The Return of the One-Room Schoolhouse

schoolhouse
Traditional one-room schoolhouse Peoria, Kansas.

It's not exactly a "one-room schoolhouse" in the sense of the 19th-century place that had that label, but a new trend to "microschools" has some of that in its lineage.

The trend grew out of pandemic remote learning and school closures but also is an offshoot of K-12 homeschooling. This form of education is micro in that it serves a small student population of generally 15 students or less. There isn't a definition of a microschool that fits all the ones that might fall into the classification but they probably are all offering personalized, student-centered learning and multiple age groups in the same classroom.

There were pandemic "learning pods" created by families so that kids could learn in small groups and those might have included a trained teacher. A microschool is more official and probably registered as a school and perhaps even as a for-profit business.

So, is this just a "private school"? At 15 or less students, this is not really a business model. Then again, there are a few networks of microschoolsthat have emerged. Acton Academy has more than 250 affiliate schools in 31 states and 25 countries, with an average annual tuition of about $10,000.

There are microschools for every grade level from kindergarten through high school and even a few microcolleges. But this is a new thing, so there is still a lot to be worked out. For example, there is no one national accreditation body, so rules and regulations vary widely. A few states (West Virginia and Wisconsin) are trying to define microschools via new legislation. There are legal, financial, and pedagogical things to consider.

This isn't the same thing as starting a home school. An actual microschool will need to be registered as a business and most often as a private school. Check into your state regulations, and you'll see the complexities of licensing, attendance and things such as insurance requirements.

more at usnews.com/education/k12/articles/what-is-a-microschool

 

Pandemic Learning Gains

loss gainThere has been lots of talk about the losses in learning during the pandemic. Much of that talk has been around the shift to online learning and what was perceived as lost by not being in physical classrooms.

coverMy wife, Lynnette Condro Ronkowitz, and I wrote two articles published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology (Volume 80, Issue 1) in January 2021 about the pandemic and higher education. (both articles are available via academia.com

The first article is "Online Education in a Pandemic: Stress Test or Fortuitous Disruption?" We considered the ways in which the shutdown caused by the  COVID-  19  pandemic have accelerated the evolution of online education. This movement from face-to-face (F2F) education to a virtual environment was forced and unplanned. It can be viewed as a stress test for digital teaching and learning in the higher education system. The study addresses course conversions and the progress of online education in response to the current crisis.

The second article, "Choosing Transformation Over Tradition: The Changing Perception of Online Education" was part of the first article's draft but the editors thought it would be expanded into a second article. In this article, we consider that despite advancements in online education, misperceptions persist that create obstacles to the integration of online classes in higher education. We refute misconceptions about online education and highlights key components of a strong online course. For example, as a result of the pandemic, it became apparent that there is a conflation between “school” and “education” that has prompted contradistinction, and so we tried to provide some insight into some of the social and economic implications of the culture of our education system.

We felt that though learning losses occurred during these pandemic years, there were also gains. A post on the Innovative Educator blog also addresses gains in learning that came out of the pandemic. Though we focused on higher education, the blog post looks more at K-12. For example, because of the pivot to online "students and staff were catapulted into the future in many school districts. As a result, our students will now be more prepared than they ever would have been, had education not been disrupted.

Some pandemic learning gains that were cited in the post:

Access to Devices - not that a "digital divide" does not still exist, but it is not as wide

Access to the Internet - the inability of students and some faculty to access broadband connections or possibly any Internet access at home became apparent. Stories of learners working from parking lots outside free wireless sites were shocking to some people.

Access to Content and to New Platforms - K-12 school districts began adopting learning management systems and platforms (Google Classroom was one ) and learning materials became more accessible to students and families.

Access to Each Other & The World - Higher education already had far greater access to learning platforms and tools such as video conferencing pre-pandemic, but it was not being used by a majority of faculty and in courses that were not already online. "Zooming" became a new verb for video conferencing for many people in and out of education - and it continues today. Virtual conferencing may come with some losses from in-person but it also came with gains. Video plus chat and captioning (though imperfect in most cases) helped students with and without disabilities or who spoke other languages access what was being said more easily. Courses could include authors, guests, and experts brought into virtual classrooms.  

I am not a fan of the term "the new normal" but such a thing would include gains that have remained in place and progress that was made. Hopefully, another major pandemic is far in the future but mini-crises from virus variants to natural disasters have occurred and will occur with greater frequency. And hopefully, we are better prepared for them.

The Science of Learning

Einstein
Professor Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921

Albert Einstein was definitely a subject matter expert, but he is not regarded as a good professor. Einstein first taught at the University of Bern but did not attract students, and when he pursued a position at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the president raised concerns about his lackluster teaching skills. Biographer Walter Isaacson summarized, “Einstein was never an inspired teacher, and his lectures tended to be regarded as disorganized.” It's a bit unfair to say that "Einstein Was Not Qualified To Teach High-School Physics" - though by today's standards he would not be considered qualified. It probably is fair to say that "Although it’s often said that those who can’t do teach, the reality is that the best doers are often the worst teachers."

Beth McMurtrie wrote a piece in The Chronicle called "What Would Bring the Science of Learning Into the Classroom?" and her overall question was: Why doesn't the scholarship on teaching have as much impact as it could have in higher education classroom practices?

It is not the first article to show and question why higher education appears not to value teaching as much as it could or should. Is it that quality instruction isn't valued as much in higher education as it is in the lower grades? Other articles show that colleges and most faculty believe the quality of instruction is a reason why students select a school.

Having moved from several decades in K-12 teaching to higher education, I noticed a number of things related to this topic. First of all, K-12 teachers were likely to have had at least a minor as undergraduates in education and would have taken courses in pedagogy. For licensing in all states, there are requirements to do "practice" or "student teaching" with monitoring and guidance from education professors and cooperating teachers in the schools.

When I moved from K-12 to higher education at NJIT in 2001, I was told that one reason I was hired to head the instructional technology department was that I had a background in pedagogy and had been running professional development workshops for teachers. It was seen as a gap in the university's offerings. The Chronicle article also points to "professional development focused on becoming a better teacher, from graduate school onward, is rarely built into the job."

As I developed a series of workshops for faculty on using technology, I also developed workshops on better teaching methods. I remember being surprised (but shouldn't have been) that professors had never heard of things like Bloom's taxonomy, alternative assessment, and most of the learning science that had been common for the past 30 years.

K-12 teachers generally have required professional development. In higher education, professional development is generally voluntary. I quickly discovered that enticements were necessary to bring in many faculty. We offered free software, hardware, prize drawings and, of course, breakfasts, lunches and lots of coffee. Professional development in higher ed is not likely to count for much when it comes to promotion and tenure track. Research and grants far outweigh teaching, particularly at a science university like NJIT.

But we did eventually fill our workshops. We had a lot of repeat customers. There was no way we could handle the approximately 600 full-time faculty and the almost 300 adjunct instructors, so we tried to bring in "champions" from different colleges and departments who might later get colleagues to attend.

I recall more than one professor who told me that they basically "try to do the thing my best professors did and avoid doing what the bad ones did." It was rare to meet faculty outside of an education department who did any research on teaching. We did find some. We brought in faculty from other schools who were researching things like methods in engineering education. I spent a lot of time creating online courses and improving online instruction since NJIT was an early leader in that area and had been doing "distance education" pre-Internet.

Discipline-based pedagogy was definitely an issue we explored, even offering specialized workshops for departments and programs. Teaching the humanities and teaching the humanities in a STEM-focused university is different. Teaching chemistry online is not the same as teaching a management course online.

Some of the best parts of the workshops were the conversations amongst the heterogeneous faculty groups. We created less formal sessions with names that gathered professors around a topic like grading, plagiarism and academic integrity, applying for grants, writing in the disciplines, and even topics like admissions and recruiting. These were sessions where I and my department often stepped back and instead offered resources to go further after the session ended.

It is not that K-12 educators have mastered teaching, but they are better prepared for the classroom from the perspective of discipline, psychology, pedagogy, and the numbers of students and hours they spend in face-to-face teaching. College faculty are reasonably expected to be subject matter experts and at a higher level of expertise than K-12 teachers who are expected to be excellent teachers. This doesn't mean that K-12 teachers aren't subject matter experts or that professors can't be excellent teachers. But the preparations for teaching in higher and the recognition for teaching excellence aren't balanced in the two worlds.

Google and YouTube Changing Features for Kids and Teens

social media

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

With continuing pressure on the big tech companies to protect user privacy, particularly for younger users, Google is introducing updates to YouTube and its search feature aimed at increasing safety for kids and teens on its platforms. The changes include a number of things to give minors more control over their digital footprint and somewhat constrain commercial content for children.

Some of these changes affect their bottom line profits but there is the PR value of making these changes, and I'm sure they hope it will keep the government from regulating or punishing them for awhile.

Google stated that it wants to work with "kids and teens, parents, governments, industry leaders, and experts in the fields of privacy, child safety, wellbeing and education to design better, safer products for kids and teens." 

For YouTube (via their blog blog.youtube/news-and-events/

  • YouTube default privacy settings for users aged 13 to 17 will be the “most private option available” (that only lets content be seen by the user and whomever they choose - teen users can make their content public by changing the default upload visibility setting)
  • YouTube will also start to remove “overly commercial content” from YouTube Kids" (for example, videos that focus on product packaging or encourages children to spend money)
  • YouTube will have “take a break and bedtime reminders" by default for all users 13-17. (Some adults could use that feature!)
  • YouTube will turn off autoplay by default for this age group

There are also changes for other parts of the platform, including search. 

Google will be introducing new policies that allow people under 18, or their parent or guardian, to request the removal of their image from Google Image results. Removing an image from Search doesn’t remove it from the web. They will also be turning on its SafeSearch, which aims to filter out explicit results, for all existing users under 18 and make it the default setting for teens who set up new accounts. The SafeSearch update will be rolled out “in the coming months,” according to Google. 

In other apps, Google will disable location history for all users under 18 without the ability to turn it on. A safety section in Play will show parents which apps follow Google's Families policies and disclose how they use the data they collect in greater detail.

Of course, ads are where Google makes its money, but it will "block ad targeting based on the age, gender, or interests of people under 18." 

 

Should Students and Their Parents Be Taking Fake News 101?

news

A podcast from Marketplace offered this question: Should kids be taking Fake News 101? My first thought was that they are already getting that class. I based that on my friends who teach in K-12 schools and who have information literacy as part of their curriculum. Validating sources and information has been part of the curriculum for a very long time. It was there when I started teaching almost fifty years ago. Of course, the Internet as a news source is a more recent issue. Has information literacy changed?

The headline says "kids" which suggests K-12 but the "Fake News 101" sounds like an introductory college course. I know that information literacy online and offline was required at a community college I worked at, and validating sources online was part of my social media and communications courses I taught at the undergraduate and graduate level. 

The term "fake news" came into the discussion with President Trump who used it to attack media reports he didn't like and broadly all mainstream media. That isn't something you want to teach. But news that was inaccurate has been around as long as there has been news. I'm sure town criers sometimes called out things that turned out not to be true. 

The term "fake" isn't really the correct term. "Fake" means a thing that is not genuine or a forgery. The news items often being labeled fake in those Trump days were not being singled out because they were not really news. It was news. It generally came from a credible news outlet, such as The New York Times or Washington Post, and in the majority of instances had facts to back it up. 

But, as the podcast points out, from politics to COVID-19, there is a lot of false and inaccurate information on the internet. I would be very reluctant to tell students that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are credible news sources, but we know that many people get their "news" from these places rather than newspapers.

Helen Lee Bouygues was the guest on that podcast and she is the founder and president of the Reboot Foundation, which teaches critical thinking skills to combat fake news. She says we’re just not inclined to second-guess information when it’s flooding our social media feeds.

Some points she makes:

"It’s actually just a natural human reaction to not want to seek challenging views. And then the second point, there have been studies already conducted that if you are pounded by lies about the information, over time you actually do start believing it."

She prefers that rather than just having teachers "give the facts and get to the answer" that teachers and parents of children, especially of younger age, have children challenge what they’re reading on websites."

She is correct that "this is a skill that can be taught, but it’s not something that [is] innate."

Lee Bouygues based is based in France and she says that there is a standard pedagogy to have students writing papers differently. Students are told to "hone in on your own convictions and the way you write a paper is by thinking about opposing views and counter-arguments that will help you better refine your own thinking. So by looking at counter-arguments, you’re actually doing more metacognition also, which is obviously thinking about your own thinking, which is so important for critical thinking."

Certainly, this skill needs to be honed in older students and in entire communities. I taught an undergraduate critical thinking course and was continually surprised at the gaps I saw in my students' ability to do more critical thinking.

Teaching how to question assumptions, reason through logic, separate facts from opinions and emotions, validate sources, and seek out a diversity of thoughts, facts and opinions are life skills that need to be learned and relearned as the world of information changes.

Schoolhouse World

The organization schoolhouse.house hits a lot of things that I am interested in wth education. It is a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform on which anyone, anywhere can receive live help. It is no surprise that Sal Khan of Khan Academy is working with them (CEO) since the share similar goals.

The thing that sets schoolhouse.world apart from other free services (such as MOOCs) is that you can earn shareable certifications in the topics you learn about. You also have the option to become a tutor in the topics that you have mastered.

Their current focus is on high school math and SAT prep, with plans to expand to other areas soon. All the small-group tutoring sessions happen over Zoom. During the pandemic and learning from home by choice or necessity, this is surely something many of us felt there was a need for in the K-12 world.

But there is also a higher education connection. The University of Chicago is one institution supporting schoolhouse.world in their effort to connect high-quality peer tutors with students around the world. Those tutors also have the opportunity to showcase their contributions on their college applications.

Jim Nondorf, Dean of Admissions at the University, and Sal Khan joined a group of schoolhouse.world tutors on Zoom to discuss the new program and what it means for the future.

Says Khan, "It was wonderful to hear the stories of these amazing young people admitted to one of the top universities in the world based on their ability to certify their knowledge and tutor others! I suspect more colleges like University of Chicago will value this type of evidence soon."

I hope Sal's suspicion will be confirmed.