The Rules for Online Learning

online learnerRegulators who make the rules for higher education accreditation are being closely watched now for the rules governing online learning. Three industry groups who are concerned have put forward their own policy recommendations. The groups are the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET).

The recommendations are concerned with competency-based education (CBE), regular and substantive interaction, and state authorization. The Department of Education's ongoing accreditation rulemaking session (which may also require congressional action) may develop outcomes-based Title IV eligibility standards for gauging colleges' effectiveness with a wider range of instructional modalities.

One big topic of discussion concerns the current rules around regular and substantive interaction. This is the measure of how much contact instructors and students must have in online courses. Some educators feel the current rules put online learning at a "competitive disadvantage" relative to on-campus instruction.

One of the test cases has been the DoE's case against Western Governors University. But in January 2019 it canceled a $713 million fine owed by WGA that came out of a 2017 audit that concluded that the school's CBE model was not in compliance with federal standards for online education. In its January reversal, the DoE determined that the fully online nonprofit university "made a reasonable and good faith effort" to apply the rules to its model.

The DoE further stated that it is "hopeful that further clarification [around distance learning] will be part of future regulations that will help spur the growth of high-quality innovative programs."

According to Inside Higher Ed, a third of all higher education students take at least one online course. Many of those students live on campus or within a two-hour radius of the college, so that the older term of "distance education" has become far less relevant.

But online learning is still growing in higher education. For example, Florida International University now offers more than 100 degrees fully online, and added more than 15 degrees in the past year. Those offerings include 20+ STEM programs at the graduate and undergraduate level, and new bachelors’ degrees in economics, writing and rhetoric.

Not all universities and educators are as strong in pushing online learning. Researchers at George Mason University and the Urban Institute say students who lack strong academic preparation tend to struggle in an online-only environment. But that research has been questioned by others. And the discussons continue at many levels.

 

Transitions Are Difficult

transitionIf you read the annual Bill and Melinda Gates letter, it includes 9 trends it considers surprising. One that affects educators is the idea that "Textbooks are becoming obsolete." By that, they mean that digital content that is customized and personalized learning can better support students than a traditional textbook. 

The promise here is text online connected to engaging video along with perhaps a game that reinforces the concepts. Your learning is assessed and the software moves you forward appropriately or perhaps sends you back for more review. of the content you seem to have missed. 

We have been told that this kind of learning transition was going to happen - and it has happened,several times. We were told that the printed book would be replaced by ebooks. Some were replaced; most were not.

There has been a lot of talk about replacing the lecture with short video lectures that don't "lecture." That is somewhat the case in online courses, but the lecture in the classroom is still running strong.  

Even bigger than textbooks and lecture is the idea that online learning would replace classroom learning. Add to that the idea that MOOCs would replace online courses and even make degrees obsolete. Hasn't happened yet.

Transitions are difficult. Maintaining the status quo is so much easier. 

Maybe if I was still around in 2050, I would find that learning happens without printed books, without lectures, without classrooms and without degrees. But I doubt it.

One Pathway for Future Engineers and Computer Scientists

Amazon is committing $50 million to computer science education in the United States with new programs supporting high school and early undergraduate students. Part of this includes financial aid to help schools bring AP computer science courses to their students. They have recently expanded this initiative into K-8.

The program has begun offering free online lessons and funding summer camps to help students discover the "fun" of computer science. Amazon critics might say this a just a kind of farm system for training new employees. Their efforts may benefit the company, but those students are probably more likely to work for other companies. And yes, I would agree that $50 million dollars is a lot of money, but not a lot of money when spread across the country's schools.

Students who start computer science early (and this seems to especially be true for females) are more likely to say they like computer science and have confidence in their computer science abilities.

I'm sure many people would write about this as another STEM or STEAM effort, but their materials talk about how positive it is for everyone to understand how computers (and that word means so many things besides the traditional laptop or desktop computer we talked about just 20 years ago) work and how they are programed.

Most students will not end up working as programmers or computer scientists, but that technology will touch the lives in and out of the workplace.

The program promotes how programming will aid not only the understanding of computers, but other technology and also a student's understanding of logic, precision and creativity.

Amazon Future Engineer Pathway is a partnership with organizations such as Code.org and Coding with Kids.

The Amazon Future Engineer Pathway program aims to support 100,000 high schoolers in taking Advanced Placement courses in computer science. It also is set to award four-year scholarships and internships to a sizable group of students from under-represented populations who participate in those courses.

Amazon is accepting scholarship applications for the 2019 campus and classes.
Schools and districts may also apply on behalf of families

https://www.amazonfutureengineer.com/

https://code.org/

https://www.codingwithkids.com/amazon/

 

On Internships

Science Fiction, Technology and Maybe Education

2001 tablet
2001 tablet

If you watch the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick, you will see some technology that seemed to predict technology of today, such as the iPad and other tablets. 

I was watching "Design is [Sci-Fi] – How Design in Sci-Fi and the Real World Influence Each Other," which is a talk given at Google by Christopher Noessel, a veteran in the UX world. He is the author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction. 

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design is the update to Make It So that addresses the shift to smartphones and tablets, mobile apps and touch interfaces.

communicator
Star Trek Communicator replica (Wikimedia)

Designers sometimes use interfaces first described in in science fiction or shown in films and television shows. Film production designers working in the sci-fi genre are often free of the conventions of current technology. They can develop what are known as "blue-sky" designs. And then, fictional devices and interfaces might give designers inspiration for their real-world designs.

One example often used is the communicator used on Star Trek which seems to predict the early flip-phone mobile devices. On scifiinterfaces.com, you will find examples of how sci-fi and real-world interface design influence each other.

Films like Blade Runner tried to portray the future and give ideas in their predictions to designers in UX and technology. But does sci-fi have an influence on other fields? For example, what have educators learned from science-fiction? How has science-fiction portrayed education?

Generally, science-fiction writers and filmmakers have not really given schools of the future very much attention. Many schools and students portrayed are at the K-12 levels. Higher education is less likely to appear. Are they predicting an end to post-secondary learning in institutions? 

I remember watching the 1960s TV show and young Elroy Jetson having a robot teacher. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, there is a school for the space station's youngsters that is not very different from our current earthbound schools.

Certainly, online learning has made deep inroads into education at all levels, but especially in higher education. We don't have robot teachers yet, but AI, machine learning and predictive analytics have certainly started to make their way into education.

When I was teaching young adult novels, some students read Robert A Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky. This 1955 novel presented things like high school students being teleported for their final exam in a survival class to a distant planet. My students found these schools better than their own classrooms.

I found that my students often wished they could go to these futuristic sci-fi and fantasy schools.

I'll admit that when I read the Harry Potter books, I sometimes wished to be in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or be a teacher there, or just have Harry, Hermoine and a few of their mates as students. 

One of the few higher education depictions I have read is Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy found in the The Magicians books by Lev Grossman and the TV adaptations. 

Are there any things that most of these future schools have in common? You would be quick to note that students have much more choice. Their curriculum seems to be all directly related to what they want to do. Yes, some of Harry Potter's classmate may not like a course on magical plants, but they realize that it is an important part of the magical world.

Obviously, these future students have amazing technology to use. Paper notebooks and books and pens and pencils generally don't exist. Everything is digital. 

But there are also things that seem very much the same. Typically, there are still classrooms, labs, rows of desks and a teacher in the front of the room. I suppose even blue-sky writers and designers haven't come up with any good alternatives to those. 

Isaac Asimov made many predictions, including some about 2019, often they were based on current scientific research. Education was something he predicted “will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” He wrote a short story that I used to teach called "The Fun They Had." It is about future students that were completely educated at home via teching machines. When the system breaks down one day, they have to read a book and find out that kids once went to a school building and had classes with other kids their age. The children are in awe of the fun those kids must have had.

I wouldn’t use “fun” as my main adjective for education today, but through MOOCs, alternate degrees, customized programs and other DIY educational paths there is more education “bubbling up” than ever before.

Christopher Noessel is a veteran in the UX world: designing products, services, and strategy
for the health, financial, and consumer domains, among many others. In this talk,
he investigates how the depiction of technologies evolve over time, how fictional interfaces
influence those in the real world, and what lessons interface designers can learn
through this process, with many examples of good and awful designs.

 

Return to the One-Room School

one-room class
I don't know that anyone wants to literally return to the one-room schools of the past. This one is from 1940 in rural Kentucky, USA. But the concept may have present day applications.

According to Wikipedia, one-room schools were once commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries, including Prussia, Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain.

In these rural and small town schools (some of which literally used someone's house), all of the students met in a single room. A single teacher taught academic basics to different aged children at different levels of elementary-age boys and girls.

I imagine that younger kids were hearing some of the older kids' lessons and older kids could get some remedial lessons when the younger kids were being taught. I think that could be an interesting model of learning. I also think it would be a challenging teaching assignment. It's a topic I delve into a bit deeper on my other blog.

Any debate about whether to group students by age or ability is hardly a new one. Terms like "performance-based" "ability grouping," "competency-based education" and "age-based instruction" pop up in lots of article, papers and dissertations. Classes and schools have been created around these ideas. And they still are being created - perhaps for different reasons than those that brought the one-room schools of the past into existence.

What is a school without grade levels? I read about a number of contemporary schools, including a district in North Dakota, that felt a drive to teach competencies meant eliminating age-based classrooms.

Back in 2016, I read an article in The Atlantic that asked "What If Schools Abolished Grade Levels?" Their panel concluded that sorting kids by age or ability creates problems.

What are some reasons to consider this approach to education?

In traditional classrooms, the learning is likely to be too fast or too slow for a good percentage of the students.

Rather than using "seat time" (students progressing through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair), base promotion onward on mastery of competencies and skills.”

Allowing students to learn at their own pace, including progressing more quickly through content they truly understand.

Those sound good. Are there any potential problems with this approach?

Grouping by ability rather than age could increase social interruptions. Having taught middle school and high school, I would tell you that there are some big differences between a sixth grader (typically 11 years old) and an eighth grader (at 13). Even more dramatic would be a class with two very good math students that are 12 and 16 years old. I actually saw that happen several times when middle school students were allowed to go to the high school (or even local college) for advanced classes. I know it works on television for Doogie Howser and Young Sheldon, but maybe not so smoothly in real life. Maturity, socialization and self-esteem are all considerations. 

Scheduling and assigning courses for each student becomes more complicated. 

But even if you question the pedagogy of this approach, what about the andragogy? When we train adult employees or our returning adult undergraduates and graduate students, how do we group? Do we put the 45 year-old woman working on her MBA separate from the 26 year old? Of course, we do not. Through some screening or admission processes, we often put learners in groups based on ability. For example, an employee is brand new to the software so she will go in level one training whether she is 22 or 55 years old.

The old one-room schools were primarily for the lower elementary grade levels, and they very much were products of economics, supply and demand, and necessity. Perhaps, new one-room schools would also work better at those levels rather than at the high school level. We already see some of this arrangement informally or just be accident in higher education and we certainly see it in training situations. This might be the time to reexamine the formal use of ability grouping at different ages and in different situations.