Virtual School Meanderings

January 11, 2020

News Article: What Does Big Tech Want From Schools? (Spoiler Alert: It’s Not Money) / True For K-12 Online Learning?

So there was an item in one of the EdWeek Tech Leader this past week that caught my attention.


What Does Big Tech Want From Schools? (Spoiler Alert: It’s Not Money)

As Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft make themselves increasingly indispensable in education, teachers are getting worried. Should they be? Read more.
What Does Big Tech Want From Schools? (Spoiler Alert: It's Not Money)

If you follow the article, the author’s basic point is that for those “big” companies that people will use for the rest of their lives (e.g., Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft) that the goal is brand loyalty.  In much the same way that Pepsi or Coke would donate money to the school or buy a scoreboard for the stadium back in the day to become the exclusive vendor for pop in the building.  It makes sense and I can’t say I disagree.  But I do think that there is a bit more…

One of the things that the author of the article fails to consider – or at least reference (as they may have considered it as a part of the writing process) – is the considerable amounts of data that K-12 generates and what that data can tell them about their future consumers.  It is one of the concerns that Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar, and Christopher Saldaña at the National Education Policy Center raised in their report on Personalized Learning and the Digital Privatization of Curriculum and Teaching (also one of the reasons the NEPC doesn’t have a Facebook page).

And the fact that this article appeared, and these musings of mine were occurring in the first week of a new year.  If you search new year’s resolutions on the Internet, you’ll find that the most common one tends to be some form of exercise, get in shape, get fit diet, lose weight, eat healthier, etc..  As such, this time of year is very bit for the fitness industry and gyms in particular.  There are two basic models of running a successful gym.  The first is to have a gym that has the physical footprint, equipment, and staff to be able to handle all of its members at the same time.  A lot of facilities where the primary focus is on classes (e.g., crossfit) are designed like this, and these gyms often have a business model that you pay for the time you spend in the gym (e.g., you attend one class, you pay for one class).  The second is that you have a gym where the physical footprint, equipment, and staff are only able to handle a small fraction of the members at any given time.  These facilities are focused primarily on members that pay for a membership (often one that is locked in for a year), but don’t actually go to the gym.  The more memberships they can sell without having to provide any real service, the better their bottom line.

The confluence of reading this article, and just thinking about a new year and all that comes with it, got me to thinking what this article would look like if it were titled “What Does Big Tech Want From Online and Blended Learning?”

With a title like this, if it had been written about companies solely in the K-12 distance, online, and blended learning space I doubt that we could have the same “spoiler alert.”

For the most part, these companies are the kinds of ones that students will use once they leave the K-12 environment, so building lifelong brand loyalty isn’t that important for them.  Now when it comes to those vendors of virtual or cyber schools and online curriculum, the collection of student data and being able to use that data is a central part of their business model.  In fact, many of these companies readily brag about their products ability to get to know your student and understand their individual needs so that they can provide a customized or personalized learning experience for them.

But don’t you think that the main thrust of the article would have been focused on that second gym model.  A gym that sells 1000 memberships each paying $25/month, if only 100 of those members actually show up at the gym that could lead to a very nice profit margin.  This would mean that the gym is collecting a monthly membership for 900 people who they aren’t providing a service for, and with most gym contracts you’re locked in.

Similarly, an online school that enrolls 1000 students to meet the count day requirements in that state, in most instances, receives the full FTE for that course or student for the full semester (sometimes year).  Now if only 100 of those students actually do much – if any – work towards their education that means that the online school that is being run by a for profit provider can collect taxpayer funds to not educate 900 students.

There is a reason when you search online for information about these business practices you’ll find more and more industry and economic articles about the movement in the fitness industry away from the membership business model towards what they refer to as an experience model (i.e., you pay for the things you actually experience).  When will that come for education?  When will education make that move?

Now don’t mistake this as a call for a funding model based on demonstrated competency or based on student success.  I don’t believe that education funding shouldn’t be tied to whether the student passes the course.  But I do believe that public money that is allocated for public service should service the public.

December 29, 2019

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[Quiz] Digital Learning: New Quiz From Education Week

An interesting quiz from the folks at Education Week.

Education Week Quiz
Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Digital Learning?
Take our quiz and then see your results, detailed answer explanations, and additional readings on the topic.
While 30 percent of school districts were able to take advantage of digital learning in 2013, __ percent can utilize digital learning in 2019 after an overhaul of the e-rate program.
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See Our Top 10 Educational Technology Stories Of The Year

Several of these have K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning overtones.

Strategies and Solutions for Ed-Tech Leaders, December 27, 2019. View as web page.
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Before you begin putting your 2020 strategic vision statements for educational technology into practice, it would be worth looking back on what was an undeniably fascinating year in the world of ed tech. Leading our top 10 list was the expansion of the use of digital surveillance technologies to monitor students in and outside of school and especially on social media. We also saw pushback against student cellphone use in classrooms and growing concerns about the effect of screen time on learning. Can’t wait to see what trends emerge in 2020.

—Kevin Bushweller, Assistant Managing Editor, Technology & Learning Environments
The Top Ten List: #1
Schools Are Deploying Massive Digital Surveillance Systems. The Results Are Alarming

To prevent shootings and suicides, K-12 schools are monitoring breathtaking amounts of digital information, often with little regard for civil liberties. Internal district records highlight the messy situations that arise. Read more.
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Schools Say No to Cellphones in Class. But Is It a Smart Move?

A flurry of schools have recently put in place restrictions or bans on student cellphones, a pivot away from the more open policies instituted in previous years. Read the full story.
Screen Time Up as Reading Scores Drop. Is There a Link?

The yearslong slide in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress comes as students are spending more time in and out of class on digital devices. Read the full story.

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Screen Reading Worse for Comprehension, Leads to Overconfidence, New Meta-analysis Concludes

Readers using screens perform worse and tend to think they’re processing and understanding texts better than they actually are, according to a new review of nearly three-dozen studies over the past decade. Read more.
3 Things Teachers Should Know About the Remind App, Verizon Dispute

Verizon said it offered Remind a deal that would allow the company to keep sending free text messages to K-12 institutions and families, but Remind says it hasn’t received an agreement in writing. Read more.
Teachers Are Turning to Podcasts as an Instructional Tool

From kindergarten to high school, teachers are using student-made podcasts to nurture students’ reading, writing, and interviewing skills. Read more.
Forty Percent of Elementary School Teachers’ Work Could Be Automated By 2030, McKinsey Global Institute Predicts

Women could experience coming changes in the workforce in a very different way than men, requiring a concerted effort by schools to prepare today’s girls accordingly, according to a new report. Read more.
Gates Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Asked for Big New Education Ideas. Here’s What They Got

As the first step in a new R&D initiative they’re planning for K-12 education, the foundation and venture-philanthropy group are highlighting innovative ideas provided by nonprofits, universities, corporations, developers, and educators. Read more.
Ed-Tech Supporters Promise Innovations That Can Transform Schools. Teachers Not Seeing Impact

Fewer than one-third of America’s teachers say ed-tech innovations have changed their beliefs about what school should look like, according to a new Education Week survey. Read more.
Scores Were Lower When Mass. Students Took PARCC Exams on Computers, Study Finds

Unfamiliarity with technology contributed to lower scores for online test-takers in 2015, but the effects diminished over time, researchers found. Read more.

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