Digital Learning

Ohio Education Gadfly Biweekly

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Regardless of your views on the pros and cons of "digital learning" in K-12 education, it's hard to imagine that online instruction, educational games, embedded assessments, and the like won't have a major impact on our school system in the decades to come. But advocates and critics alike worry: How can we ensure quality in this brave new world? Especially when hundreds of millions of dollars of private capital are flowing into the sector from investors dreaming of making big profits?

Enter Frederick M. Hess (a.k.a. Rick, the wicked smart guy in shorts), with a groundbreaking contribution published today from Fordham, "Quality Control in K-12 Digital Learning: Three (Imperfect) Approaches." This working paper is the first in a series of six, generously underwritten by the Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation; the others will look at accountability, cost, personnel policies, and other key issues. [quote]

So what does Hess conclude? Does he hit upon a magic formula that will ensure that all digital instruction is top-notch and reasonably priced, that all children will be 100 percent engaged with their studies, and that there will be a chicken in every pot to boot? Of course not. In Hess's classic skeptical and brutally honest style, he explores the three main approaches to quality control?input regulation, outcomes accountability, and marketplace signal?and concludes that the best we can do is to thoughtfully combine them. Over to Rick:

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Amy Fagan

Today we've published the first of six papers, commissioned by the Fordham Institute, on the topic of digital learning/virtual schooling. The rest of the papers ? each exploring a different angle of this issue ? are set to be released on a rolling basis later this year. In this first paper, Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explores the challenges of quality control.

As Hess notes, ?one of the great advantages of online learning is that it makes 'unbundling' school provision possible?that is, it allows children to be served by providers from almost anywhere, in new and more customized ways.? But taking advantage of all the opportunities online learning offers means that there is no longer one conventional 'school' to hold accountable. Instead, students in a given building or district may be taking courses (or just sections of courses) from a variety of providers, each with varying approaches to technology, instruction, mastery, and so forth?.Finding ways to define, monitor, and police quality in this brave new world is one of the central challenges in realizing the potential of digital learning.?

Hess goes on to present an interesting and thought-provoking paper! Click here to learn more.

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The Education Gadfly

This is a guest post by Tom Vander Ark that was originally posted on EdReformer.

Fordham is launching a series of working papers on digital learning.? Rick Hess makes an important contribution with the first paper focused on quality.

For the hundred experts that contributed to Digital Learning Now this was the thorniest issue.? To a person they expressed interest in quality but wrestled with limitations and barriers of input driven approaches common to education.? The final report points to outcome oriented approaches but doesn't provide much detail.

Hess makes a solid contribution by outlining input-oriented, outcome-driven and market-based approaches to promoting quality.? He makes clear the shortcomings of applying input controls to digital learning.?? Teacher certification strategies don't seem to add much value and attempts to certify teachers in online and blended learning strategies would remain hopelessly out of date with best practice.? ?Applying a textbook review processes to dynamic and adaptive digital content libraries would damper innovation, limit access and do little to assure quality.

Hess is more hopeful about outcome-driven approaches.? But, as?Cisco's John Behrens told me Friday, we're still operating from a data poverty mindset.? I think John would find the outcome section of the paper an example of attempting to use old testing strategies to measure new learning experiences.? ?An example of a data poverty mindset is relying on one...

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Guest Blogger

You can do a lot of things with computers nowadays: Do your homework, balance the budget, unlock the secrets of high-performing charters, even battle school districts. If only computers could help us discover cheating, pass funding bills, or make us environmentally literate.

-Joshua Pierson, Fordham Intern

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In this week's Atlantic, Gagan Biyani, cofounder of Udemy (a web start-up that provides a platform for anyone in the world to build their own online course with video, virtual-classroom sessions, etc.), said:

The price of college is going to fall, and the Internet is going to cause that fall. The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.

Forget that Biyani, or the rest of the article for that matter, is talking about higher education. The quote could just as easily apply to K-12 schooling in the States. The price of educating our youth is going to fall (in terms of per-pupil outlays, not the cost a family incurs to educate their child, as is the case in higher ed).? And the internet (I'm thinking of that term broadly and rather amorphously here to mean everything from broadband to wifi to 4G to superwifi) is going to catalyze that shift.

It all sounds great. And then Biyani hits you with the brick: ?The rest of it is really difficult to figure out.? If this were a grand game of Clue, we'd be missing the murder weapon. It was the Internet, in the classroom, with the? candlestick? (No, that can't be right?)

Along with Biyani's prophesy, though, the Atlantic article hints at one way to use technology to actually disrupt education's stagnant knowledge-delivery model. Beginning with MIT and its OpenCourseWare project, many elite colleges have started making lectures, slides, tests, and discussion-section material for various...

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Ohio Education Gadfly Biweekly

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Ohio Education Gadfly Biweekly

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Yesterday afternoon my colleague Chris Irvine and I sat down with three of Denmark's most promising. They're elected leaders of the Association of Danish Pupils, the nation's student-run education-policy organization. (Think: a national student council, or a stellar group of model Congress participants, only the model Congress actually gets to influence policy.)

A few highlights stood out to me as we explained the American education system and federal and state policy, and heard a bit about the issues facing Denmark's schools:

  • The Danes are struggling with how to incorporate virtual learning into the classroom in much the same way that the United States is. For these intrepid youth, intent on discovering means of diversifying instruction and providing targeted, individualized instruction, digital learning wasn't really on their radar. According to the youth, Denmark is behind when it comes to virtual schooling. We commiserated over that fact?and I wondered silently how long it would be before each of our nations were so far behind in this domain that it is noticeably and negatively affecting our global competitiveness. Hopefully we push the throttle forward on digital learning and don't see that reality come to pass.
  • We talked briefly about how our two countries handle special education. The students raised an important issue?special education is extremely expensive in Denmark?and no one really knows how the money is being allocated, or if the money is being well-spent. Yet, while the high schoolers eagerly explained that the percentage of funding that goes to special-education
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Guest Blogger

After an agonizing wait, we can finally say sayonara to Cathie Black. Now we can get back to griping about e-books, wondering whether an iPad 2 belongs in the hands of kindergartners, and running our race to nowhere.

-Marena Perkins, Fordham Intern

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