Marie’s May Musings

Submitted by Six Red Marbles on Mon, 06/11/2012

Quote of the Month

“Take one hour a day and turn that thing off.”

                                       Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman,
                                       speaking of digital devices during
                                       a commencement speech

Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman, probably startled more than a few listeners in his recent commencement address at Boston University. Schmidt challenged the college graduates to shut off their digital devices for one hour every day. He said, “Take one hour a day and turn that thing off. Take your eyes off that screen and look into the eyes of the person you love. Have a conversation. Have a real conversation.” (MLB: Can I hear an “Amen.”) Perhaps more startling was the applause following his comments from that audience of graduates that had grown up relying on Google’s search engine, e-mail, and other services. Schmidt wasn’t suggesting anything more than balance. He also predicted that today’s youth would be armed with technology as never before: “If you’re awake, you’re online, you’re connected.” Presumably, he meant no more than 23 hours a day.

As ubiquitous as it already seems to be, Google continues to grow. It has just launched a new site called Search Education aimed at educators who want to teach online search strategies. The site includes lesson plans geared at different levels of expertise—beginning, intermediate, and advanced—as well as training videos that walk through different strategies for such subjects as using Creative Commons and Google Ways. For each topic, lessons for every level of searcher go into deep detail offering background explorations of how search works the way it does, specific examples of search words and their results, and numerous tips. There’s also a short quiz at the end of each lesson. The lessons are aligned with the Common Core Curriculum Standards and refer to the K–12 College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards.

A growing movement of principals, parents, and teachers are calling for the elimination of high-stakes tests. The opt-out initiative is gaining momentum through written protests from districts, social media including a Facebook group called Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing, and Occupy Protests at the Department of Education. In Texas, hundreds of school districts are signing a resolution to ban the tests. The criticism against standardized tests—and all their ramifications—has long held that too much emphasis has been placed on school, teacher, and student evaluations tied to the test results. Teachers feel pressured to teach to the reading and math tests while, necessarily, neglecting long-term projects and other subject areas like social studies and science.

On the other hand, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has proposed expanding high school testing by requiring students to pass multiple subject exams in order to graduate. The state also wants schools to offer a test, such as the SAT, to evaluate whether students are ready for college. If students don’t pass, they would be given remedial courses in high school so that they are prepared for college on day one.

MY TAKE:  I think some testing is important. Why did we go to standardized tests in the first place? One of the main reasons was that student achievement standards varied wildly from state to state and in some cases, schools were graduating students from high school with minimal reading and math skills, woefully unprepared for the rigors of college courses and even the workforce. Our ranking in global education ratings had gone down consistently and considerably. Something had to be done. But this is an example of overreaction. Let’s keep good, solid, reliable tests but take away the knee-jerk, painful penalties.

According to a survey of K–12 educators conducted by MCH Strategies Data and published by Simba Information (publisher of Educational Marketer, Electronic Education Report, and other education-related publications), the top digital source at all grade levels is open, or free, educational resources (OER): 74.2% at the elementary level, 59.8% at the middle /junior high school level, and 54% at the high school level. So now all students, worldwide, will have free access to instruction in all subjects from K through college (see Blog entry below). This is mind-boggling.

MY TAKE:  This is hardly surprising news. Schools have little or no money; many are barely surviving. This lifeline of free instructional materials is eagerly snatched. It is an enticing solution. My concern is always about the quality of the materials. How are they being vetted? Now, maybe there is an answer. Achieve is an independent, bipartisan organization that was initially involved in the creation of the Common Core State Standards and is the project manager for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two major Race to the Top assessment consortia. Achieve has created eight rubrics that can be applied to all content to help teachers and other users determine the quality of OERs. Achieve is working with OER Commons to create an online evaluation tool. Great step in the right direction.

Three examples from this month’s research:

MIT and the Khan Academy have partnered on an initiative called MIT + K12 where videos produced by MIT students will be available through the Academy’s website. The 5–10 minute long videos for grades K–12 teach the basics of engineering and science. So far, 75 videos have been created, and half can be currently viewed on the MIT + K12 YouTube channel. As with all Khan videos, they are free. MIT students who participate in the program can receive financial support, equipment, training, and editing services.

MY TAKE:  This is simply fantastic! These videos will be of the highest quality, inspiring young people (or others) to enter into the world of engineering and science. And affordable for all!  Bravi MIT and Khan. You are changing the world of education and ultimately changing the world itself.

• Harvard and MIT (MLB: What’s in the water at MIT? I want some!) have joined forces to offer free online courses in a project aimed at attracting millions of online learners around the world. Beginning this fall, a variety of courses developed by faculty at both institutions will be available online through this new $60 million partnership know as edX. Certificates will be given to those who pass the online courses.

• Stanford University has launched a courageous and no doubt controversial approach to medical school instruction. Instead of sitting in large-class lectures, which Stanford thinks is an inefficient 20th-century model, the medical school will use the “flipped classroom” approach where students will view Khan Academy’s YouTube lectures at home and solve problems alongside professors in the classroom. Skeptical readers may argue that Khan Academy can’t compete with lectures from the world’s great thinkers, but a recent one-week study showed that test scores for the nonlecture group were nearly double that of the control group (41% to 74%). More feedback will be needed to measure the reliability of this new approach.


TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), a nonprofit organization devoted to spreading big ideas through a series of conferences and a free video platform, has continued its expansion into education by launching a brand-new TED-Ed website with tools to help teachers use video in the classroom. The new platform allows educators to customize videos with follow-up questions and assignments.
• Clayton Christensen, of “Disrupting Class” fame, has written a new, highly anticipated book (with co-authors James Allwork and Karen Dillon), “How Will You Measure Your Life?” The book expands on Christensen’s Harvard Business Review article that draws life lessons from his business-oriented writing. Forbes describes the book as “one of the more surprisingly powerful books of personal philosophy of the 21st century.” I call it “must reading.” On a related note: the May 14th issue of The New Yorker (page 84) features a lengthy profile of Christensen.

As I research various media outlets every day for education-related items, I am struck by the ever-increasing number of technology-related articles, news stories, and commentaries. I realize that this is symptomatic of our increasing digital culture. The nature of technology allows for immediate access to information and, correspondingly, the concomitant expectation for immediate response. But, let’s take a breath. I’m not sure I want my future doctors learning medicine in “flipped” lessons until we are certain that this approach will be as good as or better than traditional medical training. It may well be, but the stakes are too high to rush the disruption. So, too, with the education of our children; it may be that learning digitally will be more successful than older methods, but can we take baby steps?

At this moment in time, academic research is finding contradictory results. Some research shows significant improvement in students’ academic achievement after using iPads and other digital devices. On the other hand, some child development experts are finding that children are developing shorter attention spans. Teachers at the non-tech Waldorf School report that their students’ ideas are not as original when cobbled together through Google searches and recycled from opinion blogs (presumably done at home). And yet, states are moving pell-mell ahead to digital. My gut instinct is that technology will dominate all aspects of our lives in the future. My hope is that we will live in the best possible digital world where the wheat has been separated from the chaff at least over several harvests.

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