Innovative Teaching or Innovative Learning

innovateI am preparing a keynote presentation innovation for a faculty at a community college. The campus recently opened a small innovation center with the hope of getting students and faculty to consider new ways of teaching and learning.

In doing some research on this area, I immediately was struck with the split I saw between topics about innovative teaching and innovative learning, as if they were different things. That made me pause. Are they different, the same or inextricably linked?

My talk - "Creating a Culture of Innovation" - will look at how society drives innovation in higher education through the challenges it presents to educators. Increasing demands to lower costs, improving completion rates, competition from alternative credentialing, and the possibility in my home state of New Jersey and other states for free two years of college will all dramatically force shifts in classroom demographics and approaches to teaching and learning.

Innovation requires innovators. In higher education, they can be faculty or administrators who promote pedagogical approaches, such as adaptive and active learning. The innovation of adaptive learning is not so much that adjustments are made to the learning process based on feedback from the learners. Good teachers have been during that forever. The innovation comes from the ways that technologies have been aiding that monitoring of feedback and automating some of the adaptive paths.

Innovation can emerge from philosophical shifts, such as moving to the use of Open Educational Resources.

Innovation can also come from the learning spaces and new technologies made available to teachers and students.

You can find many different approaches to innovation in education, and some of them have come from outside education. One that is out there is agile teaching. Agility is a topic that has been a concern and approach in the business tech world.   

I continue to see examples about the changing world of work that concerns innovation and have many educators considering how they might prepare students better for what they will encounter after graduation. This does not mean job training or vocational skills. It more often is concerned with the learning process, methods of evaluating learning and seeing student applying their learning to new situations. 

For those things, you might be using blended/hybrid courses whose structure is such that theory is always put into practice. Courses using makerspaces and other active learning environments address some of these concerns more than traditional lecture courses.

But I have been hearing about the departure from lecture-style, sage-on-the-stage courses for two decades, and yet I know many courses still follow that model.

In earlier posts here, I have written about innovation or innovators in education or the ideas about the disruptors that make an innovative university, I have said that companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change. For example, they create newer and more powerful phones that have features customers have not asked for. Apple believes it knows what you want before you know you want it. 

But I don't think that model works in education. Our students are often ahead of us with not only technology, but sometimes with innovative ways of learning. Are they ahead of many of their teachers in using their smartphones as computers and portals to information, and apps as tools? Yes.

Are All Schools Prep Schools?

What do you think of when you hear the term "prep school?" Do you think of elite, private schools that look and act like little Ivy League colleges?

A university-preparatory school or college-preparatory school (shortened to preparatory school, prep school, or college prep) is a type of secondary school, but the term can refer to public, private independent or parochial schools primarily designed to prepare students for higher education.

But aren't all high schools preparation for college? That answer has varied over the centuries. While secondary schools were once only for middle and upper class kids who might go on to higher education, schools also went through a period of being "comprehensive" and trying to provide preparation for those going on to college, and for for those going on to a job. 

In the early 20th century, there were efforts to imitate German-style industrial education in the United States. Employers wanted wokers who were "trained" more than "educated." Teachers of high school academic subjects and some colleges thought the preparation for college was being watered down. So, vocational education emerged as a way to prepare people not planning on college to work in various jobs, such as a trade, a craft, or as a technician.

Historically, the German Gymnasium also included in its overall accelerated curriculum post secondary education at college level and the degree awarded substituted for the bachelor's degree (Baccalaureat)[1] previously awarded by a college or university so that universities in Germany became exclusively graduate schools.

Préparatoires aux grandes écoles (Higher School Preparatory Classes), commonly called classes prépas or prépas, are part of the French post-secondary education system. These two very intensive years (extendable to three or four years) act as a preparatory course with the main goal of training undergraduate students for enrollment in one of the grandes écoles. The workload is very demanding - between 35 and 45 contact hours a week, plus usually between 4 and 6 hours of written exams, plus between 2 and 4 hours of oral exams a week and homework filling all the remaining free time.

 

Education Versus Training

training

Factory training, 1941

Professional learning, often referred to as training, has been in companies for a long time.  But as a history of  training would show, that training is different from education and their evolutions have differed and crossed paths at times.

Education is instruction in more general knowledge, such as the history of the society, or mathematics. Training teaches how to do a specific task, such as building or running a machine.  As societies developed, there accumulated more knowledge than people could pick up on their own or learn informally from others.

That training history would reach back to antiquity when "On-The-Job Training" was the way people learned a job or career. In the Middle Ages, the apprenticeship was the new trend - learning from an expert while on the job. The Industrial Revolution brought about actual classrooms and factory schools with more formal training inside the company. 

I thought about this history when I was reading about the work of the Director of Learning at Slack, Kristen Swanson. Her job is to develop training for the tech company's employees and to help explain their messaging tool to customers around the globe. Swanson came to the company after an earlier career in EdTech. She started in education as an elementary school teacher, then served as a district director of technology, moved to directing a research department at BrightBytes, and then founded the Edcamp Foundation. That last role helped teachers run free, grassroots professional-development workshops. 

Directing learning at a company like Slack, must be very different, right? 

Amazon operates its own education division, Amazon Education. It currently offers products and services aimed at K-12 classrooms, such as TenMarks, an online math and writing program, and Inspire, a directory of online educational materials where teachers can find and share teaching materials. And Candace Thille, a professor of education at Stanford University, is now Amazon's Director of Learning Science and Engineering

A newish trend is for large technology companies to hire former educators to lead training and education efforts. Is professional learning outside academia becoming more like learning inside academia?

Returning to that training history, we saw that "vestibule training" emerged at the start of the 20th century blending the classroom with on-the-job training or "near-the-job" training. The training room was located close to the workplace and equipped with the same machines, equipment and technology that are used in production. The trainer was usually a skilled worker or supervisor, much like the much older apprentice model.

During and after the two world wars, there was a need to train large numbers of defense workers because of increased demand for products and a loss of workers to the military. Several shifts occurred during this period. Training was done by supervisors who were being trained how to teach. Training classes were smaller, generally 9-11 workers.

As training departments became established in many companies, so did ways of providing more efficient, less expensive methods of training. Individualized automated instruction came into play, and was the basis for CBT (computer-based training) which is still used in various forms in companies today.

Has training been learning from education, or has education been trying to include training in the curriculum?

Education Trends Are Technology Trends

lines

I title this article "Education Trends Are Technology Trends" but I'm not sure I really agree with that statement. It does seem that way though if you look at the many articles about education trends and developments that appear at he end and beginning of years.

Reading one article by Bernard Bull about things to watch in this new year, he lists ten curricular trends to watch. But what I first noticed was how many involve technology.

Some from his list are obviously rooted in digital technologies:
AR and VR Education Software Tied to Curricular Standards
Citizenship and Digital Citizenship Curricula
Cartoon-ish and Simplistic Game-Based Learning Tied to State Testing
Increasingly Sophisticated Game-Based Curricula Across Disciplines
Reductionist Data Analysis Driving Curricular Decisions
Curricula Focused upon Non-Cognitive Skill Development
Self-Directed Learning Management Tools

I have been reading for years about how gamification and then it combined with applications of AR and VR would change education, but I still don't see it happening to any great extent. I wouldn't ignore it, but I don't believe 2018 will be dramatically different than 2017 in these areas.

But some items on his list that seem less tech-based, such as "Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning," still use tech. In writing about community-based programs, after-school programs, informal learning, self-directed projects, personal reading and experimentation, personal learning networks, and in-school and out-of-school extracurricular activities/hobbies/sports, Bull brings in things like digital badges. And the competency-based education movement, workforce development, corporate training, and continuing education are all areas that rely a great deal on digital applications.

Obviously, big data and learning analytics have made inroads into education, more at the administrative level I would say than in with individual teachers. This will expand this year. I agree with Bull that unfortunately we will pull more and more data, but still have "data-illiterate people trying to make sense of new data sources, dashboards, and incremental reports." This in the short-term will not be as useful as it could be.

Perhaps I am just old school, but I am still more interested in things like experiential education curricula and student-centered and self-directed learning projects that may not require any additional technology. What they may require is better partnerships with places that can offer students experiential education.

If you can look beyond test scores and ways to document progress based on state and national standards - and that is not easy for someone in a classroom, especially in K-12 - then self-directed learning can grow. I'm not sure that "Self-Directed Learning Management Tools" will be the reason it succeeds.

You could flip this post's title and ask if technology trends are education trends. If the new things for TV and media consumption is on-demand and streaming, will that move into education? It already has moved in. 

But who is driving the changes - technology or education? I would say it is technology, though it should be education. 

If I had to make one prediction for education in 2018, it would be: More of the Same.

Teaching With 40 Year Old Software

I read an article that mentioned that someone teaching game design was using the old game "The Oregon Trail" as a simple example of game design. I felt a little wave of nostalgia for that computer game that I used with middle school students in the late 1970s on Apple IIe computers.

What can we teach with 40-year-old software?

The game was developed in 1971 and produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1974. My school subscribed to MECC and received many software packages on the big 5.25 very floppy disks which we could duplicate.

The original game was designed to teach about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The single player is a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley on the Oregon Trail via a covered wagon in 1848. 

But many teachers used it in other ways. In those early day, just teaching students to use the computer and navigate a game was a learning experience. I knew teacher who, like myself, used it was a way to teach cooperation by having players work in pairs or teams and justifiable arguing about choices was encouraged.

I used the game as an example when teaching literature as away to discuss the consequences of actions (draw branching diagram here).
 

Looking at the game again today via one of the several emulators available online (such as https://archive.org/details/msdos_Oregon_Trail_The_1990 and https://classicreload.com/oregon-trail.html), it seems about as primitive in its graphics as it did back in 1975 in my classroom. But it worked. My homeroom students enjoyed playing it just for gaming fun, and I was able to incorporate the decision-making aspects into lessons. I taught English, not social studies, and was less interested in the historical aspects of the game. I did use it briefly in an interdisciplinary manner with a social studies teacher, but having students do research into the real Oregon Trail and that period seemed to kill interest in the game itself. 

Apple IIe screenshotIt was one of the most successful games of all time and “The Oregon Trail” was inducted into World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2016. If you played it a few times, many of its screens are probably etched into your memory. I recall entering my real family members' names into the game the first time I played, and then sadly dysentery them "die" along the trail - probably from dysentery. It had game play moments (like hunting buffalo) and simple animation, but it was mostly text and so involved a lot of reading.

I would have my students work in small groups and map the game both on a real map of the trail, and then later on a decision tree style "map" of the game's options.

For me, the strength of the game in the classroom was in understanding how decisions could change the game's outcomes and their traveler's fates.

I recall that students would argue about the design. They didn't like the random things that would happen, such as a fire in the wagon destroying objects that were worth game points. But that also worked its way into my discussions with them of literature. Things happen in novels - and our lives - that seem random and out of our control, and they have consequences.

The other software that I used back then which was more sophisticated (though not graphically) was made by Tom Snyder Productions. I met Snyder at an educational conference and we talked about his Decisions, Decisions series. The series focused on the best aspects of what I was using in "Oregon Trail." The series included products on politics and the environment and came with printed material to supplement the games, so "research" was easy and necessary to play well.

I had no luck finding online what happened to Snyder and his company. It seems to have been consumed by Scholastic, though the link I found was a dead end.  I did find something on Amazon, but it doesn't seem that the series was continued or updated recently. It could easily be an online or mobile game. 

Can we use old software to teach new skills? Absolutely. Though these software packages seem crude by today's standards, they are also "classic" curiosities. I haven't taught secondary school students since 2000, so my sense of what is acceptable is lost. Certainly some of these games, or similar decision-tree kinds of games are a very viable classroom tool at all grade levels K-20. Maybe someone has already updated them or created new versions. If not, there is an opportunity.