Standards: Common Core and Others

The majority of K-12 educators seem to dislike the Common Core Standards. But you know who likes them? The for-profit education industry. Why? Because having common standards makes it a whole lot easier to produce educational materials and sell them to a wide audience. In New Jersey was using the same standards as Texas and California, things would be great for big vendors.

Having to individualize resources costs more money. Having to customize learning in your classroom costs you more time.

A vendor can label a product as being “Aligned with the Common Core” and pick up some easy sales. If you have to apply the same standards to all your students - no special accommodations - your teaching life is easier.

If in 4 years your college freshman composition class is filled with students who went through high school with the Common Core Standards, you should be able to expect a certain homogeneity to their knowledge. Right?

Of course, the idea of having adaptive and personalized instruction was very popular the past few years. What happens to that?

I was part of an effort in 2006 to build a K-20 (AKA K-16 or P-20) program to bring colleges and secondary or lower schools together in order to better prepare the pre-college student. One of the the goals was to align K-12 education with postsecondary goals.

Now, you have elementary and secondary schools in 45 states and the District of Columbia trying to implement new standards for math and language arts in order to improve college and career readiness for every high school graduate.

An admirable goal to be sure. The first set of assessments will be in the 2014-15 academic year.

Perhaps the first department to feel the heat at a college will be the school of education. They need to prepare students now to work in a school environment that will be using the CCS as soon as they start. 

Sure, other college departments will probably sense a different kind of student (better or worse prepared, depending on your current bias). But that probably won't be really evident until students arrive who were taught with Common Core-based curriculums in elementary, middle school and high school. That will take a decade.

I like standards. Standards of weights and measurement were very important to industrial and technological progress. And while I feel that students who graduate a high school in Vermont or Alabama should be equally prepared for work or college, I also think have observed in my own classrooms for 38 years that having the same standards for every student in a class sometimes just did not make for the best learning in that room.

This is not going to be easy.

Big (for me) Data

I use SlideShare to share my slide presentations with the world. They send me weekly stats and they always surprise me.

This last week, the most viewed was one on "Moodle: a free learning management system" which has had 47,000 views. I feel a bit embarrassed by that because the presentation is kind of out of date by now. I think I should do an update. Obviously, there is interest.

The latest popular download of the week was one I did on "Student Blogs As Reflective Practice."

My SlideShare stats showed that 1,000 people have embedded one of my slide presentations on their blog or site. Some can be embedded as a slideshow but some are pdf documents and 2000 times people have downloaded the presentation. That is way more people than I will ever stand in front of live and share a presentation.

I started using Slideshare seven years ago when I posted a set of slides with quotations that I was using in a teacher workshop. I wanted to make them available to the teachers later, so I posted them and told them they could download the PowerPoint and then edit or use it in any way. It was an easy way to open source the idea. (You can add a Creative Commons license to your uploaded work. I generally use the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.)  That set of "Thirty Quotations" has had more than 18,000 views. A few people who downloaded it have even emailed me to let me know how they used them in their classes. I uploaded a "Thirty Quotations Volume 2" the following year.

The really surprising stat that Slideshare emailed me this month was this: 5 Titanics worth of people have viewed those slides. That's one way to think of big data - though I might prefer to think of my readers as being on a Caribbean cruise ship rather than a doomed ocean liner. 

Higher Ed Analytics


I was reading Karine Joly's post on the CollegeWebEditor blog about what the "next big thing" might be for higher education analytics. Big and small data has been a hot topic outside education for longer than it has been hot in education, so we have some catching up to do.

Karine got 11 speakers from the 2nd edition of the online Higher Ed Analytics Conference (Feb 5, 2014) who are analytics experts in higher ed to make some predictions.

Here are 6 that I think are good ideas to consider for your own institution's analytics roadmap.

Universal Analytics – Shelby Thayer from Penn State University "I’m hoping it can be to find a way to tie together the entire web presence and experience. Look for Universal Analytics to play a major role over the next year or two. I’m excited to see what the impact will be. Although, for higher education, I think the 'next big thing' is in our hands – something we can overcome ourselves with more resources and better collaboration."

Google Tag Manager – Colleen Clark from Ithaca College "I think higher ed institutions are starting to become more comfortable with the idea of integrating analytics with online marketing. As new digital campaigns are launched, multiple tags may need to be placed on the website. Tag Management solutions such as Google Tag Manager will begin to become more widespread in 2014 by replacing multiple tag requests with a single unified code on the website for all tagging needs."

Predictive Analytics – Michelle Tarby from Le Moyne College " I’d like to move into using Google Analytics to do predictive modeling. Can we use the behavior of our visitors to predict someone is more likely to apply, visit or request more information about us? What does that look like? How does the source of the visit relate to meeting a goal? Are other metrics a better predictor (number of visits, particular pages they end up on, number of pages viewed)? Once those models are built, how do we build content targeting? What increases the likelihood of conversion based on our models?"

Multi-Channel Integration – Stephanie Hatch Leishman from MIT "While this isn’t the 'next big thing' in the for-profit world, it’s something I believe we’re still aiming for in higher ed. In 2014, I see more universities focusing on analytics throughout all their communications, including email, social, web, print, etc. For many institutions, content creation still may not be fully integrated, and still in silos, so our analytics follow suit."

Real-Time Social Media Analytics – Tim Nekritz from SUNY Oswego "I expect better, more robust reporting of real-time analytics will really allow us to pivot and change content and delivery even faster. The main hitch in Google and social media analytics is the delay in receiving the most valuable quantitative and qualitative information. Once somebody figures out how to streamline that so that I quickly know, say, whether something I posted on the homepage that we think is important is or isn't getting any play, we can think about whether modifying its placement, related visual or phrasing can help it perform better."

Finally, here is one thing that doesn't require a lot of technology, but might be even harder than implementing analytics software on a campus.

Data Sharing Among Institutions – C.Daniel Chase from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga  "The next big thing that I would like to see is, cross-institutional sharing of data. The idea being that universities could voluntarily agree to participate and compete a short form describing their institution (public/private, 2/4 year, undergraduate & graduate enrollment) and add a short piece of javascript to their pages that would submit their data to a central account—perhaps using Google Analytics—that could then be used as a resource for site comparison to your peers. With this kind of data, everyone would have a better perspective on how well they were doing individually, and they would be able to review those that were doing well for good ideas! The ‘friendly competition’ would all help us develop better websites!"

The Educational Core and Standards

measureAs we were headed into the new school year last fall, an ASCD poll on the "Most Attention Getting Topics for the Year in K-12 Education" had caught my attention. 

Included were some hot and buzz-worthy topics like:
STEM/STEAM with a rating of 7.40%
Data analysis and decision-making  5.67%
The changing role of educators  3.31%
Personalized learning/adaptive learning  2.99%
Early-childhood education  1.57%
Online and blended instruction/MOOCs  1.42%

But for the K-12 world of education, the topic of the Common Core Standards and their orientation, implementation and assessment got the overwhelming vote at a whopping 77.64%.

Unfortunately, in higher education there is very little recognition or interest in these Common Core State Standards. That's unfortunate because they will have a real impact on the kind of students we see in the years to come.

The Common Core Standards are an effort to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.

The standards were designed to be robust and relevant to the real world and hopefully reflect the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers. Since this is a national effort, there is much talk about American students being prepared for the future and being able to "compete successfully in the global economy."

It's hard to not to agree with those intentions. But the Standards were met with lots of resistance from teachers, schools and even from states. I think that is to be expected with any big program that tries to set English and math standards and is pushed by Washington, D.C. education trade organizations and the current administration.

Some states have put on hold or even de-funded implementation of the standards. Some have pulled out of the consortia developing tests tied to them.

Federal programs like Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind waivers are often tied to the adoption of Common Core standards and assessments. But the Race to the Top money is spent and so states are taking a different view at Common Core.

It is an over-simplification to explain the standards in just a few sentences, but what got a lot of press was that Common Core reduces the amount of classic literature, poetry and drama taught in English classes by 60 percent in favor of reading non-fiction - the prose of work.

In the math area, it delays the progression to Algebra I (seen as the gateway course to all higher math) by two years.

Media coverage, like this NPR report, like to point out the extremes and inconsistencies. The public can easily see that if a fourth-grader in Arkansas gets a “proficient” on his state test but would have been given a "failing" score on it he lived in Massachusetts, something is wrong.

That is why many supporters of having clear and high standards for every child in the United States by grade level see it as a practical and effective solution for the idea that now some students learn less than peers in other states.

I am not enough of an expert to praise or condemn the Standards, but I do think that ALL educators, especially those who are post-secondary, need to become better informed.

The Pop Culture MOOC Experience

65,000 people signed up for a MOOC offered on the Canvas Network by the University of California, Irvine that was based on AMC's very popular TV show The Walking Dead.

It makes an interesting test case. Though the "course" (not really) had interdisciplinary objectives, it sounds like it could be fun for the viewer who wants to get more into it.

It was called "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s 'The Walking Dead.'" It was free - as a MOOC should be - and it ran for 8 weeks. It was offered on Instructure’s Canvas Network MOOC platform (I taught a MOOC there last year.) The teachers/facilitators were four UC Irvine professors from different disciplines: Zuzana Bic, public health; Joanne Christopherson, social sciences; Michael Dennin physics; and Sarah Eichhorn, mathematics.

Their goal was to use the show as a way to do case studies related to concepts from post-disaster nutrition, the foundations of human survival and stereotypes in a Darwinian environment. Sounds like a course.

Now that it has ended, I have seen a few stories online that focused on the fact that just 2,203 of the 65,000 people who enrolled in the course completed it. Completion horror stories have, unfortunately, become the big story in MOOCs the past six months. The folks at UC Irvine say the low completion rate doesn't bother them. They did get 80% of participants to spend at least an hour working on the class.

Actually, the course was designed to allow students to drop in and out of the modules. I did the same with my course. If you passed a quiz at the end of a lesson, students would earn a badge and getting all eight badges meant a certificate of completion.



But the story here might be more about the idea of seeing whether or not offering a "pop culture" course would attract a new audience or mean greater engagement and completion. Their completion rate is less than the usual 10-15% that is usually attached to MOOCs - and no one is happy with those numbers in academia.

90% of the students said they had never taken a MOOC before. (They got survey responses from 12,000 participants.) It might be more significant that 59% had never tried an online class at all.

I am sure you could get even more engagement and "completion" if you dropped some of the school elements of a course, increased the pop culture elements ("Let's learn about the actors and watch clips!") and the gamification elements ("Correct answers help you kill zombies!) and offered some swag or prizes ("Meet the cast!").

Of course, that's not what academic MOOCs are supposed to be all about.

We are still learning about how MOOCs work and how they might help enhance learning online and offline. I have never viewed completion as the the mark of success in MOOCs and don't see all non-engaged students as "lurkers" because I know some of them are "auditors" interested in only a portion of the course content.

We have things to learn from non-academic MOOCs too.