Category Archives: technology use

The Virtue of Slow Software: Fewer Fads in Schools?

Online commerce has made it easier than ever to shop, right? Maybe too easy. A recent study by comparison-shopping site Finder revealed that more than 88 percent of Americans admitted to spontaneous impulse buying online, blowing an average of $81.75 each time we lose control. Clothes, videogames, concert tickets. One in five of us succumb weekly. Millennials do it the most.

With the above paragraph, journalist Clive Thompson opens his article on “Slow Software” in Wired magazine. His argument is straight-forward: devices speed up our lives, encourage impulsivity, and buyer’s remorse. For the above example of excessive buying–which, of course, is crucial to the economy which depends upon Americans shopping–Thompson describes a piece of software that slows the shopper down.

[A team of software designers] created Icebox, a Chrome plug-­in that replaces the Buy button on 20 well-known e-commerce sites with a blue button labeled “Put it on ice.” Hit it and your item goes into a queue, and a week or so later Icebox asks if you still want to buy it. In essence, it forces you to stop and ponder, “Do I really need this widget?” Odds are you don’t.

The pace of life has surely accelerated with Facebook Newsfeed, incessant tweets, over the top Instagram pics, and pop-up ads everywhere you click on the web. Misinformation on Facebook spreading swiftly and harassment campaigns on Twitter ever-present, slowing down software seems to be a way of thinking twice before deciding on something important to us. But it is not easy as Thompson concludes:

It’s a Sisyphean battle, I admit. Offered the choice, we nearly always opt for convenience…. Icebox is brilliant but hasn’t yet taken off. Socratic deliberation improves our lives—but, man, what a pain!

Slow software reminded me of what Steve Arnett reported in an earlier post. Ninety-eight percent of the software that school administrators purchased for classroom use was not used intensively (at least 10 hours between assessments)–yes, 98 percent.

The apps with the most licenses purchased are ConnectEd, WeVideo, Blender Learn Discovery and Education Streaming Plus. The apps with the highest intensive users are Google Drive, Canvas, Dreambox Learning, Lexia Reading Core5 and IXL. (Some apps, such as Google Drive, have more users than licenses purchased because they offer their services for free.)

All of this got me thinking anew about who makes district decisions about buying software for classrooms and the muting of teacher voices when it comes to these district office decisions–which, of course, have to ultimately be approved by boards of education.

School leaders need slow software before going on buying sprees of teaching and learning software peddled by companies. Impulsive shopping–see opening paragraph above–hits school leaders as it does the typical consumer surfing Amazon or similar sites. This impulse buying is the way that fads get started (hype transforms fads into “innovations”).

Of course, district officials who spend the money do not need software to slow their decisions down for a week that Icebox proposes. Instead of slow software, they can use some old-fashioned, analog ways of decision-making that bring teachers into the decision cycle at the very beginning with teachers volunteering to try out the new software (and devices) in lessons, administrators collecting data, and analysis of data by mix of a teachers and administrators. And I do not mean token representation on committees already geared to decide on software and devices. With actual groups of teachers using software (and devices) with students, then a more deliberate, considered, and informed decision can be made on which software (or devices) should get licensed for district. Of course, this suggestion means that those who make decisions have to take time to collaborate with those who are the objects of those decisions before any district money can be spent. And time is a scarce resource especially for teachers. Not to be squandered, but there are tech-savvy teachers who would relish such an opportunity.

My hunch is that there are cadres of teachers who do want to be involved in classroom use of software before they are bought and would appreciate the chance to chime in with their experiences using the software in lessons. Teacher validation of an innovation aimed at teaching and learning can not be sold or bought without teachers using the software in lessons.

As Thompson points out it is a struggle to restrain impulsivity when buying stuff because “[o]ffered the choice, we nearly always opt for convenience.” That applies to district leaders buying software for teachers to use in their lessons. And faddishness is the last thing that schools need when budgets are tight and entrenchment is in the air.

A Fad Dissolver period declared at the onset of a classroom trial that runs three-to-six months to determine how valid and useful the software is could halt the impulse buying that so characterizes districts wanting to show how tech savvy they are and avoid the common practice of storing in drawers and closets unused software and devices.

 

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Oversold and Underused: Software in Schools (Thomas Arnett)

Thomas Arnett is a Research Fellow of Education at the Clayton Christensen Institute. This appeared in Education Next November 30, 2018.

Earlier this month, education news outlets buzzed with a frustrating, yet unsurprising, headline: Most educational software licenses go unused in K-12 districts. The source of the headline is a recent report by Ryan Baker, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Learning Analytics. Baker analyzed data from BrightBytes, a K-12 data management company, on students’ technology usage across 48 districts. That data revealed that a median of 70% of districts’ software licenses never get used, and a median of 97.6% of licenses are never used intensively.

The findings unveil a clear disconnect between district software procurement and classroom practice. To be clear, not all software is high quality, which means teachers may have good reason to not adopt some software products that fail to deliver positive student learning outcomes. But for quality software tools that can yield breakthrough student outcomes, underutilization is a huge missed opportunity.

So when districts license high-quality educational software, why might teachers still choose not to use the software at their disposal? Some of our latest research at the Christensen Institute offers answers to this question.

Understanding teachers’ ‘Jobs’

In September, my colleagues and I released a research paper that explains what motivates teachers to change how they teach. Drawing on the Jobs to be Done Theory, we interviewed teachers to discover the ‘Jobs’ that motivate them to adopt blended learning or other new approaches to instruction.

According to the theory, all people—teachers included—are internally motivated to make changes in their lives that move them toward success or satisfaction within their particular life circumstances. The theory labels these circumstance-based desires as ‘Jobs.’ Just as people ‘hire’ contractors to help them build houses or lawyers to help them build a case, people search for something they can ‘hire’ to help them when ‘Jobs’ arise in their lives.

Through our interviews we found four Jobs that often motivate teachers to adopt new practices. Three of these Jobs seem relevant for explaining why licensed software often goes unused.

Job #1: Help me lead the way in improving my school. Teachers with this Job are eager to demonstrate their value as contributors to broader school improvement. These teachers will be interested in using district-licensed software when it 1) seems like a viable and worthwhile way to improve the school as a whole, 2) seems simple and straightforward to share with their colleagues, and 3) offers them an opportunity to help shape the direction of school improvement efforts.

Job #2: Help me find manageable ways to engage and challenge more of my students. Teachers with this Job are generally confident with how teaching and learning happen in their classrooms. But they have a few students each year who they struggle to reach. They are often open to software as a way to engage those students. But that software must not only be worthwhile for their students, but also practical to incorporate into their current practices and routines.

Job #3: Help me replace a broken instructional model so I can reach each student. Whether from perpetually low test scores, low graduation rates, ongoing student behavior issues, or a general sense that learning lacks joy and passion, teachers with this Job struggle constantly with a sense that they aren’t living up to their responsibilities to their students. For these teachers, software can be a powerful resource for helping them transform their instructional models. But that software needs to offer new approaches to teaching and learning, not just new takes on traditional textbooks and worksheets.

Accounting for the 70% of unused software licenses

We suspect that in many cases, quality software goes unused because it either fails to align with teachers’ Jobs or fumbles at delivering a good solution for meeting their Jobs.

For example, teachers who are looking to lead the way in helping their schools improve (Job 1) likely don’t look first to software as a way to fulfill their Job. Their school improvement instincts typically orient them to look for new instructional programs, not silver bullet software. To meet their Job to be Done, software providers need to start by offering an evidence-based set of practices that will help schools improve on key metrics. Then, once they’ve made the case for new instructional methods, they can discuss how software tools help to facilitate those methods.

As another example, teachers in search of manageable ways to engage and challenge more of their students (Job 2) could find a lot of benefit in the multimedia-rich and game-like aspects of many edtech products. But software platforms that are great for engaging students may yet fail to get used because teachers find them hard to incorporate into daily lessons. Software developers, hardware suppliers, and district technology teams all need to consider things they can do to make it easy for teachers to incorporate software into their lesson plans and then manage devices during class.

As a third example, consider a teacher who is frustrated by a sense that he is failing to meet the needs of most of his students because he feels stuck teaching to the nonexistent middle of his class (Job 3). The right software could be a powerful platform for helping him create individual learning pathways and mastery-based progressions that meet each of his students where they are. But if the software available from his district just supplements whole-class, direct instruction, that software won’t fulfill his Job.

Explaining why 97.6% of software licenses are never used intensively

One significant finding from our research illustrates another potential pitfall for software utilization. When new software licenses come down from the district office without clearly communicated benefits for teachers or pedagogical support, many teachers likely take a quick look and conclude that the software doesn’t fulfill any of the first three Jobs for them. Nevertheless, they feel compelled to use the software, at least occasionally, so as to not set a bad tone with their administrators. They do what they need to do to check the appropriate boxes on their teacher evaluation rubrics, but they don’t actually use the software enough for it to make a difference for them and their students. The new Job that the software creates for them amounts to, “Help me not fall behind on my school’s new initiative.” This insight likely explains why even though 30% of software licenses that get used, only 2.4% are used intensively.

In education, money isn’t easy to come by, which makes it especially frustrating to learn that many districts spend money on software that doesn’t get used. The district staff members who make software licensing decisions surely don’t intend for their purchases to go to waste. But yet, as Baker’s report illustrates, there is a disconnect between software purchases and classroom adoption. A good sales pitch may get a product through the district office’s front door. But only by helping teachers fulfill their Jobs can high-quality educational software make it through the classroom door and into the hands of students. In short, software only gets used in classrooms when it meets a Job to be Done for teachers.

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High Tech Innovations and School Reform Joined at the Hip

When asked how I got interested in the uses of technology in schools and classrooms, I answer that I was the target for a quarter-century of high-tech innovations and classroom reforms  when I taught high school history and as a district administrator in two urban school systems.

I then say that I have been trained as an historian and studied many efforts of reformers to improve schooling over the past century in U.S. classrooms, schools, and districts. I examined how teachers have taught since the 1890s. I investigated policymakers’ constant changes in curriculum since the 1880s. I analyzed the origins of the age-graded school and the spread of this innovation through the 19th century. And I parsed the Utopian dreams of reformers who believed that new machine technologies (e.g., film, radio, instructional television, desktop computer) would alter how teachers teach and students learn. I then conclude my answer by pointing out that these electronic devices are in the DNA of all classroom-driven reforms aimed at altering how teachers teach and how students learn.

What surprises me is that these questioners had not viewed high-tech innovations as having either a history in schools or as blood relations to constant efforts to improve schools. Instead, they saw (and see) innovative high-tech devices as singular, even exceptional, ways of transforming teaching and learning completely divorced from previous efforts at improving classroom practice through curricular (e.g., math, social studies, science), instructional (e.g., project-based learning, direct instruction) and organizational (e.g., site-based management, charters, mayoral control) reforms.

And that is a big conceptual error. Why? Because, school and classroom reforms including technological ones, are embedded in one another like those nested Russian matryoshka dolls.

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Creating a school where district officials say “personalized learning” is in place is an organizational and instructional reform as are 1:1 laptop schools and online instruction. Teachers using Google Earth, Teaching Tolerance, Geometric Supposer, Chemix School and Lab, and other software programs are implementing curricular reforms and shaping instruction. Technological innovations, then, are nested in curricular, instructional, and organizational reforms. Consequently, they share similar features.

For example, all reforms come bathed in rhetoric. Take the “21st Century Skills” effort, organized by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a coalition whose members include Verizon, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Dell. Their mission is to prepare the current generation of children and youth to compete in a globalized economy. Their words, like the rhetoric of so many other reformers—past and present—portray an economic, social, and political crisis for U.S. competition in world markets unless today’s youth leave school fully equipped with the skills of creating, innovating, problem-solving, collaborating, and critically thinking. And don’t forget: a repertoire of technological skills. The rhetoric must not only create a sense of crisis, it must portray existing institutions as woefully deficient. Read the stuff.

If patterns emerge from analyzing reform rhetoric so can patterns be observed in the journey from policy talk to an adopted and funded program. Designing the policy and program means frequent revisions as they go through the political vetting process to get adopted and funded (think of “personalized learning” in its various incarnations, Every Student Succeeds Act, and district adoption of Success for All).

Ditto for finding patterns in the degree to which those adopted policies get implemented and changed as the design (e.g., Open Court reading to Dreambox software to a Balanced Literacy program) wends its way into the school and eventually to classrooms.

If reform rhetoric, policy adoption, and putting innovations into practice can be examined for regularities so can the criteria used to assess the reform (e.g., test scores, satisfaction of teachers and students with innovation, rates of graduation, etc.). Once assessed, determining whether or not the reform should be incorporated—should the innovation be sustained–into school and classroom practices is a judgment call that authorities make on the basis of political, ideological, and evidentiary grounds.

In viewing technological innovations as a sub-set of curricular, instructional, and organizational reforms, then, teachers, principals, and parents can identify patterns and figure out possible consequences for the adoption of the innovation. They can track the journey as it goes from policy to classroom practice, and expect certain outcomes while being open to unanticipated ones as well.

Too many policymakers, practitioners, and parents see technological innovations as unique initiatives unrelated to historic patterns in adopting and implementing school reforms. They err. My experiences as a practitioner and historian have taught me to see technological devices as part of the river of reform that has flowed constantly through U.S. schools for nearly two centuries.

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Technological Monitoring of Student Work in a Classroom

I was [in] a classroom yesterday and all of the kids had Chrome Books. They opened them midway through the class to read a few excerpts the teacher had selected. After the class, the teacher told me that he has a monitor at his desk that allows him to see what each of the kids is looking at on their computer. I don’t spend a lot of time in classrooms – I was in this one for something unrelated – but I thought this monitoring system was interesting. I’ve since found out that it is fairly common in some school districts. I wondered if you’ve encountered this and, if so, what your thoughts are about teachers having this ability to peer in on their students? It seems useful in the sense that you want to be sure students are following along. But it also feels like one more thing a teacher has to worry about. Another teacher told me he doesn’t use the system because he feels like it’s an invasion of privacy.

I received this note from a reporter working for a national newspaper. The reporter wanted to ask me what I thought about this all-too-common issue in classrooms where each student has a device–or what used to be called 1:1 computers. The reporter raises the issue directly as a clash between two values teachers highly prize: insuring students are doing what teachers directed them to do with their devices and respecting the privacy of individual students.

I answered the reporter’s email with a hastily constructed paragraph:

Yes, what you describe is common in districts where school provides devices to each student. The rationale is for the teacher to be aware of the level of student understanding of the lesson (often students send in their homework and assignments to Dropbox or a similar storage software so teachers can identify if students are on right track or not). Teachers having this software are able to give individual attention when needed. Such monitoring does not occur in those schools where devices are available to each student when they bring their own device to school—called BYOD. Does it invade privacy? To some it appears so but schools are tax supported institutions charged to achieve educational goals. Prior to the ubiquity of these devices, first-rate teachers would walk around the room seeing if students were on task and working on assigned activity. Was this invasion of privacy. Hardly. 

Reflecting later in the day on the reporter’s email and my response, I decided to elaborate my hasty answer in this post.

 

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Two imperatives of tax-supported schools create the tension between the above values. First, public schools compel students between certain ages to attend school. In effect, these students are a captive audience.

Second, teachers have legal and moral responsibilities for student health, safety, and learning.

Because these captive students become inhabitants of an organization called the age-graded school, they are separated into groups of 20 to 35 and put into classrooms of about 900 to 1000 square feet depending on age. Teachers have to manage these 6 year-olds to 17 year-olds groups before any real learning occur. And let’s be clear on what I mean by “manage.”

I mean that the teacher maintains order in the classroom. By order, I mean that students adhere to behavioral rules, respect the teacher and she in turn respects them.When situations arise (e.g., student refusal to do work or follow behavioral rules, clowning around, interruptions, too much non-learning talk) the teacher intervenes, takes charge and deals clearly and firmly with students. A classroom climate where students’ accept teacher’s authority, obeys directions, and do what the teacher asks while the teacher respects students, refrains from publically embarrassing them, and encourages learning is what I mean by classroom management.

These two imperatives of tax-supported public education in the U.S.seldom get openly discussed but they are the bedrock upon which lesson plans, classroom instruction, and student learning are built.

Thus, the topography of a classroom started out over a century ago with 50-plus students sitting at desks arranged in rows facing a teacher and slateboard. Teachers constantly surveil students to maintain order for learning to occur. They scan the classroom constantly to see if students are on the assigned task.

 

 

united-states-1950s-teacher-watching-children-in-class-close-up-of-girl-writing-teacher-walking-around-and-making-comments-to-children-in-classroom_b8e6akuqg_thumbnail-full01.pngThen and now getting a group of 12 year-olds to listen to directions, engage in activities, and focus their attention on the tasks before them requires a teacher to be skilled in crowd management, directing students’ attention to what has to be learned, scanning the room, and creating a moral order anchored in trust for the 36 weeks that these young people and one adult will be together.

Now here is where the above reporter’s comment on using software to monitor student screens enters the discussion about students being on-task and possible abridging of students’ privacy.*

Given the two imperatives I laid out above and the history of public school teaching in age-graded classrooms, maintaining order and constant surveillance of students has been, historically, what teachers have to do in order for students to learn. Before there were computer devices and monitoring software, teachers walked up and down aisles of desks and around the perimeter of the classroom inspecting what students were doing.

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It was the job of the teacher to know that students were working on what the teacher asked them to do.

In my judgment, when a teacher looks at student screens while a lesson is underway, there is no invasion of student privacy. It is simply what teachers do as part of their role in guiding student learning.

Had I been less hasty in my response to the reporter’s question, this is what I would have said.

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*The privacy argument is further compromised because under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), schools receiving federal funding are required to have an internet-safety policy and institute safeguards so that students cannot access inappropriate websites. In short, schools already intervene to protect children not their data.

 

 

 

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How Much Do Educators Care About Edtech Efficacy? Less Than You Might Think (Jenny Abamu)

Jenny Abamu is a reporter at WAMU. She was previously an education technology reporter at EdSurge where she covered technology’s role in K-12 education.

She previously worked at Columbia University’s EdLab’s Development and Research Group, producing and publishing content for their digital education publication, New Learning Times. Before that, she worked as a researcher, planner, and overnight assignment editor for NY1 News Channel in New York City. She holds a Master’s degree in International and Comparative Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College.”

 

This article appeared in EdSurge, July 17, 2017

Dr. Michael Kennedy, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, was relatively sure he knew the answer to this research question: “When making, purchasing and/or adoption decisions regarding a new technology-based product for your district or school, how important is the existence of peer-reviewed research to back the product?” Nevertheless, as part of the Edtech Research Efficacy Symposium held earlier this year, Kennedy created a research team and gathered the data. But, to his surprise, the results challenged conventional wisdom.

I hypothesized that the school leaders we talked to and surveyed would say, ‘Oh yeah, we privilege products that have been sponsored by high-quality research.’ Of course, we found that that wasn’t exactly correct

Michael Kennedy

“I hypothesized that the school leaders we talked to and surveyed would say, ‘Oh yeah we privilege products that have been sponsored by high-quality research,’” says Kennedy. “Of course we found that that wasn’t exactly correct.”

With a team of 13 other academics and experts, Kennedy surveyed 515 people from 17 states. Out of those they surveyed, 24 percent were district technology supervisors, 22 percent were assistant superintendents, 7 percent were superintendents, 27 percent were teachers, and 10 percent were principals. Within this diverse group, 76 percent directly made edtech purchases for their school or were consulted on purchase decisions. This was the group Kennedy expected would put its trust in efficacy research. To his team’s surprise, however, about 90 percent of the respondents said they didn’t insist on research to be in place before adopting or buying a product.

In contrast, respondents prioritized factors such as ‘fit’ for their school, price, functionality and alignment with district initiatives; these were all rated by those surveyed as “extremely important” or “very important.” In the report, one of the administrators interviewed is quoted saying, “If the product was developed using federal grant dollars, great, but the more important factor is the extent to which it suits our needs.” Kennedy also noted other statements made him pause.

“Research, according to one of the quotes I received was the icing on the cake,” says Kennedy “Having a lot of research evidence, like the type demanded by the feds, was cool but not essential. I found that to be pretty surprising and a little bit troubling.”

The consumer is the one who is going to have to demand the market changes. If school districts say, ‘I am not buying with without any research evidence,’ that would be the only thing, I think, the business community will listen to.

Kennedy defines randomized control trials, a research methodology that tries to remove bias and external effects as much as possible from the experiment, as the gold standard of research. Though this type of extensive and carefully planned research is expensive, the federal government does offer funds to support groups willing to go through the process. However, without schools demanding such research, Kennedy says while the government has made a way, but there is no will—and that could dry up funds.

“The consumer is the one who is going to have to demand the market changes. If school districts say, ‘I am not buying with without any research evidence,’ that would be the only thing, I think, the business community will listen to,” says Kennedy.

So what explains theme educators who did put research at the top of their list? Kennedy speculates it’s a question of exposure to quality research and district funding.

“Some people who responded to our survey had doctorates, other had advanced degrees, and they understand the value of research,” says Kennedy. “Some respondents are from districts that are very well-funded, and they have the luxury of being picky. Other districts have very limited budgets, very limited time and they are going to what is cheapest and easiest.”

Whether rich or poor, all school districts do have to answer to their tax bases, who often foot the bill for edtech purchases. Schools that cannot show academic gains are often under more scrutiny from outside forces, including parents and local officials. However, Kennedy notes that the complicated nature of education and all the variables that can affect student achievement water down any accountability that can be placed on edtech product purchase decisions made by the school districts.

“I suspect they will look at how are we teaching reading and math because technology is often used as a supplementary tool,” says Kennedy. “I hear parents say they want more technology, but they don’t know what they want. They think any tech is good tech, and I think that myth has pervaded as well. It’s a wicked problem, a layered contextual kind of issue, that will take more than the field can do to fix.”

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Second Draft: A Continuum of Personalized Learning

A year and a half ago, I published a post that tried to make sense of the spread of “personalized learning” as the “next big thing” in U.S. schooling. To make sense of the heralded innovation in teaching and learning,  I created a continuum of programs self-styled as “personalized learning” based upon my research in Silicon valley districts, schools, and classrooms. I received many comments on the post and continued reading reports from schools and districts after which I revised the continuum. Here is my second draft.

Background

In 2016, when I visited Silicon Valley classrooms, schools and districts, many school administrators and teachers told me that they were personalizing learning. From the Summit network of charter schools to individual teachers at Los Altos and Mountain View High School where Bring Your Own Devices reigned to two Milpitas elementary schools that had upper-grade Learning Labs and rotated students through different stations in all grades, I heard the phrase often (see here).

But I was puzzled by what I saw and heard. When asked what a teacher, principal or district administrator meant by “personalized learning I heard different definitions of the policy.  I heard that PL was an actual program, an instructional application,an academic strategy. Not a surprise since the history of school reform is dotted with the debris of earlier instructional reforms that varied greatly in definition and practice (e.g., New Math, Socratic seminars, mastery learning, individualized instruction). While scores of crisp definitions dot educational journals, social media, and professional organizations, no one definition of “personalized learning” monopolizes the reform terrain.

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When I went into classrooms to see what “personalized learning” meant in action, I observed much variation in the lessons and units that bore the label. None of this, of course, is new since “technology integration” and other high-tech policies draw from the hyped-up world of new technologies where vendors, promoters, critics, and skeptics compete openly  for the minds (and wallets) of those who make decisions about what gets into classrooms.

Not only have definitions of “personalized learning” among policymakers and entrepreneurs varied, but also diverse incarnations have taken form as the policy percolated downward from school board decisions, superintendent directions to principals, and principals’ asking teachers to put into practice a new board policy. Teachers adapting policies to fit their classroom is as natural as a yawn and just as prevalent. Variation in PL, then, is the norm, not the exception.

Translated into practice in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, the concept of “personalized instruction” is like a chameleon; it appears in different forms. Rocketship schools, the AltSchool, and the Agora Cyber School blazon their “personalized learning” (or competency-based learning) placard for all to see yet it differs in each location.

The “Personalized Learning” Continuum

To make sense of what I observed in Silicon Valley schools and what I know historically about instructionally-guided policies over the past century, I have constructed a revised continuum of classrooms, programs, and schools that encompass distinct ways that “personalized learning” appear in customized lessons as a strategy to achieve short- and long-term goals for schooling the young.

Let me be clear, I place no value for either end (or the middle) of the “personalized learning” continuum. I have stripped away value-loaded words in my writing that suggest some kinds of personalized learning are better than others. Moreover, the continuum does not suggest the effectiveness of “personalized learning” or achievement of specific student outcomes.

The “what” that is being taught and learned and the “how” that content and skills are taught and learned encompass both teacher and student at each end of the continuum. Both of these concepts–the “what” and the “how”–are present, of course, in every classroom regardless of the strategy being used.

At one end of the continuum are teacher-centered lessons within the traditional age-graded school. These classrooms and programs switch back and forth in using phrases such as “competency-based education” and “personalization.” They use new technologies online and in class daily that convey specific content and skills, aligned to Common Core standards–the “what” of teaching and learning–to make children into knowledgeable, skilled, and independent adults who can successfully enter the labor market and become adults who help their communities.

The format of these lessons including the instructional moves the teacher makes in seguing from one activity to another, handling student behavior, time management, and student participation in activities to reach the lesson’s objectives typically call for a mix of whole group instruction, small group work, and activities where individual students work independently–the “how” of teaching and learning. At this end of the continuum, these lessons have a decided tilt toward teacher direction and whole-group work.

For examples, consider the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School in New HampshireUSC Hybrid High School CA), and Lindsay Unified School District (CA). While these examples inhabit the teacher-centered end of the continuum they are not cookie-cutter copies of one another–USC Hybrid High School differs in organization and content from  Virtual Learning Academy Charter.

Yet I cluster these schools and districts at this end of the spectrum because of their overall commitment to using online and offline lessons anchored in discrete skills and knowledge and tailored to the abilities and performance of individual students. Specific behavioral outcomes guide what is expected of each and every student. The knowledge and skills are packaged by software designers and teachers and delivered to students daily and weekly. Students use applications that permit them to self-assess their mastery of the specific knowledge and skills embedded in discrete lessons. Some students move well ahead of their peers, others maintain steady progress, and some need help from teachers.

Even though these schools and programs often use the language of student-centeredness (e.g., students decide what to learn, students participate in their own learning), and encourage teachers to coach individuals and not lecture to groups, even scheduling student collaboration during lessons, the teacher-crafted playlists and online lessons keyed to particular concepts and skills determine what is to be learned. The “what” of teaching and learning is specified beforehand and ultimately tested daily or weekly.

At the other end of the continuum are student-centered classrooms, programs, and schools. These settings often depart from the traditional age-graded school model in using multi-age groupings, asking big questions that cross academic disciplines to combine reading, math, science, and social studies while integrating new technologies regularly in lessons–the “how” of teaching and learning. Such places seek to cultivate student agency wanting children and youth to reach beyond academic and intellectual development to social, physical, and psychological growth.

Moreover, these programs seek learning that comes out of student interests and passions including community-based activities. The “what” of teaching and learning is partially shaped by students. The overall goals of schooling at this end of the continuum are similar to ones at the teacher-directed end: help children grow into adults who are creative thinkers, engage with their communities, enter jobs and succeed in careers, and become thoughtful, mindful adults.

For example, there are over 60 Big Picture Learning schools across the nation where students create their own “personalized learning plans” and work weekly as interns on projects that capture their passions. Or High Tech High in San Diego that centers its instruction around project-based learning. The Mission Hill School in Boston (MA), The Open Classroom at Lagunitas Elementary in San Geronimo (CA), the Continuous Progress Program at Highlands Elementary in Edina (MN)–all have multi-age groupings, project-based instruction, and focus on the “whole child.” And there are private schools such as San Francisco-based AltSchool, a covey of micro-schools located in big cities, and the Khan Lab School (Mountain View, California) that fit here as well.

Lesson formats in schools at this end of the continuum commonly call for a blend of whole group instruction, small group work, and activities where individual students work independently–with alignment to Common Core standards. At this end of the continuum, these lessons–the “how”–bend noticeably toward small group and individual activities with occasional whole group instruction.

Many of these schools claim that they “personalize learning” in their daily work to create graduates who are independent thinkers, can work in any environment, and help to make their communities better places to live. There are many such schools scattered across the nation (but I found no public school in Silicon Valley that would fit here). Like the clusters of programs at the other end of the continuum, much variation exists among these schools harbored at this end of the continuum.

And, of course, on this spectrum hugging the middle are hybrid programs and schools mixing teacher-directed and student-directed lessons. In this diverse middle are teachers, schools and programs that provide blends of whole group, small group, and independent activities in lessons. Some teachers and schools, in their quest to “personalize learning” tilt toward the teacher-directed end while others lean toward the student-centered pole. But they occupy slots in the middle of the continuum.

These classrooms, schools, and programs combine online and offline lessons for individual students and teacher-directed whole group discussions, and small group work such as ones taught by Mountain View High School English teacher, Kristen Krauss, Aragon High School Spanish teacher, Nicole Elenz-Martin, and second-grade teacher Jennifer Auten at Montclaire Elementary School in Cupertino (CA) into blends of teacher- and student-centered lessons. In short, the “what” and the “how” of teaching and learning are complex amalgams.

The middle school math program I observed called Teach To One located in an Oakland (CA) K-8 charter school has different “modalities” that place it also in the center of the spectrum as well, tilting toward the teacher-directed end with its numbered math skills that have to be mastered before a student moves on.

I would also include the nine teachers in the two Summit Charter schools I observed  who combined project-based teaching, online readings and self-assessments, individual coaching and collaborative work within 90-minute lessons. While the two Summit schools in which I observed teachers had explicitly committed itself to “project-based learning” and choices were, indeed, given to students within these projects for presentations, reading materials, and other assignments, major decisions on projects–the “what”–were in teachers’ hands. That is why I placed these teachers, programs, and schools in the center of the continuum, rather than the student-centered end.

Such schools and teachers mix competency-based, individual lessons for children with lessons that are teacher-directed and pursuing project-based activities. The format of lessons continue the inevitable mix of whole, group, small group, and independent learning with inclinations to more of one than the other, depending on lesson objectives and teacher expertise. In no instance, however, do whole-group activities dominate lesson after lesson. Like those at the teacher- and student-centered ends, these programs lodged in the middle of the spectrum contain obvious differences among them.

Implementation today, as before, of the popular policy innovation called “personalized learning” in all of its ambiguous incarnations in schools and classrooms depends upon teachers adapting lessons to the contexts in which they find themselves and modifying what designers have created. Classroom adaptations mean that the “what” and the “how” of teaching and learning will vary adding further diversity to both definition and practice of PL. And putting “personalized learning” into classroom practice means that there will continue to be hand-to-hand wrestling with issues of testing and accountability.

Yet, and this is a basic point, wherever  these classrooms, programs, schools, and districts  fall on the continuum of “personalized learning” with their playlists, self-assessment software, and tailored lessons all of them work within the traditional age-graded school structure. No public school in Silicon Valley that I visited departed from that century-old school organization. And that fact is crucial to any “next big thing” for innovations aimed at altering the “what” and “how” of teaching and learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whatever Happened to Channel One?

 

What is Channel One and when did it begin?

Founded by Knoxville (TN) advertising executives and entrepreneurs Chris Whittle and Ed Winter in 1989, Channel One offered secondary schools free television sets, satellite dishes, and a news program in exchange for a 12-minute news program of which two minutes were commercials (companies that advertised on Channel One, for example,  were Mars–makers of Snickers–Proctor & Gamble–maker of Clearasil). Schools signed agreements with Channel One to show these programs at least 180 days a year.

Within a decade, Channel One grew from 400 public and private schools to 12,000 enrolling, according to one source, about one-quarter of U.S. students. Channel One spent $200 million to equip schools allowing administrators and teachers to use the monitors and satellite dishes for other programs when not viewing the news program.

A New York Times reporter watched a class viewing Channel One in 1999:

At [principal Anthony]Bencivenga’s school in New Jersey, a classroom of sixth graders recently tuned in, as they do at 8:30 every weekday morning. For anyone educated before the Channel One era, it is an arresting sight: 25 children’s heads craned upward to focus on a video screen mounted near the ceiling; the broadcast is the only sound in the room. Their teacher, Kathy Ferdinand, says it is no big deal, though when she received her teaching degree from Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., television was not considered part of anyone’s curriculum.

“I think we’ve been very adaptable to it,” she said. “The information base is solid, and they do look at a varied portion of the world’s cultures.” Social issues also come up, like divorce, addiction and depression. “Debriefing them, you sometimes have to be gentle,” she said of her students. “You’re coping with this in the classroom.”

At the same school, when soft drink ads appeared, the reporter noted one middle school boy said:

“My whole class started banging on the desks when the Pepsi commercial came on,” one boy said, humming the “Joy of Cola” theme song that Pepsi introduced this spring.

Youthful looking reporters and anchors appeared on the show (CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Lisa Ling worked at Channel One–see video here)

For an excerpt of Channel One News in 2014, see YouTube video

What problems did Channel One aim to solve?

Many districts could not afford the equipment necessary for transmitting TV programs to schools and in-classrooms monitors. Channel One offered cash-strapped districts free equipment. For those schools and districts that signed up, they got hardware they could not buy out of their regular budget in exchange for a 12-minute news program aimed at youth accompanied by commercials.

Another problem was U.S. students’ lack of knowledge about world, national, and local affairs and lack of civic activity. A key part of the rationale for the news program-cum-commercials (beyond lack of money to purchase equipment) was to give children and youth up-to-date world and local news–current events–that would inform them  and lead eventually to civic engagement during school years and later as members of communities.

Did Channel One work?

No evidence I have seen has shown that watching Channel One’s current events led to increased civic engagement of youth. There is limited evidence, however, that youth  favored those products advertised during the two minutes over similar non-advertised products (see here).

What happened to Channel One?

Whittle sold Channel One for $250 million to Primedia in 1994 and the program was bought and sold numerous times until it landed in the portfolio of publishing giant, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014.

During its journey, Channel One was continually criticized for those two minutes of ads seen by a captive audience of children and youth. Most educational associations opposed Channel One because of the commercials. From the National School Boards Association to the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, to  elementary and secondary principals’ groups, educators came out against Channel One. Moreover, researchers criticized the current events shown (e.g. sports, weather, natural disasters) rather than social and political events. Channel One did conduct mock presidential elections beginning in 1992 running through 2016 mobilizing young viewers to make decisions on candidates.

The ads, however, generated the most attacks upon Channel One causing reduced viewership and increased antagonism from both parents and educators (see here, here, and here).

Channel One died at the end of the 2018 school year. After 29 years as a “free” televised news program that included commercials, it closed its doors.

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