Posts tagged ‘educational technology’

NSF director unveils big ideas, with an eye on the next President and Congress

Interesting and relevant for this list. There’s a lot in the NSF big ideas document (see link here) about using technology for learning, but there’s also some on what we want students to know (including about computing technology), e.g., “the development and evaluation of innovative learning opportunities and educational pathways, grounded in an education-research-based understanding of the knowledge and skill demands needed by a 21st century data-capable workforce.”

The six “research” ideas are intended to stimulate cross-disciplinary activity and take on important societal challenges. Exploring the human-technology frontier, for example, reflects NSF’s desire “to weave in technology throughout the fabric of society, and study how technology affects learning,” says Joan Ferrini-Mundy, who runs NSF’s education directorate. She thinks it will also require universities to change how they educate the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Source: NSF director unveils big ideas, with an eye on the next president and Congress | Science | AAAS

June 27, 2016 at 8:03 am Leave a comment

The Indian Education Context is Completely Different from the US Education Context

At LaTICE 2016, I attended a session on teacher professional development. I work at preparing high school CS teachers. I felt like I’d be able to relate to the professional development work. I was wrong.

One of the large projects presented at LaTICE 2016 was the T10kT project (see link here) whose goal is to use technology to train 10,000 teachers. What I didn’t realize at first was that the focus is on higher-education teachers, not high school teachers. The only high school outreach activity I learned about at LaTICE 2016 was from the second keynote, on an Informatics Olympiad from Madhavan Mukund (see slides here) which is only for a select group of students.

India has 500 universities, and over 42,000 higher education institutions. They have an enormous problem trying to maintain the quality of their higher-education system (see more on the Wikipedia page). They rely heavily on video, because videos can be placed on a CD or USB drive and mailed. The T10kT instructors can’t always rely on Internet access even to higher-education institutions. They can’t expect travel even to regional hubs because many of the faculty can’t travel (due to expense and family obligations).


As can be seen in the slide above, they have a huge number of participants.  I asked at the session, “Why?”  Why would all these higher-education faculty be interested in training to become better teachers?  The answer was that participants get certificates for participating in T10kT, and those certificates do get considered in promotion decisions.  That’s significant, and something I wish we had in the US.

I tried to get a sense for how many primary and secondary schools there are in India, and found estimates ranging from 740K to 1.3M. Compulsory education was only established in 2010 (goes to age 14), and is not well enforced. I heard estimates that about 50% of school-age children go to school because only enrollment is checked, not attendance.

Contrast this with the CS10K effort in the United States. There are about 25-30,000 high schools in the US. Having 10K CS teachers wouldn’t reach every school, but it would make a sizable dent. A goal to get 10K CS teachers in Indian high schools would be laughable. When you increase the number of high schools by two orders of magnitude, 10,000 teachers barely moves the needle. Given the difficulty of access and uncertain Internet, it’s certainly not cheaper to provide professional development in India. They have an enormous shortage of teachers — not just CS. They lack any teachers at all in many schools. The current national focus is on higher-education because the secondary and primary school problems are just so large.

Alan Kay has several times encouraged me to think about how to provide educational technology to support students who do not have access to a teacher. I resisted, because I felt that any educational technology was a poor substitute for a real teacher. Now I realize what a privilege it is to have any teacher at all, and how important it is to think about technology-based guided learning for the majority of students worldwide who do not have access to a teacher.

How do we do it?  How do we design technology-based learning supports for Indian students who may not have access to a teacher?  I attended a session on IITBx, the edX-hosted MOOCS developed by IIT-Bombay. I tweeted:

One of the IIT-Bombay graduate students responded:

Here’s the exchange as a screencap, just in case the Twitter feed doesn’t work right above:


I’m sure that Aditi (whose work was described in the previous blog post) is right. Developers in the US can’t expect to build technologies for India and expect them to work, not without involving Indian learners, teachers, and researchers. One of the themes in my book Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education is that motivation is everything in learning, and motivation is tied tightly to notions of identity, community of practice, and context. I learned that I don’t know much about any of those things for India, nor anywhere else in the developing world. The problems are enormous and worth solving, and US researchers and developers have a lot to offer — as collaborators. In the end, it requires understanding on the ground to get the context and motivation right, and nothing works if you don’t get that right.

April 20, 2016 at 7:22 am 4 comments

New OECD Report Slams Computers And Says Why They Can Hurt Learning: It’s all about the pedagogy

My PhD advisor, Elliot Soloway, considers a new report on the value of computers in education, and gets to the bottomline.  To swipe a line from Bill Clinton, “It’s the pedagogy, stupid!”  Of course, I agree with Elliot, and it’s why Lecia Barker’s findings are so disturbing.  We have to be willing to change pedagogy to improve learning.

The findings are the findings, but what is really interesting is a statement that Andreas Schleicher, the director of OECD, made as to why the impact of technology is negative. In the foreword to the OECD report, he writes, “…adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”WOW! In this one sentence, Schleicher names clearly what he sees as the root cause of the lack of technology’s impact on student achievement. While the NYT’s articles danced around the issues, Schleicher doesn’t pull any punches: The reason computers are not having a positive impact lies in the use of outmoded teaching practices that do not truly exploit the opportunities that a 1-to-1 classroom affords.

Source: New OECD Report Slams Computers — and Actually Says Why They Can Hurt Learning — THE Journal

October 16, 2015 at 8:06 am 2 comments

The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’: Personalized Instruction and Teaching Machines aren’t new

When I was a PhD student taking Education classes, my favorite two-semester sequence was on the history of education.  I realized that there wasn’t much new under the sun when it comes to thinking about education.  Ideas that are key to progressive education movements date back to Plato’s Republic: “No forced study abides in a soul…Therefore, you best of men, don’t use force in training the children in the studies, but rather play. In that way you can also better discern what each is naturally directed toward.”  Here we have learning through games (but not video games in 300BC) and personalized instruction — promoted over 2400 years ago.  I named my dissertation software system Emile after Rousseau’s book with the same name whose influence reached Montessori, Piaget, and Papert decades later.

Audrey Watters takes current education reformers to task in the article linked below.  Today’s reformers don’t realize the history of the education system, that many of the idea that they are promoting have been tried before. Our current education system was designed in part because those ideas have already failed.  In particular, the idea of building “teaching machines” as a response to “handicraft” education was suggested over 80 years ago.  Education problems are far harder to solve than today’s education entrepreneurs realize.

Many education reformers today denounce the “factory model of education” with an appeal to new machinery and new practices that will supposedly modernize the system. That argument is now and has been for a century the rationale for education technology. As Sidney Pressey, one of the inventors of the earliest “teaching machines” wrote in 1932 predicting “The Coming Industrial Revolution in Education,”

Education is the one major activity in this country which is still in a crude handicraft stage. But the economic depression may here work beneficially, in that it may force the consideration of efficiency and the need for laborsaving devices in education. Education is a large-scale industry; it should use quantity production methods. This does not mean, in any unfortunate sense, the mechanization of education. It does mean freeing the teacher from the drudgeries of her work so that she may do more real teaching, giving the pupil more adequate guidance in his learning. There may well be an “industrial revolution” in education. The ultimate results should be highly beneficial. Perhaps only by such means can universal education be made effective.

via The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’.

The reality is that technology never has and never will dramatically change education (as described in this great piece in The Chronicle).  It will always be a high-touch endeavor because of how humans learn.

Education is fundamentally a human activity and is defined by human attention, motivation, effort, and relationships.  We need teachers because we are motivated to make our greatest efforts for human beings with whom we have relationships and who hold our attention.

In the words of Richard Thaler, there are no Econs (see recommended piece in NYTimes).

May 25, 2015 at 7:30 am 5 comments

What MOOCs are really good for: I’m going to do my first MOOC

A nice piece updating what we know about MOOCs, who’s taking them, and what they’re good for.  I have decided to offer my first MOOC, as part of an HCI specialization with Coursera.  (See the announcement here.)  This fits in exactly with what I think a MOOC is good for — it’s professional development for people with background in the field.  If students going to learn about HCI, I’d also like them to learn about making technologies for learning and about how people learn.  I agreed to do a short four week MOOC on designing learning technologies, development to occur this summer.  This isn’t about my research exactly (though, because it’s me, a lot of the examples will probably come from computing education). It’s not about reaching an under-served population, or teaching CS-novices or teachers.  Different purpose, different objectives — and objectives for this course and for the GT HCI specialization match for what a MOOC is good for.

The companies that rode to fame on the MOOC wave had visions and still do of offering unfettered elite education to the masses and driving down college tuition. But the sweet spot for MOOCs is far less inspirational and compelling. The courses have become an important supplement to classroom learning and a tool for professional development.

via Demystifying the MOOC –

December 19, 2014 at 8:15 am Leave a comment

Why one school district decided giving laptops to students is a terrible idea

A really fascinating piece about all the problems that Hoboken had with their one-laptop-per-child program.  The quote listed below describes the problems with breakage and pornography.  The article goes on to describe problems with too little memory, bad educational software, wireless network overload, anti-virus expense, and teacher professional learning costs.  I firmly believe in the vision of one-laptop-per-student.  I also firmly believe that it’s crazy-expensive and hard to make work right, especially in large school districts.

We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo. Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers. “We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”

Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software called Net Nanny to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.“There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.

via Why a New Jersey school district decided giving laptops to students is a terrible idea | The Hechinger Report.

September 28, 2014 at 7:58 am 13 comments

Crowd-sourcing hints for tutorials via CSTA teachers

Really interesting idea —’s Pat Yongpradit sent a note to all of CSTA, asking CS teachers to help provide hints for tutorials.  By reaching out to CSTA, they’re doing better than crowd-sourcing.  They’re CS-teacher-sourcing.

We’ve had millions of students try the tutorials. They’ve submitted over 11 million unique computer programs as solutions to roughly 100 puzzles.

We’ve mapped out which submissions are errors (ie they don’t solve the puzzle), and which are sub-optimal solutions (they solve the puzzle, but not efficiently).

Today, erroneous user submissions receive really unhelpful error feedback, such as “You’re using the right blocks, but not in the right way”. We want your help improving this, by providing highly personal feedback to very specific student errors. Watch the video below to see what we mean.

via Add hints to tutorials |

April 15, 2014 at 1:02 am 1 comment

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