Virtual School Meanderings

April 22, 2010

NAIS Task Force Critical Questions

I was asked if I would share this with my readers, and I’m more than happy to do so…

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) 21st Century Task Force published a draft of critical questions for leaders who are considering an online option for their school.

NAIS would like to get feedback from independent school administrators and leaders in the field.  I invite you to comment and share with anyone who might be interested in the content or the process.  Do you have suggestions of other places we might post the link to get specific feedback from thought leaders in online learning?

Thanks so much,

July 26, 2009

Disrupting Class: Chapter Five

disrupting-classWell, it has been a while since I posted my last chapter review for Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (in fact, it was over four months ago – see Disrupting Class: Chapter Four – and you’ll note then that it had been a while for that chapter too).  Currently, my goal is to finish off the book again and review the final four chapters (after this one) by the end of August – fingers crossed.  This would be useful, as I note that Allison has announced one of the keynotes for this year’s Virtual School Symposium (and I’ll be posting an entry about that next weekend or so) – and I’ll have to go out and buy his book now so I can spend the few months trying to get it read before November.

Anyway, Chapter 5 gets to one of the crux of the problem with the authors thesis.  The notion that the construction of student-centric learning is something that is easily constructed.  And not because of technologies inability to do some of the things that we want it to do, or that the authors claim it can do, but based upon the kinds of knowledge we value.

If the knowledge that is valued is the kind that is currently valued under the educational regime that exists in the United States, than yes, what the authors are proposing is totally possible.  Under the current regime, sponsored by the conservative agenda, the knowledge that is valued is the kind that can be boiled down to discrete standards and tested using a multiple choice exam.  And we can make online student centric learning that does this, in fact most online credit recovery programs are based on this very model (the external evaluations conducted by Bracey and Ohanian of the K12, Inc. program in 2004 illustrate this point quite well).

If you consider these programs, you have a student that logs in, take a multiple-choice test to determine what they know.  Because the program is designed in a modular way, the instruction that the student receives is based on what they don’t know already know, in the hopes that it will allow them to pass another multiple-choice test at the end of the process.

The problem with this isn’t the technology and our ability to do it, it is the kind of knowledge that is valued in that system.  Knowledge that can be boiled down to one to three sentence stems that lead to three to five possible responses does not prepare students with the skills they really need.  This notion that the political right has that knowledge can be boiled down to a set of facts, figures, dates, people, laws, theories, etc. and that this information can be tested in a standardized format is why the United States is losing its competitiveness in the global economy.

It isn’t that this kind of information isn’t useful, it just isn’t enough.  If you look at the whole twenty-first century skills initiative (see Partnership for 21st Century Skills).  While I don’t agree that these skills are necessarily twenty-first century skills (in fact, I’ve argued that they are largely nineteenth century skills that my grandfather possessed, see VSS2007 – Virtual Schools and 21st Century Skills and New Report from Partnership for 21st Century Skills), I do agree that many of these skills are what we need to be equipping our students with.  Skills like critical thinking, inductive and deductive reasoning, solving ill defined problem, communicate effectively in diverse environments, etc..  The problem is that these skills are not easily evaluated using a multiple-choice test.  And without massive investments in artificial intelligence or human resources, we can’t personalize online computer-based instruction without using multiple-choice tests to determine what students already know.

So, forgetting about the issues that I have expressed before about the value and need to personalize learning based on the fact that learning styles are as much a pseudo-science as anything…  Even though we can do this now, the way in which we can do it isn’t something we should be pursuing because it places value on the wrong kind of knowledge.

This isn’t to say that it won’t be possible.  There is exciting work happening in the field of artificial intelligence that show great promise.  And one of the places where we see this most often is in the video game industry.  If you ever watch someone play a video game and you look at the way the game changes based upon the player and their individual needs.  How an item of health or a particular weapon seem to appear when it is most needed, or the level of challenge adjusts itself based upon the skill level exhibited by the player to ensure that the next opponent or next level is just beyond their reach and the only way the player will be able to achieve it is if they up their game just a little bit (for the cognitive psychologists out there, essentially Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development) – these are all examples of the artificial intelligence built into the game to personal the gaming experience – essentially to make the game player centric.

So the technology and the artificial intelligence that is required to be able to do some of these things is available.  The problem is that it isn’t present in the way that we have designed online learning to date.  Yesterday I reported some additional information about a game-based history course that was created by the Florida Virtual School and 360Ed at a cost of $1.5 million – and this is without even commenting on how sophisticated FLVS’ “Conspiracy Code” is compared to most over-the-counter video games.  Consider that fact that many K-12 online learning programs pay teachers (many with little technical expertise, particularly when it comes to multimedia skills) between $10,000 – $25,000 to design the online courses.  What does this say about the economic ability of most virtual schools to design online courses that have a high enough level of artificial intelligence built into them to provide student centric learning that goes beyond the kinds of rote knowledge valued by multiple-choice tests?

Note I will be travelling all day today, so I won’t be able to approve or respond to comments left until Monday morning on this and the next post.

July 4, 2009

SIIA Survey Finds U.S. Making Some Progress Toward

inacolSince I posted a number of messages encouraging folks to participate in this survey (see Reminder: SIIA Vision K20 Survey Ends on June 15th for most recent example), it seems only appropriate that I post the results. This taken from one of the iNACOL forums.

SIIA Survey Finds U.S. Making Some Progress Toward the Vision K-20 for Technology-Rich Schools and Universities
By: PR Newswire
Jun. 29, 2009 08:23 AM

Findings Reinforce Need for Increased Investment, Leadership and Support to Ensure the Nation’s Educational System Can Innovate and Compete

WASHINGTON, June 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) today released the findings of an annual national education survey used to measure U.S. educational institutions’ progress toward achieving the SIIA Vision for K-20. The survey was developed to help educators and administrators individually benchmark their institutional progress in using technology to provide 21st century tools, anytime/anywhere access, differentiated learning, assessment tools, and enterprise support. The aggregated results also provide a picture of our nation’s progress as a whole.

As the voice of the educational technology industry, SIIA developed this vision for K-20 education – a vision to ensure that all students have access to a technology-enabled teaching and learning environment capable of preparing them to compete globally and lead the world in innovation. A successful pilot survey was initiated in 2008, and a follow up survey was conducted in spring 2009.


June 13, 2009

Reminder: SIIA Vision K20 Survey Ends on June 15th

siiaThis reminder was posted in one of the iNACOL forums.  If you are able to complete this and haven’t, there is only a couple days left.

Respond soon! SIIA Vision K20 Survey Ends on June 15th.

The education members of SIIA (Software & Information Industry Association) developed a very short survey to help education institutions benchmark their progress in using technology to meet their educational needs – including the goal of providing Anytime/Anywhere Access.

If you haven’t already done so, please take the 10-minute survey by June 15th at:

Anyone at your education institution can fill it out: educator or administrators – for a classroom, school, district, course, department, or campus – at at any level: elementary, secondary, or postsecondary. SIIA will summarize the response data into a report that will be available early July to those who participated in the survey. No individual data is reported.

You find out how your education institution compares to others around the US. And, since SIIA will conduct the same survey every spring, you can check each year to see your institution’s annual progress.

Learn more about the initiative at

For questions, contact Karen Billings at

May 31, 2009

Vision K-20 Goals Survey for SIIA

siiaThis is another survey request that I found in the iNACOL forums.

Measure your progress implementing technology to provide 21st Century tools, Anytime/anywhere access, Differentiated learning, Assessment tools, and Enterprise support.

SIIA invites you to take a short benchmarking survey for the implementation of education technology. This survey addresses the Vision K-20 goals developed by Education members within SIIA (The Software & Information Industry Association).

Who should fill it out? Anyone at an education institution (educators or administrators) – for a classroom, school, district, course, department, or campus at either elementary, secondary, or postsecondary levels.

What happens to the responses? SIIA will summarize the response data into a report that will be available early July to those who participated in the survey. No individual data is reported.

What do responders get out of it (besides the report)? Find out how your education institution compares to others around the US. And, since SIIA will conduct the same survey every spring, you can check each year to see your institution’s annual progress.

Review and take the survey BY JUNE 12th at

Learn more about the initiative at

For questions, contact Karen Billings at

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