Singularity University was started by some of Silicon Valley’s top companies – Google, Cisco and others – to teach individuals, businesses, institutions, investors, NGOs and governments how to leverage the newest technologies to benefit mankind. Singularity published this article, written by Nathaniel Calhoun and based on an interview with Adam Aberman (both Members of The Learning Collective), on the failure of technology in public schools to build students’ critical thinking skills.
Here’s a quote from the article: “Elementary and middle schools I’ve been in that leverage a lot of technology tend to do an even worse job at promoting students’ higher order thinking abilities. At 100% of the approximately twenty blended schools I have evaluated, there is an acknowledged lack of students’ higher-order and critical thinking skills.”
Some questions raised in the article include:
- Is there an unscientific bravado behind the assumption that uni-variable learning tools will work well across many classrooms without creating atrophy in other skill areas?
- Are our educational technologists overlooking social innovations and perhaps weakening our culture of learning?
- If incorporating tech into our charter schools is further depressing our learning outcomes for older students, how can we change course?
- By designing tech for core standards that overemphasize narrow learning goals, are we missing an opportunity to design more transformative technologies?
Before Adam Aberman founded The Learning Collective, he launched and ran ICouldBe.org, an e-mentoring, career development, and college guidance system for low-income teens. Teens select their e-mentors, from around the country, with whom to work on 100% web-based projects over the course of an academic year. ICouldBe.org has served about 20,000 teens with about 10,000 online volunteers.
Learn more in a Vassar Quarterly article featuring Adam and his work.
The Learning Collective was recently in Detroit working with four of the city’s traditional public and charter schools. Several of those schools rely heavily on digital learning programs.
The Learning Collective has noticed that in these and other blended learning schools there are two areas that tend to get left behind: writing and discourse. Long-form essay writing – with a thesis, supporting paragraphs and based on a rigorous rubric – is often replaced by multiple choice and very-short-answer questions. Extended academic discourse and debate in classrooms is also hard to find in many blended schools … Students may make short comments in online forums but in-person discussions are often stunted.
We at The Learning Collective are doing what we can to keep critical thinking alive and complex problem solving alive!
The Learning Collective recently attended two annual conferences: NACSA / National Association of Charter School Authorizers and iNACOL / International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Keeping the list to just 10 proved too difficult so here are the top 20 takeaways from those conferences:
- The most important thing teachers have to be able to do in a blended class? Plan.
- Summit Public Schools teaches kids how to be self-directed learners – it’s a skill kids must learn!
- To help manage the transition to blended learning in its schools, Summit Public Schools had whiteboards in school hallways for anyone (teacher, student, parent) to write down any problem or ideas they had.
- Summit Public Schools sees parent involvement as one of the most important factors in blended and personalized learning.
- 24 of 25 teachers that leave their public school in Chicago do so because of their principal.
- Alpha Public Schools used lessons learned from its data-driven P.E. program to inform data use in core academic programs.
- To pay for converting some of their schools to a blended environment, Aspire Public Schools increased class sizes and estimates a two-year runway to be cost effective.
- Committed leadership is the most important factor for an Aspire school to successfully convert to a blended school.
- The Washington DC charter school office has 35 staff for 38,000 students. The state-wide Arizona charter office has 8 staff for 113,000 students.
- In their cutting edge model, it is not always clear who is the teacher of record for a particular student at Venture Academies.
- Teacher peer observation is a critical component of Venture Academies.
- Match Next and Venture Academies do not highly customize curriculum … MatchNext customizes its teaching.
- This academic year MatchNext has 50 students and its tutors cost $12K-$15K per tutor.
- A recent study shows in Ohio 75% of brick & mortar schools perform well but only 3 of 23 virtual schools are meeting standards.
- The Georgia Virtual School (4th largest in the U.S.) students outperform brick & mortar students on state tests.
- When a digital device goes down in one of the Navigator Schools someone from the CMO needs to respond to the IT need within 2 minutes.
- After 60-minute blocks, Navigator Schools assess student learning and then create groups based on that discrete learning in real time.
- Some Colorado charter school authorizers do not visit a school before deciding whether to renew its charter.
- A Boulder CO virtual school considers mentors at its drop-in center invaluable … in some respects more valuable than teachers.
- New Florida charter school applicants can pay $500 for the authorizer to do an initial “material” review of the application.
The Learning Collective has begun working with E.L. Haynes Charter School in Washington DC to develop a blended learning planning process AND an evaluation tool to rapidly assess the effectiveness of the school’s blended learning programs. Specifically, we’ll be evaluating the effectiveness of 9 different blended learning vendors/programs implemented at the school.
Carnegie Corporation of New York has funded the development of this blended learning planning process and evaluation tool. There is nothing quite like this evaluation tool in the marketplace. Importantly, once developed, this tool may be available for other schools to use.
Youth Venture’s social change website, which Members of The Learning Collective helped created, is nominated for a Webby. Adam Aberman, along with Lior Ipp (former TLC Member), created the original specifications for the website, developed by Interfuel, up for a 2011 Webby in the Youth category.
Over time we’ve found that digital learning initiatives are most effective when based on research proven instructional design principles. Rooted in psychology, instructional design refers to the practice of maximizing the appeal of instruction by focusing on the needs of the learner and on the end objective.