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Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Shift in Education from Vertical to Horizontal Specialization

Unschooling Rules 55. The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a diversity of approaches.

Here is a chart to show how easy (or hard) it is for a home or unschooling family to meet these various horizontal needs outside of industrial schools.
Industrial schools today represent vertically aligned packages of services. I have suggested in Unschooling Rules that they can be organized into The Seven C’s of Education:
Today's article - Inside Higher Ed's Free Courses, Elite Colleges - marks the continuation of a trend that will reshape education - the unbundling of school services.

Over the last few years we have seen the evolution of organizations specializing in the individual horizontal areas, and that are better and cheaper than have been delivered in the vertical sectors of high school or middle school.

Here's an example. Consider one sliver of the horizontal need of "content." You can go to one great college and hear a dozen great lecturers. Or you can get CDs from The Teaching Company and have access to hundreds of professors' great lectures. And you can do that in high school. Or with no school.  Alternatively, you can look up content yourself.

Another example: the demand for tutors/coaches is growing. And the same individuals work inside of and outside the industrial school system.

Still other examples include: iTunes University (content), open curricula (curricula), Facebook (community), educational simulations and serious games (content), work for school credit programs (credit), and distance learning programs (everything but day care). How long until Blackboard offers a tracking mechanism for homeschoolers?

The health of a nation's education system, including cost containment (See CBS Evening News story on President Obama discussing skyrocketing costs of higher ed, Chronicle of Higher Education story), may ultimately be measured by the strong true alternatives of approaches in all of these categories, and even more so by the distribution of people taking advantage of them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Five Questions about Education for Every 2012 Politician (#unrules55)

Here are five questions that I believe every politician for higher office in 2012 should be asked about education:

1. What is the mission of our K-12 public education system? How should success or failure be measured? How have changes in the external world over the last two decades significantly changed the tactics, strategies, risks, or opportunities of public education? Who should decide what schools teach?

2. Is the current trajectory of public education on the right track or wrong track? At what signs do you look to make your personal assessment? If/where it is wrong, how should it be altered? Are these management challenges (incrementally improving the current system) or leadership challenges (changing the current system)? President Obama quoted the book Unschooling Rules saying "standardized tests are too punitive." Do you agree?

3. What is the right/target percentage of GDP this nation should spend on K-12 education? For education at all levels? What is the right breakdown between public and private funding? What is the role of such national government education funding mechanisms as Department of Education or National Science Foundation?

4. What choices should families have and make regarding their education path for their children at any level? How many options should be available for a healthy ecosystem? If a diversity of approaches is desired, what is the role of government in encouraging diversity of approaches?

5. Legally, is an undergraduate college degree a defendable generic requirement for a job? Do you believe the current student college debt situation is a problem, or even a crisis? How should that be handled?

What are other questions that should be asked?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Foreword to Simulations and the Future of Learning

Here is a reprint of the foreword to Simulations and the Future of Learning. 
I both love and hate the fact that it seems more relevant today than when it was written in 2003. I love it, because I sense that people are catching up to these thoughts, and hate it, because I want more of this to be obvious and to hope that we have moved on (which has happened in pockets).
One of my greatest pleasures in writing long form is reading the commentaries on my books, including forewords and reviews (and comments on drafts from friends). Besides the obvious egotistical reasons, that I have encouraged so often very smart people to think about my view of the world, and then write about it (so often so gracefully), is just such a thrill!
Anyway, references to my own text aside, Ms. Gery's consideration of learning is just so elegant and prescient and, yes, relevant.

Foreword by Gloria Gery

One of my favorite books is Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Soul of a New Machine (1981. Reprinted in 2000 by Back Bay Books). Kidder lived with the Data General development team that built the first 32-bit processor and told the story of both the process of building the computer and the dynamics of the team. It read like a novel, though every word was true. It had drama, humor, pathos and ran the gamut of every human emotion. Clark Aldrich’s has achieved a similar effect in Simulations and the Future of Learning. His detailed and fascinating story of the massive effort associated with developing probably the first high-fidelity leadership simulation is practically riveting. I know it sounds ridiculous. . .but it’s true.

On a higher level, Clark compels us to the conclusion that there is truly no other way to learn than through simulations. Having done that, he scares us into the realities and complexities of doing worthwhile non-trivial work. Yet his account—and the understanding of why simulations are so powerful at achieving deep knowledge and probable behavior change, does not preach at us. It makes the reader truly think about the current linear models for learning. It reveals why the kind of analysis necessary to understand the many and interrelated variables in a situation often require us to reconceptualize an entire process. And it humbles us when and if we dare to offer superficial criticism of these intense efforts. His analysis of gaming and how an entire world of game players will probably learn little in traditional environments results in the realization that we are on a collision path with the current generation when we attempt to teach them with lectures and trivial interactions and exercises.

These new learners are highly stimulated, used to complexity, will tolerate uncertainty and intensely study the variables, rules and relationships, and strategies until they “win”: until they “learn.” Just watch any nine-year-old reading Game Boy Advanced strategy books that look like hieroglyphics to an adult. The book is a metaphor for the kind of change necessary for universities and organizations to change their view of e-learning. Unless they do we are doomed to linear instruction punctuated with gratuitous media dominated by content experts who haven’t a clue about what it takes to achieve deep learning and skill. Believe it or not, the book also made me laugh out loud. In addition, I learned more about leadership by reading about the simulation than I have in thirty-five years of management training programs and book reading. These are serious accomplishments for what I expected to be a technical book.

July 2003

My last commentary on this snippet is that it is no wonder so many people are really, really mad at schools and the endless foundations and committees that pretend to improve them but really just enable them.  It is no wonder that smart people, from parents to business people, are just so tired of begging schools to improve.  It is no wonder that when people hear leaders including Bill Gates and Barack Obama say the answer for everyone is to spend more time in and more money on schools, they get livid. 
So it is no wonder that almost two million homeschoolers have done the only thing that will really improve education in the long run - given up on today's schools and committed themselves to finding and even developing real alternative models.  And it is no wonder these numbers are growing.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Want to be thought of a brilliant education revolutionary? Just champion any one of The Unschooling Rules.

Unschooling Rules was based on interviews with homeschoolers and unschoolers.  I asked two simple questions.  
  • The first was, what do schools do that seems bizarre?  
  • The second question was, what do schools not do that seems critical to education?  
I then organized the comments into The Rules, informed by my own research and experience in everything from working at an environmental education foundation to serving as the Governor's appointee to my state's Joint Committee on Educational Technology to building education simulations for universities, corporations, and the US Military.  This effort was done on my free time, not using millions of dollars from National Science Foundation or Harvard or Gates or MacArthur or U.S. Department of Education. (I'm happy to take any donations, of course :) )

Having said that, some people have asked for more official citations for the rules - stamps of approval to validate their own common sense.  (I believe this motivation actually comes more from a desire to kick the can for real solutions and a love of debating methodology than self-doubt.) And they are in luck.  I suspect over the next ten years, various people will come to national attention and be hailed as brilliant and controversial and thought-leading as they champion each of these rules.  

So perhaps Unschooling Rules should be thought of as a book from the future, say 2022, that summarizes most of the bold, startling, surprising, revolutionary, and breakthrough ideas of 2012 to 2022.  Pretend it was the result of collectively 100 million dollars of grants, if that will make you feel better.  The truth is that most of these are obvious, but we will pretend they are not as long as possible.  Society is better able to absorb them one at a time anyway (i.e. that is more "realistic").  I am just impatient.  

Here are some early citations for some of the rules: 

Part One: Curricula
1. Learn to be; learn to do; learn to know.
2. Focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic.
5. Don’t worry about preparing students for jobs from an Agatha Christie novel.
Part Two: Content 
8. What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom.
9. Sitting through a classroom lecture is not just unnatural for most people, it is painful.
10. Animals are better than books about animals.
11. Use microcosms as much as possible in learning programs.
12. Internships, apprenticeships, and interesting jobs beat term papers, textbooks, and tests.
15. If you care about learning, start with food.
16. Embrace all technologies.
17. Listen while doing.
18. One computer + one spreadsheet software program = math curricula.
19. Have a well-stocked library.
21. Is it better to be “A Great Reader” than “Addicted to Computer Games”?
23. Build more, consume less.
Part Three: Coaching 
24. Teaching is leadership. Most teaching is bad leadership.
25. Expose more, teach less.
26. Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.
29. Homework helps school systems, not students.
31. Avoid the Stockholm syndrome.
Part Four: Customization 
33. In education, customization is important like air is important.
Part Five: Community 
41. Socialize your children. Just don’t use schools to do it.
Part Six: Credit 
46. The future is portfolios, not transcripts.
48. Use technology as assessment.
49. College: the hardest no-win decision your family may ever make.
Part Seven: [Day] Care
50. Outdoors beats indoors.
53. Parents care more than any institution about their children.
54. Children should be raised by people who love them.
55. The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a diversity of approaches.
Example of innovative programs:
There is a final rub, however.  As I said, I believe these ideas will trickle into the mainstream one at a time over the next decade.  Then, each can drive a significant spike of funding for schools and the members of the Academic PhD guild who specialize in writing proposals, while a few individuals can serve as the spokespeople for those ideas.  The problem is that if just one or two are introduced at a time, they will only have a little impact, probably not enough to balance the disruption required on a larger scale.  For real progress, not the well funded illusion of it, we will have to consider many of the Rules collectively.  Otherwise, while we will make the school industry very happy, we will not get out of the current, very deep rut we are in.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Profile: Cisco's Binary Game

Title Cisco Binary Game
Version 1
Other versions n/a
Sponsor/Producer Cisco Systems
Developer DigitalMill
Series n/a
Number in Series n/a
Company Description Cisco Systems is the worldwide leader in networking that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate.
Description The Cisco Binary Game is a game to learn and practice the binary number system. It is also a LOT of fun to play for anyone who likes to play fast-paced arcade games. Simple to learn, it is great for classes, students and teachers in science, math, digital electronics, computers, programming, logic and networking.
Categories/Folksonomy Casual Game/ Serious Game
Lead Designer Jerry Bush and Ben Sawyer
Other Designers/ Writers Ian Bogost
Lead Programmer Ian Bogost
Lead Artist / Video
Price Free
Link http://www.crazygames.com/game/binary-game
Demo Available http://www.crazygames.com/game/binary-game
Link to Video http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=2Z0Z2hy739E& feature= related
Link(s) to Support Material https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/ community/ connections/games
Platform(s) HTML; iPhone; Android
Customizable (1 to 10) n/a
Special Hardware Computer; iPhone; Android Device
Toolkit/Language used Flash
Year Designed 2006
LMS Integration/ SCORM
Skill Level (Corporate/Military/Government)/Grade Level (Academic)
Student time 1-10 minutes
Available ([O]pen / [R]estricted by Organization / [N]o longer Available Available - Open
Single player/Multiplayer Single Player
Category: Serious Game

Thursday, January 12, 2012

WILL Interactive's '$500,000 Simulate A Better World Challenge'

WILL Interactive, an international leader in creating custom educational simulations, has launched an incredible opportunity.  They are calling it their ‘$500,000 Simulate a Better World Challenge.’  (Find out more here.)

Basically, they are asking for people to submit ideas for a full-blown educational simulation that, if deployed, would have a positive social impact.  WILL will then pick one of the submissions and create and distribute it.

Frankly, if almost any other sim company offered this, I would be less excited.  WILL's offer should be tempting to anyone because:

  • WILL Interactive has an incredible track record of creating educational sims.
  • WILL Interactive has tackled more hard, socially tricky, complicated issues than anyone else.  They are so successful because they are so honest, as well as being so competent.  
  • WILL Interactive really does want to make the world a better place.  I have known these people for a long time, and every time I leave them, I leave uplifted and excited  They are a wonderful, world-class team in all senses of the word.
So, please visit their site and submit an idea or two.  And please pass this news on.  This really is a chance to make the world a bit better.  The more ideas that are submitted, the greater chance the right one is chosen.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

TEDxOKC - Jeff Sandefer - April 8th, 2011

Jeff Sandefer's work is increasingly becoming "required reading" for anyone really interested in evolving education. While so many say it, Sandefer's work actually does start from the needs of the students, not the schools.  Here he is: