Tag Archives: education

Session Wrap-up: Planning for Informal Learning Spaces

Planning for Informal Learning Spaces
Sandra Miller, Director of Instruction and Research Technology, William Paterson University of New Jersey

William Paterson University knew that much learning happened outside the classroom – so they wanted to provide intentional support for social strategies with human centered design and support for diverse, personally owned devices. Their goal was to make the entire campus (as much as possible) a learning space. Here are my notes from the session:

  • Over the years, spaces were created on campus (some of which included high-tech elements) to meet the goal of making the whole campus a learning space.
  • They created a cross-functional group to evaluate and improve informal learning spaces. The group initially did not include students, but they quickly realized that needed to change.
  • To start, they did an audit of the spaces on campus.
  • After an inventory, they did a careful labeling of spaces (when considering updates, knowing which spaces were which was important – by their nature many did not have room #s!)
  • As part of the project, they surveyed students on spaces.
    • This was a huge effort – historically responses to surveys were very low. By using iPads and iPods to collect data, they had a much higher response to the survey than average.
    • They included open-ended questions like “What are your favorite spaces on campus?” and “What do you like most about the spaces you use most?”
    •  The responses were surprising. Students liked quiet above all when choosing informal learning space. 50% compared to next highest…9% that they liked the space.
    • When asked what they wanted informal learning space, students said: quiet, wireless, and comfortable seating.
    • They also found that most of the time, students wanted to study alone – in sight of other students!
    • Using the data they collected, they were able to renovate several existing areas to be more student-focused.

All and all an interesting session with lots of photos; we got to guess students’ survey answers before we saw the data. I know I was surprised by what the students wanted in their learning spaces! Thanks to William Paterson University for presenting at MARC12.

MARC12 Wrap-up and Keynote Highlights

#MARC12 was my first regional Educause conference, after many years of attending the big annual Educause Conference. I could only stay one day, but I came away with lots of good info and would recommend the regional conference to anyone looking for an informative (and more intimate) Educause event. Here are some resources; please share yours in the comments!

Keynote: Disrupting Ourselves: Cherished Assumptions, New Designs, and the Problem of Learning in Higher Ed

The conference opened with a great keynote by Randall Bass of Georgetown University. Bass is a very engaging speaker with a delightful habit of using pop culture movies and TV to illustrate his ideas (sharing, for instance, an anecdote about the debut Blackboard Collaborate on campus launched a series of “Groundhog Day” conversations – I could instantly imagine what those might sound like). Here are some highlights from the session:

  • “Our concept of learning has expanded at a rate far outpacing our notion of teaching.”
  • “At the same time as we are getting serious about being accountable for what students are learning…our understanding of learning is expanding in ways that are at least partially incompatible with our structures.”
  • He believes that we are moving into the “post-course era,” away from the course/curriculum as the center of the learning experience.
  • Outcomes associated with high-impact learning experiences (integrate and synthesize, patterns, applying knowledge in diverse situations, viewing issues from many perspectives) are associated with practices like collaborative assignments, study abroad, undergraduate research, and internships – most outside the standard classroom curriculum. His question: Can we continue to operate on the assumption that the formal curriculum is the center of the undergraduate experience? Pithy quote: “low-impact practices – formerly known as the curriculum.”
  • He described the features of a participatory culture – low barrier to entry, sense of connection to other members, ownership, and asked “how often do students feel that something is at stake in the standard curriculum?”
  • So how do you disrupt the status quo to bring more of those experiences into the curriculum? One option is to make the courses more like high-impact practices – more participatory, virtual labs, social tools.
  • “We are so invested in changing FACULTY. We need to change the course.”
  • He described a fundamental and strategic shift from changing faculty to changing course structures so that faculty are changed when they teach them. Moving toward a team-based design – technologists, classroom instructors, library and content management, instructional design – all parties working to improve the course, to structure it around the learner.
  • He also spent some time discussing ePortfolios as a “bridge and integrator of the delivered, the experienced and the lived curriculum.”

At the end of his keynote, Bass shared part of an essay from a colleague who had passed on. I spent some time trying to recreate it from memory for these pages, but it wasn’t the same. You’ll have to trust me that it was worth it. I wish you could have been there listening with me!

P.S.  If you find this interesting, some of the same themes were explored in Bass’ ELI 2011 session, available on podcast here.

Civics Education in (Very Exciting) Practice

I really enjoyed the first day of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educause conference yesterday. Wish I could have stayed another day!  But I made the most of my time and took in some great sessions. I’ll buck tradition and start with the last session I attended, as it’s the perfect follow-up to the blog post I published Wednesday, The Case for Civic Education.

Session: Making Teaching and Learning Authentic: Engagement through Social Media in Politically Charged Times – James A. Jorstad, Director of Academic Technologies, University of Wisconsin-LaCross

Jorstad says that authentic learning focuses on real world, complex problems and solutions. Taking a look at this video, one of many he posted during the Wisconsin budget protests, I’d say that his choice of subject matter qualifies. One of the main themes repeatedly discussed during my session at the Brookings Institute earlier this week was making government studies more relevant – creating a disposition in students to want to learn about civics. Jorstad is doing just that. What a wonderful way to involve students – taking events happening in their backyards and bringing it into the classroom in real-time.

Jorstad is a regular contributor on CNN’s iReports and during his session he shared several of the videos he took during the 2011 Wisconsin budget protests. He uses his experience to help students understand the power – both positive and negative – of social media; it’s also an opportunity to discuss how to disseminate fact from fiction in new and traditional media.

His videos of the protests, posted on iReports started getting big views very quickly – he estimates 200-300 views every 30 seconds. As the views climbed,  CNN vetted the post. Then his video started showing up on other sites, including Forbes. As the video went “viral” and from iReport to actual news, eventually the attribution was lost (I think it’s like a game of telephone…the farther the video gets from its original posting, the less likely people will include the creator). He noted that attribution is one of the challenges of a social media-driven news report.

Jorstad highlighted some of the comments made on his videos. Many were extremely hostile – another symptom of the lack or ineffectiveness of civics education that was noted in the Brookings panel. In fact, his videos of the protest were often flagged as inappropriate (which, ironically seemed to work against those trying to get the video taken down; Jorstad believes that it actually raised the viewer numbers by making the video “forbidden” for short periods of time). The comments on his video of Jesse Jackson speaking on campus were openly racist. Jorstad decided to leave the comments there, instead of flagging for removal, so he could use them as discussion points in class.

Other notes from the session:

  • He uses media examples as a tool to teach about how to effectively critique news sources. He shared a Fox news report showing “union protest violence” that actually contained footage from an incident in California. Many accept what they see on the news as truth. He uses different news sources to teach students to view media with a critical eye.
  • He had an expert evaluate his videos and his estimate was 200,000 attendees at the protest. Press reported “10s of thousands.” Again a reason to look critically at our media sources.
  • Jorstad shared his videos with students in class and asked students if their mothers would have attended the event. Most said yes – and many said their mothers were at the protests!
  • Jorstad surveyed his students (I believe political science and English classes). Over half identified themselves as Republican, with a strong bent toward the conservative Tea Party. Yet when asked which news network they thought was most biased, Fox was the runaway “winner” while CNN was considered the most impartial.
  • Students seem to realize they may rely too strongly on social media, saying something to the effect of “we know we already have poor interpersonal skills”
  • He encouraged everyone to go to http://ireport.cnn.com/ and submit a story. A great learning experience for anyone!

Jorstad shared this link to resources from his session. I would add links to his iReports page on CNN, and his Learning Space blog.

All and all a great session – and I think any teacher might look to current events and social media as a way to engage students, especially in history, civics and government. I say steal this idea, teachers.   🙂

The Case for Civic Education

Hello everyone! Hope you all enjoyed your holidays. I, for one, enjoyed my semi-annual “quiet period.”

Yesterday I attended an interesting event at the Brookings Institute. Spurred by the publishing of “Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education,” several of the contributing authors came together to discuss the state and future of civics, government and U.S. history in K-12 and higher education. I was excited to see the event announced – I have a special interest in the topic.

I hate talking about politics. It’s gotten so bad in recent years that I find myself avoiding the news – even that haven for young news avoiders, the John Stewart Show. The hyperbole, the unwillingness to have civil discussions, the media screaming – it’s enough to make me want to hide under a table. Incredibly, it’s a problem should a politician ever have the audacity to change a position (or their minds) about an issue. Of course they do – and blithely pretend that they’d always thought that way!

But this avoidance is not a good thing. And I am the first to admit that I take many political conversations too personally. I remove myself rather than face challenging conversations. I am part of the problem! So I approached the panel with two goals – to hear from some experts how #EDU may hold answers to resolving the problem and to gain insight into how I might personally work toward being more civically engaged.

The panel included John Bridgeland, author and recently appointee to President Obama’s White House Council for Community Solutions (he also served as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under George W. Bush) and David Feith, Chairman of Civic Education Initiative. The panel was moderated by William Galston of the Brookings Institute.

In addition to some grave statistics about the lack of civics, government and history knowledge among both kids and adults, two key themes were touched on again and again: First, the current state of politics is marked by an unwillingness – and perhaps an inability – of government leaders to work together to solve problems. Secondly, the lack of knowledge in (and, more importantly, the lack of disposition to learn) civics is rampant, with no clear action plan to resolve.

The focus of the discussion was broad enough that specific #EDU action items are rare in my notes. But there are some good nuggets to share.

I’ll start by sharing a great #EDU memory from Mr. Bridgeland’s keynote. He recalls being asked to play the part of a lawyer for Dred Scott in school. He had to prepare a case and present it to the class. He still recalls everything about the experience…in the end, he won the case, winning for Dred Scott where history had failed him. This awakened an interest in government for him that was never extinguished.

Repeatedly, each panelist brought up the need for enthusiastic and passionate teachers in the subject. Adm. Michael Ratliff, President of the Jack Miller Center discussed his higher education-focused summer institutes where professors (perhaps focused on research) can re-awaken the passion that brought them to the study of civics.

I have to say that I sat up and paid attention when Seth Andrew, Founder and Superintendent of Democracy Prep Public Schools (absolutely the most passionate member of the panel) offered harsh criticism of K-12 education. Sounding a wake-up call that today’s civil rights issue is fixing our schools, he argued that reports, statistics and policies don’t matter if you don’t have a passionate, effective teacher in the classroom. His charter schools serve a diverse, almost 100% low-income student population. When he gets a new sixth-grader he can’t teach them civics right away – he has to teach them how to read.

More interestingly, he asserted that you must first create the disposition in kids to learn civics. He talked about taking his kids out to help sign up voters with hats that say “we can’t vote, but YOU can,” an activity that clearly gets his kids fired up and wishing they were able to vote. He talked about showing kids how they could be involved in the civic process even without the ability to vote. I really enjoyed his short remarks – he was one of the speakers I would most enjoy seeing again.

One of the more interesting moments of the 2 hour session was also the most fleeting. Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE and Research Director of Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University spoke briefly about his work on civics education. He clearly is up to his elbows in policy work. He opened his remarks with a thrown-away statement that he’s not sure at all that students don’t KNOW civics …implying that his reading of the data was different and somewhat controversial. But he didn’t elaborate!!! Tease. He did go on to agree with Seth Andrew that creating a disposition in learners to get engaged in civics was of utmost importance. But I am left wanting more. Much more.

The question and discussion period was short. There was a pointed question about the general white guy-ness of the panel. Mr. Feith struggled with the question but Seth Andrews came out swinging again as a self-professed white guy running schools that are serving a community of color. He feels that engaging these communities, which are currently even less likely to participate in the process, is of utmost importance.

Overall, the panel could have been a bit smaller so we could hear more about the actual work happening to improve civics education in their respective areas of expertise. I definitely wanted to hear more from Mr. Levine and Mr. Andrew. But all and all a good introduction to the topic.

But perhaps like many students leaving our schools, I’m left wishing I knew more 🙂 What about you? Do we have any government or U.S. History teachers among my readers? Share your stories! How do you inspire your students to get engaged in the civic process?

PS. I do hope I caught all the spelling errors in this post. I have discovered that while my new tablet does many things – it does NOT do spell check. And neither do the mobile versions of gmail, WordPress, or my document editing software. Sigh. 🙂 But I wanted to get this out to you and I am not at my home office today. Hope to see some of you at the regional Educause this afternoon in Baltimore!

“Rebooting” Higher Education

The fabulous Jan Poston Day invited me to an event at the American Enterprise Institution. The AEI is “a private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics and social welfare.”

The panel was called “Rebooting Higher Education: Kaplan CEO Andrew Rosen’s “Change.edu” and the Future of Postsecondary Education in America” and, of course, featured Mr. Rosen. The panel was well moderated by Andrew Kelly, an AEI research fellow for higher education policy. Also on the panel were Diane Auer Jones from the Career Education Corporation; Jeff Selingo from The Chronicle of Higher Education; and Zakiya Smith, of the White House Domestic Policy Council.  Mr. Rosen’s book, “Change.edu: Rebooting for the new talent economy” was the impetus for the panel.

After a short introduction, Mr. Rosen opened by sharing a few quotes about higher education:

  • These colleges are resorting to all kinds of devices to get students.
  • These institutions are universities in aspiration rather than fact…they are pretenders to the title of university.
  • These schools are robbing the US Treasury.
  • These colleges compete unfairly with established colleges.
  • The students who attend these colleges are not college material.

In the first of a few surprises for me, these comments were NOT made about for-profit institutions like Kaplan. These were all directed at the “land grant” schools in the second half of the 19th century that wanted to teach the children of non-elites practical skills like agriculture, science and engineering instead of more classical liberal arts studies. Iowa State University, University of California and Rutgers were all land grant universities.

Really? Cause I don’t know about you, but I assumed these quotes were about for-profit universities. Don’t lie now. You did too 🙂

Mr. Rosen went on to talk about how higher education has a rich history of disruption. Oxford and Cambridge didn’t think much of Harvard at first. He asserts that today’s “pretenders” become tomorrow’s leaders. But history also says that higher education and government won’t reform themselves. It takes other factors to ‘shove’ them into action. And Mr. Rosen says that the shove is coming.

More to come! I wanted to share what I could write up in the wee small hours of the morning. In the meantime, check out some video clips from the panel here.

Taking it to the Courts – Discipline, Part II

Second in a series. You can find the first here.

I’d like to share the opening of a recent Washington Post article with you:

SPRING, TEX. — In a small courtroom north of Houston, a fourth-grader walked up to the bench with his mother. Too short to see the judge, he stood on a stool. He was dressed in a polo shirt and dark slacks on a sweltering summer morning.

“Guilty,” the boy’s mother heard him say.

He had been part of a scuffle on a school bus.

I had to think about this for a second. Do you know how old fourth graders are? They are 9 or 10 years old. Reading this, my thoughts immediately went to a young teenager, but a teenager none the less. But a 9 year old? Wow.

Does anyone think this is ok?

Ok this is an emotional reaction to a emotion-provoking piece of writing. So I’ll try to step back a bit. I’ve recently read a few articles on the so-called “criminalization” of student discipline. I’ve written once before on “zero-tolerance” from my own perspective.

Zero tolerance doesn’t seem to be working. School districts are considering dropping zero tolerance policies. There is evidence of racial tolerance (which seems to imply that zero isn’t really always zero, anyway).  It raises drop-out rates. In fact, one of the leading punishments for truancy is … wait for it … suspension. So, what do we do about it?

Jan Day pointed me to an article about Judge Steve Teske and his efforts to keep kids with minor discipline issues out of court. I highly recommend you take some time to read the article and click on some of the links. One of the interesting quotes, to me, is Teske’s recall of his own naughtiness during school:

Teske recalls pulling a prank at age 13 that set off his school’s fire alarm. He recalls the mass havoc that ensued. The threat of arrest. The terror he felt.

His principal prevailed in insisting the school system would mete out the punishment. “Would I even be a judge today had I gone to jail that day?” he asks.

He says he was inspired by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. In his district, he brought together parents, teachers, police, social-services and students to discuss better ways of doing things. In the end, his approach is not easier. It takes time and is not a cookie-cutter implementation – there is a lot of gray.

Now student incidents are managed in school more – referrals to juvenile court fell more than 70% over 7 years. Weapons incidents have dropped. Tips on serious offenses improved, as did relations between students and police.

And graduation rates are up 20% in that same timeframe. Other school districts are starting to take notice.

Teske shares an interesting metaphor in his blog.

Officer Robert Gardner, a veteran school police officer with Clayton County describes his student population using a lamb, sheep, and wolf allegory. Most of the student population is made up of sheep. They make noise, get into some trouble, but nothing major. They just make you mad from time to time.

The lambs are the nerds — always quiet and under the radar. They make up about 25 percent, at most, of the population.

The wolves — they are the dangerous students who come to school to wreak havoc and prey on others. They also make up no more than 2 percent of the population.

Gardner says his job is to focus on the wolves — the predators — the 2 percent. He says he can’t do it if he is arresting sheep.

But, let’s set aside stories of students referred to court for soda-pop possession, what about those kids who are clearly trouble – the “wolves?” Don’t we need to get them out of the classroom so we can focus on the kids who are there to learn? And what responsibility do we have to try and turn around those kids who do make trouble. Do we just give up?

A friend of mine shared a People Magazine article* about a judge in St. Louis making a difference in some of those wolves’ lives.

Here’s a little something about one of the students offered a chance at Edwards’ school:

In the fall of 2010, [16 year old] Jakayla Ivory stabbed a classmate in the neck with an ice pick during a fight.

Wow. That raises a different kind of emotion, right? This student had been kicked out of four schools since the seventh grade for various disciplinary problems. Now this violent encounter not only landed her in jail, but all but guaranteed her to be kicked out of school altogether, with all statistics about dropouts in front of her. But she was offered a life line.

Judge Jimmie Edwards started the Innovative Concept Academy in 2007 – an experimental school designed as a last resort for troubled and violent kids. The school takes the most desperate cases out of the justice system and gives them one last chance to change. Edwards, who sentenced hundreds of people to prison before moving to juvenile court, says “I knew I could do better than just taking away someone’s liberty.”

Beyond academics, close supervision and a strong, clear disciplinary approach, the school keeps students busy with after school problems and exposes them to new activities like golf, fashion, chess, and dancing.

These are students with difficult home lives and, often, quick tempers. But the students feel the change – Jakayla, above, raised her grades from F’s to B’s and C’s. She returned to public school, where is she now doing well. Other students have had similar turn-arounds. The article indicates that it’s too early to tell if the approach is working. But of 700 students enrolled since the start, only four have returned to the criminal justice system. That sounds like working to me.

We all are concerned about crime, the cost of keeping people in jail, how to prevent crime in our cities and communities. But we also think “We can’t save everyone! Some kids are just bad!” But perhaps Judge Edwards’ effort is well worth the time and energy. Maybe it would truly benefit all of us to think about how to help the toughest cases.

What do you think?


*I wish I could refer you to the article, but I can’t seem to find an online copy. However, if you also want to hear about Jackie O’s private life, check out this podcast of the magazine – the article starts just before the halfway point on the podcast. The article is in the October 10, 2011 issue of People Magazine and was written by Jeff Truesdell and Alex Tresniowksi.

Educause Wrap-up Part II (I know…I know…) and Seth Godin’s Keynote

It’s a little embarrassing, but even in this day and age it happens. I don’t like to talk about it…but last week, at Educause, I didn’t have….I didn’t have…internet at my hotel.

Oh it’s terrible, ladies and gentlemen. Awful. They promised me internet. But it didn’t happen.

So while I was able to tweet extensively during the show using my phone, blogging just didn’t really happen. So here I am now, with apologies and some recap of what was a most educational week.

There’s a lot jangling around in my head. I got to see lots of great technology – some brand new, some that you might know. So I’ll do a bit of a ‘company update’ separately. I also went to a few great sessions where I took extensive notes, so I’ll share those. So…here’s my first in a series of blogs sharing some of the awesomeness I saw at Educause.

Seth Godin’s Keynote @ EDU11
(Sadly this is not available streamed post-conference.)

I’ll be honest. I went in with low expectations. (As I saw @gsiemens tweet: “Getting ready for #edu11 keynote by @thisissethsblog. I’m a cynical bastard. Not convinced he has much to say relevant to education.”)

But WOW. I thought he was excited and exciting, compelling and he set a tone that encouraged exploration. He seemed to talk off the cuff; his slides were very funny and immediately made his point without excess text. It was about inspiring people to do extraordinary things, rather than telling people exactly how to do it – which is appropriate, I think, for a keynote.

It would be impossible to give you a summary, but here are a few highlights many of which were culled from my tweets or the tweets of others during the keynote to augment my memory. Note that these highlights and quotes are not necessarily in the same order as Godin’s speech. I’ve tried to recreate something closer to the story Godin told – I think it’s a bit easier to understand it this way, considering each bit is so out of context. There are also a few editorial comments, usually in the form of a RT quote in italics.  I just want you to know what you’re getting here!

  • RT @twarmbro: educause general session! Hoping @EDUCAUSE_HULK makes an appearance – maybe he could bench press Seth Godin!  <OK that wasn’t from Seth Godin – just a tweet I thought was funny>
  • Competence is no longer a scarce commodity.
  • Mass marketing by definition is average stuff for average people. No choice but to make average products. The college-industrial complex is no different – its object is to keep growing. BUT the world has fundamentally shifted. Mass marketing is broke. Our customers, students are over-saturated. We have branded ourselves to death. We can no longer continue selling average stuff to average people – even if that stuff is a college education.
  • Public schools were created for the industrialized system, for compliance. If you get a defective batch, repeat the grade. They do what they are told so we can ignore them.
  • Give me a map- I’ll do it.” We’ve trained to be competent. But competence is no longer a scarce commodity. What if there is no map?
  • If you can write it down, I can find it cheaper. So there is no future in higher education (with all the costs it entails) if all it’s going to be is high school with more binge drinking
  • Never again is someone going to pay you to answer a question that they can look up on Wikipedia. School is really for solving interesting problems. (@GardnerCampbell adds “finding interesting problems, too.“)
  • Revolutions destroy the “perfect” and enable the “impossible.” Example: the music industry is dead, but there is more music available to more people than ever before.
  •  But now, the means of production have shifted; person who owns means of production keeps the money. “Everyone” w/ computer now owns the means.
  • The first person to install a urinal was an artist, the second was a plumber. We can all be artists with a connection to the world. Art is a human being doing something different that touches another human being. Art means working without a map.
  • RT @GardnerCampbell (Colossal ironies here. Higher ed keeps building maps.)
  • World is getting weirder. Reinforcing their edginess. More weird is more normal. Edge cases are finding edge cases online. The curve is melting. Perfect is now boring. We’re looking for something extraordinary.
  • There is no more mass marketing, in the new model there is engagement, respect and connection.
  • Students need to learn how to solve a problem that has never been solved before.
  • This generation is not looking for a boss, not waiting to be picked. They are just doing it. The people who want to make a difference in the world are not looking for a boss. Education must support these people.
  • If failure is not an option, you have to accept that neither is success.
  • Ignore your lizard brain (the part that tells you not to do something because it’s not safe). It tricks you into meetings and into waiting for someone else to do something before you do.
  • The action of being the one that will be missed is a choice.
  • Stop listening to your inner critic. Move.
  • “Art is about gifts not favors.” Care more about the art not making a nickel. Do art – make change. Give it away.
  • Free range kids is the only way to go. Put them on the subway when they’re 12 & hope they come home at the end of the day.
  • We have to blow up this notion of curriculum. Except for cardiovascular surgeons.
  • You don’t have a job. You have a platform.
  • Lead, connect with people, and know the destination even if you don’t know the directions.
  • RT @GardnerCampbellThis is the chance of a lifetime.” – S. Godin (Is higher ed looking for this? Do we even believe this? I worry; I wonder.)

A few thoughts:

First, I think it’s true you can find information for yourself now. Maybe college isn’t as important anymore. Lots of kids are going out there and finding their own path. But I think there is value in lessons from the past. If they don’t have the discipline to learn what’s come before them – art, literature, business, history – will they have what they need to be successful? Maybe. Maybe not. I think there is value in traditional education. I’m not sure I completely agree with his assertion that school is for churning out workers that fit the system so that we can ignore them. But I do love his idea that education can be a place for students and teachers to work together to solve interesting problems. I think that’s already happening in the most exciting classrooms.

Secondly, I love the idea that you don’t have to wait for someone else – you can make it happen. I know my lizard brain is strong – I have to work hard to silence my inner critic. But that work is worth doing.

Lastly – and this is an area worthy of discussion I think – the idea of “giving it away.”  Open source, open content, open universities – I think it’s awesome. Some of that will be top notch. But…and this is a big but…I think that people need to make a living. In the long run, will “free” resources be able to maintain the quality if no one is paying the authors?

I think about one of my favorite organizations – my roller derby team.  Everyone involved loves it! But only about 20% of our members are willing to put in an extraordinary amount of time to keep the ship afloat.  Sure, everyone helps out to some extent. But the vast majority of the work is done by a few. That’s the nature of volunteering. And that 20% tends to get burned out quickly. After all, they have to have some energy left to go to work, which is where they get paid.

What do you think? Maybe I’m not thinking big enough!

Pearson Announces OpenClass, a Free Learning Management System

Just in time for Educause 2011, Pearson announced a new offering, OpenClass, a free Learning Management System (LMS) in partnership with Google. That’s right. Free. But unlike most open source offerings, there are supposedly no additional costs – no hosting fees, no maintenance fees, no support fees.


I first saw the announcement via Kimberly Arnold on Twitter – sharing an article from Inside Higher Ed. Wired Campus also posted an article and since this morning many more have been written. And Twitter has been aflutter with speculation and information.

Wow! My brain is spinning. This will be a game-changer!


Or will it?

There’s a lot that goes into the LMS planning at institutions. Here are just a few questions and thoughts that came to my mind:

Who will drive use? Instructors or Institutions?  Instructor buy-in is hugely important when considering LMS choice. High adoption by individual instructors on tools like CourseSites** (by Blackboard) and other free or lost cost software often drives institutions to centralize e-learning under one LMS system.

Once they’ve made a centralized choice, institutions spend a huge amount of time and money to train their instructors on how to use the technology they chose, no matter how “easy to use.” They also spend money to customize software to meet specific institutional needs – integrating with student information systems, third-party add-ons like blogging, wikis and more. All this money and training translates into “stickiness” for the software. No institution wants to invest all that time, money and all those resources just to make a massive change later.

However, most institutions are loath to force a tool on a professor. So if instructor opinion sways dramatically on LMS choices, institutions will revisit the issue. Especially if those instructors start using different LMS tools individually, taking away the benefits of a centrally managed solution (single log-in for students, central grade collection, integration with campus systems).

So, will institutions move toward a free solution that doesn’t involve the maintenance and other costs associated with open-source options? Are they so entrenched in costly LMS solutions that the cost of changing would be too much?

But let’s ask a more important question:

Does any of this even matter?

Perhaps the very idea of a “Learning Management System” will change fundamentally. The LMS has become a huge administrative tool in addition to a learning tool. It’s not exactly a technology that’s ‘light on its feet.’

If OpenClass can provide meaningful learning experiences that instructors love, at little or no cost with little or no demand for central resources – well, that could actually be the disruptive technology everyone seems to want. Traditional LMS software, social tools, mobile devices all changed the way we think about learning – maybe OpenClass will do it again.

Check out the video at http://www.joinopenclass.com. Pearson’s Adrian Sannier, Senior Vice President of Product is speaking at Educause about OpenClass. Wednesday, Oct 19th, 3:30 PM – 4:20 PM in Meeting Room 104A/B.

I know I’ll be there to hear more.


I’ve seen many of my old Blackboard colleagues tweeting about CourseSites, essentially calling it Blackboard’s version of OpenClass. CourseSites is Blackboard’s free offering for instructors and institutions getting their feet wet with an LMS system.

An old idea (available to instructors when I first joined Blackboard almost 10 years ago), Blackboard shut down CourseSites a few years after I came onboard, then upgraded and re-launched it recently. Years ago instructors could use it for free and then pay a small fee to continue. Now completely free, Blackboard undoubtedly hopes that instructors will find their tools awesome and use their influence to affect intuitional buying. It is a great strategy – Blackboard’s tools are easy to use and there is a whole community of instructional designers and experts out there sharing best practices.

However, Pearson doesn’t need to sell LMS software to survive. Blackboard probably does. What if OpenClass manages to change the very idea of what an LMS should be? What if institutions do move from a centrally administered, heavily invested-in LMS to a cloud-based free tool like OpenClass? Things could change dramatically for a company like Blackboard.

One Teacher’s Viewpoint on Discipline

So I was so excited to see a comment on my “Discipline” blog post from Melisa Mitchell, a college friend of mine who is a 11th and 12th grade English teacher in Baltimore, MD at inner-city school.

Amidst all the talk about standardized testing, how to evaluate teachers and students, and city-wide benchmarks it is nice to hear from one teacher about what is and isn’t working in her classroom. So I wanted to share her comments more widely. So, here it is, from Melisa!

I think about this topic a lot because I was over-disciplined as a kid and am now a teacher who is accused by her administrators of under-disciplining her students. (I teach 11th and 12th grade English in an inner-city school in Baltimore.) However, I do not have even HALF the classroom management issues that other teachers in my building have: Kids don’t talk back to me, don’t cuss me out, don’t throw desks or get into fights. They participate, think about things, disagree with each other (and learn how to do so respectfully), and disagree with me (sometimes without the level of respect I’d prefer, but they are works in progress). And this “works in progress” thing is something I think adults tend to forget: Kids’ brains are wired to make them act like kids, and teenagers are no exception–just because they look more like adults doesn’t mean that they’re capable of acting like adults. Kids act like kids but want to be treated like adults; adults want them to act like adults but treat them like kids. They need to be able to make their own mistakes so that they can learn from them and become, as your dad and his siblings did, healthy and successful adults. People who are sheltered from making mistakes by adults who attempt to control them never learn the critical things we must to be functional members of society and tend to become so fearful of making a mistake that they aren’t capable of functioning. There need to be mistakes, and there need to be realistic consequences, but getting put out of class for not having a pen or for falling asleep is not appropriate. WHY does that kid not have a pen? WHY is that kid sleeping in class? The causes of their behavior need to be addressed as much as the behavior itself.

There are so many factors that go into making us who we are, and I want so much as an educator to be one of the adults my students come in contact with who helps shape them into functional citizens NOT by raising my voice every time they do something wrong but simply by holding them accountable for their choices; by not judging them and accepting that they are flawed people just like I am; and by continuing to guide them in making good choices without making their choices for them. It’s hard to care so much about kids and not want to fix all their wrongdoings before they occur, but it is our obligation to let the mistakes happen. No one ever learned everything she needs to live her life from cautionary tales told by someone to whom she can’t even relate. Certainly we must have some behavioral constraints and clear expectations, but letting kids fall is critical to their growth.

I feel like this is a little rambly, but as I sit in my classroom at lunchtime reading your post and watching the nuts run the halls outside my door, you really got me thinking. Thank you for that!

Melisa, forget rambly! This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It sounds like you are just the kind of teacher we need out there. Here’s hoping you get the support you need and deserve.

This is an important conversation. There is much to be considered and even more at stake. Are you a teacher or an administrator struggling with this issue? Please share your thoughts!

Discipline: It’s not personal (until it is).

Talking about discipline stirs up some serious emotion for me. And I’m clearly not alone, especially when the subject is disciplining kids and teens in school.

I’ve been procrastinating on this blog post because it’s such a sprawling topic. I’ve seen a bunch of articles about it recently (which I link to at the end of this post). From classroom techniques to racial bias to zero-tolerance…there are so many angles to consider. And discipline goes to the very heart of raising children – it fundamentally helps them define their morality and hopefully becomes their guide when making choices throughout their lives. Johnny shouldn’t hit Jane. Jane shouldn’t cheat Judy.

No wonder it’s so emotional. I think it might be important to remember that. Now that I think about it, maybe this topic needs a series of blog posts. And if it’s going to be a series and it’s going to be emotional – I might as well start with a story about my family.

<cue 60s background music>

I grew up listening to my dad’s stories of growing up in DC and the near suburbs with his 7 siblings – six brothers and a sister. My grandfather died when my dad was 12 and my grandmother (Mema) was pregnant with her eight child. The math:  4 kids under age six; the oldest brother was only 14.

If I were my Mema, I might have thrown myself off a bridge. Luckily for us, she didn’t.

Those four older brothers? They were pretty much on their own. “Single mother” Mema had to focus her energies on the babies. So growing up, my dad came home when he wanted, played pool, drank too much and got 3 tattoos before he turned 14. His brothers were the subject of regular visits from the police. My Mema protected her boys – always assuming their innocence –and was a place of refuge for other neighborhood kids who needed a place. But in the stories I hear, discipline wasn’t nearly a priority when compared getting food on the table. She stepped in when she felt she had to, but for the most part she let them figure it out on their own.

My dad dropped out of school after 10th grade. I haven’t asked him about discipline at school – I need to – because I assume that school wasn’t nearly as meaningful to him as working to help put food on the table for all his siblings (and maybe goofing off at the pool hall too). My dad’s brothers had similar experiences. Most got into a fair amount of trouble, even with the police. Most wouldn’t have been considered “college material” today.

Imagine this for a second! If you had asked my grandmother where my dad was on any particular afternoon, she wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Think for a minute about your kids, if you have them – do you EVER not know where they are?

So where are my dad and his brothers now? Well, they all are upstanding members of society. They are successful businessmen (some blue collar like my dad; some white collar like my Uncle Tom; some military like my Uncle John). All save one had children of their own who have grown up to be fine adults.

Nice story, right?  But what does this have to do with #EDU and school policies and the national conversation about how to manage discipline?

Well, I’m going to speculate for a second.

<cue current urban soundtrack and fuzzy dream sequence montage>

Today we have zero-tolerance discipline. Kids like my father would probably be seen as a huge problem. I imagine he would most likely been expelled from school early on. He might even be serving jail time, instead of occasional visits from a local police officer. My grandmother might have had to pay fines as a result of his misbehavior – taking more food off of an already spare table. She may have been arrested for her boys’ truancy. I don’t think it’s a very far reach to imagine that she may have had serious intervention from social services. How might this have affected my dad and his brothers?

Speculation! It tends to be scarier than real life. I’ll stop now.

My point is that my dad’s infractions might bring very different, more serious and longer-term consequences today. If this happened today, would harsher discipline “turn him around” earlier? Would it be better for him and his family today? Or worse? Would his wayward youth affect him as an adult? Would he be able to be the successful person he is today? Or would his past haunt him? Make him un-hireable?

I don’t know. But lots of the issues inherent in this story inspire blog posts from strong advocates (on one side or another). These are just a few of the articles that started me thinking:

Is this just a media thing? Is there really an issue here? Articles tend to be of two varieties: “OMG we aren’t allowed to discipline students” or “OMG we are disciplining students too harshly, look at this insane example.”

But wait. In Texas (which has taken a huge step toward helping us make sense of this by making so much data available),  31 percent of students were suspended or expelled at least once in their middle and high school years. 31 percent! Would you have guessed that many? I didn’t. That’s a lot of bad kids.

Or are they? Bad I mean. I think we assume they are bad – or troublesome, a nicer word. But they probably deserve it, right?

I don’t know. There are too many questions to have one answer. But it’s on my mind and I feel like it needs to be talked about in multiple forums and from multiple perspectives. So check out those articles I linked to above. Share any resources you have. And share your thoughts!

What comes to your mind first when you think of discipline in school? Do you worry about teachers who have to deal with the possibility of violence? Do you worry about your kids’ safety? Are you concerned that a good kid’s academic life will be ruined by a single mistake? Do you think parents hinder or help discipline at school? Do you worry that parents and teachers are at odds over discipline? Do you think zero tolerance is the right way to go? Is there a “right way” to do zero tolerance?

How will our choices for children today shape their futures?