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Irrational Metrics: Quanity Over Quality

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Graduation rate is the least accurate measure of an institution’s success. Basing one’s evaluation on the count of bodies to pass through a school is equivalent to evaluating a baker on the basis of cookies created- the metrics just don’t make sense. As with the school, our baker will reject notions of quality in order to increase the number of items he or she creates. In situations where quantity is the measure of success, quality is a feature working against the common goal. Likewise, if we evaluate our schools (or any other institution) on the basis of quantity we disregard the only thing that matters: quality of service.

The popularity of measuring on the basis of “number served” likely comes from the ease of data collection. How many students graduated this year? How does this number compare to other years? Other schools? Other states? On the basis of simplicity the simple process of addition and comparison provides a nice collection of talking points. Yes, we do see data with value but when considering this information in relation to the initial goal or, dare we say, purpose of an institution there is nothing of value present.

Measuring on the basis of quality is unpopular because it is difficult to do. How do we measure the value of a degree? How can one consider the value of an education from one school in comparison to another? The common data point is income generated: After graduating from School X how does the income of Student X change? When comparing Student X and Y from School X and Y how do the incomes compare? Comparison is the common game but we are not limited to these dimensions. What do the students think? The best person to evaluate an education is the student who pursued it. Does Student X feel School X prepared him/her for the job acquired upon graduation? Questions like this establish the qualitative level of information to enliven evaluation.

One should not limit data collection to this qualitative level though. This data is the easiest to distort. The best studies extend to large selection of the population and over a long period of time. In order to properly evaluate an institution we must consider both quantitative and qualitative data from a majority of the population for at least thirty years. This is expensive, messy and unfavorable to politicians who aim to use educational statistics as rhetorical fluff.

If one aims to make drastic changes to the educational system one needs extensive data to prepare and justify alterations. It is easy to make accusations on the basis of “bad data.” Limited information yields limited perspectives. In order to make major changes our society must drastically expand institutional studies that take into consideration the inherent distortion and influence of all involved.

The Evolving Role of Educator: Clarifier

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

This is an initial post in a series of considerations on the changing role of the contemporary educator. As technology continues to expand into the educational environment, the function of educator is rapidly evolving. As in all eras of education an educator must play multiple roles though, one could assume, that all jobs involve multiple roles and responsibilities. What makes education different though is the ways in which these different roles impact on others. In the education system a teacher’s role switching has a direct impact on the education of multiple individuals. Technology as a blended supplement to this environment further impacts this dynamic. Education is unique in its relation to technology in that the impact of significant change has a major impact on the future lives of individuals.

One major role of the contemporary educator is of “the clarifier”. The educator has an authoritative role in the classroom and when functioning as a clarifier the exercise of authority comes on the excess amount of information. An educator who is clarifying is trimming down a student’s focus to a specific point or goal. The clarifier is an important role for an educator who brings a wealth of information into the classroom. One major factor brought about by the addition of network technology in the classroom is a culling of large amounts of information. When a student has the ability to gather reams of information, he or she needs a figure to clarify the information entering the learning space and frame the learning.

The clarifier is a uniquely modern role in terms of education. All teachers clarify but when viewed in relation to technology, this role is critical to combat the wealth of variety technology delivers. The absence of this role creates an environment where information overload can take hold. A student who has access to lots of information may be unable to draw connections with the disparate facts and figures. The educator functioning as clarifier ties together this information and can assist the student to construct meaning.

Bullets and Brains: The Educational Complex

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

In his farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower voiced his concerns about a network of entities with the ability to self-sustain via broad outreach and inherent power. The military-industrial complex was, and continues to be, a powerful testament to “net effects” or the power that results from membership in a popular group. It is not unique though, and it is easy to recognize educational complexes that maintain power and draw significant amounts of funding by virtue of membership. Education, like the military, is seen as a social good whose dynamic levels of support (financial, social, etc…) are considered essential to the health of society.

Unlike some areas of government funding, for example parks and recreation, one would risk irreparable harm if funding for social goods was reduced. Slash funding for education or the military and a vulnerability is born. Fears of this weakness help to keep funding constant and serves as the well-spring of power for the “complexes.”

Should we fear an “educational complex”? Certainly a struggling economy and a political system interested in budget cuts will look to educational funding as an area of consideration. When this assessment takes place what will serve as the evidence of the investment? In the military-industrial complex we can see the hangers of tanks and aircraft, the boxes of ammunition and the raw data on soldiers. These are concrete examples of the investment. Education does not have these concrete examples.

The educational complex functions to create abstract items. The ideas and points of learning that the complex creates occur at variable rate and may or may not have real-world application. Who is to say when learning is applied? Without raw data we have little to offer in terms of evidence. “Where’s the proof?” the funders ask and seeking out a source of evidence turn to test scores. Herein lies the data: numbers and levels, progressions and comparisons: the food for interpretation.

Education suffers as an industry of abstract products. Unlike industries that produce “concrete” examples of efficiency, the education industry can only prove its value in data.

The Impossibility of Assessment

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

What is learning? In my mind one has learned something when new information has been gathered. Learning is a process involving interaction with new information and a process of meshing this new information with material previously learned. My early training formed me according to this “constructivist” technique and developed notions in me that best educational policy focused on creating events in the classroom that assisted students in the process of meshing new info with old info.

If this is learning defined, how do we understand that learning has occurred? As a personal process we rely solely on the individual learner to prove that learning has occurred. Traditionally, the student’s performance on an assessment provides this proof. This secondary task, removed and yet related from the process of learning, is recognized as the only real form that a student can prove that learning has occurred. At play are two major ideas: “evidence” and “accountability”. Both connect to the two players in the learning process: the learner or beneficiary of the education and the institution or educator functioning for the institution who functions as the provider of information and activities designed to assist in the learning process.

Consider the process of education a game. In this game we have two players, the learner and the teacher, striving to a common goal of expanding the knowledge of the learner. Ideally, both players are working towards the benefit of the learner player. Of course complications factor in here: student resistance to learning and other learner-related complications can make this game of education a far more complicated task. Education is not simple, but in this game model both players utilize evidence and accountability to determine success. If a student provides evidence of learning the institution is determined to have met the expectation of accountability: the student has learned new knowledge and the institution’s goals have been met.

Throughout history this game model of education has been the underlying function of institutions and the students functioning within in. This game has not changed through history. Though the details have changed, evidence and accountability are the common points of focus. We obsesses still over the provision of evidence and the market of education has developed devices to make this pursuit more efficient: now we have the field of learning analytics and a focus of technology on learning management systems that gather certain points of data that the institution can used to prove learning and establish accountability. The game remains the same but the tools of the trade have changed; while accountability and evidence have always existed as major points of focus it is data-driven tech that has adjusted the game of education.

With learning analytics the institution has a window into student performance in a class. Moving beyond the performance on an assessment, an institution can observe rates of engagement, forms of communication and other points of data which serve as points of comparison with a peer group. The LMS provides an institution with behavioral data on each student- there remains no proof of learning because, as I mentioned earlier, learning as an inherently personal process which remains beyond all outside forms of assessment: only a student knows when learning has occurred.

Data garnered from an LMS and considered under the process of learning analytics provides powerful abilities to an institution. In service to the need for evidence to establish accountability, these tidbits of information are powerful tools to track and assist students. Responses stemming from considerations of this data can set in motion the process of assisting students with signs of difficulty. A student who displays behaviors trending to students who perform poorly can be re-assigned a greater amount of focus and steered towards behaviors more in line with students who succeed. Here again the dependence on behavior data to drive a student to learning.

Learning is an inherently personal task. Educators and institutions tasked with preparing a new generation of citizens faces the challenge of assessing one task (learning) through the use of assessments that consider other factors. Assessments provide data on test performance, testing skill or the communication skills of the student. Assessments focused on learning material do have value and will assess an amount of learning but I argue that there are limitations here and it is impossible to truly assess a student’s learning. The perfect assessment is an oxymoron and no device exists that proves 100% accurate evidence that learning has occured.

If the perfect assessment does not exist how do we assess learning? If our evidence is not truly reflective of reality how can we base accountability on this information? A better system of accountability focuses less on the raw data of education (gathered via faulted assessments) are more on a broadly based consideration of student growth within the classroom. Our students are better served by this system as institutions tasked with preparing the future generation will benefit from a system that more closely recognizes the process of education and inherent limitations of assessment.

work on this assignment. Your answers are correct, but I would like to see more depth and detail in your responses. For additional points, go back and expand your responses or increase the clarity of your response. 

Mr. Woollams
888.326.

Never Frozen: The Classroom’s Relation to Technological Development

January 16, 2011 2 comments

How did the chalkboard revolutionize education? Did the desk drastically change the way educators functioned inside a classroom? Certainly these changes, though minor, had a profound effect on students and educators. Consider the reaction of an educator entering a classroom on Monday morning to find that a chalkboard has been installed. Though a minor addition, the educator’s response and adjustment to teaching would forever alter the educational environment of the classroom. For students this new device and their teacher’s new behavior in relation to it would serve as a major shift in classroom culture, one that possibly helped or deterred their progress in that room.

All changes demand responses, but in the educational world each response is an exponential one where the changes made by a teacher require a minute response from every student. From an initial responses comes a multitude of additional adjustments.

Maintaining this idea of the “first chalkboard” let’s consider how the student population responded. In a pre-chalkboard classroom the students would likely learn through a teacher’s vocal presentation. A chalkboard (or any board for text display) suddenly added a visual dimension to the class that altered the presentation of material. With the chalk board came a new visual dimension, now the investment of attention was altered and shifted from the teacher as primary focus to this new device and understanding its role as tool to learning. Even a minute supplementation of the chalk board would change the student experience in the classroom. For some students this additional dynamic was a positive change, providing a supplemental that aided understanding; and yet for others the supplement delivered a negative change creating confusion and a reduction in learning.

Classrooms are changing landscapes. We often look to the contemporary classroom as a place of changing tides, a location preserved in ice for decades but suddenly melting down under the heat of new technology. Technology integration is a hot topic in education. Experts exist on both sides of the issue: while some assert the need for providing universal access to technology others voice concerns about an over-dependence on technology and movement away from the “tried and true” formats of old. For some, theses concerns are less fears about technology and and more nostalgia for the past and the forms from personal experience.

The debate of technology integration gradually loses its validity as the students bring technology into the classroom. The most powerful force of tech integration is coming in the form of mobile devices and the dawning era of social networking. What began as tools of information access and communication and quickly becoming critical access points to friends and family. With this change the integration of technology becomes automatic and beyond a school’s control.

As technology begins to take on a greater role in the classroom we must consider the liquid state of the classroom. We cannot subscribe to a notion that the classroom has been frozen through history. Educators enter the classroom as citizens and figures tasked with preparing students for the future. Sir Ken Robinson has spoken on the impossibility of this task. In the end, teachers will strive to work more efficiently and will implement anything that makes their work easier. In short, all technology that assists the educator will find a place in the classroom. Such tech can come in the form of the PC of the chalkboard- anything that helps will find its place.

Whether technology comes in the form of a chalkboard, better markers or a powerful PC, all quality tools enter the classroom and the lives of the students placed therein. From these adjustment comes the requirement to respond. Both teachers and students need to be prepared for technological development. Likewise the society from which these teachers and students function is better served by an awareness that the classroom is a changing place and any resistance to technology or protectionism of “the way things were” does little to assist in student learning.

Data as King: Learning Analytics As Revelation

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Week one readings in Learning Analytics 2011 focus on the field of learning analytics and provides a basic overview of key terms and historical development. My reflections on these readings appear below:

Learning analytics is a dawning field of application. Moving the statistical analysis and data-driven decision making from business and technology industries into the educational industry is a new trend. Chief as cause of this adjustment is the increasing use of technology and, more specifically, the increased use of online education. More computers in use means more data generated and a plethora of musings on what the numbers mean and how current products and services can be tailored to meet suggested needs and expectations. In a sense, data analytics allows educators to pursue answers to the most important questions in the field: Is the student learning? Why is he or she learning? And what can the teacher do to make the student learn more?

These are all very important questions. Extensions of analytics moves away from student-centered considerations and focuses instead on the school itself and factors that affect student engagement and success. While still closely tied to student performance, this branch of analytics moves to discover answers to questions of school viability. Herein lies the major inspiration for analytics and the driving force of its development: competition in the market place.

Privatization of education creates a market for education. Firms competing are tasked with holding onto students and meeting government expectations for success. Interestingly the education field is unique in that students gradually develop over time and high mobile students may exist composites of learning experiences at multiple schools. Who has served the student best? Treating the student as a product is a sore spot for many, but ultimately analytics slides into cold analysis in the interest of all involved. Yes, we’re talking human beings here but with scholarship revealing trends in learning and student needs, the field of analytics can establish real improvement in a very efficient way.

Data is the king now. As we move into a society where online education plays a more important role we enter into a world of data possibilities. When an online school can generate and analyze reams of data an immediate comparison is born. Can a brick and mortar institution generate this data? Even beyond just the task of generating the data provides further perks to the online system. If an online institution can make powerful adjustments based on this data and provide real evidence of the benefits of such reactions there will remain little doubt to the power of analytics.

As an online instructor I am bias here, but I find it highly unlikely that an exclusively brick and mortar institution can function as effectively as an online school or school with an online based supplemental format. As the field of data analytics grows and beneficial decisions follow there will remain little excuse to deny students with the benefits of tech-heavy education. Student performance remains priority one for America’s education system and government policy will be unable to resist the power that these online services can provide.

Learning and Knowledge Analytics 2011 (LAK11)

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve decided to follow along with the open online course Learning and Knowledge Analytics (LAK11). I had some minor exposure to this format of learning and the work of Steven Downes and find the classes to be fascinating examples of the cutting edge in online learning. Beyond just the comprehensive scope of the tech, participants and topics, there is a certain sense that what occurs in these classes is less about the content and more about pushing the possibilities of online learning.

The collective power of the open online course is truly a testament to the potential of asynchronous learning. The evolution away from an industrialized society in which education followed a set time schedule is now readily apparent to most citizens. Despite these changes, though, we still see a common expectation that some form of schedule, albeit fuzzy, should exist for learning. It seems like an expectation for daily exposure is required as if daily participation proves one’s dedication and interest in a topic. In this sense we have not yet fully evolved into the asynchronous system. However it is the open online course that truly breaks from this tradition and reminds us that learning on our schedule is not only more logical but more effective in today’s society.

I’m looking forward to digging in with LAK11. As with my other experience in open online learning the task of transferring enthusiasm to course participation comes in varied formats. This blog will likely be the major, if not primary, form of reflection. The introductory slide show uses the phrase “skim and dive” to suggest student participation plans. I intend to follow this format of learning and look forward to exploring this ever evolving topic in an ever evolving format.

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