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Mobile access to school standards testing creates equality

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Posted on 19th January 2010 by Judy Breck in Golden Age of Learning, Mobile & Ubiquitous, Mobile Learning, Open Content, Politics in the swamp and Schools We Have Now

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Let any child anywhere use his or her mobile to take the school standards tests. All the time now the corporate training world, people learn, are tested, and are certified using their internet connection. Take a look, for example, at the Adobe Certification center.

The Washington Post reports this morning that the “Race to the Top” competition for federal grants to states for education is to increase to more than $6 billion. The core goal here is to measure how students achieve according to standards set for them. As the article reports: “Also, 48 states and the District have joined in an effort to develop a common core of rigorous educational standards to replace the current system in which states have wildly different benchmarks for what should be taught in school.”

Wow: one envisions layers and layers before the kids somehow learn — and prove their teachers have taught and they have the test answers — for whatever this common core is. Why not just put it all out there and let everybody develop and work on what students learn in the transparency of the open internet?

Why not just spend a few million dollars and put everyone’s idea of standard stuff we want kids to learn online, and test them there? Everything could be online: material that is rigorous, material that meets various benchmarks — Texas history for the kids there, and how to farm cranberries for the kids in Vermont. Very soon, tests that won respect of admissions departments and employers would emerge.

The reason this will work is that the individual mobile internet browser will belong to a single student. This ownership makes the opportunity equal for each kid who has a mobile because the nature (good, bad, or not there at all) of a classroom is taken out of the equation.

Each learner can come to the trough of online knowledge, and each can partake according to his or her own appetite. For sure, there are some youngsters in failing urban schools who could ace math tests at the college level. I have met them, I know this is true. There are struggling students in excellent schools who would benefit from studying, on the privacy of their mobile, subjects they “didn’t get” in earlier grades. Being able to get certified online gives them a way to catch up. There are young people in slums and poverty across the world for whom learning basics and more on a mobile browser is a key to their country’s future development. With a mobile browser in her had, a girl interested in astronomy, whose cultures forbids her to attend school, joins her global generation with access equal to every other student who is, for example, browsing images from the Hubble telescope.

A challenge for educators: Put online centers like the Adobe Certification webpages that teach, test, and certify school standards for math, science, technology, languages, humanities — and be sure to make those pages mobile friendly.

Testing students as nodes releases them from class notches

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Posted on 22nd July 2009 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Testing

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kidAfganThe emerging networked system that increasingly links a student to knowledge, teachers, other students — and now testing — will release that student to compete globally. Treating a student as is our usual way, as a member of a class, traps her in the bell curve that evaluates her achievement in relation to others in her class.

This locks her learning into a notch within a group directed by a certain teacher and happening in a certain place or time. Doing this is an advantage if she is in a class of superior students at a terrific school. Not so much if she is a member of a class in a mediocre or failing school — where the student in her class who tests at the top of her class would score below the bottom student in a better school. This mechanism defeats all the optimism and cash dumps toward “getting scores up” in awful schools in Chicago, Detroit, New York — as well as many schools in developing countries, etc. etc, etc.. Analog student testing is affected in major ways by the school setting where it is happening.

The future online system will let a student anywhere take a test for Algebra 1, for example, and be scored against everyone else — in the world! — who takes it. The setting where this will happen is the emerging global network of learning individuals who are interlinked as individual nodes. And as Clay Shirky put it: Here Comes Everybody! In the next very few years virtually everybody in the younger generations will be connected — each becoming a node, free from the old time class notch.

One of the most elevating changes for a student that networking will bring to education is this transition of testing and assessment from the class group to the individual learner, accomplished by connecting an online test to a student being evaluated. We are just a little way down that road so far, but we are moving inexorably in that direction. An article this week in WebWire describes: Fifteen hundred college exams proctored online:

. . .  Jarrod Morgan, co-developer of the unique online system [says]: “We have improved the system by adding live certified proctors, real time audio/video using TokBox, technical assistance, practice exams, identity authentication, and the ability to assist exam-takers by remotely controlling their computers during an exam,” said a proud Morgan.

“Now that we’ve perfected online live-proctor exams and coupled the service with identity authentication,” commented Morgan, “and actually proven the system by proctoring 1,500 exams, we’re attracting more and more interested colleges and universities each week.”

Health special section demos knowledge online

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Posted on 30th September 2008 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge and Open Content

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To find information about diseases, diagnoses, and treatments the internet as good — and sometimes better — than trying to get this knowledge from doctors. For sure, one would not expect to find this kind of information nearly as efficiently, rapidly, or thoroughly in a brick and mortar library, even a medical one.

In a special Science Times: Decoding Your Health section today, the New York Times includes a page titled Health on the Web in which it introduces with this summary: “A Google search for “cancer” returns 299 million results; narrow that to, say, “prostate cancer” and you still get 12.7 million. It’s a vast, bewildering world out there, but here’s a look at six of the most interesting and potentially useful online health resources.” The six websites the Times editors have selected are then reviewed.

The Science Times forcefully argues and demonstrates that anyone can learn a lot about health online. This marvelous fact is true about most anything we want to learn. For example, a Google search for “science” returns 911,000,000 results; search for “atmospheric sciences” and you still get 4.8 million . The new learning methodology of the 21st century is emerging as searching for and interacting with the online knowledge that is now superior to what is found in a brick and mortar library. For atmospheric sciences, here are six examples:

University of Washington Weather and Climate Data
BUGS Atmospheric General Circulation Model
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Climate
NOAA: Paleoclimatology
Weather Wiz Kids: Weather Safety
Environmental Protection Agency: Climate Change Kids Site

Science online and open begins to replace crazy old model

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Posted on 21st August 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Open Content

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A Boston Globe article today by Carolyn Y. Johnson is headlined Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results. This is the unbundling of publishing down a path that ignores peer review. Once again, network laws that energize emergence are impelling this remarkably revolutionary trend. Like textbook print publishers, the peer review priests can do little but watch as their old model — now perceived as crazy (see below) — becomes obsolete.

[The young MIT biological engineer Barry] Canton is part of a peaceful insurgency in science that is beginning to pry open an endeavor that still communicates its cutting-edge discoveries in much the same way it has since Ben Franklin was experimenting with lightning. Papers are published in research journals after being reviewed by specialists to ensure that the methods and conclusions are sound, a process that can take many months.

“We’re a generation who expects all information is a Google search away,” Canton said. “Not only is it a Google search away, but it’s also released immediately. As soon as it happens, the video is up on YouTube and on all the blogs. The old model feels kind of crazy when you’re used to this instant information.”

Openness has always been an integral part of science, with scientists presenting findings in journals or at conferences. But the open-science movement, with many of its leaders in the Boston area, encourages scientists to share techniques and even their work long before they are ready to present results, when they are devising research questions, running experiments, and analyzing data. In such open forums, the wisdom of the crowd could offer the ultimate form of peer review. And scientific information, they say, should be available without the hefty subscription fees charged by most journals.

It is an attempt to bring the kind of revolutionary and disruptive change to the laboratory that the Internet has already wrought on the music and print media industries. The idea is that opening up science could speed discoveries, increase collaboration, and transform the field in unforeseen ways.

Via Joho the Blog

“Online, R U Really Reading?” tops New York Times “Most Popular” reads this week

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Posted on 28th July 2008 by Judy Breck in Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Open Content

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Under the full title Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading? this week’s New York Times article about adolescent Internet reading has been emailed most by readers. In the second “Most Popular” category “BLOGGED,” the online reading article comes in second to Blogging’s Glass Ceiling. A detail from one of the illustrations to the online reading article is shown above this post; the full illustration, full size is here. The image source is New Literacies Research Lab of the University of Connecticut.

The illustration, and the parts of the New York Times article that discuss online reading, are excellent introductions into the connective powers released by reading within a network. Very much is said and written about the social networking teenagers are doing. This time the focus is on the networking of ideas and knowledge that operate online. There is a rich resonance between the networking of abdominal anatomy in the illustration and the networking of the same ideas in the mind of the learner who views and reads these online materials.

My guess is that the article is “Most Popular” with NY Times readers because it does a very good job of explaining something that I, for one, think is the Internet’s most useful gift to the younger generations: engagement of knowledge in network format that mirrors their mind in content and context. As the kids will tell us, it’s awesome.

Junk in the GoldenSwamp may help the best learning links emerge

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Posted on 8th January 2008 by Judy Breck in Networks

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Natalie Angier has written an essay in today’s Science Times that has opened a new area of analogy for the GoldenSwamp: viruses are to life something like what questionable webpages are to the online knowledge commons. Educators recoil from the “junk” on the Internet. Angier points out that: “Scientists initially dismissed the viral elements in our chromosomes as so much tagalong ‘junk DNA.’”

virus.jpgWe do not know yet what the evolved Internet will be in terms of how it will organize and interface human knowledge. We do know that Google caused a transitional mutation when it captured the selective choices of users to push superior content. We can say Google’s underlying mechanism is to let users pick out the good stuff from the junk. The effect is that users organize gold within the swamp. Maybe the swampiness is necessary for something like this to be going on: “higher organisms have in fact co-opted viral genes and reworked them into the source code for major biological innovations . . . .”

David Weinberger’s terrific book Everything Is Miscellaneous describes Internet content as looking very much like Balint Zsako‘s illustration (shown with this post) from the Times for the biological virus swamp. The same kind of rules may operate with viruses and the miscellaneousness of Internet content. The result: order out of chaos. An example of a powerful analogy of such a thing for viruses is our own immune system. In the spirit only of provocative analogy, it is fascinating to read from Angier’s article:

Yet viruses have not only taken; they have also repaid us in ways we are just beginning to tally. “Viral elements are a large part of the genetic material of almost all organisms,” said Dr. Sharp, who won a Nobel Prize for elucidating details of our genetic code. Base for nucleic base, he said, “we humans are well over 50 percent viral.”

Scientists initially dismissed the viral elements in our chromosomes as so much tagalong “junk DNA.” But more recently some researchers have proposed that higher organisms have in fact co-opted viral genes and reworked them into the source code for major biological innovations, according to Luis P. Villarreal, director of the Center for Virus Research at the University of California, Irvine.

Some genes involved in the growth of the mammalian placenta, for example, have a distinctly viral character, as do genes underlying the recombinant powers of our adaptive immune system — precisely the part that helps us fight off viruses.

In fact, it may well have been through taking genomic tips from our viral tormentors that we became so adept at keeping them at bay.

“Our bodies spontaneously recover from viruses more so than overwhelming bacterial infections,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Viral infections have shaped the nature of the human immune system, and we have adapted to mount a very effective response against most of the viruses that we confront.” Vaccines accentuate this facility, he added, which is why vaccination programs have been most successful in preventing viral diseases.

Plush toys and laptops

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Posted on 2nd May 2007 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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The fellows in the image are from a blog called The Art and Craft of Toy Design here. If you go to their webpage and play the YouTube video you can watch them interact with a laptop in a game for small children. The blog is based at the Parsons New School for Design. I found the link on the website I had just posted about Harry Potter’s toothbrush. Open educational resources online link to each other and form weblets of learning. Very cool stuff, especially when you run into Harry and plus lions and monkeys.

The beautiful blue yonder of digital education

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Posted on 9th February 2007 by Judy Breck in Subject Sampler

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The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Safety Topics page here is a marvelous, focused online mini-school for pilotsand it is free. Take online courses on topics for small plane pilots and general aviation subjects. Click into background webpages and related links. The informative modules are ideal for adaptation to mobile phones. This content network takes you into the beautiful blue yonder of digital education. Transportation Via Scout Report

Learning on a lot of cylinders

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Posted on 7th February 2007 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression

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This picture is from the article here today in the Washington Post about Webkinz toys. The cutline under the picture: Megan Leffew, 10, and her brother Brian, 7, play with Webkinz in real life and online. Like Megan and Brian, the lovable stuffed toys have a life both online and in the childrens real world. Quoting the article:

“It’s a gaming concept, it’s a nurturing concept, it’s a highly interactive concept,” said Paul Kurnit, who heads KidShop, a consulting firm. “It’s really working on a lot of cylinders.”

Here is yet another concept from the online world that has potential for education. Why not, for example, mechanical toys which have parallel online avatars where the toys can be taken apart and rebuilt while the student doing that is learning principles of mechanics? That would get a kids mind firing on more cylinders.

How to do laboratory science in the 21st century

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Posted on 20th October 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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bunsen burner phoneThis morning the New York Times has a story on the front page that is ten years old in its timing. It asksas if it were newsworthywhether virtual science is a good way to teach high school students. It seems the vaunted College Board has decided to challenge the online labs that provide experiments in mixing chemicals, dissecting tissue, and other expensive and now rare on-hands school laboratory traditions.

Maybe in 1996 these would have been worthwhile questions. But in the meantime here are some changes virtual science has caused: Detailed, realistic online labs have replaced NO labs that students would find in many schools. Virtual experiments offer experiences considered too dangerous to be done in a brick and mortar lab. Lessons using tissue spare the lives of experimental animals. Virtual experiments offer a broad range and variety of levels of difficulty impossible in a classroom full of kids.

Nonetheless complains, Trevor Packer, the [College] boards executive director for Advanced Placement [:] You could have students going straight into second-year college science courses without ever having used a Bunsen burner.

In 2006, using a Bunsen burner is an insurmountable obstacle for teenagers in failing schools, developing countries, and places with strict fire codes. With todays technology you could easily do a virtual Bunsen burner lesson on your mobile phone screen. Yet the vaunted Gray Lady New York Times, who probably carried a story about Robert Bunsens burner invention in 1855, is giving front page coverage to going back to 19th century schooling. Here is some flavor of that from the NY Times article:

John Watson, an education consultant who wrote a report last year documenting virtual educations growth, said online schools had faced lawsuits over financing and resistance by local school boards but nothing as daunting as the College Board. This challenge threatens the advance of online education at the national level in a way that I dont think there are precedents for, Mr. Watson said.

The board signaled a tough position this year: Members of the College Board insist that college-level laboratory science courses not be labeled A.P. without a physical lab, the board said in a letter sent to online schools in April. Online science courses can only be labeled A.P. if the online provider can ensure that students have a guided, hands-on (not virtual) laboratory experience.

But after an outcry by online schools, the board issued an apology in June, acknowledging that there may be new developments in online learning that could merit its endorsement. . . .

[And what does the accrediting industry itselfof which the College Board is a prime example show when it measures online labs?] On the 2005 administration of the A.P. biology exam, for instance, 61 percent of students nationwide earned a qualifying score of three or above on the A.P.s five-point system. Yet 71 percent of students who took A.P. biology online through the Florida Virtual School, and 80 percent of students who took it from the Virtual High School, earned a three or higher on that test.

The proof is in the pudding, said Pam Birtolo, chief learning officer at the Florida Virtual School.

Operating like a traditional library

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Posted on 28th February 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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Kudos to the school district in this eSchool News article for providing their students with an online collection of books. The article describes very well the advantages for the students that this online library provides. Great stuff very 21st century and appropriate for the digital natives enrolled in the district’s schools.

The financial model, however, is very 20th century as the article relates. How this works is very clear in the text from the article quoted below. The net effect of the sort of deal the NetLibrary makes is to be able to charge multiple (many multiple!!) schools and districts for the same digital material (250 books in this case). For every student across the world to use just one version of the collection would have no cost after the first collection is put online. In my most recent post, HyperPhysics is used by 3 million visitors annually worldwide at no cost to the users nor to the taxpayers!

The following describes how the 20th century model works when repositioned onine, quoting eSchools News. We can understand the downside to publishers interested in profits and the need to reward authors. The downside for learning is that only students in districts that do this sort of thing can read the books, and even those fortunate ones can only do so one at a time just like my experience at the Austin High School library back in the 1950s:

NetLibrary is one of several companies that work out deals with traditional book publishers to convert their titles to electronic format and then lease these titles on the web. Traditionally, companies that want to put material online have met with resistance from publishing houses, which fear the internet will support copyright infringement and encourage piracy of copyrighted works.

The eBook library operates almost exactly like a traditional library in terms of copyright protection regulations, Van Hamersveld told the Houston Chronicle.

“It is a single-user [service], just like if you were to go to the library and check out a book,” she said. “One person checks out that book, and until that book is checked back in no one else can access it. That makes the issues of copyright and profit margins … a little easier to swallow for the publishers.”