Apps in Education 2011 to 2020

In 2011, I made presentations at several colleges about the use of mobile apps in education and teaching in an "app world." At that time, apps were a big topic in the tech world but not a big topic in education. That presentation (it is on my Slideshare site) included the slide below where education doesn't even appear as a category unless you consider it to be part of the 5% of "other" app consumption. Clearly, games and social networking dominated usage at that time and they both still garner a high percentage of app use.

app use chart

How we were using apps in 2011

Showing this slide to college faculty reinforced their idea that apps are not for education. Of course, in 2011 apps were also not for common banking and financial use, medical records, and other "serious" computing.

That has certainly changed. But has it changed for education?

Reviewing my own 2011 presentation predictions, I said that I thought apps would come to education in three waves: Adoption, Adaption, and Creation.

Adoption was schools and educators adopting existing apps that had some education features or were designed for education. The obvious one then and now was apps for learning management systems. Blackboard was the first I used but now Canvas and all the other players have them. Adoption was not immediate. The two colleges I worked at then both chose not to offer the mobile version. Faculty could not see how you could possibly take a course on your phone. But I had a graduate student that year who told me that she did her coursework for me on her phone in her free time while she was at her night job. We were using Moodle and she just resized the web pages. I couldn't see how that worked but I knew an app would have made it better.

The second wave was adaption - using apps not specifically designed for education in courses. That was being done by individual teachers as they discovered and bought into the app world. Adaption requires some pedagogical changes. Mobile devices still were not acceptable (even banned) in some classrooms in 2011. It was the rare faculty member who said "Take out your phone..." and asked students to use it for class. 

Now in this time of the pandemic, it is clear to schools, teachers, students, and parents how "educational" phones or tablets can be. Schools are supplying tablets the way we once supplied laptops. But even laptops are using apps. I'm sure app downloads are up in the past two months. App versions of Zoom and others have become common tools not only for educators but or personal use.

That move from personal to professional (business or education) use is critical to adoption or adaption/adaptation. As teachers started using their phones and apps more in their everyday screen time, the move to use them for teaching became easier.
 

apps in education

Something that made faculty fearful in 2011

Those 2011 audiences weren't sold on using apps in the first half of my presentation. They weren't using apps for themselves. Some did not have a smartphone. But they were hearing "There's an app for that" from friends, colleagues their students and on television commercials. They knew it was coming.

I caught their interest when I shifted to talking about why - even though I was an app evangelist - apps are NOT online courses or would virtual schools in the near future. (I find that educators generally like the status quo.) There was an article I pointed to that was headlined “My Teacher Is An App.” A provocative headline but the article did follow my point that things were changing but we wouldn't be there for quite a while.

The article said “In a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school, states and districts nationwide are launching online public schools that let students from kindergarten to 12th grade take some—or all—of their classes from their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens. Other states and districts are bringing students into brick-and-mortar schools for instruction that is largely computer-based and self-directed.”

That was not common in 2011 and still wasn't common in 2019 - but it is a lot closer to being true in the spring of 2020.

I wondered then if apps would be driving curriculum or would curriculum be driving app development. I'm pleased that the latter seems to be generally the case now.

I asked the audience if they believed that this reliance on smartphones and apps will "produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it because they will not practice their memory. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many Socrates on the things without instruction and written word, will, therefore, seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with since they are not wise but only appear wise.”

Those in the audience who did agree were right in line with Socrates in 340 BC since those were his words on his belief about the dangers of the written word. Socrates was wrong about the adoption of the written word into education.

My third wave was just beginning to form in 2011. That was colleges creating their own apps. I had a few examples of colleges adopting and adapting things like parking and events using commercial apps and GPS to navigate campuses or scheduling apps for campus calendars, courses, or facilities scheduling.

But do schools need to create their own apps or just purchase commercial ones that can be branded? I looked back to the development of school websites as an example. Initially, most schools bought a package or a vendor but along the way many schools took it on as an in-house operation, perhaps using some commercial products - a combination of creation and adaptation. 

In 2011, may school websites weren't even dynamic enough ready for viewing on phones or tablets. But schools were creating their own apps and courses about how to develop apps were becoming a hot topic.

In 2020, there are plenty of no-code tools for app development (Airtable, Bubble, Zapier, Coda, Webflow) so that it doesn't take a wizard developer to make a fully functioning app. 

If you are a teacher or student at any level K-20, the chances are excellent that you are using apps in your courses and on your campus.

Leveling Up Your Learning

Steve Hargadon wrote at the start of this academic year about what he is calling the "Game of School" which is at least partially about the idea that many of us did not see ourselves when we left high school or college as "good learners."

He created what he calls his 4 levels of learning. He's not the first to describe levels of learning. Bloom's Taxonomy may be the most common one but a search will turn up six-level models and five levels and other models. The number isn't so important and certainly, there isn't one answer. What is important is to look at how a model approaches learning.

Hargadon has a four-level model.

levels of learning
Hargadon's 4 levels of learning

The model starts with schooling is where most of us begin our learning. Of course, you learned a lot of things at home and in the world in those pre-school days too, but school is our entry to formal learning.

Hargadon's portray of school is grim: "Schools teach conformance and obedience, getting work done--doing what, when, and how you are told to. Schools are a system of rules, schedules, bells, attendance ratings, and constant testing."

If someones asks you what your education has been, you are most likely to name some schools. Hargadon differentiates this kind of "education" in school from his third level which he calls education.

This schooling level is an industrial model that allows the stratification of the students - some will lead and others will follow. This 19th-century public schooling is a governance strategy and education policy in the United States is largely directed by politicians. Hargadon says that we should note that "a school of fish all turn and swim in a synchronized fashion.. if you get schooled on the basketball court, that means that someone has taught you a lesson, usually in a shaming way."

Level two is training which is learning specific to a career or vocational training. This learning is often self-motivated as a way to move between social and financial classes. 

You might guess that level 3, education, might be higher education but in this model that would still be schooling. Rather, this level probably doesn't occur in a school setting but when there are one-to-one relationships and mentors that help a learner move to a higher level and to see something differently than before.

Though this model seems to move in a linear fashion from school (K-20) to training (on the job) to education (work mentors), I would argue that his "education" can occur at any age/stage of life. I would certainly hope that you received some of this level of education when you were in school or in training, though it's not the way those ways of learning are typically structured.

Self-directed learning is level 4 and certainly the goal of the 3 other levels. The goal of a teacher is to get students to a level where they no longer require a teacher and can manage their own learning goals and processes. Intentionally or not, we are all lifelong learners. 

This is an interesting model for discussion, but I would say it is already in place. It's an observation of how learning seems to occur ideally. Obviously, things are not ideal at all levels now (in his criticism, "schooling" is the weakest level) but working at all the levels would be a worthwhile path.

Can You Order Lifelong Learning from Amazon.com?

graduatesJeff Selingo is saying that something to watch this year concerning continuous learning/universal learning/60-year curriculum/lifelong learning (I'm not sure what the term du jour is) is not coming from universities but from Amazon. 

This idea that we are always learning is hardly a new idea. But the idea that schools (at all levels) should supply that learning to non-traditional students who have left the school or maybe never attended the school is fairly new. Distance-learning began in the U.S. in the late 1800s. "Distance" meant that the learning was not in a classroom.

It went from the correspondence-course model to the broadcast airwaves to the combination of snail-mailed CDs and DVDs and finally online.

Selingo says that Amazon plans to spend more than $700 million to train 100,000 employees for higher-skilled jobs over the next six years. What's missing? Any college or university to design or deliver that training.

I also think that this idea is not brand new. Companies have been designing their own training for many decades. When I started at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2000, my department was helping design and provide training courses to companies. But as the decade progressed, I noticed more companies were designing the training and we were simply the delivery method. And now, it's more likely that the company might design and deliver.

What might be different in the case of Amazon is that if it follows their past path in cloud computing this will have a different result. For the cloud, they built their own platform internally (Amazon Web Services - AWS), worked out the bugs and then licensed it to scale. Might they eventually do the same thing with their higher-skilled training?

The rate of change in the skills and training needed now is far beyond the rather slow course-creation process of higher education. Selingo says that the legacy undergraduate and graduate degree programs at traditional universities and even the certificates that came into vogue in the 21st century don't make it.

Why is that? Because they take too long, cover more than is needed, and cost too much. I helped develop corporate training and certificates, but the university always had an eye on trying to lure those learners back to the university for a degree. That's not a valid approach anymore.

"Amazon University" doesn't exist yet, but many lifelong learners are already turning to YouTube, Khan Academy, MOOCs, LinkedIn Learning, General Assembly and other sources for continuous learning opportunities.

Selingo concludes that colleges and universities need to shift their thinking from serving students to the needs of learners.

MORE

From The Warehouse To IT: Amazon Offering 100,000 Workers Tech Training (NPR)

The idea that college education is over after four years, or even eight or 12 is so — yesterday - but 60 Years of Higher Ed — Really?

Jumping Through the Dissertation Hoop

jumping through hoops
"Jumping through hoops at Arabian Nights" by Experience Kissimmee, Florida is licensed under CC BY 2.0 CC BY 2.0

Ah, the dissertation. That mammoth writing task that a student needs to complete in order to get that terminal degree. ("Terminal" - interesting term to use)

If you work in higher education, then you have stories to tell about people trying to jump through that academic hoop. I have lots of tales of friends and colleagues who struggled to write, finish and make it through their defense. (Isn't "defense" an interesting word to use for that part of the process?)

One friend of mine was being pushed to extend his writing for an additional semester because his supervising professor needed him to justify not teaching an additional class. The professor actually told him that. When he reacted negatively, the prof replied that "We had to jump through these hoops to get our doctorate, so now we get to make you jump."  Wow. It's the academic equivalent of fraternity hazing.

I could also write a post on "NOT Writing the Dissertation" since that was my own experience. I enrolled in a Ed.D program in "pedagogy" but lost interest when I was required to take courses on topics such as "school law." I continued to take classes - just not the right ones. Since at that time I was teaching in a public school, when I had amassed 32 credits beyond my MA degree, I "advanced" on the salary guide. Not as far as if I had the Ed.D, but pretty close.

So, I was close to being ABD (All But Dissertation) but really closer to being ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

Through my LLC with my wife, we have done editing for academic writing, including some dissertations. When I saw an article by Leonard Cassuto in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the "Value of Dissertation-Writing Groups," it was a good reminder that although we seem to value the solitary work of writing a dissertation, it is - and should be - more of a collaborative writing task.

Cassuto says, "The glorification of solitary labor permeates the imaginary ideal of scholarship in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Your dissertation is your own work of expertise, your own plot in the great intellectual firmament. And you write it by yourself. Here’s the trouble: It just ain’t so."

The dissertation is supposed to be part of the process of making a student into a scholar and getting research out into the world. Scholarly and academic writing outside of dissertations is especially collaborative. As the article says: "Academic writing done by those who already have the doctorate is very collaborative, as is obvious if you look at all those acknowledgements in scholarly books. There are other academics, librarians, archivists, proofreaders, but also — and crucially — the people who have been reading drafts all along, making suggestions, editing, shaping. The person whose name is on the spine does the largest part of the work, but others share in the labor."

It seems to me that working with graduate students who are doing writing (dissertation or otherwise), you should certainly address the collaborative element. One way to do that is to have a dissertation group. The students we worked with on dissertations all had formed a group on their own with classmates, mostly ones who were on a similar path. That is a part of the process that should be formalized, encouraged and - perhaps most importantly - accepted by academia.