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Sunday, April 29, 2012

What is the highest priority for managers of educational programs in new media?

In March 2007, eLearning Guild’s landmark report Immersive Learning Simulations presented the following data: Managers of educational programs, both academic and corporate, were asked about relative importance of various factors in a new educational simulation program. They ranked “ease of deployment” over every other category, including “better meets learning objectives” and “fun and exciting for participants.” 

(Raw figures: 57.4 percent said ease of deployment was very important and 37.2 said it was important; 34.6 percent said better meets learning objectives was very important and 41.4 percent important; and 50.2 percent regarded fun as very important, while 28.4 percent rated it important.)

- Clark Aldrich, The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games, 2009

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Would you require every student in the country to take a mandatory year-long class in order to find the 5 percent who excel?

Let's suppose you were in charge of a country, say the Soviet Union in 1975. And according to your experts, your country was facing a short-fall of chemists. What would you do?

The Education Ministry reaction would probably be to require all students in an age range, perhaps 12 and 14 year olds, to take a year or two of chemistry classes with rigorous standardized testing. The hope would be that this process would identify the 5% of students who have an aptitude to go into the profession and meet the national need.

And yet the immorality, inefficiency, and even ineffectiveness of this "solution" is self-evident to any parent and any school child.

Granted, one goal of education is exposure. But it is only through enabling self-directed interest (with periodic and restrained help from a guide) can passion be achieved, vital communities be formed, and the mind-numbingness of misaligned classes be avoided.

Broad, blunt curricula is the enemy of widespread excellence, not the enabler. But then schools have always been by and for the top 5% of students.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Dealing with Schools, The First Step is Getting Past Denial and Admitting We Have a Problem

We, as a society, have to solve this problem that is our school system. This problem extends to all levels across K-16. But we can't honestly deal with schools until we get over our collective denial.

We are in denial about:
  • How much (all) schools (really) cost.
  • How poorly schools prepare our children for the productive world.
  • How guild-like the academic culture is, especially at the PhD level.
  • How much schools collectively act like expansionistic monopolies, actively growing while restricting our choices.
  • How much the role of "day care" has become the killer app of schools.
  • How hard it is to get rid of bad teachers.
  • How badly the process of deciding what content gets taught is curated.
  • How psychologically damaging the school environment is for about half of the school children.
  • How ill-equipped schools are to evolve around the rise of the Internet.
  • How unjustified and harmful the requirement of college admissions is in the school process, and a college degree is in the hiring process.
  • The degree to which the people who are paid to run schools are set up to be bureaucrats, not leaders, and the problems that causes.
  • How we promote the students that best "game" the system, rather than the smartest or most capable.
  • What motivates most teachers, and how manipulative teachers have to be.
  • How inappropriate any school's promise of taking over a parent's responsibility for childhood education actually is.
Then, we are in denial about how to fix schools. Our creativity deficit in this area is staggering. We can't tweak our schools to produce world-class education. It will take more leadership than we think.

And once we get past denial, the next step is anger. Then, sorry, work.

Seven places where schools can add some Unschooling Rules to their curricula

The Obama Administration is shifting education policy towards the Unschooling Rules. So while school systems may not be able to embrace all of the Unschooling Rules at once, here are seven places they can start.
  1. Designate one or two week nights a week as "no homework" nights. (#unrules29) This will help students learn more, not less.
  2. Document students through portfolios as much as transcripts.
  3. Reduce the overall addiction to "forced classes." Decrease the number of graded classes to around 50%, of the most "need to know" topics such as math and written composition. Increase the number of the electives, cross-age, that are ungraded and even uncredited. Challenge teachers to draw and engage students using techniques other than coercion (#unrules24) and threats. World class mathematicians are going to born of passion and volunteerism, not more standardized tests.
  4. Rethink food in schools. Use food as the first place to reintroduce authenticity into schools (#unrules15). Realize how a school treats food is very similar to how they treat educational content. 
  5. Actively enable internships. Use microcosms wherever possible.
  6. Give families as much choice as possible in as many areas of schools. Everyone needs to be on the same page that it is families, not schools, that are responsible for a child's future. Schools that try to be responsible for a child's long-term future, and thus disintermediate parents, are doing everyone a grave disservice.
  7. View K-12 as the place to create visionary entrepreneurs, not proto-college students.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Four Potential Futures of the College System

Unschooling Rules 49: College: the hardest no-win decision your family may ever make.

What is the future of colleges? What are different models for tertiary education, and how might they come about?

A think tank asked me to be on a panel discussing the future of colleges. To organize my thoughts, I used the framework from The Art of the Long View (which I had used at both Xerox and Gartner). In this methodology, the 'futurist' first considers two pairs of extreme conditions, which together create a 2 X 2 matrix, and then populates the four possibilities.

For my first axis, I choose the supply side. At one extreme - let's call it "Single Philosophy / The One Golden Path" - colleges and universities continue to control the bottle neck for intellectual and ambitious workers to achieve a productive lifestyle. At the other extreme - in "Multiple Philosophies" - single credentialism fades away as society shirks at the cost and perceived disconnect of the degree at traditionally accredited institutions. 

For the second axis, I looked at extremes around the demand side. On one side, large enterprises are the model employer, be it corporations or government. On the other, small start-ups become the more typical or influential first jobs.

From these two pairs come four different scenarios.

I. The Indentured Graduate / Faith in Institutions
This first scenario is an extension of today. The tuition and other costs of colleges and universities continue to outpace inflation and house-hold earning power (along a similar curve to health care).

But the culture continues to believe that college and masters degrees are the key to 'white-collar' jobs. Four-year programs continue as the norm. New government loans allow for longer and longer borrowing periods for larger and larger education bills. The facilities of the top colleges rival top hotels and cruise ships as the student-life arms race continues. School-begging - the habit of society of pleading with schools to do things they won't and can't do- also continues (see New York Time Column: Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade for a current example of school-begging). Few of the thoughts of Unschooling Rules come true or are needed, and the Gates Foundation's view of the world is validated. "Learning to know" remains the academic goal.

Harvard wants to keep the world here.

II. Portfolios Rule
In the second scenario, large enterprises continue to be employers of choice. But universities are increasingly criticized and sidestepped as the single, sufficient path to get there. Enrollment levels go down significantly and college drop-out rates go up. Society stops begging colleges to improve and settles in for a cost-effective approach (see Rock the Ivory Tower).

In this scenario, HR departments have to take a more proactive role in evaluating potential new hires, and are restaffed appropriately. They have to think more about entry-level talent, not just filter.

Also in this scenario, virtual universities grow, covering curricula and content cost-efficiently through a check-box/ online-workbook approach. Virtual universities are successful not because they are better but because they are cheaper.

The college experience and associated costs are minimized (a Walmart approach to higher ed). It may even take seven or eight part-time years to get a four year degree for many. For some, a college degree goes on the bucket list. Students, without compunction, take time off formal learning to pursue interesting jobs and opportunities. People who aspire to white collar jobs worry about their portfolios more than any transcripts.

III. The Nimble University
In this model, most young people want jobs in small start-ups and fast growing businesses. This may be to make a lot of money, and it also may be to escape the trappings of creaky and toxic large institutions. They still want a structured learning program with credentials, processes, and critical content, but they also want to hold it to a higher standard both in terms of cost-effectiveness and quality of experience.

In this model (as with II), new virtual universities grow, but in this case following the model of today's virtual masters programs (such as Full Sail). They focus on developing "learning to do" skills around current tools, helping individuals learn about themselves, and creating productive virtual communities. Virtual universities integrate into a student's professional life. Traditional colleges and universities evolve to support a less lock-step but more intense student experience, modeling themselves after programs such as The Acton MBA. Advanced media such as simulations replace textbooks completely. It may take many students just two or three years to get a four year degree.

This is the best scenario to create vibrant and innovative universities that are prepared to evolve into the future.

IV: The New Existentialism
In the fourth scenario, large institutions lose their credibility from both the education supply and education demand side. Universities and large enterprises are each seen as out-of-date dinosaurs, bordering on immoral (see video War on Kids). Colleges never learn to adapt. Large corporations are mired in legal and bureaucratic limbo, are top-heavy from a staffing perspective, and become branding, integration, outsourcing, and holding companies (see chart of the rise and fall of traditional clothing companies). Creation of value only happens at small, boutique organizations or using the Hollywood model of fluid teams. (For example, Disney's prize assets of ESPN and Pixar were bought, not developed.)

Here, bottom-up social media and other web and open-source tools become increasingly powerful, eventually BTC (better than college), for providing skills, experiences, infrastructure, portfolios, and contacts. (See The Shift in Education from Vertical to Horizontal Specialization.) College/university enrollment becomes a niche, falling faster than newspaper subscriptions. (See blog entry: The New Existentialism)

In any such scenario planning, there is never one answer. But it does unleash the mind to think beyond the confines we have today. Because over time, there is nothing that reality punishes more severely than industries with a lack of imagination.

Do you really want to change education? 2012 Acton Rising Star in Education Innovation $10,000/ $50,000 Challenge

I am thrilled to be a guide with this unique challenge.  Anyone who is interested in changing education should learn more about this.

Teaching is leadership. Most teaching is bad leadership.

Unschooling Rules 24: Teaching is leadership. Most teaching is bad leadership.

The process of educating uses leadership. (The word "education" is from the Latin word for "to lead forth," just as the word "pedagogy" is from the Greek word "to lead.")

The specific type of leadership style used, however, results in predictable, different, but not always considered results. The key is the level of interactivity with a student. Consider different levels:
  • from the "talking-head" lecture (Level 1)
  • to environments that use sims and labs (Level 2)
  • to environments where students decide their own curricula, grading, and processes, and interact with complicated and real environments ( Level 3).
These different levels of interactivity map to well-researched leadership styles.
Education Interactivity LevelCorresponding Leadership StylesGood ForImpact and Results Duration
1: Lecture, Test, Graded PaperDirective and TransactionalPredictable Process PerformanceVery short-term, sometimes opposite long-term
2: Sim/LabDirective, Collaborative, and ParticipativeApplicable Skills and ConvictionLong
3: Microcosm and Real world ProjectCollaborative and ParticipativeDiscovery and Ownership of New IdeasVery long

Specifically, "directive" (the leadership style of ordering people what to do using formal and other forms of coercive power) and "transactional" (I will do this for you in exchange for you doing this for me) map to Level 1, while "participative" and "collaborative" (the leadership styles of supporting and enabling) map to Level 3.

What is interesting is that, as consistently reported in the leadership literature, using the style of "directive" only gets you short term results (which are sometimes necessary). Students in a directive style education program at best passively comply. You get a blip in test scores, but without any long term impact. It is only the "participative" and "collaborative" educational programs, meanwhile, consistent with leadership models, that actually develop positive long term behaviors.

Ordering people what to do, such as using talking-head school programs, often results in the opposite long term behavior of what the stake-holders wants. Most of the industrial education complex, including most K-12 programs, is currently focused on a directive leadership/education style, overly relying on extrinsic threats and rewards, which is why it fails. The successful educators (if they are interested in long term behavior improvements) have to be collaborative and participative.

Should Education Reform be Led by Ph.D.'s?

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

There is an article in InsideHigherEd today called To Limit Debt, Promote Savings.  The article suggests that, to reduce the crippling impact of debt on graduates, families should save even more money to pay for ever-more expensive college programs.   This kind of thinking and advocacy, I thought, had to be the result of Ph.D.'s.  Sure enough, both authors were part of that club.

Throughout history, there have been very powerful guilds.  Masons and Swiss Watch Makers are two examples.  They tightly perpetuate, refine, and market a narrow skill set that meets a need, balancing internal quality controls and consistency of members while dealing swiftly with competitive organizations and alternative approaches.

One of the largest and most powerful guilds today is the Academic Ph.D.'s.  People who get their Ph.D.'s, rather than proving and honing a creative intellectualism, instead practice a highly specific skill set, including what input they value, what methodology they use, and what output they produce.

The influence of The Guild is immense:
  • Unbelievably, many foundations that address education reform/evolution have efforts spearheaded by Ph.D.'s.  This partially explains their advice. (See A Story of Research)
  • Committees that accredit colleges and universities are made up of almost all Ph.D.'s, and require many roles in the applicant institution to be filed by Ph.D.'s.
  • When grant-giving organizations, such as The National Science Foundation disperse millions in grants, the committees are almost exclusively made up of Ph.D.'s.
  • The amount of government money, including from the military, contributing towards Ph.D.'s is very, very high, not even including student loans.
Of course, the cost of creating a Ph.D. is both incredibly expensive and also very indirectly funded. The average time to a PhD. degree in the humanities nine years.

However, crack are forming.

Government discretionary spending is going way down.  This includes tuition subsidies on one hand and grants and other projects on the other.
This is more problematic than it seems.  Many Ph.D's exist solely to create more Ph.D.'s.  When demand flattens out (similar to a Ponzi scheme), not only do new Ph.D.'s find themselves without jobs, but so do many Ph.D.'s currently working.

I have my personal anecdotes as well.   I have sat on many workgroups with varying percentages of Ph.D's.  From my own experience, once a group is more than 50% non-hard science academic Ph.D's, the productivity of the group declines precipitously.

For-profit corporations are asking, can they afford the Ph.D. biases?  Can they afford the extra expense bundled into every Ph.D and every project spearheaded by Ph.D's? Is the skill set rigorously developed by the Ph.D. process the right one?
Non-profits and finally government organizations will follow.  The Guild is powerful.  They don't have leaders that have secret handshakes nor hold meetings to coordinate efforts.  But they do gain power, control resources, and strive to grow their numbers.  Their bias and belief in self-worth is (mostly) unquestioned.  They will fight against the perception of their own obsolescence.  And they use a lot of public money to do it.  (See Six Wrong Arguments for Growing School Budgets) And, for comparison, despite their power, Swiss Watch Makers eventually could not compete with the rise of the providers of the more accurate and cheaper quartz technology.

Ultimately, the goal of Unschooling Rules is to ask questions and challenge assumptions to help interject more creativity into a system that has proven difficult to change (and that behaves as if it is on a false peak).  In this case, should education reform, including the decision of which data to collect from, and subsequent analysis of, our current system and creating prescriptions for evolving it, really be led by Ph.D.'s?

See also: If you send your children to school, you are inhibiting schools reform

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Unschooling Rules Tumblr

I have created an Unschooling Rules Tumblr site, located here: http://unschoolingrules.tumblr.com/

For some reason, I find my critiques of schools to be very verbal, but my articulation of the benefits and structure of unschoooling to be very visual.  (This is perhaps in a desire not to be too directive.) Regardless, it is so exciting to live in a day and age where so many forms of media and sharing are so easy.  And if this topic interests you, especially if you crave more words, please also check out the ever growing list of links to today's media as they discuss the implications and implementations of the various Unschooling Rules that I am collecting here: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/p/unschooling-rules.html.