Alexandria Online

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Save Your School: Maintain Maximum Signal Strength

If you want to keep your school growing and thriving, turn up the signal. Yes, you need high bandwidth, but take that as a metaphor for learning and teaching.

Schools have to let in as much new content as they can bear. The quality of online content is soaring. At first the promise of the internet was over-hyped: the complete universe of written matter was available, but who wanted to read through all that?

Now the content has been formed, indexed, packaged and polished. It is easy to find age-appropriate material that fits into any curriculum. There are ingenious tools that deliver adaptive, intelligent content. The medium -- the way the instruction is delivered -- has become more interesting than the message -- the content. For the very best stuff you have to pay money; a lot of it is free.

But if you really want to pursue excellence, you need to transmit as well as receive. Make sure your signal is a two-way synchronous signal. Your school should generate its own content and methods. Dont strain yourselves: we don't need every teacher to be publishing original textbooks. Think more along the lines of the remixes that make M.I.T.'s Scratch social engineering site so brilliant. Receive the signal and remix it; respond to the signal; reply.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Online Credential

When I first saw the World Wide Web using my Netscape browser, I was skeptical of its commercial potential. Would people really type in their credit card numbers and expect goods and services in return? Just like the early days of credit cards, however, there was just too much money to be made for such a revolutionary idea to fail. And so internet engineers developed systems that inspired consumer confidence and trust.

We are at the same point with online education. It is now possible not only to get a great education online, but it is possible to get credentialed because the engineers are at it again and have developed a way to inspire confidence and trust. ProctorU has developed a way to ensure that when a student takes an assessment online there is no cheating; ProctorU has just signed a contract with Coursera, the largest vendor of online courses or MOOC's, to proctor their assessments. (See this article in the New York Times from 3/2/2013.)

Will brick and mortar schools go the way of book stores, video stores, music stores (and the music industry for that matter), broadcast television, newspapers and magazines? Each of these industries died in their own, unique way and they were reborn in new forms. That is also inevitable for schools. More content will be delivered online and more assessment will be done online. Even portions of our schools' communal lives will be led online. Students will be credentialed without ever being physically present on a campus.

It is difficult to know just how this transformation will take place. The textbook industry has been working for years now to continue to exist and be profitable while adjusting to the revolution in content delivery. Education is notoriously conservative and evolves very slowly. Schools need to be thinking about this now, but it is probably too soon to set up a private K-8 on Minecraft just yet.