Saturday, April 9, 2016

Now and Next in Ed

"Maison tournante aérienne" by Albert Robida
I spent some time at the Early Childhood Summit this week. It was an excellent opportunity to hear some innovative research. Quite a bit of the research presented was incremental, based on past assumptions and deeply linked to education as it used to be. In a sense, I find that the incremental advances in much of the work are too tied to 20th-century conceptions of education. The problem is, as Berliner noted that much of educational research is related to context and time. Once the context has shifted significantly, it becomes irrelevant.

This led me to think about the now and next in education. The NOW includes two changes:
The shift towards individualized or differentiated instruction. Technology is poised to make fully differentiated instruction possible since it decouples curriculum delivery from its dependence on the teachers thus freeing teachers to focus on guiding students and managing complex information systems needed to support students moving from different starting points. This process is far from over. In fact, I would say that we have only begun. There is, however, an emerging consensus that this is the right direction. This consensus allows teacher education, curriculum providers, and professional development efforts to focus on the task.
The second shift is towards Open Educational Resources (OER). I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to promote these practices from the bottom up. Now with federal support and some states buying in it feels like this tide has turned as well. We can produce quality curricular materials that will be accessible to any teacher and student making the proposition of differentiation affordable for any school. The shift in costs can help education agencies focus on the development of teachers and their ability to deliver differentiated instruction.

The NEXT is linked to assessment. Our current assessment systems are slaves to pre-information-age technologies. In the past snapshot in time assessment technology was the only one available. We simply did not have the technology to capture student performance in-vivo. We had to resort to a weekly spelling test and annual achievement tests. We have perfected these snapshots and now use technology to better and more efficiently capture them. In essence, we are still captive to this thinking- there has to be an assessment event that counts, that we prepare for and then celebrate. Technology and big data have opened the door on a completely different assessment technology. One that captures everything our students do and can measure it in real time. The need for snapshots has passed. If my students writing is captured electronically, then every teacher can get a report of their students spelling without a need for a special event. Instead, they can know how their students are spelling when they are writing authentic texts. Real performance for the real world.

I know that charting potential does not guarantee it will happen. I just hope that researchers and funders and eventually schools can move beyond the practices of the past to recognize the shifts in technology go beyond a more efficient snapshot to describing authentic performance across academic tasks.

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