Standards and Interoperability.

I'm glad that when I plug in something to my AC wall outlets, they fit and work. All my headphones, microphones and earbuds fit into my laptop and my phone. I like interoperability. I like standards.

That love of standards isn't universal when it comes to education. I've written earlier about the problems that the implementation of the Common Core State Standards has had in American schools. Standards work when everyone agrees to them.

A post on the Canvas by Instructure blog points out that this also true in educational technology. Standards for software and hardware make it possible for tools to work with each other and on multiple devices. That is not a 100% ubiquitous agreement in standards, but the percentage is thankfully high.

The Canvas LMS and others, like Blackboard and Moodle, are adopters of the Learning Tools Interoperability™ (LTI) standard which allows a better user-experience on most learning platforms.

Higher education has embraced and benefited from this standard although some applications (such as Student Information Systems) do not play well with each other or on all platforms. The K-12 world has not benefited as much, mostly because technology providers for many K-12 tools and resources have not adopted the standards.

You would be angry if that plug did not fit in the port or didn't work even if it did fit.

Google Classroom Moves Out of Preview

logoIn June, I wrote about Google's limited preview of Classroom. The new tool is not a full virtual classroom but more of a tool for teachers to stay in touch with their students, give assignments and feedback.

Now, Google says more than 100,000 educators from 45 countries have signed up to try it. They have ended the preview phase and anyone with a Google Apps for Education account can now use the service.  It is available in 42 languages.

I have suspected for a few years that Google would offer teachers access to a free content management system. Classroom does that, although in a limited way.

A teacher can post updates and homework assignments and add/subtract students from their classes and give feedback including grades. The service is being aimed at K-12 teachers. Classroom doesn't connect with student information systems. It doesn't have threaded discussions and some tools that other open source or commercial CMS/LMS offer. Well, not yet...

It does connect, as you would expect, with Google Drive and the productivity applications, such as Google Docs and Slide in the Google Apps for Education suite.

In a Google world, a student works on her Chromebook with Google’s apps to write a paper and submits it through classroom. One educational ecosystem.

So, what is the ultimate objective for Classroom? Is it designed to get schools to use Google apps rather than ones from Apple or Microsoft? Is it a way to sell more Chromebooks to schools or (via Google Play for Education) open a path to sales of Android apps and books?

Will Classroom expand to higher education? Will Google one day be offering course content? How about credits?

A video about some experiences of teachers and students who gave feedback on the Classroom preview. 

Find out more:

Pop Art Serendipity


 Andy Warhol outside a shop called Serendipity.

Serendipity35 was on a little hiatus. It's summer. I'm busy and a few times when I did drop in on the admin page here, the site was offline. I took that as a sign to not work on a post. 

Summer in education is always slower. Our readers are off a bit (but we did get 2,365,491 hits last month) but people are still reading.

I'm working on a new course for 2015 and on a new program for teacher training. I'm prepping my one fall course. I'm trying to get some vacation time, but not being very successful with the planning.

Tim recently was married and he has been in summer mode as admin and out of touch when it comes to writing any posts.







Not a College Student, But a Colleague Student


I was once a college student. I went to college full time and I worked part time. That's the way it is supposed to be. Right? When I did my graduate work, I was working full time and going part time to classes. That is fairly typical these days. In my case, I was teaching in a public school while I went to grad school.

A post by Joshua Kim got my attention because he put a label on the kind of student who is working full-time and pursuing a graduate degree. In his post, he was really considering "colleague students" who work in higher ed while pursuing degrees in higher ed. But it is true of almost anyone working in a field while working towards an advanced degree in that field.

Are colleague students (the term is still open for suggestions - another suggestion is 
matriculated colleagues) a special class of student? I know that when I teach my graduate classes, they are comprised primarily of people already working in a related field. That means that they might bring more work experience to some topics than I have. That can be threatening to a teacher. I like it and try to use those students as experts or teachers when possible.

I think these students are better about delayed gratification. Joshua Kim calls them "Long-Term Career Thinkers" because they are committing to the years that it takes to get an advanced degree while working full-time.  That perseverance and time management is needed to make work, school and personal relationships and family work and are traits that are valued in professional settings.

Many undergraduates, even after choosing a major, are not sure about their career path. That is part of what the college experience is meant to do.

towards that advanced degree while working full-time indicates commitment to a field and a career. Of course, this is not all graduate students. I have students who are pursuing a degree (or the popular graduate certificates) because they want to move from the profession they are in currently. Those students are sometimes at a disadvantage in comparison with colleague students. They don't have any real world working knowledge of the field, and oftentimes they don't even have an undergraduate degree related to the field. The biology student who decides to go into computer science may bring an interesting perspective to the course, but not the foundation courses.

I'll close with two questions that Kim asked in his post: Do you think that the value of colleague-students is recognized on your campus and in higher ed in general?  Do we do enough to support and encourage our colleagues who are in the midst of pursuing graduate work?

What Makes Learning Authentic?

authentic You hear the term "authentic learning" used, but I can't imagine that everyone using or hearing the term thinks of the same things as examples of learning that is authentic. And does that mean that there is inauthentic learning?


Problem Based Learning (PBL) and "real world" assignments are other terms that often come up in an authentic learning discussion. There are several "reals" that are usually mentioned: learning that has a real purpose, real product, and a real audience.

Solving a real world problem doesn't mean having students find a way to bring peace in the Middle East. It might be to create in a STEM classroom a way to automatically vent a greenhouse when the temperature reaches a certain temperature. It might be to create an electronic newsletter site online for a school or class project. It could be to redesign an existing playground to make it safer, more engaging and green. The product might be a video explaining how to do a project for others that is posted to YouTube or another sharing site. All of these can be done using concepts of PBL.

Assignments, products and solutions that are seen and graded by only the teacher are less real than ones that are shared with people who need the information or would be interested in the work, including those who may want to collaborate. The rise of Web 2.0 blogs, wikis and social media have done a lot for making "schoolwork" available to the world.

In these examples, the product is less likely to be an essay or research paper, but if it is, the way the product is shared, reviewed and possibly revised is not 1:1 with a teacher.

In reading about the Common Core Standards, I find one of the complaints often heard from teachers is that the work required seems inauthentic. Of course, the standards are not authentic or inauthentic. Only the way they are taught and implemented can be judged as such. In fact, successfully or not, the idea of the standards is to prepare students better for the real world tasks of college and work.

To that end, I like some of the suggestions in this article on using Common Core to do authentic learning.

In planning, the authors suggest some backwards design: Start by deciding on the standards that needed to be covered. They suggest that social science or science standards may be easier to connect to current events that make the learning more relevant for students. Then look to the English and math standards can also be integrated.

Launch the lesson with students to get their input on what the "problem" is, who an authentic audience might be (who needs or will benefit from the product) and what that product will be (wiki, blog, podcast, video etc.).

While the teacher may still be teaching the initial concepts, standards, critical content and skills, the students should be determining the products, audience, how to deliver to that audience and even how to assess their product as a way to reflect on the process and their learning.

This is not a way of teaching that many teachers are used to employing in class. It is not a way of learning that students associate with school learning. But sometimes getting out of your comfort zone puts you into a zone that turns out to be even more comfortable.

"What Is Authentic Learning?" by Ken Ronkowitz was originally published on LinkedIn