Virtual School Meanderings

January 6, 2020

The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade [K-12 Online Learning Mentions]

Back on New Year’s Eve Audrey Watters posted an entry on her blog entitled “The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles of the Decade.”  If you haven’t read it yet, I would encourage you to review all 100 items.  Below, I have simply copied and pasted those items that I believe are specific to the field of K-12 online learning (note that the language can get a bit salty in the items pasted below).

95. “Roaming Autodidacts”

“[The] literature [on online education] was preoccupied with what I call ‘roaming autodidacts’. A roaming autodidact is a self-motivated, able learner that is simultaneously embedded in technocratic futures and disembedded from place, cultural, history, and markets. The roaming autodidact is almost always conceived as western, white, educated and male. As a result of designing for the roaming autodidact, we end up with a platform that understands learners as white and male, measuring learners’ task efficiencies against an unarticulated norm of western male whiteness. It is not an affirmative exclusion of poor students or bilingual learners or black students or older students, but it need not be affirmative to be effective. Looking across this literature, our imagined educational futures are a lot like science fiction movies: there’s a conspicuous absence of brown people and women” — Tressie McMillan Cottom, “Intersectionality and Critical Engagement With The Internet” (2015)

82. “The End of Library” Stories (and the Software that Seems to Support That)

If there was one hate-read that stuck with me through the entire decade, it was this one by Techcrunch’s M. G. Siegler: “The End of the Library.” It was clickbait for sure, and perhaps it came too early in the decade — this was 2013 — for me to be wise enough to avoid this sort of trollish nonsense. You can learn anything online, Siegler argued. (You can’t.) The Internet has “replaced the importance of libraries as a repository for knowledge. And digital distribution has replaced the role of a library as a central hub for obtaining the containers of such knowledge: books. And digital bits have replaced the need to cut down trees to make paper and waste ink to create those books.” (They haven’t.)

Libraries haven’t gone away — they’re still frequently visited, despite dramatic drops in public fundingMore and more public libraries have started eliminating fines too because libraries, unlike Techcrunch writers, do care to alleviate inequality.

But new technology hasn’t made it easy. Publishers have sought to restrict libraries’ access to e-book lending, for example, blaming libraries for declining sales. And libraries have also struggled to maintain their long commitment to patron privacy in the face of new software — e-books and otherwise — that has no such respect for users’ rights.

72. Chatbot Instructors

“Imagine Discovering That Your Teaching Assistant Really Is a Robot,” The Wall Street Journal gushed in 2016, documenting an experiment undertaken at Georgia Tech in which a chatbot called “Jill Watson” answered questions in a course’s online forum. “Students didn’t know their TA was a computer,” the university’s press release stated, seemingly unbothered about any ethical issues that might raise.

(Consent? It matters.)

Watson, as the name might suggest, was built using the IBM Watson “AI” technology. College of Computing Professor Ashok Goel and his team used the 40,000 some odd questions that students had asked in previous versions of the course to build out Jill’s knowledge-base. “One of the secrets of online classes is that the number of questions increases if you have more students, but the number of different questions doesn’t really go up,” Goel said. “Students tend to ask the same questions over and over again.” But instead of redesigning his course or materials so that students didn’t have to ask these questions, he built a chatbot and called it a TA.

It’s not just the teaching assistant labor that chatbots are seeking to replace. As Inside Higher Ed recently reported, they “have started to infiltrate every corner of higher ed — from admissions to student affairs, career services and even test prep,” arguably making institutions that are struggling to treat people humanely even less human.

59. Clayton Christensen’s Predictions

In 2008, Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn published Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and predicted that the growth in computer-based instruction would accelerate rapidly until, by 2019, half of all high school classes would be taught over the Internet. NopeWrong.

In 2013, Christensen told investor Mark Suster that, in 15 years time, half of US universities would be bankrupt. As with K-12 education, he believed (believes) that online education would provide the “disruptive innovation” to force traditional schooling out of business. In 2017, he doubled down on his prediction — half of colleges and universities would close in a decade. I have set a Calendar reminder for 2028. We can check back in then for the final calculation. Meanwhile, Phil Hill has run the numbers on what higher ed closures actually look like, with visualizations that helps underscore that the vast number of these were to for-profit institutions — and there just aren’t enough of those left to make up the “half of all colleges” claim.

As Jill Lepore reminded us in her scathing critique of Christensen’s “gospel of innovation,” “Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.” But it’s the sort of propheteering that hopes if you repeat a story enough times, that everyone — taxpayers, administrators, politicians, pundits — will start to believe it’s the truth.

33. Online Credit Recovery

In 2017, Slate published a series of stories on online credit recovery programs — classes offered to students who needed to quickly make up missed credits in order to graduate high school on time: “The New Diploma Mills,” it called them. These classes were “fast, isolating, and superficial,” the series reported, describing the experiences of one student who, after failing her junior year English class, was able to make up the course online in 2 days. It told of another student who paid his friend $200 to take a course for him.

Schools are pressured to use these online options — products offered by companies like Apex, Edmentum, Odysseyware, and Edgenuity — in part because of their desire to boost graduation rates. And efforts to crack down on providers offering “bad online courses” were often countered by lobbying from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which “has made expanding online learning — unfettered and in all of its forms — one of its priorities.”

28. Computer-Based Testing Blunders

The new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards were to be administered via computers, prompting as I noted above, a great deal of expenditure on new devices. But the new mode of testing caused a great deal of headache too. 2015 marked the year that states implemented the tests associated with the standards, and many struggled with that very implementation. That’s not a surprise, as a COSN survey that year found educators pleading that “We’re Not Ready for Online Tests.”

There were worries about how the move to online testing might affect scores. There were worries that there weren’t enough computers for test-taking. There were worries about kids’ abilities to type. There were worries about Internet connectivity, particularly in poor and rural schools. And many of the worries were well-founded. The problems weren’t just with district infrastructure; there were problems with vendors’ websites. There were technical problems in MinnesotaFloridaColoradoNew JerseyNevadaNorth DakotaMontanaTennessee, and elsewhere. Some states blamed the vendors and some blamed school IT and some states blamed “hackers.” The Common Core tests in one New Jersey school district were postponed as its entire computer network was held hostage by ransomware in exchange for 500 Bitcoins, approximately $124,000 at the time.

The technical problems were so bad in some states that they prompted concerns about the validity of the scores and about states’ ability to meet the federally-mandated levels of test participation (numbers that exacerbated too by the “Opt Out” movement). Several states accused their testing vendors of breach of contract, and several switched vendors, hoping that would fix the problem.

Spoiler alert: it did not.

27. Online Preschool

Arguably one of the best investments we could make in education would be to fund universal preschool. High quality universal preschool, staffed with well-paid professionals. High quality universal preschool, staffed with well-paid professionals in a brick-and-mortar setting and not online. But online preschool, according to some education reformers, is poised to “change the way rural America does early education.” One program, Upstart, “mixes adaptive software for preschool-aged kids, along with child development training and check-ins for parents. The program focuses on building pre-literacy skills, such as sound blending and letter names, and is designed to be used 15 minutes a day for a total of 75 minutes per week. Currently Upstart is used by about 19,000 families in Utah and in smaller pilots in about 15 other states,” Edsurge reported earlier this year. Many experts have caution against these programs, arguing for example that “Online ‘preschool’ lacks the concrete, hands-on social, emotional and intellectual educational components that are essential for quality learning in the early years. Further, online preschools are likely to exacerbate already existing inequalities in early education by giving low-income children superficial exposure to rote skills and ideas while more privileged children continue to receive developmentally sound experiences that provide a solid foundation for later academic success.”

These sorts of stories that promote high tech “solutions” for certain communities always make me wonder why we don’t opt instead to build out local capacity rather than insisting that the only alternative is education-from-elsewhere online.

23. OPMs and Outsourcing

Despite all the hullabaloo this decade about the importance of offering online classes, many schools opted not to develop the capacity internally to do so, but rather to outsource that function to a vendor. In 2017, The Century Foundation issued a blistering report on these online program managers (OPMs) titled “The Private Side of Public Higher Education.” Although universities have long outsourced some of their services to third-party providers — food services and parking enforcement, for example — OPMs could pose significant risks to higher ed, the report argued, as “the functions of OPMs are closely linked to the core educational mission of these public institutions. As a result, the quality of the services provided by OPMs has a direct bearing on the quality of the school itself and the ability of these institutions to fulfill their mission to train students and prepare them for the workforce.”

The involvement of OPMs in the establishment and growth of online educational opportunities at public institutions exposes consumers to the financial interests of decision-makers, interests that would not exist if exclusively public or nonprofit institutions were involved in providing these distance learning programs. Driven by the desire and need to make money for investors or owners, those to whom executives are held accountable, these companies may prioritize profit over the interests of online students, to whom they owe no loyalty, financial or otherwise.

As Phil Hill observed, as for-profit universities and MOOC providers stumbled this decade, several sought to become OPMs instead. (That is to say, there are really just a handful of pivots you can make in ed-tech: become an OPM or become an LMS or try to market yourself as both.)

19. Platforming Education

In his review of Nick Srnicek’s book Platform CapitalismJohn Hermann writes,

Platforms are, in a sense, capitalism distilled to its essence. They are proudly experimental and maximally consequential, prone to creating externalities and especially disinclined to address or even acknowledge what happens beyond their rising walls. And accordingly, platforms are the underlying trend that ties together popular narratives about technology and the economy in general. Platforms provide the substructure for the “gig economy” and the “sharing economy”; they’re the economic engine of social media; they’re the architecture of the “attention economy” and the inspiration for claims about the “end of ownership.”

In his book, Srnicek posits that platforms are poised to become the fundamental business model of our digital world — key to the new economy, clearly, but also key to political and social systems (and how these will be shaped under the control of the powerful technology industry). And certainly the goal for many technology companies — education and otherwise — has been to become a platform: that is, to become a key piece of digital infrastructure whose business model rests on the extraction of data.

In many ways, the learning management system is the prototypical education platform. The LMS has long positioned itself as an “operating system,” of sorts, for higher education, one that certainly predates any talk of a “platform economy.” But LMS providers spent the decade buying up a vast number of other companies so as to extend the functionality of their original product — companies that offered offered administratively adjacent features and would facilitate the extraction of more data from students’ and professors’ activities online than just what could be gleaned from the student information system.

(The LMS isn’t the only platform in education to be sure. Perhaps the most dominant and dangerous is Google — which nears the top of this list.)

17. Test Prep

Year after year after year after year, the most well-funded startups in education technology were those offering tutoring and test prep. Neither of these are progressive trends. These can exacerbate educational inequalities as more affluent families can afford to give their children extra academic support (or at least some extra tips and tricks on how to do well on standardized tests).

To counteract some of these inequalities — in test prep and in the testing itself — the College Board partnered with Khan Academy in 2015 to provide free online SAT prep courses (after years of insisting that test prep would actually make no difference in how well one performed on the exam). One year later, the head of the College Board David Coleman boasted “Never in my career have I seen a launch of technology on this scale that has broken down the racial divisions that so haunt this nation — never.” And in 2017, the College Board released data that showed “20 hours on free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average score gain of 115 points, nearly double the average score gain compared to students who don’t use Khan Academy.” One problem though: not all students practiced the same amount, and students with highly educated parents tended to spend more time doing so. As Matt Barnum and Sarah Darville write in Chalkbeat, “The College Board’s research doesn’t show whether Khan Academy truly caused the score increases. Perhaps the students who used Khan most were particularly motivated or were using other study aids.”

Perhaps test prep will never undo the inequalities baked into the system. Perhaps, just perhaps, it was never really meant to.

9. Virtual Charter Schools

According to recent data from the Department of Education (as reported by Education Week), “half of all virtual charter high schools had graduation rates below 50 percent in the 2016-17 school year. Thirty-seven percent of schools had graduation rates at or above 50 percent. Graduation data for the remaining 13 percent of schools was masked for various reasons, such as to protect student privacy. There are about 163 virtual charter schools educating over 30,000 seniors nationally as determined by the adjusted cohort graduation rate, according to federal numbers.” In some states — Indiana, for example — not a single virtual charter school has had a graduation rate over 50% for the past four years.

One of the largest studies of online charters, published by Stanford in 2015, found that students in these schools had less contact with a teacher in a week than students in traditional, brick-and-mortar schools have in a day, and their academic progress was so poor that it was almost like not going to school at all.

And yet, despite the abysmal performance of virtual charters, states have struggled to hold these (largely) for-profit endeavors accountable. There were the odd lawsuit, to be sure. K12 Inc, one of the best known virtual charter chains, reached a $8.5 settlement with the state of California in 2016 after it was accused of false advertising and inadequate instruction. In Indiana, two virtual charters were accused of “counting toward their enrollment thousands of students who either never signed up for or completed classes,” collecting almost $10 million in state funding along the way. In Ohio, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT, claimed to serve some 15,000 students, but state officials found the virtual charter school was significantly inflating its numbers and said the school owed back $80 million in funding. (ECOT was forced to close in 2018.)

But in spite of the lousy education and unethical business practices, profits at virtual charters are up. K12 Inc, for example, announced this summer that for the first time its history, its revenue had topped $1 billion.

3. Venture Capitalism

Billions of dollars of venture capitalism has been funneled into education technology this decade. And this list demonstrates what we have to show for it.

2. (Venture) Philanthropy

Billions of dollars of (venture) philanthropy has been funneled into education technology this decade. And this list demonstrates what we have to show for it.

In many ways, philanthropy and venture capital worked hand-in-hand — the former set the policy agenda for ed-tech and the latter fueled the entrepreneurs and stoked the market for it.

The Gates Foundation has continued to have an outsized influence in shaping public policy (even though Gates has admitted that his initiatives haven’t had a great track record).

He has been joined this decade by other tech billionaires — by Mark Zuckerberg, for example. The Facebook founder made his first, high profile education donation in 2010, announcing on Oprah, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker at his side, his plans to give the city’s schools $100 million. In 2012, Zuckerberg launched the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, he and his wife Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic company. And it is, to be clear, a company, not a foundation — a business structure that gives Zuckerberg more control in investing in for-profit companies and in political causes, as The New York Times explained.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos also announced a philanthropic effort (that is, when he’s not spending his billions on funding space travel).His new philanthropic effort would fund and operate “a network of high-quality, full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities.” “We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon,” Bezos wrote in a note posted to Twitter. “Most important among these will be genuine intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.”

These philanthropists’ visions for the future of education and education technology mirror their own businesses: the child will be the customer. The child’s data will be mined. The child’s education will be personalized.

Again, check out the full list at http://hackeducation.com/2019/12/31/what-a-shitshow

December 9, 2019

OLC Accelerate Conference: Recorded Sessions Now Available

Another item from the Online Learning Consortium.

You and your entire university can access 100+ recorded sessions to view at your convenience. Email not displaying correctly?
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Hello Michael,

The 25th annual OLC Accelerate conference, held November 19-22, 2019 in Orlando, FL, generated a great deal of energy, enthusiasm, and new connections. More than 1,623 onsite and approximately 1000+ virtual attendees participated, representing 49 states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico, and 13 countries.

If you missed the conference, you can still benefit from over 100 recorded presentations – including the Keynotes, featured sessions, select information sessions, and key vendor showcase sessions to view at your convenience – and have access to them for one full year! Learn more.

Sincerely,

Matt Norsworthy, MFA, Ed.D.
Director of Strategic Partnerships

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November 20, 2019

K-12 Online Learning and OLC Accelerate 2019

So I saw one of my colleagues post a note asking where all of the K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning sessions at the OLC Accelerate 2019 conference were, so I figured I’d take a look at the program and pass them along.

Wednesday November 20, 2019

Shutting Down The Factory Model: Personalized Learning As A Paradigm Shift

Date: Wednesday, November 20th
Time: 1:15 PM to 2:00 PM
Conference Session: Concurrent Session 1
Lead Presenter: Anissa Lokey-Vega (Kennesaw State University)
Co-presenter: Stephanee Stephens (Kennesaw State University) (Virtual Presenter)
Track: Leadership and Institutional Strategies
Location: Oceanic 3
Session Duration: 45min
Brief Abstract:This presentation will begin with a description of the state of personalized learning, definitions of personalized learning, and conceptual frameworks of schooling. Then tthe presenters will offer a collaborative activity for analyzing and sorting models of personalized learning including models that employ online learning in K-12 and higher education. Participants will develop a holistic perspective of personalized learning as a paradigm shift away from the factory model of schooling and be able to align models of personalized learning to their institutional missions.

Thursday November 21, 2019

Patterns, Concerns, And Opportunities In K-12 Teacher Professional Development For Online And Blended Learning – A Research Panel And Conversation

Date: Thursday, November 21st
Time: 1:15 PM to 2:00 PM
Conference Session: Concurrent Session 7
Lead Presenter: Amy Garrett Dikkers (University of North Carolina Wilmington)
Co-presenters: Jered Borup (George Mason University), Brianne Jackson (Virginia Commonwealth University), Aimee Whiteside (University of Tampa)
Track: Professional Development and Support
Location: Northern Hemisphere E1-E2
Session Duration: 45min
Brief Abstract:This panel brings together researchers exploring different aspects of K12 teacher preparation to teach in blended or online environments. The session engages the audience in essential questions around the past, present and future of teacher professional development. Participants leave the sessions with tools, strategies, and approaches to guide their work.

 

Look Out! Here They Come!

Date: Thursday, November 21st
Time: 1:15 PM to 2:00 PM
Conference Session: Concurrent Session 7
Lead Presenter: Debbie Lugar (Open Campus PA (Hempfield and Penn Manor School Districts Lancaster County PA))
Co-presenter: Joan Johnson (Hempfield School District)
Track: Teaching and Learning Effectiveness
Location: Oceanic 2
Session Duration: 45min
Brief Abstract:What’s happening with online learning at the high school level? We offer a glimpse into an innovative, comprehensive online education program developed in partnership between two Pennsylvania high schools. We’ll share the experiences of our online teachers and students and gather your input on better preparing future college-level online learners.

 

Using Technology In Meeting Standards For Online Foreign Language Teaching: Considerations Of Content And Institutional Support

Date: Thursday, November 21st
Time: 1:15 PM to 2:00 PM
Conference Session: Concurrent Session 7
Lead Presenter: Harriette L. Spiegel (The University of Tennessee – Martin)
Track: Tools and Technologies
Location: Northern Hemisphere Foyer
Position: 14
Session Duration: 45min
Brief Abstract:This presentation of an online course in Elementary Spanish encourages open discussion among the presenter and the audience members. A discussion of the pros and cons of teaching a foreign language online will include a description of the kinds of technological support from the institution to ensure a successful course.

So by the look of it, there are four sessions that focus on K-12 distance, online, and/or blended learning…  And three of them are happening at the same time in different rooms.

And people say the OLC cares about building its K-12 constituency…

August 12, 2019

EDTECH537 – Guest Blog Entry: How Does An Online Course Become (And Stay) Available For K-12 Students?

As I mentioned in the Week 7 entry for my EDTECH537 – Blogging In The Classroom course earlier this morning, today I wanted to post a sample of a guest blog entry.

Jason Siko has held appointments at Madonna University and Grand Valley State University.  Prior to entering the academy he was a high school biology and chemistry teacher in the metro Detroit area.  Jason’s research is primary focus on K-12 online and blended learning.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “There’s no such thing as a bad medical school. If you graduate bad doctors or ones that can’t pass the licensing exams, they’ll shut you down.” The same could likely be said about law schools. The point I’m trying to make is that there are mechanisms in place for the quality control in some areas of education. Heck, the same could be said about restaurants: even with variations in oversight and regulations from health inspectors, Yelp! ratings matter. If people get sick, or see rats coming out of the kitchen, you know that restaurant will not be around much longer.

However, when we look at K-12 online learning, we see a different story. Course pass rates for online courses pale in comparison to their face-to-face counterparts, yet the growth of online learning at the K-12 level continues. States and third-party providers continue to grow their programs and add new courses. How does the process of getting a course approved and keeping it in the catalog work? In this post I’ll provide an overview of how some states handle this process.

Generally speaking, states can require approval at the course level or the provider level, or both. These processes are fairly self-explanatory; at the course level, the course must meet whatever guidelines are dictated by the state before being accessible by students, while at the provider level, it is the provider who must meet requirements before being allowed to provide/administer online courses in the state. In some states (e.g., California), approval of courses is optional. Finally, some states have different approval options based on whether the course is created for use within a district or if students from multiple districts are allowed to enroll.

As you can see, there is little followup based on student performance once the course is “live.” Two states, Washington and Colorado, have made efforts to include elements of continued approval of courses based on performance and student attendance, but they are still in their infancy. What challenges do you see (i.e., political, logistical, economic, etc.) with creating a system of oversight that monitors (with consequences) online course success rates based on student performance?

Note: Some of the information in this article comes from the following source.

Barbour, M. K., Clark, T., Siko, J. P., DeBruler, K., & Bruno, J. (2019). Cases of quality: Case studies of the approval and evaluation of K-12 online and blended providers. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 22(1). Retrieved from https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring221/barbour_clark_siko_debruler_bruno221.html

Jason Siko, Ph.D., is a researcher whose primary focus is K-12 online and blended learning.

May 5, 2019

Still Open: K-12 Blended & Online Learning With University System Of Georgia

Note this up-coming MOOC focused on K-12 distance, online, and blended learning.

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