Microlearning

In my years developing online courses starting at the turn of the century, we discovered quickly that students had no interest in recorded 90-minute lectures on tapes, CDs, DVDs, and eventually online. They hit the fast-forward button frequently.

I had learned in my secondary teaching years before my higher ed years that chunking material was essential.  Chunking is the process of breaking down instructional materials into smaller, "bite-sized" pieces and then arranging them in a sequence that makes it easier for your learners to learn the material. Think of how we write phone numbers: 800-289-9246 rather than 8002899246. We do it for dates, we make categories, chapters, heading, subheadings, menus.

The more current term for this seems to be "microlearning" which is used in education and professional development. These short, focused bursts of learning, are often delivered in the form of videos. Proponents will say that this is also effective for time-poor and attention-deficient learners, though that is arguable. 

We know that video accounts for the vast majority of Internet traffic. Of course, it's not all learning. In fact, much of it is entertainment, but educators can learn from how entertainment uses video and media. All those short clips from late-night talk shows or Saturday Night Live get far more views than would a full version of the show.

The effectiveness of microlearning depends on a range of factors: the quality of the materials being delivered, the context in which they are being consumed, and the learning objectives of the individual.

Microlearning in education, especially online, can include:
Text (in phrases, short paragraphs)
Images (photos, illustrations)
Videos (of the short variety)
Audio (also short)
Tests and Quizzes (yes, shorter is better)
Games (such as simple single-screen challenges)

MORE
https://www.umass.edu/ctl/resources/how-do-i/how-do-i-chunk-content-increase-learning

https://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/thinking/chunking/chunking-as-a-learning-strategy/

https://elearningindustry.com/what-is-microlearning-benefits-best-practices

microlearning info
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Google Will 'Help Me Write'

Google recently introduced a new feature to their Workplace suite that they call "Help Me Write." This generative AI will first appear in Gmail and Google Docs. At the moment, it's available to a select audience of invited testers.

Like other generative AI, you will be able to enter a prompt and have a first draft created. for you.,An example Google shared is not having it write a paper for your English class, though it will probably be able to do that. They show the example of having it create a job description for a regional sales representative/

It's another AI tool that might frighten teachers because it seems to help students unfairly but I think this may be a misperception. As with other AI tools, such as the much-discussed chat GPT, I think the best thing educators can do is to introduce this to students and guide them in the ways that it can be best used and best used legitimately.

The evolution of digital literacy in classrooms will never end. Yes, these kinds of AI- assisted-writing tools present boyj opportunities and challenges for educators. But ignoring them or trying to ban them from student use is certainly not the solution. This tool and others like it are an opportunity to improve student writing skills and critical thinking. 

Google Announcements
https://blog.google/technology/ai/ai-developers-google-cloud-workspace/
https://workspace.google.com/blog/product-announcements/generative-ai

demo
       Google Demo

Parental Control of Technology

kids on tech
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

As the new school year begins for all students this week, a series titled "Parental Control" appears from Mozilla (Firefox) about ways to empower parents for some technology challenges. That sounds like a good thing, but particularly when it applies to schools, parental control has cons along with pros.

Many digital platforms offer parental control settings. The most common and most popular allows parents to shield young people from “inappropriate” content. Restricting "mature content" and what is "inappropriate" takes us into a controversial area. Who defines what should be restricted? Mozilla says that "the way platforms identify what that means is far from perfect."

YouTube has apologized after its family-friendly “Restricted Mode” recently blocked videos by gay, bisexual and transgender creators, sparking complaints from users. Restricted Mode is an optional parental-control feature that users can activate to avoid content that’s been flagged by an algorithm.

That example takes me back to the earliest days of the Internet in K-12 schools when filters would block searches for things like "breast cancer" because "breast" was on the list of blocked words.

Limiting screen time is another strategy and is within a parent's control but is certainly controversial within a family. Kids don't like their screen time to be limited.

Mozilla actually had questions for itself about what to call the series. They quote Jenny Radesky, an MD and Associate Professor of Pediatrics-Developmental/Behavioral at the University of Michigan, as saying that “Parental mediation is [a better] term, parental engagement is another – and probably better because it implies meaningful discussion or involvement to help kids navigate media, rather than using controlling or restricting approaches.” She pointed to research that suggests letting children manage their own media consumption may be more effective than parental control settings offered by apps.

The internet has risks, but so do parental controls. Many kids in the LGBTQI+ community can be made vulnerable by tech monitoring tools.

Sensitive information about young people can be exposed to teachers and campus administrators through the school devices they use.

As parents and eductaors, we want to protect students, especially the youngest ones. We als want to, as a society, instill in younger generations why privacy matters.

RESOURCES

Electronic Frontier Foundation https://www.eff.org/search/site/parents

Mozilla https://blog.mozilla.org/en/internet-culture/deep-dives/parental-controls-internet-safety-for-kids/

Teaching Artificial Intelligence in K-12 Classrooms

Should K-12 students be learning about artificial intelligence? Since the turn of the century, I have written about, observed and taught in programs to have all students learn the basics of coding. Prior to that, robotics made big moves into K-12 classrooms. AI seems to be the next step.

I saw recently that DayofAI.org launched a day for classrooms around the world to participate in learning about AI. They offered resources from MIT for teachers, including lesson plans and videos for all grade levels.

car gps
New vehicles have many AI-assisted applications Image: Foundry Co

It's not that students aren't already surrounded by artificial intelligence in their everyday lives, but they are probably unaware of its presence. That is no surprise since most of the adults around them are equally unaware of AI around them.

You find AI used in maps and navigation, facial recognition, text editors and autocorrect, search and recommendation algorithms, chatbots, and in social media apps. If you have a smartphone to a new car, you are using AI consciously or unconsciously. Consciously is preferred and a reason to educate about AI.

Though I have never thought of my time as a K-12 teacher as training students for jobs in the way that teaching in higher education clearly has that in mind, you can't ignore what students at lower level might need one day to prepare for job training in or out of higher ed. Artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing, and cybersecurity are areas that always show up in reports about jobs now and in the near future.ed workers which means that we need to do more to prepare our students for these careers and others that will evolve over time.

“AI will dominate the workplace and to be successful, people are going to have to understand it,” said Mark Cuban, who launched a foundation in 2019 that provides AI bootcamps for free to students to learn about AI. It is his belief and the belief of other tech leaders and educators that artificial intelligence is something that should and can be taught at all levels, regardless of a teacher’s experience in this field.

One starting place might be Google AI Experiments which offers simple experiments to explore machine learning, through things like pictures, drawings, language, and music. See https://experiments.withgoogle.com/collection/ai

AIClub offers courses for students and free resources for educators including professional development sessions to spark curiosity for learning about AI. They are also developing guidelines for AI curriculum in grades K through 12.

I tried an AI test (it is rather long for younger students) at www.tidio.com/blog/ai-test/ that was part of a survey for a research study about AI-generated content. It shows you images, texts, and plays sounds and asks you to decide if you think they show real people or were created by humans or not. Almost all of us will be fooled by things created by AI. Another site is fun for kids as it shows very realistic AI-created cats that don't really exist. And another site at https://ai4k12.org/ is also a human vs AI activity where you decide whether art, music, writing or photos were created by a human or AI.

All of those examples can be used as a way to introduce students to how AI is used and even caution them to recognize that they can be not only helped but deceived using AI.

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.