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The Enormous Technological Challenges Facing Education

Advances in technology continue to change how adults view and interact with the world. Of course, those same advances are available to teachers and the youngsters who populate their classrooms.

These developments are leading to enormous challenges for teachers regarding the role digital devices can and should play in the learning process. For some educators, the view is that technology should only be utilized as a tool to help facilitate student understanding and mastery of the current curriculum. For other educators, technology is as fundamental to learning as reading and writing and therefore must become a separate segment of the school curriculum.

To get a sense of the differences in these viewpoints, we turn to the 2011 Horizon Report (pdf), the eighth in the ongoing annual series of reports from Educause focused on emerging technology in higher education. As in the past, the current Horizon Report seeks to highlight the six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use within three adoption horizons: near-term (those technologies that will see adoption over the next twelve months), mid-term (those that will be adopted over a 12-36 month period), and far-term (those that will be pursued over the 36-60 month time frame).

The 2011 report identified the following specific areas as technologies to watch:

– Near-term: mobile computing and open content.
– Mid-term: electronic books and simple augmented reality.
– Far-term: gesture-based computing and visual data analysis.

Most educators are no doubt very familiar with the first three elements noted in the Horizon report. These topics have garnered a lot of press over the last couple of years and their use is becoming more common in Pre K-12 classrooms.

The last three, on the other hand, are not generally seeing much if any time in the current learning environment. But if tomorrow’s workers are going to be ready to take advantage of the incredible technological progress available to them, teachers will need to become more knowledgeable of these incredible new options.

In that regard, one of the critical findings of the report centers on the issue of digital media literacy and the subsequent challenges that literacy creates for educators. The report reveals the significance of digital media literacy in every discipline and profession but that formal training in digital literacy skills and techniques is rarely found in teacher education programs. Worse yet, the Horizon report reveals that formal training is virtually non-existent in higher education.

While many educators are working on the topic in an informal manner, the fact remains that literacy is deemed to be “less about tools and more about thinking.” Therefore, a systems approach to digital literacy is necessary if we are to ensure that teachers are ready and able to lead students down this ever-evolving path.

Below we examine the six areas briefly and the challenges facing educators in implementing these short-term, mid-term, and far-term technologies. For greater depth, readers may simply turn to the Horizon’s 2011 detailed report (pdf – 40 pages).

1. Mobile Technology

Today, we have a wealth of options for staying connected while on the go. While many equate the idea of mobile technology with the cell phone, the term mobile device is used to categorize everything from smart phones to netbooks.

Today, not only are there many devices (smart phones, netbooks, laptops and the like) to choose from, each of these options is capable of performing multiple functions. Whatever the choice, the ability to access the Internet and personal data from anywhere in the world is becoming ever more important especially as technology becomes cloud-based.

Ultimately, this online data storage is creating a totally new view of IT support. It also creates the requirement that our information be accessible to us no matter what our choice of device or our location.

The result is that more and more people are looking to mobiles as their device of choice. Furthermore, they are generally seen as cheaper and easier to use than desktop or laptop computers.

While many have long espoused the potential of mobile devices to revolutionize learning, educators continue to have concerns with the privacy and classroom management issues that come with student use of such devices. But clearly the digital world is headed firmly in this direction and education must follow suit.

2. Open Content

Open content appears to carry fewer concerns for educators and is generally seen as critical to addressing the ever-rising costs of higher education. Perhaps even more importantly, open content has the ability to provide the level of flexibility today’s students are beginning to demand.

Providing individual choice as to when and how to learn, open content is already becoming a critical format for colleges and universities. As traditional lines of learning get further blurred by the needs of adults to constantly upgrade skills to remain competitive in the workplace, education must follow suit.

The ability to learn informally, without constant direction and supervision, is a skill that we must increasingly begin to utilize in the classrooms of tomorrow. And whereas education used to center on a just-in-case format (becoming knowledgeable in a wide variety of topics to ensure future flexibility) the easy access to information requires a switch to “just-in-time” and “found” learning. Both of these formats will ensure that learning is far more timely and efficient.

This demands a new educational perspective where knowledge is not held by a select few and shared only upon demand but instead is collective in nature and sharable. This will continue to push teachers towards a new model where they focus on guiding and coaching students on methods for accessing and evaluating the volume of information available.

3. Electronic Books

While the Horizon report notes that “electronic books have been available in some form for nearly four decades,” the last twelve months “have seen a dramatic upswing in their acceptance and use.” Add to the mix the various assortment of electronic reading devices now available and it is easy to see why “electronic books are appearing on campuses with increasing frequency.”

For the student with the overweight backpack, the idea of being able to carry an entire library in their book bag is enormously appealing. On the college campus, electronic books are not only proving to be a cost-effective and portable alternative to heavy textbooks, these devices are able to store all syllabi and supplemental reading selections for even the most intense courses.

The latest e-book readers not only rival the experience of reading a paper book, they offer the ability to easily mark up and highlight text when desired, annotations that can be easily exported and shared with fellow students. Perhaps even more importantly, electronic readers offer keyword searching and instant dictionary lookups, two elements that can greatly enhance the learning possibilities for students.

Today we see the list of available titles is growing rapidly and with that development, the new format’s convenience will also yield even greater cost-effectiveness over time. Throw the fact that our wireless devices enable individuals to purchase materials from nearly anywhere on the planet means that entire libraries are now available to both teachers and students without ever leaving their home or the walls of their respective classroom.

4. Simple Augmented Reality

The ability to combine the real world with virtual information is the fundamental tenet of what is referred to as augmented reality. It involves the blending of virtual data, the information available to users via technology, with live action and what we see in the real world.

According to the Horizon report, AR dates back to the late 1960s and 1970 though it was not until the 1990s that major companies put the technology to use for visualization and training purposes. Those applications once required headsets that kept users tethered to their desktop computers but now the camera and screen embedded in smart phones and other mobile devices (our basic GPS system) can serve as the tools to blend the real world with virtual data.

Augmented reality applications exist in two basic formats: marker-based, whereby a “camera must perceive a specific visual cue in order for the software to call up the correct information,’ and markerless, whereby “positional data, such as a mobile’s GPS and compass is compared against a library of images to find a match.”

For education, the major focus could well be on augmented reality gaming. Such games would be based on real world situations that are then augmented with networked data, bringing incredible life to the study of both history and geography.

For the extremely futuristic minded, there is also the development of augmented reality books. Though the books are printed normally, they are made so as to include AR elements. After purchase, special software installed on a webcam allows the camera to interact with the book to create three dimensional visualizations.

5. Gesture Based Computing

Gesture-based computing gives rise to truly transformative technology where devices are created “that react to us instead of requiring us to learn to work with them.” Therefore, instead of teaching children how to use a mouse and keyboard, we would instead teach them to use natural movements to engage their technology.

Most of us are familiar with the iPhone or the Nintendo Wii, gesture-based systems that accept input in the form of taps, swipes, motion, pressure, and the number of fingers touching the devices. Incorporating the potential for more kinesthetic classroom would also take away one of the current fears associated with computers and those popular video games, the sedentary lifestyle that often accompanies those activities.

In addition, yet another one of the most important elements would be the collaborative nature gesture-based computing would offer teachers. By removing the need to share a keyboard and mouse, gestural interfaces would allow multiple users to potentially interact with a single computer simultaneously.

More than simply making technology easier to engage, gesture-based computing has been shown to enhance fine motor skills. One such study revealed that surgeons-in-training who warmed up with the Wii scored an average of 48% higher on tool tests and simulated surgical procedures than those who did not.

6. Visual Data Analysis

Visual data analysis is a new field that blends highly advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphic generating tools. These computer enhancements make it possible for almost anyone to see any existing patterns and/or structure in even the most complex of data settings.

Data collection and compilation has long been seen as a tedious process. While computers removed some of the manual challenges of this process, analyzing, interpreting, and displaying data was largely a field only statisticians and engineers fully grasped.

Most people see these tools as being useful when studying scientific topics such as climate change and global warming trends. But if we can make “it possible for anyone to sift through, display, and understand complex concepts and relationships,” then visual data representation will soon lead to applications in the social sciences and humanities.

As for the implications for educators, the field is deemed to be more consistent with the pattern matching skills that seem to be hard-wired into the human brain. But the greatest impact could well be the concept’s ability to enable educational researchers to finally isolate the specific variables that truly impact learning and identify the most effective educational practices to employ in the classroom.

February 22, 2011   3 Comments

In Breaking Down Walls, Does Online Education Sacrifice Quality?

There are certainly two camps when it comes to the notion of open courseware and its ability to educate tomorrow’s students. Some, like Mark Pesce, see the concept as breaking down the ivy-covered walls in both the literal and figurative sense. For them, open courseware would eliminate current admission barriers, allowing the common man with access to a computer and an Internet connection a world class education.

Others see the notion quite differently. They note that an exceptionally high college dropout rate is even higher in online programs. They further insist that online education, considered by most to be the tool to a more cost-effective course delivery system, actually is more expensive currently as schools cover the cost of specific software (that does not come cheap) on top of having to pay someone to hover over the students enrolled.

Two Schools of Thought

Steve Kolowic recently took a look at the current state of the open courseware movement at Inside Higher Education. In discussing the likes of the so-called elite institutions (Columbia, Oxford, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Kolowic indicates that these schools have defined their value “by exclusivity as much as by excellence” and that “the classrooms and curriculums that ostensibly transform talented high-schoolers into cardholding members of the adult elite have been walled off from the general public.”

But elsewhere on the University front, Kolowic writes that online education has been “all but cleansed of its original stigma” and thus become commonplace.

“The University of Massachusetts and Penn State University rake in tens of millions of dollars each year from their online programs,” explains Kolowic. “The University of California is considering using online education to help recoup the revenue lost to massive cuts in state funding.”

In contrast, those considered the elite of higher education have not offered online pathways for a degree. Instead, they are giving away certain courses for free.

“The elites took the road less traveled,” writes Kolowic, and instead published “the raw materials — and in some cases videotaped lectures — for certain courses on the Web, but would not offer online pathways for their coveted degrees.”

All of these thoughts are presented as a lead in to an interview with Taylor Walsh, the author of Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access. In the interview with Taylor, one clear thought comes through. The elite schools know they need to have a presence on the web in a market that is clearly growing in possibilities. A presence of some sort appears essential to further the global brand of these schools at a time when competition is keen.

The Real Challenge

Randall Stross, a professor of business at San Jose State University, is a veteran when it comes to teaching courses online. Writing about the release of Walsh’s book and the future of the open courseware movement, Stross yanks more than a few chains with his opening assertion.

“When colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs.”

But his chain doesn’t seem to come with a noose. Despite the prediction of the end of the teaching profession as we know it, Stross goes on to calmly insist he is not worried.

“Amid acute budget crises, state universities like mine can’t afford to take that very big step — adopting the technology that renders human instructors obsolete.”

Indeed, Stross does a great job of articulating one critical fundamental. While he is a veteran online educator, he insists the descriptor currently being used is misleading.

Stross teaches what educators now refer to as a hybrid course. It does feature some elements that make use of software. But it also features a full-fledged teacher, a “hovering human” as Stross describes.

To one day replace teachers, an online course would have to remove the need for the hovering human. It would be 100% software based and would handle all tasks that the aforementioned human (including assessing students and providing relevant feedback on their performance) previously handled.

Of the open courseware movement, Stross notes the costs involved.

“Developing that best-in-the-world online course — in which students would learn as much, or more, than in an ordinary classroom or a hybrid online class — requires significant investment. The Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, which has developed about 15 sophisticated online courses, mostly in the sciences, spent $500,000 to $1 million to write software for each. But neither Carnegie Mellon nor other institutions, which are invited to use its online courses, dares to use them without having a human instructor, too.”

Those costs have Stross confident that his job is safe, especially given the current shortfall of funds most institutions currently face.

Above and Beyond the Monetary Factor

I would contend that Stross might be safe for yet another reason if I can at least assume he is typical of the vast majority of teachers and professors. While it is easy to imagine the use of technology and open courseware resources to both supplement and even replace textbooks and the like, it cannot replace the figure orchestrating the learning process provided that person does in fact do more than simply hover.

It is in this realm that we turn to Wendy Brown, the Emanuel Heller Professor Political Science at UC Berkeley. Professor Brown unloaded last October when discussing the approval of the California Regents to test the viability of offering a bachelor’s degree program 100% online.

Speaking at the Graduate Student Association Forum on the Cyber Campus, Brown delivered a scathing rebuke of the suggestion. When she was done, Professor Brown was on another planet from the likes of the forward-thinking Mark Pesce or the pragmatic Stross.

“I have many thoughts about the differences between the virtual and live classroom,” states Brown. “Differences between, on the one hand, classes featuring professors with an avowed point of view, modestly attuned to the abilities of their students, working closely with their GSIs, and, on the other, authorless curriculums with instructors of record and hundreds of low-paid teaching assistants.

“Differences between, on the one hand, students in a hushed auditorium, shorn of electronic connections and other distractions, listening to a line of Shakespeare, a measure of Chopin, a principle of physics–taking them apart together to discover the kernel of their brilliance–and, on the other, a student staring at the line, the measure, the principle on a MacBook, perhaps at a Starbucks with email and Facebook portals open, perhaps at home flanked by children whining, bosses calling, friends texting.”

Brown questions the financial implications before revealing some of the less than flattering data emerging regarding online instruction. “The drop-out rate for students taking on-line courses is persistently and consistently high, paralleling the drop-out rate of for-profit colleges. It is routinely 20% higher than drop-out rates from on campus courses and runs as high as 70% for some courses and programs.”

But for Brown, the real key is the inherent human element, the notion that education is fundamentally a people-business. Quality courses feature a skilled and passionate educator inspiring his or her students, poking and prodding so as to unleash the potential of those he or she is tasked with teaching. This human touch simply cannot be produced in a class delivered at a distance entirely over the net.

“What is sacrificed when classrooms disappear, the place where good teachers do not merely ‘deliver content’ to students but wake them up, throw them on their feet and pull the chair away? Where ideas can become intoxicating, where an instructor’s ardor for a subject or a dimension of the world can be contagious? Where scientific, literary, ethical or political passions are ignited? Where there are moments of epiphany during or after a lecture, where one is transformed by thinking with or against one’s teacher or peers about a text, event or problem? Where a single question from a student or response from a professor can clarify the presuppositions of a complex notion or crystallize the dark, shocking or exciting implications of a proposition or value?”

Brown moves beyond the rhetorical to provide two very interesting, concrete examples. She first notes that “while on-line law schools exist, none are accredited by the American Bar Association, and 49 states refuse to permit students graduating from the on-line schools to sit for the bar.”

If that were not a significant red flag as to how online education is viewed, she then furthered her point by explaining a recent development from her own life.

“Last winter, alas, I collected a speeding ticket in the Sierra foothills. Although eligible for traffic school to clear the ticket, I was surprised to discover that Calavaras County did not allow use of the ubiquitous on-line traffic schools. Curious, I phoned the traffic court clerk to ask why: “is it just because I could pay my teenage son to take it for me?” No, she replied, “it’s because studies show that people don’t change their driving after taking the on-line courses but do with the in-person ones.”

To complete her rebuke, Brown summarizes thus:

If, “from traffic schools to law schools,” fully on-line education has been deemed inadequate to the task of educating and changing the student, what does it mean to unleash it in the most transformative period in the life of young adults, the early years of college?

Delivering Open Courseware

Truth be told, the two views are entirely valid. Open courseware has the power to transform the national curriculum, increasing rigor and creating up-to-date, content-rich courses where lectures are delivered by the best the profession has to offer. It should also eliminate the need for those impersonal, 500 seat lecture halls. In this way, the materials offered students could nearly match those currently offered at the so-called elite institutions.

But there will always be a need for that facilitator, the person with the ability to poke and prod, to provide the timely pats on the back and the occasional kick in the seat of the pants. It is for this reason that public school teachers are talking about the transformation from “being sages on the stage” to “guides on the side.”

Open courseware should provide the sage – but the learning process will still need that orchestrator. My guess is that the elite colleges came to this realization a long time ago.

So those course materials are indeed available in an effort to further that brand recognition. But those schools are banking on that critical fundamental tenet, that education is first and foremost a people-business.

February 10, 2011   3 Comments

Financial Literacy – A Topic Every Parent Must Teach their Child

New site provides financial literacy curricula for parents, students, and educators.

Our sister site GoCollege has given a great deal of attention to the current student loan crisis. The problem is actually a very simple one, easy access to loans has led naïve students to borrow significant sums of money as they pursue their college degree.

The problem is that too many students are borrowing far too much and thus are literally mortgaging their entire future. I recently highlighted my concerns with what is happening in my own state where students are leaving the state university with some of the highest average debt levels in the country.

Unfortunately, financial literacy is not a typical topic generally taught in public schools. Thus, educating children about money and the concept of using credit in a healthy manner still falls upon parents. In essence, this is a subject where every family must employ the home-schooling concept.

Great Free Resource

foolproof image 1Fortunately for parents there is one free resource they can turn to help with the much needed education. FoolProofMe, an interactive online financial literacy program geared to teenagers and young adults, is receiving a lot of attention nationally and justifiably so.

Will deHoo, a native of the Netherlands, is the founder of FoolProof. One very appealing element is the fact that the site/program is not affiliated with any bank or institution that is trying to further promote its brand name to kids.

FoolProof’s “modular” programs are highly interactive, featuring music, videos, and dozens of young people from all across the globe discussing financial subjects. The fundamental premise is we all hate looking like a fool but that lots of adults and most businesses make a lot of money by making fools of young people.

While the message is great, perhaps most importantly, all of the videos feature kids and young adults explaining why young people need to become financially literate. The program features discussions on virtually all of the most pertinent elements for kids today: impulse spending, predatory lending practices, the impact of a bad credit score on getting a job, etc. There is also FoolProof’s Top 10 Teen Money Myths which feature some much needed media literacy whereby students become aware that not all advertisements are true or that all loan companies are the same.

foolproof 2They offer a video called “Sucker Punch” where a college-age student talks about how credit card companies attempt to draw in young people even as they charge these individuals higher interest rates because of their youthfulness. It should be required viewing for any young adult about to have access to their first credit card.

And as one person still insisting that building a personal budget is essential, it is nice to see that FoolProof provides students a program that allows them to track and monitor their own spending.

Worthy Concept

In light of this country’s recent credit debacle, financial literacy is a must for all citizens but particularly so for our young people. Any program that focuses on disciplined spending habits and making one’s money go further offers great teaching points for those about to head out on their own.

As we noted earlier, parents might want to think of this in terms of homeschooling their child using the site as a resource. But the site is set up for three different sets of user groups: teachers and educators, parents and grandparents, and college students.

To access the interactive tools, users must create an account so as to be able to access the web-based tools. If teens are using the site, the suggestion is to have parents create the account but for college students Foolproof encourages these young adults to create their own account.

Ultimately, being smart with one’s money is no doubt one of the greatest lessons we can pass along to our kids. FoolProof appears to offer children, parents and even teachers who might want to institute such lessons in their classroom a wonderful free resource.

November 7, 2010   2 Comments

Creating Classroom Visuals – Four Great Sites for Teachers

Without a doubt, visuals are critical for kids when it comes to the learning process.

Thanks to some great “Techy Tips for not so Techy Teachers” we were recently reminded of four tech tools (web sites) that can help teachers create some very interesting visuals for their classroom, with the key being that one need not be a techy to put these sites into action.

Subject Specific Word Clouds

The use of tags and word clouds is becoming a web staple and a great way to introduce the concept to students is a web site that will generate “word clouds” from any text supplied by a teacher. With Wordle, teachers have access to a free web site to generate relevant word clouds for any learning task they are about to undertake.

Because word clouds give greater prominence to the words that appear most often in the supplied text, these clouds create a great learning visual for students by prominently displaying the most used terms. These clouds can be made into posters at the younger levels or used as a cover sheet to a course syllabus for older students.

With Wordle, the user can also modify aspects of the cloud through the use of different fonts, layouts, and color schemes for the letters and the background. Because the site is web-based, a user can save their creation to the Wordle gallery and access it from another internet connection.

And of course, with a little pre-teaching, students can have at it, creating their own word clouds for assignments and projects.

Turning Your Creation into a Poster

Once you have created a document or photo for classroom display, you may want to blow it up so as to make a large size poster for the room. Such a task is extremely easy as there are a couple of different web sites where you can easily rasterbate any creation to make a powerful, large image.

Rasterbating is the phrase used to describe the computer program printing feature called tiled printing. It is a process that enables the user to print extremely large images, those larger than a standard size sheet of paper. The computer program creates tiles, each equal to a standard size sheet of paper, and prints a section of the image on each sheet according to predetermined specifications. The individual pages can then be taped together or stapled to a bulletin board to create a large and powerful image.

BlockPosters.comAt either BlockPosters or Rasterbators, teachers can create such tiled wall posters of any size. Totally free, each site allows you to upload an image where the user can then crop the image and choose how many sheets of traditional-size paper to use in creating the poster.

While the word cloud would make a great option, an even better one, especially at the elementary level, would be the periodic action classroom shot of the students involved in a learning activity. The sheer joy students experience upon seeing themselves in photos could only be enhanced by a large classroom poster of them in action within the classroom.

With older students, the visuals they can create could also greatly enhance an individual project or presentation. Blockposters offers some excellent samples of prior work including student project creations.

If you decide to turn some of this over to students, you may want to use another term other than rasterbate. We are not sure how either age group would do with such a risky-sounding term.

Glogging in the Classroom

Instead of just using the written word to create a blog, teachers can have students create some pretty amazing visual mash ups at (be sure with the younger kids you hit the edu site!).

Glogster again allows for the creation of posters, but in this case, creativity remains supreme. With Glogster you can mix all forms of expression: graphics, photos, videos, music and traditional text.

Not only a fun way to enhance learning and foster creativity, glogging is a perfect tool for visual learners who may struggle with traditional text-oriented classroom setting. Glogging also gets students using the power of technology and collaborating with one another on potential creations.

You will need a few more in the way of tech skills for Glogster than for our other suggestions (especially, if you want to download movies and images) manageable with even a modest effort. But as with our sites featured, Glogster is also a free resource, so you can familiarize yourself with the concept on your own terms.

Photos taken from, and

March 25, 2009   No Comments

Online Education – Introducing the Microlecture Format

Most college students would likely concur – fifty minute lectures can be a bit much. With current research indicating that attention spans (measured in minutes) roughly mirror a students age (measured in years), it begs the question as to the rationale behind lectures of such length.

teddY-riseDGiven that it is tough to justify the traditional lecture timeframes, it is no surprise to see online educational programs seeking to offer presentations that feature shorter podcasts. But in an astonishing switch, David Shieh of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently took a look at a community college program that features a microlecture format, presentations varying from one to three minutes in length.

The Micro-Lecture
While one minute lectures may be beyond the scope of imagination for any veteran teacher, Shieh reports on the piloting of the concept at San Juan College in Farmington, N.M. The concept was introduced as part of a new online degree program in occupational safety last fall. According to Shieh, school administrators were so pleased with the results that they are expanding the micro-lecture concept to courses in reading and veterinary studies.

The designer of the format, David Penrose, insists that in online education “tiny bursts can teach just as well as traditional lectures when paired with assignments and discussions.” The microlecture format begins with a podcast that introduces a few key terms or a critical concept, then immediately turns the learning environment over to the students.

Penrose, a course designer for SunGard Higher Education, offers the following explanation of the process:

Stephanie Booth“It’s a framework for knowledge excavation,” Penrose tells Shieh. “We’re going to show you where to dig, we’re going to tell you what you need to be looking for, and we’re going to oversee that process.”

More in Line with Current Theory

With educators seeking more active learning environments, the microlecture format seemingly offers great potential. Not only will the process allow students greater ownership of their learning, the more open-ended nature of the follow-up materials should provide greater time variation opportunities for students who may need such time.

But as with all educational developments, the process clearly is not one that can be used for all classes. It clearly will not work for a course that is designed to feature sustained classroom discussions. And while the concept will work well when an instructor wants to introduce smaller chunks of information, it will likely not work very well when the information is more complex.

But just as most writers are taught to say what they need to say but do it in as few words as is necessary to accomplish their goal, the microlecture format similarly requires teachers to get the key elements across in a very short amount of time. Most importantly, it forces educators to think in a new way.

catspyjamasnzInstead of the framework being defined by seat time, the microlecture format ditches the traditional notion that all students must spend the same amount of time in class to receive credit. The concept focuses on what is to be learned and it allows, in the online environment, students of various skills and abilities as much time as they need to digest the learning objectives related to the microlecture.

Given such positives, one would think the format would soon become a critical component of every online course.

For those interested, here are Penrose’s steps to creating a one minute lecture:

1. List the key concepts you are trying to convey in the 60-minute lecture. That series of phrases will form the core of your microlecture.

2. Write a 15 to 30-second introduction and conclusion. They will provide context for your key concepts.

3. Record these three elements using a microphone and Web camera. (The college information-technology department can provide advice and facilities.) If you want to produce an audio-only lecture, no Webcam is necessary. The finished product should be 60 seconds to three minutes long.

4. Design an assignment to follow the lecture that will direct students to readings or activities that allow them to explore the key concepts. Combined with a written assignment, that should allow students to learn the material.

5. Upload the video and assignment to your course-management software.

Flickr photos courtesy of teddY-riseD, Stephanie Booth, and catspyjamasnz.

March 8, 2009   Comments Off on Online Education – Introducing the Microlecture Format

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

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

Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the Inept – Ignorance Is Bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Courseware Toolset

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

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

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

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

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

A Parental ADD Resource

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

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

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

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

Flickr photo courtesy of debaird.

February 26, 2009   1 Comment

Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?

OK, this online learning concept may now have another feather in its cap. We recently discussed the notion of video lecture series being available online, a step that could ultimately render the traditional face-to-face lecture option obsolete.

tama leaverIn a rather interesting development, Dani McKinney, Jennifer L. Dycka and Elise S. Lubera have released the results of a new study. In iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors?, the researchers take a look at student test results depending on whether the student attended a specific classroom lecture or listened to the lecture as a podcast.

The Research

The experiment was quite simple. The researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of taped lectures and contrast that with the performance of those students who attended class and heard the same lecture in person.

To determine the effectiveness, the researchers created two distinct groups. One group of undergraduate general psychology students listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Students were provided handouts in the form of copies of the slides to enhance note-taking. A second group of undergraduate psychology students listened to the same lecture in a podcast. They too were provided the same PowerPoint handouts.

One week after the different group sessions, students took an exam on lecture content. In what most would deem a startling development, “students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition.”

Another Blow to High Cost Education?

We noted previously the potential outcome of high-caliber lecture repositories becoming available online. We quoted John Robb, who offered this simple caveat in regards to online lectures, especially if the taped version were delivered by the best in the field.

“There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers” if there is at least one exceptional version available online.

Critics have long held onto the fact that being there and hearing the lecture in person, face-to-face, trumps any taped offering. The work of McKinney, et al, certainly undercuts that assertion.

Eli HodappUnfortunately, in an ironic twist for us, the folks at ScienceDirect have not caught on to the opensource education movement. To be able to read the full article regarding the study one must shell out $31.50.

So we have not been able to discern what McKinney postulates as rationale for the students listening to a podcast to perform better than those students hearing the lecture in person.

But the abstract alone confirms that as education gives careful consideration as to how best to implement technology, things change when the focus is on steps to make education more affordable. Because, if lectures and the accompanying power point slides available on iTunes produce even similar academic outcomes as traditional face-to-face lecture formats, then the enormous potential cost savings from taped online versions would in fact render the current educational model obsolete.

Flickr photos courtesy of Tama Leaver and Eli Hodapp.

February 1, 2009   9 Comments

John Robb on “The Education Bubble” and the Opportunities Provided

John Robb, the author of Brave New War, recently speculated on the future of American education at Global Guerillas.

His first noteworthy point centers upon his assessment of the current educational process. Referring to our current form as an admixture of industrial and artisan processes, Robb correctly notes that “the quantities of product (graduates) produced and the facilities resemble industrial processes” even as the “actual production is most closely akin to artisanship (with guilds, no less!).”

Amazon.comSuch a reference mirrors one of the age-old questions for educators. Is teaching a science or an art? It also raises one of the ongoing and legitimate criticisms of the current educational structure, one that actually follows the factory assembly line model.

Higher Education

Robb spends little time on that notion, instead shifting immediately to the costs of education and the failure of schools, at all levels, to significantly increase student performances despite enormous funding increases. Here again, Robb is dead on, and his description of the process as “an albatross of cost and stagnating quality” is certainly consistent with those who are concerned with the failure of public schools to significantly improve student performance.  

But Robb saves his strongest criticisms for higher education. Beginning with the costs for collegiate education, expenses that have increased 4.39 times faster than inflation over the last three decades, Robb indicates that higher education is no longer affordable for most households, especially as median family incomes stagnate.

Robb offers the following interesting assertion:

“Worse, there is reason to believe that costs of higher education (direct costs and lost income) are now nearly equal (in net present value) to the additional lifetime income derived from having a degree.  Since nearly all of the value of an education has been extracted by the producer, to the detriment of the customer, this situation has all the earmarks of a bubble.”

Unlike the Housing Bubble
While the current situation involving higher education has all the makings of matching the recent housing bubble, instead of the downturn facing the housing sector Robb sees the higher education bubble as offering immense opportunity to introduce educational improvements.  

At the heart of those improvements is the greater use of technology and the “ability of collaborative online education to replace much, if not most of in person teaching.” As many others have noted, there are some specific improvements afforded by greater use of technology in education:

  • Lectures – Robb notes that video lecture series, along with associated learning materials, for many courses at some of the best universities in the world are now available online. He rightly notes that such an option allows students to get the very best lecture available (“There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers”). mrploughWhy attend another university when the very best lectures are available free.
  • Application – Robb adds the push towards just-in-time information processes. Operating online with a JIT focus, we “can train kids to adults in complicated and complex tasks in a fraction of the time other methods require.” Such an approach is the complete antithesis of our current approach, one that features a broad array of subjects and concepts with the idea that students learn certain materials just-in-case there may be a need to know sometime in the future.  
  • Collaboration – Robb notes the shifting of the business world from in-person work to a greater emphasis in online collaboration. Instead, at the university level, we continue the age old push to have face-to-face contact, with all students and the professor being present at the same time and in the same place. The idea of moving aspects online still is not “central to the educational world.”

We have discussed many of these notions in our prior work, including a lecture repository, just-in-time learning, and the need for education to begin to embrace the concept of social networking. We have also shared with readers David Wiley’s assessment that higher education as it currently is structured is “Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant.”

Education’s Shift to a Fully Online Environment
While some may see his suggestions as radical, Robb is unequivocal as to the future of education.

“The shift towards online education as the norm and in-person as the exception will arrive,” he writes, “however, the path is unclear.  It is currently blocked by guilds/unions, inertia, credentialism, and romantic notions.” 

As noted, if we are indeed in a higher education bubble, the current economic downturn could well become one of the key catalysts for a radical shift in educational delivery. Robb suggests that the need for local governments to balance their budgets in the face of dwindling revenues will demand extensive cost-cutting measures. Those cost-cutting steps will have to include reduced monies for education, often the single biggest local expense, forcing higher education to pursue more cost-effective delivery methods (online courses).

If we are in the midst of a real higher education bubble, schools will likely see a dwindling student population. Here, Robb speculates on a amazing option. What if MIT or Harvard decided to “offer full credentials to online students at a tiny fraction of the cost of being in attendance.”  He postulates that the result just might be “ten million students enroll in the first year to attend Harvard’s virtual world.”

metaweb20Of course, yet another option involves an entirely different take, one that features the opensource movement. If in-person education continues to be too expensive but no institution is able to step forward to create a major online brand, the entire world of education shifts. “A massive open source effort develops,” writes Robb, leading to the creation of “virtual worlds and other online courseware that rivals the best universities.”

In the third scenario there would be a need for a new credentialing agency. Of course one quick answer could be a continued move towards standardized testing and students demonstrating, by their performance on such tests, that their education in fact does match what one might have received in the more traditional college setting.  

The Future of Education
At the heart of Robb’s notions is the need for a “productive educational system that produces high quality graduates” but does so “at a small fraction (an order of magnitude less) of the current costs.” In addition, moving to online, just-in-time formats, would perhaps offer the kind of flexibility that is needed if workers, and our educational systems, are “to meet the challenges of a rapidly mutating global economy.”  

Robb even goes so far as to toss around a potential cost of $20.00 a month. While that seems a bit beyond the realm of possibility, the rest offers strong food for thought.

In fact, he might have hit one more proverbial nail on the head. While his ideas as to where education could head have been speculated by others before, his idea that the current higher ed financial crisis could be a catalyst for major change seems dead on.

In fact, in our history, once it has become clear that we can do something as well if not better at far less cost, the entrepreneurial spirit has taken off. Tougher financial times always place a demand on innovation, making us wonder:

Will education continue to be immune?

Or will technology finally intercede and lead one of the last bastions of our society to finally consider new, more cost-effective models?

Flickr photos courtesy of mrplough and metaweb.

January 29, 2009   1 Comment

Will OpenSource Concepts Define Education in 21st Century?

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.”

ottonassarParry also notes the recent Pesce posts, all of which are connected, are the rarest of internet materials.

“In this series I read each piece at least twice,” states Parry, “some three times. They are that good.”

Fluid Learning
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.

Pesce writes:

“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:

Capture Everything
WikipediaWhen it comes to traditional college settings, Pesce notes succinctly: “Lecturers are expensive.” But the process of “recording is cheap.”

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.

Share Everything
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.”

Open Everything
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.”

Only Connect
nathanaelbAs 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.”

DrupalThen comes a new frontier:

“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, 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.”

tujiguomanIn 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:

“Start with Fluid Learning the first in the series, then check out The Alexandrine Dilemma and Crowdsource Yourself, ending with Inflection Points.”

Flickr photos courtesy of ottonassar, nathanaelb, tujiguoman, and KK+.

December 21, 2008   No Comments

Charter Schools – Raleigh Charter a Role Model for the Movement

In June we took a brief look at Newsweek’s annual list of the 100 top performing high schools in the nation. One of the more interesting aspects of the list was the number of charter schools named by the magazine. The select group of schools included 10 charter schools, a number deemed statistically relevant. Whereas 10% of the Newsweek top performers were charter schools, only 3% of all public schools nationwide fall within that category. In essence, the ratio of charter high performers was triple that of traditional public high schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humble puts the innovation in simple terms.

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

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

Admission Process

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

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

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

What the Theorists Had in Mind

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2008   1 Comment