Envisioning the Future of Learning

School’s out for the Summer! I had the pleasure of advising a class in the Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) program through the School of Ed at Stanford this spring quarter, Ed 333B: Envisioning the Future of Learning. The course was co-taught by two of my favorite LDT Alumni, Dan Gilbert and Ami Mehta, who framed the class around two key questions “What should every 11-year-old girl in the world know?  How might we make that happen?” taking into consideration how technology will evolve over the next ten years.

To provide real world context for applying business, design and learning approaches to these questions, we conducted three 2-week long design challenges with real clients from Castilleja Girls School, Khan Academy and TeachAIDS. I was excited to bring some of my experiences from Khan Academy into this class, leading a challenge focused on rethinking how to distribute digital content to empower learners all over the world. The students came up with some creative yet practical approaches and I’m looking forward to piloting this project in partnership with Teach-A-Class and Living Values in Nigeria in the coming months. (Stay tuned for a future post on the launch of my next endeavor.)

The last class held this past Thursday night was a true culmination of the previous exercises exploring business, design and learning approaches, where the students lead the group in their own unique design challenges. What made the process even more special was the presence of some inspiring LDT alumni like Kim Jacobsen, co-founder of Junyo and local edtech community members, like Neeru Khosla, founder of CK12. However, the guests who really contributed the most were Shivali and Sahil, two Bay Area teenagers who not only provided useful perspective on teens going through the education system today but were energetic and vocal participants in the challenges.

I would love to see more classes like this in the School of Ed that are applying learning & design theories to real-world problems and engaging alumni and community members in the process. I’m glad I was able to be a part of this course and hope to stay connected to these students and projects in the future.

Early Stages of Disrupting Higher Ed

On my morning run today I had a chance to listen to this recent KQED Forum session with Sebastian Thrun (Udacity), Sal Khan (Khan Academy) and Anant Agarawal (MITx) sharing their thoughts and contributions to online learning.

The conversation opened with Ben Nelson sharing his plans for the Minerva Project, to offer an elite level university education fully online. He recently raised $25M in seed funding to address the issue that the demand for an ivy league style education vastly outstrips the supply and I wish he would’ve shared more of his perspective since he plans to charge students while the other 3 panelists offer their services for free.

It was an interesting discussion where the panelists clearly acknowledged that while their online courses have made a significant impact we are just in the beginning stages of figuring out the best way to deliver and measure online learning where the role of community and 1:1 interaction is still vitally important. In response to how the cost of a higher ed degree is rapidly increasing while its value as a signal of quality and ability to provide job security is decreasing, I appreciated Sal’s comment that we must deconstruct the key aspects of college: learning, credentialing and socializing in order to control quality and costs. There is huge value in each and we must optimize the delivery methods accordingly. Sebastian and Anant shared some valuable examples of how their students have organized both physical and virtual communities to support each other’s learning and how these new models for study groups reflect the teamwork and collaboration we should expect to see more of in the future workforce.

I am so pleased to see conversations like this taking place that go beyond simply bringing content online and are addressing the more complex issue of how to facilitate learning, maintain student engagement and foster community and peer interactions in an online environment. While the discussion was focused on higher education I think, as Khan Academy has demonstrated, this work has broader implications for learning at all levels.

A Deeper Look- Blended Learning at DCP

Last fall I was fortunate to meet Greg Klein, Director of Blended Learning at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, and got a chance to see one of the few truly blended learning schools in the Bay Area. Greg manages his lab as a startup, piloting a variety of software programs giving himself and his students a chance to test it all out before integrating it fully into their workflow. As the first guest speaker at my Teacher Tech Talk event, Greg gave us all a deeper look into the tools he uses and some of the key decisions he’s made to cultivate an engaging and highly academic blended learning environment.

It helps to start with a deeper understanding of the student population. Downtown College Prep (DCP) in Alum Rock is located in one of the lowest income communities in San Jose. Greg’s campus serves 180 students (6th and 7th graders) of which 89% are on free/reduced lunch, however, 2/3 of the students d0 have access to internet at home. 60 students at a time spend 90 min/day in the learning lab going through 3 30-min rotations. The computers are setup in rows with a simple system of using red/green plastic cups to identify student progress and who may need some additional support.  Greg went on to share the pretty comprehensive list of tools he uses to structure the content and delivery during those rotation sessions.

Greg and the DCP Team are currently experimenting with these products in the following areas, although many of them can be used in other content areas, too.

Communication: Edmodo***, Goalbook*, Google Docs***
(* indicate Greg’s enthusiasm for these different products)

A student and instructor favorite, Quizlet, is in the process of launching a beta version of  a new product, Sentencer, that allows kids to collaboratively create sentences and then vote up/down their writings. One of the obvious gaps was software tools to support science instruction and project-based learning (PBL,) and DCP currently uses Google Docs through Edmodo to deliver lesson plans that the teachers themselves created.

In generating this list during the discussion, a teacher made an interesting point wondering if students then had 11 different logins to manage these systems? While a Google Apps login is shared across a few of the tools, there are still several different logins that students have to remember and enter on a daily basis. This tied directly into an early suggestion on the need for unification of tools/systems to make it easier for students and teachers to use and access data from these different platforms.

Special thanks to Greg for being our first guest speaker and sharing these insights from the blended learning environment he’s creating at DCP. Keep an eye out for similar deep-dives as I plan to connect with the blended learning folks at SF Flex Academy and Rocketship sometime soon.

Blended Learning in the Bay

Last Friday, KQED Forum discussed some of the blended learning programs in the Bay Area and in CA more broadly. While the conversation focused heavily on Rocketship‘s current model and ambitious growth plans, Tina Barseghian, editor of MindShift, also shares some feedback from students, teachers and other districts.  It’s a quick 30min discussion and worth it if you’re curious to hear current sentiment around blended/hybrid learning and some of the arguments for/against the role of teachers in a technology and data rich teaching environment.

Khan Academy welcomes Vi Hart

Vi Hart, newest faculty member of Khan Academy, brings some whimsy (and elephants) to math education. Enjoy!

SF Flex Academy

A friend of mine recently joined the team at SF Flex Academy, one of a handful of truly blended learning schools in the Bay Area. What I love most about this video is the diversity of the students and how they all have found a passion for learning and building community in this school environment. I hope to check out their blended learning lab very soon. SF Flex is a free, public (charter) high school that is currently accepting applications and looking for a history teacher, so please help spread the word.

Blended Learning Lab- Downtown College Prep (Alum Rock)

Khan Academy exercise dashboard

Red and green cup system

Blended Learning Lab- Downtown College Prep (Alum Rock)

Blended Learning- In Real Life

I’ve watched the videos, read the blogs and spent a full day in SF last month at a conference that championed the future of blended learning…and today I got to see it in real life (IRL.)

A friend of mine, Justin Su, invited me to check out the learning lab that he helped set up at Downtown College Prep(DCP) who just launched their Alum Rock campus with 180 6th and 7th graders this fall. DCP is one of the few schools in the Bay Area that has implemented a truly blended learning approach where each student spends 90 minutes a day in the learning lab with Greg Klein, a certified teacher and self-proclaimed tech geek, who is clearly optimistic about the potential for this model. The lab contains 60 computers, configured with help from a Cisco volunteer, that provide a variety of offerings for the students, including; Khan Academy (math), TeenBiz/Achieve3000 (ELA), MangaHigh (math), ALEKS (math) and GoalBook. Klein utilizes Edmodo as a tool to communicate and collaborate with students to guide their learning by creating individualized playlists for different groups of students.

A couple of the students walked me through their daily math routine. Choose a station->log into Khan Academy (via Google account)-> load Edmodo to see their playlists-> begin working. I quickly learned that many of the students skip the videos and jump right into the exercises, applying lessons learned from their math teacher, in real life, to figure out the right answer. If they get stuck, they request a hint through the system, select an answer and move on. As a fan of Sal Khan’s videos, I couldn’t help but feel the kids were missing out, but having worked with middle schoolers for years I understand their perspective— “I get it. I know the answer. Let’s move on.” And Greg gets it too, sharing his view that the goal is not for the kids to watch the videos but rather for them to understand the content and be engaged in their learning process. The beauty of this just-in-time content delivery, where the videos are there for review if/when students need them, is the backbone of a self-paced learning environment. These content tools blended together with guidance from educators like Greg, as well as the ELA and Math teachers IRL, create an effective and interactive learning environment for these students.

Greg’s simple ‘red cup/green cup’ system builds on this view, where once a student has completed their assigned work they are given a green cup (can you see them in the picture?) which means they are free to work on whatever area they choose. This simple system empowers students to take ownership over their time and learning progress, which is the hallmark of a successful blended learning model.  Tools such as Goalbook further enhance this process, allowing students to create personal learning plans where they can write their own goals and easily track/share progress with teachers and parents.

I’m very optimistic about blended learning and feel that when implemented effectively, it can really improve the learning experience for students and teaching experience for educators. I’m grateful for the time I got to spend observing blended learning IRL and my experience reminded me that while online content is great, you still need real life interaction to solidify and reinforce your knowledge and beliefs. Next up on my list is to check out the learning lab at Rocketship.

Khan Academy expands their faculty

Khan Academy launched a partnership today with SmartHistory which not only expands their content library but introduces new instructional voices and perspectives to the popular site. The new Art History section contains 100+ videos discussing a variety of historic pieces from Ancient to Modern times and begins with this message: “Spontaneous conversations about works of art where the speakers are not afraid to disagree with each other or art history orthodoxy. Videos are made by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker along with other contributors.”

Clicking on one of the videos directs you to the SmartHistory site which is visibly labeled as ‘presented by Khan Academy.’ I think this partnership is a great step in the right direction to increase the content offering and perspectives that are guiding and ‘instructing’ viewers on this incredibly popular site, which has tripled its unique users to 3.5 million over the past year. I was especially intrigued to see that some of the ‘other contributors’ include Second Life correspondents, such as the two avatars who guide us through this recreation of Michelangelo’s Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, providing historical and physical context in their explanation.

I’m thrilled to see art history content highlighted in this way and am looking forward to what future partnerships will bring to the Khan Academy.

You can watch Sal Khan sharing this announcement at the Web 2.0 Conference here.

Technology and student-centric learning

Between the Philanthropy Roundtable event on Wednesday and the Startup Weekend EDU at Grockit on Sunday I’ve seen first hand the energy and momentum that is building in this space.

The Roundtable event was focused on how technology, and specifically blended learning, can be used to create student-centric learning environments. It was fantastic to see practitioners, politicians and philanthropists all coming together to rethink the purpose of schools and how students actually learn. One of the areas most interesting to me and my current work is thinking about how blended learning environments can create time/space for more project-based learning (PBL) activities. Explicitly giving kids more opportunities to work with their hands and each other.

The breakout sessions highlighted several examples of charter schools successfully applying a blended learning approach: Carpe Diem (Yuma, AZ), Rocketship (San Jose), Kipp LA Empower Academy and Summit Public Schools (Redwood City.) Beyond creative uses of technology it was great to see all of these schools focusing on building a culture of achievement and really engaging students in their own learning and that of their peers. This cultural shift is the real key to improving education outcomes for all kids.

 

During lunch, Jeb Bush shared his perspective on what policy makers and public/district officials can do to foster innovations in the education space. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of solutions that he supported and his message that the ultimate goal should be “a customized learning system that values student outcomes above all else.” He went on to say that we should not over-regulate the space but rather treat it as other industries where we accept the risk of a few bad actors banking on the larger reward of “explosions in innovation.”

The afternoon sessions continued with conversations around what policy makers can do to create an environment that encourages high quality digital learning and how traditional schools can incorporate some successful blended learning models.

The event culminated with New Schools Venture Fund unveiling their Edtech Market Map. I think it’s a great start and we need more robust tools to be able to identify and follow key trends in the edtech space. They presented it as v1 and I’m looking forward to seeing what functionalities are added over time (tagging? following?) Take some time to play around and let me know what you think!

Blended learning is definitely hot topic in education right now and if you want to learn more, check out these additional resources.

  • The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning – The seminal piece on blended learning school models, this short paper explains how each model operates and outlines several
  • How Khan Academy is Changing the Rules of Education – This Wired Magazine article from July 2011 explains the on-the-ground implications of online and blended learning, including how technology impacts students’ and teachers’ daily schedules.
  • Is there a K-12 Online Learning Bubble? – Written by Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute, this article outlines a number of the issues with low-quality digital learning and the need for policy that rewards student performance outcomes.