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Monday, January 26, 2009

Some quick comments addressed to those who wrote Obama’s K-12 reform plan on

The first phrase in each paragraph is the stated Obama-Biden goal:

Reform No Child Left Behind: you used the wrong word; surely you meant “get rid of” and not reform; not a good start

Support High-Quality Schools and Close Low-Performing Charter Schools: what will your measure be for assessing low performance? I hope it is not test scores

Make Math and Science Education a National Priority: why? Is our current economic situation due to too few people knowing algebra and physics?

Address the Dropout Crisis: by making school interesting and relevant for job skills? Nah, not what you suggest at all.

Expand High-Quality Afterschool Opportunities: why? Because what goes on in school is useless? Why not try making it less useless?

Support College Outreach Programs: more people going to college is really not the problem for anyone except college administrators; why is this your issue?

Support College Credit Initiatives: more effort on getting people into college; was your college experience so magical?

Support English Language Learners: teaching English is a good idea; too bad schools don’t do this too well; what are your ideas on improving the situation?

Recruit Teachers: as the economic situation deteriorates there will be plenty of people wanting to be teachers; next?

Prepare Teachers: look, the problem isn’t teachers; it is the nonsense that teachers must teach and the obsession with testing that nonsense

Retain Teachers: make teaching a better experience; that might help

Reward Teachers: not for raising test scores I hope

It would be nice, if those who are in charge of our education policy understood that the issue is not test scores, teacher salaries, or getting into college. High school is an awful and useless experience. Has anyone in your education department noticed that? Stop teaching the 1892 curriculum. No adult knows most of what is taught in high school. Teach stuff that actually matters and see what happens.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"We will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age."

President Obama, I have bad news for you. You will not be able to do that. Here is who will stop you:

1. The testing industry does not want change.

2. The teacher's unions do not want change.

3. The textbook publishers do not want change.

4. University professors do not want change.

What they all want, and they are very powerful, is continue to make money and have lives unencumbered by notions that we are teaching the wrong stuff in the wrong way. It is only the students who want and need change. They need meaningful, enjoyable, experiences that prepare them for employment. The school system has never been about employment. They will not get the change they need because those in charge of the system would have to give up on what they now do and do something completely different. Really- how often does that happen?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The experts in education and e-learning have no idea what they are talking about.

Usually in this space, I gripe about school and the continuing nonsense that presents itself as reform and change in education. The “changes” accomplish nothing because they fails to address the real issues of the problems with what we teach and how we teach it. But today, I find myself irritated by the corporate training world instead which, of course, misperceives education in exactly the same ways as the school reformers do.

My irritation comes from this e-mail sent to the president of Socratic Arts the other day from an executive responsible for e-learning in a big company.

Good to hear from you again. Hope all is well with you, Roger and the company. Can you please provide me with an update about the work you currently do? Do you do have Web 2.0/3.0, Serious Gaming or any new and innovative learning approaches?

Why is this question irritating? Entailed within it is the assumption that the problem with the training that this man’s company provides is that it isn’t fun enough or high tech enough. His company’s employees are not learning to do their jobs because they just don’t have video games that will teach them their jobs.

On the surface this doesn’t sound all that unreasonable. A cool video game that looked exactly like an employee’s job would be a good way to teach him or her that job. Right?

People who believe that probably also believe that you could learn to be an NFL coach by playing Madden’s NFL 09 or learn to be a criminal by playing Grand Theft Auto.

So maybe this guy just doesn’t know much about learning. Uh. Well. Sorry. The “experts” agree with him.

I was asked to make predictions for 2009 for two on line e-learning magazines this month. Here are the links.

In the former one, I saw these three predictions:

Alternative interfaces will be big this year: more Wii toys hooked up to computers, orientation-sensitive interfaces, gesture-based presentation software, even brain-wave and body feedback games.

2009 is the year when the cell phone and the laptop emerge as the learning infrastructure for the developing world. Initially, those educational applications linked most closely to local economic development will predominate. Also parents will have high interest in ways these devices can foster their children's literacy.

I see the emergence of several new corporate-focused Virtual Learning Worlds (VLWs) or Massively Multi-Learner Online Learning Environments (MMOLEs) nudge out interest in consumer-oriented versions of 3-D worlds that haven't made the adaptation to corporate needs.

These predictions may well come true. But, let me ask a simple question. How will any of this make anyone learn better? Is the reason that people fail to do their jobs well the lack of Wii body feedback games? If education were available on a cell phone would that make it good education?

This stuff all makes the assumption that the real issue in education is accessibility and fun. Those are issues to be sure, but they aren’t even in the top ten of the issues that I care about for education in school or in corporations.

What are in the top ten? Here is my list:

1. Moving away from a system that assumes that conscious factual knowledge is at the heart of what needs to be learned.
2. Moving away from a system that thinks that the teacher’s role is to know the answers and tell them to you.
3. Moving away from a system that does not allow enough time for practice.
4. Moving away from a system that thinks failure is a bad thing (while learning.)
5. Getting expert knowledge delivered just in time to those who need that knowledge not years before because they “might need it.”
6. Understanding that a learning environment means one where people are always learning and that one shouldn’t have to go to school or go to training.
7. Getting rid of classrooms in all forms.
8. Getting rid of courses.
9. Getting rid of certification that is more important to the students than the learning itself.
10. Getting the reward system right.

I could go a long time making this list before I started worrying about Wii, cell phones, or 3-D worlds. Let’s try fixing what is broken and use technology only if it helps us do that.