Magical thinking on school tech

School technology inspires a lot of magical thinking, writes Larry Cuban.

Massive Open Online Courses — free to anyone with an Internet connection — were supposed to “revolutionize” and “transform” higher education. Cuban writes. In the Gartner “hype” cycle, MOOCs have reached the “Trough of Disillusionment” in only three years.

The move to teach coding in elementary school and computer science in high school is in the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” writes Cuban.

Britain’s national curriculum now requires “computing” in secondary schools.

In the U.S., coding and computer science “are being sold to school boards and parents as ways of teaching logic, thinking skills, as well as preparation for future jobs,” Cuban writes. He’s dubious.

Chicago Public Schools is “rolling out computer science classes at all levels” and plans to make computer science a graduation requirement, writes Scott Shackford.

Computer science educators worry about maintaining quality, he writes. “Just because every high school in the country is ordered to provide computer science classes doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be any good and that students will learn from them.”

Technology won’t save our schools, writes Austin Dannhaus on edSurge. “Education technology has seen over $3 billion of venture capital investment in the last two years. A corresponding rise in education outcomes, however, has been much more elusive. “

AP lessons are online, free

Free Advanced Placement courses in calculus, physics and macroeconomics are available on edX, reports Nick Anderson for the Washington Post.

Davidson, a private college in North Carolina, worked with high school teachers and the College Board, which oversees AP, to develop online lessons.

“Perhaps it is best to think of them not as MOOCs, but as massive open online lessons, or MOOLs,” writes Anderson. They’re meant to “supplement live teaching, not replace it.” However, the courses could help a motivated student with a weak teacher — or none at all.

Other MOOCs by edX partner universities target AP biology, computer science and chemistry, writes Anderson.

Philanthropist Steven B. Klinsky, is funding an MIT-Harvard venture to create a MOOC pathway to earning a year of college credit for free.

Nancy Moss, an edX spokeswoman, said some of the high school offerings have drawn 10,000 or more students. “The enrollment has been phenomenal,” she said.

Klinsky envisions “a freshman-year catalog of more than 30 introductory courses from top colleges in an array of subjects as diverse as calculus and Western civilization,” writes Anderson. “The MOOCs would include quizzes, tests and online discussion groups, with texts and other materials provided free online,” and a nonprofit partner could provide mentoring and tutoring.

Videos improve teacher observation

Classroom observations can be stressful to teachers and burdensome to supervisors. Teachers often think they’ve been caught in their worst teaching moments, not their best.

The Best Foot Forward project at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research analyzed the use of digital video to let teachers record lessons and choose their best to submit for their classroom observations

Observers provided time-stamped feedback aligned to specific moments in the videos.  That facilitated discussions with the teacher on his or her teaching.

Compared to a control group, the digital videos “boosted teachers’ perception of fairness of classroom observations, reduced teacher defensiveness during post-observation conferences, led to greater self- perception of the need for behavior change and allowed administrators to time-shift observation duties to quieter times of the day or week.”

Videotaping and teacher evaluation don’t mix, writes Anthony Cody. Teachers don’t trust promises they’ll control who sees the tapes.

MOOCs, which work best for educated people, could help teachers learn new skills, writes Derek Newton in The Atlantic.

A MOOC approach to professional development—having teachers watch and learn from other successful educators who are actually teaching—could help move these offerings past the status quo.

. . . “Being able to actually see teaching practices modeled—as opposed to just being lectured to on the concepts—is a game changer in professional development,” said Alvin Crawford, the CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems(KDS), which provides interactive professional-development programming for teachers.

It should be much easier to watch good teachers teaching — perhaps to watch three good teachers try different approaches to the same subject.

In MIT’s MOOC, everyone learned

MOOCs — massive open online courses — work only for the well-educated, many believe. However, MOOC participants learned as much or more than traditional students in a MIT physics class, a new study concludes. Less-capable students did as well as similar students in the traditional class.

MOOCs are a buffet

Only 5 percent of MOOC enrollees complete the course, but that says little about MOOCs’ educational value, argue Brandon Alcorn, Gayle Christensen, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel in The Atlantic.

With no cost to enroll, no penalty for dropping out, and little reward for actually earning a certificate, MOOCs are fundamentally different from traditional classes— and students use them in fundamentally different ways.

Data from more than 1.8 million students enrolled in 36 MOOCs offered by the University of Pennsylvania show that students treat MOOCs like a buffet, sampling the material according to their interests and goals. Some are curious about the subject matter and just watch one or two video lectures; others use the discussion forums to connect with their intellectual peers around the world. Of all enrolled students, nearly 60 percent watch at least one video, complete at least one assignment, or post at least once in a forum.

The Rule of Thirds applies, they write. Roughly one-third of students who sign up for a course watch the first lecture, one-third of those students watch the Week Four lecture, and of those, another third watch the Week Eight lecture and, finally, one-third of the remainder go on to complete enough of the assignments, quizzes, and exams to pass the course and receive a certificate.

What’s more important is the 60 percent engagement rate, they argue.

Higher ed a la carte

To qualify for federal aid, students must enroll in accredited, degree-granting programs. Utah Sen. Mike Lee proposes letting states accredit alternative postsecondary programs, such as job training, apprenticeships and distance-learning options. People seeking skills — but not necessarily a degree — could assemble the education they need, a la carte, using federal grants and loans to pay their costs.

Babel vs. essay-grading bots

These days, more tests ask students to write short essays, not just answer multiple-choice questions. But it’s slow and expensive to hire humans do the grading. Essay-grading ‘bots are cheap and fast, but are they any good?

It’s easy to fool a robot grader, Les Perelman, a former writing director at MIT, tells the Chronicle of Higher Education.

His Basic Automatic B.S. Essay Language Generator, or Babel, can crank out robot-fooling essays using one to three keywords. Each sentence is grammatically correct, structurally sound and meaningless. Robots can’t tell the difference, says Perelman.

He fed in “privacy.” Babel wrote:

“Privateness has not been and undoubtedly never will be lauded, precarious, and decent. Humankind will always subjugate privateness.”

MY Access!, an online writing-instruction product, graded the essay immediately: 5.4 points out of 6, with “advanced” ratings for “focus and meaning” and “language use and style.”

Robots and human graders awarded similar scores to 22,000 essays by high school and middle school students, concluded at study by Mark D. Shermis, a former dean of the College of Education at the University of Akron, in 2012.

Perelman accused Shermis of bad data analysis. The Akron professor stood by his study and published a follow-up paper this year.

Computer scientists at edX, the nonprofit online-course provider co-founded by MIT, are working on the Enhanced AI Scoring Engine, or EASE. The software can learn and imitate the grading styles of particular professors,” reports the Chronicle.

Some of edX’s university partners have used EASE to provide feedback to students in massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Regulators threaten coding academies

“Coding academies,” which offer intensive, short-term training in programming skills, don’t rely on state or federal financial aid. Job placement rates are sky-high. But California’s Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education is threatening to shut down coding schools unless they apply for licenses.

BPPE regulations require schools to get curriculum changes by the agency, which may take up to six months. “We change our curriculum every three weeks, and we can’t teach technology that’s six months old,” Shereef Bishay, founder of Dev BootCamp, said.

Will online learning deMOOCratize higher education? Poorly prepared students need face-to-face support to succeed.

More MOOCs

Dhawal Shah signed up for one of the first MOOCs from Stanford in November, 2011 and started  Class Central to track new courses on offer. MOOCs are growing rapidly, he writes on EdSurge. There are about 100 MOOCs in 2012 and almost 700 starting in 2013. More than 1200 courses have been announced so far for 2014. He estimates there will be 10 million MOOC registrants.

Completion rates are low, Shah concedes. “It’s still not clear whether they have a sustainable business model.” But students keep signing up.

Coursera offers nearly half of all MOOCs, but competition is growing.

Class Central lists a number of education and teaching MOOCs. California’s High Tech High has two starting in January: New School Creation and Deeper Learning 101. MATCH Teacher Residency offers Surviving Your Rookie Year of Teaching.

‘We are creating Walmarts of higher ed’

“Speeding up college and making it cheaper risks dumbing it down,” according to some professors, reports Timothy Pratt in The Atlantic.

Under pressure to turn out more students, more quickly and for less money, and to tie graduates’ skills to workforce needs, higher-education institutions and policy makers have been busy reducing the number of required credits, giving credit for life experience, and cutting some courses, while putting others online.

Now critics are raising the alarm that speeding up college and making it cheaper risks dumbing it down.

. . . “We are creating Walmarts of higher education—convenient, cheap, and second-rate,” says Karen Arnold, associate professor at the Educational Leadership and Higher Education Department at Boston College.

The Campaign for the Future of Higher Education — mostly university professors — will meet in January to discuss the rise of online courses and performance-based funding.

If states fund universities based on measures such as graduation rates, rather than enrollment, faculty will face a “subtle pressure” to pass more students, says Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors.

Only 56.1 percent of college students earn a degree within six years. President Obama has called for increasing the number of college graduates to make the U.S. first in the world in educated workers.