WordPress database error Unknown column 'description' in 'field list' for query SELECT title, description from wp_seo_title_tag_category where category_id = 8 made by require('wp-blog-header.php'), require_once('wp-includes/template-loader.php'), include('/themes/neoclassical/archive.php'), get_header, locate_template, load_template, require_once('/themes/neoclassical/header.php'), wp_head, do_action('wp_head'), call_user_func_array, WPSEOTitleTag->outputMetaTag
Open Education Open Education

Category — Books & Library

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, Ineptness, Ignorance, and More

It has been a while since we did a simple web walk and pointed readers to some interesting material and helpful resources. Today we offer readers four interesting link options, everything from Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy to a look at why ignorance does appear, in fact, to be bliss.

Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy

Almost a year ago we featured some of the work of Andrew Churches. The teacher and self-professed ICT enthusiast has taken the time to do a modern day mash up of one of education’s long-standing models for analyzing learning.

Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed in the 1950′s, clearly holds a place of reverence within the educational community. Using a hierarchical framework to express thinking and learning, Bloom’s offers a set of concepts that begins with what we call lower order thinking skills (LOTS) and then progressively builds to higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

edorigamiIn education, the best teachers have made it a point to bring their students to the HOTS level of the taxonomy whenever possible. The belief has always been that acquiring knowledge and comprehending information (LOTS) pales in comparison to being able to analyze, evaluate, and apply that knowledge.

Where Churches comes in is that he began examining the traditional theory against a backdrop of the new digital age and the use of technology in the classroom. From his efforts, educators began being able to associate specific digital techniques with the traditional categories set forth in the taxonomy.

While there is clearly still much to be done to clarify these associations and properly place digital technology tasks in each category, teachers at least now have a framework from which to start and dialogue from. In keeping with the open source movement that is defining the future of education, Churches has now published his work in e-book format over at Scribd.

Those wanting to see both the rationale and the depth of assessment Churches has employed will find a free resource, Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (v212), at the site. The 44-page document is filled with information and is available for download, free, in multiple formats.

We highly recommend all teachers take the time to read this important document.

Among the Inept – Ignorance Is Bliss

An article that is now more than nine years old recently started getting tagged on Del.cio.us. As one great example of the challenge of filtering the wealth of material on the Internet, we missed the original article that takes a look at the behaviors demonstrated by people we might call incompetent.

In her article, Among the Inept, Researchers Discover, Ignorance Is Bliss, Erica Goode cites the research of Dr. David A. Dunning. In true tongue-in-cheek mode, Goode sets the tone for the article with the following intro:

debaird“There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear he might be one of them. Dr. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

“On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dr. Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.”

It seems “that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured” because ultimately “the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.”

Given that education is a people-profession, the article is a must read for everyone working in the field, especially those working in administration. With a strong push to ensure that every classroom is staffed with a competent teacher, the research of Dunning offers great insight.

Especially in the case where feedback is absent or ambiguous – in such instances incompetents generally do not realize their level of ineptness.

Open Courseware Toolset

A summary resource that offers a list of links to open courseware materials is available at the web site Best College Rankings. The Ultimate Open Courseware Toolset: 60+ Directories, Search Engines, and Web Tools offers readers an extensive set of links to a wealth of materials now available on the web.

What makes the list so worthy is that it contains some individual tools but many of the links offered are actually to other sites or web pages that then feature more links to more resources. The site lists links in alphabetical order (not weighing in on good, better or best) and breaks the material into three distinct categories.

They begin with a list of directories of various open courseware projects. The list features 22 links (some offering lists of 100s of sites) to “books, video lectures, teaching tools and more, all labeled with the open courseware tag.”

The second category features 16 links to a number of search engines and archives while the third and final category focuses on 23 web tools “that can help teachers, parents and students.”

The sheer volume of material, however, reminds us of how important our own ability to filter Internet materials has become.

A Parental ADD Resource

Finally, in recent days we stumbled across the web site of Brenda Nicholson, ADD Student. The mother of 3 children with Attention Deficit Disorder, Nicholson is a trained ADD Coach who began learning about the disorder over 20 years ago.

Booksamillion.comSurprised that many educational professionals knew little about ADD, Nicholson found she needed to educate herself. Because of her experiences, she has set up the ADD student resource portal for parents and professionals alike.

One simple aspect that spoke volumes to us was her advice regarding students on medication. Instead of pluses and minuses regarding meds, she notes that the taking of medications at school has become a major issue for everyone involved: students, parents, and educators.

Another is her focus on diet as a method for minimizing issues with ADD children and managing their symptoms. While some of the information is on a cost basis (a 12 week email coaching program for parents), there is also a wealth of general info free for site visitors including subcategory links to specific areas such as ADD and Life Skills, Organization, School and Time Management.

Flickr photo courtesy of debaird.

February 26, 2009   1 Comment

Dave Eggers – Creatively Engaging with Public Schools

First during his campaign, then later with his push to make this year’s Martin Luther King holiday a national day of service, President Barack Obama has sought to rekindle one of our fundamental American values, helping thy neighbor. That highly-publicized call for service led to a record number of Americans to honor Dr. King by volunteering for more than 13,000 service projects across the country (more than double the number from the year before).

Significant Action, Less Fanfare

Dave Eggers, the author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, established his desire to make a difference in the lives of others when in 2002 he launched 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based writing and tutoring lab for young people. Under his direction, the nonprofit has branched out with other centers now located in Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Boston and Ann Arbor.

In 2008, he received the TED Prize, given yearly to someone with the desire to change the world. He was awarded a $100,000 donation and a pledge of support from the TED Community. Upon receipt of his prize, he made the following wish:

While accepting his prize, Dave Eggers asked the TED community to personally, creatively engage with local public schools.

“I wish that you – you personally
and every creative individual
and organization you know -
will find a way to directly engage with a public school
in your area and that you’ll then tell the story of how
you got involved, so that within a year
we have 1,000 examples of transformative partnerships.”

To gather those stories in one location, he has created the web site, Once Upon a School. From a family of educators, Eggers understands the current demands facing teachers in inner city schools. And with his site he offers a hope that we might:

“Usher in a new era
of participation in our public schools
. ”

A Hope to Inspire Others

Amazon.comWatching the nervous presentation of Eggers leaves a viewer with a strong sense of the man’s sincerity. He, like Obama, is calling on us all for service, but with a direct call to helping our public schools.

Indeed, his site was not created for chest thumping – instead, in documenting the many stories of common folks volunteering, he hopes that the sharing of those stories will inspire others to serve in similar capacities.

While receiving less fanfare, his extraordinary commitment to helping kids and public schools has not gone unnoticed. His work led Time Magazine to state:

“Many writers, having written a first best-seller, might see it as a nice way to start a career. He started a movement instead.”

February 3, 2009   No Comments

Ira David Socol on Teach for America, KIPP Schools, and Reforming Education

Today we present readers an in-depth interview with Ira David Socol, author of “The Drool Room” and the web site “SpeEdChange.” Our interest in talking with Ira centered upon three critical factors.

First, there is little doubt that Ira is passionate about education and the process of learning. More importantly, that passion is relentlessly focused on creating a learning process that is responsive to the needs of learners.

Second, to be frank, Ira shares some of our views on how best to reform education. He notes that there are a multitude of ways to create positive learning opportunities for students but our current school structures prevent the flexibility necessary to provide alternate paths. Like OpenEducation.net, he is also a strong proponent of the use of technology yet does not buy into the “digital natives” nonsense.

Third and perhaps most importantly, Ira is extremely courageous. He is unwavering in his support for students and is willing to step out on a limb if it means questioning the system. He is one of the rare individuals we have seen who has been willing to speak out about what he sees as fundamental flaws in programs like Teach for America and the KIPP school concept (Knowledge is Power Program).

Ultimately, we believe it is important that everyone involved in education is familiar with his work.

Can you give our readers a brief introduction to the key elements of your personal bio?

I come to the field of education from an interesting direction. I know that most in the field, be they teachers, administrators, teacher education faculty, are there because they liked school, and so they wanted to stay. School worked for them – at least on some significant level – and school made sense to them.

The key part of my bio for this interview is that none of that was true for me. From the beginning I hated school, and struggled with it. I have never seen school as a place for education, but rather as a place of compliance with nonsensical rules which have stopped me from learning.

But luckily I was shown alternatives. Early in my school life I discovered what were then “books on LP” – audio books – and I always preferred listening to reading. I had the good fortune to attend a Neil Postman designed alternative high school led by the best educator I know in America, a teacher named Alan Shapiro, and in that “school without walls” (or grades, time schedules, or requirements) I found the freedom to actually learn. I also saw, at Pratt Institute, that every subject (even concrete engineering) could benefit from flexibility, and project-based learning.

TeachableMoment.org

Mostly, I’ve had the chance to do many things. I’ve designed houses and been a police officer. I’ve worked on newspapers and pulled thousands of miles of network cables. I’ve programmed computers and worked for a homeless support agency. I’ve coached soccer and taught art classes. I’ve seen this very wide variety of humans learn and communicate in a very wide variety of ways. And in seeing this world, I have learned that the rules, the strategies, the technologies, and the methods typically taught in school do not match what actual humans need.

So, to educators, I’m a bundle of contradictions: the book author who seems to argue against books, for example. But outside of school, as we drive down the road listening to our audiobooks, or download our reading to our phones, people do understand what I’m talking about.

Can you talk a little bit about your book, The Drool Room? The visual with the reversed Rs in the title certainly creates a lasting impression. I am also not clear as to what is meant by a “novel in stories?”

I really worried about the reversed Rs. I fought the design at first. “Generic dyslexic humor,” as The Simpsons put it. But it does generate impact, and it tells a story in a very effective shorthand. As someone who does reverse and otherwise twist letters at times, I know the image well. “I have a kid brother, he’s six, he writes just like you.”

The Drool Room is fiction, but, yes, many parts are “autobiographically informed.” I’m not going to say which. It is not a memoir. It has experiences of mine and experiences of others assembled, tracking a – shall we say – “challenging student” through school and through life. There’s a thread – “seeing differently” is a lifespan kind of thing.

It is told as a series of short stories and microfictions which alternate through a non-linear story line. That’s a literary style: Joyce, Dos Passos, Seamus Deane, that I think really works. The straight-line novel, you know, see climax on page 312, doesn’t hold a great deal of interest for me.

Your blog SpeEdChange offers the sub-header, “The future of education for all the different students in democratic societies.” Can you provide greater insight as to what you mean by that sub-heading as well as what tends to be your focus on the site?

Let me take you back to the origins. When I began my graduate degree program many advised me to join a list-serve called “SpEdPro,” for special education academics, and I did. A month later I posted a response to some question, and in my response I suppose I betrayed my postmodern thought patterns. That is, I doubted the idea that quantitative research of groups could “prove” the best solutions for individual students. And I was immediately hammered – just flat out attacked – as if I was threatening the entire structure of society. The battle ranged across almost 100 posts, but I had, essentially, no defenders.

So, I quit that, and created SpeEdChange, a place where I might doubt, and find others who doubt. And where we might “Speed Change in Education,” especially for those labeled as “different” in our societies. It remains significantly a “special needs education” site in some ways – now, I don’t actually believe in special education, because I firmly believe that every student, every human, has “special needs” in some ways and is “gifted” in some ways – but I do believe in protecting our most vulnerable first.

The spirit of the blog lies in a couple of ideas. “Democracy” – not “majority rule” faux democracy, but actual “protection from majority tyranny” democracy, is essential for society and education. If we do not have that, we will never grant our students the right to control their own learning, and thus, we will never allow them to become effective lifespan learners. “Universal Design,” the idea that solutions in the classroom (or workplace) not be “prescribed” as if as cures for pathologies, but be offered freely to all, so that we learn to make effective choices. And “Liberation Technology,” the idea that using tools effectively is how humans free themselves from their individual and group limitations.

From your writings readers can clearly discern your strong opposition to the tenets of the Teach for America program. Can you highlight for our readers your thoughts on TFA?

Teach for America is a “colonial project.” It is a “missionary project.” It begins with the basic premise that the solution for the underclass in America is to make them ‘as much like’ rich white folks as possible. When you listen to the TFA leadership, they don’t really talk about “education,” probably because they don’t really believe in education. They talk about “leadership” instead. If they believed in education they would see education as important on the path to effective teaching, an idea they specifically reject, replacing it with the thought that since TFA corps members represent the elites (or, religiously, the “elect”), all they have to do is “lead” the downtrodden out of poverty.

This is essentially the British Colonial conversion concept. “We’ll fix Nigeria/Ireland/South Africa/India. We’ll just teach them to speak the Queen’s English, give them a Parliament, and make them wear powdered wigs in court. Then they’ll be civilized. And like the British Empire, this strategy is adopted because TFA’s board and supporters have no desire to ever relinquish power to a rising colonial population. If it’s all about “follow the leader,” the leader never changes.

Beyond that, TFA is a “cover up.” Rather than enlist our elite universities in the fight to reallocate resources, or improve democracy, or build equality of opportunity, or even simply to improve teacher pay, support, and status, we use them to offer the fig leaf of charity to deflect any actual movement within society.

And beyond that, TFA is a “good enough for those kids” effort. I say, over and over, that if TFA wants to prove itself, replace the faculties of the schools in Scarsdale, NY or Greenwich, CT, or at Groton and St. Bernard’s, with TFA corps members. And let those teachers – holding their current salaries – go to the TFA placements. If TFA improves the education in those wealthy places, it will have proved itself. If the teachers from those top schools have better impacts than TFA teachers do in the impoverished districts, we’ll know that better teacher training, better teacher pay, and redistributing resources is the way to go.

By most accounts, the TFA program seems to be immensely popular. According to what we have read, the program is turning away large numbers of applicants. In your estimation, why is the TFA program so popular?

Of course it is popular. It is marketed as a great way to build your resume while assuaging liberal guilt at the same time. It offers the perfect entitlement, a job without the need for real commitment or the effort which goes into real training. As banking jobs shrink, this seems the perfect two or three year placeholder.

You also have frequently shared your opposition to the Knowledge is Power Program (the network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools, called KIPP). Can you share with readers your position and why you have taken such a stance regarding this program?

LGagnon
Let me put it this way. Let’s go to those “best schools in America” in the wealthiest suburbs of New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles. Why aren’t they run like KIPP Academies? Always ask this when rich people offer “solutions” for poor people which those rich people would never accept for themselves.

Oh yeah, the rich parents want creativity and flexibility and diverse curricula. They want individualized discipline (if they want discipline at all). They’d have very little patience for chanting in classes and being told what to do with their children at home. But, you know, “those people,” they’re not “like us.”

Again, we’re back at the brutally low expectations, and the inherent racism and classism of colonialism. So, sure, convert Scarsdale High into a KIPP Academy, show me how it works there, and then offer it to those “less fortunate.”

Today, everyone is interested in improving education, there just seems to be real disagreement as how to best do so in our country. If you were to advise the incoming Secretary of Education on a couple of must areas to consider, what would be the two aspects of education you would most want to see reformed moving forward?

I’ll start with two words: Technology and Flexibility. We need to rethink the technology of our schools, from the shape of our classrooms to the schedules of our days, weeks, and year, to our text systems. Right now we are stuck in buildings quite literally designed in the 1840s (when chalkboards, desks, chairs, and books printed on rotary presses were all “scientifically” introduced). We are stuck with quasi industrial timing, and the industrial processing notions of “grades” (not marks, but the years in school). Only when we break those bonds, and use the technologies of our time to break through our geographical and knowledge boundaries, can we begin to find the flexibility we need to create education which finally works for more than one third of the population.

That flexibility means not assessing for “expected” (based on group averages) progress. It means teachers having “instructional tolerance” for differences in student learning styles and behaviors. It means project-based, interest-based learning which responds to learner needs. It means Universal Design in both technology and practice so that students learn to access and work with information in the ways most effective for them. It means accepting – finally – that “what you learn” is far more important than doing it in any exactly prescribed way.

That is “the change we need.” If we do not begin there, it is all tinkering around the edges, and honestly, that is worthless.

In your two posts last April on teachers and technology, you clearly took a strong position on the issue of technology in education. Could you highlight for our readers your general view of where technology fits in the 21st century classroom?

I believe that, in many ways, we define our human cultures by our technologies. This is because we are, above all else, tool users. Without tools, humans as we know them could simply not exist. So we say, “The Bronze Age,” “The Iron Age,” “The Stone Age,” now, “The Information Age,” because that is who we are.

Right now our classrooms are based in “Age of Steam” technologies. From the desk, to the time schedule, to the mass-printed ink-on-paper book, to the machine made pens and pencils. It is as if we are running “heritage academies,” producing people ready for the jobs, and the higher learning, of 1890.

That is disastrous on so many levels, not just as job prep. In my PhD program the ink-on-paper book is stunningly rare. Research is on line, communication is on line. I need to know how to Skype or Google Chat with distant colleagues, to glean data from blogs and list-serves around the world. I read many newspapers, but none are on paper. I convert reading which is difficult for me from text-to-speech, and my phone converts voice mails from voice-to-text. In every place I go, if I look around, the communication devices and “learning containers” are different from those we focus on in schools.

More important, technology liberates, it breaks boundaries. You have a non-reader? They can still grab the world of literature, and do it independently. Someone who can’t hold a pen? They can still express themselves to the world, without waiting for a scribe to help. Have a child in a distant rural area? They can access every one of the world’s greatest libraries. Have two communities separated by issues of the past? Join them digitally first, and let them build connections.

More practically, students need to know how to use email, Google, mobile phones, texting, blogs, online newspapers, and how to use them appropriately and effectively simply in order to survive. Don’t buy the “digital natives” nonsense. These are skills like any other skills, and they have to be learned. We are either teaching them, or we are not giving our kids the tools they need.

Schools which fail to embrace these technologies leave their students behind. No, their rich, majority group students will be fine, those technologies (and, say, Blackberry strategies) will be there at home. But the vulnerable students will be left in the dark.

So, any insight as to what is next for education?

Education ‘as we know it’ is about social reproduction. We are trying to produce students who are “just like the teachers.” And there is a sad feedback loop in this, educators see, in the students who succeed in these reproductive schools, people just like themselves.

But we need to be better than that – not because our standardized tests “prove” that only about one third of our students “achieve proficiency” (or ever have, you can look back at the stats at least to 1867) – but because our society needs to change, because it is changing, and schools need to support that.

But it is very hard for teachers to support learning which does not look like their own learning. Very hard. It requires levels of tolerance, of empathy, which are rare. It requires flexibility and a dramatic change in the role of the teacher. And it requires information and communication technologies which can offer pathways that the teacher can not.

It also requires more respect for teachers, more freedom for teachers, and much more support, in terms of ongoing educational opportunities and much better initial teacher training.

It isn’t easy, but I think it is essential.

Flickr photo courtesy of LGagnon.

December 11, 2008   17 Comments

Web Pages of Note: Ending Adolescence, Malcolm Gladwell on Success, and a Professor Moving On

It has been awhile since we offered one of our mini-tours of web-based reading material of note. But in recent weeks there has been no shortage of intriguing materials available to readers.

Ending Adolescence
IowaPolitics.comFormer House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the founder of the Center for Health Transformation has penned a piece for Business Week, Let’s End Adolescence. The subheading tells you the key highlights, “Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says young people need to shift more quickly from childhood to adulthood.” The article is extremely timely as it matched the recent announcement out of New Hampshire that the state was considering a bold new plan to allow students to graduate from high school after the tenth grade.

In commenting on the bold New Hampshire plan, Marc Tucker, the co-chair of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Worker and president of the National Center for Education and the Economy in Washington, added a significant piece to the Gingrich discussion. Tucker spoke very highly of the NH plan, suggesting that high school is nothing more than a mandatory pit stop for many American teenagers.

Deliberate Practice
Shortly after we wrote about the concept of deliberate practice, the online version of the Guardian newspaper, the guardian.co.uk offered an extract of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest work, Outliers: The Story Of Success. bennylin0724Set for publication later this month, the latest work from the author of ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Blink’ takes an extended look at some of the world’s most talented and successful people (the Beatles, Mozart, Rockefeller, Bill Gates).

Gladwell matches the growing sentiment that the success of these individuals is owed to something much more than what is often dubbed as pure genius. According to Gladwell, such success comes from the notion of ambition, deliberate practice, timing and circumstance.

The LA Times offers an interesting assessment of the book stating it “is about how culture and community are greater determinants of individual success than talent or even will” and that the book will hit the market “two weeks after a man who embodies the term has been elected president of the United States.”

YouTube in a Powerpoint Presentation
Over at Digital Inspiration, presenters will find some straightforward advice regarding the implementation of video into their Powerpoint presentation. Amit Agarwal explains how one can embed YouTube videos directly into PowerPoint and be able to play them even when there is no access to an internet connection. Agarwal explains how to save any YouTube video as an AVI file utilizing an application like Zamzar.com or MediaConverter.org.

labnolAgarwal also offers a brief overview of the process of “preparing an elaborate presentation inside Google Docs,” one that includes several YouTube clips, then importing that presentation into PowerPoint. It is some very good material for teachers looking to incorporate YouTube materials into the classroom, especially when internet access is available but school filtering systems currently prevent internet access to YouTube.

A Professor Packs it In
Finally, over at the Chronicle of Higher Education is an interesting piece written by a college professor using the fictitious name John Smith. I’m Leaving is pure and simple, a blistering assessment on the current status of higher education from an insider’s view.

Smith begins with an assessment of his own graduate program. “I left disappointed and ambivalent about the process. I took some classes with engaged, brilliant and dedicated professors, but I also attended more than a few seminars with detached scholars who thought of students as distractions from their labs and research. They were famous, but they could not teach, even their own research.”

The professor doesn’t get any softer and later adds harsh assessments of both his teaching colleagues and students. Of professors, Smith states, “Far too many of my colleagues are dialing in – showing up late, popping in videos during class, assigning group projects, or sitting in a circle and asking students how they feel.”

As for the students, he writes, “Higher education for too many undergraduates at too many liberal arts colleges has become a puffy sofa nestled with down pillows.”

In summation, Smith insists it is time to move on to another line of work. It is a stark and damning portrayal. And a must read.

November 18, 2008   2 Comments

Charter Schools – Raleigh Charter a Role Model for the Movement

In June we took a brief look at Newsweek’s annual list of the 100 top performing high schools in the nation. One of the more interesting aspects of the list was the number of charter schools named by the magazine.

Newsweek.com The select group of schools included 10 charter schools, a number deemed statistically relevant. Whereas 10% of the Newsweek top performers were charter schools, only 3% of all public schools nationwide fall within that category. In essence, the ratio of charter high performers was triple that of traditional public high schools.

At the time we cautioned readers not to get too carried away, particularly since the Newsweek list of high schools was (and is) constructed utilizing a single calculation (the ratio of the number of college-level exams taken by students divided by the number of graduating seniors). The Newsweek top performers all had an index of at least 1.000.

In addition, our look at the first three charter schools on the list, BASIS Charter in Tucson (the number one high school in America by Newsweek), Preuss Charter in San Diego (4th overall), and MATCH Charter in Boston (25th overall), all gave us pause before jumping on the charter bandwagon.

But earlier this summer, we had a chance to visit Raleigh Charter School in Raleigh, North Carolina, the 27th school on the Newsweek list. We met with Principal Tom Humble and completed a site visit.

We came away extremely impressed with Mr. Humble who undertook the creation of a school from scratch as well as the institution itself. The school appears to be everything a community could hope for, small, intimate, innovative, and most importantly, high-performing.

Raleigh Charter
Raleigh CharterRaleigh Charter High School was created by an eclectic mix of individuals that included business professionals, experienced educators, and college professors. A critical component for the school’s creation centered upon the desire of 8th grade parents with children at The Magellan Charter School to continue the “secure, nurturing, academically enriched education” they felt their children were receiving at Magellan.

Principal Humble credited both Pamela Blizzard, a parent and business person, and Mike Jordan, the principal at Magellan at the time, for bringing about the concept. “Pamela wrote a model application,” stated Humble. “She dreamed up the idea and put it out there.

“And Mike was truly instrumental – he has been with us, on the board, since the school’s inception,” added Humble. “He was invaluable in many ways: he had the experience to be a mentor to me and he had the charter-school experience to offer wise and calming advice during this ‘exciting’ period.”

At the same time, the founders sought to expand the educational opportunity to include more Raleigh-area students than just those coming from Magellan. The key founding principles for the new high school included:

  • creating a small community of learners to allow teachers to focus on teaching,
  • active, involved parents that supported the teaching staff and communicated to their children the importance of education,
  • and hands-on, experiential learning.

As for a mission, Raleigh Charter was designed to challenge “college-bound students in a creative and supportive atmosphere to become knowledgeable, thoughtful, contributing citizens.” In addition, the school would seek to “graduate citizens of the world by creating an interconnected learning environment that combines a demanding college-preparatory education with a curriculum that teaches and models citizenship skills.”

Pilot MillThe school is located in Historic Pilot Mill, a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Located adjacent to Peace College, two of the mill buildings were renovated for the school: the 1910 building that houses the school’s administrative offices and classrooms for subjects including biology, math, English, social studies, languages, art, music and drama, and the adjacent 1894 Weaving building that features the chemistry, computer, foreign language and physics labs.

Getting the Job Done
Students at Raleigh Charter have certainly distinguished themselves academically. Numerous forms of recognition have been bestowed upon the school and the student body.

Superb student performances on the North Carolina-mandated End-of-Course tests have earned the RCHS Honor School of Excellence status in 2005. 2006 and 2007. Prior to those distinguished honors, RCHS was named a School of Distinction in 2000 and a School of Excellence for 2001 through 2004.

Students at WorkIn addition to being selected 27th in the most recent Newsweek top 100 list, the school was ranked ninth in the 2005 by Newsweek and 18th in 2007. In 2006, the school’s Quiz Bowl team won the PACE National Championship, and in both 2005 and 2006 the school ranked number one in the world on the AP Environmental Science examinations.

However, the many student successes were not at all part of the conversation with Principal Humble. “I do not brag about our school’s successes in national and state testing.

“When students have identified themselves as college preparatory, they ought to do well on these tests and examinations,” he states. “We are not competing with other high schools; we are competing with our school.”

Beyond the student performances, RCHS is setting a very high standard for other schools, charter and traditional public alike. Among the many unique, innovative educational aspects include Flex Day scheduling and Citizenship Days. These concepts reflect the belief that students “learn more when they are active, social, and creative learners.” In addition the school offers some truly unique curricula featuring courses in Constitutional Law, Modern African Seminar, Modern Latin American Seminar, and Systems Theory.

Humble puts the innovation in simple terms.

“We are an education lab. We are willing to try new things and make good ideas grow. And we want our teachers to develop programs that will help them grow. We do not want a mundane setting.”

Because of its high success rate and innovative practices, Raleigh Charter’ was selected by DPI consultants to participate in a program focusing on high-school reinvention. RCHS was one of ten high schools in North Carolina and just seventy-five schools to be selected.


Admission Process

As is mandated by charter school legislation, RCHS is a public high school serving students from North Carolina. The sole program being offered at the school is the college and university preparatory track so students must meet a basic academic standard in mathematics (a student must be prepared for Algebra I or higher level math course as they enter ninth grade).

Public LotteryThere is also an application process but there are no other thresholds mandated and students actually are admitted through a public lottery. That said, the academic rigor is strong and many courses at RCHS are offered only at the honors (advanced) level.

Though the lottery process provides the bulk of the student body, the school does give preference to qualified siblings of current students and qualified children of the principal, teachers, and teacher assistants for admission. Though acceptances occur by chance, a goal of “graduating citizens of the world” has the school committed to increasing the diversity of both the student body and faculty. With a lottery process, that diversity can come only by creating a diverse applicant pool, something the school works very hard to create. Of course, once a minority student is selected during the lottery, his or her siblings then have priority options, helping to create greater diversity.

What the Theorists Had in Mind

Without a doubt, Raleigh Charter is precisely the type of school entity charter school proponents have in mind when they tout the concept. With just over 500 students and a committed, innovative teaching staff, RCHS offers children an exceptional educational opportunity and does so with taxpayer dollars. The quality setting and curricula are reminiscent of an elite private school yet the student body consists of randomly selected applicants and includes students who are in need of special education services.

Most importantly, RCHS students excel academically even as their unique programming focuses on citizenship and community involvement. While the top three charter schools on this year’s Newsweek list gave us pause for one reason or another, Raleigh Charter demonstrates why the charter school movement has such strong backing.

It is a concept that can and should be replicated in all 50 states.

Editor’s Note: For more on Raleigh Charter, see our interview with principal Tom Humble.

October 24, 2008   1 Comment

The 21st Century College Campus – Report Indicates Technology Integration Lagging

On Monday, CDW Government, Inc. (CDW-G), released the results of a new study, “The 21st-Century Campus: Are We There Yet?

CDWDesigned to examine the current and future role of technology in higher education, the study sought to determine how well technology is being leveraged as an academic tool on college campuses today. Ongoing readers of OpenEducation.net will not be surprised to learn that the new study reveals a higher education system lagging in technology integration.

Importance Without Debate
The report notes that college students, irrespective of major, specified that campus technology was a key factor in the selection of their school. Those same students also clearly articulated that technology will be a critical aspect within their chosen professions. In addition, the study notes a similar view of those outside of education, stating that “independent research indicates that employers believe technology skills are growing in importance and that colleges and universities should strive to develop those skills in their students.”

However, despite the acknowledged importance, CDW-G found that “just 33 percent of faculty members say technology is fully integrated on their campuses.” The study also noted that “most students lack exposure to common workplace collaborative technologies, such as videoconferencing, web conferencing and podcasts.”

Using the CDW-G 21st-Century Campus Index that features 20 campus technology factors (classroom technology integration, one-to-one laptop programs, remote network access, etc.), the report estimates that “U.S. institutions are just halfway to realizing the 21st-century campus.” The glass half-full assessment comes despite a recognition by colleges and universities that “campus technology can offer a distinctive competitive advantage” in the recruitment of top level students and the knowledge that “institutions are making campus technology upgrades and integration into the educational experience a priority.”

Specific Shortcomings

Among the negatives for higher education:

  • The biggest hindrance to implementation of technology appears to be the basic lack of knowledge among faculty members. Though 85 percent of schools provide training for staff, nearly half of the respondents from this population (44 percent) said their biggest challenge was simply not knowing how to use the technology in the instructional setting.
  • Mac Steve Another major shortcoming is the fact that only 80 percent of classrooms were equipped with smart technology (e.g., Internet connection, LCD projector, interactive whiteboards, and smart podiums). The study notes the number of equipped classrooms should be 100%, especially since professors in smart classrooms were twice as likely to integrate technology in every class when compared to those professors without access.
  • Combining these first two issues creates a situation in which only 42 percent of faculty indicate they utilize technology during every class session. Here again, the number should be approaching 100%.
  • In addition, just 23% of higher education IT staff indicate that their campus offers online chat capability for students with professors even though students had this item on top of their tech wish list.

Recommended Actions
CDW-G offers some specific recommendations to help colleges and universities become 21st Century Campuses. First and foremost, higher educational institutions should begin monitoring what’s relevant for graduates in a post-academic world. After identifying those technologies, colleges and universities need to ensure students are trained in the use of each application.

In addition, the study acknowledges the ongoing need to train professors to properly utilize such technology in the classroom. The report correctly notes that such training should be designed specifically for this target audience so as to meet their unique needs and teaching schedules.

Finally, there is coherence with our ongoing message regarding technology integration: it is time for university faculty and students to connect via Web 2.0 tools. Specifically, CDW-G suggests it is time to “leverage chat, blogs and social media tools to connect students and faculty” with an eye towards building “community within and beyond the campus.”

CDWEditor’s note:
According to its home web site, CDW-G, a wholly owned subsidiary of CDW Corporation, is a leading provider of technology solutions for federal, state and local government agencies, as well as educational institutions at all levels. The entire report may be found by registering online at the CDW-G newsroom.

Flickr photo courtesy of Mac Steve.

October 16, 2008   No Comments

Flaws in No Child Left Behind Act on Display in Massachusetts

Last July we featured the work of researchers funded by the Teachers College Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University. Expressing extreme criticism of the proficiency standard of the No Child Left Behind Act, Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder crafted an extremely provocative title to their study, “Proficiency for All Is an Oxymoron.”

SherSteveWhile the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) sets forth the standard that all students must be proficient by the year 2014, the Columbia Teacher College researchers insist that proficiency is not attainable by all. The researchers contended that not even 100% of middle-class students could reach a truly rigorous standard, not by 2014, not ever.

Yet, NCLB continues to be a driving force in educational reform and the push for higher standards is now wrecking havoc with public schools all across America.

Massachusetts Students High Performers
To see the problems created by a noteworthy goal that is simply not attainable, we turn to Massachusetts where considerable debate is emerging regarding the state’s testing system and the awarding of diplomas to students.

First, there appear to be many very positive academic strides being made across the state. Current data has Massachusetts students achieving at some of the highest levels in the country.

As but one example, the results of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in Mathematics for Massachusetts students at the eighth grade level reveal an average scale score of 298. The score was higher than the average of the entire nation’s public schools (280) and for the math exam, the Massachusetts results exceeded those of all of the other 51 jurisdictions tested.

In addition, with all NAEP results, Massachusetts is also showing steady growth, with scores increasing steadily over the past decade.

ACT.orgIn yet another arena, college bound seniors, Massachusetts ranks number one in ACT (originally the American College Tests) results with an average score of 23.5. However, only 15% of Massachusetts students currently take the ACT tests. Many more take the SAT (originally the Scholastic Aptitude Test) Reasoning Test where Massachusetts student averages totaled 1546 for the three tests, exceeding the national average by 35 points.

Further research yields similar results – Massachusetts students represent some of the highest achieving students in America. The state achieves these results despite being home to the pitfalls associated with a large urban center such as Boston.

Applying the NCLB Criteria
Yet, when the standards and criteria specified under NCLB are used the state appears to be a dismal failure. Current state Department of Education data indicates that one out of every two public schools in Massachusetts is now in the “needs improvement” category. Futhermore, a total of 277 public schools fit the performance criteria that specifies formal “restructuring” because of ongoing failures to meet NCLB test standards.

Adding to the complexity of the problem is the fact that Massachusetts ties a high school diploma to the results of their state standardized tests, the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). Students who complete high school and attain the necessary credits to earn a high school diploma must also pass the MCAS to receive that coveted piece of parchment.

Dept. of Education, MassachusettsIn a recent article questioning the MCAS, Scott W. Lang, the mayor of New Bedford, notes that “since the MCAS graduation requirement has been in place, 16,841 public school students have completed all state-approved local graduation requirements but have been denied a high school diploma because they did not pass the test.” Lang also notes that the number of students who have been denied a diploma will top 20,000 when the class of 2008 graduates this spring.

While these numbers are staggering (these are students who meet all high school requirements and do not include those who drop out along the way), there is now a move in Massachusetts to raise the “proficiency” standards further. According to the Lang article, state officials want to move the proficiency level another 20 points for 2014.

Lang goes on to note that those students lacking a high school diploma are destined for a difficult road in the world of work and family life beyond high school.

Confusion Abounds
As one of the highest performing states deals with large numbers of so-called ‘failing schools,’ it is easy to understand why education is in for a difficult road over the next several years. That road will be most challenging at the public school level where teachers are asked to educate all students, including children from impoverished backgrounds and those with special needs, to levels that even middle class students have been unable to attain.

Wesley FryerHere we turn back to the researchers employed by Columbia who noted that the goal of higher standards is a laudable one and the work being done to close the achievement gap among subgroups admirable. While those goals are worthy, those same researchers call the quest of “proficiency for all” untenable.

“Not only is it logically impossible to have ‘proficiency for all’ at a challenging level,” state the researchers, not even “the highest-performing countries come close to meeting the No Child Left Behind Act’s standard of proficiency for all.”

Those words help us understand the complex path that is currently unfolding in Massachusetts. Somewhere along the line wiser heads need to begin to see the No Child Left Behind Act for what it is, a set of unrealistic goals, even if noble in spirit.

Because as one can see with the developments in Massachusetts, a quest for “proficiency for all” is about to further increase America’s already exorbitant number of youngsters who lack a high school diploma.

Flickr photos courtesy of SherSteve and Wesley Fryer.

October 4, 2008   2 Comments

Though Net Generation Concerns Over-hyped, Integrating Technology the Right Step

In our prior two posts, Digital Immigrants Teaching the Net Generation – Much Ado About Nothing? and Net Generation Nonsense – Mark Bullen Discusses Teaching and Learning, we spent some time examining some of the current assumptions regarding the net generation. In particular, we honed in on the notion that the digital native generation, having grown up with access to technology at a very early age, is so unique that fundamental changes to our educational systems are warranted.

We pointed to several research studies that contradicted many of the current assumptions in place regarding the net generation and we cited the work of Mark Bullen, the Associate Dean of the Learning & Teaching Centre at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, who has publicly called for additional hard research before deciding that fundamental changes in education are warranted. We also shared with readers the results of a major study from across the pond that totally contradicted the notion that the net generation was any more tech savvy than any other generation.

World Bank PhotoAt the same time, we at OpenEducation.net have been a strong proponent of bringing technology to the classroom. We maintain our position even within the midst of the concerns expressed in the last two posts.

While we may have given today’s youngsters too much credit for their technology aptitude, we still believe that technology has the potential to reinvent public education as we know it. More importantly, in an age where streams of information are endless and knowledge travels at the speed of light, it is imperative that educators recognize the importance of bringing technology into the day-to-day elements of the classroom.

Cool the Net Generation, Digital Native Nonsense
However, even though we will continue our push to integrate technology at every grade and age level, we think it is time to put a temporary hold on the reverence that attends the “net generation” moniker. It seems that we need to rethink the notion that this generation of learners is so unique that fundamental changes to our educational systems are necessary.

Here we align ourselves with the comments of Dean Bullen who notes: “Some of the claims (about this generation) are the same or very similar to claims that have been made about every generation of young people: impatient, social, prefer to learn by doing, and goal oriented.”

However, Bullen does not contend that the current generation of learners matches that of prior students. “I don’t dispute that this generation is different than previous generations,” states Bullen. “Every generation differs from the previous in some way. The social, political and technological context changes so this is bound to have an impact on the people growing up at that time.”

But as for the impact on teacher pedagogy, that is where Bullen draws a firm line. The anecdotal evidence being tossed around simply doesn’t cut it for him, particularly since this group of learners may not actually have a stranglehold on uniqueness.

“Before we start making radical changes to the way to do things in education we need some evidence,” states Bullen. “There is an assumption that because this generation is much more immersed in digital technologies for primarily social and recreational purposes that they a) want to use them for educational purposes and b) will be skilled at using these technologies for educational purposes. I have yet to see any evidence to support these assumptions.”

Two Definitive Fallacies
In addition to questioning the notion that this generation has a monopoly on uniqueness, there are two assertions that certainly seem to lack merit based on our current assessment.

First, not all children are technology experts. While some have indeed developed extensive tech skills, a like number seem oblivious to the current technology rush. Clearly, the information from Bullen and his colleagues, combined with the insights from the three studies mentioned in our prior post, provide readers an exceptionally different viewpoint. As we noted once before, today’s students are anything but masters of technology.

Even within the fundamental areas of social networking and gaming, there appear to be enormous skill set differences among children. In sum total, there is simply no evidence to support the assumption that “digital natives” as a collective group are tech experts, and any teacher assuming his or her students are technology wizards is in for a rude awakening.

However, that also means that we can stop wasting our time debating the digital classroom divide issue. Our teachers, the so-called generation of “digital immigrants,” are not quite as far from the skills of the “digital natives” generation as many experts make them out to be.

Extra KetchupA second assumption that must be categorically reconsidered relates to the use of technology for learning. Children do like technology for recreational purposes, but just because they like using technology, teachers cannot assume they will in turn want to use technology to enhance their learning. According to Bullen and Doherty, students do not always seem willing to mix business with pleasure. Therefore, any teachers making the assumption that such a transition will be a snap with students appear likely to find rough sledding.

Technology Applications Have Much to Offer
But when it comes to the public school classroom, it is extremely important that every educator acknowledge that engaging students is the first step towards a vibrant and learning-packed environment. Technology, with its fundamental ability to be interactive, represents one of the best methods for creating an engaged student body.

While no teacher should look the other way and allow students unsupervised access to social networking sites or video games, teachers can and should look for ways to use these preferred student applications to enhance the learning environment in the classroom. We stand behind our prior posts and tend to slide away from Dean Bullen at this point. At OpenEducation.net, we advocate that teachers use Web 2.0 tools whenever possible.

In the words of CoolCatTeacher, an educator who honored us a while back by linking to our comic book posts:

“To me, the important point to remember is that just about anything can be used to teach; however, when you use something that kids like, you have an edge and it is magnetic (cool tools, technology, excited teachers).

“We should not be opposed to the use of just about any tool… we should be opposed to bad teaching. Teachers who don’t want to be there, don’t have their heart in it, and don’t take the time to plan and make their classrooms a center for learning excellence.”

We agree with CoolCatTeacher. Good teachers see the potential learning in every experience. They also recognize the need for in-depth planning so that the learning potential embedded in each experience is maximized.

Most importantly, they also understand the need for engagement and therefore are more than willing to meet students halfway. Using Web 2.0 technology tools is one method for meeting students on their turf.

Confident of Our Suggestions
AndrewGiven this sentiment, we feel confident about our various posts related to teaching digital natives, even if these students are not as unique as most make them out to be. Technology may be melded into the learning environment at every grade level and within each subject, providing opportunities to greater individualize learning even as it enhances student engagement in the classroom.

Anyone confused about how to do so should turn to our post, Award-Winning Teacher Utilizes a Wealth of Classroom Technology. Mr. Thompson provides many concrete examples of how to make a classroom come alive with technology applications.

For us that is the key, the classroom must come alive. The members of the current generation that have been exposed to technology are used to higher levels of sensory input and greater control of those inputs. Students heading to a classroom devoid of similar controls and without high levels of such input will render that environment less inviting for them.

Students learn best when they are excited and engaged. Even those who have not been exposed to technology and high levels of sensory input will respond extremely well to classrooms that are stimulating for learners. Ultimately, we believe that teachers should look for every opportunity to produce a classroom that inspires children and technology is one of the best ways to create such a classroom.

It is time to drop the digital natives’ hype and recognize that the debate should not be about digital natives versus digital immigrants. The debate should be about how to use technology to effectively enhance the learning experience for students.

Flickr photos courtesy of World Bank Photo, Extra Ketchup and Andrew.

September 26, 2008   1 Comment

Digital Immigrants Teaching the Net Generation – Much Ado About Nothing?

Over the past few months we have done several posts regarding the net generation, the so-called group of school children dubbed “digital natives.”

Many experts within, as well as from outside the field of education believe that the current crop of students entering our schools present a unique set of challenges for teachers. The belief is that many are used to the multi-sensory world that technology provides that 21st century classrooms must be adjusted to accommodate that development. In addition, because this generation of students has grown up with computers, video games and social networking opportunities, many of those same experts are of the ilk that today’s students are more computer savvy than their teachers and their parents.

At OpenEducation.net, we too have jumped on the digital natives, net generation, bandwagon.

caghsIn particular, we focused on teaching and learning as it relates to this generation in each of the following posts:

We also provided our readers a link to Michael Wesch’s provocative YouTube video in our post, If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – More on the Digital Divide?

Conflicting Data
At the same time, we reviewed a very interesting report out of Europe that contradicted the viewpoint that this generation of learners is extremely adept at using technology. Our summary, Student Shortcomings – Anything but Masters of Technology, highlighted several very interesting misconceptions.

For example, the report indicated that this new generation of tech users were anything but “expert searchers.” In fact, the researchers found that most “digital natives” had real difficulty choosing good search terms.

The report did reveal another weakness created by having access to interactive devices. Because students really like activity, they love to cut-and-paste. The report goes on to note, “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence and plagiarism is a serious issue.”

At the same time, there were two major surprises. One related to the growing belief that technology was ultimately making students more impatient and adding to their need for instant gratification. To the complete shock of many, the report indicated that young people demonstrated no higher levels of impatience than did adults.

bgbloggingThe second surprise was in regards to the critical assumption that digital natives were more tech savvy than adults. No evidence could be found that teens, in total as a group, were more adept at using technology, than were older adults.

Then, less than a week ago, at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Siva Vaidhyanathan authored a similar piece entitled, Generational Myth, Not All Young People Are Tech-savvy. We give deference to paraphrasing and provide two noteworthy segments from the article directly:

College students in America are not as “digital” as we might wish to pretend. All this mystical talk about a generational shift and all the claims that kids won’t read books are just not true. Our students read books when books work for them (and when I tell them to). And they all (I mean all) tell me that they prefer the technology of the bound book to the PDF or Web page.

Yes, he insists that students prefer the technology of the bound book to that of a web page!

And later:

Talk of a “digital generation” or people who are “born digital” willfully ignores the vast range of skills, knowledge, and experience of many segments of society. It ignores the needs and perspectives of those young people who are not socially or financially privileged. It presumes a level playing field and equal access to time, knowledge, skills, and technologies. The ethnic, national, gender, and class biases of any sort of generation talk are troubling. And they could not be more obvious than when discussing assumptions about digital media.

While Vaidhyanathan dwells a bit too hard on the privilege piece, citing it as a delineation, his point about mass assumptions is consistent with the findings from the European study. The bottom line,it seems, is that not all “digital natives” are tech savvy.

Empirical Evidence Appears to Be Lacking
In our constant search for news on technology and its impact on teaching and learning, we came across a blog with an extremely provocative title, Net Gen NonSense. The site, featuring four contributors, Mark Bullen, Crogoza, Iain Doherty and Tannis, is “dedicated to debunking the myth of the net generation, particularly as it relates to learning, teaching and the use of technology.”

On the Net Gen NonSense site is yet another link to an article questioning the current assumptions, a piece authored by three Australian researchers, Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin. Their review of current data questions the ongoing claims that fundamental changes to our educational institutions are necessary because of the unique needs of the current generation of learners.

The researchers insist that such claims have not been subjected to enough scrutiny. In very strong terms, they call the current debate an academic form of ‘moral panic.’

In total, these three scholarly articles indicate we are in fact making some major assumptions about the current generation of learners. Are they truly that unique or have we exaggerated the belief? We began wondering, is all of the hullabaloo regarding teaching the net generation simply much ado about nothing?

Next, in an attempt to answer our questions, we talk with Mark Bullen, one of the founders of the blog, NetGenNonsense, to determine the specific net generation myths he is seeking to debunk.

Flickr photos courtesy of Caghs the Cat Lady and BGBlogging.

September 22, 2008   22 Comments

Edmodo – Free Microblogging Site for Educators

Over the past few weeks we have noticed that a new microblogging site for teachers has been garnering a great deal of interest. Edmodo represents the blood and sweat of Jeff O’Hara and Nic Borg, two techies who work in the field of education.

As has been my experience, even though teaching is a full-time job most who work in the profession take on additional school-related responsibilities, whether it be monitoring student organizations or updating district curriculum. Most do so even though there is no extra pay and the additional work adds countless hours to an already busy schedule.

Edmodo
So it was no surprise to find two young men, each with full time jobs, going beyond the call of duty to try to create a meaningful tool for teachers. However, we were even more impressed than usual as these two individuals were seeking to make their work available to educators beyond their home district, and doing so at no cost to users.

These two men have to be onto something since Edmodo has been featured on several tech-oriented sites including SomewhatFrank, Teach 42, and Reflection 2.0.

So we spent some time talking with Jeff to learn about their work especially the rationale for building a microblogging platform for educators. We present our information below in our traditional, unedited question and answer format.

Can you give our readers a brief summary of you and your partner Nic Borg’s backgrounds and how the two of you came to collaborate on the creation of Edmodo?

Both Nic & my backgrounds are primarily in the technology side of education.  Nic just graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in Computer Science but he has been working at Kaneland High School in Elburn, Illinois for the last 5 years, building web based tools for them.  He is currently employed full-time there.

I have been working at Community Unit School District 200 in Wheaton, Illinois for the last nine years in their IT dept.  I’ve handled everything from desktop support, managing Network & Server infrastructure, and the management of their web infrastructure. 

CUSD200
About 2 years ago I had the idea of doing a “Youtube for Education” and was thinking about how I would get the project off the ground.  I had been aware of Nic’s work as my wife teaches at Kaneland HS. I ended up contacting him to see if he wanted to work together on a project.  We did an initial meeting and he liked the idea but was too busy at the time to take anything else on.  I kind of let the idea linger, and about a year ago Nic contacted me out of the blue and said he was ready to start working on some projects together if I was interested.  We brainstormed for a few months just trying to see what we wanted to work on.  I had been using twitter.com (a microblogging platform) a lot and thought something similar would be ideal as a learning platform. That’s where the idea for Edmodo was born.

Ultimately, what was the basic impetus for the two of you launching your own blog platform for educators and where did the title/name Edmodo originate? Were there not already many options available to educators?

I had been a little bored with my day job and though there were a number of cool web tools coming out in the past, there were not that many coming out for use in the classroom. 

The name Edmodo is completely made up, but is a slight play on Gizmodo.com, a very popular gadget blog. Ed obviously stands for education.  We wanted something catchy, easy to say and a domain we could actually afford to purchase.

What has been the source of funding for the start-up costs for the site? Are there costs for educators to implement the tool in their classrooms? Can you give readers a sense of participation rates?

Nic and I have been the sole source of funding for Edmodo.  Luckily funding a start-up is very cheap in today’s world if you already have the talent to accomplish what you need to do.  Nic and I have done everything ourselves and have not had any outside costs as a result of hiring any work out. 

Currently, there are no costs for Educator’s to use Edmodo in it’s current state and we want to keep it that way.  We are less than 2 weeks old and already have over 1700 user accounts created.  A lot of the accounts are teachers testing the system out and using it with other teachers, but there are quite a few that have already implemented Edmodo in the classroom which makes us very happy.

Can you give our readers an overview of the concept of microblogging, specifically as it pertains to education? Are there specific advantages created by microblogging, especially as compared to other traditional blogging forms?

IllustirAccording to Wikipedia: Micro-blogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually up to 140 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by everyone or if chosen by the user, a select group. We feel the ease of use that microblogging platforms provide makes it a better way to communicate with students than the tradition blogging platform.  Traditional blogging platforms are  designed to communicate long posts to a large group of people. Microblogging platforms are really designed for interaction and communication in short posts and we feel that is an advantage to a teacher in getting their students to interact in classroom activities. 

Can you give readers a couple of specific examples of how Edmodo can be of use in the classroom? Again, what about Edmodo gives educators additional tools over that of other blogging software?

Well my wife is a high school teacher and she just started using it with her students this week.  She’s been using it to post daily assignments and her students are using it to answer questions regarding the assignments.  I know she also plans on using it to have students submit their assignments through Edmodo.  My wife has also created groups for committee’s that she is the head of and plans on using it as a tool for managing communication with other committee members. 

As another potential use, a lot of teachers have students find articles to bring to class. Now a teacher could have the student submit a link to the articles in Edmodo instead of printing them out.  We know a lot of schools are trying to be greener and use less paper and using online tools can help with decreasing the amount of paper usage. 

We think there are so many other ways that Edmodo could be use and think every teacher using it will use it in a slightly different way.  We also believe that privacy & ease of use is the primary reason a teacher should use a tool like Edmodo over a traditional blogging tool for communicating with students. 

Is Edmodo primarily a tool for teachers or does the platform provide students additional options if their classroom teacher gets the ball rolling?

Edmodo
This is not just a tool for the teachers, it’s a tool for students to ask questions either within the classroom timeline or pose to the teacher directly.  Teachers can use Edmodo to have their students submit their assignments.  There is also a calendar that teachers can use to post events and assignment due dates.  Edmodo is designed with privacy in mind but it also gives the teacher the ability to make anything public at his or her discretion.  Another thing, Edmodo is not a finished product, we still have ideas to bring additional classroom features to the platform in the future. Things such as a grade system & parent interaction.  Grades will be a little tricky as we want to be compatible with other grade-book systems that a teacher may already be using.

What have been your most significant learnings as you seek to get such a platform rolling? Are there other benefits to the two of you beyond what you may have learned about creating a microblogging platform of your own?

We have learned so much technically & socially while working on Edmodo. Where do I start? I think one of the big things I’ve learned is you really have to engage teachers and find out what they are looking for in a tool while your building it.  We have gone to great lengths to find out what teachers want in an online tool.  Luckily even though Nic & I aren’t teachers ourselves, we are surrounded by them everyday and they have been an enormous help to us in building Edmodo.  Some other benefits have been all of the great and supportive people we have met along the way.  We would have never of met those people if we hadn’t thought of some crazy idea and decided to get the ball rolling on it.

Flickr photo courtesy of Illustir.

September 20, 2008   3 Comments