook form! Oh, really….?
(See more on iPads and eTexts in this blog in: Apple iBooks for eTextBooks- getting there?

In Michael Hiltzik’s recent piece in the L.A. Times, Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms?, an important question is raised (the Times answers this question for us in the HTML page title of the Web version of the article: “Hyping classroom technology helps tech firms, not students”). I totally agree and disagree at the same time. Let me ‘splain.

I agree in that much of what tech firms are trying to sell to our schools is not going to help much (as it is designed to fit into the defunct mode of education we retain where school is walled off from the real world, in which the few “good” schools strive for relevant when we should be striving for real). Yes, much of what they are pushing is out of self-interest, and our major investment at this time should be to create well-designed learning with highly skilled and capable teachers (I prefer “learning coach”, but that is another post…).


…..Learning with technology is now as crucial as learning with books was when they first came on the scene: what we can do with technology is much more powerful that what we can do without it. Continue reading “EdTech Policy – Drinking the Kool-aid?”

Apple iBooks for eTextBooks- getting there?

OK, so Apple launched its new authoring platform for iBooks which is supposed to revolutionize eTextBooks. I’m not sure the revolution is fully realized yet, but this would appear to move us in the right direction. We might be at or near step two of three in the near-term evolution of eTextBooks, which I see as:

  1. Textbooks transliterated for reading in eReaders. Basically, the benefit here is that students can stop carrying around those insanely heavy backpacks. Downsides include lack of ability to notate or highlight, or clumsy ways of doing these things.
  2. eTexts have rich media, ability to notate, some social/sharing component, and include a mechanism for backing up texts and associated meta-data.
  3. All of the above, but platform independent.

From the demo in link above, it looks like rich media and notating are fairly well developed, but I’m waiting to see what social components there are, if any, and how easily they back up meta-data. I’m also a bit turned off by Apple’s continued monopolism (see a discussion here about the controls on content development for the iBook).

MBS Direct has supposedly finally ironed out their web-based reader, and I will report back here after I have been able to test that (in the next couple of weeks).  My problem with web-based readers is that, although they are platform independent, they require an internet connection when you want to access content (barring an “offline” mode which they may have or might develop).

Please comment below with thoughts on where eTexts are heading, what you are using, what you would like to see…

Schools – Public, Private, Independent, Charter

Just a quick thought on the terminology used to differentiate school types. Also called “keywords” in the SEO industry, I’ve bumped up against these distinctions many times in recent years in helping schools determine what words people are using to search for schools on the Internet.

Until recently, it seems we had a pretty clear dualistic environment: we had public schools and we had private schools. Not too many years ago now, private schools (with the help of their marketing friends) realized (perhaps rightly so) the negative connotations in the “private” moniker, and opted for the much more approachable term “independent”, which is descriptive of a much more positive aspect of private schools: their independence from much of the state control and regulation their public counterparts are subject to. (Incidentally, the public have not bought into this naming convention, and still search almost exclusively for “private schools” on the Internet).

But now with Charter schools we have a sort of hybrid that threatens to muddy the waters even further. Charter schools also champion their independence (albeit not quite as loosely granted as that of private schools), and yet they are also public (meaning they charge no tuition).

So are charter schools “independent” schools? If they are following the advice of their marketing friends, they will certainly play up that angle. Ironically, if they want to enjoy the benefits of their association with independence in the Internet search world, they would need to get found for searches of “private school”, a term not even private schools want to put on their Web pages.

Good luck everybody!