The Obama administration has just released the first public draft of the National Education Technology Plan (NETP). As the name suggests, it proposes to infuse technology throughout the system. That is not much of a surprise- it is stating the obvious. But, to me, the most exciting part is that this report is the first comprehensive effort, in a very long time- since the concept of Universal education was floated, to transform education in America rather than just make changes at the margin. Bravo!!
Many of the recommendations in the 114-page document may be onsidered radical because they questions the very foundation of the present education system. For example, age-determined grade levels, measuring achievement through “seat time,” keeping students in the same classes throughout the year, and even keeping individual academic disciplines separate, the length of the school day/ school year and the wall between K-12 and “higher education”. The fact that technology allows you to provide mass customization and has been standard operating procedure in industry for decades, makes these recommendations not as radical and scary as they may seem It is refreshing that the policy makers are dealing with the process of seminal innovation and not incremental change.
People interested in education reform anywhere in the world would be remiss if they did not study this document in great detail to glean nuggets for their own efforts. I know I am going to study this report as I have not studied a subject since my college exam days!!
I am concerned that so much money is being earmarked into hardware, on-line delivery and other hard things that we are neglecting to look at the system as a whole.
The KIPP story illustrates that with good teachers and process redesign like, longer hours, more discipline, enrolling parents, etc. low income children can perform at par with the rest. One of the key ingredients was motivated passionate teachers whose hard work was appreciated and rewarded.
Now Simple and Cheap technology can provide a great assist and incredible leverage in all of these efforts. And we should make the Teachers well versed with technology tools so that they can pass it to the next generation
The one idea that can be implemented today for an impact tomorrow is: A passionate, motivated person who has the aptitude and interest in teaching, sound training in the principles of education and use of technology to leverage his/her talents with business acumen to take advantage of the emerging opportunities in education/training.
But that is precisely the sketch of our Learning Facilitator!
Bill Gates bought and distributed 2,000 copies of Jay Mathews book, “Work Hard, Be Nice”, to all the attendees at the TED presentation. The book is about KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), a group of high achieving public schools that has the educational establishment abuzz.
KIPP began in 1994 when two teachers, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, launched a fifth-grade public school program in inner-city Houston, TX, after completing their commitment to Teach For America. In 1995, Feinberg remained in Houston to lead KIPP Academy Middle School, and Levin returned home to New York City to establish KIPP Academy in the South Bronx. These two original KIPP Academies became the starting place for a growing network of schools that are transforming the lives of students in under-resourced communities, and redefining the notion of what is possible in public education. From that beginning KIPP has grown to 82 schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia enrolling around 20,000 students.
Over 90 percent of KIPP students are African American or Hispanic/Latino, and more than 80 percent of KIPP students are eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program. Students are accepted regardless of prior academic record, conduct, or socioeconomic background.
Mathews describes: The program boasts longer hours (till 5 pm), days (every other Saturday), weeks (during Summer); discipline from students, parents and teachers- but gets good replicable results.
Now this is a story which has great lessons for the emerging world.
Before we can run a sophisticated transport system we need to develop the people who will drive it.
However simple the technology tools, we also require an investment in teachers and trainers.
Bill Gates in the education part of his TED talk, presents, after eight minutes, some interesting fodder for this point.
The biggest variable in the outcome of students is a great teacher. A teacher in the top quartile can make a difference of as much as 10% per year. No other variable, seniority, pay, Masters degree made any difference. Subject matter expertise made some. Past performance made nearly all the difference.
While Gates said that we don’t know what makes a great teacher great, he alluded to predisposition. Passion.
We should be retaining, rewarding, cloning these people learning from them and transferring those skills. We should give them the tools to leverage what they do best.
Some examples of Cheap and Simple (C&S) that will Simplifly Education are:
* Brick and Mortar Buildings (C & S: More Online courses in existing and new U)
* Transportation of students to central schools (C& S: Broad-band to local schools)
* Teacher Quality through Subject Matter Expertise as well as Teaching Skills (C&S: Learning Facilitators with content aid through on-line resources)
* One lap top per child ( C&S: Inexpensive technologies exist to share laptops)
* E-Learning (C&S: m-Learning)
* Each University requires own branded courses even if student already has it. (C&S: National collaboration of accredited courses, assessment, provide gap courses)
* Expensive Text Books that change frequently (C&S: Open Source, Common content)
* Wireless lap top carts (C&S: Carry it)
* Replacement T 8 bulbs to replace present lights as Lighting projects (C&S: Turn off the light when not needed)
* A manufacturer of desks markets 4 desks with ceiling mounted projectors as a ”revolutionary” “team building” classroom. (C & S: Turn the existing desks).
* Expanded Curricula (C&S: Extend school day or shorten Summer Vacation)
Cheap and Simple. Simplifly: A budget airline in India had the right slogan- too bad it didn’t survive. But we can!
We need an entirely different approach in the emerging world. C.K. Prahald has egged us on to look for the fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid. Over time this approach will meet the demands of even the Western market.
Our path is clear: We need to concentrate our energies to focus on Disruptive Technologies that are Good Enough to cause a low-end disruption and gain a foothold in the market. In the emerging market this would still be a major improvement over the existing conditions. . Going forward we can move up the chain through innovative products like Certifications that lead to guaranteed employability. These would be “new-market disruption” which targets customers whose needs are being un-served by existing incumbents.
This is the leap-frogging that I visualize. It has a solid theoretical foundation!
Robert Capps describes how ease-of-acquisition and ease-of-use characteristics of many technologies have driven their adoption much more than their overall capabilities and quality would suggest. He gives examples of popular “good enough” tech products are the Kindle, Hulu, and Skype. Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere.
The example of Nano in cars is also another example in recent times.
High-end tech products are expensive and often not the easiest or quickest tools for getting a job done, and so individuals often choose tools that are just “good enough” to get the job done. They favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect.
We must also be cognizant of the emerging world constraint- Simple, Cheap, Scalable, Open and for the less than privileged.
Clayton M. Christensen coined the term that describes how some technologies have the power to disrupt status-quo and create a new normal. This concept furthers a long tradition, described by economists, of radical technical change as an example of innovation.
Christensen describes “low-end disruption” which targets customers who do not need all the features valued by customers at the high end of the market.
The myriad of Education Technology tools proposed in the West, I believe, far exceeds the rate at which educators and students can adopt them the emerging world. These products have overshot the affordability of most of the customers. The time is right for low-end technologies to enter the market and provide product(s) which have performance that far exceeds the present situation. These technologies are bound to gain a foothold in the emerging market.
The price will be low but the high volume provides viability.
Technology is changing- radically, but the needs of education are consistent. Students today may seem different but their basic human needs have not changed. They still are, like we were at their age, intellectually curious, socially active, trendy, vulnerable, occasionally overconfident, worthy of our respect, and in need of guidance and positive role models.
So, I am all for those core technologies that drive Cheap and Simple ideas that reform the education process. We can use technology to deliver content, and students can use it to acquire content. That would be a start. But that would not be enough. We should do what has not been possible for the masses otherwise- as a tool for inquiring about the world in fascinating ways.
We can go for delivery, improve critical thinking and performance all with an eye towards immediate employability and long term growth. I envisage initially, only a few great ideas about tomorrow that can be initiated today. The system takes time to absorb radical changes.
Technology is a tool and a means to an end. Let us not make it the main focus!
When you scour for ideas, you find the world is full of them for technology in education. I had not fully realized how badly the establishment is in love with technology. The appeal of new and expensive technology is so blinding that we have to fight with a machete for the essential parameters.
You can’t get far in academic circles these days without the conversation turning to social networking in education. The buzz is: how best to exploit Facebook and MySpace for marketing purposes, what to make of Twitter. Add in the hardware: BlackBerrys, iPhones, and other ever-more-powerful and sophisticated mobile phones. Then there’s YouTube, not a social-networking site per se, but a place where people flock in great numbers and share information.
I’m fascinated and eager to learn about the use of all of these in education, yet somewhat skeptical in my thinking. Yes, a revolution is taking place, and I would be a fool not to take part in it. But just because it is “new” is it “appropriate”?
I am beginning to sound schizophrenic. Am I for Technology or am I not?