Ed-Tech and Research Economics

EdTech

A recent post on MindShift addressing the current state of educational technologies addressed the growing use of the freemium model within the sector. While many ed-tech applications are in theory “free”, the organizations behind them consider the data that users produce to be more valuable than traditional revenue streams. Users also open up countless connections and these connections are far more valuable than a few cents made downloading a piece of software. Read More →

Collaborating to Improve Student Behavior

ClassDojo share notification

Today, ClassDojo, a free behavior management platform for teachers, students and parents, is launching a ‘Class Sharing’ feature: the ability for teachers to share their classes with other teachers at their school. This enables teachers to collaborate in order to build positive behaviors and character strengths with their students across classrooms, throughout the school day. This is a positive step towards helping teachers break down the walls separating their classes, and providing them an easier way to consistently improve behavior with students as they move through classes during the school day. Read More →

5 Active Learning Strategies for the Science Classroom

Image Credit: Fuse

Image Credit: Fuse

Active learning is all about engaging students and getting them to actively participate in a lesson. This is the very opposite of traditional science lectures, where students sit passively and make notes while a lecturer talks. Research has shown that the human brain is better at remembering facts, solving problems and stays more engaged when stimulated with an absorbing activity. The five strategies outlined below show how this can be achieved and how your students can become successful active learners in the science classroom:

1. Start with an opening question

The start of a new lesson or lecture should provide a bridge between content previously covered and that which is about to be covered. A quick and simple way of achieving this involves starting with an opening question that provokes thought. For example, a lesson could ask students to think of their own recollections of the 2012 Mars rover landing and give an example of a moment that inspired them. The scene is then set for a brief discussion which everyone can contribute to, before a transition to the main part of the lesson.

2. Think-pair-share

‘Think-pair-share’ is an active learning strategy that requires students to develop their ideas as an individual, as a pair and as part of a larger group. The technique can be used at the start of a lesson to introduce a theme and also mid-way through to summarize the learning that has taken place. In the first step, students are asked to note down their thoughts in response to a question. They then pair up and explain ideas verbally to a partner. Finally, the teacher asks several pairs to share their best ideas with the class. The strategy works well with classes of various sizes and can be completed in as little as two or three minutes, making it a versatile technique which is easily incorporated into lesson plans.

3. Focused listing

Focused listing involves asking students to produce a list in response to a specific question. For example, ‘list ten learning outcomes that were covered in the previous lesson’ or ‘list as many biological characteristics of the human heart as you can’ will quickly generate a large number of responses from the class. The teacher can circulate round the class while students are producing the list and gauge the level of understanding or recollection that is present. Finally, students can be invited to share their lists which can then be summarized with the rest of the class.

4. Brainstorm

Image Credit: Indiana University

Brainstorming works well at the beginning of a lesson and requires students to list what they know about a certain topic. The activity works best when carried out in pairs or small groups, as students can often develop surprising connections between the ideas that are listed. Like the other strategies that have been listed, brainstorming can be adapted to classes of various sizes and requires minimal time to prepare

5. Question and answer pairs

In this technique students are paired together and take it turns to question and answer each other. The activity works well at the end of a lesson (or series of lessons) where a review of the learning needs to take place. Formulating and phrasing questions in the correct way is an excellent way of developing verbal communication skills and improving confidence with course content. If a competitive element is introduced, it can be interesting to see students striving to ask more and more challenging questions to catch their partner out!

Can MOOC’s Really Transform Education?

mooc

Traditional colleges often struggle with limited space availability in popular (or even core curriculum) courses. Higher education costs in the U.S. have sky-rocketed in recent years. A recent USA Today article reported that costs to attend a 4-year public university rose a staggering 15% between 2008 and 2010. To make matters worse, many graduates that are coming out of college are unable to find jobs while being saddled with enormous amounts of debt. Higher education in the U.S. is broken.

An Emerging Alternative

Education3The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) paradigm offers a rare opportunity to remedy these situations along with many others. The fact that the term includes the word massive illustrates the fact that such courses can be taken by a virtually unlimited number of students. This is revolutionary in its own right. The problem right now is not with student enrollment numbers, but the fact that organizations currently offering these MOOCs aren’t actually accredited to issue regular course credit to those that do the work. In other words, they don’t translate into college-level work that can be applied towards a degree. While some MOOCs are geared towards students who might want to learn more about a specific topic, most of them are essentially recreational at this point. Even so, individuals are learning new things, in an exciting way, in record numbers…so this is a good thing.

The other issue is (of course) about money. There is no clear indication of how organizations such as Coursera, Udacity, and EdX will sustain their operations in the future. Equally unclear is if/when they start charging students, whether or not costs will be significantly lower than they are today. Plagiarism and other areas need to be addressed as well before these programs become viable degree options. However, existing online schools have found ways to deal with these issues and I’m sure these organizations will as well. Despite the obstacles that remain, the recent popularity of online learning has proven that learners are seeking alternatives to traditional schools in a big way.

The Logical Progression in Education

In the near-term future, MOOCs could ultimately transform the way that education works. Anyone who has done research on the recent success of MOOCs are familiar with the fact that some courses have had tens of thousands of signups. Last year, Google unleashed an open-source MOOC-building tool, and Stanford unveiled Class2Go with two courses. MOOCs are expected to continue to rise in popularity in 2013. While all of this may seem astounding, the idea of virtual teaching has been around for years. For instance, colleges have made use of radio and television in the past to provide instruction to students irrespective of their geographical location. MOOCs are simply the next logical step in this evolution given the rise of the Internet in recent years.

Despite the rise of popularity in online learning in recent years, many traditional institutions have been reluctant to offer full degree programs to people who never step foot inside of a classroom. For some degrees this makes perfect sense. No one would want to issue a medical license to someone who has been taught solely online. On the other hand, it seems relatively innocuous to incorporate distance learning into degree programs in a variety of other areas. As long as standards are created to ensure that learning occurs as designed and appropriate, there is no reason online education should continue to take a backseat to classroom-based learning in the future.

I view MOOCs as the 21st century descendents of the old broadcast instruction programs of the past. As education moves towards this new model, the work that students have done on their own will certainly become more important. Students might be able to customize their own education plans based on all of the courses completed that apply to a particular field. In fact, if MOOCs become more of an integral part of an education plan, credits could become less important. Instead, colleges could focus on how much work students have done in a particular field. Once enough coursework (and even practical application) has been completed, a degree would be awarded.

A Changing Paradigm

Education2Considering that we live in the information age, elements of data are being created at a greater rate than at any other point in time. Aggregation is one of the strongest tools that MOOCs bring to the table. In the near future, software could bring together different bits of information and aggregate it together into a single source for delivery to students. Lesson plans and lectures would be a thing of the past, since information would be produced in real-time. Instead of a rigid curriculum, students could learn from a number of sources and receive a truly well rounded education. And that’s the point here. This isn’t about transforming education for the sake of transformation. This is about making education more accessible and affordable to learners while ensuring that they learn what they need to know in order to be successful in the workforce and society.

What Do the Critics Say?

Critics often point to the fact that online programs permit students to enroll with little or no admissions standards. I maintain that many of these critics are those that are directly threatened by the MOOCs and the promise they hold for their own futures. If I’m the president of a traditional school and seeing my enrollment numbers dwindle because I’m against online learning, than naturally I’m going to be against MOOCs (or any other similar change). While admissions requirements have been important in the past, in the future everyone with an Internet connection will have access to higher education. If they need foundational courses, they will take them online just as they’ve done in the past. This is they way it should be. In fact, today virtually anyone can sign up for courses with EdX and other MOOC providers. That’s a good thing.

Critics also point to the completion rates of these courses. Because they are free, many people sign up for the courses and then fail to complete them. But consider this. If you have 50,000 people sign up for a course and only 5% complete all of the work, you still have 2,500 people that finished, right? How many traditional classrooms does it take to teach 2,500 people? And how many of those 2,500 people would have missed out on the chance to learn the material otherwise? Those in education that would argue against this type of success need to seriously consider a new field.

Education for Everyone

spring sunsetIn the future, with less stringent admissions criteria and much lower costs, students will be able to earn accredited certificates or degrees in record numbers. These individuals can take what they’ve learned to create new businesses or perform better in their own jobs while ultimately becoming lifelong learners. This in turn will hopefully prompt society to transform right along with them. I would argue that along with a more educated population comes a better society. And if we’re not working towards that objective, what the hell are we doing as a species anyway? Whether MOOCs will transform education remains to be seen. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. Regardless, they are a step in the right direction. They have successfully highlighted the need for change in higher education and perhaps more importantly, that individuals are seeking new learning options in today’s increasingly connected world.

Reference:

Dalal D, Brancati FL, & Sisson SD (2012). Factors affecting learner satisfaction with an internet-based curriculum. Southern medical journal, 105 (8), 387-91 PMID: 22864092

Mark Hochberg, J. (2006). Online Distance Education Pedagogy: Emulating the practice of global business Distance Education, 27 (1), 129-133 DOI: 10.1080/01587910600654841

Forster, A. (2012)., edited by E. Burge, C. Campbell Gibson , and T. Gibson
Distance Education, 33 (3), 429-436 DOI: 10.1080/01587919.2012.723169

Teaching and Learning with ‘Lecture Tools’ [App Review]

  Free App Download

The first thing I noticed about Lecture Tools when testing this app is just how new this student response system is. Developmental support for the app is actually ongoing. Users don’t have to worry about new versions of iOS rendering the software obsolete. That’s caused problems with other student response services in the past, but Lecture Tools should be at least somewhat immune to these problems. In fact, the newest version of the software was already updated to work with mobile devices running iOS 6.

Lecture Tools lets students follow along with slides and videos that course instructors present in class. They can take notes and their notes will be automatically synchronized with the Lecture Tools site. Instructors who are really into this method of teaching can even leave questions for their students to answer or provide activities for them to do. The program will synchronize with the site whenever students do any work with the program.

Lecture Tools’ lineage is rather impressive. University of Michigan staff developed the program, and it’s currently distributed under license from that prestigious institution. Independent studies have actually shown that Lecture Tools increases student involvement in activity.

Large classrooms can especially cause problems for students. Many people don’t feel like they can connect with their instructors. These students might find a program like this easier to work with. Computer programs are a great way to visualize learning goals. They can also remind students of how much work is left to be done.

Some universities have developed their own apps as study aids, but this can be a huge waste of time. Application development can also be extremely expensive. Lecture Tools can more than likely fill the needs of most professors. Since it’s built on preexisting software, no one needs to go around developing his or her own programs. That also means less time will be wasted on teaching students to work with software.

Best of all, Lecture Tools also works with browser software on desktops and laptops. This means that some students could use the iOS app while others continue to use standalone machines. In fact, many people will probably want to use both the mobile and desktop versions of the software. Homework can be done at home, and students can then easily check it from their pockets. That makes class participation that much easier, and it might even get otherwise lackluster students to turn in their work on time.

Facilitating Change in Education

Few people are genuinely engaged in transforming the education system for the better. Far more people are more interested in furthering their own gains. However, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation is one group that appears to actually care about the future of education and is focused on improving it for everyone. What originally started out as a traditional grant foundation has evolved into quite a bit more in recent months. Much of their work today is focused on futures studies in education…one of the things that caught my eye and has prompted this post.

About KnowledgeWorks

Social enterprises, grassroots projects, and innovative development make up the majority of KnowledgeWorks’ activities. They attempt to build high school designs around several different models. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum planning is aimed at increasing technology literacy among younger students. Early college high schools are designed to provide education programs for gifted students who have demonstrated that they are ready for something beyond what they normally study in secondary school classes.

Local programs are focused around the Ohio Education Matters organization. Research and advocacy activities promoted by the organization are supposed to be non-biased, which means that they aim to develop policies that are beneficial for everyone involved. However, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the work that this innovative group is doing. They are forecasting that students will actually relate to the world through neuro-enhancement tools and networks by the year 2020 and are developing programs based n this scenario. I find this both fascinating and exciting.

The Future of Education?

Neuroethics remains a major topic for the organization, whose website provides links to a variety of different groups that believe in liberty of thought. This might make the group seem rather extreme to some observers. Many members of the general population think very little about such futuristic themes. However, that doesn’t mean that this organization isn’t on to something. For instance, open-source principles and the way that they free up production is a major area of study within their programs. Linking resources together and providing open accreditation through major institutions helps to simplify the learning process in general.

Few people would disagree with the idea of giving scientists easily accessible access to laboratory materials if their research is in the best interest of humanity. Fewer people would argue that giving students access to a greater number of resources is a bad idea as well…we need more of this everywhere. Therefore, one might conclude that the future of education is indeed brighter than what some would lead the general population to believe. We need innovative programs such as these that are advocated by KnowledgeWorks and administrators that are willing to lead the way to make this happen. I’m not advocating the use of students as guinea pigs either. I am, however, advocating the use of principles and techniques within schools that have been proven by research and can increase the overall success rate of students. I’m hopeful that the work being done by the KnowledgeWorks Foundation accomplishes this very thing.

Additional Learning Resources:

Machines and Music Education

When people talk about social software, they are almost always referring to social networking. Most teachers wouldn’t want their students to check microblogging (i.e. Twitter) updates while they’re in class. On the other hand, there are some interesting uses for search algorithms that might bring technology into non-technical classes.

Recommended Reading (PDF):
FOAFING THE MUSIC: A MUSIC RECOMMENDATION SYSTEM BASED ON RSS FEEDS AND USER PREFERENCES

Computers know very little about music. While they can reproduce tones fairly well, they usually can’t compose symphonies. Even the most synthetic electronic music isn’t truly artificial. Skilled DJs are in control when dance beats are laid down. Most music teachers use fairly basic music software in the classroom because of this fact. However, this might change in the near future.

Recommendation programs are usually associated with online retailers. Social recommendation software can actually be used to learn a great deal about people’s musical preferences. Students could spend time exploring what sort of music their classmates like to listen to. This could eventually lead to a much deeper study of musical theory. Even if computers will never be popular recording artists, there’s nothing that says they can’t be up on popular music. There’s also nothing that says that teachers shouldn’t use these algorithms to help their students understand the development of different musical genres.

Additional Learning Resources:

Edmodo in the Classroom [App Review]

  Free App Download

Grade books are a thing of the past for anyone that uses Edmodo. Instructors that want to save some paper might want to check out the program for this function alone. However, there’s a lot more to it. In fact, students and teachers can keep in touch with each other using the app. Some classes are even being conducted solely via the program now.

Teachers need to be careful when they use this kind of software. Some students might not have iOS devices so conventional email should be used as a backup to avoid leaving any members of the classroom out. While some instructors might want to provide physical handouts, that defeats the purpose of using a program like Edmodo. That being said, it’s compatible with just about anything that runs iOS 4 or higher.

New features include the ability to send attachments with posts. This is particularly useful for those that have use PDF files to distribute course materials. With the wide availability of public domain material on the Internet, this might quickly become a popular way to distribute electronic books. Some classes can replace their current material with text legally found on the Internet. This can make the app that much more effective.

Users who are troubled with the notification function shouldn’t worry too much. Swiping notifications should quickly get rid of them.

Collaborative Classroom Prepares Future Scientists

 

Webster University’s East Academic Building unites faculty, staff and students around the world through technology-enhanced learning spaces. According to Erik Palmore, head of Webster’s Faculty Development Center, one of these spaces is the new Collaborative Classroom, whose mix of space, furniture, pedagogy and technology is configured to promote group work and sharing, creative and collaborative problem solving and design thinking. Read More →