Category — Open Source Software
The brilliant legal mind spent years pushing the intellectual-property envelope, seeking to break down the barriers that might limit current internet innovations by rethinking copyright laws as they exist today. The lawyer had the audacity to insist that the current concerns surrounding copyright infringements in the new media arena was not one debating artistic freedom and protection. Instead it was about control.
But with brilliance clearly comes the desire for new challenges. And so Lessig has taken on a new focus as he moves from the West Coast where he served as a professor of law at Stanford University to the East and in his new position at Harvard University.
Emphasis on Corruption
Having previously taught at Harvard Law, the move to the Stanford of the East (as Harvard is often dubbed by left-coasters) was not the real surprise. The biggest shock with Lessig has come from his shift in intellectual pursuits, to a new topic based on an age-old problem, corruption.
Lessig has begun a five-year commitment to examine corruption in government and academia. In his role, he will head Harvard University’s Safra Foundation Center for Ethics.
In an interview with Samuel P. Jacobs of the Boston Globe,
Lessig notes that both politics and academics have lost independence. The new emerging field of consulting creates a situation where professors and/or advocates receive funds from corporations for advice.
However, by virtue of taking funds, these individuals, once thought to be independent thinkers, create a situation where the public begins to assume that money is behind all public policy. The result is that those people once-deemed independent are no longer seen in such a light.
The key of course is that public trust disappears when such independence is lost.
Corrupt System vs. Corrupt Individuals
One of the more interesting points Lessig makes in his interview centers upon the fundamental question of responsibility. The legal scholar believes it is time to shift the focus from the notion of corrupt individuals and examine the larger issue of how society creates corruption opportunities.
Lessig explains to Jacobs:
“There are some people who think about the word “corruption” and they are thinking about it as if it is speaking about something evil. . . . Evil brings to mind images like Hitler or Pol Pot. I’m very much of the view that that is not an interesting way to think about this problem. We have enough attention and understanding about why people like Hitler or Pol Pot or the bad guys in the financial crisis are bad guys. I don’t think we’re actually going to make much progress focusing more of our attention on those bad guys.
What we need to do is to recognize the bad guys in all of us. All of us who don’t take small steps that actually would have a significant chance to eliminate problems. In the academic context, when you don’t raise a question about colleagues who are accepting money to do policy research, making policy recommendations that are directly connected to the money that they are receiving, what you are doing is nothing evil in the Hitler sense. You are just being weak. You’re not asserting an ethical position that, if asserted, might actually help keep the integrity of the institution.”
As but one example as to why the entire system must be looked at Lessig offers a story of a situation involving former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu.
“I tell this story in one of my talks about Senator Sununu sending me a nasty note, after I was down in D.C. talking about network neutrality, saying that I ought not to be shilling for these companies. It struck me that he couldn’t imagine that while I was down there doing public policy work, I might just be down there not because somebody was paying me to do it, but because I thought it was the right answer.”
In simplest terms, because other intellectual scholars have sold out, there becomes the assumption that all have done so. Of course the need for public trust in certain institutions goes without saying, but currently there seem to be fewer and fewer such institutions that the public can count on as being independent.
Lessig goes on to note the challenges we now face.
He first notes “the domains of public life where trust is a central part of the success of the mission of those domains: medical research or the legal profession or the media . . . or what Congress does” then adds, “trust is at the center of those institutions …
“If you want people to listen to you when you tell them that they should vaccinate their children against malaria, people need to trust that when you say the vaccines are safe, they are safe.”
Clearly, one key component to rebuilding trust will be to examine the current practice of business funding university research. While many schools have come to see funds from the business sector as necessary to their survival as research institutions, under Lessig’s model any school that accepts such funds is likely no longer able to assert its independence.
Lessig’s ability to get us all to rethink intellectual property has served the Opensource movement well. We truly hope that he can have a similar impact on the political and academic world.
Because restoring public trust in our political and academic institutions is essential to our society meeting the enormous challenges of the 21st century.
January 11, 2009 No Comments
Eliminating Control – Mark Pesce on the potential of a shared and connected, opensource educational environment.
In the process of web surfing, there are times you stumble on some gems – some material so transcendent you find yourself spellbound.
Such is the case with the work of Mark Pesce at The Human Network. David Parry, assistant professor of Emergent Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, offers his assessment of Pesce’s work on his AcademHack blog:
“I find Pesce to be one of the more provocative thinkers on the internet and matters of cultural transformation. I am not sure I always agree with what he suggests, but this is also one of the reasons I find him worth reading.”
“In this series I read each piece at least twice,” states Parry, “some three times. They are that good.”
To fully grasp how education can be transformed by technology, we begin by taking a peek at Pesce’s Fluid Learning. But before we do so we turn back to our trilogy from last February, our review of the digital commons.
We noted the Committee on Economic Development’s report, Open Standards, Open Source, and Open Innovation: Harnessing the Benefits of Openness, that touts the success of the “Digital Commons” approach. The report notes the “benefits of openness” and insists that continued openness is critical for further growth.
Most importantly, the report challenges the thinking of those who view the digital world in the same manner as that of the physical world. And if one can begin to think about how we might replace the current physical construct for education amongst this new digital age, we perhaps finally see where a new learning model emerges.
“It’s all about control.
“What’s most interesting about the computer is how it puts paid to all of our cherished fantasies of control. The computer – or, most specifically, the global Internet connected to it – is ultimately disruptive, not just to the classroom learning experience, but to the entire rationale of the classroom, the school, the institution of learning. And if you believe this to be hyperbolic, this story will help to convince you.
“Flexibility and fluidity are the hallmark qualities of the 21st century educational institution. An analysis of the atomic features of the educational process shows that the course is a series of readings, assignments and lectures that happen in a given room on a given schedule over a specific duration. In our drive to flexibility how can we reduce the class into essential, indivisible elements? How can we capture those elements? Once captured, how can we get these elements to the students? And how can the students share elements which they’ve found in their own studies?”
Pesce offers four recommendations:
Of course, recording everything creates enormous new challenges. It “means you end up with a wealth of media that must be tracked, stored, archived, referenced and so forth.”
In Pesce’s eyes capturing everything means no front-end decisions as to the worthiness of any material. Just capture and let the natural course of events determine its value.
In a move analogous to the recent open courseware available from Stanford and MIT, Pesce also notes, “While education definitely has value – teachers are paid for the work – that does not mean that resources, once captured, should be tightly restricted to authorized users only. In fact, the opposite is the case: the resources you capture should be shared as broadly as can possibly be managed.”
In making this mindset shift, Pesce explains:
“The center of this argument is simple, though subtle: the more something is shared, the more valuable it becomes. You extend your brand with every resource you share. You extend the knowledge of your institution throughout the Internet. Whatever you have – if it’s good enough – will bring people to your front door, first virtually, then physically.”
Next instead of commercializing, Pesce suggests a look at the open-source solutions.
“Rather than buying a solution,” states Pesce, “use Moodle, the open-source, Australian answer to digital courseware. Going open means that as your needs change, the software can change to meet those needs. Given the extraordinary pressures education will be under over the next few years, openness is a necessary component of flexibility.
“Openness is also about achieving a certain level of device-independence. Education happens everywhere, not just with your nose down in a book, or stuck into a computer screen.”
And Pesce means open, fully open – thus filtering must be eliminated.
“The classroom does not exist in isolation, nor can it continue to exist in opposition to the Internet. Filtering, while providing a stopgap, only leaves students painfully aware of how disconnected the classroom is from the real world. Filtering makes the classroom less flexible and less responsive. Filtering is lazy.”
As for the most transformative element, Pesce indicates it might well be the connective elements we now have available. His words mirror those of the recent Digital Youth Project survey, one that insists that social networking is fundamental to students using the computer and the internet as educational tools.
“Mind the maxim of the 21st century: connection is king. Students must be free to connect with instructors, almost at whim. This becomes difficult for instructors to manage, but it is vital. Mentorship has exploded out of the classroom and, through connectivity, entered everyday life.
“Finally, students must be free to (and encouraged to) connect with their peers,” adds Pesce. “Part of the reason we worry about lecturers being overburdened by all this connectivity is because we have yet to realize that this is a multi-lateral, multi-way affair.
“Students can instruct one another, can mentor one another, can teach one another. All of this happens already in every classroom; it’s long past time to provide the tools to accelerate this natural and effective form of education.
The Universal Solvent
As for how it all might work, take a trip down the “what if” of universal connectivity and sharing, of opening and capturing everything.
As one school places materials online, Pesce believes that a natural altruistic nature will prevail causing others to begin to follow.
“It’s outstanding when even one school provides a wealth of material, but as other schools provide their own material, then we get to see some of the virtues of crowdsourcing. First, you have a virtuous cycle: as more material is shared, more material will be made available to share. After the virtuous cycle gets going, it’s all about a flight to quality.”
“When you have half a dozen or have a hundred lectures on calculus, which one do you choose? The one featuring the best lecturer with the best presentation skills, the best examples, and the best math jokes – of course.”
Of course, there would be a need to obtain student input to reach that level of information. We also would need a cataloging type site.
“Why not create RateMyLectures.com, a website designed to sit right alongside iTunes University?” asks Pesce. “If Apple can’t or won’t rate their offerings, someone has to create the one-stop-shop for ratings. ”
And the real possibility for transcending education as we currently know it?
“When broken down to its atomic components, the classroom is an agreement between an instructor and a set of students,” writes Pesce. “The instructor agrees to offer expertise and mentorship, while the students offer their attention and dedication.”
But schools as we know them – are they necessary?
“The question now becomes what role, if any, the educational institution plays in coordinating any of these components. Students can share their ratings online – why wouldn’t they also share their educational goals? Once they’ve pooled their goals, what keeps them from recruiting their own instructor, booking their own classroom, indeed, just doing it all themselves?”
Currently, students do not have “the same facilities or coordination tools.” Our structures mean that at this moment “the educational institution has an advantage over the singular student.”
In fact, that is what our current institutions offer for a strength, they exist “to coordinate the various functions of education.” But in the future, when we truly have an open school concept, we could well see a heretofore unheard of paradigm shift.
“In this near future world, students are the administrators,” writes Pesce. “All of the administrative functions have been ‘pushed down’ into a substrate of software. Education has evolved into something like a marketplace, where instructors ‘bid’ to work with students.
All About Control
When it comes to knowledge, the opensource, opencourseware movement is gaining ground. For Pesce, the rationale is clear and the benefits without limit.
Of technology and the internet, “The challenge of connectivity is nowhere near as daunting as the capabilities it delivers,” states Pesce. “Yet we know already that everyone will be looking to maintain control and stability, even as everything everywhere becomes progressively reshaped by all this connectivity.
“We need to let go, we need to trust ourselves enough to recognize that what we have now, though it worked for a while, is no longer fit for the times. If we can do that, we can make this transition seamless and pleasant.
“So we must embrace sharing and openness and connectivity; in these there’s the fluidity we need for the future.”
Some Thought-Provoking Work
We noted earlier that the recent Pesce posts, all of which are connected, represent the rarest of internet materials.
Like David Parry, we have read each piece at least twice. As a suggested order, we turn back to David for his suggestion for those interested in reading further:
December 21, 2008 No Comments
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.
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?
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
While most college students can find the time to study abroad, such an opportunity is generally not in the cards for Division I student-athletes. In addition to their studies and the pursuit of a degree, student-athletes competing at high-profile colleges also have to make a year-round commitment to their respective sports.
Such was the case for Parker Goyer, Birmingham, Ala., now in her first year of study at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. While studying at prestigious Duke University, Goyer was a member of the Duke tennis team that reached the Final Four indoors and the NCAA quarterfinals twice.
But the year-round commitment to school and to athletics left Goyer little opportunity to travel abroad or to partake in community service. Recognizing that there must be other student-athletes with similar sentiments, Goyer came up with a bold plan, creating the Coach for College program.
We briefly discussed the impetus for the program in our post yesterday. Today, to give interested readers the chance to get an in-depth look at the concept as well as Goyer’s future plans to expand Coach for College to other schools and regions of the world, we present a Q & A with the program founder.
Can you give some concrete examples of the lessons you sought to teach youngsters in Vietnam that you believe helped them develop some of the academic, life and other skills needed to successfully attend a college or university?
In addition to providing youngsters with fitness and sports-specific instruction and infrastructure, coaches taught youth through five academic modules that focused on the application of sport to academic subjects. These modules were entitled Sports and Health (Biology of Sport), Sports and Science (Physics of Sport), Sports and English, Sports and Leadership, and Sports and Education (Psychology of Sport).
First, the program helped equip youth with some of the intangible skills from sports which are translatable into other domains. The overarching idea is that skills like perseverance, determination, setting and achieving goals, and overcoming setbacks, all of which can be learned through sports, are the keys to success in education as well.
The second way the program sought to prepare youth for college was by providing them information about college, both in America and Vietnam, from the “experts” (current college students in the two countries). This information was provided through a 30 minute class on Higher Education at the end of every daily camp session, reinforcing the main goal of the program.
For youth in Vietnam to go to college, they must pass the university entrance exam. In order to be in a position to pass the exam, they must do well in their subjects in school, particularly the ones they hope to study in college. Thus the third way the program sought to prepare the youth for college was by teaching traditional academic subjects with examples from sports. Studies in neuroscience have shown that getting people excited enhances learning, even if the excitement is not strictly related to the material being learned. Hence by connecting academics, which is not always enjoyed by youth, with something they view as fun, like sports, we felt that we would be able to get the kids excited when learning traditional academic subjects, excitement which could eventually turn into passion for the academic subjects themselves. Once they became engaged in learning these subjects, the kids would hopefully be more motivated to learn these subjects during the school year and get good grades in them. Furthermore, excitement for academic subjects often leads to an increased desire to stay in school.
The fourth way the program sought to prepare youth for university was by providing them with ample opportunities to interact with a variety of role models. In many ways, because they were from similar cultural, geographical, and socioeconomic backgrounds (69% grew up in low income, rural areas), had faced similar obstacles (such as lack of money to pay for college), and had achieved the educational goals the program aspires for the youth to attain, the Vietnamese college students were perfect role models for the youth in the program and were well positioned to maximally impact the youth in a positive direction. The Vietnamese high school students functioned as “next step role models” whom the youth can emulate on their path to higher education. The American student-athletes showed the youth how to translate lessons learned from sports into success in the classroom; they were able to draw from their own experience to show the youth how the same skills needed to go far in sports can be used to go far in education. For each of these role models, youth can learn from their example and apply it to their own lives.
What have been two of the most important individual lessons you have taken from the enormous challenges associated with creating the Coach for College Program?
First, that anything is possible. A lot of people were skeptical at first and thought that I was too young, that this was too big of an idea, and didn’t know if I could pull it off. I think I was able to succeed by setting concrete goals, identifying key supporters early on, and using their advice and support to make steady progress towards my goals, one step at a time.
Second, my experience in setting up the Coach for College program reinforced the value of sports in transmitting key life skills. I found myself drawing upon some of the same skills – persistence, work ethic, setting goals, overcoming setbacks, etc. — that I had used to make progress as a tennis player. At the NCAA National Student-Athlete Leadership Conference last May, I tried to convey to the student-athletes there that they all had similar skills, simply by virtue of their experience with competitive sports, and could utilize these to make a difference in their local and global communities.
Who do you think got more out of the program last summer – the students from America who were involved or the youngsters that you worked with?
Usually, in these types of civic engagement programs, people will say that the American students benefit the most. I really tried to devise the program in such a way that the youth and coaches (American student-athletes and Vietnamese high school and college students) would each derive significant benefits. Each group filled out surveys at the end of the program, and based on the information they provided, each group seemed to obtain the benefits that I had intended for them. Personally, my primary goal is to help the middle school youth, and I intended the benefits to the coaches to come as a natural by-product of their participation in the program.
We have read where you want to involve more American colleges and bring students to additional countries. What progress have you made thus far towards that goal and what is in the works for the future?
The goal is to utilize Duke and UNC student-athletes to continue the program at the Hoa An Secondary School year after year, so that Vietnamese students can participate in the program during their middle school years, become a coach in the program as a high school student, and receive support to continue onto college, where they can again participate as a coach in the program during the summers. Coach for College will also seek to raise money for scholarships that will allow program participants to attend high school and college. In the summer of 2009, a program will again be held at the Hoa An Secondary School. After the recommendations for improvement from those involved with this summer’s pilot program have been implemented, it is hoped that the next program can include more student-athletes from Duke and UNC and impact more youth from the Hoa An Community. Currently, the 2009 program is being financed by a $175,000 International Sports Programming Initiative Grant from the U.S. Department of State, along with $85,000 from Duke University ($75,000 from the Office of the Provost and $10,000 from the Athletic Department).
In the summer of 2009 programs may also be set up at other middle schools in Vietnam, involving student-athletes from other rival American universities, such as Virginia Tech and Virginia and Oklahoma and Texas. I have been talking to student-athletes at Virginia Tech and Oklahoma about developing programs with their student-athletes and student-athletes from a rival school (UVA for Virginia Tech and Texas or Oklahoma State for OU). I also gave two 20 minute presentations to 400+ student-athletes and administrators from universities across the country at the NCAA National Student-Athlete Leadership Development Conference in May of 2008. At this same conference I had a table set up at the career expo, and 100 student-athletes signed up to help bring the program to their schools. Things are farthest along with Virginia Tech. My liaison there has already met with several key administrators and I already have a site picked out for the second program, in Vietnam’s Ben Tre province, which I visited last March during an advance planning trip for the program.
For long term plans, as additional sites are included, the program will provide “gap year internships” to recently graduated college student-athletes who participated in the program. They will serve as U.S. based site coordinators who will help with the administration of the program. As additional sites are included, the program will also allow the summer program’s host country coaches and participants who have graduated from college to help with the administration of the program as in-country site coordinators.
The sports targeted in this program are standard and follow universal rules. They can also be played, enjoyed, and understood by a wide variety of people, regardless of their native language or cultural background. Therefore modules designed applying sport to subjects such as science, language, and leadership can easily, after being refined and efficacy assessed, become a standard curriculum for the Coach for College program. This will hopefully allow for replication throughout the Phung Hiep District, the Hau Giang Province, and eventually throughout all of Vietnam. If the program proves to be successful in Vietnam, it may also be useful in other countries, with necessary adjustments for culture.
The efficacy of the program in achieving the desired objectives will be assessed over time utilizing research methodology developed in conjunction with professors at Can Tho University. The results of the research will be used to improve and refine the program so that it has maximum benefit for everyone involved but particularly for the middle school students it is designed to aid.
Based on the success of the pilot program, Coach for College would like to partner with professional athletes, sports related companies such as Nike, and the local government of the Phung Hiep District in providing a sports court (with a set/standardized design and cost) for all lower secondary schools in the District by matching 50% of the funds to build sports courts at each of the District’s other 13 schools. The building of the sports courts would coincide with the standardization of the schools by the government. Under this plan, an all sports court would be built for a school at the same time the government moves to bring the school’s infrastructure up to the standard level (since the same materials used to make improvements to the school’s infrastructure could also be used to build the sports court). The proposed court construction program would be for the Phung Hiep District only as a pilot, with potential expansion to the Mo Cay District, then others through the provincial level (beginning with the Hau Giang province in particular) based on the success of the program. In addition, utilizing professional athletes to provide funding for the material costs of one or more sports courts can help raise the profile of the program, provide resources for the construction of further courts, and create a list of sponsors who will feel personally connected to the Coach for College program and the partner middle schools it serves.
The all-sports court built next to partner middle schools in combination with the summer camps can be used to facilitate the development of sports leagues during the academic year, consisting initially of teams of students from the same school and eventually of teams from different schools which compete against each other in a commune, district, or province wide sports league. The sports leagues can be designed in conjunction with international and United States sports experts. If these sports leagues are successful, they may be eventually transferred to the university and college level, as in the United States. There is great potential for this as sports leagues of any kind outside of state-sponsored professional teams do not exist in Vietnam. There is also considerable room for entrepreneurial development of junior and community sports leagues in both rural and urban areas, facilitated by the American and especially the Vietnamese summer camp coaches.
In the coming years, other universities will be asked to become a part of the Coach for College Network, spearheaded by Duke University with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, by inviting them to send student-athletes to participate in the Coach for College program. Universities which are athletic rivals will be invited to sponsor Coach for College programs at new sites, utilizing the existing conference structure present in intercollegiate athletics. Conferences can sponsor programs in particular regions of the globe, with partner rival universities working at the district or provincial level.
In the future, Coach for College will seek to raise money to pay the high school ($225 per year per student) and college ($1218 per year per student) fees for youth who have participated in the summer camps, who excel academically, and who exhibit the sportsmanlike qualities of cooperation and leadership skills and motivation to stay in school.
Eventually Coach for College will be linked to Peacework’s Village Network to integrate the program into a larger community development context. Peacework most often begins its initiatives in rural villages via assistance to schools in the form of infrastructure improvements and educational enhancement. Peacework then matches these communities with universities who engage in a variety of disciplines such as agriculture, engineering, social work, education, medicine, and business to systematically meet that community’s comprehensive development needs. This cooperation would lead to a rollout of the Coach for College program in Peacework partner communities around the world. In turn, should Coach for College begin in a new site outside of Peacework’s network of partner communities, Coach for College and its beneficiary schools could feasibly become an entry point for larger community development via the Peacework Village Network.
If you were to select one person (family member, teacher, coach, professor) as your primary role model in life thus far who would you select and why?
I’ve always been very much an individual and have sought, for the most part, to do things differently from others, as a means of trying to create my own unique impact. A quote I’ve always liked is “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Thus I wouldn’t say I’ve ever really had a role model but there are definitely people I admire — Wendy Kopp, the founder and CEO of Teach for America, Paul Farmer, who founded Partners in Health while a student at Harvard Medical School, and “Greg Mortenson, who builds schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan (described in the book Three Cups of Tea). I try to pick and choose from the experiences of different people like that to guide my own thinking. That said, I’ve been blessed to have had dedicated mentors throughout my life — my AP U.S. History Teacher and AP Latin teacher in high school, several professors in college, particularly within the fields of neuroscience and education, and most recently, several administrators who have been involved in helping me launch the Coach for College program, such as the provost at Duke and former Chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill. The importance of such mentor figures in my own life influenced me to make mentor-ship a key feature of the Coach for College program.
Next up, Parker Goyer earns a Rhodes Scholarship.
December 2, 2008 1 Comment
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.
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 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.”
The 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.
In 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.
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).
There 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
It represented one of the most shameful of stories. Yet as is always the case with shameful stories, it soon made its way across America.
It seems an 11-year-old boy in Colorado had been suspended from school for failing to remove a t-shirt that school officials had deemed a disruption to the school’s learning environment. According to MyFOXColorado.com, on a day that students had been asked to show their patriotism by wearing red, white and blue, Dax Dalton wore a home-made shirt that read, “Obama is a terrorist’s best friend.”
The fifth grade boy was asked to either change his shirt or turn it inside out. At some point the asking became an ultimatum.
If the shirt were not turned inside out or removed, the school would have to suspend young Dax. The youngster chose suspension.
Father Insists He Will Sue
The boy’s father told the Colorado Fox affiliate that he, dad, is a “proud conservative.” He also insisted that the school was making a mistake by suspending his son. Dann Dalton also had some strong words for the school district:
“It’s the public school system. Let’s be honest, it’s full of liberal loons.”
Mr. Dalton also went on to add, “I didn’t expect (my son) to get what he got, that was ridiculously uncalled for.” He also announced his intent to sue the school district for violation of his son’s first amendment rights.
At the same time, young Dax did acknowledge that he had been “encouraged” to wear the shirt by his father. In a separate Chicago SunTimes article, it was noted that the t-shirt had been designed by dad as well. According to SunTimes.com, Mr. Dalton offered: “I’m full of all kinds of anti-Obama cliches.” He also acknowledged that he had created the message so that “he could easily capsulate it on a T-shirt.”
School District Actions
Given that the situation involved the discipline of a student, the school district was not at liberty to discuss the case in detail with the media. However, the district did acknowledge the incident and noted the suspension was for willful disobedience and defiance, not for the shirt’s political message.
The school, having the responsibility to ensure a proper learning environment for all children, took action based on the disruption of that environment because of the boy wearing the shirt. The school has a dress code that prohibits attire that will “cause or are likely to cause a material and substantial disruption to the educational process or school-related activities.”
According to reports, many children were confused and upset, and the shirt did lead to some very difficult moments at school. Of course, that is what one might expect given that the students were but fifth graders.
Adding to the unusual nature of the situation, again according to SunTimes.com, Dax’s older sister also wore an anti-Obama shirt. Seems that shirt did not disrupt her classes so school officials allowed her to wear her shirt throughout the day.
That shirt had the word Obama on it with a bar through the name and a pro McCain slogan on the back.
Day of Honor Lost Amidst the Turmoil
The students had been encouraged to wear the patriotic colors in honor of a Vietnam-era military veteran who won the Medal of Honor. Media reports noted that First Lieutenant Brian Thacker of the U.S. Army made a visit to the school on the day of the incident.
Yet, at a time set to honor a military veteran, all of the focus was on a overzealous father using his children to share his political opinions. Such behavior can only be categorized as shameful.
And that dishonorable behavior not only led to a young boy missing school, it likely left his classmates scratching their heads as well. Even as a potential teachable moment for Dax Dalton’s classmates, we are not sure that any fifth grader could fully grasp why someone calling himself a “proud conservative” would feel such a strong need to live vicariously through his own children.
Flickr photo courtesy of Nerboo.
September 30, 2008 No Comments
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.
At 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.
A 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
Given 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.
September 26, 2008 1 Comment
On Monday, we began looking at one of the major assumptions fueling educational reform, the belief that the current generation of learners is so unique that fundamental changes to our educational institutions are necessary.
This unique generation, collectively dubbed “digital natives” or the “net generation,” has been the first to grow up with extensive access to technology. That access has led to the general belief that today’s youngsters are multitasking wizards and technology experts. In fact, many insist that the technology skills of our youngsters far exceed the technology skill set of the average adult including the one in charge of the classroom, the teacher.
However, over the past year that general belief has seen a growing number of skeptics. We noted three articles in our post on Monday that challenge that ongoing sentiment:
- Generational Myth, Not All Young People Are Tech-savvy
- Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future
A Cautionary Voice
Today we turn our attention to another cautionary voice, Mark Bullen, the Associate Dean of the Learning & Teaching Centre at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Bullen has numerous responsibilities, many that have him working with some of the so-called net generation in the college classroom.
He also happens to be the main writer for a new blog Net Gen NonSense, a web site “dedicated to debunking the myth of the net generation, particularly as it relates to learning, teaching and the use of technology.” On the blog, colleague Iain Doherty from New Zealand, recently published the basic results of an informal survey done with more than 400 students at the University of Auckland.
Doherty did find that students were using technologies for specific purposes in their daily lives, with texting being one of the most common tech applications. Doherty also found that students were using additional technologies to make basic aspects of their lives easier, particularly booking travel; internet banking; and shopping online.
But he also found that not all were social networking with other students. In fact, some students deemed the practice a waste of their time leading Doherty to suspect a touch of contempt for the social networking scene by some students.
As for being experts on Web 2.0 tools, Doherty found that nothing could have been further from the truth. Not only were many students not making use of the web 2.0 tools in any great way in their personal lives, some displayed an incredible lack of awareness about some of the tools with one student asking, “What’s a Wiki?”
Lastly, students did not seem interested in mixing their personal tech uses with that of education. In one of later conversations with Bullen he noted that students didn’t like the idea of using instant messaging with their instructors, preferring in person visits or e-mail.
Looking for Insight
With more and more folks raising their eyebrows about the assumptions related to the “net generation” and the group’s respective uniqueness, we decided it was time to chat directly with someone who also has raised his eyebrow. We were interested in answers to a couple of key questions:
Is this generation of learners truly that unique or are we exaggerating that notion? And is all of the hullabaloo regarding teaching the net generation simply much ado about nothing?
To get to some answers, we posed a series of questions to Dean Bullen.
Can you give our readers a brief summary of your background including your teaching responsibilities and research focus? What has been the catalyst for your interest in teaching and learning as it relates to the net generation, the so-called group of digital natives?
I have spent the last 25 years working in post secondary education as an instructional designer, researcher, faculty member and manager. My professional roots are in the field of distance education and I spent nearly 20 years working at the distance education department at the University of British Columbia, most recently as Director of the Centre Managing and Planning E-learning. In 2005 I accepted the position of Associate Dean of the Learning & Teaching Centre at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. The LTC provides instructor and curriculum development support for the institute and conducts applied educational research. I teach in the Master of Educational Technology program at the University of British Columbia and the Master of Distance Education program at Athabasca University.
My interest in the digital natives debate stems from my interest in teaching and learning and from the fact that I have responsibility for a department that teaches instructors how to teach. I also have two daughters who are in that generation (26 and 21) and I noticed that neither of them matched the characteristics that are most often mentioned for this generation.
So I guess my professional background, combined with what I saw in my daughters and my natural skepticism, caused me to begin to investigate this issue more deeply. I was quite surprised by what I discovered.
What was the impetus for your most recent blog, NetGenNonSense? How did the idea come about and what is the basic relationship of the four of you that are listed on the site as contributors?
The Netgen Nonsense blog was a spur of the moment decision that came about at the most recent conference of the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE) in Banff, Alberta last May. My colleagues (Adnan Qayyum, Karen Belfer and Tannis Morgan) and I were presenting a paper on this issue. I attended another session with a similar theme by Christina Rogoza and then met Iain Doherty who told me how his university in New Zealand was set to make some critical IT decisions based on the belief that all its students fit these characteristics. I realized then that presenting papers at conferences was not going to have enough of an impact on this discourse so I created the blog as I was listening to a presentation at the conference.
My original intention was not for it to be my personal soapbox but to make it a collaborative effort. However, that has not really happened which is probably due to the nature of blogs which tend to be used to present views of one person and also perhaps because I have a keener interest in this topic. There are some posts by my colleagues but most of them are from me.
The stated goal of Net Gen NonSense is to debunk some of the myths of the net generation. Can you give our readers a sense of what you believe to be two or three of the greatest misconceptions (perhaps relating the basic findings from your recent survey that you posted on the site)?
Well, my basic point is that the claims about this generation are not based on research. They are speculations that emerge from anecdotal observations and from a techno-utopic view of the world and a fascination with technology. I don’t dispute that this generation is different than previous generations. 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 before we start making radical changes to the way to do things in education we need some evidence. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we have to conduct exhaustive studies before we make change. Clearly, we have to be more responsive than that. The kind of evidence I’m talking about is not hard to collect. It involves surveying students, talking to students, and observing students and doing it in a way that will allow us to make generalizations. Very little of that has been done and certainly none of the claims about this generation is based on that kind of research (or at least I have not been able to find any). That is the kind of study we are conducting at BCIT.
The other point to make about the claims is that 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.
Also, some of the claims 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.
On one of your university sites you have linked to the videos of Michael Wesch, the Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University. What were your thoughts as a university professor, particularly as it relates to teaching and learning, when viewing the videos, “The Machine Is Using Us” and “A Vision of Students Today?”
I must say I found these two videos very provocative and interesting. However, I’m not entirely sure what the point of “A Vision of Students Today” is. It seems to be making several points that are not necessarily related. The relevance of education has been source of debate for as long as I have been in education. I remember, as a student, participating in a “walk-out” from my high school in 1970 over the perceived irrelevance of our education. So this is not new. The idea that students are overworked and deeply in debt is not new. Nor is the complaint about large, impersonal classes. This is an issue distance educators have pointed to for years when critics question the quality of distance education. The technological theme is even murkier. What is the relevance of the fact that students spend more time online than reading books? The same comparison used to be made with television. And that they buy textbooks that they never read? I remember doing that in my undergraduate education in 1970s and 1980s. What is the relevance of comparing reading books with reading e-mails and Facebook profiles?
I strongly agree with critics of traditional higher education that is organized around a content-transmission, teacher-centered model. But progressive educational thinkers like John Dewy have been critical of this since the 1920s. And yes, we need to harness the technologies where appropriate but the most important requirement for success in today’s world is the ability to think critically and manage information. You don’t acquire those skills by reading Facebook profiles, web pages and e-mails.
We did a recent post on a summary that David Wiley gave to the the Panel on Innovative Teaching and Learning Strategies for the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education in 2006. We called the post, “Higher Education, Dangerously Close to Irrelevant” because of his strong opinion that higher education is simply not keeping up with the business world described by Thomas Friedman in “The World is Flat.” What are your thoughts on Wiley’s expressed concerns and do you see higher ed as it is currently constructed perilously close to irrelevance?
Well, much of what I said in answer to the previous question applies here. I share many of David Wiley’s concerns about ensuring the relevance of higher education. But, again, this is not a new issue. It is a recurring theme. Applied educational institutions like the one I work in have an easier time maintaining relevance because our programs are driven by specific business and industry demands.
I do, however, think that some of David Wiley’s notions about openness and sharing are somewhat idealistic given the proprietary mindset of many (most?) faculty members at North American universities. When I was at the University of British Columbia, the Faculty Association challenged the university’s attempts to retain ownership of the online courses in its Master of Educational Technology. Instead of taking an enlightened position that might have forced the university to share these resources in an open courseware type of initiative they used the case to reinforce traditional notions of intellectual property ownership that worked against sharing and openness. So, in my view, a huge cultural change will be needed in North American universities before the ideal of open educational resources becomes a reality.
It is our sense that you would not necessarily concur with the notion that educational pedagogy must change to meet the academic needs of this new group of digital natives. Can you describe for readers your position on this notion and the rationale for that position?
I believe that educators should be constantly reevaluating what they do, how they teach and how they engage students. All good educators do that. But we need to do that based on the real needs of our learners not based on speculation and hype. The fact the students in my class may be spending a lot of time reading Facebook profiles is not, in itself, a good reason to change the way I teach.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Just that they take a much more critical stance towards what has been written about the net generation. The most distressing thing about this issue is how educators, who should know better, have accepted the claims at face value and then used them to further their own arguments for change. What began as speculation has become “fact” through repetition. But if we scratch the surface we find there is not much there.
Editor’s note: Next, given the recent literature and the demand for a more extensive review of assumptions about the “net generation,” we present our recommendations for teachers.
Flickr photo courtesy of Colin Rhinesmith.
September 23, 2008 No Comments
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.
- Of Digital Immigrants, Power Browsing, and Bouncing Out
- Video Games in the Classroom – Teaching the Scientific Method to Digital Natives
- Social Media – FaceBook and MySpace as University Curricula
- Of Trashing Teens, The Impact of Generation Y, and Extraordinary Talents
- Virtual Worlds – Westminster Professors Discuss Research
- Higher Education – Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant
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?
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.
The 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!
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.
September 22, 2008 22 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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?
According 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?
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