The Return of the One-Room Schoolhouse

schoolhouse
Traditional one-room schoolhouse Peoria, Kansas.

It's not exactly a "one-room schoolhouse" in the sense of the 19th-century place that had that label, but a new trend to "microschools" has some of that in its lineage.

The trend grew out of pandemic remote learning and school closures but also is an offshoot of K-12 homeschooling. This form of education is micro in that it serves a small student population of generally 15 students or less. There isn't a definition of a microschool that fits all the ones that might fall into the classification but they probably are all offering personalized, student-centered learning and multiple age groups in the same classroom.

There were pandemic "learning pods" created by families so that kids could learn in small groups and those might have included a trained teacher. A microschool is more official and probably registered as a school and perhaps even as a for-profit business.

So, is this just a "private school"? At 15 or less students, this is not really a business model. Then again, there are a few networks of microschoolsthat have emerged. Acton Academy has more than 250 affiliate schools in 31 states and 25 countries, with an average annual tuition of about $10,000.

There are microschools for every grade level from kindergarten through high school and even a few microcolleges. But this is a new thing, so there is still a lot to be worked out. For example, there is no one national accreditation body, so rules and regulations vary widely. A few states (West Virginia and Wisconsin) are trying to define microschools via new legislation. There are legal, financial, and pedagogical things to consider.

This isn't the same thing as starting a home school. An actual microschool will need to be registered as a business and most often as a private school. Check into your state regulations, and you'll see the complexities of licensing, attendance and things such as insurance requirements.

more at usnews.com/education/k12/articles/what-is-a-microschool

 

The Disconnected 2022 Edition

brain connectIt's 2022 and I am reading an article in The Chronicle by Beth McMurtrie about how the pandemic forced disconnections in early 2020. On the other hand, we also became more connected to friends, offices, campuses, and stores through technology and media.

The article took me back to a keynote presentation I did back in January 2016. I titled that talk "The Disconnected." The talk grew out of the many references I had been seeing to people who seemed disconnected from many aspects of society.

There was the observation that there was a re-emergence of people who wanted to learn on their own rather than in schools. These autodidacts were a new group of learners that I felt might be reshaping school, especially in higher education which is a choice rather than a requirement.

In 2015, the sharing economy, the maker movement, the DIY do-it-yourself movement, and open-source coding were all topics of interest.

These trends were not limited to young people or students. Many people were “cord cutting” from traditional media. But the trend was especially evident in young adults. Even broader was a “rent rather than buy” mindset that was affecting purchases of media (music, movies, books, magazines), cars (lease or use a car service rather than own a car), rent an apartment or home and avoid the self-maintenance, mortgage and taxes.

In 2015, the “disconnected” comprised about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research. They estimated that number would double by 2025. Has it?

That new article is about students who seem to have disconnected during the pandemic and are not reconnecting now. Maybe they will never reconnect. 

According to McMurtie's article, fewer students are going to classes. Her interviews with faculty show that those who do attend avoid speaking if possible. They are disconnected from the professor and their classmates. They don't do the assigned reading or homework and so they have trouble with tests. They are disconnected from the course content.

The Chronicle had more than 100 people tell them about their disconnected students. Some called them “exhausted,” “defeated,” or “overwhelmed.” This came from faculty at a range of institutions.

usb connect

Why are they disconnected?

Reasons given by professors include pandemic-related items. Many students lost their connection with their college or their purpose in attending. Hours of online learning that they had not chosen and which may have been sub-par added to those things.

The students who seemed to have the most trouble with learning were the freshmen who seemed unprepared. But the observations that these new students seemed underprepared, both academically and in their sense of responsibility. One example was that students don’t fully grasp the consequence of missing classes. I was teaching long before the pandemic and all of those things were true of students back then too. 

So my question is whether or not those disconnected students of 2015 have become even more disconnected in the subsequent seven years, and if they have is it because of the pandemic or just a trend that started well before the pandemic.

McMurtrie also gives some things from the perspective of students. One student said that when she returned to the classroom after virtual learning many professors relied more on technology than they had before the pandemic. Ironically, that was something that many schools had hoped would happen; that faculty would be greater tech users when they returned to their in-person classes. Professors who never used virtual conferencing or flipped the classroom using a learning management system. That student may have seen her college experience as "fake" but the professors (and possibly their department chairs and deans) saw the experience as "enhanced."

I don't explain the disconnecting as only the result of social anxiety and stress or what psychologists describe as “allostatic load.”  I don't think this problem is temporary. I agree with some of the faculty whose responses are in the article who think the entire structure of college needs to change and that this is not a new problem.

None of us know what the solution might be.

Pandemic Learning Gains

loss gainThere has been lots of talk about the losses in learning during the pandemic. Much of that talk has been around the shift to online learning and what was perceived as lost by not being in physical classrooms.

coverMy wife, Lynnette Condro Ronkowitz, and I wrote two articles published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology (Volume 80, Issue 1) in January 2021 about the pandemic and higher education. (both articles are available via academia.com

The first article is "Online Education in a Pandemic: Stress Test or Fortuitous Disruption?" We considered the ways in which the shutdown caused by the  COVID-  19  pandemic have accelerated the evolution of online education. This movement from face-to-face (F2F) education to a virtual environment was forced and unplanned. It can be viewed as a stress test for digital teaching and learning in the higher education system. The study addresses course conversions and the progress of online education in response to the current crisis.

The second article, "Choosing Transformation Over Tradition: The Changing Perception of Online Education" was part of the first article's draft but the editors thought it would be expanded into a second article. In this article, we consider that despite advancements in online education, misperceptions persist that create obstacles to the integration of online classes in higher education. We refute misconceptions about online education and highlights key components of a strong online course. For example, as a result of the pandemic, it became apparent that there is a conflation between “school” and “education” that has prompted contradistinction, and so we tried to provide some insight into some of the social and economic implications of the culture of our education system.

We felt that though learning losses occurred during these pandemic years, there were also gains. A post on the Innovative Educator blog also addresses gains in learning that came out of the pandemic. Though we focused on higher education, the blog post looks more at K-12. For example, because of the pivot to online "students and staff were catapulted into the future in many school districts. As a result, our students will now be more prepared than they ever would have been, had education not been disrupted.

Some pandemic learning gains that were cited in the post:

Access to Devices - not that a "digital divide" does not still exist, but it is not as wide

Access to the Internet - the inability of students and some faculty to access broadband connections or possibly any Internet access at home became apparent. Stories of learners working from parking lots outside free wireless sites were shocking to some people.

Access to Content and to New Platforms - K-12 school districts began adopting learning management systems and platforms (Google Classroom was one ) and learning materials became more accessible to students and families.

Access to Each Other & The World - Higher education already had far greater access to learning platforms and tools such as video conferencing pre-pandemic, but it was not being used by a majority of faculty and in courses that were not already online. "Zooming" became a new verb for video conferencing for many people in and out of education - and it continues today. Virtual conferencing may come with some losses from in-person but it also came with gains. Video plus chat and captioning (though imperfect in most cases) helped students with and without disabilities or who spoke other languages access what was being said more easily. Courses could include authors, guests, and experts brought into virtual classrooms.  

I am not a fan of the term "the new normal" but such a thing would include gains that have remained in place and progress that was made. Hopefully, another major pandemic is far in the future but mini-crises from virus variants to natural disasters have occurred and will occur with greater frequency. And hopefully, we are better prepared for them.

The Science of Learning

Einstein
Professor Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921

Albert Einstein was definitely a subject matter expert, but he is not regarded as a good professor. Einstein first taught at the University of Bern but did not attract students, and when he pursued a position at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, the president raised concerns about his lackluster teaching skills. Biographer Walter Isaacson summarized, “Einstein was never an inspired teacher, and his lectures tended to be regarded as disorganized.” It's a bit unfair to say that "Einstein Was Not Qualified To Teach High-School Physics" - though by today's standards he would not be considered qualified. It probably is fair to say that "Although it’s often said that those who can’t do teach, the reality is that the best doers are often the worst teachers."

Beth McMurtrie wrote a piece in The Chronicle called "What Would Bring the Science of Learning Into the Classroom?" and her overall question was: Why doesn't the scholarship on teaching have as much impact as it could have in higher education classroom practices?

It is not the first article to show and question why higher education appears not to value teaching as much as it could or should. Is it that quality instruction isn't valued as much in higher education as it is in the lower grades? Other articles show that colleges and most faculty believe the quality of instruction is a reason why students select a school.

Having moved from several decades in K-12 teaching to higher education, I noticed a number of things related to this topic. First of all, K-12 teachers were likely to have had at least a minor as undergraduates in education and would have taken courses in pedagogy. For licensing in all states, there are requirements to do "practice" or "student teaching" with monitoring and guidance from education professors and cooperating teachers in the schools.

When I moved from K-12 to higher education at NJIT in 2001, I was told that one reason I was hired to head the instructional technology department was that I had a background in pedagogy and had been running professional development workshops for teachers. It was seen as a gap in the university's offerings. The Chronicle article also points to "professional development focused on becoming a better teacher, from graduate school onward, is rarely built into the job."

As I developed a series of workshops for faculty on using technology, I also developed workshops on better teaching methods. I remember being surprised (but shouldn't have been) that professors had never heard of things like Bloom's taxonomy, alternative assessment, and most of the learning science that had been common for the past 30 years.

K-12 teachers generally have required professional development. In higher education, professional development is generally voluntary. I quickly discovered that enticements were necessary to bring in many faculty. We offered free software, hardware, prize drawings and, of course, breakfasts, lunches and lots of coffee. Professional development in higher ed is not likely to count for much when it comes to promotion and tenure track. Research and grants far outweigh teaching, particularly at a science university like NJIT.

But we did eventually fill our workshops. We had a lot of repeat customers. There was no way we could handle the approximately 600 full-time faculty and the almost 300 adjunct instructors, so we tried to bring in "champions" from different colleges and departments who might later get colleagues to attend.

I recall more than one professor who told me that they basically "try to do the thing my best professors did and avoid doing what the bad ones did." It was rare to meet faculty outside of an education department who did any research on teaching. We did find some. We brought in faculty from other schools who were researching things like methods in engineering education. I spent a lot of time creating online courses and improving online instruction since NJIT was an early leader in that area and had been doing "distance education" pre-Internet.

Discipline-based pedagogy was definitely an issue we explored, even offering specialized workshops for departments and programs. Teaching the humanities and teaching the humanities in a STEM-focused university is different. Teaching chemistry online is not the same as teaching a management course online.

Some of the best parts of the workshops were the conversations amongst the heterogeneous faculty groups. We created less formal sessions with names that gathered professors around a topic like grading, plagiarism and academic integrity, applying for grants, writing in the disciplines, and even topics like admissions and recruiting. These were sessions where I and my department often stepped back and instead offered resources to go further after the session ended.

It is not that K-12 educators have mastered teaching, but they are better prepared for the classroom from the perspective of discipline, psychology, pedagogy, and the numbers of students and hours they spend in face-to-face teaching. College faculty are reasonably expected to be subject matter experts and at a higher level of expertise than K-12 teachers who are expected to be excellent teachers. This doesn't mean that K-12 teachers aren't subject matter experts or that professors can't be excellent teachers. But the preparations for teaching in higher and the recognition for teaching excellence aren't balanced in the two worlds.

Educating in the Metaverse

AR use

Using augmented reality to see what is not physically there.

There is not much mention of education in all the discussions this year about the metaverse, but it is thought that it will better allow students to have a cyber-physical learning experience. The virtual world will merge with the real one more and more seamlessly.

For the past 20 months, there has been a global educational experiment in online learning. But don't think that what has happened in education because of the COVID-19 pandemic is an accurate account or prediction of what teaching and learning are at their best, or what they will become in a metaverse. The forced move to online education was awkward for most schools, students and teachers, particularly in the first two semesters. By the spring of 2021, all parties were better adapted to learning online. For the fall 2021 semester, many schools were able to go back to their pre-pandemic methodologies and content delivery. The best schools and teachers have not abandoned what was learned in those online days, and for them learning has continued to shift between online and in person. Online delivery has become more of an integral component of education. The whole move online in 2020 and 2021 should lead to more inclusive and creative pedagogical solutions.

My earlier post on the building of the metaverse did not consider education. No one should think that what we now call online education looks anything like the metaverse. Actually, some online worlds from decades past, such as Second Life, are closer to the metaverse than current online education. The building game Minecraft is enjoyed by millions of young and old learners and has found a place in higher education too. Both of those products have been used to enhance lectures, allow virtual field trips and make students creators. I took tours of campuses in Second Life at the start of this century. They were crude by today's tech standards but they didn't require a clunky headset. I did it once in front of a giant screen and it was more "immersive" but no metaverse.

Current virtual reality (VR) simulations allow students in medicine, engineering, and architecture to practice skills that are difficult to rehearse in real life.

Most followers of the metaverse will say that some forms of it are already here. I discussed in the previous article some companies that already offer applications and platforms that fit part of the definitions (and there are multiple definitions as of now) of the metaverse.  Another company that is making inroads to educational use is Roblox. In its current version, it looks very much like a game, which is often a serious deterrent for educators to consider using technology. But they are expanding the tools offered and giving users and developers more opportunities to create experiences of their own.  with an emphasis on safety.

Roblox has more than 203 million monthly active users in their virtual world. Some might call this platform a "proto-metaverse." But so far, it lacks the VR and AR that are part of all definitions of the metaverse. There is also caution required here for safety since many of those users are children. Roblox CEO David Baszucki may have used some hyperbole in saying during an interview that his company’s business model predicted the metaverse 17 years ago.

The media is already countering any metaverse visioning with cautionary tales of the dangers it might also offer. It ranges from fears that predators might use it to lure children. Since the porn industry has been at the lead with many technologies from VHS tapes and DVDs to online video, there's a good chance that they will want in on the metaverse. A lot of warnings currently come from a lack of understanding about what a metaverse will look like, and the misperception that somehow Zuckerberg and Meta will be THE metaverse rather than a part of it.

John Preston (Professor of Sociology, University of Essex) believes that some aspects of the metaverse are already in universities. His fear is that it will offer revolutionary potential for greater profits to be made in higher education. His research on digital technologies in higher education shows that a metaverse could monetize the student experience even more than now and also exploit the work of academics.

Jaron Lanier, who was an early promoter of VR and founded the first VR company (VPL Research) and made Virtual Reality the term for the head-mounted display has changed his mind on the metaverse. I attended a workshop he did at a conference in the late 1990s and wore his headset and put on the wired gloves to walk through a virtual world while moving around a small room that had a few ramps and objects that became something else in my headset view. It was pretty cool. And pretty awkward. I heard him speak at an edtech conference around 2010 when he had published his "manifesto" You Are Not A Gadget. Lanier's wonder-filled dreams for what these new technologies as we turned into the 21st century could provide for humanity had become nightmares.  His 2018 book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now indicates that the dreams are still nightmares.  In a recent Forbes article, Lanier says, "If you run [the metaverse] on a business model that’s similar to the one that Facebook runs on, it’ll destroy humanity. I’m not saying that rhetorically. That is a literal and specific prediction that humanity could not survive that."

While some people may be creating a virtual research center ecosystem using Microsoft Teams, others are suggesting that we need to forget the tech and focus on human beings, while some feel we need to use digital simulations to prepare students for future careers.

My own metaverse predictions are that it is farther away than the current buzz seems to indicate, and that augmented reality (AR) will play a greater role than virtual reality (VR) - unless they can get rid of that clunky VR headgear. I see that Meta, which owns Oculus (known initially for making hose clunky goggles) has dropped the Oculus branding. Maybe they will also drop the headgear.

Facebook for Educaton

Facebook is probably not at the top of most educator's list of sites to access for resources, but Facebook for Education’s free resource hub is being used to help support learning communities.

The website features access to:
Get Digital: Free lesson plans, videos and activities to help you lead discussions with students about online wellness, digital empowerment and inclusivity in the classroom and at home
Tech Prep: Personalized coding tools and resources to help your students build foundational knowledge and tech careers
Products: How-tos and best practices for Facebook products like Messenger and Pages
Programs: Information on Facebook programs, including Computer Science programs like Facebook University, which provides hands-on internships to college students from underrepresented backgrounds.

child smartphone
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


You might not think of the lower half of K-12 as an audience for this but the K-12 section of the site. offers resources for that wide range. I would say that most of what is offered is focused on developing skills toward STEM careers. 

The cynically-minded might say that they have heard that Facebook is working on an under-13-years-old version of Instagram and that anything they offer as "educational" is really just a way to get the next generation into the Facebook world. There is truth to that and since Facebook wants to be a big player in the metaverse that those kids might grow into, early indoctrination is key.

More optimistically-minded folks will say that you always have the option to use or not use Facebook or any social media and also the ability to use it in smarter ways - which is where educators can help. Their computer science programs can help support learners on that tech skills road. "Code Forward" is an online program for 4th-8th grade educators and organizations that uses videos and interactive activities to inspire interest in computer science and tech.

I suspect that some students will discover and use these resources before their teachers discover and use them. That's a start but I would feel a lot better if they entered this world of tech with some guidance.