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.

Google and YouTube Changing Features for Kids and Teens

social media

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

With continuing pressure on the big tech companies to protect user privacy, particularly for younger users, Google is introducing updates to YouTube and its search feature aimed at increasing safety for kids and teens on its platforms. The changes include a number of things to give minors more control over their digital footprint and somewhat constrain commercial content for children.

Some of these changes affect their bottom line profits but there is the PR value of making these changes, and I'm sure they hope it will keep the government from regulating or punishing them for awhile.

Google stated that it wants to work with "kids and teens, parents, governments, industry leaders, and experts in the fields of privacy, child safety, wellbeing and education to design better, safer products for kids and teens." 

For YouTube (via their blog blog.youtube/news-and-events/

  • YouTube default privacy settings for users aged 13 to 17 will be the “most private option available” (that only lets content be seen by the user and whomever they choose - teen users can make their content public by changing the default upload visibility setting)
  • YouTube will also start to remove “overly commercial content” from YouTube Kids" (for example, videos that focus on product packaging or encourages children to spend money)
  • YouTube will have “take a break and bedtime reminders" by default for all users 13-17. (Some adults could use that feature!)
  • YouTube will turn off autoplay by default for this age group

There are also changes for other parts of the platform, including search. 

Google will be introducing new policies that allow people under 18, or their parent or guardian, to request the removal of their image from Google Image results. Removing an image from Search doesn’t remove it from the web. They will also be turning on its SafeSearch, which aims to filter out explicit results, for all existing users under 18 and make it the default setting for teens who set up new accounts. The SafeSearch update will be rolled out “in the coming months,” according to Google. 

In other apps, Google will disable location history for all users under 18 without the ability to turn it on. A safety section in Play will show parents which apps follow Google's Families policies and disclose how they use the data they collect in greater detail.

Of course, ads are where Google makes its money, but it will "block ad targeting based on the age, gender, or interests of people under 18." 

 

Should Students and Their Parents Be Taking Fake News 101?

news

A podcast from Marketplace offered this question: Should kids be taking Fake News 101? My first thought was that they are already getting that class. I based that on my friends who teach in K-12 schools and who have information literacy as part of their curriculum. Validating sources and information has been part of the curriculum for a very long time. It was there when I started teaching almost fifty years ago. Of course, the Internet as a news source is a more recent issue. Has information literacy changed?

The headline says "kids" which suggests K-12 but the "Fake News 101" sounds like an introductory college course. I know that information literacy online and offline was required at a community college I worked at, and validating sources online was part of my social media and communications courses I taught at the undergraduate and graduate level. 

The term "fake news" came into the discussion with President Trump who used it to attack media reports he didn't like and broadly all mainstream media. That isn't something you want to teach. But news that was inaccurate has been around as long as there has been news. I'm sure town criers sometimes called out things that turned out not to be true. 

The term "fake" isn't really the correct term. "Fake" means a thing that is not genuine or a forgery. The news items often being labeled fake in those Trump days were not being singled out because they were not really news. It was news. It generally came from a credible news outlet, such as The New York Times or Washington Post, and in the majority of instances had facts to back it up. 

But, as the podcast points out, from politics to COVID-19, there is a lot of false and inaccurate information on the internet. I would be very reluctant to tell students that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are credible news sources, but we know that many people get their "news" from these places rather than newspapers.

Helen Lee Bouygues was the guest on that podcast and she is the founder and president of the Reboot Foundation, which teaches critical thinking skills to combat fake news. She says we’re just not inclined to second-guess information when it’s flooding our social media feeds.

Some points she makes:

"It’s actually just a natural human reaction to not want to seek challenging views. And then the second point, there have been studies already conducted that if you are pounded by lies about the information, over time you actually do start believing it."

She prefers that rather than just having teachers "give the facts and get to the answer" that teachers and parents of children, especially of younger age, have children challenge what they’re reading on websites."

She is correct that "this is a skill that can be taught, but it’s not something that [is] innate."

Lee Bouygues based is based in France and she says that there is a standard pedagogy to have students writing papers differently. Students are told to "hone in on your own convictions and the way you write a paper is by thinking about opposing views and counter-arguments that will help you better refine your own thinking. So by looking at counter-arguments, you’re actually doing more metacognition also, which is obviously thinking about your own thinking, which is so important for critical thinking."

Certainly, this skill needs to be honed in older students and in entire communities. I taught an undergraduate critical thinking course and was continually surprised at the gaps I saw in my students' ability to do more critical thinking.

Teaching how to question assumptions, reason through logic, separate facts from opinions and emotions, validate sources, and seek out a diversity of thoughts, facts and opinions are life skills that need to be learned and relearned as the world of information changes.

Schoolhouse World

The organization schoolhouse.house hits a lot of things that I am interested in wth education. It is a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform on which anyone, anywhere can receive live help. It is no surprise that Sal Khan of Khan Academy is working with them (CEO) since the share similar goals.

The thing that sets schoolhouse.world apart from other free services (such as MOOCs) is that you can earn shareable certifications in the topics you learn about. You also have the option to become a tutor in the topics that you have mastered.

Their current focus is on high school math and SAT prep, with plans to expand to other areas soon. All the small-group tutoring sessions happen over Zoom. During the pandemic and learning from home by choice or necessity, this is surely something many of us felt there was a need for in the K-12 world.

But there is also a higher education connection. The University of Chicago is one institution supporting schoolhouse.world in their effort to connect high-quality peer tutors with students around the world. Those tutors also have the opportunity to showcase their contributions on their college applications.

Jim Nondorf, Dean of Admissions at the University, and Sal Khan joined a group of schoolhouse.world tutors on Zoom to discuss the new program and what it means for the future.

Says Khan, "It was wonderful to hear the stories of these amazing young people admitted to one of the top universities in the world based on their ability to certify their knowledge and tutor others! I suspect more colleges like University of Chicago will value this type of evidence soon."

I hope Sal's suspicion will be confirmed.

The New Roaring Twenties

roaring 20sYou may have heard it said that since the decade after the 1918 flu epidemic was the Roaring Twenties in the U.S>, there is a theory that when the current pandemic ends we might have another Roaring Twenties for the 21st century. The roaring 1920s roared in economics, invention, and cultural craziness.

Much of the roaring was based on “pent-up demand” and I'm hearing that again now even in this spring when the vaccines are being distributed and some people seem to think the pandemic is over. I hear people say that at least we can see "the light at the end of the tunnel." Of course, when you do see the light, you are still in the tunnel.

With the virus under control, local restrictions lifting and spirits improving, the idea is that consumers will be rushing out to spend their government stimulus checks and money saved while sheltering in. 

As far as economics, we have all kinds of indicators, such as consumer confidence (how Americans are feeling about the economy) and recently it was at its highest point since the pandemic started.

The post-pandemic and post-WWI decade had a wide range of inventions: quick-frozen foods, the Band-Aid®, electric blenders, early television, vacuum cleaner, bulldozers, cheeseburgers, the radio altimeter and penicillin. The war had contributed to innovations and now that soldiers were home and money shifted from wartime needs to other things, inventions roared.

There is also a pent-up desire to get out and enjoy life again. I don't know that we'll have some of the cultural craziness we often associate with the 1920ss, but certainly, people are eager to go out to restaurants and go on vacations again. The hospitality and entertainment industries are eager for a comeback.

But will there be a comeback? I wonder if movie theaters will return to pre-pandemic levels ever again, even if there is a brief pent-up surge early in the recovery. We have become very comfortable with watching movies on streaming services including brand new films and libraries of old and new programs to binge comfortably from our home couch.

What about the 9 million jobs that still need to return? Not everyone has been saving monet the past year and eager to spend. Millions of people struggled and are still struggling.

Finally, I don't hear much discussion about a roaring twenties for education. There is pent-up desire to get back to "normal" schooling in K-12 and higher education. It seems like that will happen this fall. But will it last? Parents are eager to have their childdren return. Some students and some teacher are also ready to return, but not all. I suspect that some teachers and students have found online learning appealing. It would not surprise me if in the 2020s we see more online learning than pre-pandemic and more hybrid education with online and some face-to-face.

Useful Free Tools for Back to School From the Internet Archive

As students around the world resume their education - perhaps in a physical classroom - probably online - there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The nonprofit Internet Archive is dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge. They provide a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world—check out these tools for remote learning!

Over the past several months, the Internet Archive has collaborated with a number of educational specialists to determine how our collections can best serve teachers. You can leverage the Open Library to get new material or find lesson plans to make curriculum preparation easier.

oregon trail screenStudents can also access the Open Library books. For younger students, there are Kid-Friendly resources. For homework help, The Internet Archive has a huge array of textbooks and study guides. If you’re looking for primary sources to cite in your History assignments, our 26 million historical books and texts are a great place to start; if you’re trying to get through English class we also have thousands of works of literature from around the world.

There is even a huge collection of educational (and some less-educational) software and computer games if you need a study break.

The American Libraries collection includes material contributed from across the United States including the Library of Congress, many local public libraries, including material in the public domainand materials sponsored by Microsoft, Yahoo!, The Sloan Foundation, and others.

Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions

Jeff Selingo's new book - Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions - will be out September 15 and he has been doing a number of virtual events around the topics in the book. Here are three that are coming up this week. 

There's no doubt that the past 6 months have changed much of the admissions process for high school students and for college admissions officers. Will we ever return to the admission process of the past?

  • For parents of high schoolers: On Monday at 8 p.m. ET, I’ll be hosting another discussion on college admissions in the COVID era – this one focused on how to conduct the virtual college search when admissions representatives aren’t visiting high schools and campus tours are canceled. More details and register here.
  • For college officials: On Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, I’ll be in conversation with one of the leading accreditors as well as two academic leaders in online learning about how to assess students in remote instruction this fall. More details and register here.  
  • For parents and counselors: On Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, I’ll be joining Education Consultant Katy Dunn of PrepMatters for a town hall on admissions. Join us to hear more about the book and what I’ve learned from admissions officials in recent months. Register here.

The book as described online:

"From award-winning higher education journalist and New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Selingo comes a revealing look from inside the admissions office—one that identifies surprising strategies that will aid in the college search.

Getting into a top-ranked college has never seemed more impossible, with acceptance rates at some elite universities dipping into the single digits. In Who Gets In and Why, journalist and higher education expert Jeffrey Selingo dispels entrenched notions of how to compete and win at the admissions game, and reveals that teenagers and parents have much to gain by broadening their notion of what qualifies as a “good college.” Hint: it’s not all about the sticker on the car window.

Selingo, who was embedded in three different admissions offices—a selective private university, a leading liberal arts college, and a flagship public campus—closely observed gatekeepers as they made their often agonizing and sometimes life-changing decisions. He also followed select students and their parents, and he traveled around the country meeting with high school counselors, marketers, behind-the-scenes consultants, and college rankers.

While many have long believed that admissions is merit-based, rewarding the best students, Who Gets In and Why presents a more complicated truth, showing that “who gets in” is frequently more about the college’s agenda than the applicant. In a world where thousands of equally qualified students vie for a fixed number of spots at elite institutions, admissions officers often make split-second decisions based on a variety of factors—like diversity, money, and, ultimately, whether a student will enroll if accepted.

One of the most insightful books ever about “getting in” and what higher education has become, Who Gets In and Why not only provides an usually intimate look at how admissions decisions get made, but guides prospective students on how to honestly assess their strengths and match with the schools that will best serve their interests."

Should Teachers and Students Be Looping?

Infinite loop

 

Here's an idea from aasa.org:

"Imagine you had to begin each school year with a brand new staff.

Every year, every professional and every support specialist working in your school had begun his or her first year there. Every principal, teacher, custodian and food service worker wouldn’t know the routines, the curriculum or the procedures you expected them to follow.

There would be no building upon last year’s successes. In addition, the personalities of individual staff members and their impact on the culture of the school would be unknown to everyone as they started the year.

As an administrator, you wouldn’t anticipate high productivity until staff members learned what was expected of them and how to work together to benefit the students. For most administrators, the idea of 100 percent staff turnover is an unpleasant one to consider. Successful schools (and districts) depend on continuity of staff, curricula and programs from one year to the next in order to continually improve.

Some educators are discovering that this continuity on which schools rely also can work in the classroom. Instead of starting each school year with a completely new group of students, some teachers are staying with their students for a second year at the next grade level, a practice that is known as 'looping'."

Having been in classrooms for 45 years in secondary schools and also college, my first reaction would be to consider personalities. What about the teachers or students who don't work well together? Do you force them to endure another year together? Parents already have a lot of say in those decisions. This would cause more input from them. I had a year when I moved with my students from grade 8 to grade 9. there were advantages and disadvantages. But it's an interesting approach to consider.

The Long Summer Slide of 2020

It is known as "summer slide" - the learning loss many students experience during the summer break from school. The topic is often associated with younger students in K-12 but if you have ever taught college students or adult learners (especially in sequential courses) you have also seen it occur.

In 2020, the typical two-month recess became six months for some students because of COVID-19 class cancellations and possibly less-than-ideal attempts at online learning.

Will we see a greater slide this fall than in other years? Will a high school student whose second half of French II, Algebra, or another course be really prepared for the next course this fall? I have friends who teach in secondary schools who fully expect in the fall to have to spend the early weeks (months?) reviewing and catching students up on work before moving forward. They did this in past years, but expect a greater need for remedial instruction for fall 2020. 

When students are not engaged in learning for an extended time, they slide. It would be true if they skipped a semester of took a gap year or were ill for several months. From what I have read, this is particularly true with math, science, language, reading, and any sequential course that builds on a prerequisite.

There has been a lot of research on summer loss the past century which shows young people can lose up to several months’ worth of school-year learning over the summer break, and some studies also show that older students have greater gaps. It is particularly concerning that summer loss seems to be greatest for low-income students for a number of reasons.

There are those who question the whole idea of summer slide, but in my 45 years in classrooms (secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels) I have seen that loss when students returned in September, even in their work and study habits. 

What is the solution? The standard answer is to keep students engaged in reading and educational activities. But every parent will tell you when school ends motivating students to do things that closely resemble schoolwork is very difficult. Plus, this year many parents were doing more schoolwork support the past few months than ever before and also want a break.

College students might be wise to use some free MOOC offerings to supplement courses from this past semester or to prepare for fall. But again, after a semester fully online, more online learning may not be very appealing.

slides
Image by Paula Deme from Pixabay

Should the Class Lecture Be Saved?

lecture hall
Photo: PxHere

Last semester in the Chronicle of Higher Education there was an article that asked, "Can The Lecture Be Saved?" This semester in the midst of shuttered campuses there has been far fewer traditional lectures. By "traditional" I mean the long ones you might have sat through in a 90-minute class or the dreaded 3-hour graduate class.

In general, I think lecture times have decreased in the past 20 years. Building online courses during those years, I have always strongly encouraged faculty to chunk their traditional lectures into shorter mini-lectures. Student attention spans have decreased, perhaps partially because they are used to videos online from YouTube stars to Khan Academy being 20 minutes or less.

Faculty have also been told that lecturing is bad. Educators have gone through "flipping the classroom" and “active learning” and have been told that they should not be the "sage on the stage" but rather the "guide on the side." Still, a lecture can transmit the knowledge level that even Bloom knew was necessary for learning. He believed that knowledge “involves the recall of specifics and universals, the recall of methods and processes, or the recall of a pattern, structure, or setting.” A lecture is one way to deliver that.

That Chronicle article says that faculty should not feel guilty about doing some lecturing., but the secret is to make it interactive. Part of that means that instructors break up their lectures with other activities that reinforce what students learn through the lecture, and also encourage them to apply it. A term used is "interactive lecturing."

In my discussions the past two months with teachers in high schools and colleges, the sense I get is that their online classes are very much not lecture-based. When they do present content via video (and for some just audio) it is shorter than a "lecture" and less formal. 

The article focuses on how Claire Major, a professor of higher education administration at the University of Alabama, arrived at her own teaching style. Some of what she recommends is on this interactive lecturing quick reference chart (pdf).

The structure she tries to use for each class is a good, simple instructional design to consider online or in a physical classroom.

She includes "bookends" to begin and end class. I liked using a 5-minute writing task at the very start of class (sometimes as students entered the room). I learned this many years ago as the "anticipatory set" of the lesson. It might be a question to gauge their knowledge of one of the session's topics or it could be to be at Bloom's comprehension level by asking them to explain, summarize, paraphrase, illustrate to any other action to show that they can comprehend or interpret information based on prior learning.

Major's "overlays" are used to encourage students to pay attention during the lecture portion of the class. Like her, I sometimes used cloze activities (AKA guided notes) that could be completed by listening to the lecture. I knew them from my K12 teaching and brought them to a number of college teachers as a way to check comprehension as a self-check for students or for me to check their comprehension.

Similarly, her "interleaves" are activities during class to help students apply what they just learned. The "think-pair-share" exercise is hardly new to most teachers. Hands-on activities and group work easier in a physical classroom than online. But online you need to structure activities to be completed by students before allowing them to continue with a lesson. Most learning management systems and some screen capture and video programs have tools to include checks for comprehension points in a lesson.

Should the lecture be saved? Yes, saved for when necessary, and redefined.  

 

The Post-Pandemic Campus

empty classroomAn article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately, "premium" for subscribers even in these pandemic days) is called "How Should Colleges Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World?" by Brian Rosenberg. His general advice is to "anticipate and plan for change rather than merely hope that it will not arrive." Change has arrived.

This article may be for higher education but almost all of these thoughts apply to K12 schools too.

Here are my highlighted excerpts with some commentary:

  • College is staggeringly expensive. Students and their families are going to be hard hit. Plus, colleges that have lost enormous sums of money will be attempting to recap but from families that have lost income and savings: Most colleges will need to provide more financial aid and possibly fewer services with fewer people.
  • When the lockdown is over there will still be a period of voluntary separation. With no vaccine, many people are still going to be hesitant to travel, return to campus, interact in groups in classrooms and labs. I suspect there will be more gap years than in the past.
  • Distance learning was forced upon us. Some of it was fine. It had been fine in many courses before all this. Some of it was lacking. It was done in a panic without much time to prepare and with faculty and students were not ready for it and never wanted to be online before. Schools need to really evaluate what worked, what didn't work and what they will change next time this kind of longterm disruption occurs. And it will.
    What courses and subjects can use the online model to be less expensive but still highly effective? Of course, most schools still charge the same for an online course as a face-to-face one, so there is no savings for students.  way to teach. Can a hybrid model of in-person+online lower cost? These are not new questions to ask, but too many schools have still never addressed them - and the answers may be different in 20121 than they were in 2019. 
  • Is distance learning "good enough" in a world of sharply diminished resources? The author suspects that for many students and families the answer will be yes. I agree.
  • So, how should schools prepare for the post-pandemic world? It is better to anticipate and plan for change than merely to hope that it will not arrive. One change might be rethinking the traditional academic calendar - "which is almost unique in its inefficiency."  The author suggests the "simplest way to lower the cost of college" but it is not the easiest way - eliminate the long breaks and make it easier for students to graduate in three years.

Wikis in a Pandemic

wiki code

The code behind the Wikipedia article on the history of wikis

The first wiki was created in 1995 by Oregon programmer Ward Cunningham who named it after the "Wiki-Wiki" (meaning "quick") shuttle buses at the Honolulu Airport. They were meant to be web sites on which anyone could post material without knowing programming languages or HTML.

The most famous wiki is still Wikipedia which officially began with its first edit in January 2001, two days after the domain was registered by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. This fact comes from, of course, an article on Wikipedia about the history of Wikipedia

Wikipedia didn't get huge numbers of visitors immediately and it certainly didn't gain acceptance in academia for at least a decade. (Some might argue that it still isn't accepted by faculty for student use, especially when it is used in a copy/paste manner - but that's a different topic.)

I've been writing about wikis on and off since this blog started and a search on here shows 100+ mentions of "wiki" with about a third of those being actual posts about wikis. Most of that writing was in the first 15 years of this century, but I have seen some reemergence in wiki use among educators lately.

Back in 2005, I started getting into using wikis. Tim Kellers and I made one in order to teach about the use of wikis - particularly the use of open-source wiki software. It was what some would call a metawiki - a wiki about wikis.

Wikis were part of the Web 2.0 movement. when we started to think about the Internet as a place where we could build and contribute our own content rather than just read and consume.

In 2005, we were mixing wikis in with the somewhat sexier 2.0 tools like podcasting, blogging, and the photo and video sharing sites that were popping up. Then came social media and everything changed again.

That metawiki that Tim and I made 15 years ago no longer exists since neither of us is still at NJIT where it was hosted. It served its purpose which was to demonstrate to others how wikis are built, grow, get damaged and heal. It looked a lot like Wikipedia because we used the same software - Mediawiki - that was used to build Wikipedia. [Note: The wonderful archive.org did crawl our pages and you can see an archived version of our Wiki35 there.]

Brother Tim and I were doing workshops on blogs, podcasts and wikis which were three things we were sure were going to change corporations and education. Blogs and podcasts are still powerful and still growing. Wikis? Not so much.  

People often described wikis as "collaborative web sites" and they were being used for things like project management, knowledge sharing and proposal writing. The benefits of this collaborative approach include reducing daily phone calls, e-mails and meeting time as well as encouraging collaboration. The Internet research firm, the Gartner Group, predicted in 2006 that Wikis would become mainstream collaboration tools in at least 50% of companies by 2009.

Midway between that prediction, I wrote in 2007 that by my calculation technology generally moves into the world of education in dog years because it seems to take about 7 years for widespread acceptance and usage. This is in comparison to the world outside education, especially if the business world.

It's not that you can (or should) use the application of new technologies in the commercial world as a gauge for what we should be doing in education, but schools certainly lag behind industry and home users in adopting and adapting technology.  

By 2015, I was writing more about the disappearance of wikis and the devolution of Web 2.0.  My own use of wikis as tools in my teaching was also winding down.

I had been using Wikispaces with students as a collaborative tool. I assigned students to work in a class wiki and also had students create their own wikis using that software. But Wikispaces started to shut down and was gone by 2018. Now you can only read about it on Wikipedia.

It has been five years since that post and I don't think I have written anything significant in the interim about wikis. Some people are still using wikis and Wikipedia is in the top ten most visited websites on the Web, but I don't see people building wikis for education (and perhaps not in corporations either).

Blogs like WordPress and DIY website services overtook wikis as free or low-cost ways to put content online in pretty packages, though few of those are collaborative in the sense of wiki collaboration.

I no longer work on any wikis other than editing Wikipedia and I don't think Tim does either. But just recently, amidst all the scrambling to get courses online due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, I saw a few examples of wikis in education that make me think that we haven't completely hit the DELETE key on wikis.

One example is at coursehero.com with a Comparative Anatomy and Physiology course in which Dr. Glené Mynhardt has students create a wiki page on one specific animal phylum. In an article about the course, Explore More in a Survey Course with a Build-a-Wiki Project, Mynhardt explains how she uses Moodle which allows for page creation using easy cut-and-paste and drag-and-drop commands.

One missing wiki element in Moodle is that it does not allow public access which is key to the original intent of wikis. Mynhardt says “Students can view each other’s wikis, but I can’t share them with colleagues or [the public], and the students can’t share them outside the course,” so educators who want to make the work public may want to use other web page–building options. It's not Mediawiki but using these wiki tools that are in a learning management system like Blackboard or that tool in Moodle or in collaborative software such as Sharepoint or simply creating a content page in Canvas and allowing students to edit the page is a way to bring the collaborative wiki experience to students. And in this time of students sheltering at home and working online more than ever, collaboration is an important element of learning.

School at Home

home learning

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I've been helping a few teachers with their online teaching the past month as American schools closed due to the COVID19 pandemic and they were forced to become virtual teachers. Some teachers and schools were ready. Some were not.

Those that were ready had not only put in place software for conferencing and course management but had trained teachers and students to use it. They would also have determined that both groups had the hardware to use the software. I had to loan two teaching friends headsets with microphones since the stores are also closed. The very best schools had also made sure that teachers were using these tools on a regular basis for homework help, materials storage, and discussions. Some schools were already in virtual mode when there was a snowstorm or weather issue or if a student was out for an extended period.

While one teacher I worked with had his textbook online (an open textbook - hurray!) another did not. Her school had sent students home for 3 days while they did a rush training on using Google Classroom with teachers. In those 3 days, the decision was made not to reopen the school. Guess what? Many of the students had not brought home any textbooks or notebooks, and now they could not return to school. Good luck having students read chapter 11 and work on the problems at the end.

One resource that has been around for a while is Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organization created in 2008 by Salman Khan with the goal of creating a set of online tools that help educate students.

They offer short lessons in the form of videos and supplementary practice exercises and materials for educators. All resources are available for free to users of the website and app.

Knowing that teachers and students at this time were affected by the school closures and with social distancing Khan Academy stepped up their offerings. They give a suggested but adaptable daily study schedule to help build a routine while learning at home. For high school students prepping for college admission, recent SAT test cancellations are causing some panic. They offer FAQ about the SAT and havean  suggested SAT study plan.

Sal Khan even thought to create a meditation video playlist with simple meditation techniques to help you calm your mind, relax, and focus.

I love that they have made available a Google Form where you can ask for other resources you need that they might create. Sal is doing a daily livestream on Facebook and YouTube where he answers questions live.

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.