>So after dropping off the face of this blog for two months I’ve come up for air. I realized in mid February that I bit off way more than I can chew Back in my intro, and I narrowed the scope of my thesis considerably, and still was scrambling the whole way to the finish line. Between that and regular classwork things like progress updates fell by the way-side, something I know is not a good habit to get into, working in a team requires much better communication.

I have a working alpha of a quiz taking piece of software that needs a name. It’s very crude and as I look back over the source I can produce I can tell if I wrote a particular piece in February or in March. My skill in python is notably improved, and I’ve learned the basics of SQL and database design and management. I’ve managed my first sizable code project and come out with something that while crude, works. A quick list of the things I’ve learned

  1. Use Source Control – I’ve had this preached to me over, and over and over again, and I still haven’t built the habit, or deeply learned a system. There were several points in the project I was glad I had a previous commit, but my source tree looks ugly and cluttered to me. 
  2. Don’t re-invent the wheel – I did this one mostly right, the other solutions that exist don’t have the feature list I was shooting for and it would have taken me months to even begin to be able to implement item distractors in them. 
  3. Shipping is a feature – I’m writing this about an hour before I go to show off my work, and I’m forcing myself not to go in and try one more time to get that css error to look exactly how I want
  4. You don’t have to do everything – In narrowing my project to just building this one tool I realized something really important. I don’t have to do everything, or understand everything. I have a tendency to want to know a system from the ground up, and to do multiple things at once. When I talked with my advisor she pointed out to me that the scope of what I was trying to do was Career sized, not senior thesis sized.

I’m working on a paper for the thesis now and will post it up here when I complete it, but it’s going to touch a lot more on the narrowing process, and what features I consider critical. once I’m done with finals I’m going to give this code a bit of clean up and release the whole thing as open source(I need to do some asking about licences) and put a fair chunk of my effort behind this. The point of this quiz app is to do one thing and do it well, this isn’t a cms, it’s an assessment tool, it’s meant to make pulling meaningful data about my students out of my tests easy, or at least possible.

 

>So, when I look at education reform ideas, all I see are ideas to reform a system. That’s not how we will create real change. Think about it for a moment. what are the current ideas for reform. They are all high pressure; more tests, increase competition. As I started looking online for examples of online I’ve started sorting the kinds of solutions I see. First are traditional systems, these kinds of reform basically trumpet the horn of, More Spending, Higher Standards, More Teachers. The second seems to want to take a Venture Capital approach. These people like to shiny new things, Virtual Classrooms, Ipads for Classrooms, big flashy things that make headlines. The third school of thought on reform seems to be focused on seeking and solving “special problems.” The solutions I see out of this philosophy are things like, after school programs, better school lunch, [insert minority here] in [insert hot subject or specialty here] programs. All of these seem to have the same goal, but believe that the root cause, and solutions are all different.

The final stream I found were people like Sir Ken Robinson, and Issac Asamov. This stream is definitely where I fall in. Quotes like Sir Robinson, saying “Education is always and inevitably personal.” Asimov makes a great argument in the video which basically runs, “If a kid is interested in baseball, why tell them to learn math, they’ll get curious about batting averages, or why the hits work the way they do and they’s look at statistics or ‘sports physics.’ I think this kind of individual focus, allowing student interest to dictate the curriculum rather than the curriculum dictate to the students, is more likely to create a school that students will enjoy, that can actually foster all of the buzzword, “Lifelong Love of learning.”

While doing this search I found an event “Hacking Education” that uses the same name as I’ve been looking at. I’m working my way though the transcript of their event posted over here They summarize what I mean by hack so much better than I have expressed it. “A hack solves a problem in a way that breaks some widely accepted rule, or conventional wisdom.” The transcript of this event is something like 200 pages, and I’m still working my way through it, one anecdote that Sir Ken told was particularly illustrative. He tells the story of a man who wanted to be a firefighter from a young age who said, “I got really mad at times in school about this, because not every kid wants to be a fireman. I actually wanted to be a fireman. And so, they said that I was stupid, that if I didn’t want to go to college, I would never amount to anything.” That is the kind of thing that a hackable education would avoid. If students goals were respected, I think that some students could graduate and begin their lives, the way the imagine them, sooner.

Most of the information I found related back to the kind of venture capital approach. They are making things to sell back into the existing, broken, system. startl.org is a great example of this, their working paper Designing for Learning in the 21st Century Says the things that I am suggesting, but wants to do them within the system. Reading their paper, with which I agreed, and then looking at the headlines on their website I found a disconnect. They say many great things about “Content-Creation not Content Delivery” but on the first 3 pages of their headlines only 3 of the 15 articles linked had to do with that. The most articles were about marketing content, and apps created to schools, and getting seed money to do that. There is nothing wrong with venture capital, but it seems to me like what we’re doing is creating a “Education-Technology Complex” where Schools pay for content that is made by outside companies, using taxpayer money. This solution leaves the content locked up and inaccessible to those who can’t afford to buy access, “pay-to-play” content delivery models, and ipads in the classroom are not real solutions to the issue, they are shiny toys that disctract us from the problem.

I don’t know exactly what the solution is, but I am convinced that anything that is pay to play, or requires hardware that costs more than $100-200 is not going to be widely available enough to make a change. I’m also pretty sure that these systems need to be bypassed. We need a second independent system that isn’t married to the history of schooling, and is focused on what students need and want. I’m not sure that the kind of small focused start up model is going to do that. I don’t think it’s scalable. We get really excited about new shiny things, but I never saw the “pilot programs” I participated in during high school, actually expand. The VC approach spend too much time finding money, and not enough teaching people.

Sometime next week I’m going to talk about people who I think are doing this right, taking the things I saw in Sir Kim Robinson and Asimov’s talks and expanding them out to what a new education system should look like.

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